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Something's Berry Wrong with the ESPN Fantasy Football Rankings

By Jared Smola 10:10am EST 2/21/14

Let me start with a few qualifiers before I rip into ESPN’s Matthew Berry’s top 150 fantasy football rankings.

Berry is one of the top dogs in our industry. He has a massive following because he's a talented writer -- and the fact that he’s employed by the 4-letter network adds to his influence and popularity. A lot of his readers take his stuff as gospel. That means these rankings figure to have a significant impact on early ADP data.

It’s also worth noting that it’s a challenge to put together rankings this early in the year. There haven’t been enough hours since the 2013 season ended to project what all 32 offenses will look like in 2014. Free agency and the draft will bring plenty more change.

Now that that’s been said, I can point out all the things Berry gets wrong in his preliminary rankings.

* Berry lists 3 QBs among his top 11 overall: Peyton Manning (5), Drew Brees (6) and Aaron Rodgers (11). I love all 3 guys in 2014. They’re safe, reliable and have plenty of upside. But taking a QB in the 1st round is drafting to not lose (rather than to win). There’s no value there. Haven’t we learned anything from 2012? Five QBs were selected among the top 12 that year, but only 1 finished among the top 17 in MVP points. A QB needs to break records in order to return 1st-round fantasy value. I won’t be betting on that in drafts this summer.

Knowshon Moreno is 9th among RBs. Berry adds the disclaimer that the ranking assumes Moreno sticks in Denver. Unlikely, but fine. Even then, he’ll be hard-pressed to crack the top 10 in 2014 with Montee Ball’s emergence. Over the final 8 games of the season (including playoffs), Ball totaled 73 carries for 393 yards – a 5.4 per-carry average. Moreno, meanwhile, managed just 372 yards on 96 carries – 3.9 yards per – over that same span. His average of 10.9 fantasy points would have ranked him just 17th at the position over the course of 16 games. If Moreno does return to Denver in 2014, he’ll find himself in a committee with Ball. And if he doesn’t, he’ll be re-exposed as a mediocre NFL RB. Ball, by the way, sits 29th in Berry’s RB rankings.

* Berry plays it safe by ranking Julio Jones as his #10 WR. I get the concerns with the right foot that’s required 2 surgeries since 2011. It’s why I’ll have Jones as a top 6 WR, rather than top 3. This guy remains an elite talent and is still only 25. He was on pace for a massive 131-1,856-6 line before going down last year. The potential reward will be well worth the risk in 2014 fantasy drafts.

Gio Bernard sits at #34 overall in Berry’s rankings. That’s probably where most people have the Bengal slotted. I think he belongs higher. Much higher. Like, top 20 higher. Bernard’s frame, power and pass-catching ability remind me of Ray Rice. Rice broke out for 2,041 total yards and 8 TDs in his 2nd season, finishing 4th among RBs in fantasy points. Bernard could follow suit in 2014 under new run-loving OC Hue Jackson.

Reggie Wayne is an early 5th-round pick according to Berry. The 35-year-old Reggie Wayne who has scored just 11 times in his last 39 games and is coming off a torn ACL? No thanks. I’ll take Michael CrabtreeVictor Cruz and Torrey Smith – who all sit below Wayne in Berry’s ranking – well ahead of a player at the cliff.

* It’s not surprising to see Kendall Wright ranked 31st among WRs … because that’s exactly where he finished last year. Of course, that was a year that saw Wright somehow score just 2 times on a whopping 94 receptions. That number could easily triple in 2014. That alone would push Wright into the top 20. And there’s upside beyond that if new HC Ken Whisenhunt takes better advantage of Wright’s deep speed. I hope experts like Berry continue to overlook this potential 2014 breakout star.

* I’m pumped to see Dennis Pitta all the way down at #100 overall as Berry’s 9th-ranked TE. We already touched on his upside in the Coaching Changes article. Being able to snag Pitta in the 9th or 10th round of drafts this summer could mean a lot of championships. Sshhhh – don’t tell Berry.

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