Philly's LeSean McCoy (1,546 total yards in 2011) racked up 20 total touchdowns last year (17 rushing), tops among NFL rushers.
The following countdown touts my top 60 overall players in standard-scoring leagues, which now reflects the injury-related status drops for Cleveland's Trent Richardson (knee scope) and San Diego's Ryan Mathews (broken collarbone).
On the flip side, I've yet to severely penalize Maurice Jones-Drew, Mike Wallace and/or Dwayne Bowe for their respective contract disputes, but that could change soon.
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.
For a look at my updated Top 150 overall list, click here.
Enjoy the show!
The Next 10
61. WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles (left)
62. WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys
63. RB Beanie Wells, Cardinals
64. RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
65. RB C.J. Spiller, Bills
66. RB Doug Martin, Buccaneers
67. TE Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
68. RB Isaac Redman, Steelers
69. TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
70. WR Steve Johnson, Bills
2011 Stats: 1,019 Total Yards (640 Rushing), 3 TDs
Skinny: On the surface, Roy Helu at No. 60 seems like a reach, especially if Evan Royster and Tim Hightower are viable candidates to be the Redskins' opening-day starter at tailback.
But Helu corralled 1,019 total yards and three touchdowns out of only 200 touches (5.1 yards per touch); with 50 to 60 more touches—an ultra-conservative estimate for a high-end back—that's 1,300 easy yards!
I am supremely confident that Helu can take a big leap forward this season, but I'm also aware of Royster's development in the Redskins offense. I'm also cognizant of how many skilled offensive pieces Washington has, including QB Robert Griffin III.
Bottom line: For Helu to gain the ultimate respect in his second season, he must be a force around the goal line. Let's just hope the extra touches entail a bump in red-zone opportunities.
2011 Stats: 826 Total Yards (667 Rushing), 11 TDs
Skinny: The Bengals deserve credit for targeting only one premium free-agent back and landing him at a reasonable rate, even if I thought the runner would be Kentucky native Michael Bush.
But enough about Bears backups. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (24 TDs the last two seasons with New England) has a great opportunity to put up sizable numbers with the Bengals.
The club also has a solid offensive line, and opposing defenses should have their hands full confronting Andy Dalton, Jermaine Gresham and receiver A.J. Green, a superstar in the making.
Bottom line: The door is open for Green-Ellis to collect 1,130 total yards and nine touchdowns.
2011 Stats: 2,479 Yards Passing, 17 TDs (2 Rushing)
Skinny: Before I hand over a free pass to Matt Schaub for last year's incomplete stats from a truncated season (2,479 yards passing, 17 TDs in 10 starts), let's talk about the ridiculousness of his August standing on one average draft position chart.
On Mock Draft Central, Schaub currently stands as the No. 17 QB or 121st overall pick, a ranking unbecoming of a top-10 passing talent with regular access to a top-seven receiver (Andre Johnson) and top-three running back (Arian Foster).
Or, maybe I just imagined Schaub's prolific numbers from the 2009 and '10 seasons: 9,140 yards passing, 53 touchdowns and a 66 percent passing mark.
2011 Stats: 1,382 Total Yards (1,086 Rushing), 7 TD
Skinny: Reggie Bush garners inclusion here for two reasons, neither of which necessarily run in concert with his desire to win the NFL rushing title in 2012:
1. Four straight 100-yard rushing games (519 yards total) to close out the season.
2. The Dolphins have no big-time receiving options to steal the spotlight from Bush and No. 2 back Daniel Thomas. (Sorry, fans of Davone Bess, Legedu Naanee, Brian Hartline and Clyde Gates.)
But then again, perhaps Bush should be downgraded for having no other Miami stars to distract opposing defenses. It's important to remember that 2011 was Bush's first 1,000-yard rushing campaign.
He only had two outings of 50-plus receiving yards, as well.
2011 Stats: 60 Catches, 1,106 Yards, 9 TDs, 115 Targets
Skinny: Let's start with the bad news regarding Vincent Jackson's final season in San Diego:
1. He had one of the worst catch-per-target ratios of any elite receiver.
2. V-Jax had three games of four targets or less.
3. He crossed the elite PPR threshold of six catches, 100 yards and/or one TD only six times.
Now, let's focus on the positives that drive Jackson's sturdy ranking for 2012:
1. Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman will finish the season as a top-12 quarterback.
2. Teammate Mike Williams and explosive rookie tailback Doug Martin will garner plenty of attention from opposing defenses.
3. V-Jax is a lock for 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in any healthy season. He also has the capacity to carry fantasy teams to victory at least five weekends a year.
Skinny: The best fantasy template for Trent Richardson might be Adrian Peterson's rookie campaign of 2007.
During that preseason, Peterson's pre-draft value conservatively stood at No. 46, even though fantasy owners were aware of his immense upside.
Along those lines, fantasy owners may ultimately view Richardson's knee scope last week in a positive light, since it has tempered much of the absurd hype that followed the Cleveland rookie before training camp.
Even if Richardson (2,017 total yards, 24 TDs with Alabama last year) is ready for action in Week 1 or 2, the expectations for 2012 should remain modest, at best.
With that, the window is now open for savvy GMs to land Richardson sometime in the mid-to-late 40s.
2011 Stats: 55 Catches, 767 Yards, 8 TDs, 92 Targets
Skinny: Jermichael Finley is a safe bet to collect more yards and touchdowns than Tony Gonzalez and Brandon Pettigrew. He is also the likeliest of the trio to notch multiple TDs two or three times in 2012.
Last season, Finley crossed the elite PPR threshold of six catches, 75 yards and/or one touchdown seven times.
And this season, partly thanks to a productive offseason diet, Finley is now a healthy lock for 62 catches, 827 yards and nine TDs.
2011 Stats: 43 Catches, 579 Yards, 7 TDs, 73 Targets
Skinny: Before his hamstring injuries kicked in last season, Miles Austin pulled down 14 catches for 233 yards and four touchdowns for Weeks 1 and 2. He also averaged 12 targets per game during that stretch.
