Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 100 Players of 2012

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2012

Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 100 Players of 2012

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    Fantasy football drafts are in full bloom, and football season is around the corner. Who are this year's top fantasy players? Here are my top 100 fantasy players after the third preseason week.

    These rankings are based on the following criteria:

    Standard scoring—no points per reception, four points per passing touchdown, etc.

    Some principles of value-based drafting (VBD)—quarterbacks and tight ends tend to be ranked lower because of various factors, including positional scarcity and scoring system.

    Lack of information—we do not know who might be suspended or get injured in the final week of the preseason.

100. Greg Little

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    He dropped 14 passes in 2011. He has a rookie quarterback. What makes Little a viable fantasy option this season?

    Quite simply, he will be the main receiver in town. Brandon Weeden has targeted Little often this preseason, and he will continue to do so throughout the season. If they ever click, some good fantasy weeks are bound to come, particularly in PPR leagues.

99. Ryan Williams

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    Do you trust Beanie Wells?

    He just got back to action after a relatively minor knee procedure all the way back in January, and he has never been a picture of health. Wells broke out a couple of times last season, but his 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown season is deceptive—he cracked 100 yards rushing just twice and scored over half his touchdowns in the first four games.

    Williams has the upside in this tandem.

98. Denarius Moore

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    The speedy receiver made a splash as a rookie, but injuries derailed an otherwise promising year. While he is a promising talent, Moore has been dealing with injuries again this preseason, sinking his fantasy value every day he has been out.

    When healthy, he should start opposite Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Carson Palmer seemed to favor Moore last season when he was on the field.

97. Ben Tate

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    Arian Foster's backup had a fine season himself, nearly topping 1,000 yards rushing on his own. Some of that had to do with Foster's injury, giving Tate a few games as the lead back. The Texans have a talented duo at running back, though, and they like to run the ball behind that great offensive line.

    Tate will get his again this season, even if he does it as the second running back on his team. He will likely be too expensive to take as Foster's handcuff, though.

96. Carson Palmer

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    Yes, Palmer threw roughly 76 interceptions last season, but can you blame him? He had been out of football for over a year and got thrown into action after minimal practice with his new team.

    He still managed over 2,700 yards passing in nine starts, a good indication he will surpass 4,000 yards this season if he plays all 16 games. With a bevy of weapons including Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Rod Streater—assuming they can stay healthy at the same time for more than 30 seconds—Palmer has plenty of options.

    The interceptions will still be there, but he should net some serious yardage and touchdowns. Palmer is not draftable as a starter, but he could make for a solid QB2 on your team. 

95. C.J. Spiller

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    Spiller's blocking could get him on the field more often in passing situations, making him more valuable in PPR leagues than standard. 

    He also happened to be the fifth-best fantasy back over the final seven games after Fred Jackson was injured. Unfortunately for him, Jackson is back, but Spiller should be viable on his own.

94. Brent Celek

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    Celek was in the top five fantasy scorers at his position over the final seven weeks, and he was the third-best tight end over the final four games.

    After a few years of unfulfilled promise, he looks like he is ready contribute on a regular basis for the Eagles. He could wind up with a fantastic fantasy season if he scores like he did toward the end of last season.

93. Rashad Jennings

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    This might seem insane for a career backup, but Jennings has always played well when given the opportunity and Maurice Jones-Drew continues his lengthy holdout.

    Jennings is a good bet to be the Week 1 starter at this point considering MJD has missed all of camp and the preseason to date under a new coaching staff. Even if he returns, Jennings could get a decent workload for the bulk of the season to save MJD's legs.

92. Cedric Benson

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    Benson spent the entire offseason and some of the preseason languishing in free agency. Perhaps he was just waiting for the right opportunity.

    Now that he has landed in Green Bay and supplanted James Starks as the starter, Benson makes for an intriguing fantasy option. The Packers may not have had a good fantasy back over the past couple of seasons, but Benson has produced decent fantasy numbers in recent seasons despite his plodding nature.

    Benson certainly had a spring in his step in his first game action with the Packers, and he should see the bulk of the goal line opportunities. Benson could be one of those mid-round pickups that makes your fantasy season.

91. Kevin Smith

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    The Lions backfield resembles a collection of glass sculptures, making Smith the best fantasy option for now. He puts up some great numbers when healthy—particularly in PPR formats—but his injury history depresses his fantasy value here.

    Case in point, Kevin Smith injured a bothersome ankle in the Lions' third preseason game, though it was not serious. This time.

    Mikel Leshoure will return to take away some playing time after a two-game suspension as well.

90. Robert Meachem

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    Is Meachem a suitable replacement for Vincent Jackson in San Diego?

    The truth is that Meachem was an inconsistent player in New Orleans where he could never lock down the No. 2 receiver position opposite Marques Colston. He was never fully able to capitalize on having Drew Brees as his quarterback.

    The offense in San Diego might suit Meachem and his speed better, but it is difficult to believe he will transform into a bona fide No. 1 receiver. 

89. Stevan Ridley

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    Belichickery notwithstanding, Ridley possesses the most upside in the New England backfield. Shane Vereen has not made the most of his opportunities in recent weeks and they no longer have to contend with BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

    Of course, judging when Ridley will put up big numbers could be tricky considering Belichick's penchant for messing with fantasy owners.

88. Matt Schaub

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    Despite a run-heavy offense and an injured Andre Johnson, Schaub was the 12th-best fantasy quarterback last season before going down with a season-ending injury.

