Manning's neck will make him a fantasy boom or bust.
In fantasy football there are always going to be what are called boom-or-bust guys. These are players with high upsides and deep downsides.
These are the players who could end up in the Pro Bowl or the toilet bowl. They could rush for 1,000 yards and help you win your league or run for 350 and help you lose it. They could become their quarterback’s top target or end up being the fifth-best option in their team’s passing attack.
So who are the top-five boom-or-bust fantasy football picks for 2012? Here is a look:
1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (QB)
For those fantasy owners who drafted Manning last August figuring his neck problem was only going to keep him out of a couple games, they already know how much of a fantasy bust he can be.
And the fantasy owners who owned Manning for any of the seasons where he threw for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns know what a boom he can be for a fantasy squad, too.
Manning’s fantasy value rests almost solely on his surgically-repaired neck. Will it hamper his accuracy? Will his arm be weaker and cause him to have trouble completing long passes and out routes? Is he one hit away from having his season—and his career— ended?
You also have to wonder about Manning moving to a new team this late in his NFL life. No more Reggie Wayne, familiar Colts coaches and linemen or fast artificial turf in a pass-friendly dome stadium. Now he has to play in frigid conditions and throw to a receiving corps that do not have any 1,000-yard seasons between them except for old buddy Brandon Stokely, who had one with Manning back in 2004.
But this is PEYTON MANNING! If he is healthy, if he melds together with his new teammates and if he is even 90 percent of what he once was, he will be a top-10 fantasy QB again. And since he will likely fall a few rounds in fantasy drafts, scooping him up for a super season would be a boon.
Watching Manning get sacked if you own him will be tougher than sitting through one of the Friday the 13th movies, though. Can you use a high fantasy pick on a guy who could re-injure his neck on a handoff or during a sneeze?
Manning is the riskiest player to draft in fantasy football, but he could yield great rewards.
2. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (QB)
Which Freeman will fantasy owners get in 2012? Will they get the inconsistent interception machine who had a 16-to-22 TD-to-INT ratio in 2011, or the up-and-coming franchise quarterback who had a 25-to-6 ratio in 2010?
Tampa Bay signed prized free agent Vincent Jackson in the offseason to give Freeman the best No. 1 receiver he has ever thrown to, and the Bucs also brought in veteran tight end Dallas Clark so Freeman would have a dependable option over the middle on third downs.
If Freeman clicks with Jackson and Clark and finds his 2010 rhythm again, his fantasy value will boom like Kofi Kingston. But if Freeman reverts back to his ways from last year and finds opposing cornerbacks with his passes as often as Jackson, he will be a bust for a second season in a row.
3. Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks (QB)
Seattle signed Flynn to presumably become the starting quarterback. But then head coach Pete Carroll turned around and said the job was up for grabs going into training camp and that the new multi-millionaire would have to battle with erratic incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and third-round rookie Russell Wilson.
This appears to be a three-way war Flynn should win, but stranger things have happened. If Flynn does become the Seahawks starter he could put up solid Andy Dalton-like numbers, if not better. He did throw six touchdown passes in one game against the Detroit Lions last year, remember?
But Flynn has never been a full-time starter in the NFL before, so would it surprise anybody if he fell flat on his face like an Anderson Silva opponent? And if Flynn fails to win the job during training camp—how can he NOT be better than Jackson?—he will certainly be one of the biggest busts of the year.
4. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns (QB)
28-year-old rookie quarterbacks come along as often as hit movies starring Dustin Diamond, so Weeden enters the NFL with a lot of mystery surrounding him, making him the ultimate boom-or-bust kinda guy.
There is the one train of thought that since Weeden is older than the average rookie quarterback that he will have less of a learning curve and will be able to step in and start right away better than the average rookie.
Then there is the other train of thought that since Weeden is Father Time compared to most rookies that he is not a good pick in keeper leagues because his career will not be as long and that his upside is minimal because most player peak around age 28.
Weeden will be quarterbacking one of the worst offenses in the NFL, so that will be no help to his fantasy value, but with second-year phenom Greg Little at wide receiver and fellow rookie Trent Richardson handling the rushing load, Cleveland’s offense is on the rise.
While it is doubtful Weeden will as prolific as he was at Oklahoma State, he has the talent to be a 3,500-yard, 20-TD quarterback if everything breaks right. But if nothing breaks right, he could be 2012's Chris Weinke.
5. Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts (RB)
Brown certainly played like a bust during his first two seasons. After being drafted late in the first round by Indy in 2009, all Brown did was get banged-up, not break any tackles and make Joseph Addai look like Jim Brown.
But Brown had a fantasy epiphany last season. Once he took over as the top tailback after Addai went down with an injury, Brown showed spark and spunk that he never showed during his first two seasons. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry, scored five touchdowns and had an 80-yard run, all career highs.
Brown enters the 2012 season as Indianapolis’ No. 1 running back. The job is his to lose, and with Delone Carter and Mewelde Moore as his main competition, he will have to be the Adam Scott of the NFL to blow this opportunity.
Yet Brown has not rushed for 700 yards in a season and is still on the fragile side. He is as much of a sure thing as Axl Rose showing up on time at a Guns and Roses concert. So draft him if you dare....