For the healthy seasons of 2009 and '10, Austin also averaged 75 catches, 1,181 yards, nine touchdowns and 122 targets.
It also helps that Tony Romo (4,184 passing yards, 31 TDs last season) boasts averages of 536 pass attempts and 29.5 passing TDs in his last two healthy campaigns (2009 and 2011).
But here's the rub: Heading into his age-28 season, Austin won't have the full support of fantasy GMs everywhere if he's continually sidelined by annoying hamstring episodes.
2011 Stats: 4,624 Yards Passing, 28 TDs (1 Rushing)
Skinny: Vincent Jackson may be property of the new-and-improved Bucs, but I'm willing to take a double leap of faith on Philip Rivers this season.
Rivers' final numbers from last year may have been OK, but he also had his worst completion percentage (62.9) and TD-INT ratio (27-20) in four years. The odds of back-to-back blah seasons are not very strong.
Next, it's time for Malcom Floyd (a must-have receiver in Round 9) and second-year wideout Vincent Brown to take sizable steps forward in V-Jax's absence. They're physical freaks with a lot to prove in 2012.
Speaking of which, I'm not sure how to react to Robert Meachem's coveted signing with San Diego. Take away his 21-catch, six-TD explosion from Weeks 9-13 of the 2009 season, and Meachem was a maddeningly inconsistent performer with catches, targets and receiving yards in New Orleans (2008-11).
One more reason for optimism about Rivers: Assuming he plays in at least 14 games, tailback Ryan Mathews (broken collarbone) is a solid bet for 1,250 total yards, eight touchdowns and 45 catches.
2011 Stats: 87 Catches, 967 Yards, 6 TDs, 120 Targets
Skinny: The receiving numbers don't tell the whole story here.
Percy Harvin also rushed the ball 52 times for 345 yards and two touchdowns last season, accounting for 1,312 total yards and eight TDs.
Progressing one step further, Harvin averaged seven catches, 79.1 yards, 0.75 TDs and 9.63 targets in his last eight games. That elite-level finish prompted this respectable overall ranking.
Bottom line: Harvin has enjoyed significant bumps in targets, catches and receiving yards the last two years, and yet he still has much room for growth.
2011 Stats: 64 Catches, 778 Yards, 7 TDs, 88 Targets
Skinny: Extrapolating Antonio Gates' 13-game numbers from last year for the full season, he would have finished with 80 catches, 957 yards, nine touchdowns and 108 targets.
In other words, even with persistent injuries in 2011, Gates was still on pace for a typical year of elite production.
For the season, Gates collected seven or more targets seven times. For the season, he crossed the elite PPR threshold of six catches, 75 yards and/or one touchdown eight times—for an overall success rate of 62 percent.
Bottom line: With Vincent Jackson no longer part of the Chargers, I would be shocked if a slimmer, healthier and more focused Gates didn't register double-digit touchdowns in 2012.
2011 Stats: 80 Catches, 1,143 Yards, 8 TDs, 107 Targets
It's hard to quantify how the Bountygate scandal—and subsequent suspension of head coach Sean Payton—will affect the Drew Brees/Marques Colston dynamic.
In the last three seasons, Colston has averaged 78 catches, 1,080 yards, eight TDs and 115 targets—all thanks to Brees.
And at age 29, this isn't the time to predict that Colston is headed for a seasonal slump or career breakthrough.
He's simply one of the most bankable No. 2 receivers in the marketplace.
2011 Stats: 1,546 Total Yards (1,091 Rushing), 6 TDs
Skinny: In my mind, there is no gray area with Ryan Mathews and his broken clavicle—an injury that occurred on his first preseason carry on Aug. 9.
For Rounds 1-3 of PPR drafts (non-keepers), he won't even be a consideration. That's the cold, hard truth of this setback.
Even if Mathews is ready to play by mid-September, he'll remain a prime candidate for re-injury every time he takes a clean, above-the-waist blast from a remorseless defender or crumples to the turf off a standard hard tackle. And no doctor in the world could probably guarantee otherwise.
If healthy, Mathews would have been a reasonable lock for 1,600 total yards and nine touchdowns; for PPR leagues, he might have finished the season as a top-five tailback.
2011 Stats: 79 Catches, 910 Yards, 7 TDs, 113 Targets
Skinny: It seems out of whack to include two guys of the same position the same team in a top-50 countdown of fantasy's most dynamic talents.
But who could possibly formulate an argument against Hernandez at this spot?
In just 14 games last year, Hernandez (79 catches, 910 yards, seven TDs) ranked among the top eight in receptions, yards, touchdowns and targets (113).
For seven weekends, he also carried his fantasy owners to victory.
Bottom line: Hernandez is the perfect cog in the Patriots' offensive attack, and his fantasy ceiling has yet to be determined.
2010 Stats: 4,700 Yards Passing, 33 TDs (with Indy)
Skinny: Peyton Manning may be on the short list of greatest QBs in NFL history, but that doesn't foster much clarity when projecting the season ahead.
Yes, Manning has two formidable receivers (Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker), two productive tight ends (Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen) and three intriguing running backs (Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman), but who's to say how Manning will function in a new city, with a new club, new coaches and a seemingly good-as-new neck in the short term?
At age 36 and with little wear and tear (from the shoulders on down, at least), Manning has the capacity for five or six wonderful seasons in Denver, culminating with sustained playoff runs and maybe even another Super Bowl berth.
But for this year, I have no choice but to invoke a conservative tone with Manning and his on-the-fly adjustments to factors that can no longer be harnessed by the climate-controlled environment of Indy's Lucas Oil Stadium.
2011 Stats: 81 Catches, 1,159 Yards, 5 TDs, 142 Targets
Skinny: Citing mock drafts and the numerous publications devoted to this fantasy season, I'm sensing a general lack of respect for Dwayne Bowe's talents.
