NFC offenses seem to have all the fun, but a few key players on AFC teams look poised to deliver for your fantasy football team.
Think of the playoff teams from the NFC, and all of them (besides the San Francisco 49ers) featured offensive juggernauts that posted jaw-dropping numbers in the passing game. In the AFC, all the top-notch squads (with exception to the New England Patriots) still played old school football led by fierce defense and hard-nosed running. Maybe the 49ers and Patriots should switch conferences.
Nevertheless, do not become enamored with the big names in the NFC and forget about some of the AFC's premier talent. There are still quite a few stars ready to help bring home your league's trophy.
Draft these guys in the early rounds and watch as they outclass the competition.
I’m going to drop a bomb that will spark some controversy, but I don’t care if anybody takes offense to this bold statement.
Tom Brady is really good.
Shocking, I know. Let’s stop and appreciate just how amazing Brady has performed recently. In his last four healthy years, Brady has averaged 4,584 passing yards and 38 passing touchdowns per season, and I even rounded down the decimals.
Last year, Brady delighted his owners with consistent play every week. He scored a touchdown in every game and eclipsed 300 passing yards 11 times. His worst output resulted from only throwing 198 passing yards and two touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8.
Now that the Patriots added Brandon Lloyd along with the rest of their top receiving options, Brady has yet another toy to play with this season.
Playing four games against the NFC West should be pretty fun too.
Barring another freak injury, you can draft Brady with your top pick and rest easy knowing that premium production is heading your way from start to finish. After Aaron Rodgers, Brady should be the next quarterback taken off the draft board.
And that’s why you don’t overlook a player after one season.
Ryan Mathews underwhelmed his eager fantasy owners in 2010, but delivered a glimpse of hope by rushing for 120 yards and three touchdowns in the final week.
That outburst set the tone for 2011, where he compiled 1,546 total yards and six touchdowns. Mathews averaged 4.9 yards per carry on 222 rushes and added 50 receptions, a considerable boost for those playing in points per reception leagues.
Usually, a player who stacked up yards with few touchdowns are a draft day discount the following season, but searching for an elite running back is slim pickings nowadays.
With touchdown-vulture Mike Tolbert out of the picture, Mathews should claim more touchdowns and become the complete package for fantasy owners looking to grab a running back early.
Safer options may exist, but Mathews is the real deal who is worth selecting at the end of the first round.
Jamaal Charles was well on his way to seizing the crown as fantasy football’s premier player.
Averaging an insane 6.4 yards per carry in 2010, Charles trailed only Arian Foster in rushing yards despite only receiving 230 handoffs. The 25-year-old looked poised to manage a larger workload and approach 2,000 rushing yards in 2011 before tearing his ACL in Week 2.
When they let that cape off me, I’m ready to go. I’m ready to put my cleats back on and punish everybody in my way.
His return to dominance is no sure bet, but his potential is awfully hard to ignore. Few chances to snag a first-round talent are available in the third round, so passing on Charles that late is difficult.
Straying to the side of caution is typically wise in the early rounds, but drafting Charles could win your league.
Rookie wide receivers rarely deliver gaudy numbers during their inaugural season, which makes A.J. Green’s phenomenal debut more special.
At 6’4’’ and 211 pounds with good speed, Green is built perfectly to give opposing defensive backs fits. The 23-year-old should see even more targets, including plenty of red-zone opportunities, during his second season as Cincinnati’s top receiver.
Rookie Mohamed Sanu can at least keep defenses honest and help move the chains while Green serves as the team’s playmaker.
Green already deserves to round out the top 10 wide receiver rankings. In keeper and dynasty leagues, he probably warrants top five consideration.
Okay, so maybe Mike Wallace is more than a glorified deep threat.
When Wallace accumulated 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns with 60 catches in 2010, many drafters shied away from the young receiver in fear of his all-or-nothing tendencies.
Besides a couple of stinkers in Weeks 12 and 17, Wallace contributed solid stats throughout the season.
Instead of his receptions dropping like DeSean Jackson after his breakout season in 2009, Wallace caught 72 passes as Ben Roethlisberger's main target. Wallace still hits some major punches as a big-play option, but he can also offer a decent effort without breaking off a 50-yard touchdown.
After two full and fantastic seasons, trust Wallace to perform as an elite receiver again in 2012.
At this point of his career, Antonio Gates is no longer the top dog at tight end, but he should be just fine if he can remain healthy.
The 32-year-old managed 778 receiving yards and seven touchdowns despite missing three games battling a foot injury. He has dealt with nagging ailments over the past two years and showed signs of aging with his yards after the catch rate dipping from 6.6 in 2010 to 4.3 last season.
Still, this is a tight end whose seven touchdowns were his lowest mark since 2003. That type of production is hard to find.
I'm not as eager to grab Gates as the rest of these AFC studs. In this case, the price needs to be right. With Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham seizing all the attention, Gates is no longer the guy somebody reaches for in an attempt to jump the gun on an eventual tight end run.
In the fifth or sixth round, gambling on Gates playing 16 games is a risk worth taking. If he musters up a full season, Gates can easily approach 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.