Predicting the Top 50 Fantasy Football Players of 2012

Vincent FrankCorrespondent IJuly 13, 2012

Predicting the Top 50 Fantasy Football Players of 2012

0 of 50

    It is easy to get mixed up with results as they relate to particular positions when playing fantasy football. While running back is still the trendsetting No. 1 overall position in most leagues, there is going to be a trend to the quarterback position.

    Why?

    Well, it is really simple. The NFL is a pass-first league now, and that trend is only going to continue with the likes of Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck joining the league. Despite the fact that neither of those rookie quarterbacks makes this list, it is important to note when looking at your draft board in the coming weeks.

    I have fallen under the philosophy that you don't need to take a RB1 with your first overall selection over the last couple seasons. This has worked out well for me.

    After all, who could argue with a first-two-pick tandem that includes Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch?

    With that in mind, let's take a look at my top 50 fantasy football players heading into the 2012 NFL season.

50. Roy Helu, Running Back, Washington Redskins

1 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 640 rush yards, 379 receiving yards, 1,019 total yards and three touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 169

    The idea of getting a solid RB2 in the opening stages of the fifth round has to be enticing to a lot of owners. Roy Helu might not have averaged a great deal of production per game, but a lot of that had to do with the Washington Redskins' inability to form a consistent passing game.

    You can expect the second-year running back to improve those averages with Robert Griffin III at quarterback and a few new weapons in the passing game. In short, Washington won't see eight defenders stacking the box against the run when there is a threat of RGIII going over the top to Josh Morgan or Pierre Garcon.

    One issue as it relates to Helu is the fact that Washington also has Tim Hightower and Evan Royster vying for carries in the backfield. This could cause him to drop during your draft, so beware of jumping on Helu too soon.

49. Brandon Lloyd, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots

2 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 70 receptions, 966 yards and five touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 136

    All the projections that I am seeing for Lloyd—less than 1,000 yards—might be understating how he performed in 2011 with two struggling passing offenses in Denver and St. Louis. He nabbed nearly 1,000 yards between the two teams combined after leading the entire NFL in receiving yards the prior year with 1,448.

    It is also important to take into account that Tom Brady will be throwing the ball to Lloyd in 2012, not Tim Tebow or Sam Bradford.

    That being said, don't expect a huge number of touchdowns from the talented receiver. Brady loves to utilize his tight ends in the red zone, as evidenced by the 24 combined touchdowns for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

    Lloyd will also be part of this stacked passing offense and should be the fourth option behind those two aforementioned tight ends as well as Wes Welker.

48. Miles Austin, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys

3 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 43 receptions, 579 yards and seven touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 141

    Don't be thrown off by the lack of fantasy production from Miles Austin last season. The talented wide receiver was facing injury issues for the first time in his career and is just one season removed from back-to-back 1,000 yard campaigns.

    He is, by all accounts, a solid option for WR2 on your fantasy team.

    There will be some concern about taking Austin here due to the fact that Dez Bryant is set for a breakout campaign and could take over as the true No. 1 receiver for Tony Romo.

    I would put Austin in the "buyer beware" category at this point.

47. Doug Martin, Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

4 of 50

    2011 Statistics: N/A

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 141

    This is where my objectivity might take a backseat to a major fantasy crush of mine. Doug Martin will shine in his first season in the National Football League. You can expect him to take over the No. 1 running back duties from LeGarrette Blount in Tampa Bay and run with it.

    Martin will get a lot more touches than you would expect for someone vying for rushes with another back that is just one season removed from a 1,000-yard campaign.

    You can definitely expect a total of 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns for the Boise State product as a rookie in 2012.

    Not bad for an RB2.

46. Jeremy Maclin, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles

5 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 63 receptions, 859 yards and five touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 142

    Fantasy football owners have waited patiently for Maclin to have a breakout campaign, but it has yet to happen. The talented young receiver has not compiled a 1,000-yard season in three years and has been nothing more than a WR2 at best.

    Now I am going to jump fully onto the bandwagon and project that Maclin not only has a 1,000-yard season, but also becomes a more consistent performer on a weekly basis. Expect him to average over five receptions and about 0.6 touchdowns on a weekly basis.

    That should cement Maclin's status as a WR2 in 2012 and moving forward.

45. Steve Smith, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers

6 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 79 receptions, 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 148

    There are multiple factors working against Steve Smith heading into the 2012 season. First, he is getting up to the age where receivers tend to see their production decline. Second, the Carolina Panthers are going to run the ball much more in 2012 due to an improved defense and understanding they can compete for a playoff spot.

    That being said, what Smith did in 2011 with Cam Newton at quarterback was nothing short of amazing. He was, by all accounts, a true WR1.

