2012 Fantasy Football: Players to Draft or Avoid from Each NFL Team
Fantasy football season is upon us. Rejoice!
As long as fantasy football is with us, we will also be faced with sleepers and busts, the players experts say you absolutely must draft and those who you absolutely must avoid.
Players like Jimmy Graham, Victor Cruz and Cam Newton took fantasy owners to fantasy immortality, while the rest of the league was left behind in a cloud of smoke.
However, I believe that the words "sleeper" and "bust" are still largely undetermined. Would Cam Newton have been a sleeper had you drafted him in the first round? Would DeSean Jackson have been a bust if you had him in the 10th round?
Those terms depend entirely on value. Therefore, I have eradicated them for the sake of this presentation and replaced them with players who I believe you should draft and players you should avoid drafting at the position they are currently ranked.
The presentation will detail one of each for all 32 teams in the league, and I hope it will give you a great chance of winning your leagues this year.
If you have any other fantasy questions or you'd like to criticise my selections, don't be afraid to comment below.
Disclaimer: I am by no means a fantasy football expert.
Disclaimer, part II: Rankings were accurate as of August 21, though they may change over time.
Disclaimer, part III: This is fantasy football, so make sure you have fun!
All rankings via ESPN.
New England Patriots
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Brandon Lloyd, Wide Receiver, Ranked 47th (ESPN)
Brandon Lloyd puts up numbers in a Josh McDaniels system, whether that is with Kyle Orton or Sam Bradford and the St. Louis backups.
Lloyd is now a New England Patriot. So is McDaniels. Tom Brady is the quarterback of the New England Patriots.
Brady is better than Orton and Bradford and the St. Louis backups.
I don't know how much simpler I can make this.
There is a legitimate concern about where Lloyd's catches are going to come from and whether he will steal touches from other receivers. However, Lloyd's strength is the single area where the Patriots have struggled since Randy Moss departed—the deep ball.
While defences are all worried about Wes Welker underneath, Rob Gronkowski's defensive mismatch and Aaron Hernandez's versatility, Lloyd brings the unique ability to stretch the field and provide Brady with a deep threat.
The Patriots will be throwing a lot this year. If Lloyd can carry bring the same playmaking ability to New England, he's in for a monster year.
Stevan Ridley, Running Back, Ranked 54th (ESPN)
He has been a sleeper throughout the offseason since the Patriots didn't re-sign BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but all that adoration has gone too far.
Please remember when you are drafting that Ridley will not be a feature back in New England—not a chance.
I can see the Patriots filling the void BJGE left with both Ridley and Shane Vereen. Ridley was rumoured to be the standout back at the start of training camp, but recent reports suggest Vereen has closed the gap.
The Patriots backfield is something you want no part of. They will be a pass-heavy team this year, and the running game will be split by a committee of Ridley, Vereen, Danny Woodhead and even Brandon Bolden. And maybe, just maybe, Aaron Hernandez.
New York Jets
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Shonn Greene, Running Back, Ranked 58th (ESPN)
The "J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets" have committed themselves to the ground-and-pound rushing attack this season. All this means is that Shonn Greene should expect to be a workhorse.
I'm not the biggest fan of Greene or his talent, but whenever a team is dedicated to the running game and has a standout starter at running back, he's going to get the ball a lot. Ergo, he's going to put up points.
Tebow will steal goal-line carries from him inevitably, but Greene should be a good RB2 for your fantasy team.
Finally, let's have a look at the New York's opening five games of the season:
Week 1: Buffalo
Week 2: @ Pittsburgh
Week 3: @ Miami
Week 4: San Francisco
Week 5: Houston
In the space of the opening five weeks, the Jets play a Bills defense that looks nasty with the additions of Mario Williams and Stephon Gilmore. The Pittsburgh D will be tough as usual, and Miami is certainly not a pushover either. Then San Francisco and Houston are arguably the two best defenses in the league.
It is conceivable that the Jets could start the season 1-4. That was the same record the Broncos had when fans began urging for Tebow Time.
With the prodigal son waiting in the wings, could you not envision the fans in the concrete jungle calling for Tebow?
There is plenty of space for a billboard in Times Square.
Whilst Tebow was working his magic in Denver, the Broncos ran the ball more than any other team in the NFL. In an already run-first offense, Greene's value skyrockets when Tebow is given a shot in New York.
Santonio Holmes, Wide Receiver, Ranked 85th (ESPN)
Interesting fact: Santonio Holmes has gone 25 games without a 100-yard game. Holmes is in the fantasy wasteland that is the Jets passing attack.
There is no reason to be optimistic for Holmes this season.
To put things in perspective, Holmes is relying on Mark Sanchez to keep the starting job for him to put up his best numbers. And even then, he has Mark Sanchez throwing him the ball.
The increased snaps for Tebow, a fantasy receiver's worst nightmare, and the commitment to running the ball is enough for me to consider him nothing less than a late-round flier at best.
Winslow Townson/Getty Images
Reggie Bush, Running Back, Ranked 50th (ESPN)
It's hard to pick a single player on the Dolphins who you would actually want on your fantasy team. But their only legitimate playmaker is Reggie Bush, so you'd figure that they'd want to give him the ball as much as possible.
Coach Joe Philbin is entering his first year as a head coach with a team that lacks talent across the board. He traded Brandon Marshall and never really brought in a suitable replacement for him.
The quarterback competition doesn't contain any outstanding promise this year, and it is crystal clear that the Dolphins are looking at rebuilding this season.
What other option does he have but to see exactly how much he can get out of Reggie Bush? Out of everyone on the offense, Bush has the most versatility, the most talent and the best chance of putting points on the board.
Bush isn't going to be the workhorse in Miami, but I see him in the same situation as a Darren Sproles or a Percy Harvin. He's a playmaker; just get him the ball as often as possible and let him do what he does.
In standard leagues, he will still put up good production as an RB2. In PPR leagues, I see him as a potential top-10 back.
Seriously, don't even think about it. If you are in a 10- to 12-team league, there really isn't anyone else you should consider.
You shouldn't touch any of the quarterbacks.
The wide receivers lost any fantasy relevance once Brandon Marshall was traded to Chicago.
Daniel Thomas may become relevant should Bush sustain an injury. He will get his fair share of early-down rushes, so he may be worth a handcuff if you are in a deep league.
Davone Bess is worth a flier in a deep PPR league, but he shouldn't be in consideration for any standard leagues.
But for a standard 10-team league, Reggie Bush is the only person you should touch.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Quarterback, Ranked 136th (ESPN)
You should not look at Ryan Fitzpatrick as your starting quarterback. But he is a solid backup and bye-week filler. That is where his true value comes into play.
Fitzpatrick was a fantasy star until his play mysteriously dropped significantly. You can blame that on playing with cracked ribs.
Let's say you draft Ben Roethlisberger as your starting quarterback and need someone to start in Week 4 during his bye week. Fitzpatrick plays the Patriots, who gave up the second-most points to fantasy QBs. He threw for 300-plus yards and two TDs both times he played them.
Or maybe you draft Aaron Rodgers or Robert Griffin III and need a bye-week replacement in Week 10. Buffalo travels to New England. You can almost guarantee they will get beat, but all that means is that Fitzpatrick will be throwing the ball a lot.
