Preparing for your fantasy football draft can be a tricky task to undertake. Some people prepare with making lists per position, ranking players from 1-50, while others buy the yearly published book and have the work done for them. Or others, and every draft has one, who go into draft time without any preparations in front of them.
Whatever your method is, the first few rounds can make or break your team. If you chose Ravens running back Ray Rice high in your draft in 2011, you reaped the benefits of a guy who not only ran all over defenses, but also was a favorite target of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. If you went with the Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles instead of Rice, you took a critical blow to your team when Charles tore his ACL in the second game of the season.
What is even more key to your team's success is how well you pick you deeper round picks. Picking those sleeper picks late in the draft are what fill in the gaps of your team or prepare your bench for when a player goes down (like Jamaal Charles above). Players like wide receivers Kenny Britt and Jeremy Maclin filled these gaps on teams when players faltered or left with injury.
There may be a reason why you are on the fence about a certain player. There might be a seemingly better option available, a more familiar name, or you don't want to go with someone who shares time on the field. Many of these same players ended up going undrafted and stir up the waiver wire throughout the season. With this being said, here are the top players that you should have drafted, but didn't.
2011: 76 REC for 1,536 YDS, 18.7 AVG, 9 TD
2010: 3 Games, no receptions.
One man's misfortune is another man's treasure. Mario Manningham struggled all season due to injury and inconsistency when he was on the field. His absence from the field was a blessing in disguise for the Giants, as Victor Cruz emerged to fill the void. And he did, ending the season with the third highest total for receiving yards and the third highest average yards per reception amongst receivers with 20 or more catches. Manningham is now the WR3 on the team, and if Hakeem Nicks isn't careful, Cruz will be the Giants WR1.
2011: 164 ATT, 897 YDS, 5.5 AVG, 2 TD
2010: N/A. Played football at Oklahoma. Drafted 71st overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
The Cowboys had some serious issues with their running game early in the season. Felix Jones was battling injuries, and the Cowboys had decided to release Tashard Choice per his on-field performance. This landed DeMarco Murray the starting role as the Cowboys RB, and he made it known. In his first game with more than 15 rushes, Murray ran for 253 YDS on 25 ATT and one touchdown. The rushing yards were a team record for a single game. Murray would have most likely continued on to break 1,000 yards if he hadn't suffered a fractured ankle in Week 14, thus ending his 2011 season. We'll look forward to his rebound from injury in a 2012 Cowboys offense desperate to make the playoffs.
2011: 310 of 517, 4,051 Passing Yards, 21 TD, 17 INT; Rushing: 126 ATT, 706 Rushing Yards, 14 TD
2010: N/A. Played football at Auburn. 1st overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Even before he was drafted first overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, Cam Newton had plenty of critics who didn't believe Newton would transition well into professional play. This affect his value on fantasy draft day, where Newton went in the very late rounds, or not at all. The Panthers took the chance, being the second year in a row they drafted a QB within the first two rounds. Where Jimmy Clausen faltered, Newton did not. Newton broke two NFL records - the most passing yards by a rookie quarterback, and the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. If the Panthers can bring in a few more targets for Newton to throw to, his name could be mixed in with Rodgers and Brees in the near future.
2011: 90 REC for 1,327 YDS, 17 TD
2010: 42 REC for 546 YDS, 10 TD
It's not Gronk's fault that his draft appeal was much lower than it rightfully should have been. In 2010, Tom Brady pretty much passed equally to either of his tight ends, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Gronk had less receptions and receiving yards than Hernandez, but did have a four touchdown advantage. With the duties being almost equally shared, Gronk's draft appeal weakened with team owner's wanting a feature tight end. In 2011, Brady fooled everyone by utilizing both of his tight ends even more than the year prior. Hernandez ended with 910 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, but those numbers paled in comparison to Gronkowski's. Gronk set the NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end, besting the former record by 3. His style of play is electrifying for fans of all teams to watch, and he highlights his touchdowns with a powerful spike of the ball. While the dual play seemed to work well, look for Gronkowski in 2012 to be slightly more favored by Brady than Hernandez.