    There shouldn't be any issue taking Smith in the fourth round as a second wide receiver on your roster. Pretty much as sure as it gets barring an injury.

44. Ahmad Bradshaw, Running Back, New York Giants

7 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 659 rush yards, 267 receiving yards, 926 total yards and 11 touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 167

    I am not nearly as high on Ahmad Bradshaw heading into the 2012 season as others are. Despite scoring 11 touchdowns, which was a coup for fantasy owners, Bradshaw didn't put up consistently great numbers on a weekly basis.

    He could still be a solid RB2, but there are a ton of better options out there. Wouldn't it make more sense to go with the upside of a Doug Martin or guaranteed production of a Frank Gore?

    Either way, Bradshaw will go much higher than I have him slotted. Probably a top-25 pick in most drafts.

43. Vernon Davis, Tight End, San Francisco 49ers

8 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 67 receptions, 792 yards and six touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 138

    Vernon Davis might not have put up great numbers consistently throughout the 2011 season, but he came on extremely strong after getting more comfortable with the San Francisco 49ers' new offensive scheme.

    Including the postseason, Davis caught 18 passes for 410 yards and four touchdowns in the 49ers' final three games last year. Those are eye-opening numbers.

    You also have to remember that Davis combined for nearly 1,900 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns in 2009 and 2010.

    Expect the talented tight end to continue being Alex Smith's favorite target in what promises to be an improved passing attack by the bay.

    I can easily envision a 1,100-yard, 12-touchdown performance in 2012.

42. Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings

9 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 970 rush yards, 139 receiving yards, 1,109 total yards and 13 touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 177

    There is no doubt that Adrian Peterson would have been in the top 10 if it weren't for that serious ACL and MCL injury that ended his 2011 season. In fact, he might have been top-five.

    Acquiring the services of the former All-Pro running back here in the fourth round of a 12-team league would be risky, albeit possibly rewarding as well.

    The primary issues with A.P. are going to be his health and availability early in the season. If the Minnesota Vikings' starting running back misses the first six games after being placed on the Physically Unable to Perform List, he isn't going to get drafted too high. That being said, this possibility is remote.

    Either way, buyer definitely needs to beware at this point.

41. Steven Jackson, Running Back, St. Louis Rams

10 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 1,145 rush yards, 333 receiving yards, 1,478 total yards and six touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 182

    Steven Jackson might be getting to that point—soon to be age 29 and over 2,500 touches—when running backs start to slow down. This story has been repeated over and over again with some of the great ball-carriers to ever suit up.

    That being said, there is absolutely no way any fantasy owner can balk at the chance to draft Jackson to be their RB2. He still possesses the strength and speed to be a damn good running back in the NFL, as evidenced by accumulating nearly 1,500 total yards in 2011.

    Jackson should also be helped by what promises to be an improved passing game with the St. Louis Rams. He probably won't face nearly as many "eight men in the box" situations.

40. Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs

11 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 81 receptions, 1,159 yards and five touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 152

    The only thing really holding Dwayne Bowe back from being considered a WR1 is the fact that he is playing with the inconsistent Matt Cassel in Kansas City. Despite rough performances by a multitude of Chiefs quarterbacks in 2011, Bowe stepped up big time.

    He accumulated at least six catches in eight games last season, which fantasy owners will definitely take a look at. It shows a solid level of consistency on a weekly basis.

    Moreover, you have to remember that Bowe is just one year removed from leading the entire National Football League in touchdown receptions, something that fantasy owners drool over.

39. Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys

12 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 63 receptions, 928 yards and nine touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 146

    Is Dez Bryant going to finally live up to expectations and become Tony Romo's favorite target in Dallas? This is a question that the Cowboys are going to need to answer in relatively short order.

    This is also something that fantasy owners are going to be asking themselves when they get to this point in the draft. Do you overreach for a player that failed to show consistency and wore down during games last season? Do you look at the upside and run with it?

    All things equal, Bryant belongs nowhere near where I have him on this list. After all, he is situated above Jeremy Maclin, Steve Smith and Dwayne Bowe.

    It is all about upside here.

    If Bryant takes that next step towards elite status, there will be no questioning the selection of him to be a WR1 in fantasy football. If he continues to remain inconsistent, this selection could set your entire season back.

    Time will tell!

38. Michael Vick, Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles

13 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 3,303 passing yards, 589 rushing yards, 3,892 total yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 271

    Michael Vick struggled a great deal in 2011, but he definitely did enough to earn the trust of fantasy owners around the United States. The talented quarterback accumulated 271 fantasy points, which was good enough for 11th among quarterbacks last season (going by ESPN numbers and rules).

