Fantasy Football 2012: Ranking the 10 NFL Teams with Most Fantasy Value
When making selections for their fantasy team, people too often focus solely on the individual player and their previous season's statistics. The actual NFL team of the player often gets overlooked, however, even though it can have a big impact on a player's production.
Analyzing a team's coaching staff, offseason acquisitions and offensive line can help you get a better idea of a player's potential. Looking at the NFL team may give you an edge when it comes to deciding who to pick on draft day.
Here is a breakdown of the top 10 NFL teams in terms of their potential fantasy production. I name the top four performers on each team, and pick a sleeper to keep an eye on.
10. San Francisco 49ers
Sleeper Pick: RB LaMichael James
The 49ers offense, led by quarterback Alex Smith, is an interesting group. In 2011, it finished 11th in total scoring but only 26th in yards per game.
Gore, Crabtree and Davis make the offense one of the most athletic in the entire league, but their dependency may be an issue. Gore is injury-prone, and Crabtree has still not proven that he can be a consistent threat as a No. 1 wide receiver.
James, a rookie running back out of Oregon, could see the field a lot if Gore gets hurt. The Niners took James in the second round of the draft, 61st overall. If he gets some carries, don't be surprised if he racks up the yards.
For yet another season, San Francisco's defense will be one of the best in the league. It was among the top in most statistical categories last season, and San Francisco's team turnover differential of plus-28 is a major reason it cracked this top 10 list.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
Top Performers: QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Mike Wallace, WR Antonio Brown, PIT Defense
Sleeper Pick: RB Jonathan Dwyer
Roethlisberger leads an offense which will be pressing forward without injured starting running back Rashard Mendenhall. Isaac Redman will most likely get the majority of carries, but a number of other backs will compete for carries.
Dwyer is a name to remember, especially if Redman isn't productive at the start of the season. Last season, Dwyer had 107 yards in a win against the Tennessee Titans, but didn't make another splash after that. Chris Rainey, this year's fifth-round draft pick out of Florida, could also press for playing time.
Wallace and Brown make up one of the most dynamic 1-2 receiver combinations in the entire league, and will look to score more than the 20.3 points per game they managed last season.
Pittsburgh's defense will be solid as ever after giving up the least points in the NFL last season.
8. San Diego Chargers
Top Performers: QB Phil Rivers, RB Ryan Mathews, WR Robert Meachem, TE Antonio Gates
Sleeper Pick: RB Le'Ron McClain
Mathews will be the key to the Chargers' offense in 2012-2013. After a somewhat disappointing rookie season that saw him battle injuries, Mathews almost doubled his rushing yards in his sophomore campaign, finishing with 1,091.
If he can continue to improve, he should not only get more yards on the ground, but also increase his catch total and become a real dual-threat back.
Even with the loss of star receiver Vincent Jackson, Rivers and Gates will be back as one of the best QB-TE connections in the league. Meachem, signed this offseason from New Orleans, will replace Jackson, and should put up big numbers.
If Mathews gets injured or worn down over the season, McClain would be a great midseason waiver pickup. If you pick Mathews high, you may want to grab McClain in the last round as insurance anyway.
7. Chicago Bears
Sleeper Pick: WR Alshon Jeffrey
A week ago before Forte got his contract extension, a potential holdout would have kept Chicago out of the top 10. But with Forte back on board, Chicago shoots up to No. 6 here.
Last season, Forte finished with 1,487 total yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns even though he was injured four games. If he can stay healthy for the entire year, 2,000 total yards and 10 touchdowns isn't out of the question.
Cutler will have the benefit of throwing to the enigmatic Marshall this season, acquired in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. Marshall's playing with Cutler should improve the fantasy production for both players. Look for Jeffrey, a rookie from South Carolina, to sneak up the depth chart and score a few touchdowns.
Chicago's defense is not the beast it once was, but can still be depended on as an every-week start.
6. New Orleans
Top Performers: QB Drew Brees, RB Darren Sproles, WR Marques Colston, TE Jimmy Graham
Sleeper Pick: WRs Lance Moore/Devery Henderson
Brees leads a high-octane passing offense that will put up big numbers again this season, but losing Meachem to San Diego hurts, and the team will be reeling a little after the bounty scandal.
