Every year we hear the same thing, "don't lose your league in the first round of your draft". The first few rounds aren't for finding sleepers that you can get amazing value for that will win you your league, they are for picking players that will not bust and can lead your team consistently week in and week out. So I'm going to go through the top twenty players (in my opinion) of next year's draft and analyze the positives and negatives of each player and why you should or shouldn't draft them in that spot.
(Here are results of the first two rounds from a ten-team mock draft a friend and I did)
2. Arian Foster
3. Ray Rice
4. LeSean McCoy
5. Tom Brady
8. Matt Forte
9. Cam Newton
10. Adrian Peterson
11. Drew Brees
12. Ryan Mathews
13. Matthew Stafford
14. Marshawn Lynch
15. Jamaal Charles
16. Larry Fitzgerald
17. Roddy White
18. Peyton Manning
19. Chris Johnson
20. Andre Johnson
Aaron Rodgers (1) - Agree completely with this pick; Rodgers has finished as a top two fantasy quarterback for consecutive years and now has three straight years with a passer rating of over 100 under his belt. Obviously (as history tells us) it will be near impossible for him to duplicate the 45-6 touchdown-interception ratio that he had in 2011, but I still consider him a lock for 35+ tds and less than 12 picks. Another good factor in drafting Rodgers is that his team will continue to win and have no need to change, which implies a continuation of his fantasy dominance.
Arian Foster (2) – Another fine pick in my mind. Foster only played in 13 games in 2011 (and one of those was a week two fiasco in Miami where he logged 10 carries for 33 yards then left the game early), yet still managed to finish as the number 4 running-back. Some wondered how much his production would decline with the loss of star fullback Vonta Leach (running behind him, Foster was the number 1 fantasy running-back in 2010) but if he had never been hurt and had played a full 16 games, Foster would have finished as the number 1 running-back for the second straight year (his per-game averages were tops among running-backs in 2011).
Ray Rice (3) – Last year's top fantasy running back. Has become his team's goal line back, can catch extremely well for a rb, and could average north of twenty carries a game. Gained Vonta Leach as a fullback last year (see above) and ascended to the next level. Consistent, year-in year-out; an elite rb. He is the focal point of his team's offense. Baltimore has a great defense and therefore Rice will be on the field a lot. His receiving ability makes him match-up proof.
LeSean McCoy (4) – Last year's number two fantasy running back (though he sat out the regular season finale vs Washington). Twenty (total) touchdowns, six 100-yard rushing performances in 2011. You have to wonder what he can follow those numbers up with; off the top of my head (if he stays healthy), I couldn't see him with less than 1700 total yards and 12 tds. That is worst case scenario in my mind; best case scenario he could lead the league in rushing yards, total yards, and touchdowns. Not even a risk-reward pick (in my mind) which makes him one of the more intriguing options when it comes time to draft. My only concern is how many touchdowns will Vick take away from McCoy, not only passing but also on the ground.
Tom Brady (5) – As fun as it is to write about Tom Brady, there isn't much left to say. He did just throw for 5235 yards -- second-most ever by a quarterback. He also gained a huge addition to his receiving corps with the acquisition of Brandon Lloyd. This Lloyd guy did pretty good back in 2010 with Josh McDaniels as his offensive coordinator (now the Patriots oc) and Kyle Orton throwing him the ball; which is a reflection of how talented Lloyd is and how great this could be for Brady. Don't forget how dominating Brady can be when he's at his best. Of all the quarterbacks on this list, Brady is the only player I believe will perform better in 2012 than they did in the previous year (except of course Peyton Manning who was hurt). If you don't have a top pick but want a dominating player that is extremely consistent, Brady could be your man.