    If Vick remains the same in terms of statistics, you will still be able to justify the selection of him here early in the fourth round.

    I am banking on No. 7 seeing his rushing touchdown and total yard numbers increase from a down 2011 season. If that happens, he might even be worth an early third-rounder.

37. Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

14 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 72 receptions, 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 169

    Mike Wallace seems to be somewhat of an enigmatic figure around fantasy football circles. One would think that the talented young receiver could be counted on to be a WR1, but that just isn't where many expert mocks have him going.

    Why?

    According to ESPN, his 162 points in 2011 were good enough for 10th in its fantasy football leagues. This puts him right smack dab in the middle of No. 1 territory. You also have to realize that Wallace will be just 26 when the 2012 season begins in September.

    Couple this with the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers are more likely to concentrate on the passing game, and you have the makings of an even better season from Wallace.

    Of course, there are a couple drawbacks to thinking Wallace could be your main pass-catcher. He still hasn't signed that restricted-free-agent tender and didn't take part in any offseason activities. Additionally, there are a lot of people speculating that Antonio Brown will get more targets than he did in 2011.

    Either way, acquiring Wallace at the beginning of the fourth round would be an absolute coup.

36. Eli Manning, Quarterback, New York Giants

15 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 4,933 passing yards, 30 total touchdowns and 16 interceptions

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 279

    Having Eli Manning this low has absolutely nothing to do with where I would rank him overall in the National Football League. Instead, it represents the fantasy value of the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

    Nearly 5,000 yards and 30 total touchdowns would seem to represent second-round value to most fantasy owners. I fully understand this.

    That being said, Manning's 2011 yardage total bested his previous high by over 900 yards. Most of this was due to the fact that the two-time champion attempted nearly 600 passes, also a career high.

    Don't expect those numbers to be repeated again as the New York Giants attempt to rebound from their struggling ground performance last season. They added David Wilson to the mix with Ahmad Bradshaw and will once again look to pound the ball more.

    Manning might be an elite quarterback; he just isn't an elite fantasy quarterback.

35. Philip Rivers, Quarterback, San Diego Chargers

16 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 4,624 passing yards, 28 total touchdowns and 20 interceptions

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 263

    Philip Rivers had a down season in 2011, even by fantasy standards. His 20 interceptions did hurt a lot of owners compared to the 13 he threw in 2010.

    That being said, I am going to work under the assumption that last year was an anomaly of sorts for Rivers. He has never really been a quarterback prone to the interception. After all, we are talking about a quarterback that threw 78 more touchdowns than interceptions from 2006 to 2010.

    Rivers will definitely put up the yards and touchdowns worthy of a second-round pick. At this point, it is all about him trusting the San Diego Chargers' new tools in the passing game and avoiding mistakes.

34. Frank Gore, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers

17 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 1,211 rush yards, 114 receiving yards, 1,325 total yards and eight touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 177

    There have been times in the past where I personally believed Frank Gore was overrated among fantasy 'backs. This isn't one of them. In fact, he is much lower on fantasy boards than most people would expect.

    Gore has over 4,000 total yards and 26 touchdowns over the course of the last three seasons, making him one of the most consistent fantasy performers in the league.

    The issue with Gore is that the San Francisco 49ers have a myriad of different options in the backfield in the form of Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Brandon Jacobs.

    You can also expect San Francisco to be resting Gore throughout the season so that he stays fresh into the playoffs.

    This all indicates a down season from the Pro Bowl running back.

33. Jamaal Charles, Running Back, Kansas City Chiefs

18 of 50

    2011 Statistics: N/A

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 186

    As always, someone is going to pop up with injury issues. Jamaal Charles missed all but two games of the 2011 season with a torn ACL.

    The Kansas City Star is reporting that Charles expects to be a go for training camp in a couple weeks. While this is great news for the Chiefs, there are still going to be some lingering concerns from fantasy owners.

    It is also important to note that Charles has never averaged more than 15 rushes per game in his three-plus NFL seasons. That isn't an indication that Charles doesn't have the ability to shoulder the load. Rather, it does raise questions about your ability to count on him consistently throughout the 2012 season.

    One thing is for sure: Charles is electric with the ball in his hands. The talented running back averaged over seven yards per touch in 2010.

32. Jordy Nelson, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers

19 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 68 receptions, 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 149

    Yes, I have Jordy Nelson relatively low on this list. The primary reason for this is because I am projecting Greg Jennings (more on him later) to return to 2010 form and stay healthy.

    Nelson, the Green Bay Packers' No. 1 receiver in 201, had an absolutely amazing season. He finished second in fantasy points among wide receivers behind the otherworldly Calvin Johnson. Moreover, Nelson recorded 57 total fantasy points during the Packers' final two regular-season games.

