While Jim Rome would argue that how poorly I did in fantasy football these past two seasons (9-17, including finishing in dead last last year by a full 1.5 games in a league where a 9-4 team took the top seed on record alone) is a reflection of how well I’m doing in real life, I respectfully disagree. Why simply accept defeat in mature fashion when you can dump another 200 dollars in a pool of 11 other dudes and talk senseless trash for four months?
(Note: Full details of how poorly my season went for me can be found here)
With the curse quantifiably alive and well, I’ve decided to give a fair warning to everyone that asks me advice (no matter how many times I tell them I was 3-10 last year) of what I’m probably going after. The light at the end of this nightmare is that I’ve earned the #1 overall pick, and thusly, there’s no better place to start!
The rankings I refer to in this column are based on fantasyfootballcalculator.com
The #1 pick
Last year was an ephemeral paradigm shift of the 1st round. The advent of an almost purely passing league lead to many QBs getting landed in the 1st round where RBs used to flow like water. It was also strongly believed by many experts that wide receiver depth was so profound that one shouldn’t pick any receivers until the 5th/6th rounds. This year is a shift back to normalcy. QBs can wait… BIG TIME, and there aren’t nearly as many good wide receivers this year as there were last year. The read option and the AP MVP campaign last year have brought us back to RB-centered teams. Get your 2-3 RBs first, reach for a WR if you have to, and let the rest fall to you.
RBs I love
Arian Foster – Likely my #1 pick. I would take him over AP for several reasons that are likely the product of overthinking my draft:
1) He’s a much less physical runner, and is more likely to start 16 games
2) Minnesota drafted a receiver in the first round and signed Greg Jennings, making the Vikings a virtual lock to pass more. They also have Kyle Rudolph at tight end coming off a Pro-Bowl appearance. If Jennings, Patterson, and Jerome Simpson pan out as receivers this year, it will only open more opportunities for Rudolph. They will NOT be relying on AP like they did last year. The Vikings have to see what Ponder is made of THIS YEAR, or they move on.
3) Houston, by contrast did not help their passing game AT ALL this offseason. Their tight end group consists of 7-year veteran Owen Daniels and three rookies. Their receiving group consists of 10-year veteran and future Cantonite Andre Johnson, 2 year vet Lestar Jean, Jeff Maehl (?) and five rookies. Because of this, Foster will be used MUCH more heavily in the passing game than Peterson this year. The Texans have shown in big game situations that they’re willing to do anything to get the ball in Foster’s hands. In the playoff game against New England last year, they even ran a 4th down slant play from the X-receiver position underneath Andre Johnson to score a touchdown.
Adrian Peterson – …all that being said, I can’t blame anyone who takes AP #1. He’s finished in the top 5 in rushing yards every year he’s been in the league, and will still be the engine of Minnesota’s offense, but the performance you saw last year, especially given the high percentage of the time he faced 8-man fronts, is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon. Be glad you were alive to see it.
Doug Martin – Josh Freeman is also in a make-or-break year, and arguably nobody has more to gain and more to lose than he does based on his performance this year. Despite playing well for 3/4 of last year and only really falling apart in December (something Peyton Manning just so happened to do while he was my fantasy QB in my first year… FUCK, man…), Greg Schiano hasn’t even publicly named him the starter for opening day. While I’m sure this is simply a tactic to
distance himself politically from Freeman so that if he falls apart and gets released he won’t look attached to him and he’ll be able to draft his own QB to extend the number of years he stays in the league motivate Freeman, Schiano’s mistrust of him will ensure Martin gets a heavy load. He’s young, versatile, level-headed, and hungry, and showed last year that he can handle such a volume. Expect Schiano to lean heavily on the run game this year unless Josh Freeman statistically explodes in September
Trent Richardson – I can’t believe some sites have him rated as only the 8th highest running back. There’s no way this offense doesn’t go through Richardson. Norv Turner LOVES deep drops, and you don’t do deep drops unless you can get some heavy play-action going. Not only will they have to heavily rely on Richardson’s physical nature to suck linebackers up on play action, but their passing attack has no midrange flair whatsoever. They’re either going deep to Gordon and the boys, or dumping it off to Trent. With Richardson’s proven skill set, and Norv Turner’s decades of pedigree in productive (if not always winning) offense, I can’t see how this miserably fails.
