Chargers tailback Ryan Mathews (1,546 total yards, 6 TDs last year) will likely garner more red-zone touches this season, now that Mike Tolbert has joined the Panthers.
Here is my first off-the-cuff listing of the Top 150 overall players in standard-scoring leagues.
Obviously, a lot can change between now and after the third full week of the NFL preseason. But right now, this should serve as a fairly accurate profile of my thinking heading into August.
These rankings will remain capped at 150 for two reasons:
1. Any listing beyond this figure is patently irrelevant, since every draft tells a different story in the latter rounds.
2. Reasonably short lists will hopefully inspire lazy fantasy GMs to conduct at least three mocks before the big day in August. The absolute worst thing you can do is show up for a draft, armed with a few Top 150 or 200 cheat sheets and no strategy for attacking each round. Good drafting is all about preparation (mock simulations)...and finding value with every pick.
1. RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles
2. RB Arian Foster, Texans
3. QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers
4. WR Calvin Johnson, Lions
5. RB Ray Rice, Ravens
6. RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
7. QB Drew Brees, Saints
8. RB Chris Johnson, Titans
9. RB Matt Forte, Bears
10. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders
11. QB Matthew Stafford, Lions
12. QB Tom Brady, Patriots
13. RB Ryan Mathews, Chargers
14. QB Cam Newton, Panthers
15. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
16. RB Fred Jackson, Bills
17. TE Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
18. RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
19. RB Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
20. WR Wes Welker, Patriots
21. RB Steven Jackson, Rams
22. TE Jimmy Graham, Saints
23. WR Andre Johnson, Texans
24. QB Eli Manning, Giants
25. WR Roddy White, Falcons
- I reserve the right to change my mind between LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster (1,871 total yards, 12 TDs in 2011) through August, but it's hard to deny the 20-touchdown wunderkind (McCoy) from a year ago—even if he only has a 15 percent chance of replicating that figure in 2012. Still, he's a good bet for 1,730 total yards and 17 TDs.
- One quick note on Foster's behalf: The Texans draw the Colts and Vikings at home for Weeks 15 and 16. If that isn't a freebie gift from the fantasy odds, I don't know what it is.
- You won't encounter many preseason fantasy rankings without Aaron Rodgers slotted in the top four, and that represents major progress for an industry that once frowned upon attaching Round 1 value to quarterbacks. It used to be that QBs who threw for 45 touchdowns one year had no chance of duplicating that feat the next, but the unflappable Rodgers (4,643 yards passing) could probably tally 40 TDs in his sleep. Hence, back-to-back 45s is feasible.
- Chris Johnson (1,465 total yards) posted seven games of 100 total yards or more last year; he also recorded season highs in targets (79) and receptions (57). Put it all together, and it's enough to believe the 26-year-old speedster will rebound in a major way. Targets: 1,817 total yards and 11 touchdowns.
- I understand the trepidation of drafting either Fred Jackson (137.6 total yards per game in 2011) or Darren McFadden (110 total yards per game) low in Round 1 or high in Round 2, but fantasy owners need to realize both backs have top-15 talent. Plus, they won't be felled by injuries every season. They're due for some positive karma from the fantasy gods.
26. RB Frank Gore, 49ers
27. WR Mike Wallace, Steelers
28. WR Victor Cruz, Giants
29. RB Michael Turner, Falcons
30. WR Jordy Nelson, Packers
31. RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings
32. QB Tony Romo, Cowboys
33. WR Greg Jennings, Packers
34. RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
35. QB Michael Vick, Eagles
36. WR A.J. Green, Bengals
37. RB Trent Richardson, Browns
38. WR Steve Smith, Panthers
39. RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
40. WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants
41. RB Roy Helu, Redskins
42. WR Brandon Marshall, Bears
43. TE Vernon Davis, 49ers
44. WR Julio Jones, Falcons
45. QB Matt Ryan, Falcons
46. WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
47. WR Miles Austin, Cowboys
48. TE Jermichael Finley, Packers
49. TE Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
50. RB Shonn Greene, Jets
- I'm a little worried Packers wideouts Jennings and Nelson might cancel each other out, in terms of garnering an elite ranking. Then again, if Rodgers throws for 42 touchdowns this year, should it really matter if Jennings outperforms Nelson or Nelson trumps Jennings?
- The Gore vs. Steven Jackson dynamic is difficult to characterize right now. They're both high-end backs with a lot of questions surrounding their respective supporting casts, which ultimately could affect their per-game touches. For Jackson, I'm thinking 1,461 total yards and eight touchdowns.
