Fantasy Football Rankings: 10 Riskiest Draft Picks of 2012
Risk. A true four-letter word among business owners.
When faced with situations that involve this unwelcome condition, people react in different ways. In business, in society, in any walk of life. The risk-averse call the risk-takers "crazy." The risk-takers then oftentimes prove them right. Sometimes triumphantly.
Me? I look at Vegas. I look at all the awesome casinos. They didn't build themselves. I look at insurance companies with offices worldwide. These industries did not flourish by way of the risk-taker winning the battle in the long run. They make their profits mitigating risk, and they believe the risk-taker is a sucker.
This is their business model. Is it yours?
These are the 10 riskiest fantasy picks of the NFL's 2012 season:
The Fine Print
Let me start off by saying there are other players who may represent greater risks in some ways than those listed here. We don't care about those ways.
We are talking here about risk to a fantasy owner given where a player will have to be drafted or the price at which he will be purchased at auction. The fantasy draft is simple this year. Don't fall into positional runs, take the best player and don't worry about filling out your roster. There is value that exists throughout this draft to do just that. Don't rush, and let things come to you.
This is my 2012 cheat sheet. As you'll see, I'm far from a proponent of this year's en vogue "load up on RBs early" sentiment. The reasoning that this theory is based in positional scarcity also negates it, ironically.
If RBs happen to represent the greatest advantage over other positions for your first three picks, by all means, load up on them. Just don't do so as a result of taking a static plan into this dynamic marketplace.
I believe in value, and sometimes value does come with risk, obviously. Ask people who drafted Cam Newton at the end of their 2011 fantasy drafts. Your biggest tiebreaker in late-round picks is upside. At this point, take all the risks in the world. I don't consider, say, Denarius Moore one of the riskiest picks for our purposes here. If you draft him as more than a WR3, you are a fool to begin with.
The replacement value is much lower for a player like this who can be taken later and who has a very, very significant upside when healthy.
Unless Carson Palmer stays terrible, but that's another column.
10. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Dez Bryant sags his pants at the mall, gets accused of hitting his mom, loves the strip clubs and generally acts a fool. What does this mean to you as a fantasy owner? Everything.
What we know about Bryant is that he is as athletically gifted as they come. We know that he can get up and high point the ball; he can out-position virtually any cornerback in the league coming into and out of breaks while running pretty bad routes, and he can burn a defense by a would-be tackler miss with the ball in his hands.
Maybe it's just me, but I don't like knowing that my low-end WR1/high-end WR2 is a grown man whose bosses feel he needs round-the-clock babysitting.
Bryant's current ADP (average draft position) is 43rd overall in standard leagues, putting him right there in Mike Wallace/Percy Harvin territory. I don't care if Mike Wallace has been sitting out all preseason. Everyone worries he might not learn the offense.
New Steelers OC Todd Haley, if nothing else, knows how to utilize a player of Wallace's exact ilk. A dynamic X receiver is Haley's best friend, and Antonio Brown is not the same player Wallace is. Wallace's assignments will be easy and the same as always. Run faster than the other guy and catch the ball.
Bryant is dealing with patellar tendinitis in his knee, which is not as bad as it probably sounds. For many NFL players, this ailment is a way of life, and they have exercises to keep it relatively under control. Bryant played in all but one game last season, but was limited much of the time because of a deep thigh bruise sustained early on.
His most prominent disappearing acts came in the most important games. Here is how Bryant fared against the NFC East in 2011:
vs. Redskins: four receptions, 63 yards
at Eagles: three receptions, 28 yards
at Redskins: three receptions, 68 yards, one touchdown
vs. Giants: one reception, 50 yards
vs.Eagles: six receptions, 62 yards
at Giants: six receptions, 70 yards
They say "big players make big plays in big games," and I like players on my fantasy team who show up for the big ones. Bryant averaged his fantasy owners 5.6 fantasy points per game within his division last season. That kind of production can be found on the waiver wire.
It's discipline; it's being a professional and growing into a career while gaining experience and mastery. If we could project on athleticism alone, Bryant is a second-round pick. The risk involved here is his maturity and ability to dedicate himself to living up to his potential.
