Emmanuel Sanders
Fantasy Fox: Fourth of July listing of fantasy's top 125 playmakers
Emmanuel Sanders

Fantasy Fox: Fourth of July listing of fantasy's top 125 playmakers

Published Jun. 29, 2015 12:45 p.m. ET

With the vast majority of NFL coaches and front offices enjoying vacations from the relentless grind of professional football, the Fantasy Fox offers a Fourth Of July listing of the Top 125 Playmakers -- excluding kickers, defenses and special teamers:

1. This is NOT the year to own the No. 1 overall pick in standard-scoring drafts -- since Charles (33 TDs over the last two seasons), Peterson (missed 15 games last season for well-chronicled personal reasons) and Foster (heading into his age-29 campaign) may not be primed for career years in 2015.

In other words, latter first-rounders like DeMarco Murray, Antonio Brown, Marshawn Lynch and Le'Veon Bell possess the same value as the top-4 playmakers.


So if that's true ... why not get two studs for the price of one -- late in Round 1/early in Round 2?

2. The safety play at the top: Of his last 39 games, dating back to Thanksgiving Weekend 2012, Charles (1,324 total yards, 14 TDs last year) has amassed 100 total yards and/or one TD 29 times.

3. In a perfect world (for fantasy owners), Le'Veon Bell would have been a healthy lock to replicate last year's scintillating numbers (2,215 total yards, 11 TDs).

But a three-game suspension (which might pared down to two) has curtailed that notion. Instead, we're probably looking at 1,500 total yards and maybe nine touchdowns.

4. This summer, you will undoubtedly hear three wrongful fantasy assumptions about Marshawn Lynch (four-year average of 1,339 total yards/12 TDs):

a) After signing a lucrative contract extension during the offseason, Lynch won't have that proverbial chip on his shoulder or will no longer feel compelled to run angry.

a) Heading into his age-29 campaign, Father Time will finally catch up to Lynch, who has logged 1,305 rugged touches (with just 124 receptions) over the last four seasons.

a) Robert Turbin and/or Christine Michael are ready to supplant the aging Lynch as a the Seahawks' linchpin.

Of course, I had a similarly stubborn opinion about Larry Johnson eight years ago. But I steadfastly refuse to doubt Lynch -- arguably the most reliable workhorse of this decade.

Here's one big carrot to consider: Lynch has a three-year window of dominance to punch his ticket to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

5. There's a school of thought that Foster may hit the proverbial wall this season, the combination of age, nagging injuries and general wear and tear (average yearly workload since 2010: 311 touches).

But I'm not ready to throw the bearded baby out with the bath water just yet.

Foster was redoubtably the most valuable fantasy asset last October, rolling for 140-plus total yards three times and racking up three outings of multiple touchdowns.

All told, Foster averaged 150 total yards and two TDs during that span.

6. Aaron Rodgers may be the reigning MVP and a lock for 4,700 yards passing/40 total TDs, when healthy. But it's still hard to pull the trigger in Round 1.

Rodgers passed for fewer than 230 yards six times last season ... while tallying only 10 TDs in those so-so outings.

7. Even with Kevin White in the draft fold, I will be shocked if Alshon Jeffery (two-year averages of 87 catches/1,277 yards/8 TDs) doesn't finish with 1,300 yards and 10 TDs -- as the No. 1 option in the Bears' passing game. Finally!

8. In case you're scoring at home, LeSean McCoy tallied 25 or more touches only five times last season ... whereas DeMarco Murray (the reigning NFL rushing king) reached that arbitrary number a whopping 12 times.

In other words, at Philly coach Chip Kelly's behest, Murray will likely be in the best shape of his life this summer -- in preparation for running more offensive plays ... but with fewer touches. (Fair tradeoff?)

9. There's a temptation to rank Odell Beckham Jr. above Antonio Brown here, given the absurd stats from his rookie campaign of only 12 games -- 91 catches, 1,305 yards, 12 TDs.

However, I also live in fear of the proverbial sophomore slump, or least a watered-down version of that time-tested notion for Beckham.

The rationale: Opposing defensive coordinators will have all spring and summer to devise ways to hinder Beckham. Plus, tailbacks Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams and Shane Vereen could all be rock-steady fantasy contributors.

The safe play calls for Beckham to be a mid-to-late Round 1 pick in standard-scoring leagues.

1. From a fantasy perspective, the Saints didn't fortify their receiving corps during the draft.

On the flip side, the Saints might have the NFC's No. 2 offensive line -- behind the Cowboys -- thus preserving Drew Brees (four straight seasons of 4,900-plus yards passing) in the pocket.

Seems like a fair exchange.

That said, with a receiving corps comprising Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston, Jalen Saunders and little else of fantasy consequence (read: no Jimmy Graham) ... it's best to hold tight on Brees until deep into Round 3 (or maybe even Round 4).

2. Of his final nine games last season (including the playoffs), Broncos tailback C.J. Anderson averaged 127 total yards and 1.1 TDs. Within that span, he also produced multiple outings of three touchdowns.

3. I have Mike Evans (68 catches, 1,051 yards, 12 TDs as a rookie) 29 slots below Odell Beckham, which may qualify as a fantasy sin, given the following stat:

During a six-game stretch last season (Weeks 8-13), the rookie Evans averaged five catches, 10 targets, 100 yards and 1.3 TDs -- a time when Tampa Bay scored more than 17 points just once.

4. It's funny. Jeremy Maclin (85 catches/1,310 yards/10 TDs last year) has nothing to do with the Chiefs' god-awful drought of 20 games without netting a touchdown from a wide receiver (a cold snap that dates back to early December 2013).

And yet, he's paying the price for Kansas City's porous track record with wideouts.

