NFL fans around the world can now breathe a sigh of relief as the lockout is over and fantasy football is upon us! Now, a shortened training camp is likely to mean more injuries than normal for players, so depth is going to be even more important for your fantasy team this season. Your typical draft strategy should remain the same, but you might want to refrain from making 2-1 or even 3-1 trades until closer to mid-season so those pesky hamstring injuries can work themselves out.
*Now, the most important step in drafting is to know the rankings of each position so you can draft appropriately and have the best chance possible at winning. Pay close attention to the rankings as some big names from the past won't carry as much weight this season. *
1)Aaron Rodgers: Some people have been talking about the reemergence of the running game in GB with Ryan Grant, James Starks and Alex Green and how that will affect Rodgers' value. I don't see it and would have no problems taking him as the first QB off the board.
2)Michael Vick: There are two big concerns I have with Vick: 1) He can't play a 16-game schedule health-wise; 2) He had a career year last season, and is unlikely to repeat it again now that teams know he is back. I have to show respect for the numbers (3,018 pass yards and 9:6 TD-to-INT ratio ), but this could easily go sideways for fantasy owners as well. Be aware and beware. Someone will take him in the top 5 picks… so if you want him, be ready to reach.
3)Drew Brees: Yes, Marquis Colston is recovering from microfracture surgery, but Darren Sproles is an upgrade over Reggie Bush and Mark Ingram is going to take the focus off of the passing game. His pass attempts are likely to dip with an improved ground attack, but a contract year will give Brees added incentive to be a top-tier QB.
4)Tom Brady: Did you know that Brady posted a 26:0 TD-to-INT ratio after week 7 last season? The Patriots have a great TE duo with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, plus they added a motivated Chad Ocho Cinco to the mix. If your league penalizes one point for turnovers, Tom-Terrific is going to be even more sexy since he doesn't turn the ball over much.
*5) Philip Rivers: Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill are back and happy, so Rivers will look much better this season. Norv Turner is a big proponent of a strong running game, but Antonio Gates looks to be over his foot problems and the team resigned Malcom Floyd. I like Rivers more than most.*
6)Tony Romo*: Romo is a good bet to be a sleeper of sorts for fantasy owners this season. The Cowboys upgraded their O-line this off-season and you would be hard-pressed to find a better 1-2-3 punch than Austin Miles, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant. Playing in just six games last season might cause him to fall further than he should, but don't let him fall past you if you miss out on the top five QBs. *
7)Peyton Manning: Ok, I can't let Manning slide any further than this, but I wanted to. The Colts did nothing to improve their running game and Peyton had his second neck surgery in as many years. On the bright side, he is in a pass-crazy offense, so his numbers will remain starter quality. I'm not a fan of his this season and would let someone else deal with him.
8)Matt Ryan: Ryan got himself a new toy in Julio Jones, so you can expect more downfield attempts this season. I see the tires wearing out on Michael Turner every season, and that is good news for Ryan and his owners. I wouldn't go as far as to say he is a top-tier QB, but an every-week starter and a good value pick is accurate.
9)Ben Roethlisberger: Big Ben isn't a sexy fantasy QB, but Mike Wallace emerged as an elite WR last season and Roethlisberger won't be suspended to start this season. OC Bruce Arians said he wants to pass more, which will hurt Rashard Mendenhall. But, since we are talking about Big Ben, passing more is a good thing as long as the added attempts don't turn into added INTs.
10)Matt Schaub: Some will say to put Matthew Stafford in here, but I like my QB to actually be on the field! Schaub isn't a fantasy stud anymore with Arian Foster being the focal point of the offense, but that isn't a bad thing altogether either. Teams are sure to gameplan for Foster this season, which means Schaub will have more opportunities to create big plays than he did last year.
Honorable mentions:Matthew Stafford: can't stay healthy;Josh Freeman: offensive philosophy limits fantasy upside;Joe Flacco: who are his WRs not named Boldin? *Eli Manning: run-first offense; Sam Bradford: saying he has a suspect WR corps is being polite.*
1)Arian Foster: The overall #1 pick in any format, Foster shouldn't be there if you pick second. Foster is slated to make just $525,000 this season and is playing for a HUGE contract next season. Motivation behind him, I see only injuries to keep Foster from anchoring your team this season.
2)Chris Johnson*: CJ2K is still holding out of training camp and neither side really seems like they are ready to cave. Johnson is a game-changing back with fantasy stud history, but if he doesn't report to camp soon, a pulled hammy (or worse) could derail his season. *
3)Jamaal Charles*: Charles was limited by the coaching staff last season, but word is that he will be turned loose this season and finish with workhorse numbers. If that happens, I expect him to push Foster for the league's top RB honor by season's end. *
4)Adrian Peterson: Donovan McNabb is far from what he once was, and the Vikings lost WR Sidney Rice and LT Bryant McKinnie. AP has talent for days, but the offense is going to be run-heavy with McNabb at the helm and no WRs to speak of. That being said, Peterson is a real fantasy risk this season and I would let someone else deal with the headache.