To counter that, I have no dissenting opinions of this supreme talent in his athletic prime. In fact, I may be Bowe's biggest fan among the "guru" circuit.
Last season, Bowe posted 10 games of nine-plus targets despite the club's injury-related problems at quarterback. That figure trumps the targets production of his 15-TD campaign in 2010.
In a four-week span with Matt Cassel at quarterback (Weeks 2-5 last year), Bowe also tallied 21 catches, 403 yards, four touchdowns and 34 targets.
Bottom line: Bowe has been remarkably consistent in targets, catches and receiving yards the last two seasons. The only wild momentum swing lies with touchdowns, and Bowe is a better bet for 15 TDs than five in 2012.
2011 Stats: 4,177 Yards Passing, 31 TDs (2 Rushing)
Skinny: Would it be a stretch to hail Matt Ryan as the Cole Hamels of fantasy football—a consistent, stellar force who's too quiet for his own good?
From a big-picture standpoint, Ryan has evolved into an annual threat for 4,200 yards passing and 30 touchdowns.
But here's why he'll garner a ranking ahead of Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers in August:
Of Ryan's three sub-200-yard passing games last year, he accounted for four, two and two TDs, respectively, essentially wiping out any weekly cries of mediocrity.
Bottom line: Ryan has officially earned his wings as a fantasy ace. It also helps that he has the NFL's No. 1 or No. 2 WR/WR/TE combo—Roddy White (100 catches, 1,296 yards, 8 TDs last year), Julio Jones (54 catches, 959 yards, 8 TDs in just 13 games) and Tony Gonzalez—in close proximity with the Packers' own vaunted trio.
One last thing: The Falcons will likely be the only NFL team to have 16 ideal-weather games for the regular season. That's a nice tiebreaker between Ryan and Philip Rivers.
2011 Stats: 76 Catches, 1,192 Yards, 7 TDs, 133 Targets
Skinny: My targets bias shines through with Hakeem Nicks, my No. 4 receiver during the spring, before a broken foot (and subsequent surgery) dropped him in that countdown.
During the 2011 regular season, Nicks attracted seven-plus targets in 12 games, including six straight from Weeks 11-16. He also crossed the magical threshold of six catches, 100 yards and/or one touchdown 11 times—a golden figure for those in PPR leagues.
In four playoff games last year, Nicks also tallied 28 catches, 43 targets, 444 yards and four TDs—numbers befitting of a fantasy anchor in standard-scoring and PPR leagues.
2011 Stats: 67 Catches, 792 Yards, 6 TDs, 95 Targets
Skinny: Vernon Davis earned this lofty ranking on the strength of two monster playoff games last year (10 catches, 292 yards, four TDs)—not necessarily the regular-season stats that preceded the explosion (67 catches, 792 yards, six TDs).
For the regular season, Davis collected seven-plus targets seven times. In that span, he also crossed the elite PPR threshold of six catches, 75 yards and/or one touchdown seven times.
Davis's status also comes with the assumption that receivers Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss won't drastically cut into Vernon's red-zone opportunities, a reasonable assertion with QB Alex Smith orchestrating the San Francisco attack.
2011 Stats: 81 Catches, 1,214 Yards, 6 TDs, 141 Targets
Skinny: Traded to the Bears during the offseason, Brandon Marshall has been reunited with QB Jay Cutler and offensive guru Jeremy Bates.
In 2008 with Denver, Marshall caught 104 balls—and attracted a career-best 182 targets—with Cutler and Bates orchestrating the Broncos offense.
It's a stark contrast from last season. With little help at receiver, Marshall collected eight or more targets 12 times with the Dolphins, but finished with only 81 catches.
Bottom line: I refuse to believe that, heading into his age-28 season, Marshall will never sniff 100 receptions again.
And with the Bears' array of talented playmakers (Matt Forte, Michael Bush, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Alshon Jeffery), Marshall likely won't encounter a double-team on first down all season.
2011 Stats: 1,265 Total Yards (1,054 Rushing), 6 TDs
Skinny: I like Shonn Greene's chances of finishing at or above 1,265 total yards (last year's figure), but I'll be (pleasantly) surprised if he registers seven or more touchdowns.
That's the consequence of the Jets needlessly trading for backup QB Tim Tebow, who will undoubtedly be used in short-yardage and goal-line situations this season.
(Why else would the club want him? Round-the-clock attention during training camp? Oh wait, never mind.)
But hey, Greene still can be a force between the 20s and in midrange red-zone scenarios. Perhaps he'll even score a touchdown or two from beyond 25 yards—something he failed to do in 2011.
2011 Stats: 1,313 Total Yards (603 Rushing), 9 TDs
Skinny: This ranking is considerably lower than the elite status Darren Sproles (111 targets) enjoyed at the end of last season.
But there is one obvious factor working against Sproles replicating 1,300 total yards or 86 receptions (a career high): the year-long absence of Saints head coach/play-caller extraordinaire Sean Payton.
Regardless of who mimics Payton on the play-calling end—even QB Drew Brees—it's hard to imagine Sproles being as explosive this year.
But it'll be close.
Plus, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas will hopefully remain healthy and productive all season.
2011 Stats: 4,184 Yards Passing, 32 TDs (1 Rushing)
Skinny: I'll leave the "Who's the better real-world QB—Tony Romo or Eli Manning?" debate to lazy sports-radio and TV hosts.
From a fantasy standpoint, I only care that Romo attempted 30 or more passes 13 times last season (15 full games).
I care that Romo has per-game averages of 22.5 completions, 263.1 passing yards and 1.95 touchdowns in his last 22 games (covering 2010/11).
I care that Romo has five big weapons (when healthy) at his disposal entering training camp: Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten and Felix Jones.