Chris Johnson – 14th best running back? Seriously? Tennesee’s big change this offseason was the vast improvement of the interior offensive line. Chance Warmack and Andy Levitre will seal up alot of what went wrong last season, and while they won’t be tearing up the league through the air, they’ll certainly be able to threaten people on the ground. The drawback to Johnson is Tennesee’s bad defense, which may predispose them to passing more than they want to for the second halves of games. I understand that some of you are still badly burned for taking him in the 1st round after the CJ2K season, but I really think the Titans are going to committ to CJ this year. They don’t really have much of a choice (Unless you seriously think Shonn Greene is going to vulture his TDs, and if you do, you haven’t seen his film. Frankly… I’m not so sure Tennessee saw his film either given that they signed him to a 3-year deal-he-he-he-he-ACTUALLY the best description of Shonn Greene’s ability came from Mike Francesa: “If you asked him to run through my studio, he’d trip over the furniture”. This parenthesis has gotten way too long.)
David Wilson – Ranked 21st, and rightfully so, but if you like your RBs with big play written all over them this is your guy. If he takes off in September, the Giants are riding him. Even if he doesn’t, there’s just too much ability here for him not to be productive. Don’t let the lightning speed fool you: David Wilson is thick and hard-headed between the tackles. He has the type of body that will pinball at full speed down the field and careen chaotically out of bounds for a few extra yards. It’s not reckless. He’s just built like that. He’s also a dynamite kick returner, and will likely get called upon to return a few even if he’s not the full time return man he was last year.
Christopher Ivory – Staying in NY here. I loved Ivory from the first time I laid eyes on him in a Saints’ preseason game (don’t ask). He’s been rightfully stashed behind Sproles, Thomas and Ingram on a Saints team that didn’t make their name running the ball to begin with. The Jets circus stigma won’t apply to Ivory. He’s a physical versatile runner who finally has his chance to shine, and I’m fairly certain he could give a fuck what the prognosis for the rest of the offense is. He can use this year to parlay himself into nice money next year, be it here or elsewhere. I’d bet on him if he falls to you.
Eddie Lacy – One of two rookies I like. If they get his pad level down a little, he has a chance to be devastating. He really couldn’t be contained in the SEC championship game, and Notre Dame defenders didn’t even look like they belonged on the field with him in the National Title Game. I don’t see how he doesn’t get all their goal-line carries (it’s going to be real hard to justify giving them to John Kuhn when this guy’s on your team), I don’t see how he doesn’t start, and with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver gone, Lacy could be just the kind of change of pace that balances Green Bay’s offense.
Giovani Bernard – If you’re going to take a rookie in fantasy, take one from a pro-style offense. Not that many colleges really run them anymore, and perhaps with the advent of the read-option in the NFL, that line has blurred significantly. There are certain schools that aren’t nationally notorious for football that run pro-style, and players from that school have a tendency to come into the NFL and learn things alot quicker because, well, they don’t have as much to learn. Write these schools down: Virginia Tech, UNC, TCU, USC, Stanford, Tennessee, Notre Dame, UCLA, Arizona State, Ole Miss, Arkansas. If you’re thinking of taking a rookie because you know they’re likely going to start at their position right away, look up the type of offense they were in. If it looks like they’re going to have to schematically adjust alot in their first year, they’re simply not worth the pick. Cincinnati is at a fork in the road in their road with Andy Dalton (TCU :D, and successfully predicted by SPTKF to be the best QB in his class) and have surrounded him with weapons in the hopes of gaining an explosiveness that can put them over the top in playoff games. They will not be patient with BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ non-explosive style, and will look to get the ball in Bernard’s hands.
RBs I hate (as 1st Round Picks) – Keep in mind this is only relative to the position people are drafting them
Jamaal Charles – He’s a running back coached by Andy Reid. The foot injury in training camp didn’t help, either.
Frank Gore/Marshawn Lynch – I would avoid any running back on a team that ran read-option plays last year. In order for that scheme to really work week in and week out, the ball has to be spread around. Russell Wilson will be vulturing yards and TDs from him, as will Robert Turbin and even Percy Harvin if he makes it back from injury. This obviously goes for the Niner backs, too. You saw how much they spread their ground attack out in the playoffs last year. No reason to think they won’t try to do the same this season. If you draft Frank Gore, you won’t like LeMichael James.
