During this time of the year, most fantasy football writers focus on the potential value that can be found in each round of a draft. However, being able to locate players that either have expectations that have grown out of this world or players that come with too much risk for the round they are going can often times save a fantasy season just as much as landing a quality player in the later rounds.
Just like most players taken in the early rounds have the opportunity to post strong seasons, any player can go down with a season-ending injury at any time. With that said, it's important to take note of supporting cast, coaching changes and training camp reports if you hope to avoid the busts that inevitably show up in the first couple rounds every season.
Unquestionably, the players on the list have the chance to have elite seasons, however, you should let your competitors take the risk that they will bust and be forced to scramble to fill a gaping hole on their roster, while you look for more steady players with higher ceilings.
1. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Average Draft Position: 8.0
A lot of fantasy experts and drafters have viewed the opportunity to take Jones-Drew in the later half of the first round as a chance that is simply too good to pass up. After all, he's a running back coming off of a 1,606 yard season and is the only proven option on his offense.
However, as we all saw with Chris Johnson last year, the running back position, possibly more than any other spot in all of football, relies on quickness, comfortableness and the overall ability to not just read defenders, but also your line in order to have success. After missing offseason workouts, MJD is currently holding out of training camp and is setting himself up to have a down year on an offense that already lacks firepower in the passing game.
Whether or not he gets a new contract, MJD will need a while to get accustomed to a new offensive scheme and the last thing you want to do is fall behind in your league as you wait for your first-round pick to get used to his new situation.
2. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans
Average Draft Position: 14.8
Though still just 31 years old, Andre Johnson has begun to show the signs of aging that are dangerous in an elite wide receiver. After playing in all 16 games six of his first eight seasons in the league, Johnson has missed 12 games over the last two years. Beyond the injury concerns, he has simply never been the dominant red zone target one would think a player of his size is capable of, and if you are going to take a risk on a player with injury issues, the ceiling better be double-digit touchdowns, a mark Johnson has never eclipsed in his career.
Johnson also plays in an offense that is becoming more and more run-heavy and, through no fault of his own, also catches passes from one of the most oft-injured starting quarterbacks in the NFL. As fantasy owners saw with Larry Fitzgerald in 2010, the wide receiver position relies on quarterback play to be an elite fantasy option, and there is simply no guarantee that Johnson will get the production needed from Schaub, Leinart, Yates or whoever else is under center in Houston.
Johnson, perhaps more so than anyone else on this list, certainly is capable of producing a huge year, but the combination of injuries, quarterback health and a run-heavy system makes him a scary choice in the early second round.
3. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Average Draft Position: 17.4
There is no getting around it. As a rookie, Cam Newton had a fantasy season for the ages, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 21 touchdowns and adding another 700 yards and 14 scores on the ground. However, his production, at least from a fantasy standpoint, sputtered a bit down the stretch, as he had zero 300 yard passing games and had one or fewer touchdown passes seven times in the last 12 games of his fantasy season. For a player that is currently the fifth quarterback off the board, you will want more production at the spot as you head into the fantasy playoff season.
Beyond that, mobile quarterbacks tend to struggle in their second seasons as team's have plenty of tape on them (see Vince Young's second year in the league). Though it's not necessarily fair to question Newton's durability, the fact that he ran the ball 126 times provides defenses 126 more opportunities to take him out of the game. While his legs certainly work to his advantage when healthy, they also provide more of a risk than your typical second-round quarterback.
In short, Cam Newton is still too unproven to be viewed as a top-five quarterback. It is more than possible that this selection makes me look like a fool this time four months from now, but there are far more consistent and experienced fantasy options coming off the board a round or two later than Newton, leaving your second-round pick to be a No. 1 wide receiver or No. 2 running back.
Average Draft Pick: 20.4
Coming off of a career year, Marshawn Lynch has climbed up the draft board and is now viewed as a true No. 1 running back by many fantasy experts.
In 2011, Lynch put up big numbers and ran harder than fantasy owners have seen him run since his early years in Buffalo. However, it is important to remember the complacent Marshawn that ran for a little over 1,000 yards in 2009 and 2010 combined and showed little effort and love for the game. After signing a new contract this offseason and being pulled over for a DUI in July, the chance that he simply falls back on old habits is a scary thought for anyone looking to build their running back group around him.
Lynch has the kind of job security that is rare at the running back position in today's NFL, and should receive red zone carries, but his past indiscretions and the possibility of a letdown or complacency after getting paid make him the wrong kind of risk in the second round.
5. Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams
Average Draft Pick: 30.8
One of the most consistent running backs over the last seven seasons, Steven Jackson simply does not have the ceiling that one looks for in the early rounds. Despite being a pounding and punishing running back, Jackson has not scored over seven touchdown since 2006 and his receiving numbers, though still solid, aren't quite as significant in fantasy terms than they once were.
On an offense that will likely struggle to put points on the board, Jackson will continue to struggle reaching the end zone and there is a chance that his age (29) and the amount of times he has carried the football in his career (2,138) may simply catch up to him.
Jackson is a strong and fairly productive back that is still talented enough to remain relevant in the fantasy games, but when he is coming off the board shortly after guys like Darren McFadden, Jamaal Charles and DeMarco Murray and before someone like Michael Turner, he simply isn't worth the value of the pick in which he is being selected.
As always, if you have any questions about the article, anything you'd like to see in my next fantasy football article or if you just have any questions as you head into your draft, either throw them in the comments section or hit me up on twitter @QuinnCretton and I will get back to you as quick as I can.
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