It is never too soon to think about how our 2012 fantasy football drafts might turn out, right?
I agree, so let’s fast forward to August. Adrian Peterson won’t be ready for the start of the season, and we do not know if Peyton Manning will be retired or playing with a team other than the Indianapolis Colts.
But the first round of fantasy drafts will still be stocked with more talent than an American Idol open audition.
When you are in a 16-team league, you cannot make a mistake with your first-round pick. You need top-notch talent, a sure-fire scorer you can build your squad around. That means running backs and quarterbacks should dominate the opening round of a deep league.
So here is a look at how the first round of a mock draft in a 16-team league might go if the draft was held today:
1. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (RB)
While nobody calls more pass plays than Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid, that did not stop McCoy from finishing first with 17 rushing touchdowns. For laughs and giggles, he added 1,624 combined yards and three receiving scores in only 15 games. Fantasy owners are salivating over what he could do for an encore.
2. Arian Foster, Houston Texans (RB)
Once Foster got over the anti-awesomeness in his hamstring, he was again one of the most dominant forces in fantasy football. His 1,224 rushing yards, 617 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in just 13 games proved he was no fluke and a franchise fantasy player.
3. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (RB)
Fantasy owners cried for Rice to be allowed to run the ball near the goal line and the Ravens finally gave him the chance in 2011 (12 rushing TD, 15 TD overall). So now Rice is the total package—rushing yards, receiving yards and touchdowns—making him one of the kings of fantasy football.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (QB)
Rodgers should be the first quarterback taken off the board. His 45-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio this year was ungodly. He is due for the first 5,000-yard year of his career and his receiving crew should remain mostly intact. Factor in the 40-plus touchdowns and 300 rushing yards he will pile up and Rodgers is the odds-on favorite for NFL MVP.
5. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (QB)
Brees is coming off one of the greatest—if not the greatest—seasons in the history of fantasy football. He set the NFL record with 5,476 passing yards, breaking Dan Marino’s mark, and topped all throwers with 46 touchdown passes. There are two locks in 2012: Santonio Holmes will not shut up and Brees will be a fantasy force like he always is.
6. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (QB)
Newton is the Matt Kemp of fantasy football. The man can do it all in every fantasy category imaginable. He will definitely improve upon the 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns he threw for in his rookie season, and he will put up rushing numbers most running backs would love to have, say 800 yards and 15 TD? If he cuts down on the interceptions, Newton could be the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 fantasy drafts.
7. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars (RB)
You would have thought since Jacksonville had the worst passing offense in football, defenses would have stacked the box and done everything in their powers to shut Jones-Drew down. No matter. MJD still led the league with 1,606 rushing yards and will again be one of the frontrunners to win the rushing title in 2012.
Who should be the top pick in a 16-team draft?
8. Tom Brady, New England Patriots (QB)
It never matters who his receivers, tight ends, running backs or offensive linemen are. Brady would probably be a top-10 quarterback with CFL-caliber players as his teammates. He is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, his terrific tight end twosome has seemingly infused him with new life. Pencil him in for at least 4,800 yards and 35 touchdown tosses.
9. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (RB)
Johnson and his fantasy owners learned a lesson this past season—training camp counts, especially after a long lockout. Johnson’s 1,047 rushing yards were almost half of what he dashed for during his magical 2009 season. Look for Johnson to bounce back to the 1,400-yard, 12-TD range next season when he is in shape and has no contract troubles.
10. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (QB)
Stafford finally survived a season unscathed and put up the monster numbers fantasy owners had been impatiently waiting for. His 5,038 passing yards and 41 touchdowns put him up there with the elite quarterbacks at the position. His only problem—he is as susceptible to shoulder separations as Mark Sanchez is to turnovers, so one sack could sideline your first-round fantasy pick for several weeks.
11. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears (RB)
Forte was on his way to having a fantastic fantasy season—almost 1,500 combined yards in 11 games—until he sprained his knee and missed the last four-and-a-half games. But Forte is normally durable and dependable, with his only drawback being a lack of touchdowns compared to other big-time backs. We still do not know what team Forte will be on since he is a potential free agent, so that could change his draft value slightly.
12. Eli Manning, New York Giants (QB)
Eli’s career year and late-game heroics have put him a step closer to becoming the best Manning to own in fantasy football (although so has Peyton’s career-threatening neck injury). Manning’s yardage is right up there with the likes of Brees, Rodgers and Brady, but he still trails them in the touchdown department and is thus not ranked as high.
13. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (WR)
Megatron had a mega-year in 2011, leading the NFL with 1,681 receiving yards and finishing second to New England’s Rob Gronkowski with 16 receiving touchdowns. A healthy Stafford changes Johnson from very good to numero uno among pass catchers. Johnson is the only receiver worthy of a first-round look in fantasy drafts.
14. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams (RB)
If you look for running backs guaranteed to rush for over 1,000 yards, Jackson is a good fit for you because he has done it seven years in a row. With Jeff Fisher taking over as head coach and Sam Bradford healthy and keeping defenses honest, Jackson should account for 1,500 combined yards and eight touchdown trips.
15. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders (RB)
DMC is one of the most dangerous running backs in the NFL. He is also one of the most injury-prone. Fantasy owners drool over what McFadden could do over a full season because he racked up 1,664 combined yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 contests in 2010. But he has missed 19 games over his four NFL seasons, including the last nine games of the 2011 campaign, so he cannot be trusted as a top-10 pick.
16. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers (RB)
Instead of having a superb rookie season and then suffering through a sophomore slump, Mathews did the reverse. In his second season he amassed close to 1,600 combined yards and six scores in 14 games. To be slotted higher, Mathews needs to stay healthy and cut down on his fumbles. But he has the talent to have a huge year if he works on his flaws.