Ray Rice – They can say whatever the hell they want to the press. Bernard Pierce is getting 1/3 of Ray’s carries and that’s that. He showed way too much promise in the Super Bowl run last year, and I can’t be certain that he’s not the 10th or 11th most talented running back in the league even right now. With the loss of Anquan Boldin and the injury to Dennis Pitta, a two-headed balanced running attack will be mandatory to give Flacco the deep dropbacks to hit Torrey Smith off play-action. As the Ravens stand on offense, I don’t see how they get downfield without play-action. Granted, one could say that my arguments FOR Foster and AGAINST Rice are the same, but Ben Tate with a nagging foot injury is no Bernard Pierce, and the Ravens don’t have the offensive line and zone-blocking scheme that the Texans do to support a heavy play-action load.
LeSean McCoy – on the one hand, you look at McCoy’s skill set and figure that he’s perfect for Chip Kelly’s scheme. On the other hand, if Chip Kelly keeps the pace fast and furious, there’s no way McCoy won’t be splitting carries, there’s no way he’ll be getting goal line carries, and there may even be a political sting on Kelly’s part to suppress McCoy’s stardom so that he doesn’t appear to live and die with him or any particular offensive player (he still hasn’t named a starting QB, ya know). I’ll admit I’m not as confident in slamming him as I am the other backs on this list, but to have him averaging a top 10 selection in mock drafts with all the uncertainty surrounding how he’ll be used seems ludicrous to me.
DeMarco Murray – I know the dropoff on RBs is steep, but how Murray warrants top-tier fantasy value in mock drafts when he can’t stay healthy, can’t be the focal point of an offense, possesses no lateral agility whatsoever, and has totaled 6 career touchdowns in two seasons is so far beyond me that it might get me hired by Jerry Jones. His being ranked ahead of Lamar Miller, Darren McFadden, and Darren Sproles is unconscionable.
WRs I love
Calvin Johnson – Duh. Wide receivers are pretty cut and dry this year, without much smoke and mirrors. Megatron has just about everything going for him. The whole “best player at his position by a mile” thing. The bounce-back year. The 9-indoor-game minimum. The tour through the NFC East (have you seen these corners?). Calvin is virtually uncoverable even in his situation where there’s no one drawing attention from him on the opposite side of the field (You’re not counting a 32-year old Nate Burleson, are you?). No qualms here.
AJ Green – Different breed of beast. An absolute acrobat. AJ will have to be hit early and often to open up opportunities for the other targets. The Bengals have several weapons, but they all need Green to stretch the defense to be appropriately capitalized upon.
Dez Bryant – In the offseason of contract extensions for quarterback’s who’ve never won anything, Romo’s increased commitment to Dez as the result of his will be most impactful. Romo won’t be able to go to Witten later in games if he doesn’t get Dez going first. With their running game seemingly in shambles, their defense in their 2nd scheme overhaul in 3 seasons, and tensions abound in the coaching staff, Romo to Dez will be hammered to exhaustion.
Julio Jones – Love him just as much this year as I did last year, when he predictably broke out. Julio is an absolute physical monster that has a bevy of targets drawing coverage away from him. He plays 9 games indoors minimum every year, and with Michael Turner gone, the Falcons will be going to the air more than ever to get over the top and win the big one.
Larry Fitzgerald – Nobody catching passes this season will be more motivated than this guy. Fitz has been DYING to develop a real rapport with someone in lieu of the carousel of ineptitude he’s been tolerating since 2010. He hasn’t lost a step, and if Carson Palmer falls for Fitz with a full offseason in proportion to how he fell for Terrell Owens on short notice, FItz should have a monster year.
Marques Colston – A model of consistency. Aside from an injury shortened third season, Colston has broken 1000 yards and at least 7 touchdowns in every year of his career. Brees will be asspained from the suspensions last year, and seeking revenge. Aggressive deep throws to Colston are his best bet to accomplish that.
Billy Playmaker – Steve Smith has the skill set to be ageless, and better yet has the heart not to take weeks off on a bad team. Carolina’s done nothing to surround Smith with a supporting cast in the past 3 seasons, and thusly, Cam won’t be looking elsewhere too often
T. Y. Hilton – Watching the 2nd half of Indy’s season during their hot run, Hilton was the guy Luck trusted down the stretch. Reggie Wayne will get his, but Hilton is too versatile as both a quick twitch slot target and deep threat to not have his role expanded this season. The Colts HAVE to be explosive to stay on the Texans’ tails. It’s the only thing they do better.
