Fantasy Football 2012: The Top 36 Players to Start Your Dynasty League with
So you're starting or playing in a dynasty league, eh?
Be warned: dynasty leagues are a different type of fantasy football animal.
You retain most or all of your players, so dynasty leagues require a commitment over several seasons.
Unlike redraft leagues, where you must get rid of an entire team next season (good for those who had bad teams this past season), you are stuck with your team in a dynasty league—for better or for worse—for years to come. So it better be competitive.
Unlike keeper leagues, where you can retain one or a few of your best players and start over with the rest of your roster, dynasty leagues require almost all of your entire roster carry over into the next season.
And since each fantasy dynasty team's rosters are typically deeper than redraft or keeper league team rosters, the challenge is heightened.
In principle, dynasty league drafts are not much different from redraft league drafts: you want the best available players according to their value.
The biggest difference is that, in a dynasty draft, when confronted with several players of similar value, you'll generally lean towards the player whom you think can produce the longest. After all, you're going to be holding on to players for years to come (barring trades) so why take a vet who only has a couple years left in the tank?
Important note: the following recommendations exclude older top players (e.g., Drew Brees, who will be entering his 12th season in 2012). This does NOT mean to avoid such older players during your draft.
It would be unwise to bypass a highly productive vet for an unproven youngster. Remember that many young players become busts. This list is simply to highlight who could be foundational players for you for many years to come.
So who are young players worth considering in dynasty league drafts?
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In a fantastic situation with young offensive talent around him, Rodgers is set to be a fantasy force for years to come. While he is 28 and finished his seventh season, he actually only has four years of mileage on him since sat behind Brett Favre for three seasons.
2. Cam Newton
Newton wrapped up his rookie campaign among the elites of the league. While he will most likely not be expected to run the ball in 2012 as much as he did in 2011, he has the talent to become an actual NFL quarterback rather than a running quarterback.
The key thing to watch this offseason is how much Carolina addresses the wide receiver situation. Steve Smith will be 33 next season (his 12th), so the team needs to add young impact receivers for Newton to throw to.
At just 24 and having Calvin Johnson—just 26 years old himself—to play catch with, Stafford is a dynasty player worth considering. Because of the instability at RB, the offense is a pass-first unit, which is good news for you.
The defense, which improved in 2011, may slip back if Cliff Avril leaves in free agency. That would be good news too, as the offense would throw more to catch up in games. Stafford also was able to finish his first season playing all 16 games in 2011.
4. Andrew Luck
Indianapolis is set to take the elite quarterback in the 2012 draft. However, Luck will find the going a bit rough there. Receiver Reggie Wayne is likely to leave, and it's possible Pierre Garcon will too. That leaves just Austin Collie and an aging Dallas Clark.
The running back cupboard is bare too, with Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Delone Carter all failing to produce. Luck has all the tools—both physical and mental—so he will be an elite fantasy quarterback eventually. But don't expect anything in 2012.
5. Jake Locker
This is a stash-and-hope pick. Locker has shown significant flashes in the limited playing time he had as a rookie in 2011. But with Matt Hasselbeck signed through 2013, Locker's playing time will again be limited unless given a fair shot to compete for the starting job. With Kenny Britt and Nate Washington, Locker has some weapons—and the talent—if he were to get the starting gig.
6. Tim Tebow
From an NFL standpoint, Tebow is up-and-down. He's a winner though his stats aren't impressive. But from a fantasy standpoint, Tebow is always gold.
Like fellow running QB Newton, Tebow will be asked to pick up the nuances of being a passing quarterback to avoid absorbing unnecessary hits while on the run. With Demaryius Thomas and a pretty decent offensive line, Tebow will be a solid fantasy quarterback.
7. Robert Griffin III
Like Newton and Tebow, RG3 is a big running quarterback. The big question mark is where he will land in the draft.
If the talented kid goes to Washington, as many experts predict, this is where I would rank him. The Redskins don't have any serious receiving threats, and RG3 has the additional burden of trying to learn how to run an offense from under center.
The situation here is not promising and the Redskins organization doesn't seem competent enough to improve it over the next few years. If RG3 goes to a better situation, then I may be inclined to bump him up over Tebow.
Running Backs (8)
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1. Arian Foster
Foster may be 25 but he's only got three seasons of mileage on him. Behind a tremendous offensive line and in a good system, Foster will be a force for years to come. The line between him and the No. 2 guy on this list is very close.
2. LeSean McCoy
McCoy also has played three seasons but is a bit younger at 23. Philadelphia's offensive line leaves a lot to be desired but McCoy not only overcame that in 2011, he also overcame the third-most difficult schedule for running backs to finish as the No. 1 running back in fantasy this past year.
3. Trent Richardson
One of the safest backs to enter the draft in recent years, Richardson is also a safe pick for you. He could go as high as No. 4 to Cleveland or drop to No. 17 with Cincinnati. But rest assured that whichever team takes the multi-talented back will start him immediately and make him their featured back for years, which is all you can ask for as a dynasty owner.
4. Ray Rice
The only reason Rice falls behind Richardson in dynasty league rankings is because Rice already has four years of mileage and over 1,200 touches during those four years. At this pace, even if Rice has the longevity of a Hall of Fame receiving back like Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James or LaDainian Tomlinson, their history shows that Rice has no more than three years of elite production left.
5. Ryan Mathews
He's just 24 and finished his second season in 2011. Mathews rushed for 1,091 yards despite sharing some touches with Mike Tolbert. With rumors of Tolbert departing via free agency, and with receiver Vincent Jackson almost assuredly gone via free agency, the Bolts may lean on Mathews even more, which increases his value.
