Football players have relatively short careers, so getting a big payday whenever possible is a must. Keeping this in mind can help fantasy football players target guys who might give their stats a bump in a contract year. In 2014 there are numerous names out there to watch in their contract year, but which guys are really going to put up the monster numbers?
Dez Bryant WR Dal - It is no secret that Bryant is on of the top receivers in the NFL, but in 2014 he'll have a bit of extra incentive. Bryant plays for one of the most high profile organizations in sports and if he puts up huge numbers, it is pretty much a sure bet that Jerry Jones will be opening his wallet to keep his star wideout around.
Demaryius Thomas WR Den - Here is another first tier wide receiver on a contract year, but with a bit of a twist. Thomas has Peyton Manning throwing him the ball, but probably not for more than another year or two. Now is the time to really break the bank because there are no guarantees about who will be quarterbacking in Denver after Manning retires. Thomas put up numbers even when Tim Tebow was throwing him the ball, but the Manning years will likely end up being the most statistically prolific of his career.
Randall Cobb WR GB - Cobb has a lot to prove in 2014 if he wants to be inked to a big time contract. After a solid year in 2012 and a big start to the 2013 season, injuries kept his totals down. A full, healthy year with Aaron Rodgers slinging him the football could do wonders for his numbers. If he puts up the type of stats that fantasy owners were expecting in 2013, Cobb should see a nice payday, the question is will it be the Packers paying him?
Torrey Smith WR Bal - Smith has been an under the radar option for the past couple of seasons despite some expectations that he might have a breakout season. In 2013 he had a nice season with over 1100 receiving yards, but he only got into the endzone 4 times. If Smith can find a way to score a few more times this season, he could be a major contributor for fantasy owners, possibly a WR2 for the price of a WR3.
Michael Crabtree WR SF - Until last season, Michael Crabtree's stats had improved each year of his career. His peak so far was in 2012 when he caught 85 balls for 1105 yards and 9 touchdowns. Crabtree is Colin Kaepernick's go-to receiver and he should eclipse the thousand yard mark in 2014 if he can stay healthy. Look for big things from Michael Crabtree in 2014.
Julius Thomas TE Den - Julius Thomas became a fantasy darling out of nowhere in 2013. Like Demaryius Thomas, Orange Julius benefited hugely from the presence of Peyton Manning in Denver. Almost every tight end that Manning has ever quarterbacked for has been a major force in fantasy and Julius Thomas has been no different early in his career. It will be interesting to see if there is enough money to go around in Denver with both Thomases looking to cash in for 2015.
Jordan Cameron TE Cle - Cleveland has set Cameron up to either have monster stats or be shut down in his contract year. There should be a huge number of targets coming at the young tight end which could mean big things. On the other hand, the offense really has no other significant weapon with Josh Gordon likely out for at least half the season. This will allow the opposition to key on Cameron most of the time. When it comes down to it, volume usually wins out and Cameron will put up nice numbers. Just watch out for the injury bug to bite given the high usage that he will see.
Demarco Murray RB Dal - In a down year for top tier running backs on contract years, Demarco Murray nearly standsAs long as he can stay on the field in 2014, Demarco Murray is going to carry fantasy teams.
alone as the guy to grab if you believe in the stat bump. Murray is coming off career highs in games played, yards, touchdowns, you name it. He is entering a new system that saw Reggie Bush and Joique Bell put up huge numbers and the coach wants to increase Murray's usage. Put these factors together with an improved offensive line and the motivation of a new contract and you could have a back who surprises everyone with his production. Demarco Murray has top-3 back upside if he can stay healthy.
Shane Vereen/Stevan Ridley - These two guys and Bill Belichick make it hard on fantasy owners. Vereen is much more likely to be the player you want to own on a weekly basis. With that being said, Ridley could be a serious force if he could ever get his head right (of course he was already benched for fumbling...in the preseason). If you're in a ppr league, obviously grab Vereen WAY before Ridley, but I think that Ridley could be a bargain if things break right for him. Either player or both could be in for solid seasons, especially if Brady and Gronk are both healthy to hold some defenders back off the line of scrimmage.
Jake Locker QB Ten - The only quarterback that might be in for a big payday in 2015 is Jake Locker. 2014 is probably going to be a make or break year for Locker. He has a solid corps of wide receivers (Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Nate Washington) and a young running back in Bishop Sankey who will make a nice safety valve out of the backfield. There is the added motivation of adding Zach Mettenberger out of LSU, who I personally think could be a nice NFL quarterback.
In addition to these players, here are a couple of sleepers and deep sleeper who didn't make the cut.
Sleepers: Reggie Wayne, Darren McFadden, Frank Gore, Knowshon Moreno, Bilal Powell, Cecil Shorts
Deep Sleepers: Eddie Royal, Daniel Thomas, Michael Vick
Also: Top 20 Running Back Rankings PPR