Fantasy Football: Looking Ahead at the Top 20 Fantasy Players for 2012

Daniel Stack@@stacdemonContributor IIJanuary 4, 2012

Fantasy Football: Looking Ahead at the Top 20 Fantasy Players for 2012

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    While the 2011 NFL regular season is in the books, the job of a fantasy owner is never done.

    You always have to start preparing for the next year.

    Suffice to say, it was a wild and joyous ride in 2011. Many studs stood their ground cementing their elite-level status, while other players seized the chance they had and catapulted themselves towards stardom.

    What helps fantasy players immensely is the fact that the NFL is becoming more and more geared towards being an offensive league (specifically a passing league). 

    So, going into next year there will no shortage of studs to choose from. Outlined here in this slideshow will be my list of the 20 best players (in no particular order) to target for next year.

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LeSean McCoy: Philadelphia Eagles

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    While the “Dream Team” in Philadelphia failed to live up to expectations, McCoy was a beacon of hope in an otherwise dreary season for the Eagles.

    Leading the league in rushing touchdowns (17) will do wonders for McCoy’s value (toss in an additional three receiving touchdowns). It’s not just the TD’s, as McCoy also accumulated 1,624 total yards. McCoy will no doubt be a top-5 selection.

Arian Foster: Houston Texans

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    Although Foster had a rough beginning with lingering hamstring injuries, Foster busted loose and finished right on target.

    With 1,841 total yards and 12 touchdowns, Foster will at least be a top-five pick next year. The Texans look to be a team with an offense geared towards sustainability.

Ray Rice: Baltimore Ravens

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    Rice did nothing to change anyone’s opinion of him, as he still stands to be drafted in the top five in drafts next year.

    Rice is perhaps the game’s best dual-threat running back, as he racked up 1,364 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns to go along with 704 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

    At only 25 years of age, Rice has plenty of gas left in the tank.

Drew Brees: New Orleans Saints

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    Usually drafting a quarterback in the first round was taboo. Not anymore.

    How can you ignore the stats that Brees and company are compiling?

    His 5,476 passing yards and 46 touchdowns are not easy to match. With a young explosive offense, there is no proof that Brees will slow down. Don’t hesitate to snap up Brees if he is available in the middle of Round 1.

Tom Brady: New England Patriots

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    Another year, another stat-burning year for Brady. All Brady did was throw for 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns.

    With Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez emerging as terrific receiving options to go along with the always-steady Wes Welker, Brady will once again be guns-a-blazing.

Aaron Rodgers: Green Bay Packers

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    He may be the league’s MVP (which, of course, is debatable); Rodgers has done all that was expected of him and then some.

    Even after sitting out the last game, Rodgers still threw for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns while only throwing six interceptions. You know what you’re going to get when you draft Rodgers: tons of touchdowns and loads of yards. As an added bonus, Rodgers is adept at running the ball (60 carries for 257 yards and three touchdowns).

Rob Gronkowski: New England Patriots

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    Usually tight ends don’t deserve this much love, but "Gronk" shattered the mold and has got to be considered a first-round draft choice, especially at a relatively weak position.

    When you lead the league in receiving touchdowns (17) while also posting 1,327 yards receiving, you’ll no doubt be a coveted player worthy of first-round status.

Calvin Johnson: Detroit Lions

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    Without a doubt, “Megatron” is your No. 1 wide receiver, one who should be taken in the first rounds of drafts.

    Johnson bested career highs in receptions (96), receiving yards (1,681 yards) and touchdowns (16), and at age 26, he is part of one the most explosive offenses in the league.

    Johnson still has room for growth. That’s a scary thought.

Jimmy Graham: New Orleans Saints

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    Not far behind Gronkowski is the Saints' talented Graham.

    Like Gronkowski, Graham’s stats rival those of a top-tier receiver.

    Graham posted 1,310 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns this past year. With the Saints’ offense showing no signs of slowing down, Graham will be worth a late first-round/early second-round draft choice next year.