And I care about Romo being a full-season lock for 4,100 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Put it all together, and fantasy owners should have their pick of the NFC East's three top quarterbacks in Rounds 3 and 4. It's a nice carrot that comes with focusing on tailbacks and receivers with the initial two or three draft picks.
2011 Stats: 65 Catches, 1,057 Yards, 7 TDs, 115 Targets
Skinny: I have three viable reasons for attaching a modest preseason ranking to A.J. Green—one obvious and two that may become abundantly clear to fantasy gurus by October.
For starters, the overall depth at receiver has blossomed to previously unforeseen levels. There isn't a fantasy dog on this list.
In previous seasons, a stud athlete coming off a rookie campaign of four 100-yard games and seven touchdowns would be a top-10 consideration. But in Green's case, it's merely the foundation that guarantees him a spot in the top 16.
Now for the second part: With Jerome Simpson running routes for the Vikings, the Bengals are in dire need of a consistently productive No. 2 receiver, a vacancy that Brandon Tate, Jordan Shipley, Armon Binns and rookie Mohamed Sanu will attempt to fill. In the meantime, Green is bound to see plenty of double-teams.
One more thing: The Bengals' 2012 schedule, from the perspective of opposing pass defenses, might be the toughest in the entire NFL. Two dates with the Steelers, Ravens and Browns, followed by clashes with the Redskins, Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Broncos, Dolphins and Chiefs.
Bottom line: For 2013 and beyond, I love Green's prospects for becoming a top-10 fantasy receiver. But for the upcoming season, I simply prefer a big cluster of wideouts ahead of him.
2011 Stats: 79 Catches, 1,394 Yards, 7 TDs, 129 Targets
Skinny: Steve Smith collected seven or more targets in 14 games last season, tops among all NFL receivers.
He also crossed the magical threshold of six catches, 100 yards and/or one touchdown in 10 games, something he hadn't accomplished in three years prior.
Unlike seasons past, the Panthers' secondary wave of supporting playmakers (Brandon LaFell, Louis Murphy, pass-friendly running back Mike Tolbert) is formidable enough to provide tailbacks Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams with wider rushing lanes.
Their presence should also help eliminate Smith double-teams during obvious passing downs. The way I see it, that feather in Smith's cap trumps any age-related concerns (he's 33).
2011 Stats: 1,109 Total Yards (970 Rushing), 13 TDs in 12 games
Skinny: This ranking may seem like a cop-out since I've already made the decision to pass on Adrian Peterson until Round 5 of all 12-team drafts, regardless of scoring rules.
By extension, it essentially guarantees that I won't have Peterson (44 TDs from 2009-11) in any of my 11 fantasy leagues.
But the man has certainly earned the right to be among the top 35 players. He's also earned the benefit of the doubt when vowing to be ready for Week 1 action.
When healthy, Peterson (6,752 career rushing yards, 67 total TDs) is a top-five back in standard-scoring circles. In fact, he'll probably reclaim that honor in August 2013.
2011 Stats: 68 Catches, 1,263 Yards, 15 TDs, 96 Targets
Skinny: Jordy Nelson crossed the elite PPR threshold of six catches, 100 yards and/or one touchdown 10 times last season. He also recorded 10 games of six or more receiving targets.
And with four multiple-touchdown games last year, Nelson has a proven track record of carrying fantasy teams to victory in head-to-head matchups.
Bottom line: If Nelson can rack up double-digit touchdowns for back-to-back campaigns, he'll have no problem achieving top-seven status by season's end.
Here's the rub: On the heels of 15 out-of-nowhere TDs, Nelson might have to pay a Victor Cruz-like tax of mild disrespect heading into this season. It's the prudent response for a player who posted five touchdowns of 50-plus yards last year—and yet had only one 10-target game and zero days of 10 or more receptions.
2011 Stats: 72 Catches, 1,193 Yards, 8 TDs, 114 Targets
Skinny: Mike Wallace crossed the elite PPR threshold of six catches, 100 yards and/or one TD nine times in his first 12 games last year.
(It's no coincidence that Walllace's production dipped after QB Ben Roethlisberger was greatly hindered by a Week 14 leg injury against Cleveland.)
With Pittsburgh's full complement of healthy playmakers, Wallace had per-game averages of five catches, 96.4 yards and 0.6 touchdowns from Weeks 1-9 last season. Of equal importance, he accomplished that on only 7.1 targets per start.
Bottom line: I will be shocked if Wallace (18 TDs from 2010-11) doesn't register double-digit touchdowns this year.
2011 Stats: 3,303 Yards Passing, 19 TD (1 Rushing)
Skinny: There's a reason why ESPN fantasy guru Matthew Berry had Michael Vick listed as the No. 1 overall talent during the 2011 preseason.
Vick is quite possibly the NFL's most gifted athlete—even in his 30s—and plays in a progressive offense with LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson, among others.
When healthy, Vick has the capacity for 4,800 total yards and 30 TDs, but that's the whole crux of the matter.
Would it be callous to believe Vick won't start and finish all 16 games? I'm never one to assume injuries, but Vick only has one 16-game season on his resume (2006 with Atlanta).
Verdict: The idyllic guru in me wants to rank Vick at as the No. 6 quarterback, but the rational, track record-oriented guru in me wants to attach a No. 10 or 11 ranking.
As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
2011 Stats: 67 Catches, 949 Yards, 9 TDs, 101 Targets
Skinny: If Greg Jennings (13 games played) had been healthy for all 16 games last year, he likely would have matched or eclipsed personal bests in targets (125) and receptions (80).
But in some respects, it didn't matter anyway.
Jennings crossed the elite PPR threshold of six catches, 100 yards and/or one TD in 12 of 13 games—the best ratio of his stellar career.
He also proffered seven games of eight-plus targets last season, including four outings of double-digit targets.
Bottom line: I would be surprised if Jennings didn't eclipse 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012. He's the perfect complement to Aaron Rodgers in Round 4.