Or maybe your starting quarterback gets injured, and you're looking for someone to steer your fantasy ship to the playoffs. Look at the Bills schedule leading up to the playoffs:
Week 10: @ New England
Week 11: Miami (Thursday night)
Week 12: @ Indianapolis
Week 13: Jacksonville
Week 14: St. Louis
Week 15: Seattle (in Toronto)
Week 16: @ Miami
Outside of New England, only Seattle should be a difficult game for the Bills and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Don't expect him to blow you away with Drew Brees-esque numbers, but that schedule has the potential to salvage your season.
The Bills have indicated that they will be reverting to a Chan Gailey spread offense this year. As backups go, Ryan Fitzpatrick might be the one with the most sleeper potential.
Fred Jackson, Running Back, Ranked 34th (ESPN)
Don't get me wrong, I'd still draft Jackson, but don't expect to be the only person carrying the ball for Buffalo this year. As good as he was last year, he is sure to split the ball more with C.J. Spiller.
Though Jackson will still handle goal-line duties and will most likely be classified as the starter, Spiller will steal a lot more carries and touches this year.
Spiller filled in admirably after Jackson got injured, and he showed he can make things happen, scoring five touchdowns in the last five weeks of the season.
Spiller averaged 5.9 yards a carry during the last five weeks of the season, which is something the Bills will surely take advantage of.
It may only be preseason, but Chan Gailey's offense threw 14 consecutive passes against the Redskins to open the game. We all know Gailey's admiration for the spread-passing game, so don't be surprised if Jackson's carries drop this year.
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver, Ranked 80th (ESPN)
Baltimore is one of those teams where, outside of one stud (Ray Rice), there hasn't been much fantasy value. They don't care about your fantasy team; they are just a very good football team.
Torrey Smith was an on-and-off fantasy performer last year. Remember when he broke onto the scene with five catches for 152 yards and three TDs against the Rams?
Remember how he caught one ball for one yard a week later against the Jets?
Smith was pretty much exclusively a deep threat last year. With an offseason under his belt and reports that he has improved his route running, he is primed to overtake the aging Anquan Boldin this year, and your fantasy team can benefit as a result.
Joe Flacco, Quarterback, Ranked 122nd (ESPN)
I think Joe Flacco is a good quarterback. He's not elite, but he gets the job done. However, much is the case with the Baltimore Ravens—they don't care about your fantasy football team. They just want to win, and they win ugly quite a lot.
Just look at Flacco's numbers from his last three years.
The similarities between each year are extremely eerie. And there is absolutely no indication that Joe Flacco won't throw for around 3600 yards, score about 23 touchdowns and be intercepted 12 times again this year
He is a slightly above average Joe. That's all the Ravens ask him to be.
He wins games for the Ravens, but he won't win you many games for your fantasy team.
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Ranked 66th (ESPN)
Antonio Brown has a contract. Mike Wallace doesn't.
Including his breakout game in Week 7 against the Cardinals, Brown finished the last 10 games of the season with 51 receptions for 846 yards and two touchdowns.
Mike Wallace? Thirty-nine receptions for 581 yards and four touchdowns.
In that 10-game stretch, Brown only had two games where he accumulated less than 60 receiving yards. Wallace had five.
Even before Wallace's holdout, Brown was a nice sleeper. Now, he's got stud potential—even if Wallace does report before the season starts. Brown knows Todd Haley's playbook; Wallace doesn't. Holdouts are rarely beneficial towards a player's production.
When it comes to your draft day, you need to pass on Mike Wallace and take Antonio Brown.
Steelers D/ST, Ranked 147th (ESPN)
Every year, somebody reaches for a defense and a kicker. There is always one person who does it. And it triggers something in everyone's head that they should really think about drafting one.
Everyone is aware that the Steelers have a good defense, but never ever draft a kicker or defense until the last two rounds. This is especially the case in deeper leagues.
In terms of production, the Steelers defense is most certainly on the decline. Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Larry Foote, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor are all on the wrong side of 30.
They may be a team full of big names and can still dominate a game, but age is catching up with them.
You can always pick up whoever is playing the Dolphins or the Jaguars to get by. You don't need a stud defense to win a championship.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
A.J. Green, Wide Receiver, Ranked 26th (ESPN)
Draft him. Draft him right now if you can. Rig the draft. Bribe the other owners. Do anything you can so he is on your team. A.J. Green has the potential to put up stats similar to Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
That's no stretch of the imagination either, as this chart shows:
|Rookie-Year Production||Second-Year Production|
*ESPN projected totals
Ranked at No. 26 by ESPN, Green is the ninth-ranked receiver on your draft boards. He is a freak in the same way we call Megatron and Andre Johnson a freak.
The guy is just physically gifted. He has already shown great chemistry with Andy Dalton, and with a full offseason under his belt, he's going to be even better than he was last year.
Andy Dalton, Quarterback, Ranked 110th (ESPN)
Dalton is in the same boat as Joe Flacco. He can be a great quarterback for his NFL team, but not for your fantasy team.
The Bengals face the Steelers, Ravens and Browns twice a year, all three of whom have good defenses. The AFC North is not a division that allows quarterbacks to throw for 300 or 400 yards against each other very often.
Dalton didn’t set the fantasy world on fire last year, and you don’t really have any reason to believe he will this year. Dalton only had one game in which he threw for three touchdowns last year.
If you are looking for a backup quarterback this year, I’d suggest you take someone with greater upside than Dalton, like Carson Palmer or Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Trent Richardson, Running Back, Ranked 36th (ESPN)
"But what about his surgery?!"
The Browns have played this very well in my opinion. Would you rather have Trent Richardson banged up throughout the season, or would you rather him get fixed up before the season and be ready to go?
Personally, I'll take the season every day.
Richardson had over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 24 touchdowns in his final season at Alabama. He has shown he can carry an offense by himself. Concerns about his durability should be eased by his SEC-leading 312 plays from scrimmage.
Richardson will be the bell cow for the Browns this year. With a rookie quarterback and very little talent surrounding him, you give the ball to the player who you drafted third overall.
After all, that's why you drafted him so high.
Cleveland is a fantasy wasteland outside of Trent Richardson. You want no part of Brandon Weeden, especially in the AFC North, which is arguably the best defensive division in the NFL.
If Josh Gordon lives up to his excessive pre-supplemental draft hype, he may become relevant later on in the year as a WR3 or flex, but that's ambitious.
Greg Little is someone you can look at in deep leagues, but in a standard 10-team league, he's on the borderline of bench or waiver wire.
But with both receivers, you must remember that they will still have Brandon Weeden throwing to them.
Much like Miami, stay away from Cleveland.
I'm sure there is a LeBron joke to be made out of that...
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Matt Schaub, Quarterback, Ranked 86th (ESPN)
Sure, Matt Schaub can't stay healthy, and he's not "elite," but take these three factors into consideration:
- If you don't grab yourself one of the big six quarterbacks (Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Newton, Stafford, Romo) in the first few rounds, you can't really be picky. Schaub can put up reputable numbers if he stays healthy. If he can't, then you haven't wasted a high draft pick on him.
- Contract year. That won't suddenly make him invincible, but Schaub has to prove to the Texans that he can stay healthy, or they aren't going to give him a new deal. Also, when he is fit, he's going to be playing lights-out to prove his worth, not just to the Texans, but to any potential suitors.