As of late May, according to Charean Williams of Star-Telegram, his receivers coach Jimmy Robinson still wasn't exactly overjoyed by the way Dez was coming along. He said:
It’s just the consistency of route running. I don’t know if subtleties is the right word, or if it’s just the execution of each individual route on a consistent basis play after play.
Bryant is a player with WR1 potential, no doubt, but with these concerns coupled with those of Miles Austin and Jason Witten, I'm keeping a close eye to see who emerges as the starting y/z/No.3 receiver. It could be Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley or Kevin Ogletree.
Harris did seem to have a good connection with Tony Romo in preseason Week 3 and scored two touchdowns. I like the value of the WR3 in this offense and would rather draft that player in the last round and take the best available player in the mid-fourth.
9. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
I love Jamaal Charles, and as an NFL analyst, I replay every play of every game every week. I have noticed that Charles does not come off as a player who is just one year off of an ACL tear. I make the comment about watching all the games because sometimes I watch them on condensed mode back to back.
When you watch a few games in a row like this, you notice distinct differences in players. How fast guys look, how much better someone's arm is than another. How solid an offensive line looks. I guess I'm saying the process provides me with constant relative benchmarks.
Jamaal Charles looks healthy. Not just healthy, he looks like Jamaal Charles; a well-above average fantasy running back.
There is a two-year rule that I generally always try to follow with fantasy RBs and WRs. I will not touch a player in fantasy at either of these positions who is coming off of a reconstructive knee surgery in the previous season. It takes two years to get all the way back in most every case I can think of.
Even with this in mind, though, one could argue that the injury occurred so early last season that it might not fall in the same category.
I have other worries, though.
One is the arrival of Peyton Hillis in Kansas City, along with Brian Daboll who loves using Hillis. The other main one is that I don't want to put myself at risk of not being able to draft Hillis five rounds later than Charles, which I am a fan of doing.
I think the value Hillis represents is so crazy that I am not even interested in handcuffing that running game. I would rather draft the best available player at the spot where Charles could have been taken, then later, reach one round early for Hillis before the Charles owner makes his handcuff move. There is risk in opportunity cost.
8. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
I can't believe I am going to say this, but I am worried about one of fantasy football's most solid rocks. I believe people are taking a huge risk by drafting him as if the Cardinals' QB situation doesn't matter.
This is your second-round pick we are talking about. The common argument is that Fitzgerald has been a soldier through garbage QB play before. Max Hall among others.
My goodness what a mess Arizona has been. Fitzgerald has been productive in an offense that every defense knows is terrible and features one weapon. Him. It isn't like he has been sliding under the radar, getting easy looks this whole time.
Even worse news is the play of the offensive line. Fitzgerald is always having to fight through man-press coverage before the big plays can develop. It will take too long. Whoever lines up at QB is going to get murdered. This is a club that just rewarded one of the worst offensive tackles in the league in Levi Brown with a 5-year, $30 million extension.
Terrible to begin with, but now throw in the fact that Brown is likely out for the season with a torn triceps. This is garbage. Someone's brain has been baking in the desert sun like a fried egg on a car hood in Phoenix.
The Cardinals front office has lost it.
7. Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans
Kenny Britt has been arrested eight times since joining the ranks of the NFL in 2009, where he has boasted six 100-yard receiving games.
I'd say that is a pretty risky ratio for any underwriting department.
We all know Britt is a workout warrior and force on the field, but couple the off-the-field concerns with the fact that he is less than one year off a reconstructive knee surgery, and all of the sudden, we have a new member of my "do-not-draft list."
Britt represents a huge risk to owners penciling him in as their No. 2 WR, especially given the presence of a dynamic rookie in Kendall Wright. Nate Washington was quietly a top-15 WR last season as well.
Round 10. No earlier.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is an international man of mystery, and he holds all the cards.
MJD wants to renegotiate a contract that has already been renegotiated. He is losing $30,000 a day, and by the time this is read he will have tallied just over $1 million in fines for his stubborn refusal to accept reality.
He will be stuck in Jacksonville (at his current salary) for this year and next year. He will remain in Jacksonville but receive a raise in 2014 when a franchise tag is slapped on him by the organization before they bid his worn-out, 30-year-old body adieu in 2015.