Maurice Jones-Drew (6) – What's not to like about Jones-Drew? He just led the NFL in rushing (by a large margin) with arguably the least talented offense in the league surrounding him. You have to appreciate the fact that while he is on the field the majority of his team's plays run through him, and he isn't even the quarterback. That fact can also worry you though, since he also led the NFL in carries with 343. While he did not reach the "Curse of 370" that has plagued running backs for years I'm not sure if I would take the risk on a player that takes as many hits as MJD does. Remember, the first round is not about winning your draft, but instead about finding a safe pick that has little chance to go down to injury or bust. Obviously MJD won't bust -- if he plays, you're fine. Take precaution with the possibility of him getting hurt at any given time, although no player is immune to injury and it is hard to overlook his performance. Given his outstanding consistency outweighed with his heavy workload, I believe the perfect spot for him to be drafted is the mid-late first round, but I wouldn't argue with taking him anytime after about the third pick.
Calvin Johnson (7) – "Megatron". If his name alone doesn't make you want to draft him next year here is a stat: of his final four games this past season (including the week 1 playoff loss @ New Orleans) he had three 200 yard receiving games. He averaged 192.75 yards per game over those four games with 1.5 touchdowns a game. And you thought his four straight weeks with two touchdowns each to start the season was a hot streak. I don't think we've seen the best of Megatron yet, I truly believe he will be worth the 8-year, $132 million contract he just signed. If Matthew Stafford stays healthy, Johnson will be worth the high selection on draft day, if Stafford gets injured you still have (arguably) the most talented wide receiver in the NFL( who will put up at least 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns). Also, the fact that he is one of the few "match-up-proof" wide receivers in the NFL today helps; it's great to know that you have a constant starter at a position filled with inconsistency.
Matt Forte (8) – As a player I believe Matt Forte should be in the argument for the best running back in the NFL. Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster are the only players I would put in his category. So why isn't he a top three pick in my mind? For one, the situation for him in Chicago is absolutely terrible. As far as splitting carries goes, a player of his caliber should only worry about a goal-line vulture taking away touchdowns; no one should take considerable touches away from him. Therefore I'm not too worried about the Michael Bush acquisition from that standpoint. What I am worried about is why they brought Bush into Chicago; I believe they intend for Forte to hold out (Chris Johnson owners last year know why I am hesitant about Forte) until a longer deal is reached. If he gets the deal he wants before the pre-season starts he would be moved into my top 5 board; if he doesn't, I'm not touching him. Remember, the Bears and Forte have been trying to work out a new contract since last season. If they still don't have a deal done once August arrives I feel no reason to believe they would get one done before the start of the season; if they do, how effective would he be without a training camp (once again, Chris Johnson)? In the end if he is healthy and is happy with his place in Chicago then I wouldn't hesitate drafting him in the high first round, but if there are any doubts about his status check the matter out extensively and don't forget about the Chris Johnson situation of this past year.
Cam Newton (9) – I'm going to give Newton a "rookie pass" on the negatives of his game this past year. His 17 interceptions ranked sixth in the NFL (which isn't even a lot for a rookie taking as many pass attempts as he did). Take away three games of his and he threw 7 interceptions through the other 13 games (with 19 passing tds and 10 rushing tds). Obviously you can't just take away games, but he was a rookie and will learn from those mistakes. The other negative about him last year was the decline he had after his bye week; 299 passing yds per game with 18 (total) touchdowns and 9 interceptions before the bye compared to 207 passing yds per game with 17 (total) touchdowns and 8 interceptions after the bye. His ability to score rushing touchdowns (which by the way set the record for most rushing scores in a single season by a quarterback) sure helped owners compensate more than enough for his interceptions and inconsistent passing numbers, which should both be moving in the right direction with a full off-season and a year of experience under his belt. Most people will worry about a "second-year slump" that most quarterbacks succumb to, but I'm not worried about Newton. He set records left and right last year, both passing and rushing. He's young, and the focal point of his franchise. He has a solid receiving core with a great player in Steve Smith. He also took the 13th most passing attempts in the NFL last year; a sign pointing towards the Carolina Panthers moving into a pass-first direction, an amazing thing considering the talent of the running backs on the team. My advice: Get him on your team and enjoy watching him play; it's amazing how on so many snaps he takes, he manages to do something special on each of them.