- I he does make it through the season, look at how his season finishes: Week 14 at New England, Week 15 against the Colts, Week 16 (championship week) against Minnesota. In these three weeks, you have the two teams which gave up the most points to fantasy quarterbacks last year.
Schaub should be your starter only if you miss out on everyone else, but he can still bring you high rewards.
Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver, Ranked 11th (ESPN)
You will see that a recurring theme throughout this article is that if you are historically injury prone, I will not be willing to spend a high draft choice on you.
A lower-round pick with a high ceiling like Matt Schaub, sure. But in the first two rounds, you are building the foundation for your team, and you need two players who will consistently put up high numbers each week.
I have absolutely no doubt Johnson will put up high numbers when he plays.
When he plays.
For all the weeks that he's inactive, he's doing absolutely nothing for my team. Johnson showed he still had it when it came to the playoffs, but that was no use for fantasy owners.
Injuries affect players worse when they get older. With two hamstring injuries last year and a knee-scope surgery in the offseason, I have a gut feeling that he's not going to be around for 16 games this year.
And that scares me enough to not want to draft him with one of my first two picks, despite his high level of play.
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Jared Cook, Tight End, Ranked 123rd (ESPN)
If you are looking for this year's Jimmy Graham, Jared Cook might just be that guy.
I had him as a deep sleeper last year. He put up reasonable numbers, but nothing spectacular.
But he finished the season with a bang. Twenty-one catches for 335 yards and a touchdown in the last three weeks of the season showed a glimpse of his potential.
While at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier compared his skill set to that of Calvin Johnson. If anyone is going to make the leap and join the tier of Gronkowski and Graham, Cook has a good shot.
I also like Jake Locker this year. If offensive coordinator Chris Palmer returns to his run-and-shoot Oilers philosophy, Locker will have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball in Tennessee.
Kenny Britt, Wide Receiver, Ranked 96th (ESPN)
You know how I feel about drafting players who may miss some game time this season. Kenny Britt epitomises that. If he was healthy and free of legal issues, I'd be raving about him. But he isn't.
He is supremely talented, but at the end of the day, he had surgery on one knee in May and had surgery on the other in June. He also tore his ACL last September. He can't stay out of trouble.
If you want to take a gamble on him in the late rounds, that's perfectly fine, but I'd rather take Nate Washington or Kendall Wright, two players you won't have to worry about being arrested every time you wake up in the morning.
Rashard Jennings, Running Back, Ranked 203rd (ESPN)
As long as Maurice Jones-Drew is rumoured to be holding out of training camp, Rashad Jennings is going to be the workhorse for this team. Behind Jennings, the Jags don't have anything more than practice-squad players and special teamers.
Jennings will be the guy if MJD holds out.
With his current rankings, you'd be better to get him sooner rather than later, even if it is just a flier in the last few rounds. Even if MJD does come back, the Jags are learning a new system under Mike Mularkey.
We've seen what happens to players who miss training camp: Injuries and inconsistent play sets in.
Jennings could be a nice pickup, even if it is for a few weeks at the start of the season.
Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Ranked 118th (ESPN)
Recent rookie receivers like Julio Jones and A.J. Green set the bar very high last year. Justin Blackmon won't reach that bar.
Justin Blackmon will only be as good as Blaine Gabbert allows him to be. Gabbert has the skill set, but he needs to show much better composure and consistency before I can trust him to give the ball to my fantasy receiver.
Marc Serota/Getty Images
Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver, Ranked 106th (ESPN)
This year's Steve Smith?
Here is a surprising stat for you: Despite having Curtis Painter at quarterback, Wayne was still able to put up 75 receptions for 960 yards.
Wayne obviously still has it. A three-year contract shows that the Colts still think so. Andrew Luck will prove next year that Wayne will be a bargain around the ninth round.
I also think Austin Collie is worth a shot in deeper leagues or PPR leagues.
Donald Brown, Running Back, Ranked 92nd (ESPN)
I don't expect Donald Brown to be the workhorse starter that many are expecting him to be. I expect Delone Carter, Mewelde Moore and Vick Ballard to push Brown for carries in what is certain to be a committee in Indianapolis.
Each brings their own unique style to the committee. Carter is a ground-and-pound back who should be used in goal-line situations. Moore is the veteran who knows the Bruce Arians system and will be used on third downs. Ballard has been productive in the preseason and could emerge as a useful fantasy weapon should Brown get injured.
Brown is currently the starter, but there is nothing unique that he adds to the committee. He is nothing special in regards to talent, so don't expect him to blow away all the other backs.
Consider this: The Colts are obviously rebuilding. Their defence is still very poor. They will be down in games and down early.
That means abandoning the run and throwing the ball to catch up. Brown won't be the player you expect him to be.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Jacob Tamme, Tight End, Ranked 132nd (ESPN)
Who is the sleeper receiving target for Denver this year? Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker?
In 2010, when Dallas Clark played only six games before his inevitable injury, Tamme caught 67 balls for 631 yards and four touchdowns, all of which were from Peyton Manning.
Though it is only preseason, the Broncos offense has looked very similar to the one run by Manning in Indianapolis. If this continues to be the case, you can expect the tight end to feature as a pass-catcher often.
Tamme has very nice "sleeper" potential.
Willis McGahee, Running Back, Ranked 44th (ESPN)
Willis McGahee lies in the same category as the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Steven Jackson, Michael Turner, Fred Jackson and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Not categorised by talent, but more of how you feel when you draft them. You'll get to a point in the draft where they are the best available players, and though you may be looking for a "sexy" pick with plenty of upside, you ultimately settle and draft them.
Sure, they will put up numbers and will be fine assets for your team, but there isn't anything exciting about them. They won't be Chris Johnson. They won't lead the league in rushing. They will have a few big runs in the year, and they will be consistent.
But they are not the players you would reach for.
ESPN has Willis McGahee as the 44th-ranked player. This is far too high.
The Broncos will become a passing team and won't resemble any part of the Tebow-led offense which gave McGahee great success.
You can expect to see Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball come in and take some of the third-down work from the former Hurricane.
Though McGahee should see fewer eight-man boxes with Tebow gone, he will also see less of the ball.
The Broncos ran the ball 63 percent of the time when Tebow took over as starter. With Manning at quarterback, you can bet your mortgage that the Broncos will be throwing more than they will be running.
San Diego Chargers
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Robert Meachem, Wide Receiver, Ranked 74th (ESPN)
With Vincent Jackson gone, the Chargers have a void to fill at receiver. Some expect Malcom Floyd to step up and be the No. 1 receiver. Some Expect Vincent Brown to emerge as the new favourite toy for Philip Rivers.
But Robert Meachem has the best chance of claiming that role.
First of all, the contract shows the Chargers have plans for him. A four-year deal worth $25.9 million isn't something you just hand out, and it slated Meachem to be the No. 1 receiver.
Secondly, can you trust Floyd to stay healthy? Once Antonio Gates inevitably gets injured, Rivers will be looking to his receivers more. Though Meachem missed his first season in the NFL, he has not missed a game since. Floyd, on the other hand, has been hampered with injuries throughout his career, and that won't get better with age.
Finally, everyone around San Diego has big expectations for Meachem. San Diego Union-Tribune beat writer Kevin Acee predicts 72 catches for 1,185 yards and nine touchdowns.
Fellow beat writer Michael Gehlken guesses 64 catches, 1,096 yards and six touchdowns.