I love MJD as a fantasy player, and I have been a proud member of his bandwagon for some time. He is a dependable rock, and he is money in the bank. The guy needs to get into camp, though. HC Mike Mularkey has already said that Rashad Jennings will be the starter Week 1 regardless of MJD's presence, and to his credit, Jennings has looked pretty good himself.
It is a new system, and Coach Mularkey has said publicly that he does not anticipate Jones-Drew coming in with a good understanding of the Jags' new pass-blocking schemes.
Plus, I can't help but think of Chris Johnson's 2011 escapade. When these runners hold out, especially in a year when an entirely new offense is being implemented, things don't always turn out well.
I wouldn't even kick the tires until late-third at this point, and that stock drops for me with each day he holds out.
I mean, he has already gone this far. He could just keep holding out, host his (ironic) fantasy football radio show, and get his chops up as an analyst for later in his career. Then he could come back and play like a malcontent in six likely meaningless games so he could get the 2012 season to count toward free agency and save his body some wear.
He's nearing the point of no return on this deal. Take the guy I just described in the early second? His current ADP is 13. No. Beyond risky.
5. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans
When we asked Andre Johnson after Texans practice this month if he felt as though he had anything to prove coming into the 2012 season, he said no.
He said that in the NFL, the players know who is elite, and that's all that matters. He said it doesn't matter what anyone else says.
So according to Andre Johnson, what I'm about to tell you doesn't matter.
The thing is, it does. This is fantasy football. I am an NFL reporter who happens to also be a fantasy geek. I understand that witnessing Andre Johnson in person is a sight to behold and that "elite" means different things to different people.
I understand that any opponent lined up on this man is immediately put on notice by his beastly presence itself, let alone receiving and separation ability. When you look at Andre Johnson, it's like all these injuries make sense.
Every bit of musculature pops from his body like armor. When you're built like that, you can do some amazing things. Unfortunately, it means things sometimes go "pop," too.
His current ADP is 19 and that is too high. Andre Johnson was once an elite receiver and may be one again. Perhaps this year. The problem is, I don't like taking "perhapses" with my second pick in the draft. Not at a point in time at which I could hopefully somehow snatch Jimmy Graham or RBs such as Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray or WRs like Julio Jones or A.J. Green.
Johnson is coming into his 10th year, and while that is by no means a death sentence for a WR's productivity, it is on the downhill portion of the ride. During those nine years, he has made it through an entire 16-game season five times and never caught double-digit touchdowns once.
I love Andre Johnson if he falls to me in the late-third or early-fourth, but you are putting yourself at serious risk drafting him at his current ADP.
4. Miles Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Miles Austin has a pre-existing condition that excludes him from any policy that I will issue for the 2012 fantasy season. A year-long, lingering hamstring injury.
It hasn't even been the same hamstring the whole time, either. It started in training camp last season when he hurt his left hamstring. He then re-aggravated it in Week 2 and missed time before incurring the virtual fantasy season ender on his other hammy.
It was in early November where he missed four very important weeks for his owners coming into fantasy playoff time.
Not that he was exceptional in 2011 playing through the injuries to begin with. Why do you think Laurent Robinson caught so many balls? He didn't give up on routes when Romo was flushed. He could cut out on a dime and just go searching for an open window.
You need to be healthy and confident to do that. Austin owners last year predominantly drafted him as their No.1 WR given his average draft position, and he was a major disappointment.
He now has an ADP of 56, meaning Austin is being drafted in the mid-fifth round of fantasy drafts before guys like Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Lloyd.
This confuses me. I certainly would not be taking Miles Austin unless he fell to Round 7 or later. I'm talking about the point in time when I'm staring down a double-barreled puke sprayer of Shonn Greene-level fantasy sewage.
Even then, it would be dependent on the current state of my roster and the strategy that I implemented in adapting to how the draft was playing out.
Plain and simple: A hammy is a terrible injury for a stop-and-cut player to have. If you're playing on one stiff one, you're going to overcompensate, and you're going to blow out the other. Risky business for a guy you're likely drafting as your true WR2.
3. Any Redskins Running Back
Redskins HC Mike Shanahan hates you. Let that sink in. He hates you.
He will ruin you. Do not draft a Redskins running back. Even if you wanted to, who would you draft?
Roy Helu? Tendinitis of the Achilles.