Cam Newton: Carolina Panthers

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    Rookie quarterbacks are not supposed to be this good.

    The uber athletically-gifted Newton was a beast either throwing the ball (4,051 yards passing and 21 touchdowns) or running the ball (706 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns).

    Although Newton had a penchant for throwing picks (17), we’ll chalk that up to rookie inexperience.

Marshawn Lynch: Seattle Seahawks

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    No other running back was as dominant as Lynch was down the stretch of this season.

    In Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, Lynch's span of 11 games of scoring at least one touchdown was snapped.

    For some reason a light switched on for Lynch this season, as he had career highs in carries (285), rushing yards (1,204) and touchdowns (12).

    Some may be skeptical about a repeat performance, but Lynch ran with a passion this year, and he’ll likely keep the momentum going.

Wes Welker: New England Patriots

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    Dependable, reliable and consistent: That’s what you get when you draft Welker.

    Welker had a career year in 2011, going for a personal high in receiving yards (1,569) and touchdowns (nine). With Brady and the offense still clicking, there is no reason to believe Welker won’t be his reliable self.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Playing on the Jaguars has to be trying for Jones-Drew, as he continually has to carry the offense.

    Despite being the only weapon on Jacksonville’s woeful offense, Jones-Drew still torched the stat books, rushing for 1,606 yards and eight touchdowns. For good measure, MJD also contributed 374 yards receiving and additional three touchdowns.

Matt Forte: Chicago Bears

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    While others coming back from injuries have major question marks (Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles Darren McFadden and Andre Johnson), Forte stands the best chance to be 100 percent ready for the beginning of the 2012 season.

    In 12 games this year, Forte rushed for 997 yards and three touchdowns while also hauling in 52 receptions for an additional 490 yards receiving and one touchdown.

    That versatility holds significant value, and Forte will make for a great late second/early third-round draft pick next season.

Larry Fitzgerald: Arizona Cardinals

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    Whether it’s Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Derek Anderson, your grandmother, it doesn’t matter: Fitzgerald always produces.

    Despite the erratic quarterback play, Fitz still put up 1,411 yards receiving to go with eight touchdowns. So, no matter who the quarterback is, Fitzgerald will still be an elite receiver.

Victor Cruz: New York Giants

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    The salsa-dancing second-year receiver for the Giants has been a godsend for fantasy owners this year.

    Out of nowhere, Cruz stepped up and was one the game’s best receivers (definitely snubbed of a Pro Bowl selection) by recording a whopping 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns.

    With the way Eli Manning is playing, Cruz has a bright future ahead of him and is worthy of a second or third-round draft pick.

Roddy White: Atlanta Falcons

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    While White struggled in the early portion of the season, he picked it up towards the end and is still one of the league’s top-five wide receivers.

    For the second straight year, White topped 100 receptions (100) while also being steady with the receiving yards (1,296) and touchdowns (eight).

    If anything, White will always give you consistency year in and year out.

Matt Stafford: Detroit Lions

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    As expected, Stafford took the next step this year as he stayed relatively healthy all season.

    A quarterback who passes for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns has got to be selected in the first two rounds, as those are some numbers too good to pass up on.

    And at only 23 years old, Stafford has yet to hit his peak.

Michael Turner: Atlanta Falcons

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    Although Turner is getting a little up there in age (about to turn 30 in February), he is as steady and reliable as they come.

    With the Falcons being a well-balanced offense, they should be able to keep Turner fresh. His stats of this year (1,340 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns) indicate that he’ll be in line for another solid year.

Jordy Nelson: Green Bay Packers

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    Expected to be nothing more than another target for Aaron Rodgers, Nelson went above and beyond the call of duty and is, for sure, Rodger’s most trusted target.

    The proof is in the stats. This year, Nelson assaulted career highs and amassed 1,263 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns.

    As long as Nelson and Rodgers are on the same team, they should be able to rack up the stats together.