If you even that out, you're looking at 68 receptions, 1,141 yards and eight touchdowns. Obviously, this is a basic prediction, but to put that in perspective, here is where they would place in relation to stats put up last year:
- 13th among wide receivers in receiving yards
- Tied for 20th among wide receivers in receptions
- Tied for ninth among wide receivers in touchdowns
Not bad for the 28th-ranked receiver.
Ryan Mathews, Running Back, Ranked 30th (ESPN)
I love the potential. I love that he will be the feature back. I love that he's got the biggest upside of any back in fantasy football.
I hate the fact he is made of glass.
A fantasy football player is only good for you when they are in your starting lineup. Sounds like common sense, but it's true. A player is no good to you if they are injured (See: Johnson, Andre; McFadden, Darren).
I'd probably be higher on Mathews if he was playing for an east-coast team. San Diego only plays four games which start at 1 p.m. Eastern, meaning if he is on the injury report, you've got slim pickings for his replacement should he miss the game.
He is a player you can't trust to be available every week, especially in the first three to four rounds of the draft when you are looking for certainty and consistent production.
Yes, Mathews could easily be a top-five back this year. But he could also miss the first two games of the season and cost you many weeks in fantasy football when he is listed as questionable for a 4:15 p.m. game and leaves you with no adequate contingency plan.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Wide Receiver, Ranked 112nd (ESPN)
Denarius Moore appears to be the sleeper pick in Oakland this year. Coming off his rookie season, everyone is expecting Moore to separate himself from the pack and emerge as the No. 1 receiver for Carson Palmer.
Darrius Heyward-Bey will. And here are some stats to prove it.
Based on when Carson Palmer took over as starting quarterback in Week 7, here's how Moore and Heyward-Bey performed:
|Games played||Catches||Yards||Touchdowns|| PPR Fantasy Points
To appease the people who will argue that Moore missed three games, I took an average of his numbers and produced his stats as if he have played in 10 games. Please note this is just based on averages.
|Games Played||Catches||Yards||Touchdowns||PPR Fantasy Points|
Either way you look at it, Heyward-Bey was the clear receiver you wanted last year. And the same applies for this year, too. And though DHB played in 10 games, he scored donuts in two of them.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't draft Denarius Moore, but he had three games where he recorded 94 or more yards. In the other four games, he had no more than 14. He's a boom or bust.
While we are still having fun with averages, do you want to know what Heyward-Bey's stats average out to be if Carson Palmer was his quarterback all year?
67.2 catches, 1,008 yards, 4.8 touchdowns and 196.8 PPR fantasy points.
Darren McFadden, Running Back, Ranked 28th (ESPN)
Darren McFadden falls nicely into the group of running backs who could easily be the No. 1 back in fantasy football this year.
If they don't get injured.
And that is a big if.
Christopher Harris of ESPN points out McFadden has missed 10 out of 48 games with leg injuries before last year. He missed nine games last year with a foot injury.
McFadden claims he is just unlucky. That may be the case, but I feel it is too risky to take a player this high that has yet to complete a season without missing games due to injury.
If you are going to draft McFadden, it is an absolute must that you handcuff him with Mike Goodson.
Kansas City Chiefs
Peter Aiken/Getty Images
Peyton Hillis, Running Back, Ranked 83rd (ESPN)
Does everyone remember the Peyton Hillis bandwagon that everyone jumped on in 2010? Well, great news, there is plenty of space for you to jump back on board!
And yes, I am fully aware of that Jamaal Charles is still in K.C. But let's take a trip back to 2010, when the Chiefs made the playoffs and Jamaal Charles had his best fantasy season to date.
The reason I use statistics from the 2010 season is that I see the Chiefs running the ball a lot this year. In 2010, they led the league in rushing attempts. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has come over from Miami, who were sixth in the league last year in rushing attempts.
This is the same Daboll who was offensive coordinator in Cleveland when Hillis had his breakout season.
It is also the same Daboll who was the wide receivers coach for New England and worked under Charlie Weis, who was the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs in 2010.
Finally, Charles himself believes Hillis will recreate the role Thomas Jones had.
In 2010, Charles ended the season with 230 carries for 1,467 yards and five rushing touchdowns. He also added 45 receptions, 468 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
And Charles wasn't even the feature back. He split time with Thomas Jones, who actually had more carries than him (245) and more rushing touchdowns (six).
That season, Charles had over 16 carries in a game just three times. Jones, on the other hand, carried the ball over 16 times in a grand total of nine games.
So that should dispel any worries that Hillis will not see the ball often.
Jones finished the season with 896 rushing yards and 122 receiving yards, putting him over 1,000 yards for the season.
Hillis is a much better receiver than Thomas Jones was, and 100-rushing-yard performances toward the end of last season against the Cardinals and Ravens proves that Hillis hasn't lost it.
Need any more reasons to draft Hillis? KansasCity.com stated during their roster preview that Charles and Hillis would get the ball a total of 500 times in a perfect world.
I'll leave you to connect the dots, but I'm all in on Hillis as a valuable RB2/Flex this year in fantasy football.
Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver, Ranked 57th (ESPN)
Any time a player decides to skip training camp, it gives me reason to worry.
Bowe has only just reported back to Chiefs camp, but that doesn't ease my worries. After all, being away from the team for that long doesn't exactly put him in a better situation when it comes to my fantasy football teams.
Looking through the ESPN.com rankings, the next five receivers ranked behind Bowe are Jeremy Maclin, Stevie Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown and Eric Decker. I'll take all five of them over Bowe.
As I mentioned before, new OC Daboll will run the ball a lot. I think this Chiefs team will rely heavily on Charles and Hillis and its two-tight end sets with Tony Moeaki and Kevin Boss. Jonathan Baldwin will emerge as a weapon this year, and Steve Breaston and Dexter McCluster will still get their touches.
I can't help but feel that the Chiefs are ready to move on from Bowe and will do everything they can to enhance Baldwin's progression this year.
Of course, Bowe will still be No. 1, but Baldwin will see more targets, which will seemingly come at the Bowe's expense.
New York Giants
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
David Wilson, Running Back, Ranked 95th (ESPN)
All reports out of Giants camp have been that David Wilson is proving to be a real playmaker.
Wilson passed D.J. Ware and is currently at No. 2 in the preseason depth chart behind Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw has proven to be injury prone throughout his career, which could definitely offer openings for Wilson to put up some numbers this year.
The Giants ranked last in the league in rushing yards last season, averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
Tom Coughlin obviously saw the need to change that by bringing in Wilson with a first-round pick. The former Virginia Tech Hokie averaged 5.9 yards per carry during his final season in Blacksburg.
As it stands, he is a much-needed handcuff for Ahmad Bradshaw.
As the season progresses and Wilson gets acclimated to the NFL, don't be surprised if he starts to become an important part of this Giants team.
Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver, Ranked 29th (ESPN)
Victor Cruz will still be a good receiver this year. I just can't see why anyone would want to take him in the third round.
The receiver position is extremely deep this year, and you can get the likes of Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin and Antonio Brown in the fifth and sixth rounds.
Pro Football Reference details each of Cruz's touchdowns here. As you can see, Cruz was a home run hitter last year, but let's be realistic.
What are the chances of Cruz scoring the same amount of touchdowns of that length again this season?
If we take away the four 70-plus-yard touchdowns, Cruz's fantasy total drops from 198 to 143. That's just four plays which would lower him to a tie at 16th in leading fantasy receivers on ESPN.