    He is back and so is Johnson. The offense is still run-heavy, but a healthy Johnson and an emerging youngster like Keshawn Martin or Lestar Jean could have Schaub in the top 10 if everyone can stay healthy.

87. Evan Royster

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    For a while it looked like Roy Helu could break the Shanahanigans that have plagued Mike Shanahan running backs in recent years. He cannot stay healthy, however, and Evan Royster has ascended to the top of the depth chart.

    For now.

    There is no telling if Royster can hang on to the job, so there is no reason to take him with a high draft pick. 

86. Nate Washington

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    Washington's value gets a bump with a suspension looming for Kenny Britt.

    He was actually the 15th-best receiver in standard leagues through the final 11 weeks of the season. Of course, once Britt returns the jig could be up for Washington, who must also contend with rookie Kendall Wright.

85. Brandon LaFell

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    This is LaFell's chance to shine.

    Playing opposite Steve Smith this year, LaFell will be on the field often for Cam Newton and what figures to be a good offense. He has the physical tools, and he has looked pretty good thus far this preseason.

    LaFell is one of those sneaky WR5 grabs you can make that could save your season.

84. Pierre Garcon

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    The Redskins thought highly enough of Garcon that they gave him a five-year, $42.5 million contract. Granted, Washington has not been known for doling out money wisely over the past decade, but Garcon has looked the part thus far in Washington.

    He has clearly been Robert Griffin III's favorite target. If RGIII can connect with him on a few bombs, Garcon will have some monster outputs this season.

83. LeGarrette Blount

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    He might be in a timeshare, but Blount has been the starter when healthy this preseason. Doug Martin will be on the field plenty, but Blount has some sneaky value later in drafts.

82. Ben Roethlisberger

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    With Mike Wallace back in the fold, Roethlisberger has his arsenal back. His offensive line has yet to block better this preseason, though—the line must keep Big Ben upright this season. It does not help that the unit lost David DeCastro for the season.

    Will Todd Haley's offense open things up for Roethlisberger or will he continue to be a fringe QB1? If the former is the answer, he will be a great value this season.

81. Reggie Wayne

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    He might be the old kid on the block, but he is still the top receiver in Indianapolis. Wayne represents great value where he is being taken on average; Andrew Luck may be a rookie, but he plays like a veteran.

80. Isaac Redman

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    Redman was ranked higher before Rashard Mendenhall was activated off the physically unable to play (PUP) list and Redman suffered injuries to his groin and hip. He has shaken the injuries off, and he looked good against the Bills, but his success might be short-lived.

    It looks as though Redman will be good to go to start the season, but Mendenhall's return early in the season hampers what was once a good deal.

79. Jason Witten

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    Thankfully Witten's ruptured spleen required no surgery, increasing the odds he might play early this season. His status for Week 1 is questionable, which is a positive sign for the veteran tight end.

    Considering the state of the Cowboys receivers right now, Tony Romo might be praying to the football gods that Witten recovers sooner than later.

78. BenJarvus Green-Ellis

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    He is nursing an injury right now, but The Law Firm should be back for the regular season opener. He will reprise his role of plodding touchdown vulture for the Bengals, making him a decent option. Brian Leonard has played well, but he will be the third back in the offense once Bernard Scott returns.

    Green-Ellis scored 11 touchdowns in a fickle New England backfield last year. Whether he will have the running room he did in New England is another matter.

77. DeAngelo Williams

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    He might be 29 and dealing with a three-headed timeshare at the position, but DeAngelo Williams is still the starter for a team that likes to run the ball. 

    That gives him some value, but not enough to take him in earlier rounds. Once upon a time, perhaps, but not so today. He is being taken late enough that he is a good value, however. If you need some depth or you play in a deep league, Williams has some fantasy potential left.

76. Willis McGahee

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    How much does the 30-year-old have left in his tank? At least for this season, he makes for a pretty good fantasy choice.

    He will garner the bulk of the work for Denver, especially considering Ronnie Hillman's struggle to adjust. Lance Ball currently sits No. 2 on the depth chart; he will not seriously threaten McGahee's playing time.

    If Manning gets back to his playing level or close to it, McGahee will see defensive fronts that are not stacked with eight or nine men in the box—though he did average 4.8 YPC last year thanks largely in part to Tebow's rushing threat.

    John Fox has always liked to run the ball, Manning's presence notwithstanding, McGahee should get plenty of opportunity to score fantasy points.

75. Tony Gonzalez

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    Tony Gonzalez must have a water fountain of youth in his bathroom or something.

    Highlander comes into the 2012 season as an underrated commodity once again, particularly in PPR formats. Gonzalez may be 36 years old, but he is still a vital part of the Falcons offense.

    If you bypass or miss out on the top tight ends in your fantasy draft, Gonzalez will be a real bargain.

74. Kenny Britt

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    Kenny Britt suffers from Knucklehead Syndrome. He is also on the comeback trail from a nasty knee injury in 2011.

    As such, tread with caution when you draft him. If he is anything higher than your WR3, you either overpaid or waited too long. Of course, he has top-10 potential when healthy and not suspended, otherwise he may not be draftable at all.

73. Darrius Heyward-Bey

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    It has been a bit of an amazing transformation for Heyward-Bey.

    Once considered a bust, DHB has become Oakland's No. 1 receiver. He was ranked 21st in fantasy scoring last season, and that was with some poor quarterback play to deal with.

    Carson Palmer is back, and he should be better now that he has had a chance to practice with the team a bit. 

72. Peyton Manning

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    Has Manning's arm turned unto a noodle, or is he all the way back?