6. Mikel Leshoure
Flying under the radar after a season-ending injury in training camp this past rookie season, Leshoure will have a significant role in the Lions' backfield in 2012 and beyond.
Jahvid Best's concussion history—which extends back to his collegiate days—makes Leshoure almost a sure thing to see the field often. And with his talent, if he gets the majority of the work in the backfield, a top 10 fantasy finish for RBs over the next few years wouldn't be out of the question.
7. DeMarco Murray
Oft-injured Felix Jones is in the last season of his deal with the Cowboys in 2012 while Murray was more productive than Jones in 2011, hitting double-digit points in five of the eight games where the rookie Murray was the featured back. Expect Murray to be the lead back in a loaded Dallas offense.
8. Doug Martin
The Boise State star is flying under the radar in NFL mock drafts. But Martin has all the tools to be an every-down NFL stud if he lands on a team that makes him the undisputed feature back. Due to this unknown, I have Martin at No. 7 on this list but he could easily be higher in the right situation.
Wide Receivers (8)
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1. Calvin Johnson
"Megatron" just wrapped up his fifth season. Marvin Harrison's last 1,000-yard season came in his 11th season. Isaac Bruce's last 1,000-yard season came in his 13th year. Jerry Rice's last 1,000-yard season amazingly came in his 18th year.
If we believe Calvin is this era's Hall of Fame receiver, then he could have at least six more years of elite production in him.
2. Hakeem Nicks
Having finished his third season at 24 years old, Nicks hasn't even entered his prime. He will get only better—a scary thought for NFL defenses but a happy thought for dynasty owners.
3. Victor Cruz
The undrafted big-play wide receiver is 25 years old but has only played two seasons. The fact that he and Nicks are on the field together make it difficult for defenses to consistently cover them both.
4. A.J. Green
Growing together in the offense at the same time as quarterback Andy Dalton means they should have a pretty special chemistry on the field. The explosive receiver broke the 1,000-yard mark in his rookie season, being only the eighth player in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
5. Julio Jones
If you thought Green's 1,000-yard season was amazing, take note that fellow rookie Jones had 959 yards—and eight touchdowns. He won't get the hype that Green gets, but with veteran Matt Ryan at quarterback, Jones will be just as productive. Expect Jones to surpass Roddy White in fantasy production starting in 2012.
6. Mike Wallace
The Steelers' top receiver just finished his third season with 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns, despite a down season by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Assuming Wallace stays in Pittsburgh—he is a restricted free agent—he should continue to be a top young receiver for your dynasty team.
7. Justin Blackmon
With his likely quarterback being Sam Bradford on a St. Louis team with many needs, there could be some growing pains for Blackmon. High expectations abound after his Fiesta Bowl performance but too many unknowns abound.
How good is Bradford anyway? Will Brandon Lloyd return to complement Blackmon? How will the Rams address offensive tackle problems? Blackmon's immediate production will be impacted by the answers to these questions.
8. Torrey Smith
Quarterback Joe Flacco took a step forward in the 2011 playoffs, and the Ravens hope that bodes well for the dynamic Smith in 2012, who had 841 yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie campaign despite Flacco's subpar regular season. Smith should continue to grow over the next few years but the biggest question mark is the quarterback play.
Tight Ends (4)
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1. Rob Gronkowski
At just 22 years old and wrapping up his second season in 2011, Gronkowski has a long future as an elite tight end for your dynasty team.
2. Jimmy Graham
Though he is 25 years old, Graham too is wrapping up his second season. So the Saints' elite tight end, like Gronkowski, has a long dynasty future ahead of him.
3. Aaron Hernandez
Athletic enough to be a receiver, Hernandez had 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns despite being the third option in the Patriots offense. Like Gronkowski, Hernandez is also just 22 years old and just finished his second season.
4. Coby Fleener
With a height and weight similar to Graham, Fleener's size could pose a problem for defenses. The Stanford star also has deceptive speed and runs excellent routes, making him a vertical threat.
Additionally, it's safe to assume that the team that drafts him will utilize him the way the Patriots and Saints use their elite tight ends. The only problem could be if he lands on a team with a subpar quarterback. But for dynasty leagues, he's worth looking at after the top three are gone.
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If your dynasty league uses IDPs, here are some long-term options.
1. Jason Pierre-Paul
Is 23 years old, finished second season. 2011 stats: 86 tackles, 16.5 sacks, two forced fumbles.
2. Calais Campbell
Is 25 years old, finished fourth season. 2011 stats: 72 tackles, eight sacks, two forced fumbles, one pick.
1. James Laurinaitis
Is 25 years old, finished third season. 2011 stats: 142 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions.
2. Desmond Bishop
Is 27 years old, finished fifth season. 2011 stats: 115 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles.
3. Von Miller
Is 22 years old, finished rookie season. 2011 stats: 64 tackles, 11.5 sacks, two forced fumbles.
4. Patrick Willis
Is 27 years old, finished fifth season. 2011 stats: 97 tackles, two sacks, four forced fumbles, one pick.
1. Morgan Burnett
Is 23 years old, finished second season. 2011 stats: 107 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles, three picks.
2. Cam Chancellor
Is 23 years old, finished second season. 2011 stats: 97 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles, four picks.
3. Patrick Chung
Is 24 years old, finished third season. 2011 stats (only 8 games): 62 tackles, one sack, one interception.