The key to winning your fantasy football league is to select the best player available in every round of your draft.
It is as simple as that.
Most people focus the majority of their draft preparation on the players available in the early rounds, and for good reason.
Selecting the right player can build the foundation of your team, while selecting a player bound to disappoint makes it difficult to regroup and make the playoffs.
Here are the top available players at every position in your fantasy football draft.
Statistics courtesy of PFF Fantasy (Premium Subscription).
1. Aaron Rodgers: Packers
2. Drew Brees: Saints
3. Cam Newton: Panthers
4. Tom Brady: Patriots
5. Matthew Stafford: Lions
These same five quarterbacks finished in the top five last season. There is no reason to think it will change this year because there are no other obvious breakout candidates on the horizon. Michael Vick could challenge for a spot in the top five if he can recapture his 2010 form.
Rodgers gets the nod as the top quarterback because he is hyper-efficient throwing the football. He is also one of the top scrambling quarterbacks in the league. He was fourth in the league last year in rushing attempts and rushing yards for quarterbacks.
Brees, Brady, and Stafford were the top three quarterbacks in total pass drop backs last season. There is no reason to think they will not top the leaderboard again this season.
Cam Newton will not have to worry about a sophomore slump. Even if his rushing touchdowns regress, his growth in the passing game could be exponential as one of the top athletes in the NFL.
1. Arian Foster: Texans
2. Ray Rice: Ravens
3. LeSean McCoy: Eagles
4. Chris Johnson: Titans
5. Matt Forte: Bears
The list of top running backs available is less impressive than it was when training camp started.
Maurice Jones-Drew is in the midst of a holdout, Trent Richardson underwent a knee scope and Ryan Mathews broke his clavicle on his first preseason carry. Not to mention that Adrian Peterson’s status is uncertain to start the season.
Arian Foster is the top available running back. He finished as the third-best running back last year despite missing three games and was more effective on a per-snap-played basis than both Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy.
Rice and McCoy will continue to be the centerpiece of their respective offenses.
Chris Johnson struggled in 2011 after arriving in camp out of football shape after his contract holdout. His play suffered at the beginning of the season, but he gradually turned things around. He is still a special player capable of winning your weekly matchup single-handedly.
Matt Forte is not a strong goal-line option, and that will not change this year with the addition of Michael Bush. He will remain a focal part of the Bears’ new-look offense.
1. Calvin Johnson: Lions
2. Julio Jones: Falcons
3. Larry Fitzgerald: Cardinals
4. A.J. Green: Bengals
5. Hakeem Nicks: Giants
Predicting which wide receivers will finish in the top five can be a fruitless effort.
Jordy Nelson, Victor Cruz and Brandon Lloyd have posted top fantasy seasons in the last two years.
There will be another changing of the guard at the wide receiver position this season with the exception of Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Both are as automatic as it comes. They have also proved they can produce with backup quarterbacks if needed.
Julio Jones is primed for a breakout season. In the Falcons’ preseason opener, Jones caught six passes for 109 yards and one touchdown—in the first quarter. If you extrapolate Jones’ last five games of 2011 for a full season, he would have had 77 catches, 1,475 yards and 19 touchdowns.
A.J. Green averaged over seven targets per game as a rookie—a total that stands to increase given the lack of supporting talent in Cincinnati. Greg Cosell of NFL Films already considers Green one of the top wide receivers in the NFL.
Hakeem Nicks is the better bet to return to the fantasy elite than his teammate Victor Cruz after a dominating performance in the 2011 playoffs. Nicks caught 22 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns in just three games, outproducing Cruz by a large margin.
1. Rob Gronkowski: Patriots
2. Jimmy Graham: Saints
3. Vernon Davis: 49ers
4. Jermichael Finley: Packers
5. Aaron Hernandez: Patriots
No matter whom you rank first or second, you cannot go wrong taking Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham early in your fantasy draft. Both are in a tier all by themselves in terms of talent and opportunity. Most importantly, they are still the top receiving options on their team and are simply matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
Vernon Davis turned the corner late last season and cemented himself among the elite tight ends with his postseason effort. In two games, Davis totaled 10 receptions for 292 yards and four touchdowns.
Jermichael Finley had the quietest top-five season in recent memory last year. He topped 750 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, but no one noticed because of the seasons that Gronkowski and Graham had. Aaron Rodgers still favors Finley in the red zone.
Aaron Hernandez is essentially a wide receiver that is tight-end eligible. It is one of the reasons that the Patriots offense can support two top tight ends. Hernandez is an elite talent in his own right—he finished as the third tight end last year despite missing two games.
Taking a defense early in your draft is a risky proposition given the volatility of the top defenses on a year-to-year basis.
San Francisco finished as the top defense last season and there is no reason to think it will not repeat. The 49ers return every defensive starter from last season.
The Giants, Eagles, Packers and Ravens all have the potential to lead the league in sacks and takeaways, making them excellent choices for your team defense after the 49ers are off the board.
1. David Akers: 49ers
2. Garrett Hartley: Saints
3. Rob Bironas: Titans
4. Sebastian Janikowski: Raiders
5. Stephen Gostowski: Patriots
Kickers are unavoidable in nearly every fantasy football league ever created—though no one ever enjoys having to take one.
Selecting a kicker can feel like taking a spin on a roulette wheel. It is a huge gamble to predict which players are going to be the elite fantasy options at the end of the season.
The best way to secure a top kicker is to focus on teams with a strong offense. It is as simple as that.
David Akers is a good bet to be the top option again this season.
Sebastian Janikowski does not look like a typical kicker, but is the perfect option to target in leagues that offer bonus points for long field goals. The Raiders give him plenty of opportunities.