A 2012 Fantasy Football Primerby Nam Le on Aug, 15 2012
This much is undeniable: fall is coming. Though September means a return to school and a reunion with insomnia, fall does bring one gift with its arrival: the return of football.
With last year’s lockout drama fully behind us, and many fantasy football leagues holding their drafts in the next couple weeks, the question looms large for all: Who is worth drafting this year?
Allow me to assist. Whether you are a grizzled veteran of the virtual gridiron or a complete rookie, this post is intended as a primer, complete with general rules and strategies I personally use, as well as a small list of players I’m high on [or not high on] for this upcoming season.
This also seems like a good time for a disclaimer.
Disclaimer: I am in no way responsible for your eventual finish. But do know that if any of these players end up flaming out, I’ll be just as screwed as you are. The names listed below are not the only players you should consider drafting – just the ones that I think are worth paying extra attention to if they’re available. I do not claim to be an expert, but I do have a fairly successful track record in fantasy football, across multiple formats. Whatever that’s worth.
If you can’t snag one of the Rodgers/Brady/Brees/Stafford/Newton quintet, your season isn’t lost just yet.
I’m buying on:
Michael Vick: It’s true that Vick didn’t have the greatest season last year, throwing for just 18 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Some of this can be explained away. Due to the lockout, Vick didn’t have the benefit of working with the coaching staff, for one – this offseason is the first “full” one he’s had since arriving in Philadelphia. For two, there were some uncertainties at wide receiver, with Desean Jackson’s holdout and Jeremy Maclin’s health issues. With both those things solved in 2012, Vick should have a much better time at the helm.
It’s also true that Michael Vick is a health risk. Heck, he couldn’t even get through the first quarter recently without an injury. But when he plays, he offers as much upside as anyone in the aforementioned group of fantasy elites, at a much cheaper price. Feel completely comfortable building your team with him at QB1. Just prepare a decent backup.
Jay Cutler: Missing Jay Cutler for their final six games in 2011, the Bears offense fell into a deep hibernation. Forced to start Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown behind center, the team’s average point totals plummeted, dropping from 26.8 under Cutler to 13.5. Well, Cutler’s back, and with two new toys. Okay, one of them’s an old one – ex-teammate Brandon Marshall – but you may recall that the two put up some pretty good stats together. The other toy? Rookie wideout Alshon Jeffrey, a big, physical receiver who the team selected with their second round pick. With the two of them in the fold, and a new coordinator who doesn’t insist on getting Cutler killed, you can expect a bounce back year from him.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: Before breaking two ribs in week 6, Ryan Fitzpatrick was one of the hottest quarterbacks in football. His season went down the drain soon after that, but those ribs are now healed, and Buffalo will throw. They will throw often. You could do worse than to have him as your backup.
I’m selling on:
Peyton Manning: Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas will almost certainly benefit from Peyton’s presence. Jacob Tamme, too. But with Manning’s surgically repaired neck still untested and him playing most of his games outdoors for the first time, is #18 the guy you really want to pin your hopes on?
Matt Schaub: No other real targets besides the injury prone Andre Johnson, Ben Tate and Arian Foster in the backfield…no thank you.
Robert Griffin III: Let me be clear. I love Robert Griffin III [or as I affectionately refer to him, Ser Robert, of House Griffin, Third of his Name]. I am simply taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to him, because he plays in a very tough division and has limited weapons. Rookie quarterbacks have thrived recently – you only have to look as far as last season with Cam Newton and Andy Dalton to know that – but I would not pick him up to start at QB1, which some people have been doing. Backup material, with high upside.
Either NYJ quarterback: This goes for their wide receivers, running backs and tight ends, too. That offense is a complete mess right now.
This is an incredibly tough position to draft this year. After the top couple backs, it gets ugly quick – you can’t look anywhere without finding a question mark. My advice? Prioritize this position in your draft. Wide receivers and tight ends are going to be deep. The difference between winning and losing your league might be the two guys you start in your backfield each week.
I’m buying on:
Chris Johnson: No holdout this year, and he’ll be fully motivated after his complete bust of a season. Don’t let the low yardage fool you – after a miserable first two months of the season, Johnson rushed for 4.8 YPC the rest of the way. I’m willing to chalk September and October [2.82 YPC] up to “post-holdout rust”. If that wasn’t good enough already, Johnson is one of the best pass catching backs in the league, giving him additional value for PPR formats. Most experts have Johnson ranked 5th among running backs this year, but with Maurice Jones-Drew [#4] still in the middle of his holdout, I figure CJ’s a safer pick.
Doug Martin: Currently undervalued and pushing for a starting spot in Tampa Bay, all reports out of their camp suggest the staff loves this guy. I’ve heard Doug Martin referred to as Ray Rice-esque more than once. If you can snag him in a middle round, do so – he’ll likely be a factor at some point. Having signed Carl Nicks to improve the offensive line and Vincent Jackson to be the top wideout, Tampa Bay has enough threats offensively to prevent teams from packing the box against Martin. Because the Browns will not have the same respect from opposing defenses, I trust Martin far more than fellow rookie Trent Richardson. Richardson, by the way, just met with Dr. James Andrews last week to get his knee scoped…minor procedure or not, you never want to see the name of any athlete and James Andrews in the same sentence. Ever.
Mikel Leshoure: Two game suspension be damned, if he’s available late, leave him on your bench until he returns. They don’t really have anyone else to run out there in Detroit.
Peyton Hillis: Hillis will take most of the carries to keep Jamaal Charles fresh, much like Thomas Jones did a few seasons back. Kansas City offensive coordinator Brian Daboll coached Hillis back in Cleveland, and he knows how to use him.