    The truth lies somewhere in between. Some pundits believe that he has not regained his arm strength and that he never will. Others believe he looks just fine at this point in his recovery from spinal fusion surgery.

    He did finally shake off the rust against the San Francisco 49ers, looking like the Peyton Manning of old for a few drives.

    Surgery or not, Manning is 36 years old, manning a new offense and on the downslope of his career. The days of massive fantasy output are largely over, but he is still a viable starter.

71. Shonn Greene

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    For whatever reason, the Jets have decided to stick with Shonn Greene as their starter despite years of ineffectiveness. That makes him a viable draft pick, albeit one with zero upside.

    Buyer beware.

70. Peyton Hillis

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    Last season was forgettable for Hillis, but he has a great shot at redemption in Kansas City.

    The Chiefs want him and Jamaal Charles to split carries, and Hillis should get all of the goal line work. He has also been a great pass-catching threat out of the backfield, something many owners forget.

69. Vincent Jackson

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    This ain't San Diego.

    Vincent Jackson enjoyed some stellar quarterback play while out west, and he will experience a stat decline with Josh Freeman at the helm in Tampa Bay.

    That is not to say Freeman is a terrible quarterback, but he is no Rivers. The Buccaneers figure to run the ball a bunch to boot, further devaluing Jackson as a fantasy receiver. There is no denying he is a talented receiver, but his fantasy numbers will not be what they once were.

    Not to mention he has never been the most consistent of fantasy options at the position.

68. Jeremy Maclin

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    Last season was a lost one for Maclin. Injuries and poor play from teammates nullified his potential as the curse of the Dream Team wore on the Eagles.

    Maclin is back and at full strength, and DeSean Jackson is no longer playing like he is on a flag football team. Michael Vick is always an injury risk, but the Eagles appear to have gotten a nice backup quarterback yet again in Nick Foles.

    He is a better PPR option than standard, but Maclin could come cheaply for someone who figures to put up WR2 numbers if all goes well.

67. Philip Rivers

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    Rivers had a terrible year in 2011. Or so the talking heads might have you believe.

    While he did have 20 interceptions and looked weak-armed at times, the 30-year-old veteran actually had the second-most passing yards in his career with 4,624 and tossed 27 touchdowns as well. 

    An answer seemed to come late in the season in the form of mammoth offensive tackle Jared Gaither, who stabilized Rivers' blindside in Week 13. Rivers was sacked just twice from that point on, and he threw just three interceptions to boot. 

    Gaither is back, Gates is healthy, and newcomers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal will attempt to fill Vincent Jackson's and Vincent Brown's shoes. Rivers may not be at his peak anymore, but he is certainly still a good fantasy option.

66. Eric Decker

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    Is Eric Decker Peyton Manning's Huckleberry?

    Austin Collie was that man in Indianapolis' receiving corps before head injuries derailed his 2010 season and Manning missed 2011 with his highly publicized neck injury. While Decker is a different player, he could be the PPR stud Collie was back in 2010, when he led the league in fantasy scoring at the position before his injury.

    If you are to believe the preseason, it sure seems like Decker could be that man. He caught Manning's first two touchdowns in a Broncos uniform.

    Manning may not be in his prime anymore, but folks are sleeping on the Broncos' skill players.

65. Antonio Brown

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    You might be doing flips if you draft Antonio Brown. The third-year man was targeted 120 times last year and figures to be a major part of the offense once more. 

    Mike Wallace's presence on the field might seem like a bad thing for Brown's production, but it should actually open things up for him. It worked out just fine last season.

64. Steve Johnson

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    It seems that Steve Johnson goes through every preseason as an underrated player. He is far and away the best receiver in Buffalo, and the offense is multifaceted enough to keep defenses from overcommitting to him.

    Johnson was the 20th-ranked fantasy receiver last season, in line with his ranking going into 2012.

63. Fred Davis

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    Davis was fifth in the league in fantasy scoring at the tight end position last season before he was suspended for off-field shenaniganry.

    If he can keep his head on straight and develop more chemistry with Robert Griffin III, Davis will be a fantastic value in the middle rounds. If you choose to wait on tight end, Davis should be a primary target in rounds 7-8.

62. Jay Cutler

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    Is this crazy? Perhaps, but like a fox.

    Jay Cutler lands in the top 10 among fantasy quarterbacks here, and for good reason. Gone is the myth of Mike Martz, while Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery landed in Chicago to give Cutler some bona fide receivers. 

    Cutler had some pretty nice statistics the last time he had Marshall to throw to. Expect a big year out of the Bears quarterback if he can avoid injury. Considering he is being drafted as a borderline QB1 right now, he presents excellent value.

61. Jermichael Finley

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    If Finley could stay healthy and stop dropping so many passes, he might be ranked closer to the Rob Gronkowskis and Jimmy Grahams of the league.

    Finley led the league at tight end with 12 drops last season. He has been fool's gold in fantasy football terms over the past few seasons, which is part of the reason his ADP is a bit depressed. He is still a big, talented receiving tight end and has the best quarterback in the league chucking the ball to him.

60. Tony Romo

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    The Cowboys were without Miles Austin and/or Dez Bryant for some stretches, but Tony Romo was still able to throw for over 4,200 yards and 31 touchdowns.

    His situation is not necessarily better with Austin nursing further injury, Witten rupturing a spleen and Bryant getting hounded by his owner, which is why he is not ranked higher. He also lost Laurent Robinson, who was surprisingly good as the No. 3 receiver for the Cowboys last season.