Alfred Morris? Seriously?
Evan Royster? Terrible.
Tim Hightower? All of the above.
The worst part is you will never know who is getting the start, and you will be a tormented soul on Sundays when you should be having fun and enjoying the NFL. This is about fantasy risk, but it is also about risk to your mental stability.
Leave the Shanahanigans to your league mates and look elsewhere at all costs.
2. Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers
I have wanted no part of Ryan Mathews from the beginning, and it took one preseason snap to remind me why. One snap, one carry, one broken collarbone.
I am not even a Ryan Mathews owner, and he is already screwing me. Every time he was drafted early-to-mid first round before the injury, it left other players for me to select who I actually wanted in drafts as late first-round picks.
Now that he's out of the conversation for first-round consideration due to the injury (which was such a big surprise), it leaves me having one less option when it is my turn to take my first-round player.
Mathews has never played a full NFL season. It is always something with him. For two years, my peers in the fantasy world have hyped Mathews in the preseason like a million tiny Norv Turner mouthpieces, infiltrating my universe with nonsense and non-winning ways.
It's always "Turner says he's going to get 300 carries." Or, "They've gotten rid of Tolbert; who else will carry the load?" I'll tell you who. Not Mathews. Not the guy with the busted collarbone, or hip, or foot, or knee, or hand, or any of the other ailments that have had him playing at 70 percent for the majority of his NFL career.
If Mathews could stay healthy, one could reasonably project him to be a fantasy monster, in PPR leagues especially. He could be a 70-reception, 1,800 total-yard back with upside for 10-12 touchdowns. That is worthy of a first-round pick. An early one at that.
The fact is, he won't. Buyer beware. Late-third round, maybe. It could be Week 4 before we see Mathews for all we know, and one of my most important strategies in fantasy is getting off to a fast start. This allows you to make trades from a position of strength with panicking, losing owners. It will always happen after Week 4.
Mathews will not provide you the opportunity to take advantage of this critical fantasy transaction period in 2012. If you win with Mathews, you win the hard way.
1. Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
After all this negative talk about risk, let us not forget that risk is oftentimes rewarded. Find me one self-made millionaire who hasn't taken numerous risks along the way.
With that, here we have it. The monster decision. The biggest risk of your fantasy football draft in 2012 is Darren McFadden. Run DMC. The most exciting running back in the NFL to watch play, and a fantasy week winner-type of performer...
...and you know what comes next..."when healthy."
When I think of McFadden, I think of the same 42-point fantasy monsters at Mile High that new Raiders HC Dennis Allen dreaded while game-planning against him as Broncos DC. Allen told us at the combine that McFadden was the hardest player to game-plan for that he had faced in his entire career.
Raiders QB Carson Palmer has said the offense will run through McFadden this season, and with the way Palmer is throwing the ball, maybe he is onto something.
All of these issues put together leave most people in the same mindset. He's the fourth best running back in the draft. If you want to acquire the dynamic services of Darren McFadden, you will be using your first-round pick to do so in most every case imaginable. That is your foundation.
With McFadden, the story is literally almost always the same, and it goes something like this: In 2011, McFadden would have eclipsed 2,000 total yards on the season had he not sustained a ________ injury in Week __ .
We've tried this five times. In five seasons, McFadden has not made it through one season for 16 games. In five years, McFadden has never made it through an NFL regular season. It isn't just one injury either. That's a little bit of a good thing, honestly.
At least it's not concussions or one major hamstring or something. He has a burst of acceleration that when obstructed creates collisions. He has a devastating cutting ability that puts his lower legs under more stress than seems humanly possible to endure.
He is fearless in hitting the hole, and it is no coincidence why he seems like he is at a full sprint by the time he gets sprung by a good block at the second level. It is because he is fearless through the first level.
He's such a thrill to watch, and honestly, there is a little bit of sucker in me after all. I'll most definitely be rolling the dice on McFadden in at least a few leagues this season.
The second most important thing in fantasy football is having fun, and I like to roster guys I love watching when all other things are equal. It just so happens that "if healthy," McFadden is very likely to help you accomplish the most important thing as well. Winning.
"You can measure opportunity with the same yardstick that measures the risk involved. They go together." – Earl Nightingale
Alex Dunlap is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.