In fantasy football drafts every year, team owners desperately pore over cheatsheets, rankings, secret computer formulas and tea leaves in search of players that are "locks"—the sort of player who's a safe bet to at least perform up to his fantasy draft position, if not exceed it.
To aid those fantasy owners in their quest for glory, a trophy and perhaps a little extra spending money (after all, fantasy football isn't gambling, it's a game of skill), here's a look at one player at each position that should at the very least live up to his billing if not exceed it.
To make things interesting, I selected a player who is currently outside the top 10 quarterbacks, top 20 running backs and wide receivers, top 10 tight ends and top five team defenses. After all, telling you that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice will be a "lock" this year isn't exactly news.
No kickers here, either. The only advice you need regarding kickers is to wait until the last round and grab the best one left. If he doesn't pan out, off to the waiver wire he goes.
And with that, on with the show!
All Fantasy Average Draft Positions Courtesy of MyFantasyLeague.com.
CURRENT ADP: QB13
Last season, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was hampered by a bum ankle down the stretch that caused him to miss one game and be limited in several others. However, the ninth-year veteran still posted fairly solid numbers.
"Big Ben" threw for 4,077 yards and 21 touchdowns, good for a 13th-place finish among fantasy quarterbacks.
Prior to last year, however, Roethlisberger ranked among the top 10 signal-callers in fantasy points per game in three out of four seasons.
With a talented young cadre of wide receivers, an improved offensive line and question marks surrounding the running game, Roethlisberger is a safe bet to at the very least live up to his present ADP. What's more, there's a very good chance that he could exceed it and end up cracking the top 10 at his position.
CURRENT ADP: RB21
Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner once again chewed up the yardage for his team in 2011.
For the third time in his four seasons in Atlanta, the 30-year-old bellcow topped 1,300 rushing yards, scored double-digit touchdowns and cracked the top 10 players at his position in fantasy points.
This history of strong performance makes it somewhat strange to glance at the average draft position for running backs in early fantasy football drafts and see the ninth-year pro outside the top 20.
Having said that, the years of "Turner the Burner" have given way to "Turner the Churner." There's quite a bit of wear on his tires, and Turner is a non-factor in the passing game in Atlanta.
On the other hand, Turner will receive the lion's share of carries in the Falcons backfield. While there's always some degree of injury risk involved with a player of his age, an injury is also the only thing likely to keep Turner from considerably outperforming his current ADP this season.
CURRENT ADP: WR21
The nightmare season that befell the Philadelphia Eagles last year struck wide receiver Jeremy Maclin as well. The fourth-year pro missed three games due to injury and saw his production drop considerably after a top-15 fantasy campaign in 2010.
That disappointing season has led to skepticism from fantasy owners this year, with Maclin being chosen just outside the top 20 options at his position in early drafts this summer.
With that said, there's reason for optimism this year. With fellow wideout DeSean Jackson no longer grousing about a new deal, the speedster should in theory return to form, In turn, this will draw coverage down the field and away from the underneath routes that are Maclin's bread and butter.
So long as Eagles quarterback Michael Vick can cut down on the silly turnovers, Maclin should at the very least back up his low-end fantasy WR2 status as things stand today. Of course, Maclin has enough upside to give him a real shot at bettering that by a fair margin.
CURRENT ADP: TE13
Apparently, many fantasy owners must think that Gonzalez already hung them up. Even though the future Hall of Famer hasn't finished lower than sixth among fantasy tight ends in the past five seasons, Gonzalez is being drafted as a TE2 in 12-team fantasy football leagues.
He's 36 years old, but that's just nuts. Gonzalez is the definition of durable and consistent, having missed all of two games in 15 years. Not once since 2000 has he finished outside the top 10 at his position in fantasy points.
Some may point to his "reduced role" in the Atlanta offense this year. However, if you think quarterback Matt Ryan isn't going to look Gonzo's way in pressure situations and on third downs, I have a really nice bridge I can sell you for a song.
CURRENT ADP: D/ST6
Fantasy defenses are wildly inconsistent from year to year. This makes picking a "lock" at the position something of an exercise in futility, especially when looking outside the top five defenses chosen for that option.
It may seem even stranger that the defense I've selected was absolutely horrid last year, ranking last in the National Football League in total defense and 27th in sacks.
However, the Green Bay Packers have finished no lower than seventh among fantasy defenses over the past four years, with three top-three finishes including last year.
What the Green Bay defense surrenders in yardage they make up for in aggressiveness, annually ranking among the league leaders in takeaways.
Add in an improved pass rush with the addition of outside linebacker Nick Perry, and the Green Bay defense is excellent value as the sixth fantasy unit off the board.