2011: 68 REC for 1,263 YDS, 18.6 AVG, 15 TD
2010: 45 REC for 582 YDS, 12.9 AVG, 2 TD
It's hard being a standout receiver on a team like the Packers. Aaron Rodgers utilizes an army of receivers, sometimes hitting double digit targets. Oh, and he has Greg Jennings out there too. That is what makes Jordy Nelson's 2011 NFL season that much more special. Nelson ended ninth in the league for receiving yards and third for receiving touchdowns. Nelson may have benefited from Jennings being sidelined for a few games this season, but Nelson made people aware of his value going into the 2012 season, solidifying his role as a deep pass threat.
2011: 285 ATT, 1,204 YDS, 12 TD
2010: 165 ATT, 573 YDS, 6 TD
Marshawn Lynch surprised fantasy owners who picked him up this season by becoming a top 10 RB in attempts, rushing yards, and touchdowns. It was quite a turnaround from the dismal first-year that Lynch experienced in Seattle. Lynch had six 100+ yard games, and his totals for attempts, rushing yards and touchdowns were also career highs. Lynch will not fall to the later rounds of fantasy drafts in 2012.
2011: 44 REC for 612 YDS, 8 TD
2010: 6 REC for 106 YDS, 1 TD. Decker did not start a game in 2010.
A lot of people cracked jokes about the passing game of Tim Tebow. If there is any indication that his passing game exists, one needs to look at Eric Decker's numbers. Decker caught 38 more passes for 506 more yards in 2011, and he also collected 7 more touchdowns than the year prior. Decker went undrafted in many 2011 NFL fantasy football leagues, but do not expect that to repeat in 2012.
2011: 99 REC for 1,310 YDS, 11 TD
2010: 31 REC for 356 YDS, 5 TD.
Jimmy Graham shared time with Jeremy Shockey in 2010, but with Shockey's departure to the Carolina Panthers for the 2011 season, Graham was handed a lot of responsibility. Graham did not disappoint. He finished third in the league in receptions, fourth in receiving touchdowns and seventh in receiving yards. Graham had attention going into this year's fantasy draft, but his stock dropped in favor to more popular names, such as Jermichael Finley, Dallas Clark and Jason Whitten. Graham outperformed all three of these tight ends, and this will show next year in fantasy league drafts. It also doesn't hurt that you have Drew Brees throwing to you, who may or may not be the most consistent quarterback in recent years.
2011: 54 REC for 858 YDS, 15.9 AVG, 11 TD
2010: 34 REC for 344 YDS, 10.1 AVG, 2 TD
Just like fellow teammate Demarco Murray, Laurent Robinson benefited from a fellow teammate injury. When Miles Austin suffered a lingering hamstring injury, the Dallas Cowboys called in Robinson to fill in temporarily while Austin was recovering. Robinson's performance was so great that, even when Austin returned, Robinson's game time lessened only slightly throughout the remainder of the season. Robinson's emergence gives the Cowboys one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the league. Look for equitable numbers next year from Robinson.
2011: 126 of 271, 1,729 passing yards, 12 TD, 6 INT. Rushing - 660 yards, 5.4 AVG, 6 TD
2010: 41 of 82, 654 passing yards, 5 TD, 3 INT. Rushing - 227 yards, 5.3 AVG, 6 TD
You either love Tim Tebow, or you hate Tim Tebow. He and his "tebowing" were iconic throughout the 2011 season. And yes, the man's passing game is iffy most times. But he can light up a fourth quarter like the best of them. Tebow's rushing game is amazing for a quarterback, averaging more yards per carry than most top running backs. And because of this running game, Tebow put up some excellent fantasy points throughout the year. Tebow widely went undrafted in most leagues, which could be contributed to the uneasiness at quarterback in the start of the Broncos' season. I think it's safe to say that Tebow will start next year, and with some off-season work, will be able to find the right balance of rushing and passing game for 2012.
2011: 69 REC for 1,108 YDS, 16.1 AVG, 2 TD
2010: 16 REC for 167 YDS, 10.4 AVG, 0 TD
Antonio Brown became the WR2 on the Pittsburgh Steelers, and if not for Mike Wallace, would be a solid WR1 on this team. His touchdown numbers are low, but given Ben Roethlisberger's health this season, a healthy QB in 2012 will certainly mean an increase in touchdown numbers for Brown. Brown's stock in the 2011 NFL fantasy football drafts was low, mainly due to Wallace, but also because Hines Ward's value was overinflated by many. Look for this to adjust in 2012.
2011: 175 ATT, 942 YDS, 5.4 AVG, 4 TD
2010: DNP. Tate broke his ankle in the preseason opener.
