Ranking the Top 5 High-Risk/High-Reward Players in Fantasy Football
Sure, it can be wonderful if you have one of the top three picks in your fantasy football draft, as having one of those early picks allows you to wrap yourself in the warm security blanket that is drafting the likes of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice to build your squad around.
However, many teams aren't afforded that luxury, and at some point in every fantasy draft, teams are forced to consider choosing players for whom the risk of injury or a disappointing season is just as great as the odds that they'll light up the fantasy scoreboard.
In many cases, choosing wisely when it comes to risk/reward picks can be the difference between a fantasy championship and missing the playoffs altogether, and no group of NFL players is apt to have fantasy drafters wringing their hands more than this "Fearsome Five" of fantasy stars.
5. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
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Before this season, if you had selected a tight end in the first round of your fantasy football draft, you either would have been the butt of endless jokes for the remainder of the draft or placed on the fantasy equivalent of a 72-hour psych hold.
That was before Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots topped 1,300 receiving yards last year, scored an NFL-record 17 touchdowns and finished as the top player at his position by nearly 35 fantasy points.
This year, no one is batting an eye when Gronkowski goes late in the first round, but that doesn't mean that selecting the third-year pro doesn't carry with it considerable risk.
Simply put, you're counting on a tight end in an offense with innumerable options in the passing game to post record-setting numbers two years running, and that's a gamble.
4. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans
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After posting over 100 receptions and topping 1,500 receiving yards while finishing as fantasy football's top wide receiver in both 2008 and 2009, Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans has shown the ability to be one of the top fantasy options at his position.
Fantasy owners this year are drafting him as such. According to MyFantasyLeague.com, the 31-year-old is currently the fifth wideout off fantasy draft boards with an average draft position late in the second round.
With that said, 2009 was the last time Johnson cracked the top five. Since then, the 10th-year veteran has missed 12 games due to injury, and during that time, the Texans have become one of the National Football League's most run-happy teams.
All those factors combine to make Johnson the riskiest play among the elite options at his position in 2012.
3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
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Since entering the league in 2007, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has become one of the most dangerous players in the league at his position, and were the 27-year-old fully healthy, Peterson would be squarely in the conversation for the first overall pick in fantasy drafts this year.
However, Peterson slogged through an injury-marred 2011 season that saw him fail to top 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career, and that season was capped by a December game against the Washington Redskins in which Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL.
Peterson's recovery has progressed well. He returned to the practice field this past Sunday, and if he's anywhere close to full-go, Adrian Peterson is more than capable of top-five fantasy production.
There's also no denying that Peterson is less than nine months removed from a serious knee injury, which make selecting the running back in the second round of fantasy drafts something of a game of Russian roulette.
Do you feel lucky?
2. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
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Today's pass-wacky NFL, in which more quarterbacks topped 5,000 yards a year ago than every season before it put together, has placed a premium on elite signal-callers in fantasy drafts, with as many as five quarterbacks going in the first round of some drafts.
Of course, it's also possible that you'll be left holding the proverbial bag, because Vick can't post gaudy numbers if he's not on the field.
Even in Vick's top-five 2010 season, the 32-year-old missed four games, and only a perfect storm of high rushing stats and low turnovers saved Vick's fantasy bacon.
Last year, the perfect storm blew over, Vick missed three games and his fantasy production dropped considerably.
Vick has played 16 games only once in nine NFL seasons, and with it more likely than not that at some point he'll miss time, not only is Vick a risky fourth-round pick, but it's essential that you also secure a solid backup option at the quarterback position.
1. Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
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Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden has shown the ability to be a very productive fantasy back when he's on the field, as evidenced by his top-10 fantasy finish in 2010 and top-10 finish in fantasy points per game a year ago.
However, pigs, when equipped with wings, may well show the ability to fly.
We don't know because we've never seen it, and the same can be said for McFadden paying 16 games.
The nine games that McFadden missed last year means that McFadden has now averaged nearly five missed games per season over his four-year NFL career, and all the talent in the world is little good to your fantasy team if he's sitting on the bench.