Without Coach Sean Payton, the team may need some adjustment time when the season starts. But Sproles, Colston and Graham are incredibly talented, and give Brees the weapons to be at the top of the statistical charts again.
Moore and Henderson are perennial late-round options, but because Brees spreads the ball around so much it's hard to depend on them too much. But without Meachem, one of the two may emerge as a more reliable play.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Top Performers: QB Mike Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, WR Jeremy Maclin, WR DeSean Jackson
Sleeper Pick: PHI Defense
Philadelphia may end this season as the top overall team in terms of fantasy production, but could also slip out of the top 10. Vick's health will play a big part in their success. If he remains healthy, he will pile on the yards through the air and the ground, and the whole team will benefit.
McCoy will be the first overall pick in some fantasy drafts, and for good reason. He could eclipse 2,000 total yards and 25 touchdowns, and should absolutely be a top-three pick at the very least. Jackson is less dependable than Maclin, but could have a monster season with his contract situation finally secure.
Philadelphia's defense took a lot of heat last season because of a weak linebacker corps and general weakness up the middle. With the additions of first-round pick Fletcher Cox and linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the Eagles should surprise a lot of people and turn things around.
4. Houston Texans
Top Performers: QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster, WR Andre Johnson, HOU Defense
Sleeper Pick: RB Ben Tate
Foster, like Mathews in San Diego, is the key to Houston's offense this season. He missed the first three games of last year due to injury, but his production in the remaining 13 games was incredible: 1,224 rushing yards, 617 receiving yards, 4.4 YPC, 12 total touchdowns.
If Foster stays healthy, this offense can be scary good. Johnson is one of the best receivers in the game, and Schaub puts up numbers when he stays off the injury report as well. But backup T.J. Yates filled in admirably last year, and all hope will not be lost if Schaub goes down again.
Houston's defense allowed the fourth-least points per game last season, but takes a blow with the departure of Mario Williams. It should still be an every week start, however, with Brian Cushin, Jonathan Joseph and J.J. Watt leading the charge.
3. Detroit Lions
Top Performers: QB Matthew Stafford, RB Jahvid Best, WR Calvin Johnson, TE Brandon Pettigrew
Sleeper Pick: WR Titus Young
Last season, the Lions totaled just under 400 yards and 30 points per game. With the still-maturing brain and rifle-like arm of Stafford, the offense should only improve.
At 6'5", with blazing speed and soft hands, Johnson is the most dominant receiver in the game. He attracts constant double-teams and is sometimes triple-teamed by opponents desperate to slow him down.
Because of this, Young, a quick but undersized second-year receiver, may have a lot more balls thrown his way this season. Same goes with Pettigrew, who has quietly turned himself into one of the better receiving tight ends in the league.
Best is talented but injury-prone. Mikel Leshoure, who missed his entire rookie season with a torn Achilles tendon, may get some carries along with Kevin Smith, who just never seems to go away. No matter who gets the carries, this offense will put up crazy big numbers.
2. New England Patriots
Sleeper Pick: RB Shane Vereen
Last season, some thought the Patriots could take a step back with an aging Brady throwing to the constantly underrated Welker. But then Gronkowski stepped in and announced his presence as the most dominating tight end in the league.
Gronk had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. Those numbers were impressive enough to make some forget about Hernandez, who had 79 catches for 910 yards and seven touchdowns. The two tight ends are essentially impossible to guard with their combination of size and speed.
With Brady, Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez leading the way, the Patriots passing game will be one of, if not the best, in the NFL. There is more uncertainty about the Pats' ground game, but look for Vereen to get a good number of carries.
1. Green Bay Packers
Top Performers: QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Greg Jennings, WR Jordy Nelson, TE Jermichael Finley
Sleeper Pick: WR Randall Cobb
Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL right now. His combination of arm strength, accuracy, athleticism and leadership puts him on a level all his own.
With Jennings, Nelson and Finley catching most of Rodgers' rockets, the Packers scored the most points in the NFL last season with 560, and there's no reason to think they won't reach that total again.
The running game is in decent shape after Ryan Grant's departure. James Starks will start, backed up by Marc Tyler and Brandon Saine.
Cobb is a talented wideout who, although he is fourth on the depth chart, can still put up good numbers because of how often Rodgers throws. A deep threat with good hands, Cobb averaged 15 yards per reception last season. And at only 21 years old, the sky is the limit for the former first-team All-American.