Seeing what happened in 2011, it's hard not to imagine what could have been in 2010. What is impressive is that Tate almost put up 1,000 rushing yards being the 2nd string running back in the Texans' offense. Yes, Arian Foster is the featured back in Houston, but Tate did average more yards per carry than Foster. Houston has developed something great here, and it can be guaranteed that it will continue in 2012. Foster was injured at the start of the 2011 season, so Tate's draft value was inflated in 2011 fantasy drafts. This year, Tate's stock should still hold the same, but this time it won't be because it's inflated.
2011: 300 of 516, 3,398 passing yards, 20 TD, 13 INT
2010: N/A. Played football at TCU. Drafted 35th overall in 2011 NFL Draft.
Andy Dalton was a pleasant surprise for the Bengals, who was regarded as an undersized QB to play in the NFL. Dalton was the fifth quarterback chosen in the 2011 NFL Draft, but outplayed the three quarterbacks chosen prior to him (Jake Locker at 8, Blaine Gabbert at 10 and Christian Ponder at 12). Dalton also arrived in Cincinnati just at the right time, as the Bengals and Carson Palmer were at odds with each other. Dalton came in, performed better than expected, and the Bengals sent Palmer packing to Oakland. Dalton has the chance to develop further this off-season, and if the Bengals acquire a few more targets for him to throw to, could join the top half of available quarterbacks in fantasy drafts.
2011: 216 ATT, 1,086 rushing yards, 5.0 AVG, 6 TD. Receiving - 296 yards, 1 TD
2010: 36 ATT, 150 rushing yards, 4,2 AVG, 0 TD. Receiving - 208 yards, 1 TD
Reggie Bush was a perennial fantasy disappointment for team owners, yet every year we would buy into him and believe that this would be the year. Well, for lucky fantasy owners in 2011, those who took that chance finally were granted success. Bush topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his six-year career, and tied his career high for rushing touchdowns. The Dolphins held rookie RB Daniel Thomas at very high standards, and when he began to falter, Bush took advantage and stepped up as the lead back in Miami. Bush's highlight week was Week 15 versus the Bills when he rushed for 203 yards and 1 TD. Many will still hesitate to draft him high in 2012, but Bush's potential output will be much more believable than years past.
2011: 54 REC for 689 YDS, 5 TD
2010: 26 REC for 291, 1 TD
While not the highest performer on this list, Doucet went undrafted in most fantasy drafts. His numbers increased in all the major receiving categories, and this was with a unstable quarterback situation. Expect these numbers to stay steady or increase further when the offense has a chance to stabilize during the off-season.
2011: 359 of 589, 4,933 passing yards, 29 TD, 16 INT
2010: 339 of 539, 4,002 passing yards, 31 TD, 25 INT
Poor Eli Manning, always having to live under his brother's shadow. Eli is always questioned due to his high turnovers, which affected his fantasy draft value. With Peyton out with injury, Eli took it upon himself to state that he should be considered amongst the elite quarterbacks in the league. He proved his case in 2011, throwing for almost 5,000 yards and cutting his interceptions by 9. He even handed elite quarterback Aaron Rodgers a playoff loss at Lambeau Field to move on to the NFC Championship. Eli is hitting his prime at the right time and could potentially have one more ring than his brother at the end of the season.
2011: 50 REC for 725 YDS, 4 TD (1 FLIP)
2010: 20 REC for 277 YDS, 3 TD
Jerome Simpson easily had the best play of the 2011 NFL regular season, where he literally flipped over a Cardinal defender and landed in the end zone for a touchdown. Simpson's 2011 draft stock was minimal, given the questionable quarterback situation in Cinci. Dalton shined, and Simpson's receiving yards increased by almost 450 yards. Look for Simpson to jump up a few rounds in most drafts in 2012, and with Dalton gaining experience, he could still be a steal even then.
2011: 87 ATT, 603 YDS, 6.9 AVG, 2 TD. Receiving - 86 REC, 710 YDS, 7 TD
2010: 50 ATT, 267 YDS, 5.3 AVG, 0 TD. Receiving - 59 REC, 520 YDS, 2 TD
Darren Sproles arrived for his first season in New Orleans in 2011, coming from a six-year stint in San Diego. The running game is shared amongst a number of backs in New Orleans, including Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, and Mark Ingram. What makes Sproles different is his duel threat to also be a receiving target, something valued in an offense with Drew Brees at the helm. Sproles put together a career year in New Orleans, with combined rushing and receiving yards topping 1300 and scoring 9 TD. Look for an increased role in 2012 and a big jump in his stock in 2012 NFL fantasy drafts.