    Overall, Nelson accumulated at least 100 yards or one touchdown in 10 different games last year.

    While the surprising young receiver could definitely be a WR1 in most fantasy leagues, the Packers have way too much firepower on offense for you to rely on him here.

31. Wes Welker, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots

20 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 122 receptions, 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 176

    I will probably draw ire from New England Patriots fans clear across the United States here. Ranking Wes Welker this low doesn't make a whole lot of sense on the surface.

    After all, we are talking about a wide receiver that has accumulated some of the most amazing statistics in recent NFL history. Welker has recorded an astonishing 331 receptions over the course of the last three seasons, putting him right up there with some Hall of Fame players.

    There are other variables that preclude me from putting Welker any higher. He has caught a total of 23 touchdowns since the start of the 2008 season. Definitely not WR1 numbers.

    Tom Brady also relies heavily on Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez between the hashes. A very large majority of red-zone passes go in their direction.

    What is more, Welker has not averaged more than 12.9 yards per reception since his run with the Patriots began in 2007.

30. Darren McFadden, Running Back, Oakland Raiders

21 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 614 rushing yards, 154 receiving yards, 768 total yards and five touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 175

    This is a high-risk, even-higher-reward type of pick right here. When Darren McFadden was healthy last season, he was among the most productive fantasy running backs in the entire league.

    In fact, if you translate his 2011 performance over the course of an entire season, McFadden would have been the third-best fantasy back in the NFL behind Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy.

    At this point, it is all about staying healthy, something that McFadden has been unable to do in his first four seasons in the NFL. He has missed a total of 19 games.

    It's just hard to rely on someone that cannot stay healthy to perform up to the level that you expect from a starting fantasy running back.

29. Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears

22 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 81 receptions, 1,214 yards and six touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 148

    The last time Brandon Marshall caught passes from Jay Cutler was with the Denver Broncos in 2008. That season saw the enigmatic receiver haul in over 100 passes for nearly 1,300 yards.

    As ESPN pointed out, "In each of the past five seasons, Marshall has finished between ninth and 13th in fantasy points among WRs."

    Consider this: Marshall has had four different starting quarterbacks throwing him the ball during that span. Despite this lack of continuity, he continues to put up solid numbers on a consistent basis.

    Expect an even bigger season in 2012 if Marshall can keep his head screwed on straight.

28. A.J. Green, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals

23 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 65 receptions, 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 169

    What can I write about A.J. Green that you haven't read already? The talented young wide receiver doesn't just have a bright future ahead of him; he has already lived up to that No. 1 wide receiver ability that many said he had entering the 2011 NFL draft.

    The simple fact that Green accumulated over 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie, catching the ball from a fellow first-year player, is simply amazing.

    With both Dalton and Green gaining a year of experience and having an entire offseason under their belts, you can expect this duo to impress even more in 2012.

    There is no reason to believe that Green cannot gain over 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns in his second season. That puts him on the verge of WR1 material.

27. DeMarco Murray, Running Back, Dallas Cowboys

24 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 897 rushing yards, 183 receiving yards, 1,080 total yards and two touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 183

    Of course, there are going to be concerns about the health of DeMarco Murray after he suffered a devastating ankle injury as a rookie. This might lead some fantasy owners to stray away from the talented young back.

    Don't make that mistake, people!

    Murray was still able to accumulate 1,080 total yards despite the fact that he missed three games due to injury and only ran the ball 14 times in the Cowboys' first four games. That is simply crazy.

    If Murray is able to stay healthy, which there is no reason to believe he won't, you could be looking at a true RB1 on your fantasy team.

    That being said, there is one other thing that might hold Murray down on the charts: He only scored two touchdowns on 190 touches last season. That needs to change.

26. Hakeem Nicks, Wide Receiver, New York Giants

25 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 76 receptions, 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 160

    Hakeem Nicks, who suffered a broken foot this offseason, is going to be a risky selection if you decide to call his number early in the draft.

    On average, his injury takes about 12 weeks to fully heal, which puts him right up to the start of training camp after suffering the broken foot back in May.

    For his part, Nicks is confident that he will be ready to go when camp starts later this month.

    One other variable that fantasy owners must take into account is Victor Cruz, who took over as the New York Giants' No. 1 receiver in October of last season after a series of standout performances.

    I still expect Nicks to capture the 1,000-yard plateau and challenge for double-digit touchdowns.

25. Roddy White, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons

26 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 100 receptions, 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 173

    Dynasty team owners probably weren't too happy that the Atlanta Falcons traded up for Julio Jones in the 2011 NFL draft. After all, this meant that Roddy White was going to see his production drop. Right?

