Each year fantasy owners are faced with a dilemma: Is it smarter to draft for consistency and reliability or target players who offer more upside?
Typically, the answer is a combination of the two. It's often smart to draft a few players you believe are poised for breakout campaigns, while playing it relatively safe with some of your other picks to ensure you have a consistent source of points on your roster.
While sleepers are often a hot topic of conversation, here's an alternative list of usually-reliable options you would be wise to avoid this season.
2011 was far and away the best season of Marshawn Lynch's career. In his second season with the Seattle Seahawks, Lynch carried the rock a career-high 285 times en route to 1,204 yards (also a career high).
Most importantly for Lynch, and fantasy owners, the fearsome Seattle tailback rushed for a career-high 12 scores. One of the few bright spots on a weak Seattle offense last season, don't expect another monster campaign from the Seahawks lead back. Lynch has been relatively solid in terms of his touchdown output over the course of his career, but I'd be wary of drafting him in the early stages of drafts.
Although his recent DUI arrest isn't expected to result in a suspension, Lynch should not be trusted as a RB1, where many owners see him as a legitimate option. The running back position is certainly thinner than in past years, but that doesn't mean you should reach for Lynch.
Only once in his career (2011) has Lynch rushed for double-digit touchdowns, and it's last year's campaign that will have opposing defenses game-planning to shut him down on a weekly basis.
As far as consistency goes, Michael Turner has been the model for running backs since arriving in Atlanta in 2008.
Turner has rushed for over 1,300 yards in three of his last four seasons, and while he was limited to just 871 yards in 11 games in 2009, he still managed to score 10 touchdowns.
So, if Turner has shown to be this reliable, why should he not be trusted as we near the 2012 season? There are really two reasons why.
For one, Turner has received over 300 carries each of the last three seasons in which he has played all 16 games, and the toll that hefty workload has taken on his legs can't be overlooked. While this theory has been offered over the past couple of years, I'm venturing to say that this will be the year Turner's production finally drops off.
Another reason owners should be on the lookout for a decline in Turner's production is his age. Now 30 years old, Turner is at the age where we typically see running backs' careers take sharp turns for the worse.
If you're drafting Turner, make sure you have a rock-solid RB1 to complement him.
Since 2006, Gore has rushed for over 1,000 yards five times, with his one down year coming in 2010 where he was limited to action in just 11 games.
While Gore's touchdown totals have never been off the charts, he's always hovered somewhere in the range of 6-8 touchdowns per season.
According to ESPN.com's live draft results, Gore is being drafted somewhere in the middle of the third round, making him a high-end RB2 option for owners.
On a team that added Randy Moss and Mario Manningham this summer, it's hard to like Gore in a 49er offense that appears to be gearing up for a heavier aerial assault in 2012.
In addition, the Niners have some impressive depth at running back, featuring Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and rookie LaMichael James. All three of these backs should see touches in some capacity, limiting Gore's ceiling.
Once considered the game's premier tight end, Antonio Gates is now 32 years old and fading out of his prime. Gates and Tony Gonzalez seemingly paved the way for this new wave of athletic receiver-tight end hybrids, but it appears that Gates' time as an elite fantasy tight end may be over.
Despite being limited by some nagging injuries over the past several years, Gates has been able to post more than seven touchdowns every season since 2004.
Over the past two seasons, Gates has played in 23 of a possible 32 games, and consequently his numbers have taken a hit. Once a lock for 70 catches and 900 yards, Gates failed to top 65 catches and 800 yards in 2010 and 2011.
With standouts Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham likely to be selected anywhere in the first two rounds, fantasy owners figure to be better off targeting the likes of Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley, Aaron Hernandez or Jason Witten, who should all come at a cheaper price.
Simply put, Roddy White has been one of the NFL's best receivers over the past five seasons. In his seven-year career, White has never failed to miss a game, making him an early-round favorite of fantasy owners.
Since 2007, White has recorded over 1,000 receiving yards each season, while totaling 42 touchdowns in the process. White has also amassed 471 catches in that time frame, catching 100 or more balls each of the past two years.
While White has been a fantasy darling, the emergence of second-year wideout Julio Jones could hinder his total output in 2012.
In fact, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, White is set for a smaller role in the offense in 2012:
In order for the Falcons’ offense to soar under new coordinator Dirk Koetter, Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White figures that he must do less.
“I know that sounds crazy, but we’ve got other guys out there that can play,” White said. “Julio [Jones] is going to be a big part of the offense this year. Harry [Douglas] is going to do wonders in the slot. We have to maximize our talent and get the ball in everyone’s hands.”
Although the Falcons seem to be moving towards a more pass-oriented attack in 2012, White's production may actually dip a bit.
Currently, ESPN's Live Draft Results indicate that White's average draft position is 19.3 while his teammate, Julio Jones, is being selected on average at pick No. 36. Owners would be wise to target Jones early and let White fall into the hands of a fellow owner.