2011: 50 REC for 841 YDS, 16.8 AVG, 7 TD
2010: N/A. Played football at Maryland. Drafted 58th overall in 2011 NFL Draft.
The Ravens have been a solid team for years, making the playoffs every year since Joe Flacco took the reins at quarterback and John Harbaugh took the position of head coach in 2008. The Ravens have Ray Rice for an elite running back and one of the best defenses in the league. While Flacco had Anquan Boldin to throw to, what he really needed was an explosive receiver to hit for the long throws. Enter Torrey Smith, who grabbed 7 TD for Flacco and an impressive 16.8 average yards per reception in his rookie campaign. With the pieces coming together, it should be no shock that the Ravens gained a first-week bye as the second seed in the AFC. Expect bigger things from Smith next year, and his fantasy draft stock to go from undrafted to highly sought.
2011: 38 REC for 604 YDS, 15.9 AVG, 4 TD
2010: Signed as undrafted out of Ohio State. Played in 1 game as TE but had no receptions.
Jake Ballard got his chance with Kevin Boss's departure after the 2010 season, but without any play in 2010, went widely unnoticed in almost all 2011 NFL Fantasy drafts. Well, when Eli Manning stepped up this year for a career year, this obviously trickled down to his receiving targets. Ballard's average yards per reception were higher than NE's Rob Gronkowski and GB's Jermichael Finley. Look for Ballard to garner a little more attention in 2012, as he heads up the ladder of elite tight ends.
2011: 61 REC for 709 YDS, 2 TD
2010: N/A. Played football at UNC. Drafted 59th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Greg Little had good reason to fly under the radar in 2011 NFL fantasy drafts. He was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, who were 5-11 in the 2010 NFL season. His QB hadn't quite found his groove in the NFL, which lead to less-than-favorable predictions for 2011. And yes, the Browns did slip to 4-12 this year, a worse record than the year prior. One highlight was the production from Little as a rookie. With more experience under McCoy's belt, Little's numbers should increase in 2012, especially his touchdown numbers.
2011: 107 ATT, 561 YDS, 5.2 AVG, 4 TD. Receiving - 39 REC for 269 YDS, 2 TD
2010: 74 ATT, 283 YDS, 3.8 AVG, 0 TD. Receiving - 24 REC for 157 YDS, 1 TD
Spiller was considered by most a disappointment in 2010, drafted ninth overall out of Clemson. And because of this, most people wrote Spiller off for the 2011 season. But when Fred Jackson broke his leg in Week 11, Spiller was given the starting role and made the most out of it. His performance down the stretch will certainly find the Bills running game in 2012 a shared role between Spiller and Jackson. Spiller will bump up a few rounds in 2012 fantasy drafts, but possibly not as high as he should because of lingering skepticism.
2011: 273 of 445, 3,144 YDS, 17 TD, 5 INT, 90.7 Passer Rating
2010: 204 of 342, 2,370 YDS, 14 TD, 10 INT, 82.1 Passer Rating
In 2005, the San Francisco 49ers took Alex Smith with the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. For those who are unaware, Green Bay picked a quarterback in this draft as well with the 24th overall pick. His name is Aaron Rodgers. As Rodgers developed in Green Bay into an elite quarterback, Smith started his career with a few rough years, and becoming an average NFL quarterback at best. Smith was therefore neglected in most fantasy drafts for the 2011 NFL season, chosen mainly only in leagues who started two quarterbacks. 2011 turned into Alex Smith's career year, adding almost 800 yards from his 2010 total and cutting his interceptions by half. To look back at most league drafts from this year, I think it's safe to say most wish they could swap in Alex Smith where they took Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman. Smith's draft value will increase greatly going into 2012, only rising further if he can bring home a NFC Championship and better yet, a Super Bowl title.
The following is a list of honorable mentions of players who outperformed their draft position:
Roy Helu, Washington Redskins RB. 1,019 combined rushing/receiving yards, 3 TD
Aaron Hernandez, New England TE. 910 receiving yards, 7 TD
Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders RB. 977 rushing yards, 7 TD
David Nelson, Buffalo Bills WR. 658 receiving yards, 5 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bay, Oakland Raiders WR. 975 receiving yards, 15.2 AVG, 4 TD