Vincent Brown – Vincent Jackson is long gone, Danario Alexander’s knee is blown out, Malcolm Floyd is already getting injured in camp, Ryan Mathews is a bust, and Antonio Gates ain’t any younger. SOMEBODY has to make plays for Philip Rivers, and I’ll bank on the guy who was lighting it up in camp last year.
Chris Givens – As a rookie, Givens had 5 consecutive games with a 50+ yard reception last year. Givens looks to have a stereotypical blossoming 2nd year receiver campaign as their one and only deep threat. Bradford will be able to have deeper dropbacks with Jake Long now at left tackle, and if they want to create space for their other new toys in Tavon Austin and Jared Cook, stretching the field with Givens will be the way to go.
Demaryius Thomas – Averaging as the 6th receiver drafted, and I don’t see why. The addition of Wes Welker will subtract a total of 100-120 balls away from Decker and Thomas, and there won’t nearly be the pressure to establish something on the outside with Thomas in Peyton’s offense versus other offenses. Peyton is so calculated that he can basically put the ball wherever he wants. His greatest attribute is just how much square feet of football field he makes you defend on every play. Individual guys in that scheme won’t be locks to have big years.
Roddy White – Averaging 9th, and I don’t see how. Clearly Julio Jones showed he is the guy last year, and while Roddy will certainly have a steady year, I don’t see how he’s worth a 2nd or even 3rd round pick. If he falls, take him. If he’s there in round 2-3, get your running backs first.
Randall Cobb – Cobb’s averaging 8th, and his obvious X-factor is his versatility. He really was the first guy since Percy Harvin to play just about every offensive position. However, you don’t draft two running back and keep a third that you signed off waivers to continue to hand Cobb the ball off and throw him 80 balls. I think Cobb will be used as a much more traditional slot receiver and kick returner this year, and don’t see how his stats wouldn’t be very similar to Jordy Nelson’s 13th spot with fewer touchdowns. I’d rather wait a round, take a back, and take Nelson.
Hakeem Nicks – In real life, Nicks is a first-order playmaker who delivers in the clutch, is outright deadly on fade patterns in the red zone, and can produce a highlight reel unto himself any given week. On your 2013 fantasy team, Nicks has to prove he belongs by staying healthy. It’s a contract year, so you’re going to see his best effort. Unfortunately, you don’t get points for effort. Nicks led his fantasy owners on last year by playing 13 games mostly with nagging injuries and vastly subpar production. I fear he may do the same if his injuries flare up. He’s never played 16 games in any of his 4 years, and while his toughness to play through pain certainly is admirable, it may lead you to believe production will be there when it won’t be.
Tight Ends To Take
Jason Witten – If you think Jason Garrett is going into a make-or-break season without big plans for the most established guy in his offense… Jerry Jones might hire you, actually… There’s simply no way the Cowboys are going to be willing to find out how good of a rushing game they have by being patient with it. Just not their way. All the short and possession-type passing will go to Witten, and he’s more than capable of rattling off big game after big game in succession.
Marty Bennett – Don’t take a tight end unless you know their offense can take it deep. There just won’t be enough space to fit tight end throws in a defense that isn’t stretched routinely. That means don’t reach for Gronk, don’t draft Vernon Davis, don’t draft Greg Olsen, and DO draft the 6-5 physical freak of nature catching balls from the most talented arm in the sport. Cutler will absolutely LOVE Bennett because he’ll be able to work him downfield and on possession routes while taking pressure off of Alshon Jeffery to develop. There are plenty of question marks in Chicago. Passing talent isn’t one of them.
Tony Gonzalez – Also, if a proven commodity falls to you as a 2nd TE, take it. The good ones are reliable as most decent WRs and catch more touchdowns in proportion to how often they’re thrown to. Enough people are going to ooh and aah at Gronk and Graham that they’ll ignore the fact that Tony racked up 930 yards and 8 TDs last year (look it up) in his 17th pro season. You’re an absolute fool if you think spending the last 5 years playing a minimum of 9 dome games a year hasn’t benefited Gonzalez in the twilight of his career. The Falcons will be passing more than ever in the Mike Smith era, and Tony has more than enough milestones to chase, including his first ring.
Tight Ends To Avoid
Jared Cook – Positively no reason to take him over anyone you’ve even heard of. Jared Cook got a signing bonus with more guaranteed millions than he’s had career starts. Take him late if he’s there. That’s it.
