Fantasy Football 2012: Ranking the Top 50 Players to Retain in Keeper Leagues

Jamal CollierAnalyst IIINovember 9, 2012

Fantasy Football 2012: Ranking the Top 50 Players to Retain in Keeper Leagues

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    Fantasy football trade deadlines are taking place in the coming weeks, forcing owners in keeper leagues to make key decisions regarding the future of their teams. The choice of mortgaging a fantasy team’s future to win now must be weighed against trading away current stars for future returns.

    An overarching trend of this year’s fantasy drafts is that, on average, too much value was placed upon quarterbacks. Quarterbacks score the most points, but many of them don’t differentiate themselves from one another—which makes it difficult to justify drafting them early.

    That goes double for wide receivers. To sum it up: Running back is king.

    Good fantasy running backs, therefore, will almost entirely comprise the top 10 of these 50 players. Quarterbacks are still present, but they all take a backseat to several big-time rushers.

    Meanwhile, only a couple of tight ends are represented, and wide receivers—as a whole—are devalued in comparison to more consistently producing positions.

    The following list can also be utilized as a preliminary draft board for next season. It will certainly change between now and the Super Bowl—and even more as the offseason progresses.

    All else being equal, younger players will be favored over their senior counterparts.

    Of course, rarely—if ever—is all else equal.

50. Vincent Jackson

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    Age: 29

    Position (Rank): WR19

    Vincent Jackson is in a good situation in Tampa Bay as Josh Freeman’s No. 1 target. He’s the No. 4 fantasy WR heading into Week 10, but that’s a byproduct of an immensely favorable schedule. He’s a boom-or-bust fantasy player that has happened to boom more than bust this season.

49. Cam Newton

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    Age: 23

    Position (Rank): QB7

    Newton’s rushing touchdowns have toned down a bit this season. He’s on pace for eight after finding the end zone 14 times as a rookie. He’s still a developing passer and should get another target to throw to in the offseason.

48. Andre Johnson

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    Age: 31

    Position (Rank): WR18

    The Houston Texans have been able to keep Andre Johnson on the field this season. His talent is immense despite his 29th-ranked wide receiver standing heading into Week 10.

    He would be much higher if he’d found the end zone at all since Week 3, but the Texans are still using him. Johnson has grabbed eight or more passes in each of his last three games.

47. Reggie Wayne

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    Age: 33

    Position (Rank): WR17

    If Reggie Wayne were 27, he’d be in the top five receivers based on his performance this year. Fact is, he could still be a top-five guy next season. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck should only get better, and Wayne is his favorite target.

    He was the sixth-best fantasy receiver before Thursday night’s game against the Jaguars, despite scoring just three touchdowns this year.

46. Dwayne Bowe

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    Age: 28

    Position (Rank): WR16

    If he stays in Kansas City for the start of the 2013 season and the Chiefs draft a quarterback, Dwayne Bowe could experience a Reggie Wayne-type leap in terms of fantasy production next year.

45. Andrew Luck

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    Age: 23

    Position (Rank): QB6

    Andrew Luck is already a fantasy force at quarterback. He can chuck it for hundreds of yards and clean up drives with a rushing touchdown, which is worth more than passing scores in standard leagues.

44. Wes Welker

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    Age: 31

    Position (Rank): WR15

    Whether Wes Welker remains with the New England Patriots remains to be seen. If he continues to catch passes in the slot position from Tom Brady, there’s no reason he can’t be a PPR stud again next year.

43. Marques Colston

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    Age: 29

    Position (Rank): WR14

    Marques Colston, like Vincent Jackson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is a boom/bust fantasy wide receiver. He started the season slowly and has been fantastic of late, but his track record suggests that some sort of drought is soon to follow.

    If it doesn’t due to injuries and departures of other weapons in New Orleans, Colston’s re-draft position will likely be higher than this in 2013.

42. Greg Jennings

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    Age: 29

    Position (Rank): WR13

    Speculation alert: Greg Jennings’ contract situation, combined with James Jones’ reliability and Randall Cobb’s emergence with the Green Bay Packers, may land him in a different spot next season. He could be catching passes from Ryan Tannehill in Miami as his No. 1 guy.

41. Mikel Leshoure

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    Age: 22

    Position (Rank): RB21

    Mikel Leshoure began this season as somewhat of a forgotten man. Because he was suspended at the beginning of the year—and coming off of an injury—fantasy owners vastly downgraded his draft stock. He proved that line of thinking to be wrong, rushing for 100 yards in his first game as a pro.

    Next season will be Leshoure’s first shot at a 16-game slate.

40. Aaron Hernandez

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    Age: 23

    Position (Rank): TE3

    Aaron Hernandez has had real trouble staying on the field this year. We know he’s a top fantasy tight end when healthy, though. The New England Patriots tight end played 14 games in each of his first two seasons, so his 2012 injury woes may be an aberration.