59. Jonathan Stewart

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    Stewart might be caught in a timeshare in which he is not the starter, but the Panthers did not give him a five-year, $36.5 million contract extension for nothing.

    The talented running back is the best of the crowded bunch in Carolina, and he will see the field plenty of touches if he can stay healthy. He has already gotten dinged up twice this preseason, unfortunately.

    When healthy, however, Stewart is the best pass-catching threat out of the backfield, making him a better PPR option than standard. He also tends to get more goal-line carries than his cohorts in the backfield, though I suspect Mike Tolbert will begin to see those duties when the regular season rolls around.

    Stewart managed 148 fantasy points despite the timeshare and Cam Newton stealing several rushing touchdowns.

58. Aaron Hernandez

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    The word emanating from a certain New England paper is that Hernandez has emerged as Tom Brady's favorite target. Take that with a grain of salt—it is preseason after all—but this should give pause to those who might draft Rob Gronwkowski with a first-round pick.

    Hernandez is a versatile player that will score some fantasy points in unconventional ways for a tight end. The Patriots used him as a running back at times last year, and he caught passes from all over the field. If he has truly supplanted Gronkowski and Wes Welker as Brady's favorite target, he should be your top target at the position considering his ADP.

    Of course, I would not go too crazy with that news. The Patriots offense is fluid; anyone can seemingly emerge as a stud.

57. Eli Manning

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    Manning may not be thought of as an elite fantasy quarterback, but he is not far off from that level. He wound up sixth in the league in fantasy scoring last season, though he scored 54 points less than the next highest scorer, Matthew Stafford.

    The two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback is at the tail end of his prime, and he has some great weapons at his disposal. As long as Hakeem Nicks can stay healthy, the Giants have a nice trio including Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle. 

    Expect a similar season out of Manning, who has proven he can hang with the big boys when it comes to pumping out good fantasy scores.

56. Donald Brown

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    For all intents and purposes, Brown is the lead back in Indianapolis. That makes him valuable on potential volume alone.

    The Colts will likely try to run the ball plenty to keep some pressure off of rookie Andrew Luck, though whether he needs is certainly debatable considering he's already looked veteran-like in the preseason. 

    Setting aside his abysmal seven-carry, eight-yard performance in Indianapolis' third preseason game, Brown can fill your RB3 slot nicely if he is not snapped up too early.

55. Frank Gore

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    There are several reasons not to trust Gore with a high draft pick.

    First, and foremost, Gore is 29 years old. Not only is he past the typical age of decline for running backs, he has a lot of playing time under his belt. 

    All that wear and tear likely prompted the 49ers to draft running backs with high picks the past couple of years, which is the second reason why Gore is a risky draft pick. San Francisco took Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James in the past two drafts, and it also signed Brandon Jacobs as a free agent this offseason.

    Jacobs and James should be back from injury soon, which means the backfield will be the most crowded in the NFL, save perhaps the Saints'.

54. Vernon Davis

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    Gore's running mate might enjoy some extra space to operate within this season after some additions to the roster.

    Randy Moss and Mario Manningham will give defenses something extra to think about, and Davis is the league's biggest seam threat. 

    Davis was certainly not the fantasy option owners expected last season until late, so tread with caution.

53. Darren Sproles

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    Sproles would be ranked much higher if PPR was the default scoring for this article. His value is severely hampered in standard leagues, however, Sproles does not figure to get a ton of rushing yards with the Saints feeding Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas taking touches away.

    The diminutive back was still 10th in standard scoring last season at the position, but I expect that to take a bit of a hit this year barring injuries to other backs on his team. Let someone else overpay for Sproles if you are in a standard league, but he is well worth a high-round draft pick in PPR leagues.

52. Matt Ryan

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    The hype train has taken off and taken Matt Ryan's ADP into the stratosphere after a sparkling preseason.

    Ryan is certainly primed for a breakout season, but getting overzealous could get you in trouble. He was eighth in fantasy scoring last season, but just 11th in fantasy points per opportunity (PPO). That is to say he was not terribly efficient when it comes to scoring fantasy points.

    He should improve upon that, but he dropped back to pass 607 times last season—he is unlikely to increase that number significantly. The fifth-year quarterback is certainly a good draft pick, but taking him anywhere in the first three or four rounds is likely overpaying.

51. Torrey Smith

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    Speaking of breakout players, Torrey Smith looks like he is ready to burst onto the fantasy scene this season.

    Things quieted down for him for the most part after a historic rookie debut where he caught five passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns. He cracked 100 yards just once more—though it was a 165-yard performance—but last season gave just a taste of what he could do.

    Smith and Joe Flacco seem to be in rhythm thus far in the preseason, and Smith's fantasy owners could find themselves with some big-time scores on a more consistent basis as a result.

50. DeSean Jackson

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    Is a rebound year in store now that Jackson need not worry about getting hurt without a big contract in his pocket?

    It certainly seems that way. Jackson says he is back to playing full bore, which is good news for fantasy owners. He ranked just 25th in fantasy scoring last season, but look for him to get back to form this year.

    As usual, Jackson is more of a big-play kind of guy than a consistent PPR-type.

49. Brandon Lloyd

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    How many mouths are there to feed in New England?

    That is certainly a concern for the fantasy output of any of their skill position players, more so for Lloyd than others. The newcomer must deal with the curse of Chad Ochocinco, who just plain stunk in a Patriots uniform despite some promise when the Patriots acquired him last year.

    Lloyd should do just fine in terms of fantasy scoring, however. The chemistry is not quite there between Brady and him, but they have been working well together in practice and it should eventually get there in games.