5)Ray Rice: The Ravens cut Willis "Whatchu Talk'n Bout" McGahee, so there will be nobody to poach at goal-line. The team also added FB Vonta Leach to block for Rice, so the added TDs should keep him as a top-five RB in most formats.
6)Rashard Mendenhall: Mendenhall's value is hurt by a focus on the passing game, but he is a lock for early-down carries and should eclipse double-digit scoring totals. If he can win the 3rd down job, his value will get a boost, but he is not a top-five back in any format.
7)LeSean McCoy*: McCoy is a PPR beast and Vick is not going to surprise anyone this season, so McCoy will see more work out of the backfield. There is no reason to think McCoy won't equal his #8 RB finish from last season, so drafting him 7th is a safe bet as the kid enters his prime. *
8)Maurice Jones-Drew*: MJD is still a back that can tear NFL defenses apart, but a group of WRs that have a lot to prove could allow defenses to focus on MJD all season long. Buyers beware; however, you also have to either go big or go home! *
9)Frank Gore: The Niners brought in Jim Harbaugh to run the team, and he is going to have to rely heavily on Gore and Vernon Davis in order to move the ball. I could see Gore's touches approach the 250 range this season with the hip injury fully healed. No QB could hurt him, but additional carries will produce additional stats.
10)Matt Forte: The Bears signed Marion Barber to continue to vulture TDs inside the 5-yardline, but that is all he is going to do. Forte is a poor man's Marshall Faulk under Mike Martz's offense, but he should push for 250-plus carries this season.
Honorable mentions:Darren McFadden: injury prone and stats are inflated with weak opponents last year;Steven Jackson: S-Jax is clearly on the decline and is only a solid RB2;Michael Turner: his production and role are dwindling and looks like a flex play;Mark Ingram: whoa doggie… Pierre Thomas is still in N.O. and Ingram is just a rookie;LeGarrette Blount: only a two-down back and is of no help in PPR leagues; *Peyton Hillis: Madden cover… enough said! *
1)Andre Johnson: Clearly the best WR in the NFL, Johnson should be the first receiver taken from your draft board as well. Don't get cute and try to take Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald here. The Texans run a high-octane offense and Johnson is an important cog within it.
*2) Calvin Johnson: Johnson is a big threat to catch double-digit TDs this season, but his value is directly tied to the health of Stafford. He has already proved that he can produce elite fantasy numbers whether it be a first or a third string QB at the helm. *
3)Roddy White: White is as consistent as they come averaging 96 receptions, 1,308 yards and 9.3 TDs per season over the last three years. Add Julio Jones on the opposite side to take attention from White and you have a top WR threat.
4)Larry Fitzgerald: If there were a riskier pick than Fitzgerald at WR, I couldn't find him. Yes, the Cardinals added Kevin Kolb to shore up the QB position, then they added Todd Heap to give Kolb another weapon. Fitzgerald is a boom-or-bust pick since Kolb is a boom-or-bust QB.
5)Hakeem Nicks*: The big concern with Nicks is that he has missed seven games in his first two seasons while battling wrist, leg, ankle, hamstring, knee, and multiple toe injuries. However, Nicks also put up 1,052 rec. yards and 11 TDs last season, so that makes him a top-tier fantasy WR. *
*6) Mike Wallace: As I said earlier, the Steelers are talking about improving on their passing game this season, and that means Wallace is even sexier. I think he could finish in the 1,300 yards and 9-10 TDs range, but I wouldn't expect more with Mendenhall needing his touches as well.*
*7) Miles Austin: In 2009, Austin finished in the top three for fantasy WRs, but the chances of a repeat went down the toilet when Romo got injured last season. Romo is healthy and Austin is a great bet to bounce back to the 2009 form. Yes, defense will double-cover him, but with Dez Bryant lining up opposite him and Witten going over the middle, defenses will have to pick their poison in the Cowboys passing game. *
*8) DeSean Jackson: Jackson still isn't in camp at the writing of this article, so that is a minus for fantasy value. But, with Jeremy Maclin hurt, Jackson could be asked to step his game up even further and that is a plus for an explosive offense. WR1 stats are well within reach and only a holdout and/or injury can keep him down.*
*9) Vincent Jackson: V-Jax sat out the first 11 games of last season, then strained his calf and wasn't healthy until week 15. This year Jackson signed his franchise tag tender and the Chargers are featuring the passing game more the last few years, not to mention that Ryan Matthews' potential is still up in the air. *
*10) Reggie Wayne: I struggled with this one as Wayne can't separate from corners like he did in his prime, and because of that his production is on the decline. That being said, he hasn't missed a game since 2001, Peyton Manning is still his QB, the Colts run a pass-happy offense and the WR corps is healthy and that should take some pressure off of him. I'd still let someone else take the risk, but I can't leave him out of the top 10 until next year.*