    Think again.

    His numbers in 2011 compared extremely well to the previous season. White saw his number of receptions drop by just a couple handfuls, as he caught two fewer touchdown passes. Not a biggie.

    One of the major factors that fantasy football players have to take into account when selecting a receiver is the type of offense his team runs and the quality of his quarterback. Matt Ryan is nearing elite status, and the Falcons are probably looking at moving further away from the run in 2012 with an aging Michael Turner in the backfield.

    The indications are there for White to continue, or improve on, a stealth-like 2011 campaign. You can pretty much take that to the bank, wrap it up in your fantasy cheat sheets and pull out the proverbial ace when draft day comes.

24. Tony Romo, Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys

27 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 4,184 passing yards, 32 total touchdowns and 10 interceptions

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 265

    Outside of the mind of Amani Toomer, this is the only list where you will see Tony Romo ahead of two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning.

    Just take a look at the numbers above. Romo is that ninja that swipes in and steals your girlfriend the night of the prom. No one expects him to be there when all is said and done, but there he is.

    The enigmatic starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys has been one of the most consistently good fantasy quarterbacks in the NFL over the course of the last five seasons. Romo has seven games with at least three touchdowns in his last 19 starts and has become quite the reliable passer during that span.

    In leagues where you go running back and wide receiver first, there is no reason to question the selection of Romo in the third round. That being said, beware of another team swooping in and grabbing him beforehand.

23. Matt Forte, Running Back, Chicago Bears

28 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 997 rushing yards, 490 receiving yards, 1,487 total yards and four touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 199

    Fantasy owners, don't fret: Matt Forte will be on the Chicago Bears when the season starts in September. Despite a sometimes unhealthy relationship with the organization, things seem to be looking up in terms of a contract resolution between the two sides.

    The more concerning thing as it relates to Forte is his ineptitude in the red zone. He has just 13 rushing touchdowns in the last three seasons combined—definitely not what you look for in a starting fantasy back. 

    It is a crying shame considering that all the other indicators for consistent production are there.

22. Julio Jones, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons

29 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 54 receptions, 959 yards and eight touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 155

    Julio Jones ahead of Roddy White? It's kinda like going to a nightclub and seeing two really pretty females there. One is definitely out of your league, but the other could have interest. Do you go for the sexier of the two?

    I say yes. After all, you only live once.

    Jones might have a sophomore slump and fail to progress in 2012. White might continue being the favorite target of Matt Ryan. Who knows?

    I will go with the wide receiver that put up nearly 1,000 yards on just 54 receptions and consistently hit it deep on the long ball. I will go with the player that has unlimited potential and could be nearing elite status in just his second season.

21. Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver, New York Giants

30 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 82 receptions, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 150

    Well, I definitely saw that 2011 performance coming a mile away. Victor Cruz was a top-five pick of the New York Giants. He had a stellar college football career in the media spotlight every Saturday. Expectations were incredibly high for him.

    Oh wait, probably thinking about someone else.

    Cruz had one of the most amazing and unpredictable seasons you will ever see from a wide receiver in the NFL. He put up seven 100-yard games, completely dominating opposing defenses. There were times that Cruz looked to be utterly unstoppable for the New York Giants.

    Was he a one-hit wonder?

    That is the question fantasy football owners are going to be asking themselves in the lead-up to their drafts.

    I am going to work under the assumption that you have to be pretty damn good to put up over 1,500 receiving yards in a single season. That type of talent just doesn't vanish over a six-month period.

20. Jimmy Graham, Tight End, New Orleans Saints

31 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 99 receptions, 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 186

    Let's see where Jimmy Graham fits in. He cannot be solely considered a tight end in the true sense of the word. After all, the talented player quickly became the favorite target of Drew Brees last season. Moreover, his 99 receptions are one of many indications that the tight end position is taking on an added importance in the National Football League.

    You will see Graham lined up in the slot as well as on the outside. He will catch short passes and can physically beat defenders deep.

    If you are selecting in the last half of each round, it might make sense to take a look at Graham instead of a WR1.

19. Trent Richardson, Running Back, Cleveland Browns

32 of 50

    2011 Statistics: N/A

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 199

    Yes, Trent Richardson is my highest-rated rookie. He plays a position of importance for fantasy football and would be a solid add midway through the second round. While Cleveland possesses absolutely no passing game, Richardson should be able to find lines between the hashes due to a solid run-blocking offensive line.

    In reality, a 1,400-yard, double-digit-touchdown season is not out of the question for the talented young back.

    That is good value here.