2011 Stats: 1,080 Total Yards (897 Rushing), 2 TDs
Skinny: From Weeks 7-12 last year (a six-game span), DeMarco Murray amassed 915 total yards and two touchdowns.
If he had finished the season with that stellar run, he'd be a top-10 overall pick in standard-scoring and PPR leagues.
But that's not how the world of fantasy works sometimes.
Instead of being a Round 1 selection and gracing the cover of fantasy magazines everywhere, Murray will have to sing for his "elite" supper once again in 2012 while being flanked by Felix Jones in the backfield.
On the bright side, Murray averaged five receiving targets during that six-week blitz. That's a healthy figure for a rookie or any other young back on the precipice of rushing-receiving fame.
2011 Stats: 4,933 Yards Passing, 30 TDs (1 Rushing)
Skinny: From Weeks 4-15 last year (spanning 11 games), Eli Manning averaged 40.36 passes per outing, a dream figure for fantasy owners who worship at the church of More Reps, Bigger Numbers with quarterbacks.
On that alone, Eli deserves to be recognized as a top-six quarterback and top-30 overall asset in the August drafts, regardless of scoring or how the Giants might handle the rigors of repeating as Super Bowl champs.
Obviously, if Manning wasn't an efficient passer, we wouldn't put so much stock in attempts. But he had nine separate games of 60-percent proficiency last year.
Of equal importance, he crossed the weekly star threshold of 275 total yards and/or three touchdowns 10 times—the requisite amount of an elite passer.
2011 Stats: 54 Catches, 989 Yards, 8 TDs, 94 Targets
Skinny: Last year, while sharing the receiving duties with Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez, among others, Julio Jones still drew seven-plus targets seven times.
He even reached double figures three times, including a 17-target explosion against Seattle (11 catches for 127 yards).
And in his final six games, Jones racked up 31 catches, 525 yards, six TDs and 51 targets—for per-outing averages of five catches, 87 yards, one TD and 8.5 targets.
Put it all together, and Jones is a prime candidate to take another leap forward in his second season.
It's the natural progression of a skillful athlete who, as a 13-game rookie wideout in 2011, accomplished more than Jerry Rice (1985), Larry Fitzgerald (2004) and Calvin Johnson (2007) in their inaugural NFL seasons.
2011 Stats: 926 Total Yards (659 Rushing), 11 TDs
Skinny: Throughout the spring and summer, I harbored mild resentment toward Ahmad Bradshaw for the unpardonable sin of (ahem, allegedly) missing curfew and getting suspended for a good chunk of Giants-Cowboys in Week 14—the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
But given the recent surgeries of Ryan Mathews (collarbone) and Trent Richardson (knee) and general uncertainty surrounding Detroit's Jahvid Best (concussion), Bradshaw has suddenly earned a battlefield promotion back into my fantasy heart...and the top 30 in standard-scoring leagues.
It also helps that Bradshaw has per-season averages of 1,238 total yards and 9.5 TDs this decade.
2011 Stats: 1,325 Total Yards (1,211 Rushing), 8 TDs
Skinny: Frank Gore had a fantastic 2011 campaign, but things may be a little different at old/new Candlestick Park this fall.
For starters, the 49ers have upgraded the receivers, adding Mario Manningham, A.J. Jenkins and Randy Moss to the mix.
Next up, Gore, Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and rookie LaMichael James might comprise the NFL's best (and only) four-man backfield.
If that weren't enough, there's the little matter of playoff hero Vernon Davis reclaiming his standing as a premium red-zone target.
Bottom line: If you're going to draft Gore in Round 4, reward yourself with the handcuff of Jacobs or Hunter sometime in Rounds 10-13.
2011 Stats: 1,508 Total Yards (1,340 Rushing), 11 TDs
Skinny: Michael Turner has a grand total of 40 catches in four seasons with the Falcons (2008-11), which likely explains the Grand Canyon-size gulf between his pre-draft value in standard-scoring (late in Round 2) and PPR leagues (Round 5).
But there are some positives to consider here: Last year, Turner posted his third season of 1,300 rushing yards since 2008. He also tallied career highs in targets (26), catches (17) and receiving yards (168).
And until proven otherwise, Turner (50 TDs in four years) will be considered a healthy lock for 1,200 yards or double-digit touchdowns.
2011 Stats: 33 Catches, 492 Yards, 2 TDs, 51 Targets
Skinny: Heading into his age-31 season, Andre Johnson is not on the brink of a steep decline.
Extrapolating his per-game averages over the last two seasons (20 games total), Johnson is in line for 96 catches, 1,366 yards and eight TDs in 2012. That's hardly an out-to-pasture projection for a borderline Hall of Famer.
In his five healthiest games last year (Weeks 1-3 and Houston's two playoff games), Johnson also drew 56 targets and caught 34 balls for 517 yards and three touchdowns—with per-game averages of 11.1 targets, 6.9 receptions, 103.4 yards and 0.6 TDs.
So far, so good, huh?
It's not all roses and lollipops when discussing Johnson's situation, though.
The Texans still haven't fielded any significant upgrades at receiver. Kevin Walter, Lestar Jean, DeVier Posey, Keshawn Martin and Jeff Maehl simply won't command the lion's share of targets over Johnson, via QB Matt Schaub.
For once, it would be nice if Johnson had a receiving distraction on the other side of the field.
2011 Stats: 82 Catches, 1,536 Yards, 9 TDs, 131 Targets
Skinny: Let's begin with the sobering news: Victor Cruz is a long shot to replicate his 2011 run of five touchdowns from 68 yards or longer.
But there are a handful of positives to derive from, supporting this lofty ranking in the countdown:
1. Cruz posted 12 games of eight targets or more last year—including 10 straight from Weeks 8-17.
2. QB Eli Manning had per-game averages of 36.8 pass attempts last season, a figure that hovered above 40 after Week 4. Unless the Giants have big plans for running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and rookie David Wilson (in the neighborhood of 40 combined carries), Cruz will again be a major factor in the weekly game plan.