Adrian Peterson (10) – He's Adrian Peterson. Yes he is coming off an injury. Yes he might even miss a few games to start the season. In the end though, he is one of the best players in the NFL and an extremely consistent player on a bad team. We know that no one can cut into his workload and he can still beat the defense when they stack the box on him. His surrounding play on offense can't get much worse, so his production (if he is healthy throughout the season) should not decline. I'll monitor his status closely up to the season and his ranking on most people's boards will probably change often, but he is a lock for ten touchdowns and 1200 (total) yards if he plays the majority of the season.
Drew Brees (11) – You can't argue with Brees' production. He just set the record for passing yards in a single season. Looking at his production (which speaks for itself), there isn't much I can tell you that will make you more inclined to draft Brees next year; with his numbers, his pass-first offense, and solid receiving core I wouldn't argue drafting him this high, or even higher. What I will tell you is to beware of him; something isn't right in New Orleans right now. The "Bounty Situation" causing his head coach Sean Payton to be suspended the entire season, the Saints losing Robert Meachem in free agency; I just don't see him improving on last year's numbers. If you get the Brees of last year it will have been a pick well spent, but with the number of "elite" quarterbacks going from the usual three or four each year, to what we have in 2012 (which is arguably six or seven) you might be better off waiting until the second round to nab your quarterback. In the end, I would say his worst case scenario is 4200 passing yds, 30 tds and 20 interceptions, which would have put him being about the number seven fantasy quarterback this past year. Best case scenario is what he did this past year. The only way I could see him having a stronger fantasy season is cutting down his interception numbers.
Ryan Mathews (12) – Head Coach Norv Turner and the Chargers expect a breakout season from Mathews in 2012. Currently, with the departure of Mike Tolbert, Mathews looks to be one of the few featured backs in the league this year. The Chargers have publicly said that they aren't afraid to give new fullback Le'Ron McClain the ball come, but you have to think that a fullback won't take too many touches away from an every-down running-back. The Chargers could still acquire a running-back through free-agency or the draft; but with the focus in San Diego during the free-agency period having been on obtaining wide-receivers, a blocking fullback, and defensive pieces all the signs point towards the Chargers organization looking to rely on Mathews heavily this season. Obviously his health has been a concern (he missed four games in 2010 and two in 2011) and even if he plays through an injury would it affect his production; but the talent is there, as well as the opportunity, and he is in a position to succeed immensely.
Matthew Stafford (13) – Matthew Stafford is a touchdown machine. In 29 career games he has thrown 60 touchdowns. That's an average of a little more than 2 touchdowns a game. Combine his tendency to score with one of the game's best wide receivers in Calvin Johnson and you could consider him a can't-miss pick. Then we look at his injury history. Coming out of college there were concerns about his durability and in his first two seasons he played a combined 13 games. He also led the league in passing attempts with 663 in 2011, therefore coming off of a year with such a hefty workload Stafford is obviously a risk. The talent is there and we know he can be elite when healthy; he just proved that with a 5000 yard season with 41 touchdowns. If you don't consider Peyton Manning "elite" for this upcoming season, Stafford could be the last "elite" quarterback that goes off the board. In the end it will come down to whether you believe the upside of Stafford outweighs his risk.
Marshawn Lynch (14) – Contract year. That's what 2011 was for Lynch. Can we expect him to "pull a Chris Johnson" and regress after getting paid? I'm not so sure. In 2011 Lynch performed great. 1200 rushing yards and 12 tds and he didn't even get a heavy workload until week five. We know that he is a runner that grinds out yards through the tackles and doesn't run it outside. That isn't a problem when he breaks as many tackles as he does. No one will pass him as the primary goal-line back and since he can block well will likely remain on the field for long drives. His yards-per-carry should rise in 2012 with the addition of Matt Flynn forcing opposing defenses to respect the pass and freeing up some space for Lynch to wreck havoc. Don't forget that the era of featured-backs is coming to a close and Lynch is a featured-back likely to be available in the second round of your draft.
