Previewing the Top 10 Fantasy Football Players at Every Position

Vincent Frank@VincentFrankNFLCorrespondent IJuly 18, 2012

Previewing the Top 10 Fantasy Football Players at Every Position

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    Last week I focused on the top 50 overall fantasy football players in the National Football League. That article created a great deal of debate in regards to why a certain player at a specific position was ahead of another at a different position.

    Simply put, my draft strategy is much different than mainstream fantasy players. I don't buy into the idea that you must "reach" for a RB1 when a truly elite fantasy quarterback is on the board.

    This article is going to be a little more straight forward. I am going to focus on the top 10 fantasy players at each position.

    Let's take a gander!


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    1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

    Rodgers has to be considered the No. 1 fantasy quarterback, and it really isn't that close. All but one of his 2011 starts ended up with at least 20 points. Moreover, Rodgers threw three or more touchdowns in 10 of his 15 appearances.

    Those are some crazy numbers right there. While we cannot expect a repeat of a 48 touchdowns, six interceptions and nearly 5,000-yard performance, there is no reason to believe that Rodgers wont be able to come close to those numbers in 2012. If that is the case, there will be some that consider taking him with the first overall pick.


    2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

    Brady has put up an average of over 4,500 yards and 38 touchdowns in each of his last four healthy seasons. These numbers make him a near certainty to be a top 10 overall fantasy performer in 2012. In reality, if you want to play it safe in the initial round, I recommend you go with Brady over any of the running backs available not named LeSean McCoy or Ray Rice.

    This is how serious I am on Brady's consistent ability to perform for your fantasy team throughout the 2012 season. It also doesn't hurt that he has a ton of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, none more important than Rob Gronkowski.

    The reason why Brady is below Rodgers on this list is because he won't bring nearly as much in terms of rushing the ball and threw twice as many interceptions than the Packers' quarterback in 2011.


    3. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

    This will probably surprise a lot of people, but I see no reason to push Newton down any lower. He is a hybrid fantasy player at the quarterback position, something that will be leading this game forward into the future. What the young quarterback can do on the ground enables him to help you out in a myriad of different ways.

    The reality is that you could easily hold off until the third round to select a running back if you pick up Newton in the initial round. While he will not give you as many yards as some of the top 'backs in the NFL, Newton is more valuable because he adds the passing dimension to your roster.


    4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

    I understand that many of my readers would put Brees at three or even two on this list, and that is completely understandable. As mentioned above, Newton is higher because of his ability to add another dimension in the run game. I am telling you, this is going to be the trend in fantasy football moving forward.

    That being said, it is extremely hard to discount what the former Super Bowl winning quarterback brings to the table. We are talking about a quarterback that has accumulated an outrageous 28,000 passing yards and 202 touchdowns over the last six seasons. Those are video game numbers right there.

    To put Brees' career into perspective, he has already surpassed Joe Montana in terms of total career passing yards and touchdowns. This is a representation of the trend towards passing dominated offenses in the NFL. It is also another reason that Brees is still a top-10 pick in fantasy circles.

    Don't expect any of this to change in 2012. Brees put up a total of 13 300-yard games last year, which enabled him to average nearly 24 fantasy points per outing.


    5. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

    If it wasn't for the four quarterbacks ahead of him, Stafford would have put himself in a situation to be a perennial top-10 pick. That being said, he hasn't reached "elite" fantasy status just yet. The primary reason for that is because Stafford missed 19 games in his first two season before playing out the string in 2012.

    Hard to rely on someone with that injury history, even in such a short career to this point. The 37 career interceptions that Stafford has thrown in 29 starts should also be cause for alarm.


    6. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

    As I mentioned in a previous article, Romo has been one of the most consistently good fantasy quarterbacks in the NFL over the course of the last few seasons. In essence, you are going to get a signal-caller that will put up 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. This makes Romo one of the safest bets outside of the top two at both the running back and quarterback positions.

    Another thing to look at as it relates to Romo is the limited number of interceptions (26) he has thrown over the course of his last 38 starts. You just wont see many negative plays coming from the embattled quarterback.