Antonio Gates – Tons of uncertainty here. He doesn’t have the explosiveness to create his own space anymore, so you have to see how the WRs take off with Rivers before determining how effective he’ll be.
Brandon Myers – Seemingly attractive because of the 80 balls he caught from Carson Palmer last year as a stepping stone to being in a more pass-friendly offense in New York. Myers is a hell of a pass-catcher, but he’s hardly the most physical guy at the position, and I don’t see him as a red zone threat. PPR leagues only.
Aaron Rodgers – Only QB who’s routinely not escaping the 2nd round in my 12 team format, and rightfully so. I don’t need to superlative my face blue about how good he is and how his production is needed. In terms of projection, Rodgers is really the only QBs whose monster season will win you games. The drop off between Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, and even Tony Romo is worth waiting on. In fact, you may want to fill your QB need LAST out of everyone. I wouldn’t worry about them losing their left tackle for the year either, the Packers have drafted exceedingly well in recent years, and Rodgers possesses enough mobility and smarts that he won’t let it derail his production.
Matt Ryan – But I WILL emphasize just how much Ryan will be chucking the duck this year. With Turner gone, Tony in his final season, and a WHOLE lot of validation at stake with the contract extension in place, the Falcons will be going to the air BIG time. There really isn’t an offensive Falcon I can blame you for taking aside from Steven Jackson, provided you already have your running backs in place from the first 3 rounds. Ryan, Gonzalez, and White will all be there.
Jay Cutler – I think the Bears are in for a nice year. Granted, the coaching staff presents a considerable question mark, especially since they hired a guy from the CFL who veterans won’t gravitate to instantly, but the talent is there. I just feel like it’s time for Cutler to get back to the 4000 yard / 25 TD club. I hate to think someone who can throw the ball like he does will never play in a Super Bowl or never dominate through the air like he once did in Denver. With such little difference between QB projections, you have to take guys you feel have the highest celings if they get hot. Jay Cutler, when hot, is indefensible.
QBs to Avoid
Tom Brady – If last year was any indication, the Pats will be running the hell out of the ball this season. There’s positively no reason to reach for Brady, and really, no reason to reach for any offensive player they have. You can talk about the receivers they drafted and the chance for Jake Ballard to jump in with Gronk and create one of the meanest 7-man blocking lines you’ve ever seen all you want. The Pats are going to be a very methodical offensive team this season. They’re going to rely on their young pass rushers making significant leaps and for their run game to really control things once Brady gives them the lead. I don’t see many explosive stat days coming out of Foxboro.
Joe Flacco – Like. The. Plague. The Super Bowl MVP’s dynamite performance in January will more than distract a few people from how poorly an intermediate thrower he has been throughout his career. Now without a possession receiver, and with their starting tight end out for the season already, the Ravens will be splitting work between their two talented running backs and hoping to hit Torrey Smith deep when they can. That’s basically their offense. In two sentences. You shouldn’t draft from a two-sentence offense.
Robert Griffin III – Dan Snyder’s latest assassination target will have a TON to learn this season if he doesn’t want a repeat of last year. Griffin electrified with his athleticism, and an offensive coordinator who was determined not to force-feed too much scheme to him. They literally integrated Griffin’s Baylor University plays with Shanahan’s already established zone-blocking scheme and let Griffin make one-read passes and run when he wanted. With a recuperating knee and a year of film on him, that’s not going to fly. Bob’s gonna take some lumps this year as he truly learns the position. He’s still set up to be successful long-term, just don’t think he’s breaking out statistically this season.
Don’t go crazy with this. You’ll only overthink it. “The best defense” is the one with the best matchup week to week. Sure San Fran is mean, but if they’re playing the Patriots, you may as well not have a defense at all. You’re better off finding 2-3 teams that are just abjectly awful offensively and go get who they’re playing from week-to-week. You’d be surprised how productive it is.
The same works for kickers. I have a positively absurd rule that gives you bonus points for 50+ yarders that actually COST me a game last year. I outgained and outscored my opponent, but the bonus won him the game. Just so stupid. So, so stupid. Stick with kickers from good offenses. It’s really that simple. Don’t take a kicker because he himself is good. This also applies on a week-to-week basis. If you see a team has a terrible defense, find out who they’re playing and take their kicker. Obviously this isn’t your cornerstone, and you really don’t have much to lose by sniffing around for an edge.