3. If teammate Hakeem Nicks (broken foot) should miss two, four or six games to start the season (via the PUP list), I will buy Cruz's capacity for 85 catches, 10 TDs and 131 targets—no strings attached.
2011 Stats: 99 Catches, 1,310 Yards, 11 TDs, 149 Targets
Skinny: Instead of listing Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham as Nos. 1 and 2 in PPR rankings, the more appropriate classification should be "1" and "1A."
How else would one characterize the greatness of Graham and his Wes Welker-esque 149 targets last season?
Including the Saints' two playoff games last season, Graham was a perfect 18-for-18 in registering seven or more targets per game. Quite simply, that prodigious run may never be replicated in NFL circles.
For the regular season, Graham crossed the elite TE threshold of six catches, 75 yards and/or one touchdown 14 times—tops among all NFL tight ends.
2011 Stats: 100 Catches, 1,296 Yards, 8 TDs, 179 Targets
Skinny: Roddy White's per-season averages from 2010-11 are the stuff of PPR legend—108 catches, 1,343 yards, nine touchdowns and an absurdly high, but remarkably consistent 179 targets.
But how does that translate to standard-scoring leagues this season, especially with Julio Jones vaulting up the ranks of NFL receivers?
Including the Falcons' playoff loss to the Giants, White collected nine or more targets 14 times last season—and double-digit targets for six straight games (Weeks 11-16). He also crossed the elite PPR threshold of six catches, 100 yards and/or one touchdown 11 times.
On the flip side, White had a 17-game streak of nine or fewer catches from 2010-11, the type of quirky, face-cringing run that gives one temporary pause when conceiving top-20 overall rankings.
Fingers crossed on Roddy keeping up with the fantasy elite for another campaign.
2011 Stats: 1,478 Total Yards (1,145 Rushing), 6 TDs
Skinny: The Rams should be commended for drafting University of Cincinnati standout Isaiah Pead (1,578 total yards, 15 TDs last year) in April, creating the illusion that Steven Jackson's per-game workload would be reduced in his ninth NFL season.
But we all know where things are headed for 2012.
While the Rams sort out their huddled mass of receiving candidates—it's anyone's guess for Nos. 1 through 7 on the depth chart—they'll ultimately lean on S-Jax for another season.
And why wouldn't they? Jackson is easily their most reliable weapon in the red zone.
He'd also be a good bet for 50 catches if the Rams chose to prioritize him in the passing game.
2011 Stats: 80 Catches, 1,411 Yards, 8 TDs, 154 Targets
Skinny: Just three weeks ago, I boldly declared there was a zero-percent chance of Larry Fitzgerald falling below the 90-catch line in 2012.
But that was before Kevin Kolb and John Skelton launched the ugliest quarterback duel for a playoff-contending team since the 2000 Ravens leaned on Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer.
(Don't expect Arizona to win a Super Bowl this season, a la Baltimore 12 seasons ago.)
And now, I'm left with the awkward position of believing Fitzgerald is the No. 2 wide receiver in standard-scoring leagues...but also knowing that any sane person would choose Tom Brady/Wes Welker over Kolb/Fitzgerald or Skelton/Fitzgerald.
2010 Stats: 1,935 Total Yards (1,467 Rushing), 8 TDs
Skinny: On pure talent alone, Charles is a Round 1 fixture, but some owners may be skittish to reach for him on draft day, citing his ACL tear in Week 2 against Detroit last year while also wondering how RB Peyton Hillis (free-agent acquisition) might cut into Charles' rushing and receiving attempts.
Of course, these may be the same owners champing at the bit for Adrian Peterson's return—even though Charles had a three-month head start of recovery time. Go figure.
Bottom line: If you believe Charles can quickly recapture his old speed, quickness and explosion, you'll be happy to invest a low Round 2 pick. If you're worried about his capacity to carry the Chiefs offense, then take your chances on Round 3.
Fingers crossed on that gamble paying off.
2011 Stats: 122 Catches, 1,573 Yards, 9 TDs, 173 Targets
Skinny: I'm on record for saying that Welker won't replicate last year's output in receptions (122) and receiving yards (1,573).
But that isn't a slight toward the Patriots star in any way.
Do you know what it takes to average 122 catches and 1,573 yards? That's 7.6 catches and 98.3 yards per game—regardless of weather conditions, game flow or defensive matchups.
Amazingly, Welker caught 122 balls last season despite only three double-digit efforts with receptions. He also collected eight or more targets 14 times, and during the playoffs, Welker had per-game averages of 7.66.
Bottom line: Welker has a long-standing track record of success in one of the NFL's most explosive offenses. At the bare minimum, he's a healthy lock 109 catches, 1,263 yards, seven TDs and 148 targets.
2011 Stats: 1,376 Total Yards (934 Rushing), 6 TDs in 10 games
Skinny: Fred Jackson was the AFC's leading rusher at the time of his season-ending injury (leg), a setback that helped perpetuate the Bills' late slide in 2011.
Backup C.J. Spiller filled the void admirably, leading some to wonder if he was finally ready to assume the No. 1 rushing duties.
That sounds great for offseason chatter, but Buffalo execs are probably more comfortable with a two-back attack, with Jackson having the bigger name on the marquee for now.
After all, that should always be a courtesy extended to backs averaging 137.6 total yards per game—a figure that's eerily similar to the No. 4 overall asset in our countdown.
2011 Stats: 4,051 Yards Passing, 35 TDs (14 Rushing)
Skinny: Here's the deal with Cam Newton heading into 2012:
Even if he's not a lock to replicate last year's output in total yards (4,757) or touchdowns (35), every fantasy owner—at least those who haven't already drafted Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady—should feel obligated to grab him in Rounds 2 or 3...because of last season's mind-blowing rookie numbers.