    7. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

    I will venture to say that 2011 was stumbling block for Rivers more than anything else. His 20 interceptions last season nearly matched his total from the previous two years. Moreover, Rivers accumulated 20 or more points just three times. To say it was a down fantasy season for the quarterback would be an understatement.

    Don't expect this trend to continue this season. From 2008 to 2010, Rivers threw 56 more touchdowns than interceptions and accumulated a total of 16 300-yard, multiple score games.


    8. Eli Manning, New York Giants

    Make no mistake about it, Manning is an elite quarterback in the National Football League. His success on the football field just doesn't translate all that well to fantasy football. Manning went a total of four games without throwing a touchdown.

    It wouldn't be a bad idea to pick Manning up in the third round of your fantasy draft, but it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to reach on the reigning Super Bowl MVP.


    9. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles

    The combination of passing and running as it relates to Vick has made him a godsend for owners around the fantasy football world over the course of the last decade, give or take a few seasons. He has now been replaced in that category by Cam Newton. Not helping matters for Vick is the fact that he threw just four less interceptions (14) than touchdowns (18), while tallying just one rushing score in 2011.

    Don't get me wrong. Vick is still a QB1 in my books. He just appears to be on the downswing as it relates to fantasy football and should be selected with utmost caution. If you do go with the talented quarterback, make sure you have an able backup.


    10. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

    I really though long and hard about putting Ryan higher on this list. In fact, the difference between Atlanta's starting quarterback and Rivers a few slot ahead just isn't that great. Ryan has accumulated nearly 8,000 passing yards and 57 touchdowns over the last two seasons, putting him on the brink of elite status.

    What I like most about Ryan in terms of his sleeper value is the weapons that the young quarterback has on the Falcons offense. They're going to help him a great deal in padding those numbers and jumping up to the ranks. It wouldn't surprise me to see Ryan as a top five fantasy quarterback when all is said and done in 2012.


    Note: Peyton Manning would sit at No. 4 on this list if he wasn't dealing with neck injuries and didn't miss the entire 2011 season. I just cannot put him up there with the risk that owners would possess by selecting the future Hall of Fame quarterback above any of these 10 players.


Running Backs

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    1. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

    In reality, it really doesn't make much difference as to who you decide is the No. 1 fantasy back. As long as each is healthy, your team is going to be in a great position. 

    My selection of McCoy here is pretty simple. He led all NFL running backs with 17 touchdowns on the ground, while adding three more through the air. In total, McCoy recorded at least one touchdown or 100 yards in all but two of his games in 2011. This enables you to pick him up with the No. 1 overall pick and be set at running back throughout the season.

    Additionally, there is no reason to believe that McCoy will not improve on those numbers this season. At 24, he hasn't hit his prime just yet.

    2. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

    Just to reiterate: Take Rice here and you will not be disappointed. The Ravens are going to be relying on their talented running back a great deal after he signed a five-year contract extension earlier this week.

    Rice has been one of the most consistently good backs in the league since the start of the 2009 season. He has put up nearly 6,000 total yards and 29 total touchdowns during that span. The only thing holding Rice back from the No. 1 slot is the fact that McCoy recorded just as many scores in 2011 alone as Rice has since the start of 2010.

    3. Arian Foster, Houston Texans

    Foster could easily end the 2012 season as the No. 1 overall fantasy player. What the talented running back did in 2010 was nothing short of amazing, putting up over 2,200 total yards and 18 touchdowns. Last season saw Foster miss a total of three games, while losing some reps to Ben Tate. This brings me to another issue. Neither Rice or McCoy have another running back on their team that is going to take carries away from them, Foster does.

    I still wouldn't hesitate picking Foster up in the top five of your draft. He put up a total of seven 100-yard games and score 12 touchdowns. This would give you some sense of calm if you decide to take him over one of the elite quarterbacks mentioned in the previous slide.


    4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Despite a report earlier this month from John Clayton that Jones-Drew will report to camp prior to the start of the regular season, you really need to take caution when looking at the talented running back early in your draft.