    Do not be surprised if Lloyd puts up some consistent numbers this season.

48. Miles Austin

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    Also known as Hammy McHamstring, Miles Austin has had a run of bad luck with injuries in recent years. After missing several games in 2011, Austin has been forced out of action for the entire preseaosn. 

    This is not a good sign heading into the regular season, which is why he is not ranked higher. Austin generated 0.19 points per snap (PPS) last season when healthy, good for 20th in the league at the position in a down year for him all around. 

    If he can get on the field and stay there, he will be a valuable fantasy asset. At this point, he is too much of a gamble to be taken high in drafts.

47. Wes Welker

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    Welker is a PPR machine, but he was also the third-best standard receiver last season thanks to the prolific offense he helps run.

    With Brandon Lloyd in the fold and the continuing emergence of New England's tight ends, however, there is a good chance Welker will be victimized by the "too many mouths to feed" notion more than most players.

    After all, Aaron Hernandez has been anointed Tom Brady's favorite receiver this preseason.

46. Michael Turner

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    Michael Turner's numbers from last season may make it seem like he is still a great fantasy back, but they are deceiving.

    His 4.5 YPC is nice until you consider he averaged just 3.8 YPC over his final six games—just 3.3 YPC in five of those six if you exclude the game against the Buccaneers already vacationing opponent in Week 17.

    Interestingly, the Falcons have passed him the ball a decent amount this preseason, but the reality is that the 30-year-old running back has the upside of a pothole. He is only ranked this high because he will still get plenty of carries and all of the goal line work.

45. Doug Martin

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    Doug Martin has looked fantastic for the Buccaneers thus far, and he is the most talented running back on the roster.

    The problem is that he is in a committee with goal-line vulture LeGarrette Blount, otherwise he would be ranked much higher. 

    Still, Martin has a ton of upside and he is a better pass-catcher than Blount. He will make you a happy fantasy owner if you can snag him around here.

44. Steve Smith

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    Steve Smith got off to a hot start last season thanks to some scintillating performances by his quarterback, and he was the third-best fantasy receiver in the league after eight weeks.

    The second half of the season would prove much tougher sledding for the 33-year-old veteran as he scored the 26th-most points during that span.

    Smith is a good option, but the running game Ron Rivera hopes to employ in Carolina will hamper his production. He is also on the mend from a nasty foot infection that will keep him out for the rest of the preseason. Is this a harbinger of old injury woes to come?

43. Marques Colston

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    The big receiver signed a shiny new contract with the Saints this offseason, and he will reap the benefits of playing with Drew Brees for a while longer.

    Colston was the 11th-best scorer last season despite playing two less games than most of his closest competitors. He could have a huge season if he can stay healthy, which is not a given with any Saints receiver.

42. Ahmad Bradshaw

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    David Wilson might be turning heads in New York, but this is Ahmad Bradshaw's gig until the Giants are done with him or he breaks his foot again.

    Bradshaw played just 12 games last season and still scored 158 standard points, good for 20th in the league at running back. The Giants like to try to run the ball even if it is ineffective, so he will get plenty of opportunities to score points.

41. Adrian Peterson

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    How confident are you that All Day will be able to withstand the rigors of full-time NFL duty just eight months removed from tearing an ACL and MCL? 

    It might be miraculous that the Purple Jesus is on track to play in Week 1 of the regular season, but the Vikings did not hold him out of preseason action without reason. If Peterson is ready to go to start the season, he will not get a full workload right away.

    His effectiveness out of the gate is difficult to trust as well—running backs coming back from torn ACL tears tend to take time to get back to form. 

40. Dwayne Bowe

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    Bowe is back with the Chiefs in the nick of time after signing his franchise tender. Assuming nothing crazy like a trade to Miami happens, he should return to producing good numbers with Matt Cassel back from injury.

    The talented receiver averaged nearly 81 YPG and 0.5 TD/game before Cassel was knocked out for the season. Bowe's numbers took a serious hit when he was forced to deal with the likes of Tyler Palko. 

39. Cam Newton

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    Yes, Cam Newton is the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Indeed, he broke the all-time record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14. Of course I know Newton was the third-best fantasy quarterback last season.

    However, do you expect him to score even score seven rushing touchdowns, let alone 14? Perhaps the Panthers will continue to expose him to risk by using him as a fullback, but they seemed content to hand it off at the goal line all preseason.

    Not to mention the fact that Newton averaged just 207.3 YPG on 59 percent passing in the second half of his season.

    The sophomore quarterback will still score a ton of fantasy points, but to expect a repeat of his spectacular rookie season would be like going all-in on Jack-10 off-suit.

38. Antonio Gates

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    Has Antonio Gates fallen from the elite at his position, or have the past couple of seasons simply been marred by injury?

    Based on the evidence from when he was healthy, injuries have been the major culprit. Lucky for him and his owners, the Chargers are actively trying to keep it that way.

    The 31-year-old tight end was actually the third-best fantasy scorer at his position after he came back from his injury. That is a tantalizing statistic considering how far back he is being drafted compared to the top two.

37. Mike Wallace

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    The holdout is over, and Wallace's fantasy owners can rejoice!

    He fell a bit short of lofty expectations last year, but he was still ninth in standard scoring at his position. It remains to be seen if his holdout will hamper his production in a new offense. He also has competition from teammates Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders for fantasy points.

    Proceed with caution.

36. Jordy Nelson

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    Indeed, Nelson was the second-best receiver behind the eminent Megatron last season. Can he do it again?