- Adrian Peterson's ranking is a tad misleading since I don't intend to draft him in the first five rounds of 12-team drafts. (For a full explanation, click here.) However, it does acknowledge that only 30 healthy players are deemed better than Peterson (recovering from a torn ACL) at less than 100 percent.
- Ahmad Bradshaw's hold on the No. 39 ranking is tenuous. For starters, I'm still mad at him for going in the tank against Dallas last year (Week 14 partial suspension); and with the arrival of rookie running back David Wilson, Bradshaw will hopefully have to fight for every carry, every reception and every first-team practice rep during training camp.
51. WR Percy Harvin, Vikings
52. RB Darren Sproles, Saints
53. QB Philip Rivers, Chargers
54. WR Marques Colston, Saints
55. QB Peyton Manning, Broncos
56. RB Reggie Bush, Dolphins
57. WR Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers
58. QB Matt Schaub, Texans
59. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals
60. RB Beanie Wells, Cardinals
61. TE Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
62. RB Jahvid Best, Lions
63. WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
64. WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys
65. TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
66. WR Steve Johnson, Bills
67. RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
68. RB C.J. Spiller, Bills
69. RB Isaac Redman, Steelers
70. TE Antonio Gates, Chargers
71. RB Willis McGahee, Broncos
72. QB Carson Palmer, Raiders
73. RB DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
74. WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles
75. QB Jay Cutler, Bears
- I'm confident Peyton Manning will play well out of the chute for Denver, and I doubt his neck injury will be a significant hindrance this season. But given his age (36) and the lost opportunity of 2011, it seems unreasonable to expect 4,500 yards and 34 touchdowns in his Broncos debut. Instead, I'll shoot for 4,500 yards and 28 TDs—basically Tom Brady's numbers from 2009 (first year back from injury).
- The Bengals might have fostered the best non-quarterback signing of the offseason, luring BenJarvus Green-Ellis away from New England. Cincinnati's offensive line is very underrated, and Green-Ellis (24 TDs from 2010-11) has the tools to be a rock-solid fantasy back—between the 20s and in the red zone.
- Jahvid Best (677 total yards, three TDs in six games last year) is a healthy lock for 90 total yards every time he takes the field. Few defenders can match his top-end speed in the open field; as a result, Best (85 career catches) could be a top-five running back in Points Per Reception leagues by season's end.
The obvious bugaboo lies with Best's susceptibility to concussions, but a draft range of 55 to 65 should mollify any draft-day fears among owners. If concussions were never a problem, Best would be a top-35 overall asset.
- I have reservations about Isaac Redman (142 total yards vs. Denver in the wild card round) being a full-time feature back with the Steelers in September and October while Rashard Mendenhall rehabs and recovers from a serious knee injury (last January).
But a Pittsburgh runner needs to represent well here; the franchise has earned the benefit of the doubt in that realm. Someone will take charge in this role, whether it's Redman, Mendy or Jonathan Dwyer.
76. QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
77. WR Kenny Britt, Titans
78. TE Jason Witten, Cowboys
79. QB Mark Sanchez, Jets
80. WR Reggie Wayne, Colts
81. RB Toby Gerhart, Vikings
82. RB Doug Martin, Buccaneers
83. RB Donald Brown, Colts
84. WR Antonio Brown, Steelers
85. WR Nate Washington, Titans
86. QB Robert Griffin III, Redskins
87. RB Stevan Ridley, Patriots
88. WR Malcom Floyd, Chargers
89. RB Michael Bush, Bears
90. RB Mark Ingram, Saints
91. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
92. TE Dustin Keller, Jets
93. WR Laurent Robinson, Jaguars
94. RB Ben Tate, Texans
95. WR Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
96. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders
97. RB Daniel Thomas, Dolphins
98. QB Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
99. WR Titus Young, Lions
100. WR Santonio Holmes, Jets
- Robert Griffin, the Redskins' Week 1 starter, is flush with seven stupendous playmaking options: receivers Pierre Garcon, Leonard Santana Moss, tight end Fred Davis and tailbacks Roy Helu, Evan Royster and Tim Hightower.
From an Average Draft Position (ADP) perspective, Mock Draft Central currently has Griffin as the No. 12 quarterback (86th overall), and owners shooting that high are obviously thinking "starter"...not "pricey backup." For now...I'll buy that logic.
- The first half of Titus Young's inaugural NFL season with Detroit was awash in inconsistent targets and minimal catches. But things took shape in the latter half, with Young drawing 57 targets and catching 33 balls for 365 yards and five touchdowns.