Do you remember when Steve Smith made his breakout year in New York? Do you remember what happened to him the next year?
He was hampered by injuries. His receptions per game dropped from 6.7 to 5.3. His yards per game dropped from 76.3 to 58.8.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if the same happened to Cruz this year.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Jeremy Maclin, Wide Receiver, Ranked 59th (ESPN)
I'm all on Maclin this year. I think for someone who is ranked 59th, he will end up as a top-10 receiver this season.
If you remember back to last year, Maclin was hit with a mysterious illness that kept him out of the majority of training camp. Maclin lost around 15 pounds as a result of the illness and wasn't able to get in prime condition for the season, which saw him struggle with hamstring and shoulder injuries.
This year, Maclin was able to regain the 15 pounds and get himself back into good condition for the season.
Instead of just two weeks to practice before the start of the season, Maclin will have a fully training camp, and he is ready to establish himself as a clear No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Ranked 71st (ESPN)
What exactly did DeSean Jackson do to deserve his big contract?
He didn't want to run routes over the middle last year with the worry that an injury would prevent him from cashing in on a big contract. But what's to say he won't do the same again this year?
Maybe the reason I don't like Jackson so much is because I'm so high on Maclin. And until DeSean Jackson does something to prove me wrong, I'll keep that opinion.
Jackson also only had two red-zone catches last year. He had four the year before that. Jackson is obviously a big-play merchant, and you'll be banking on him scoring a big touchdown to put up fantasy points each week.
That's not the kind of player you can trust. For each week that he will score you 20 fantasy points with a big game, he will post plenty of single-digit games too.
If you were to ask me who would lead the Eagles in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, the answer would be the same for all—Jeremy Maclin.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver, Ranked 41st (ESPN)
I was very high on Bryant coming into the season. Then I was low on him after he was arrested. Now that we know no charges will be pressed, I'm just remotely high on Bryant.
However, I'd much rather take Bryant, who is ranked 41st, than Miles Austin at 48.
The reason for this is that Bryant has shown on the football field that he has the ability to be an elite talent.
I can see Bryant being a top-five fantasy receiver this year. I can't say the same for Austin though, and it comes down to injuries.
Sure, Bryant isn't the most durable receiver in the league, but he's more durable than Austin. Austin's injuries, which have already started this year with his hamstring, will open the door for Bryant to make that jump to the elite level.
Sleeper note: Keep an eye out for whoever wins the job as WR3 for the Cowboys. They will most likely replicate the position Laurent Robinson had last year.
Don't be expecting them to put up the same amount of points, but they should still be a factor. It's another reason I like Bryant. I see him being on the field to more take advantage of the targets that Robinson received last year.
UPDATE: Just writer's luck. A day after saying Bryant will be healthier than Austin, Bryant gets injured. However, Bryant is extremely confident he will play in the season opener. I have no reason to believe otherwise if the injury is only day-to-day like Jason Garrett described it.
DeMarco Murray, Running Back, Ranked 18th (ESPN)
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you DeMarco Murray, the biggest bust in fantasy football this year.
Where should I start? Oh, that's right, the injuries.
He burst onto the scene against a porous Rams defence, putting up huge numbers and sending fanatic fantasy football fans into frenzies.
But Murray is a ticking time bomb. And it showed. Seven games later, he was out for the season with broken ankle.
It's not the first time Murray has missed time due to injury either. His broken ankle can now be added to a dislocated kneecap and a torn hamstring tendon, among other injuries. Murray is still young, but that's a lot of wear and tear on a player's legs.
Secondly, 86.8 percent of the Cowboys touchdowns were through passing. The Cowboys scored 33 passing touchdowns to just five rushing. To rub salt into the wound, one of those rushing touchdowns was from Tony Romo.
To justify this, look no further than the head coach.
Jason Garrett is a former quarterback and a former quarterback coach. He has arguably a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, Pro Bowl-caliber receivers and a Pro Bowl tight end. You can see why he would want to throw the ball.
Of Romo's 31 touchdowns last year, 16 of them were inside the 10-yard line. Murray's value is limited by the Cowboys' philosophy of throwing in the red zone, and there is no reason that will change this year.
Brad Evans of Yahoo! Sports referred to DeMarco Murray as the Darren McFadden of the NFC. I completely agree with this, but he has less potential and less opportunity.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Ranked 100th (ESPN)
The most interesting man in college football is taking his talents to Washington.
Outside of the top six quarterbacks, I'd say that RG3 will have the best chance of breaking into that level next year.
Griffin is in a system that is perfect for his talents. The West Coast offense Mike Shanahan runs is designed for quarterbacks with mobility and the ability to make quick throws. RG3 has that ability.
Think Cam Newton, but better accuracy underneath. I see RG3 as a good QB1 going into the season.
Roy Helu, Running Back, Ranked 50th (ESPN)
In RG3, we see how an offensive system can greatly benefit a player. In Roy Helu, we see how it can greatly handicap a player.
The Redskins' running back situation is a mess. Every day, there appears to be a new starting back. One day it's Helu, the next it's Tim Hightower, then next it's Evan Royster. Then out of nowhere, Alfred Morris gets a shot at the job.
Just like in New England, I don't think there is ever a point in the season where you are comfortable with just one guy out of the committee. In the fifth or sixth round, you don't want to take a player who can be the starter one day, then have no role in the offense the next.
If you are going to take a flier on a Redskins running back, I'd rather gamble on Tim Hightower or Evan Royster. They will not cost you a high pick and will have as much upside as Helu.
Green Bay Packers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Randall Cobb, Wide Receiver, Ranked 194th (ESPN)
I'm very surprised that Cobb is ranked this low.
When it comes to late in the draft, you are looking for players with upside, whether they're handcuffs who can take over the starting job through injury or those who you believe will see an increase in game time this year.
Randall Cobb fits the latter category perfectly. He has the potential and current ability to pass James Jones and Donald Driver as the Packers slot receiver. As a slot receiver in one of the best passing offenses in the NFL, you probably won't find better value in your draft than Cobb.
And remember, Cobb isn't just a receiver. He did everything in his time at Kentucky. I'm not saying that Cobb will take snaps at quarterback, but he has a huge amount of versatility, which only means that the Packers can find him more ways to get the ball.
Cedric Benson, Running Back, Ranked 101st (ESPN)
In bringing in Cedric Benson, Green Bay gave a massive sign that they are concerned with their running game.
James Starks has a nagging toe injury, and Alex Green is still coming back from his ACL injury. But that doesn't mean Benson will suddenly become the feature back in the Packers system.
One thing you all must remember is that Green Bay has the ultimate fantasy football troll in John Kuhn. Kuhn is not someone who does enough to warrant fantasy relevance, but he steals touchdowns from the Packers running backs.
Benson averaged less than four yards per carry in three of his four years in Cincinnati. His value came in the form of goal-line carries and getting plenty of touches. He will get neither of those in Green Bay.
Don't draft him with the idea that he will mimic his production from Cincy.
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Titus Young, Wide Receiver, Ranked 113th (ESPN)
Again, I take you back to the philosophy that once you get your main stud players in place, you then have to get the players with the most upside.
Titus Young is the cornerstone for that mentality.
Young is currently ranked 113th in ESPN's rankings. Nate Burleson is ranked 131st. Burleson started ahead of Young last year, so why is the latter ranked higher?