    The answer likely lies in this question: Do you expect him to score 15 touchdowns again? He scored on more than one fluky play last season, and he is not even the No. 1 receiver on his own team, though some would say the Packers have no No. 1.

    A regression is coming for Nelson even if he surpasses 100 targets this year—he had just 93 last year, another red flag. He will score points, but likely not worth what it will cost to draft him.

35. Steven Jackson

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    It seems like Jackson has been in the league forever, but he just turned 29 and had the benefit of playing behind Marshall Faulk for a bit when he came into the league.

    Still, the workload on the workhorse has been substantial in recent years, at least when he has been healthy. The Rams drafted Isaiah Pead as Jackson's presumptive heir, but he has been disappointing thus far for St. Louis.

    Jackson was the eight-best fantasy back last season, and he should be good for at least one more season as a lead back, even if he's due for a small dropoff in production.

34. Victor Cruz

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    Cruz salsa danced his way into fantasy owners' hearts last season, and he figures to be a big part of New York's offense once again.

    Much like Jordy Nelson, however, Cruz benefited from some fluky plays last year. He was the fourth-best fantasy receiver without the benefit of scoring 15 touchdowns, though, meaning his potential regression will be less severe than Nelson's. 

33. Dez Bryant

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    The talent has always been there for Bryant, but the maturity and work ethic have lagged behind.

    Bryant came into the preseason in better shape than in years past, but his owner apparently thinks he needs to be coddled. How he reacts to the restrictions Jerry Jones has placed on him will be interesting to see.

    If he can stay healthy and actually be fit enough to be on the field during the second half of games, Bryant could finally fulfill his fantasy potential. There are too many variables to rank him higher, however.

32. Ryan Mathews

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    I had Mathews ranked No. 4 overall before he broke his collarbone on his first play from scrimmage.

    Thankfully Mathews can return this season, but the question remains about his timetable. He believes that he can be back for opening day, but some others professionally opine he will be out until October.

    As such, his ranking is one of the more fluid ones heading into the first week of the season. Even if he is ready for Week 1, his injury risk could make him too expensive in the early rounds. He has the talent to put up some big fantasy scores, however, and his main competition in Mike Tolbert is gone.

31. Roddy White

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    The mantle may have already been passed in Atlanta.

    White has put up plenty of fantasy points in his career, but the Julio Jones era seems to be here already. This hampers White's fantasy value, particularly in standard formats—he has always been a PPR stud.

    The Falcons offense looks great this preseason, including some big plays for White, but Jones' emergence means he is the receiver to own in Atlanta.

30. Demaryius Thomas

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    Eric Decker might have broken out for two touchdowns in Peyton Manning's first good performance of the preseason, but Thomas remains the bigger talent in Denver.

    Perhaps he will never be able to capitalize on his combination of size and speed in a similar way to fellow Georgia Tech product Calvin Johnson, but he will shake free plenty of times for Manning. This offense will produce multiple fantasy stars if Manning is indeed back to form.

29. Reggie Bush

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    There are few fantasy-relevant players in Miami—okay, just one unless you count Davone Bess—but what makes Reggie Bush such a worthwhile draft pick?

    To put it simply, the Dolphins must use him to score points. Last season may have been the first time he cracked 1,000 yards rushing, but he is a good bet to surpass that once again if he can stay healthy. He will be an even better PPR option.

28. Percy Harvin

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    Harvin was finally healthy and that netted his owners the seventh-best fantasy season at his position. The Vikings might have to rely on him even more at the beginning of the season considering Adrian Peterson is still on the comeback trail.

27. Fred Jackson

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    He might be 31 years old, coming off a broken leg and fending off a youthful usurper, but Fred Jackson's late-career renaissance is back on track.

    Jackson was the league's leading fantasy scorer before going down with a leg injury last season, and he still wound up ranked No. 15 at his position despite playing just 10 games. C.J. Spiller figures to cut into some of his playing time, but Jackson will command the lion's share of playing time in that backfield and the goal line work.

26. Matthew Stafford

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    Thankfully his hand injury is minor because Stafford is primed for another big season.

    The Lions quarterback surpassed 5,000 yards last season as a 23-year-old. Some of that has to do with his main target, but Calvin Johnson accounted for "just" 1,681 of those yards.

    Assuming Stafford's injury issues are behind him for good and nobody succumbs to the mythological Madden Curse, he will make plenty of fantasy owners happy this year. 

25. Michael Vick

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    Two preseason games, two injures.

    This does not bode well for the 32-year-old quarterback and his fantasy owners. Can he stay healthy?

    It seems like that is a bit of a pipe dream, but Vick's health issues are the only reason his rank is this low. When fully healthy, Vick represents the league's most dynamic quarterback besides perhaps Cam Newton.

    He has a fully participating DeSean Jackson, healthy Jeremy Maclin, equally dynamic LeSean McCoy and steady Brent Celek at his disposal. This is not to mention his rushing ability.

    If he can play all 16 games, he will be one of the best values in fantasy football at his current ADP.

24. Jimmy Graham

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    The duel between Graham and Rob Gronwkoski was an epic one last season. Gronk won round one, but Graham was hot on his heels.

    Drew Brees trusts Graham, which is probably why he was targeted 41 more times than any other receiver in New Orleans. (Of course, injuries to other players were a factor.)

    Unfortunately, Graham and Gronk will be overvalued going into the season. They are like WR1s, but other positions are more valuable in the first and early second round.

23. Andre Johnson

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    Did you know Andre Johnson has never scored double-digit touchdowns in the NFL?