Of equal importance, four of Young's six seasonal touchdowns were within 10 yards, demonstrating his effectiveness in the red zone. And yet, Young still has the breakaway speed and athleticism to score at least three times from beyond 40 yards. In other words, it wouldn't be a stretch to grab Young at the beginning for Round 9.
- The Buccaneers deserve major props for drafting a Ray Rice-esque runner like Boise State rookie Doug Martin (1,554 total yards, 16 TDs in 2011). In time, Martin may prove to be the perfect back for head coach Greg Schiano's power-rushing attack.
For now, Martin will likely split carries with incumbent LeGarrette Blount, but one look at Martin's highlight reel tells us his day as Tampa Bay's feature back will come sooner than later. If he wants the ultimate real-world and fantasy respect, Martin must evolve into a 40-catch talent within the first two seasons.
101. WR Pierre Garcon, Redskins
102. WR Sidney Rice, Seahawks
103. TE Fred Davis, Redskins
104. QB Andy Dalton, Bengals
105. RB James Starks, Packers
106. WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers
107. QB Joe Flacco, Ravens
108. D/ST San Francisco 49ers
109. QB Andrew Luck, Colts
110. RB Mikel Leshoure, Lions
111. WR Brandon Lloyd, Patriots
112. RB Peyton Hillis, Chiefs
113. RB Felix Jones, Cowboys
114. WR Justin Blackmon, Jaguars
115. WR Torrey Smith, Ravens
116. D/ST Chicago Bears
117. RB Ryan Williams, Cardinals
118. WR Greg Little, Browns
119. WR Mike Williams, Buccaneers
120. D/ST Green Bay Packers
121. QB Alex Smith, 49ers
122. WR Eric Decker, Broncos
123. TE Brent Celek, Eagles
124. D/ST Pittsburgh Steelers
125. RB LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
- Brandon Lloyd drew 150 targets with the Broncos and Rams last year, fifth-best among NFL wide receivers. He also followed offensive guru Josh McDaniels from Denver to St. Louis to New England in the process.
McDaniels and Lloyd have expressed a mutual admiration for one another's talents, leading fantasy experts to believe that Lloyd could be in a monster year. But for now, I'm going to take a conservative tone on this matter, even though Lloyd (77 catches, 1,448 yards, 11 TDs with Denver in 2010) is one of my all-time PPR favorites.
- On the positive front...of the three times Pierre Garcon registered 100-plus receiving yards with Indy last year, he scored two TDs on each occasion. On the negative end, Garcon (six double-digit efforts in targets) was only one of two wideouts with at least 76 targets to fall short of 1,000 receiving yards.
- Alex Smith posted career highs in passing yards and pass attempts (445) last season while almost breaking new ground in TD passes (17) and fewest interceptions (five). But does that make Smith a top-20 option in the fantasy realm? In 2011, he attempted 30 or more passes 10 times, and in those outings, Smith combined for 2,000 yards passing (200 per game) and 11 passing touchdowns (or 1.1 per game).
By comparison, Joe Flacco had 11 games of 30-plus passes; he also had per-game averages of 258.3 yards passing and 1.18 TD passes.
- It's easy to look past Greg Little's rookie contribution with Cleveland, as he cobbled together just one 100-yard game and two touchdowns. But from Weeks 4 through 16 last year (spanning 12 games), Little was a perfect 12-for-12 in collecting six or more targets; and for Week 15, the Browns wideout crushed the Cardinals for five receptions, 131 yards and one touchdown. Fantasy owners should be thrilled to land Little anytime after Round 10 (12-team draft).
126. RB Evan Royster, Redskins
127. WR Denarius Moore, Raiders
128. QB Kevin Kolb, Cardinals
129. TE Jermaine Gresham, Bengals
130. QB Matt Flynn, Seahawks
131. RB David Wilson, Giants
132. QB Christian Ponder, Vikings
133. WR Mario Manningham, 49ers
134. TE Jared Cook, Titans
135. RB Ronnie Hillman, Broncos
136. QB Matt Hasselbeck, Titans
137. D/ST Baltimore Ravens
138. TE Kellen Winslow Jr., Seahawks
139. WR Robert Meachem, Chargers
140. RB Isaiah Pead, Rams
141. D/ST Philadelphia Eagles
142. WR Jerome Simpson, Vikings
143. D/ST New York Jets
144. RB Robert Turbin, Seahawks
145. WR Jonathan Baldwin, Chiefs
146. K David Akers, 49ers
147. RB Brandon Jacobs, 49ers
148. K Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders
149. RB Montario Hardesty, Browns
150. TE Coby Fleener, Colts
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.