Young has the potential to be the breakout star of the NFL this year. We saw him make strides last year, and since he was banned from the team facility in May, he's emerged as a player that every coach in Detroit is raving about.
Nobody had more passing attempts last year than Matthew Stafford. Not Drew Brees, not Aaron Rodgers, not Tom Brady. In Stafford, Detroit has a quarterback who can sling it. If Young can translate his preseason quality into the regular season, he has the potential to put up some serious numbers.
Jahvid Best, Running Back, Unranked (112th-Ranked RB) (ESPN)
I would call Jahvid Best officially undraftable.
Adam Schefter reported that Best will likely be put on the PUP list to start the season. This is a huge blow for the player, and you really have to be concerned.
Best's last concussion was in October 2011, and 10 months later, he has not been cleared to play. You really have to feel for the guy who continues to say he is in great shape.
In terms of fantasy value, you'd be best to stay away from him. Mikel Leshoure may carry some value when healthy and back from his suspension, but Kevin Smith will be the guy to open up the season.
Even then, the Lions throw the ball more than any other team in the league, so his upside is limited.
I should note that this prediction looked an awful lot better when Best was ranked 72nd overall.
Still, if you think you can take a flier on him or if you have already drafted him, there isn't much point in having him on your team until he is given the go-ahead from doctors. Even that is an "if" rather than a "when" right now.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Matt Forte, Running Back, Ranked 17th (ESPN)
I still think that ranking is too low for Forte.
For those of you who worry about the offensive line issues in Chicago, look how he performed with the same offensive line last year.
For those of you who worry about the impact of Michael Bush in the offense, just remember than goal-line carries have never been Forte's game.
His value comes elsewhere. Marion Barber took goal-line carries away from him last year, and he was still able to put up big numbers.
And finally, for those of you who worry about his injury, just remember that Forte was able to compete in the Pro Bowl. Forte thinks his knee will be fine, and so should you.
Outside of the obvious top three of Foster, Rice and McCoy, you have a cluster of Marshawn Lynch, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Matt Forte.
As it stands, Lynch risks a suspension for his DUI arrest, Jones-Drew isn't with his team, and Johnson is part of a Titans team that is converting to a run-and-gun offense.
All four of them have the ability to put up big numbers, but especially in the early rounds, you need to go safe. Forte is the safest of them all.
Jay Cutler, Quarterback, Ranked 99th (ESPN)
Jay Cutler is ready for a breakout year in Chicago, so why should you be wary of drafting him?
I take you back to his Pro Bowl year in 2008. Cutler threw for 4,526 yards with Brandon Marshall as his go-to guy. However, he only threw 25 touchdowns.
Cutler then bettered that in his first year in Chicago with 27 touchdowns, a career high.
I expect Cutler to throw for 4,000 yards this year, but I'm suspicious of how many touchdowns he will throw. Combine this with his uncanny ability to throw interceptions, and I don't see Cutler as a reliable starting quarterback in fantasy football.
If you're going to wait until the ninth round to draft a quarterback, I'd rather take the upside Robert Griffin III brings than what Cutler offers.
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Percy Harvin, Wide Receiver, Ranked 55th (ESPN)
Let's have a look at Percy Harvin's stats in his last 10 games with Minnesota (stats provided by fftoolbox.com):
Percy Harvin averaged 8.5 targets, 6.2 catches, 70 yards and 0.6 touchdowns each week.
In contrast, Wes Welker averaged 9.8 targets. 7.1 catches, 78.4 yards and 0.3 touchdowns in the same period.
Wes Welker did that with Tom Brady as his quarterback.
Percy Harvin did it with a rookie quarterback.
According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots had the eighth-best pass protection in the league.
The Vikings were ranked dead last in pass protection.
By no means am I suggesting that Christian Ponder will suddenly become Tom Brady this year.
It is clear that Ponder obviously looks for Harvin, and he has every right to. The Vikings have an abysmal wide receiver group outside of Harvin.
Christian Ponder will get better this season. The offensive line will improve with new additions in Matt Kalil and Geoff Schwartz. This will surely impact Harvin and increase his numbers.
With a potentially imminent holdout next season for the receiver, he's going to have an added incentive to have a career year. Harvin is someone I want to own on every fantasy team I have this year.
With an average draft position of 58th on ESPN, you have no reason not to spend a pick on him in the fifth or sixth round.
Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Ranked 24th (ESPN)
I'm extremely cautious on Adrian Peterson this year. AD is a freak of nature, but at the end of the day, he is still human.
Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL in Week 16 last year and damaged his meniscus. He had surgery on New Year's Eve of last year, prompting the most depressing picture of a New Year's Eve celebration ever.
This kind of surgery usually takes about nine months to recover. I've been through the same surgery, and no, I'm no Adrian Peterson, but even after nine months, your knee doesn't feel fresh as a daisy.
Peterson started to move up draft boards last week when it was announced that we was removed from the active/PUP list. However, Peterson will still be eased gradually into action. Toby Gerhart has played admirably during the preseason, and the Vikings are not desperately relying on Peterson to carry the load for them.
On top of all this, history shows that running backs don't magically return to the player they used to be.
Football Docs ran a great piece on the fantasy effects of major surgery on running backs, highlighting each player's stats before and after their injuries. Overwhelmingly, only three of the 17 documented cases had similar stats before and after the injury.
Peterson has to overcome the injury both physically and psychologically. He won't be able to do that until he can take 20 carries a game and feel comfortable and run at 100 percent again.
We can't predict how long that will take. As a result, I don't suggest that you reach for Peterson or take him with one of your first three picks.
Though Peterson may come through for you by the end of the season, is it really worth the risk that early in the draft?
UPDATE: Coach Leslie Frazier has confirmed that Peterson will not see any game time during the preseason. If you plan on drafting Peterson, you absolutely must draft Toby Gerhart as well.
Peterson will now be eased back into games during the regular season, rather than having preseason games to test out his knee. I suspect Peterson will not be ranked at No. 24 for long.
New Orleans Saints
J. Meric/Getty Images
Jimmy Graham, Tight End, Ranked 22nd (ESPN)
Though he is no longer a sleeper, I still feel as though Graham can get better this year.
When Graham decided to play football in his senior year at The U, it was the first time he had played since the ninth grade. Graham has been back playing football for a total of three years.
To put things in perspective, he is still learning the intricacies of being a tight end. Graham still relies on his freakish athletic ability to get open. Once Graham learns all the ins and outs of the position, he will be the best receiving tight end in the history of the game.
Don't believe me? Just ask Tony Gonzalez.
If you want a tight end early in the draft, you need Graham—not Gronkowski.
Graham had nine more catches than Gronkowski and just 17 fewer yards. The real difference comes in the touchdown column, with Gronkowski scoring 17 touchdowns to Graham's 11.
New England has added Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney, who are going to take receptions off somebody. I don't believe Gronkowski's 17 touchdowns are repeatable. I still think he will be a great fantasy football player, but his ceiling is being lowered.
Graham, on the other hand, is still developing as a tight end. New Orleans has not added any players who will take targets away from Graham. In fact, New Orleans let Robert Meachem leave during free agency, which will open up 60 more targets in New Orleans, according to fftoolbox.com.
Graham's average draft position is currently 21.4. In comparison, Gronkowski's is 14.7.