    That seems ludicrous for the incredibly talented receiver, but he only got good quarterback play in recent seasons. Injury woes have also affected him—he has only played 20 games in the past two seasons.

    Johnson is 31, continues to be hampered by injuries and plays in a run-heavy offense. He is still a great football player, but he is nowhere near as valuable as he was two years ago in fantasy football.

22. Rob Gronkowski

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    If you polled fantasy owners who the top tight end in fantasy football was three months ago, Gronkowski would have won handily. Today, however, questions are abound about Gronkowski's value relative to his teammates, who will be fighting him for targets.

    Gronkowski edges out Jimmy Graham here, but not by much. He is the big red-zone target Tom Brady will go to time and again.

21. Drew Brees

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    Brees eked out the fantasy scoring title last season by 0.8 points over Aaron Rodgers. He needed 155 more passes and one extra game to do it.

    There is still no telling how the Saints will perform on a season-long basis without coach Sean Payton. Heck, even interim coach Joe Vitt is suspended to start the season.

    Brees still has a bevy of weapons down on the bayou, and the Saints should put up a ton of points even with Pete Carmichael calling the plays.

20. Greg Jennings

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    Folks are sleeping on Greg Jennings a bit with all the hype surrounding Jordy Nelson this offseason.

    Jennings might not belong with fantasy's elite, but he is close to it. He has great chemistry with his quarterback and consistently puts up good fantasy numbers when he is healthy.

19. Trent Richardson

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    Was it wisdom or folly for the Browns to take a running back with the third pick in the NFL draft? 

    At this point, only injury will keep Richardson from being the lead back in Cleveland. That is precisely what is keeping him down right now—the rookie had his knee scoped earlier this preseason—but he should be back for the regular season opener.

    Rookies are normally not big producers, and Richardson plays in the vaunted AFC North, but he should still put up good numbers based on volume alone. Really, can you imagine the Browns playing Brandon Jackson or Montario Hardesty very often?

18. Maurice Jones-Drew

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    The Jacksonville stalwart has made a career out of bucking his critics, but he will have a tall task this year.

    MJD has a lot of catching up to do even if he ends his holdout today. The Jaguars are under new management, and Jones-Drew will need to acclimate himself to the new offense. He will also need to get into game shape quickly. And he's 27, coming off several high-volume seasons. Lastly, Rashad Jennings is performing admirably in his absence and could get an increased workload even if Jones-Drew returns.

    There are too many negative factors for Jones-Drew's fantasy value, and it drops with each day he continues his holdout.

17. A.J. Green

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    A.J. Green is going up against Julio Jones for the title of "Next Great Receiver." Green took the early lead after a fantastic rookie season, and he should have an excellent encore in his second year in the league.

    He is Andy Dalton's favorite target, and his superior athleticism, route-running and ball skills give him an edge few receivers possess.

    The downside to his fantasy value is that Dalton is his quarterback, not Matt Ryan.

16. Julio Jones

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    Jones has quickly developed a great rapport with Matt Ryan, who looks to join the ranks of the elite himself. This is great news for his fantasy prospects.

    The second-year man out of Alabama has looked fantastic thus far in the preseason as he looks to take the baton from veteran Roddy White in the Atlanta offense. Jones is a dynamic receiver who can get open and blaze in space.

    Jones actually outperformed Green with 0.24 PPS and 0.33 PPO last season. Those are great statistical indicators on top of simply looking like an elite fantasy option to date.

15. Hakeem Nicks

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    His fantasy value was deflated when he broke his foot at the outset of training camp, but Hakeem Nicks has come back in the nick of time to prepare for the season opener.

    Durability has been a concern for Nicks throughout his career, so he is a risky proposition. His ability to score a lot of fantasy points is tantalizing, though, and he should do plenty of that this season if he can stay on the field.

    Having another threat like Victor Cruz to take the pressure off helps.

14. Tom Brady

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    To put it simply, Tom Brady is still an elite quarterback and his arsenal only got better this offseason.

    Not only did Brandon Lloyd join the team to add an actual threat on the outside, but Brady's dynamic duo at tight end is entering its third year in the league.

    The only real downside is his age. Brady is 35 and bound to fall off at some point. He says he wants to play "as long as possible," but Father Time catches everyone at some point.

    Perhaps he and Tony Gonzalez frequent the same fountain of youth.

13. Brandon Marshall

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    What do you get when you pair an elite receiver and a good quarterback in their primes?

    Marshall may have been stuck in quarterback purgatory for the past couple of seasons down in Miami, but he is reunited with Jay Cutler at just the right time. The pair looks like they have rekindled their chemistry already, and that means big things are in store for Marshall's fantasy output.

    He has only had one double-digit touchdown season, but that should be remedied this year. The only thing standing in the way of a great season is Brandon Marshall, the off-field persona. That and another potential Cutler injury, though Jason Campbell should be a decent backup when compared to a tree stump Caleb Hanie.

12. DeMarco Murray

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    Murray galloped into the fantasy realm to the tune of 5.5 YPC after injuries pressed him into action last year. He was a waiver wire wonder, providing a huge midseason boost to anyone who was lucky enough to land him.

    Unfortunately, an injury derailed his season before the fantasy playoffs and owners were left to wonder what might be in 2012.

    The sophomore running back has not been a picture of health in recent years, so there is some risk here. Fortunately for him, Felix Jones came into camp fat and has not been effective thus far this preseason. 