Honorable mentions:Brandon Marshall: with Chad Henne as his QB, his upside is limited;Greg Jennings: Jermichael Finley and Donald Driver will steal targets, but Jennings is still a top-15 WR;Dez Bryant: Austin is the man, but Bryant is a GREAT breakout candidate this season… just not top 10 yet; *Santonio Holmes: he will be a go-to guy for Mark Sanchez, but limited TDs keep him from being elite;Dwayne Bowe: the Chiefs added Jonathan Baldwin and Steve Breaston, so there is little chance of another 72/1,162/15 (Rec/Yds/TD) season;Wes Welker: With Chad Ocho Cinco and the dynamic duo at TE ,Welker isn't a lock for 100 receptions, nor 1,000 yards again this season.*
*1) Jermichael Finley: I know… Antonio Gates should be here right? Well, I am a little worried as to how his plantar fasciitis will play out. As Rodgers' top target over the first month last season, Finley was able to put up two 100-yard games and 21 catches before tearing his meniscus in Week 5. Finley is my top pick because his ceiling is higher than Gates'. *
*2) Antonio Gates: Gates is still a beast and Rivers loves to throw to his TE. But, as I said, his foot is a problem and he can't practice like other players do. Because of those two problems, I downgrade him to the #2 spot in my rankings as the injury risk is present. *
*3) Vernon Davis: Nobody has burned me more than Davis in all of fantasy sports, but I just can't seem to shake him from my rankings each year. Davis is as durable as they come, and Alex Smith can't throw the ball far enough to reach a WR, so Davis will be called on a lot in the passing game. It is now or never for Davis and fantasy football. *
*4) Dallas Clark: Clark is Manning's go-to guy when he needs a reception, and there is no other TE that is more consistent than Clark. The wrist is fully healed and Clark is just 31 years old, so draft him here and feel confident. *
*5) Jason Witten: The funny thing here is that when Romo was under center, Witten's production actually dropped when compared to Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee (4.6 receptions, 54 yards, 0.2 TDs, and 6.6 fantasy points with Romo and 6.5 receptions, 66.5 yards, 0.73 TDs, and 11.0 fantasy points with Kitna/McGee). He's only missed one game in his career, so you know he will be on the field.*
*6) Owen Daniels: Daniels has dealt with injuries over the past few seasons, but he got a new 4-year deal and that means expectations will be higher for him this year. TE is a feast or famine position, so Daniels could be considered a stud with a small bump in stats. *
*7) Jimmy Graham: This kid is the real deal in the redzone with his 6'8" frame, and being a *former power forward in basketball means the kid can go up and get it. I like Graham as a solid sleeper at TE.
8) Marcedes Lewis: The big knock on Lewis was that he had never caught more than two TDs in a season before last year (when he caught 10). That being said, the WR corps for the Jags lacks experience, which means Lewis is going to be targeted often within the passing game.
9) Chris Cooley: Cooley is one of the most talented TEs around, but we will never get to see what he is truly capable of since the Redskins O-line and QB play hold him back. He should be the #2 option behind Santana Moss, but that doesn't matter much with John Beck at the helm.
10) Zack Miller (SEA): Miller's fantasy value takes a huge hit going from Oakland to Seattle. Tarvaris Jackson is well known for staring down his receivers and is possibly the most inconsistent starting QB in the NFL. The only reason he makes the top 10 is because the next few options aren't any better.
Honorable mentions: Kellen Winslow: Winslow has to prove he can stay healthy for two straight days before I put any faith in him to produce; Dustin Keller: if Keller could only be more consistent, he'd be a fantasy starter; Aaron Hernandezand Ron Gronkowski: they simply cancel each other out; Tony Gonzalez: leave the past in the past… Gonzo is done.
1) Green Bay Packers: The defending champions should rack up 40-45 sacks and 20-22 INTs, making them a top-flight defense.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers still have a great defense and their strength of schedule makes them a great pick at #2.
3) New York Jets: The Jets couldn't land the big CB they wanted, but they did keep their secondary intact.
4) New Orleans Saints: The Saints finished last season with 33 sacks, 16 fumble recoveries and 9 INTs. I think they can better those numbers and be a good starting defense if they can stay away from injuries.
5) Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles added CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DT Cullen Jenkins and DE Jason Babin and quickly got into the Super Bowl talk by many fans. Problem is, they still lack skill at the LB position. That being said, their defense is going to shut people down and should be owned.
6) New York Giants: The Giants should hold teams to around 320 points scored, while putting up 47 sacks and 20 INTs.
7) Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens added Jimmy Smith at the CB spot, and we know that Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Domonique Foxworth are studs. The Ravens may not be as good as they once were, but they are still starters on defense.
8) Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys defense is a low-end starting defense for fantasy teams, just don't expect too much.
9) Detroit Lions: Adding Nick Fairley to Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch gives the Lions one of the most feared D-lines in the NFL. The Lions aren't pushovers anymore.
10) Chicago Bears: The Bears have an aging defense, but the drop-off for fantasy defenses is just as steep as the drop-off for TEs.