18. Ryan Mathews, Running Back, San Diego Chargers

33 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 1,091 rushing yards, 455 receiving yards, 1,546 total yards and six touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 207

    I have Ryan Matthews ranked lower than most people. I'm just not sold on his ability as a running back in the initial round.

    The six touchdowns that Mathews recorded on 272 touches last season has to be incredibly worrisome to owners looking at him in the first round. For comparison's sake, that is one touchdown for every 45 touches. Marshawn Lynch (more on him later) averaged one score every 24 times he touched the ball.

17. Marshawn Lynch, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks

34 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 1,204 rushing yards, 212 receiving yards, 1,416 total yards and 13 touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 193

    Great second-round guy if you are able to get a quarterback like Tom Brady in the first round or even Calvin Johnson. Skittles were popping all around the Pacific Northwest last season as Marshawn Lynch dominated opposing defenses, ran through 300-pound defensive tackles and got his feed on at the end of the rainbow.

    I am not expecting any type of regression from Lynch in 2012 either. Despite being around for quite a while, Lynch still only has about as many touches in his NFL career as Matt Forte. This means that the Seahawks bruiser is going to be entering the prime of his career this season.

    One thing you can expect is that his receiving numbers will increase this season if Matt Flynn is the starting quarterback. Flynn is a more accurate passer on intermediate routes and has been learning in a West Coast-type offense for the last few seasons.

    I am looking at 1,600 total yards and 15 touchdowns as a starting-off point in 2012.

16. Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers

35 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 67 receptions, 949 yards and nine touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 166

    By his standards Greg Jennings had a disappointing 2011 season, but most of that had to do with the fact that the former Pro Bowl wide receiver missed three games due to injuries.

    Prior to a regular season-ending ankle injury, Jennings was actually on pace for career highs in receptions and yards.

    I don't think anyone expects Aaron Rodgers to put up the same absurd numbers that we saw in 2011. That being said, you can believe that Jennings will continue to be his focal point on the outside, even with the emergence of Jordy Nelson.

15. Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans

36 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 33 receptions, 492 yards and two touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 172

    Now we get started with the truly elite wide receivers in the National Football League. I fully understand that Andre Johnson is coming off an injury-plagued 2011 season that saw him miss nine games. That really isn't the point.

    When on the football field, Johnson is nearly unstoppable. Prior to last season, he had one of the greatest three-year stretches in the history of the league for a wide receiver. From 2008 to 2010, Johnson caught 302 passes for over 4,300 yards.

    There are, however, two major issues as it relates to Johnson's fantasy value. Surprisingly, he has yet to record more than nine touchdowns in a single season. Additionally, the Houston Texans have switched to more of a run-oriented offense with Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the backfield.

    That being said, you can still expect him to return to 2010 form if healthy, as he is the only reliable receiving threat on the outside for the Texans right now and will be targeted a majority of the time.

14. Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals

37 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 80 receptions, 1,411 yards and eight touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 184

    Simply put, Larry Fitzgerald would be higher if the Arizona Cardinals had a reliable quarterback to throw the ball to him. The future Hall of Fame receiver did some amazing things with two mediocre signal-callers last season.

    He recorded over 1,400 receiving yards for the fourth time in his career. Moreover, Fitzgerald was as consistent as they come.

    If the Cardinals are able to get even average quarterback play, you should see Fitzgerald's touchdown numbers increase and his fantasy value go up.

13. Fred Jackson, Running Back, Buffalo Bills

38 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 934 rushing yards, 442 receiving yards, 1,376 total yards and six touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 185

    Prior to his season-ending injury, Fred Jackson was on pace to finish the year as a top-three fantasy running back. This is how good he was for the Buffalo Bills in 2011.

    Now that Jackson appears to be ready to go and is in the prime of his career, there is absolutely no reason to believe that he cannot pick up where he left off prior to that unfortunate injury.

    You also have to take into account that the Bills are going to be relying on Jackson a great deal in the red zone. Leading receiver Steve Johnson accumulated just seven touchdowns, and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a total of five touchdowns in the Bills' final five games.

12. Rob Gronkowski, Tight End, New England Patriots

39 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 90 receptions, 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 191

    Simply put, Rob Gronkowski had a freakish 2011 season in terms of fantasy football production. Outside of Jimmy Graham, who had a stellar season too, No. 87 nearly doubled the fantasy production of every other tight end in the NFL.

    He also put up a minimum of 20 fantasy points in a total of seven games during the 2011 season.

    These numbers are simply crazy for a tight end.

    Normally I would say that we cannot expect a repeat performance, but all the indicators are there for Gronkowski to absolutely dominate this position once again in 2012. He has become the favorite target of Tom Brady, especially in the red zone. He causes matchup concerns all over the field and is an absolute freak of nature.