    We saw Chris Johnson struggle a great deal after an extensive holdout last season. Running backs need to get that power and strength in their legs in order to make an immediate impact on the field. As with those of you who held the rights to Johnson last season, you know what a lull from this position can do early in the season to your overall success.


    5. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans

    Johnson had  disastrous 2011 season in fantasy football, at least by his standards. The talented running back tallied single-digit point totals in eight games last season, that just isn't acceptable from a player owners rely on a great deal.

    Moreover, Johnson has seen his rushing total and touchdowns drop in each of the last two seasons. This is yet another sign that you need to proceed with caution.


    6. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills

    The one primary issue to look at as it relates to Jackson is the injury that caused him to miss the final six games of the 2011 season. When you select a running back early in the draft it is expected that he will be a consistent performer on a weekly basis. That being said, this doesn't seem like a lingering issue for Jackson, as he played in 66 consecutive games prior to that injury.

    When on the field, Jackson is a dominating fantasy running back. Just beware of Jackson's injury last season and the fact that he is 31 years of age.


    7. Ryan Matthews, San Diego Chargers

    I knocked Mathews lack of production in regards to touchdowns last season. In doing so, I failed to take into account the fact that Mike Tolbert was the Chargers short-yardage back in 2011.  A reader thoughtfully brought that to my attention.

    I still want to see solid red zone production from the talented young running back before I place him among the elite of fantasy running backs. If Mathews does get into the end zone on a consistent basis this season he will definitely be a top-five running back.

    8. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns

    There is absolutely no reason to believe that Richardson cannot be a dominating fantasy running back in his rookie season. This is a player that has a knack for the end zone and possesses both the power and elusiveness to score double-digit touchdowns on a consistent basis.

    Opposing defenses will stack the box against Richardson if he goes off early in the 2012 season because Cleveland lacks the necessary passing game to possess a balanced offensive attack.


    9. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears

    One word, touchdowns. Where Forte is a dominating running back in nearly every other category, he struggles a great deal punching it in for six. He has recorded 17 total touchdowns over the course of the last three seasons, three less than McCoy scored in 2011 alone.

    You just cannot have a RB1 selected in the top 10 of a fantasy draft lack the necessary ability to score touchdowns on a consistent basis. It really is that simple.

    10. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

    This might surprise some people. After all, Murray sustained a serious injury as a rookie and only scored two touchdowns as a rookie in 2011.

    It is all about upside at this point. If you are looking for an under-the-radar running back that could conceivably hit elite status, look no further than here. Murray had a six-game stretch in which he accumulated a total of 109 fantasy points. Those are staggering statistics right there.

    Moreover, he is primed to be the Cowboys No. 1 running back and get a bulk of their carries in 2012.

    Note: Marshawn Lynch was just recently arrested for suspicion of a DUI in Oakland, CA. Considering that this wouldn't be the talented running back's first offense, you can expect a lengthy suspension. I originally had Lynch No. 7 on this list but cannot put him here after this recent arrest.

Tight Ends

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    1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

    "The Gronk" absolutely killed every other fantasy tight end in the league last season. Not only did Gronkowksi accumulate nearly 50 more points than the No. 2 player at this position, he broke records left and right. These records are not just limited to fantasy circles either.

    We are talking about a player that acquired an unheard of five 100-yard games from the tight end position. He also had seven different outings with multiple touchdowns last season. Outside of the top two receivers on the board, I recommend taking a look at the Patriots' tight end in the mid part of the first round if your looking to avoid the quarterback and running back positions.


    2. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

    In reality Graham play somewhat of a flex position. He lines up between the hashes, in the slot and even on the outside at times. This enables the Saints to find matchup issues against the intimidating tight end.

    Graham either scored one touchdown or accumulated 100 yards in 11 different outings last season. This is something you can only say about a handful of pass catchers around the league. Expect much of the same with Drew Brees locked into a long-term contract.