Darren McFadden: He’s an injury risk. I know. But if you think he can stay healthy – and I do, for no reason other than sheer hope – McFadden is the kind of gamebreaking talent that can win you a league on his own. Explosive in the open field, a pass catching threat, strong between the tackles…there’s not a whole lot to dislike about him. You know, other than the “he might only play 10 games” thing.
Jacquizz Rodgers: See the Michael Turner bit below for why.
I’m selling on:
Trent Richardson: See the Doug Martin bit above for why.
Ryan Mathews: Surprising absolutely nobody, Mathews injured himself on his first carry of the preseason, and is likely to continue being more fragile than a set of china once he returns. Stay away. Stay very, very away.
Michael Turner: Total workhorse over the last few seasons, but he showed signs of slowing down in the second half of 2011. Combine this with the emergence of backup Jacquizz Rodgers and a promise by head coach Mike Smith to more evenly distribute carries, and you have a guy who is probably not going to repeat his 1340 yard, 11 TD performance.
Frank Gore: Similar to Turner, Gore’s time as a fantasy stud is fading quickly, and the backfield in San Francisco is now four deep, with Gore, Kendall Hunter, Lamichael James and Brandon Jacobs. You can do better.
Jahvid Best: Still not cleared for contact, and likely one more concussion away from retirement. Has all the talent in the world, but not someone I’d depend on for my roster.
Every Washington back: If you don’t know by now, Mike Shannahan gets off on screwing with your team’s chances. There is a special circle of hell reserved for him.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
There is a gold mine of talent at these positions because the NFL is such a passing league now. As such, adjust accordingly. Plenty of players will end up being productive, so there’s no need to reach for an “elite” talent. By my personal count, there are over 12 receivers who I would start comfortably as my WR1.
I’m buying on:
Julio Jones – Healthy and unhampered by the hamstring issues that forced him to miss 4 games last season, Jones looks set to dominate. Look no further than last week for proof – he put up 6-106-1 in the first quarter. Against the Ravens first stringers. Can I stop typing in italics when talking about this guy? Probably not. Just draft him.
Antonio Brown – It’s a little known fact, but this guy was the Steelers’ best receiver in 2011 – and was actually voted team MVP. Those of you in PPR leagues will thank me even more, because Brown was one of the most reliable third down targets in the league last year. With Mike Wallace missing camp so far, Brown’s had time to continue building chemistry with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. I’m a fan.
Eric Decker – Those in PPR leagues will thank me here, too. Shifty and smart, Decker is Manning’s favorite target in Denver so far, possessing all the potential of an 80+ catch wide receiver this year. Oh, and he returns punts, if your league is into that kind of thing.
Titus Young – Someone’s got to catch balls besides Megatron.
Dez Bryant – Currently ranked behind names like Mike Wallace and AJ Green, Bryant might end up surpassing either of them this season. He’s that talented. Assuming he doesn’t do anything else stupid, of course.
Brandon Marshall – See the Jay Cutler bit for why.
Brent Celek – In the second half of last season, Michael Vick began to discover the value of tight ends. If you remember Alge Crumpler from Vick’s Atlanta days, there’s a lot to like here, considering Celek has similar talent. Want more proof that this is already starting to happen? Celek racked up 2/3rds of his 811 yards during those final 8 weeks. You’ll be able to get him cheap.
Coby Fleener and Fred Davis – Rookie quarterbacks tend to love checking down to tight ends – big, athletic targets who can provide safe completions. Fred Davis put together a very nice season last year behind the god-awful Rex Grossman, and that’s ignoring the fact that he was suspended for failing a drug test his final four games. Expect him to do even better with the infinitely more talented RG3 behind center. In Fleener’s case, he’s played with Andrew Luck for years, giving him an extra advantage and chemistry over other Indianapolis targets.
I’m selling on:
Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks – You know what’s crazy? Of Cruz’s 9 touchdowns last year, 6 covered over 65 yards, including these two freak accidents. Yeah…I don’t think that’s happening again. Of the two, Hakeem Nicks is far more likely to repeat his numbers from last season. The reason he’s on this list is because he has a clear weakness – in 3 games against Philadelphia and NYJ, two teams that boast big, physical press corners, he averaged 2.33 catches and 38 yards a game. That wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t face Nnamdi Asomugha twice a year. You just can’t have that from your top wideout.
AJ Green – AJ Green will one day be one of the top 3 wide receivers in the league. But with no other real target to take the pressure off him, and the pretty “meh” prospect of BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the backfield, he’ll see a lot of extra attention – attention I’m not sure he’s ready to beat right now.
Desean Jackson – My favorite Cal Bear of all time, but a terrible, terrible fantasy player – equally likely to be shut out or explode for 2 touchdowns every week. In PPR leagues, he’s even worse. Opt for his less popular but more effective teammate Jeremy Maclin instead.
Every 49ers wide receiver…and Vernon Davis – The offense is run first, run second, and run third. Do you really think Alex Smith is going to start chucking it around the field all willy nilly?
Rob Gronkowski – With the addition of Brandon Lloyd, who New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels simply loves, I have a hard time seeing this man Yo Soy Fiesta his way to 17 touchdowns again. He’s due to drop off a bit.
Read all the boxscores during the season. All the boxscores. This will help you identify waiver wire targets. My personal rule is to snatch up any unknown player who puts together two strong performances in a row.
Watch pre-game. Yes, it sucks to get out of bed at 9:15AM on Sundays. But when it leaks that Lesean McCoy will be inactive in week 6, you’ll want to know. Trust me.
Unless you play with a tight end flex, there is no reason to carry two of them.
Unless you play with two quarterbacks, there is no reason to carry three of them. My preferred strategy is to have one clearly superior quarterback, and one quarterback you’d be comfortable with if everything else went to hell with your first choice. Roster slots are precious. Use them on depth elsewhere.
Always, always, always draft defenses and kickers last.