In other words, on any other team, Maclin would be an easy choice for Round 3 in standard-scoring leagues.

5. Conservatively speaking, I have Martavis Bryant tabbed as the third-best No. 2 receiver in fantasy.

Yes, the rookie exploded for six touchdowns in his first four games last season. But the final push was somewhat troubling, as Bryant averaged only 1.8 catches, 3.0 targets, 32 yards and 0.3 TDs in his last three regular-season outings.

6. Sammy Watkins (65 catches, 982 yards, 6 TDs) would have a higher ranking here, if Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor and E.J. Manuel weren't the quarterbacks in Buffalo.

Even for his one-hit-wonder season of 2010 with the Chiefs (3,116 yards passing, 27 TDs), Cassel still wasn't a 60-percent passer.

7. On the surface, Justin Forsett (1,529 total yards/8 TDs with the Ravens last year) shouldn't have a lower ranking than Doug Martin.

However, I'm convinced Tampa Bay will recommit to a power-rushing attack in 2015 -- spearheaded by Martin and Charles Sims -- regardless of who's logging snaps at quarterback (Jameis Winston, Mike Glennon).

8. I may be the Atlanta-area president of the Matthew Stafford Fan Club, but I'm also a fantasy realist:

With three-year averages of 4,625 yards passing and 26.3 total TDs, Stafford may have peaked as a fantasy dynamo -- especially with Calvin Johnson (71 catches, 1,077 yards, 8 TDs in 13 games last year) turning 30 in late September.

9. Tevin Coleman has lucked into the second-most advantageous spot among rookie tailbacks (behind Melvin Gordon in San Diego), walking into a depth chart that has no incumbent starter.

1. Eli Manning enjoyed a terrific Year 1 with offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, passing for 4,410 yards, 30 TDs and only 14 interceptions. Of course, it helps that receiver Odell Beckham Jr. arrived at the same time.

Fast forward to the present: With Beckham (91 catches, 1,305 yards, 12 TDs as a rookie), Rueben Randle, pass-friendly tailback Shane Vereen, tight end Larry Donnell and receiver Victor Cruz (seemingly healthy) in the mix, perhaps Eli's 2014 numbers should be a baseline of expectations for 2015.

Either way, Eli should be a steal in Round 6, 7 or 8.

2. DeSean Jackson (56 catches, 1,169 yards, 6 TDs) was a feast-or-famine asset with the Redskins last year:

**Of the eight times he collected 80-plus receiving yards, Jackson scored six touchdowns.

**Of the seven times Jackson tallied less than 80 receiving yards ... he scored zero TDs.

3. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen warrants a rock-solid ranking, based on four bits of info:

a) Olsen improved or maintained his numbers with catches, targets, receiving yards and touchdowns over the last four seasons (2011-14).

b) Olsen has collected 100-plus targets for three consecutive years (2012-14).

c) Panthers QB Cam Newton has fully recovered from last season's ankle and back surgeries.

d) Olsen has a viable shot at 85 yards receiving and/or one TD in his first four games, prior to Carolina's Week 5 bye -- at Jacksonville, vs. Houston, vs. New Orleans and at Tampa Bay.

4. It's an interesting battle between Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford: The latter is the greater "upside" bet for 4,800 yards passing ... and the former remains the stronger pick for 30-plus touchdowns.

But ay the rub: The getting-up-there-in-age Romo has fallen short of 4,000 yards passing in consecutive seasons; and he'll probably miss one or two games to injury.

5. Gone are the days of Andre Johnson (85 catches, 936 yards, 3 TDs with Houston last year) notching seven or eight touchdowns per season.

But with his move to the Colts offense, the potential Hall of Famer shall be a threat for 100 catches once again.

Citing his 15 games from 2014, Johnson (who turns 34 in July) collected seven or more receiving targets 14 times -- including seven double-digit outings.

That's a clear sign Johnson can still get separation from cornerbacks. He just needs a quarterback (like Andrew Luck) to consistently find him downfield.

6. Julian Edelman (92 catches, 972 yards, 4 TDs last year) will be a top-20 wideout in PPR leagues. In his last seven games -- including the playoffs -- the Welker clone averaged 14 targets per outing.

1. I no longer live in a world where Alabama tailbacks are rubber-stamped for stardom at the next level -- sight unseen.

Eddie Lacy may be the exception to that notion. That's why I'm giving Denard Robinson the slight edge over T.J. Yeldon in 2015.

Either way, both tailbacks merit a higher ranking over Toby Gerhart, the presumptive preseason starter in Jacksonville, according to numerous Web sites.

2. There's plenty of mid-to-late-round fascination with the Browns tailbacks -- Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West and rookie Duke Johnson. All three runners have the capacity for 1,000 total yards this season, especially since Cleveland has minimal options in the passing game.

And before you say, What about Dwayne Bowe? ... I rarely get excited about in-their-prime wideouts that go a full season without registering a receiving touchdown.

3. Ryan Mallett should be a rock-solid QB2 in 12-team leagues, in his first full year with Texans head coach Bill O'Brien.

But it's hard to pinpoint the perfect QB-handcuff at the top of the draft: For the respective "byes" of Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, Mallett alternatively draws the Bengals (road), Dolphins (road) and Jets (home). Ugh.

4. From Weeks 13-17 last year, Coby Fleener (51 catches, 774 yards, 8 TDs) led all tight ends in receiving touchdowns, standard-scoring points (overall) and average points per game.

His stats during that five-game span: 20 catches, 307 yards, four TDs.

5. I pledge to prioritize the drafting of Green Bay's Davante Adams anytime after Round 8 of standard-scoring leagues.

Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for "Sports Blog Of The Year" (Cynopsis Media) and 2008 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year (Fantasy Sports Writers Association), can be reached via Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.


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