    3. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers

    Think about the following statistic for one second. Including the postseason, Davis caught 18 passes for 410 yards and four touchdowns in the 49ers final three games. Those are some staggering statistics right there.

    Don't expect those absurd numbers on a weekly basis in 2012. What you can expect from Davis is double-digit touchdowns and over 1,000 receiving yards. You have to remember that the talented tight end is just one season removed from a 13 touchdown, nearly 1,000 yard campaign.


    4. Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots

    While Hernandez will not even be the top tight end on his team, you can easily rely on him as a TE1 if you decide to. Flying under the radar due to Gronkowski's amazing season, this talented tight end recorded nearly 1,000 yards en-route to the third best fantasy output at this position.

    New England has added a multitude of weapons in the passing game, but you can still expect Tom Brady to utilize his two tight ends more than any other player outside of Wes Welker. This all but guarantees Hernandez's position here.


    5. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

    This fantasy stud turns into a dud when it counts the most for owners. Witten has a total of 28 touchdowns over the course of the last six seasons, which disables my ability to actually count on him as a solid TE1.

    That being said, his production outside of the 20 leads many fantasy owners to reach for Tony Romo's favorite target.


    6. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers

    Drops, drops and more drops. Simply put, you cannot rely on Finley consistently. This is the situation that Aaron Rodgers is going to find himself heading into the 2012 season. Considering the amount of weapons that the Packers have on the offensive side of the ball, I wouldn't expect anything less.

    In reality, Finley needs to show that he can catch the ball more if you are going to spend an early-round pick on him. A repeat of his solid fantasy performance in 2011 is not in the cards if Rodgers cannot rely on him. It is really that simple.


    7. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers

    Gates has missed nine games over the course of the last two seasons after not missing one single outing in the previous four seasons. This has to make you wonder whether Gates has hit that snide that we come to expect from 32 year old tight ends.

    I simply cannot put the future Hall of Fame player any higher than No. 7 on this list. With that in mind, you also have to understand that Gates is a dominant fantasy tight end when he is on the field. He has scored 25 touchdowns in his last 39 games.


    8. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions

    You could be looking at the next elite fantasy tight end right here. Pettigrew recorded nearly 800 yards and five touchdowns in his third NFL season and seemed to grow much more comfortable with Matthew Stafford as the season progressed. It is really important to remember that the former first-round pick hasn't been able to gain that chemistry with Stafford due to the quarterback's injury issues.

    I fully expect Pettigrew to challenge the 1,000-yard, double-digit touchdown mark in 2012. In fact, anything less would be considered a disappointment.


    9. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons

    When is this future Hall of Fame player going to slow down? My simple answer to that question is not in 2012. The Falcons are going to go to a more pass-orientated offense in order to help keep Michael Turner healthy throughout the duration of the year. This is going to give Gonzalez an even greater opportunity to help your fantasy team.

    In all, Gonzalez been pretty damn good in nearly every single fantasy category over the course of the last decade. He has recorded at least 70 receptions in each of the last eight seasons, marking his territory among the best to ever play this position. Don't expect that to change this season.

    10. Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals

    This would be more of a projection pick than anything else. Gresham has barely recorded 1,000 receiving yards and has a total of 10 touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons. That being said, the talented young tight end seemed to click with Andy Dalton last season.

    You can expect the Bengals' franchise quarterback to look more in his direction in 2012. An overall fantasy performance of 120 points isn't out of the question. I really like this kid.

Wide Receivers

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    1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

    At some point, all the logic of draft day philosophy needs to be thrown out the window when it comes to fantasy football. We might have reached that point with Johnson. What he did in 2011 wasn't just amazing, it was other-worldly.

    Let's just take a gander at what Johnson did during the Lions' last four games, including the postseason. He recorded 36 receptions for nearly 800 yards and six touchdowns during that span. This is a joke, right?

    These are video game numbers that Johnson is currently putting up. He recorded over 70 fantasy points more than any other receiver in the league last season, yes 70. Those are not just alarming numbers, they are telling to what Johnson can bring to your fantasy team.


