Early 2014 fantasy football observations: Keenan Allen, Giovani Bernard, Alfred Morris


Early observations for three notable players in 2014 fantasy football leagues:

Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers: Allen was among the biggest surprises of last fantasy football season, exploding onto the scene in Week 4 and leading all rookies in receptions (71) and yards (1,046). An unheralded talent who slipped in the 2013 NFL draft, Allen made an immediate connection with quarterback Philip Rivers as his de facto No. 1 receiver.

The Chargers were hit hard by injuries in their wide receiver corps last season, which gave Allen the platform he needed to showcase his skills. He looked like a seasoned veteran in running a variety of routes and finding open spaces in both the short and deep passing games. That type of versatility allowed him to make fantasy contributions even when targets were harder to come by.

Allen has established his floor as a player, but the question remaining in 2014 and beyond is, what is his ceiling? There are limitations with his speed and explosiveness, which probably cap Allen as a WR2 in most formats. But his subtle hint of upside comes in a reliable package, making him a desirable option anytime after the fourth round in standard-league drafts.

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: Bernard is one of the most exciting young running backs in the NFL, an explosive combination of speed and elusiveness. He showed those abilities as the “lightning” part of a backfield timeshare with veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a rookie last season with 1,209 total yards (695 rush, 514 rec.), 56 catches and eight touchdowns.

Since then, the Bengals added second-round pick Jeremy Hill to the backfield mix with Bernard and Green-Ellis. The LSU product is a 6-1, 233-pounder who runs with power and can effectively supplant Green-Ellis as Bernard’s running mate. That transition should begin this season under the watch of a first-year offensive coordinator in Hue Jackson.

With the drafting of Hill, Cincinnati seems to have revealed its longer-term plans for Bernard. He’s not built to be a 20-carry workhorse or short-yardage bruiser, so the Bengals have rededicated to pairing him with backs who can play that role. Bernard is a special talent, but he likely won’t get enough work or scoring opportunities to take a major step forward in 2014.

Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins: Morris has made a remarkable rise from an unknown sixth-round draft pick to one of the NFL’s most steady rushers over the last two seasons. Only Adrian Peterson has totaled more rushing yards than Morris’ 2,888 over that time, as Morris has averaged 4.7 yards per carry and scored 20 touchdowns.

As part of a slumping Redskins offense, Morris saw his workload reduced from 335 carries to 276 and his touchdown output fall from 13 to 7. His place as a traditional two-down back played a part in getting fewer totes as the Redskins faced more deficits and attempted fewer rushes (519 to 453) than the season before. Washington also scored far fewer points.

Mike Shanahan and his coaching staff were relieved of their duties, and Jay Gruden entered for his first coaching gig. Morris’ place as a centerpiece of the offense looks cemented, and an overall improvement should be expected with more playmakers and better play from Robert Griffin III. There’s a good chance that Morris drifts closer to his 2012 numbers (1,613 yards, 13 TDs) as a result.

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