The individual highlights are staggering: Two 400-yard passing outings in Weeks 1 and 2 (an NFL rookie record), 10 games of 30 or more passes, 12 games of 275 total yards and/or three touchdowns, seven rushing TDs from two yards or less and a rock-solid completion mark (60 percent).
And Newton accomplished all this without a full offseason of film prep and practice reps (due to the lockout) or a viable No. 2 receiver during the season (after Steve Smith, of course).
To err is human. To assume that Cam Newton isn't a top-five fantasy QB borders on absurd.
2011 Stats: 1,416 Total Yards (1,204 Rushing), 13 TDs
Skinny: Marshawn Lynch recorded career highs in rushing yards (1,204), total yards (1,416), carries (285), touches (313) and total scores (13) in 2011 on the strength of only one game of 30-plus touches.
That tells me the 26-year-old Lynch has the potential for yet another leap in his fantasy development this season, complementing the Seahawks' savvy offseason signing of QB Matt Flynn.
The key to Lynch's success may depend on another addition of years past—wide receiver Sidney Rice.
If Rice can stay healthy and continue to stretch opponents' defensive alignments—in a way that Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens no longer can—it should help create more running lanes for a back who's been reborn (at least on the field) in the Pacific Northwest.
Regarding his fate with the NFL's discipline committee in the wake of a DUI arrest during the summer, we'll cross that bridge later.
2011 Stats: 90 catches, 1,327 yards, 18 TDs (1 Rushing)
Skinny: If Rob Gronkowski had played in only eight regular-season games (first half/second half—no matter), he'd still be an outside candidate for the top spot among tight ends.
Is Gronkowski (27 TDs in two seasons) a Round 1 pick in standard-scoring leagues? That's debatable.
But he has certainly earned the right to be a comfy Round 2 selection, essentially going one or two rounds higher than Antonio Gates in his draft heyday (2004-06).
The glowing praise notwithstanding, fantasy owners should have a little perspective on Gronk's value.
He probably won't catch 90 balls or rack up multiple touchdowns eight times. Anything just short of that, however, would still be worthy of a top-15 overall ranking.
2011 Stats: 768 Total Yards (614 Rushing), 5 TDs in seven games
Skinny: This ranking will probably draw catcalls from both ends, with some saying Darren McFadden (768 total yards, five TDs in seven games last year) is too injury-prone to be a top-12 asset, with others declaring that, when healthy, D-Mac is more bankable than Matt Forte or Chris Johnson.
For the most part, both sides would be correct...although I would classify Lisfranc foot injuries as freak occurrences, not the calling card of players who can't stay on the field.
Assuming full health, McFadden should have a monster season with the Raiders. Michael Bush is gone (so no more vulture TDs), and Mike Goodson currently stands as the main backup.
Throw in the fact that opposing defenses will have to respect a Raiders quarterback for once (Carson Palmer), and McFadden should be a fantasy force, per usual.
2011 Stats: 1,980Total Yards (1,606 Rushing), 8 TDs
Games of 5 Catches, 90 Total Yards and/or 1 TD: 15
Skinny: It's upsetting to downgrade Maurice Jones-Drew (the NFL's reigning rushing king) on the rationale of a simple contract dispute.
But heading into the second round of preseason games, we're getting perilously close to that danger zone of wondering whether MJD (six consecutive years of 300-plus yards receiving) will partake in any August practices with the Jaguars.
If MJD was familiar with the offensive scheme of new head coach Mike Mularkey, perhaps I'd let slide things for another week or two.
But when compared to Matt Forte and/or Chris Johnson, I'll take the safer options right now.
2011 Stats: 5,239 Yards Passing, 42 TDs (3 Rushing)
Skinny: As someone who has Tom Brady earmarked for a minimum threshold of 4,750 passing yards and 38 touchdowns, along with a top-four ranking among QBs, I've caught plenty of guff for pointing out the following facts:
1. It took 10 full NFL seasons for Brady to eclipse the 5,000-yard passing mark.
2. Brady's three greatest performances from 2011 occurred in Weeks 1-3—and in descending order.
3. In Brady's illustrious career, he has enjoyed a seasonal improvement in touchdown passes only three times.
In other words, Brady (who turns 35 in August) may be a first-ballot, no-brainer choice for the Hall of Fame (sometime around 2024), but he's hardly a lock to match or eclipse last year's amazing numbers—even with the presence of Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch as receiving targets.
Completion percentage aside, Brady has a history of wild statistical swings from year to year, so much that he's had a plus-minus differential of 15 completions and/or pass attempts just once—from 2005 to 2006.
2011 Stats: 5,083 Yards Passing, 41 TDs
Skinny: Before we proceed with this stanza, let me reiterate that it does not matter if you prefer Tom Brady, Cam Newton or Matthew Stafford at the No. 3 QB slot. It also doesn't matter if you'd rather have Stafford, Brady or Newton at No. 2, ahead of Drew Brees.
Just grab an elite quarterback early and then concentrate on the truly vital components of a standard-scoring or PPR draft: the five running backs and five receivers on your roster.
That aside, there is nothing to dislike about Stafford's fantasy profile.
He crossed the magical threshold of 5,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns before his 24th birthday. He threw at least one touchdown in all 16 games. He amassed 350-plus passing yards seven times last season—including four straight to finish the year.
(Similar props to Calvin Johnson and his 96 catches, 1,681 yards and 16 TDs last season.)
Even in moments of failure, Stafford still reigns supreme on the fantasy end. In his four-interception clunker against Chicago last year, the Lions star threw for 308 yards, one touchdown and helped "Bears D/ST" owners everywhere with a pair of pick-six interception returns.
He's the fantasy gift that keeps on giving.
2011 Stats: 1,487 Total Yards (997 Rushing), 4 TDs in 12 games
Games of 5 Catches, 90 Total Yards and/or 1 TD: 10
Skinny: Of the top eight tailbacks in this countdown, Matt Forte is the only one who endured a four-game stretch without 100 total yards last year.