    2. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

    Doesn't matter who throws the ball to Fitzgerald, this guy just dominates in every single possible way. How else would you explain him putting up over 1,400 receiving yards with a combination of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton throwing to him? Moreover, the Cardinals had absolutely no other receiving threat outside of Fitzgerald, which speaks volumes to his ability to contribute on a consistent basis.

    The future Hall of Fame receiver has put up nearly 500 receptions and 49 touchdowns over the course of the last five seasons, making him a fantasy stud each season. This will not change in 2012.


    3. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans

    Once again, it is all about touchdowns and injuries here. Johnson has missed 12 games over the course of the last two seasons and has scored 10 touchdowns in the 20 games that he has played in during that span. Moreover, Johnson has failed to reach double-digit touchdowns in any of his nine NFL seasons. Those are stunning numbers if you ask me.

    What Johnson brings to the table that other receivers beneath him don't is consistent reception and yard production on a weekly basis.

    4. Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers

    ESPN pointed out an interesting fact as it relates to Jennings. He would have finished the 2012 season with career-highs in nearly every single statistical category if he had not missed the final three games of the season. This is a player that is nearing elite fantasy status at wide receiver.

    While the advancement of Jordy Nelson towards No. 1 receiver status might hurt Jennings in 2012, he is still going to be the go-to guy for Aaron Rodgers. Considering that Rodgers had the best single-season performance in modern NFL history for a quarterback, do you feel like passing up on Jennings? I don't.


    5. Victor Cruz, New York Giants

    "The Salsa Dance" has impressed me thus far, enough that I am willing to wager that he progresses on a downright dominating 2011 campaign. No, I don't see Cruz taking a step back in 2012. Rather, I envision him breaking out even further after an entire offseason with the Giants and Eli Manning.

    For what it's worth, Cruz had four games with over 150 receiving yards in 2011. He also recorded an astounding 115 points during his best five games of the season. This enables me to believe that Cruz wasn't a one-hit wonder in 2011. Pick this guy up and be happy you found him on your lap.


    6. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

    As you will see below, I have four receivers from just two teams from No. 5 to No. 8 on this list. The primary reason for this is the fact that there is only one football to go around. Jones has the play-making ability to commandeer fantasy rankings for the next decade. What he did in 2011 as a rookie with Roddy White (more on him later) and Tony Gonzalez on the Falcons' offense is nothing short of amazing.

    He recorded nearly 1,000 yards as Matt Ryan's third favorite target in the passing game. However, it is the big play ability of this young receiver that makes fantasy owners drool.


    7. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons

    As I noted in a previous article, it is hard to imagine that fantasy owners would be in awe over the value that White brings to the table after the rookie season we saw from the aforementioned Jones. That being said, we didn't see a dramatic drop-off from White in 2011. He still continued that stellar performance we have seen from the talented receiver over the course of the last five seasons.

    In fact, White has been one of the most productive fantasy receivers during that stretch, recording nearly 500 receptions and 42 touchdowns since the start of the 2007 season.

    8. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants

    The primary reason I have Nicks so low is the broken leg he is currently recovering from. These types of injuries have to make a fantasy owner question whether to pick a receiver up so quickly in the draft. Adding more fuel to the fire is the advancement of Victor Cruz as the Giants No. 1 receiver in 2011.

    I can easily envision Nicks accumulating over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns in 2011. However, that is far from etched in stone.


    9. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

    This talented receiver recorded over 1,000 receiving yards on a run-first offense with a rookie quarterback throwing him the ball. He did so as a rookie himself. Just think about that for a second people.

    There is absolutely no reason to believe that Green cannot and will not record over 80 receptions for 1,200 yards and double-digit touchdowns in 2012.

    10. Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears

    Simply preclude any conversation about off-field issues and take a look at what Marshall has produced over the course of the last five seasons. He is, by every single possible measure, a WR1 in fantasy football.

    Marshall has recorded 480-plus receptions for nearly 6,000 yards and 32 touchdowns during that span. Not bad for a WR1 taken relatively low.