If you've got the 14th pick in the draft and you want a tight end, take Jimmy Graham.
Mark Ingram, Running Back, Ranked 88th (ESPN)
Call it a gut feeling, but I just don't want any part of Mark Ingram this year.
In the Saints' three-headed rushing attack, I want Darren Sproles and only Darren Sproles.
I don't think you would be able to consistently trust Ingram or Pierre Thomas, but if you had to choose one, you take Thomas, who is ranked 119th. At least then you aren't taking a gamble with a valuable draft pick.
Darren Sproles will continue to be Darren Sproles and be a matchup nightmare for opposing defences.
Thomas will be used to wear down opposing defenses as a fresh-legged back. He will get carries, but he won't be a workhorse.
Ingram will be the short-yardage and red-zone back. He won't get 20 carries a game, but he'll get the tough yards. Ingram should lead all backs in carries, but this is a committee.
Ingram came into the league with durability concerns and didn't fail to disappoint. Ingram finished the year with a turf-toe injury, which put him out for the final four games and the playoffs. He also missed two games in the middle of the year with a heel injury.
Considering his injury history and the Saints' commitment to a three-way rushing game, I don't see how any upside Ingram offers would make him a sensible pick at this stage in the draft.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Julio Jones, Wide Receiver, Ranked 33rd (ESPN)
Remember how I told you before that I love A.J. Green this year?
Well, the same man crush applies to Julio Jones.
In a few years time, fantasy football players will remember in disbelief how they were able to get Green and Jones in the third round.
Jones put up over 1,000 yards in his rookie season and is primed to follow it up with a bigger season this year.
Dirk Koetter and the Falcons have changed their primary offense to include three wide receivers. This means Matt Ryan will be throwing it a lot this year.
Let it also be known that I also love Matt Ryan as a fantasy sleeper this year.
Roddy White will still be the chain mover, and Tony Gonzalez will still be Tony Gonzalez. Jones will be a beast, though. His upside is arguably the highest of any receiver in fantasy football, and I predict that he will be a top-five receiver this year.
Michael Turner, Running Back, Ranked 37th (ESPN)
Everything I just told you about Jones translates to bad news for Michael Turner.
Like I said, the Falcons will be throwing the ball a lot more. Turner's carries and consequent production will decrease. He isn't a valuable commodity in the passing game, and I can see him being left behind.
Jacquizz Rodgers will have a greater role in this offense on third downs and will take away from Turner's production.
Coach Mike Smith stated that Turner would not get 300 carries this year. With that in mind, I feel that 37th might be a bit of a reach for Turner.
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Greg Olsen, Tight End, Ranked 198th (ESPN)
When your head coach says that you have the potential to be right in there with the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, you've got fantasy owners turning their heads.
Greg Olsen has always had the potential to be a great tight end. But in being held back by Jay Cutler's interceptions, Mike Martz and Jeremy Shockey haven't helped him emerge as the player he can be.
You have reason for optimism this year. Last year, Shockey and Olsen combined for 82 catches, 995 yards and nine touchdowns.
Shockey is no longer in Carolina.
I won't suggest that Olsen will accumulate all of the targets Shockey got, but chances are he will receive a fair amount of them.
There is a very strong connection between Greg Olsen and the potential to be great. Olsen transferred to the University of Miami in 2003. The offensive coordinator and former tight end coach there was Rob Chudzinski, the current OC for the Panthers.
After being in Miami, Chudzinski was hired as the Cleveland Browns tight end coach. After a brief spell there, he went to San Diego to be the Chargers tight end coach. It was during his first spell in San Diego that Antonio Gates had his first 1,000-yard season.
Chudzinski then went back to Cleveland to be the offensive coordinator. In his first year back in Cleveland, Kellen Winslow, another former Miami tight end, went over 1,000 yards receiving and received his one and only Pro Bowl invite.
After two years in Cleveland, he returned to San Diego as a tight end coach. Antonio Gates, who hadn't put up 1,000 yards since his first year with Chudzinski, reached that total again, finishing with 1,157 yards.
Chudzinski is now in Carolina and can implement his full playbook now that Cam Newton has had a full offseason. Don't be surprised if Olsen comes out of nowhere to steal the fantasy spotlight in Carolina.
Cam Newton, Quarterback, Ranked 23rd (ESPN)
Cam Newton got off to a sensational start to the season last year. Then, he fizzled out.
In his first eight games of the season, Newton threw for 2,393 yards and 11 touchdowns. Newton threw for more than 220 yards in seven of the eight games.
In the last eight games, Newton threw for 1,658 yards and 10 touchdowns. He threw for more than 200 yards in just two of the eight games.
His rushing stats stayed pretty much the same throughout the season, with 319 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in the opening eight games and 387 yards and seven touchdowns in the last eight.
It wasn't as though Newton's passing numbers were decreasing because his rushing numbers were increasing. The reason was that defenses were able to game-plan against him.
The Panthers brought in Mike Tolbert in free agency, who will take away some of Newton's goal-line touchdowns. It won't significantly lower Newton's fantasy value, but anytime someone else is brought in to take some of your touchdowns, it's never a positive.
Possibly the best Newton statistic I found was that in the six games that Carolina won last year, Newton averaged just 177 passing yards per game. In the 10 games that they lost, he averaged 265.5 passing yards per game.
The Panthers now have a healthy defense and should be able to stay in games longer than they did last year. As a result, Newton's offense won't be in a position where they have to play catch-up as much, leading to a more conservative offensive approach.
Moral of the story? The Panthers win games when the defense keeps the game close and Cam Newton plays sensibly. As the stats show, a sensible Cam Newton is someone who warrants a first- or second-round pick in fantasy football.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Doug Martin, Running Back, Ranked 79th (ESPN)
Though I am well aware that not every college running back converts their college production into the professional game, I like all three of them this year.
Doug Martin has looked phenomenal at the Buccaneers' training camp. Martin isn't the fastest or strongest back, but he has the vision and agility to find a hole, plant and go.
Though you can expect LeGarrette Blount to put up a fight for carries, especially around the goal line, Martin will eventually take over and be the main guy in Tampa. Martin is the more versatile back, and his receiving game will add value in PPR leagues.
When you consider that he will be running behind Pro Bowl guards in Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks and a 2010 Pro Bowl tackle in Donald Penn, Martin may be in the best position to excel of all the first-round running backs.
Vincent Jackson, Wide Receiver, Ranked 53rd (ESPN)
I can't get my head around this ranking. Vincent Jackson is a decent player, but there are so many reasons not to like him this year.
First off, Jackson just got a huge new contract. More often than not, when a diva receiver gets a new contract, they fail to live up to expectations. And yes, Jackson is a diva. I point you to 2010 as evidence.
Secondly, you can't trust his production. Jackson had four games where he had over 100 yards last year. He also had six games where he had two or fewer catches. That's not someone I want to rely on week in and week out for production.
Thirdly, Jackson's stats look remarkably worse when you factor out his two best games of the season. These two games were against Green Bay and New England, who had the two worst pass defenses in the league last year—and it wasn't even close.
So taking these games away, Jackson would have finished the season with 43 catches for 769 yards and four touchdowns.
Finally, Jackson is now in a different offense. Coach Greg Schiano is committed to establishing an effective ground game. Josh Freeman is a downgrade from Philip Rivers. The Buccaneers will not be the aggressive deep-ball offense that San Diego was.