    In fact, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that Gronkwoski could actually eclipse his performance from a season ago. If so, you will want to consider taking him over any wide receiver on the board outside of Calvin Johnson, who won't be available in the first place.

11. Chris Johnson, Running Back, Tennessee Titans

40 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 1,047 rushing yards, 418 receiving yards, 1,465 total yards and four touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 215

    I am pretty sure many running backs would take Chris Johnson's down 2011 season. That being said. he was the consensus No. 1 overall pick of a majority of leagues last season. With this in mind, he definitely did not live up to expectations.

    A RB1 in fantasy football simply cannot acquire just over 1,000 rushing yards and a total of four touchdowns. That is enough for an owner to throw in the towel during a given season.

    There were obviously outside factors that led to this. Johnson was a holdout into camp and didn't have the speed that we became accustomed to early in the season. As the year progressed, Johnson did start to look a lot better in terms of fantasy value, but it was too late for many owners.

    While I do think that Johnson can regain 2009 form, it is important to note that all of his major statistical numbers have decreased in each of the last two seasons.

10. Matthew Stafford, Quarterback, Detroit Lions

41 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 5,038 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 338

    I will probably get a lot of grief for having Matthew Stafford this high and am prepared for that. It is still incredibly hard to discount the type of production we saw from the talented young quarterback last season.

    Stafford put up at least 300 yards in six of his last eight starts and accumulated multiple touchdown passes in all but three games last season.

    Oh, and he has a guy by the name of Calvin Johnson to throw the ball to—not to mention a multitude of weapons in the passing game and a questionable running back situation behind him.

9. Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints

42 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 5,476 passing yards, 47 total touchdowns and 14 interceptions

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 345

    Despite recent reports to the contrary, I fully expect Drew Brees to be in attendance for the start of New Orleans Saints training camp in a couple weeks. Of course, that isn't just pure conjecture on my part.

    When Brees does report to camp, he will be ready to go. The Saints offense is relatively unchanged from last season outside of the loss of Robert Meachem.

    Brees has put up a minimum of 4,300 passing yards in each of his last six seasons, accumulating a whopping 201 touchdown passes during that span. Simply unreal if you ask me.

    Not much more I can add here. You already know where Brees stands as it relates to his fantasy value—a definite top-10 pick.

    Update: The Saints and Brees have agreed to a five-year deal worth $100 million ($60 million guaranteed).

8. Cam Newton, Quarterback, Carolina Panthers

43 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 4,051 passing yards, 706 rushing yards, 35 total touchdowns and 17 interceptions

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 325

    The National Football League is trending towards dual-threat quarterbacks. This process started when the Atlanta Falcons selected Michael Vick first overall in the 2001 draft and continued with the emergence of one Cam Newton.

    The talented young quarterback set the football world on fire as a rookie in 2011. What he did was nothing short of amazing.

    Not only did Newton break the rookie record for most passing yards by a rookie, previously held by Peyton Manning, he broke the quarterback record for most rushing touchdowns in a given year.

    Think about that for a second.

    The only things that held Newton back were his 17 interceptions and five fumbles. Other than that, Newton was definitely worthy of the hype that surrounded him entering the 2011 season.

    Now it is time for him to cut down on the mistakes, which do have a direct correlation with success in fantasy football. While we might not see 5,000 total yards in 2012, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Newton cannot surpass 40 overall touchdowns and keep his interception total to the low double-digits.

    If that happens, you are looking at someone that could threaten 350 fantasy points.

7. Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back, Jacksonville Jaguars

44 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 1,606 rushing yards, 374 receiving yards, 1,980 total yards and 11 touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 229

    Maurice Jones-Drew is a little bit lower on this list than he should be. The reason for this is his current contract stalemate with the Jacksonville Jaguars. We saw first-hand what a running back missing training camp and organized team activities could do to his fantasy value during the whole Chris Johnson debacle last season.

    If Jones-Drew reports to camp on time, he is a top-five player without a doubt.

    He combined for nearly 2,000 yards in 2011 with opposing defenses stacking eight against the run. The Jaguars have added multiple receiving weapons on the outside, which seems to indicate that defenses won't be able to do that in 2012. Of course, this is all dependent on the quarterback play in Jacksonville.

    Either way, Jones-Drew is a lock as one of the top four backs in fantasy football this season, and it doesn't matter if he misses training camp. Still take him!

6. Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions

45 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 96 receptions, 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 224

    Do you think about taking Calvin Johnson over any of the five players listed above him in this article? That is a really difficult question to answer, and it will cause some fantasy owners a lot of head-scratching leading up to their drafts.