Jamaal Charles (15) – Since he was injured in week two of 2011, let's look at his numbers before last season. The lowest yards per carry Charles has ever had in a season was 5.3 in his rookie year. A threat in the receiving game, Charles averaged 37.3 receptions for 346 yards each of his first three seasons; and caught at least one touchdown in each of those seasons. Obviously as his yards per carry shows, he can be one of the most productive running-backs in the NFL any given week. I wouldn't worry about the Chiefs not giving him the ball as much as other running-backs that would be drafted here; Charles can turn ten touches into more fantasy points than other running-backs would put up with twenty touches. There are question marks surrounding nearly every running-back in this part of the draft, Charles's health being his biggest one. Monitor his status just like every other player coming off injury, and remember: last year Charles was being drafted by most as a top-five pick. We haven't seen his best yet.
Larry Fitzgerald (16) – 1411 yards and 17.6 yards per reception last year with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton throwing him the ball. Fitzgerald became more of a deep ball threat in 2011 than he had been in recent years; his previous season-high for yards per reception was 14.9. We can expect that number to decline and his reception total to increase. He caught 80 balls in 2011; his lowest total over a full season since his rookie year. Bottom-line is that he is the most consistent wide receiver in fantasy football, coming off his fifth straight 1000-yard season; he can produce strong numbers with sub-par quarterback play and is a must-start every week.
Roddy White (17) – He's Larry Fitzgerald junior. He now has five consecutive seasons with 1000 yards receiving, averaging 8.4 touchdowns a season during that span. 2011 marked the second consecutive year White led the NFL in targets, 179 in 2010 and 181 in 2011. That proves that the Matt Ryan-Roddy White connection didn't change with the acquisition of Julio Jones (who by the way averaged 8 targets a game and I love going into next season). White has never missed an NFL game either. The Falcons have a new offensive coordinator who might want to spread the ball out more to Julio Jones, possibly resulting in a loss of targets from Roddy White; but that isn't enough to change White being worth a very safe second-round pick.
Peyton Manning (18) – This ranking is based on track record. You know what you're getting with Peyton Manning (roughly 4500 yards, 30 tds and about 15 interceptions). I think we'll see the yards and touchdowns we're used to with Peyton, but he will be rusty and throw more interceptions than we would expect. He could be the bridge between the top quarterbacks and those right below them; he could end up in either category and I wouldn't be surprised. The reports we've heard so far are that he is the "Peyton Manning of old" and looks great throwing the ball. He should be fine to start the season
Chris Johnson (19) – Last year was terrible. We need to put that behind us though. Although he was drafted top four by many fantasy teams last season and only finished as the number 16 running-back, he is still an extremely talented player and arguably the fastest player in the league. Even with his rough season in 2011, he still ran for 1000 yards and caught 40 passes, something he's done every season that he's been in the NFL. Though he's only missed one game in his entire career, he has averaged nearly 300 rushes per season and 345 touches a season. For a guy that does wonders with each touch and keeps a high yards-per-carry (4.7 for his career, though it's declined each of the past two seasons) he could be a steal at the end of the second round of your draft. We can only hope that last season can be blamed on contractual issues, not on wearing down because of the Titans using him so much every year. In the end it's rare to find a guy that is practically guaranteed to get 20 touches each game after the first round; it's up to you how to put last season into perspective for CJ2K.
Andre Johnson (20) – A healthy Andre Johnson is easily one of the league's top wide receivers, too bad it's been a while since he's been healthy. It seems like a long time ago he put up consecutive 1500-yard seasons. Johnson has only played 20 total games the past two seasons, and in 2011 he really struggled with injuries playing only 7 games and not near at the level we're used to expecting from him. Interestingly enough, for a nine-year pro with three 100-catch seasons and five 1000-yard seasons Johnson has never scored 10 touchdowns in a season. On a positive note, once he was healthy in 2011 (mainly the postseason) he performed well against tough defenses; 90 yards and a touchdown vs. the Bengals and 111 yards in Baltimore. Looking towards next season I wouldn't use a first round pick on Johnson anymore since he is an injury-prone player that doesn't score a lot even when healthy; but he could end up having nice late-second, early third-round value.
Concluding, I hope this article can change your perspective of your 2012 fantasy draft for the better. Thanks for reading; and feel free to email me any comments, questions or concerns about this or any of my articles.