    Jones had been quite effective when he could stay on the field in previous years, but it looks increasingly as though Murray will get a big workload. Hopefully his body can hold up.

11. Larry Fitzgerald

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    We have reached the elite of the elite at receiver, and here stands Larry Fitzgerald.

    Were it not for a shaky quarterback situation, the talented receiver would likely be ranked in the top eight or so. Fitz is no stranger to bad quarterbacks—Derek Anderson, anyone?—and he has managed to produce well despite the malodorous play from his passers.

    This year should be no different, though owners should probably root for John Skelton to win the starting job—Skelton targeted Fitzgerald 2.5 more times per game and threw six more touchdowns to him than Kolb did last year.

10. Marshawn Lynch

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    It would be nice for fantasy owners if the NFL announced suspensions soon. Marshawn Lynch could be in for a lengthy one after getting arrested for a DUI this offseason—it was not his first run-in with the law in the NFL.

    If for some reason Lynch escapes punishment, however, he will be a good fantasy option again this year. He may sport a career 4.0 YPC, but Beast Mode has revived his career in Seattle and looks to taste the rainbow again this year.

    The fact that dynamic quarterback Russell Wilson has won the starting job will be a boon to Lynch to boot—defenses will have to worry more about the Seattle passing game.

9. Jamaal Charles

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    The good news: Todd Haley can no longer hold Jamaal Charles hostage. The bad: Peyton Hillis will steal a ton of carries, and Charles is coming off of a torn ACL.

    Indeed, Charles is returning from injury much like Adrian Peterson, but the latter's injury came much later in the season. JC Superstar was injured in September, giving him almost four months more to recover.

    The dynamic running back has looked good this preseason in limited duty, hopefully meaning he is ready to roll for the regular season. The Chiefs might ease him into serious action for the first few weeks, but Charles and his career 6.1 YPC presents an upside like few other players if he is fully healthy.

8. Matt Forte

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    Forte's preseason was touch and go for a while before the Bears finally came to their senses and signed him to a longterm deal.

    He has long been a major contributor to an offense with a weak passing game, and he suddenly finds himself presented with opposing defenses that must account for good receivers. It will be interesting to see what he can do with a bit more space to operate.

    Of course there is the question of Mike Tice and his desire to get Forte and Michael Bush to 1,000 yards rushing. Is a timeshare in store in Chicago?

7. Aaron Rodgers

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    Who else but Aaron Rodgers at the top of the quarterback heap?

    The reigning MVP is also the reigning fantasy MVP—that is if Rob Gronkowski does not take that award after his monster season at his late-round ADP—and he heads into 2012 with similar expectations.

    Rodgers easily led the league in points per dropback (PPDB), points per attempt (PPA) and PPS last season in a unbelievable efficient campaign. His ruthless efficiency was ninja-like, and we may not have seen the best to come from Rodgers.

    He is 28 and heading into his prime. His offense has not changed aside from the loss of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. What is there not to like?

6. Darren McFadden

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    When healthy, Darren McFadden is up there with the top running backs in the league. But that is the rub.

    Run DMC has averaged just 11.25 games per season, and he got through only seven last year. He is an incredible gamble this high, but one well worth it if he can put together a full season or close to it.

    McFadden was tied for the league lead at 0.4 PPS and second with 0.48 PPO last season before going down with a pesky foot injury. He has the talent to score a ton of fantasy points when on the field.

5. Calvin Johnson

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    Calvin Johnson is simply a monster. A robot monster.

    Megatron lapped the league at receiver with 265 standard points last season, which would have been the third-best total if he was a running back. Matthew Stafford is already an elite quarterback at 24 and improving, and Johnson is his favorite target.

    If you own a bottom-six pick and your leaguemates are foolish enough to believe in the Madden Curse, laugh all the way to the bank when you steal him.

4. Chris Johnson

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    Whereas Aaron Rodgers has been a good fantasy ninja, Johnson has sided with an evil clan in recent seasons, sabotaging your fantasy squads from within.

    What makes CJKillYourFantasyTeamK a top-four pick going into 2012?

    Quite simply, he is back to where he was when he was CJ2K, or at least close to it. Johnson has re-dedicated himself to being a great back once again, a refreshing change after he spent one season protecting himself from injury and another one recovering from a costly holdout.

3. LeSean McCoy

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    Philadelphia's lead back has been remarkably consistent over the past couple of seasons, making him one of the safest draft picks heading into 2012.

    McCoy is unlikely to repeat his 20-touchdown performance from a year ago, but he is the main man once again for the Eagles in a great offense.

2. Ray Rice

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    The city of Baltimore heaved a heavy sigh of relief when its main man signed a longterm contract without missing time this preseason. 

    Rice is in his prime at 25, and he makes the Ravens offense go. He finally realized his fantasy potential last season as he led the league in scoring. He was second in the league with 76 receptions last year, making him a PPR monster.

    This was a close battle for the top spot, but it goes to...

1. Arian Foster

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    Foster struck it rich this offseason after playing through his undrafted rookie contract, but that does not mean his production will fall off.

    He is simply perfect for the Houston offense and blocking scheme, and he is healthy going into the regular season unlike last year. Ben Tate will certainly spell him a good amount, but Foster will get the majority of the playing time.

    The talented running back led the league at 0.4 PPS and was near the top of it at 0.46 PPO. McCoy and Rice could be better PPR options, but Foster is no slouch in the passing game either. Foster managed to be the fourth-best fantasy back despite playing just 13 games last year.

    You really cannot go wrong with any of the top three running backs, but Foster is your man in standard leagues.

     

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