Factor them all into play, and you have a strong case to put Jackson in the "DO NOT DRAFT" list.
San Francisco 49ers
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Randy Moss, Wide Receiver, Ranked 133rd (ESPN)
Because at this stage in the draft, why not?
Moss is a perfect example of how to spend a pick after the 10th round. You are looking for upside, and Moss has vast amounts of it.
The beauty in taking a gamble on Moss is that when it reaches Week 3, you will know for certain if he has anything left in the tank and how he will factor in the 49ers offense.
Remember, Randy Moss' contract is based on incentives. It's not like he's got his final payday and he will call it a day no matter what. Moss has to produce if he wants anything out of this contract.
By drafting Moss this late, it should mean that he will not be an opening-day starter for your team. If he produces and becomes relevant, you've got a great player at a bargain price.
If he does nothing and isn't worth a roster spot, just drop him and be glad that his performance never cost you a game.
You have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain should he recreate his "Superfreak" skills once again.
Frank Gore, Running Back, Ranked 38th (ESPN)
Frank Gore's average draft position in ESPN leagues is currently 35.3. So the question is, would you draft Frank Gore in the fourth round ahead of Ryan Mathews, Trent Richardson and Darren Sproles, who are all currently being drafted behind Gore?
To find out the answer to this question, I took to Hollywood to find out if fantasy football-playing celebrities would draft Frank Gore with the 35th pick.
Tracy Morgan rejected the idea profoundly.
Steve Carell was equally disgusted by the thought.
Surprisingly, Darth Vader was unequivocally against it.
I'll stop now, but you get the gist.
With a potential backfield of Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James, how is Gore going to be a fantasy stud? Running back coach Tom Rathman stated that Gore would not be above competing for carries.
His receiving numbers diminished last year, and with the addition of James, that's not going to get any better this year.
Gore went through a five-game stretch where he rushed for over 100 yards each week. In the five weeks, Gore ran 100 times for 631 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
In the other 11 games of the season, Gore ran 182 times for 577 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 3.1 yards per carry.
I keep saying this, but in the early rounds of a draft, you need stability and someone you can rely on to put up points every week.
Gore, Richardson and Mathews all have a history with injuries. The only difference between them from a fantasy perspective is that Richardson and Mathews are the single ball-carriers for their respective teams, and Gore isn't.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Ryan Williams, Running Back, Ranked 163rd (ESPN)
As I've stated, once you get your starting team in place, you need upside. Ryan Williams has a ton of it.
First of all, the hate for Beanie Wells has gone too far. He is injury-prone, but he still ran for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. So why does that mean you should draft Ryan Williams?
The fact that he even ran for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns shows the great play of the Cardinals' run-blocking game. Ranked seventh in run-blocking by Pro Football Focus, whoever the running back is in Arizona will have a great chance to succeed.
However, Wells' weakness may well be Williams' strength. Despite his strong rushing presence, Wells only caught 10 balls last year. Williams will have a chance during the preseason to stake his claim as the "top dog" in the desert.
Even if he doesn't get the starting job, you can bet your mortgage on Wells missing a few games through injury. With the great run-blocking the Cardinals offensive line provides, it's a promising situation that is bound to arise.
Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Ranked 172nd (ESPN)
He's not even a starter yet for the Cardinals.
Until Floyd gets the starting job opposite Larry Fitzgerald, I don't want any part of him. There are many reasons for this, and all of them fall within the horrific quarterback situation.
Why would you want a slot or fourth receiver on a team where the quarterbacks are abysmal and don't put up good numbers as it is?
Floyd will have to overtake Andre Roberts and Early Doucet, and only then will he become fantasy relevant.
Drafting him will be a waste of a draft pick. If I wanted to gamble on first-round rookie receiver, I'd rather go for Justin Blackmon or Kendall Wright rather than Floyd, with A.J. Jenkins the only player I'd pass over.
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Unranked (48th-ranked QB) (ESPN)
He's been hyped up so much during training camp, and you know that if Matt Flynn struggles with the barren receiving group, Wilson will be the next man up.
It's only preseason, but I still like what Wilson has been able to do. Mostly, I love what he's been able to do with his feet, and that's where his true value is.
Wilson won't be top five in passing points, but his added rushing ability brings the potential for QB1 fantasy-type numbers.
With your last pick in the draft, especially if you're in a deep league, why not? What have you got to lose? Especially if you've missed out on one of the elite fantasy quarterbacks.
Wilson will get his shot at some point in the season. With the play he has shown during the preseason, I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes fantasy relevant at some point as well.
Sidney Rice, Wide Receiver, Ranked 103rd (ESPN)
You know your organization has no faith in you as a No. 1 receiver when they bring in a 38-year-old receiver who's been out of football for a year.
Sidney Rice was an excellent fantasy receiver in Minnesota. With Brett Favre throwing him the ball in 2009, he was a breakout WR1 and a force to be reckoned with.
But times change quickly. Rice is now in Seattle and has featured in 15 games in two years. He is coming off surgeries on both shoulders, and while he still has the potential to put up fantasy points for your team, there are just too many red flags for me.
Rice is a player who will land on my "Do Not Draft" list, and until he proves he can last a season without sustaining an injury, he will stay there. He will not be on any of my teams this year.
St. Louis Rams
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Steven Jackson, Running Back, Ranked 31st (ESPN)
Steven Jackson has a reputation for being injury-prone. I must admit, I was of that opinion before I researched for this article.
Jackson has a tendency to pick up knocks and bumps and bruises, but over the last three years, there has never been anything significant.
Jackson has featured for the Rams in all but two games in the last three years. The two games he missed were the last games of the 2009 and 2011 seasons. The Rams entered both those games with records of 2-13. They were "nothing" games.
In Sports Illustrated's visit to Rams camp, they noted a large stress on physicality. Physicality and Steven Jackson go hand in hand.
They also noted that Brian Schottenheimer will coordinate a ground-and-pound offense. Ground-and-pound and Steven Jackson go hand in hand.
St. Louis isn't a good team, but Jackson will be the bell cow yet again for the offense. I don't trust Sam Bradford to shine in a Schottenheimer offense (which I will get into later), and who else are they going to give the ball to?
Jackson is only 29, and I see at least one good season left in him. I expect Jackson to be a solid RB1 this season as he puts up his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard year.
Sam Bradford, Quarterback, Ranked 130th (ESPN)
That Mark Sanchez looked really good in the Brian Schottenheimer offense...
Yes, Sam Bradford is much better than Sanchez, but he is still a player I would not touch in fantasy football this year.
Where is the upside? As I mentioned before, the Rams will run a ground-and-pound offense under Schottenheimer, and the Rams don't have the plethora of quality receivers to give Bradford the potential to break out and put up huge numbers.
Steve Smith showed he could be a good receiver in New York, but he has been hampered with injuries ever since.
Danny Amendola is a great slot receiver, but he won't be anything more than an underneath target for Bradford.
A combination of Austin Pettis, Greg Salas, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Chris Givens and rookie Brian Quick present a magnificent collection of backup receivers. Until one of them makes the leap to become a consistent target for Bradford, they will remain as receivers who don't scare defenses.
Bradford may well be an excellent quarterback, but in fantasy football, it's not about how good you are, it's about how many opportunities you get to use that talent.
Bradford doesn't have much opportunity this year. Stay away from him in standard leagues.