    Johnson's 2011 point output was 44 points higher than Jordy Nelson, who finished second among wide receivers.

    If you compare this to all the other positions, Johnson is hands down the consensus No. 1 pick in the entire draft. That being said, WR1 takes on less importance than getting an elite running back or quarterback.

    Is the difference in fantasy production between Johnson and the rest of the field worth sacrificing a top-five pick on? I would have to conclude yes.

    Think about this for a second. Johnson put up a total of 79 fantasy points in his final three regular-season games of 2011, more than a player like Greg Little put up throughout his entire rookie season.

5. Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots

46 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 5,235 passing yards, 42 total touchdowns and 12 interceptions

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 354

    Despite the fact that Tom Brady possessed absolutely absurd statistics last season, ESPN projects that his fantasy value is going to increase in 2012.

    How? I just don't see that being a real possibility at this point.

    Sure, the New England Patriots did add Brandon Lloyd to the mix at wide receiver. However, we are talking about someone that put up over 5,200 yards and 42 touchdowns for an average weekly point output of 22.

    Do you really want to bank on that again? As it is, Brady will get some play in the top five, and for good reason. Those fantasy numbers could literally give a fantasy owner consistently "comfortable" dreams on Sunday nights.

4. Arian Foster, Running Back, Houston Texans

47 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 1,224 rushing yards, 617 receiving yards, 1,841 total yards and 12 touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 296

    You could easily put Arian Foster in the top spot on your draft board, and no one would really question it. He averaged nearly 142 yards and about one touchdown per game in his 13 appearances last season. That right there is enough to put up nearly 18 fantasy points per outing.

    For Foster, it was somewhat of a down season. His 2,200 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010 would have easily made him the No. 1 player on this board if it had occurred last season.

    One primary issue as it relates to Foster is the existence of Ben Tate in the backfield with the Houston Texans. Tate averaged over 12 rushes per outing in the 13 games that Foster played in last season. Neither LeSean McCoy nor Ray Rice has to worry about that heading into this year. Foster does.

3. Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers

48 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 4,643 passing yards, 257 rushing yards, 4,900 total yards, 48 touchdowns and six interceptions

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 381

    Having a quarterback No. 3 on this list might come as a bit of a shock to many of you. However, I would even be inclined to contemplate taking Aaron Rodgers if I had the first overall pick in my league.  

    His point output in 2011 (385) was 112 more than the No. 6 fantasy quarterback in the league last season, Eli Manning. This just goes to show you exactly how well Rodgers performed on a consistent basis last season.

    Rodgers put up 20 or more fantasy points in all but one of his 2011 starts and threw at least four touchdowns five different times.

    Simply put, it is hard to pass up on that type of production.

2. Ray Rice, Running Back, Baltimore Ravens

49 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 1,364 rushing yards, 704 receiving yards, 2,068 total yards and 15 touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 278

    Rice had an extraordinary season fantasy-wise in 2011. His 283 points, again from ESPN's scoring system, ranked him No. 1 at running back.

    Overall, Rice has accumulated over 3,800 total yards and 21 touchdowns over the course of the last two seasons. He also hasn't missed a game since his 2008 rookie season. These are indicators that Rice should be among those mentioned for the first overall pick in most fantasy leagues.

    There are, however, other indicators that have led me to push Rice from the top spot that most experts have him at.

    Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron utilized Rice on a less consistent basis than most people would be inclined to believe. Rice rushed the ball 15 times or fewer in five of the Ravens' 16 games last season.

    Another issue as it relates to fantasy production is the fact that the No. 1 player on my list, LeSean McCoy, scored nearly as many touchdowns (20) in 2011 as Rice has in his last two seasons combined.

    Either way, go with Rice No. 1, and you will be extremely happy with the production you get from him.

1. LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles

50 of 50

    2011 Statistics: 1,309 rushing yards, 315 receiving yards, 1,624 total yards and 20 touchdowns

    Projected 2012 Point Total: 245

    Some might think that having LeSean McCoy No. 1 on this list is utter foolishness. That would be a hard point to argue considering the production we saw from Ray Rice last season.

    However, it is important to take a couple things into account.

    First, McCoy is still yet to hit his prime. He has gotten better in each of his first three seasons in the National Football League and could go for well over 2,000 total yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012.

    If you can get an RB1 that has the ability to put up those numbers, it is nearly impossible to pass up.

    It is also important to take into account that the Philadelphia Eagles run a West Coast offense, which will utilize McCoy's tremendous receiving skills. In reality, you are getting a tremendous hybrid back here for your fantasy team.

    That being said, Rice and McCoy should be 1A and 1B at this point, as it is hard to separate between the two.


    All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference

    All fantasy information provided by ESPN