Normally, that wouldn't be such a deal-breaker, but we're talking about Forte and his 7.1 TDs per season.
On the flip side, Forte should firmly rank as the No. 5 tailback and a Round 1 lock in 12-team drafts. If healthy, he would have flirted with 2,000 total yards in 2011.
2011 Stats: 1,465 Total Yards (1,047 Rushing), 4 TDs
Games of 5 Catches, 90 Total Yards and/or 1 TD: 11
Skinny: Most fantasy owners would throw a parade for a running back with 1,465 total yards, but that was hardly the case with Chris Johnson's 2011 campaign.
From his high-profile holdout and lack of conditioning during the preseason to the September slump and four total touchdowns, it was a turbulent season full of sound and fury, but ultimately signifying nothing.
But the year was not a total loss. Johnson posted seven games of 100 total yards or more; he also recorded career highs in targets (79) and receptions (57).
Put it all together, and it's enough to make one believe the 26-year-old speedster will rebound in a major way this season. He simply has too much talent to be just...above average.
2011 Stats: 5,476 Yards Passing, 47 TDs (1 Rushing)
Skinny: Last time I checked, Brees was the only quarterback in NFL history with two separate campaigns of 5,000 yards passing. He's also on the very short list of NFL legends to register 33 or more passing touchdowns in four consecutive seasons.
And while it's true his greatest success occurred with Sean Payton calling plays in New Orleans, the foundation of a dynamic offensive attack remains in the Crescent City with Brees, Darren Sproles, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael.
So please, over the next few weeks, don't deviate from ranking Brees as the No. 2 or 3 fantasy quarterback (depending on your love of Tom Brady)...and please don't try to find some hidden meaning from NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock's seemingly innocuous comment during the Hall of Fame Game:
Brees may be a better quarterback this year, even if the stats don't reflect that.
In my mind, a "bad" season for Brees still calls for 4,600 yards passing and 37 touchdowns.
2011 Stats: 96 Catches, 1,681 Yards, 16 TDs, 158 Targets
Skinny: Do we really need to list reasons why Calvin is the No. 1 target among receivers, regardless of scoring format? OK, here goes:
1. Calvin passed the elite PPR threshold of six catches, 100 yards and/or one touchdown 14 times last season—tops among all NFL receivers. And yes, it helped Johnson's cause that he recorded 11 touchdowns in the first eight games, momentarily getting ahead of the pace for Randy Moss' seasonal record of 23 receiving TDs (2007).
2. Johnson led the NFL with eight games of 100-plus receiving yards last season. In fact, for three of the Lions' final four games—including the playoff loss to New Orleans—Calvin ridiculously amassed 200 yards.
3. For what it's worth, Johnson is perhaps the biggest, fastest and strongest receiver in the game today. And heading into his age-27 season, it's scary to think Calvin could dominate in a similar fashion for the next six or seven years.
2011 Stats: 2,068 Total Yards (1,364 Rushing), 15 TDs
Games of 5 Catches, 90 Total Yards and/or 1 TD: 15
Skinny: In his four pro seasons, Ray Rice has developed a pattern of 2,000 total yards and 70-plus catches in odd-numbered years, with totals short of that in even-numbered ones.
Using that convoluted logic, Rice likely won't become just the 10th running back in NFL history to cross the 2,000-yard threshold in consecutive years.
That aside, Rice is still a kingpin in PPR circles. He's the only tailback that's a lock for 60 catches, 1,700 total yards and double-digit scores.
2011 Stats: 4,643 Yards Passing, 48 TDs (3 Rushing)
Skinny: Anyone who can pull a de facto Dan Marino, circa 1984, and rack up 48 total touchdowns (45 passing) in his relative prime deserves a plum spot in the top three.
In fact, Rodgers' 15-game contribution in 2011 might have been the most efficient season of any quarterback in NFL history:
1. 16 straight games of a positive TD-INT ratio (including the playoffs).
2. 12 games of 300 total yards or more and 10 outings of at least three touchdowns.
3. Zero games of two or more interceptions.
Yes, history has shown that quarterbacks who throw 45 or more TDs one year endure a noticeable dip the following season...but it's still not enough to bump Rodgers from the highest perch of an impressive class of elite passers.
After all, he has three of the NFL's best receiving targets to work with (Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley), and he's blessed to have a head coach/offensive guru (Mike McCarthy) who's not afraid to keep the proverbial pedal on the medal.
2011 Stats: 1,841 Total Yards (1,224 Rushing), 12 TDs in 13 games
Games of 5 Catches, 90 Total Yards and/or 1 TD: 11
Skinny: Since there are no obvious flaws in Arian Foster's fantasy game, we'll have to nitpick our way through this rationalization of the No. 2 ranking:
1. The Texans offensive line (sans Eric Winston) is largely anonymous to NFL fans living outside the metro Houston area.
2. A healthy Andre Johnson (hamstring woes all of last season) will get his fair share of red-zone opportunities once again.
3. Despite catching 53 balls and attracting 72 targets last season, Foster has a zero percent chance of collecting two receiving TDs of 78 yards or more in 2012.
But all is not lost for Foster. He might be the next member of the 2,000 yards from scrimmage club.
2011 Stats: 1,624 Total Yards (1,309 Rushing), 20 TDs
Games of 5 Catches, 90 Total Yards and/or 1 TD: 14
Skinny: LeSean McCoy is not likely to replicate his 20 total touchdowns (17 rushing) from last year, but he is a great candidate to eclipse 1,624 total yards—which included 11 games of 90-plus total yards.
In fact, I'll be shocked if "Shady" comes in under the 1,750-yard threshold, a testament to his expanding role in the Eagles offense.
From a PPR standpoint, McCoy drew five or more targets seven times last season. He also was perfect in the first 14 games of the season in racking up five catches, 90 total yards and/or one TD.
And from a standard-scoring standpoint, I like McCoy for 16 touchdowns by season's end.