39. Ahmad Bradshaw

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    Age: 26

    Position (Rank): RB20

    Ahmad Bradshaw has been productive and healthy this season, a contrast to his 2011 campaign during which he played 12 games for the New York Giants. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry that year playing hurt, but has bumped that up to 4.4 this year.

    He may be in line for his second 1,000-yard rushing season, but the offense in New York is still pass-oriented, and he now has company in the backfield in Andre Brown and David Wilson.

38. Larry Fitzgerald

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    Age: 29

    Position (Rank): WR12

    Larry Fitzgerald’s health is a pretty safe bet—he has not missed a game since 2007. His production, however, is less spectacular than expected.

    Fitzgerald’s ridiculous talent is overshadowed by the harsh reality that his quarterback play is less than desirable. Since Kurt Warner isn’t coming back to Arizona, Fitzgerald’s fantasy owners are likely hoping that the team gets a first-round quarterback talent in the upcoming draft.

37. Demaryius Thomas

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    Age: 24

    Position (Rank): WR11

    At just 24 years old with a full offseason with Peyton Manning looming, Demaryius Thomas’ upside is enormous. Eric Decker is getting the end-zone love, however, as Thomas has scored four touchdowns this season.

    Thomas could be the guy with more scores next season—or by this season’s end, for that matter—and is one of the players with a legitimate shot to be fantasy football’s No. 1 WR in 2013.

36. Roddy White

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    Age: 31

    Position (Rank): WR10

    Roddy White isn’t going anywhere.

    The Atlanta Falcons’ veteran receiver has never missed a game in his NFL career, has gone for over 1,100 yards receiving in each of his last five full seasons and topped 100 receptions in each of his last two.

35. Mike Wallace

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    Age: 26

    Position (Rank): WR9

    Mike Wallace’s holdout seems to be long-forgotten. He’s on pace for his third straight 1,000-yard season and hasn’t missed a game in his four-year NFL career.

    If he stays with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he’ll continue to be a big-time deep threat for Ben Roethlisberger. With an improving offensive line (that has been injured this season), he’ll have more time to make plays downfield in 2013.

34. Stevan Ridley

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    Age: 23

    Position (Rank): RB19

    Stevan Ridley is on pace for 300 carries and is the eighth-best fantasy running back, but his production has been very inconsistent. He has just as many games with 18 or more standard-scoring fantasy points (four) as he does with nine or fewer.

    With so many other RB options in New England, it’s a risk relying upon Ridley as a starting running back—but it will be rewarded at times.

33. Reggie Bush

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    Age: 27

    Position (Rank): RB18

    Reggie Bush is also one of those inconsistent fantasy runners. The Miami Dolphins starter has company in the backfield (Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller) and has only had one 100-yard rushing game this season.

    His 100-yard game, though, was a 172-yard, two-touchdown effort in Week 2 against the Oakland Raiders.

32. Peyton Manning

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    Age: 36

    Position (Rank): QB5

    Manning’s numbers are high—even by his standards. After another summer with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, he should be poised to have another big season in 2013.

31. Eric Decker

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    Age: 25

    Position (Rank): WR8

    Eric Decker has already caught more passes in eight games this season (46) than he did in all 16 contests during 2011 (44).

    Having Peyton Manning as his quarterback certainly helps his fantasy value. Despite Decker’s low volume of catches last season, he came up with eight touchdowns. This year, he’s on pace for 14.

    The guy’s a touchdown-maker.

30. Darren McFadden

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    Age: 25

    Position (Rank): RB17

    Despite being healthy throughout the first half of the season, Darren McFadden has been surprisingly ineffective as a ball-carrier. In 2010 and 2011 respectively, he averaged 5.2 and 5.4 yards per carry. In 2012, that number dropped to 3.3

    Still, he has little competition in the Oakland Raiders backfield. Touches are a valuable commodity in fantasy football.

29. Daryl Richardson

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    Age: 22

    Position (Rank): RB16

    Daryl Richardson has played very well in limited time with the St. Louis Rams. Next season could be his shot at a starting gig. As a rookie, the speedy back is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and is on pace for 670 rushing yards.

    Not bad for the second-to-last pick of the NFL draft.

28. DeMarco Murray

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    Age: 24

    Position (Rank): RB15

    One of these days, the Dallas Cowboys will lean on DeMarco Murray. He will carry them—and fantasy owners—where they want to go, and everyone will be happy.

    That day doesn’t appear to be here just yet, but hopefully it will be by 2013.

27. Jordy Nelson

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    Age: 27

    Position (Rank): WR7

    Jordy Nelson is the highest-ranked Green Bay Packers wide receiver on this list. Randall Cobb and James Jones are going to be fantastic plays if Greg Jennings in fact does leave Green Bay, but that has not happened.

    They each turned out to be bubble guys for the purposes of this list, as Nelson will pursue his second (or third) double-digit touchdown season in three years.

26. Percy Harvin

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    Age: 24

    Position (Rank): WR6

    Percy Harvin is an extraordinary asset in PPR leagues. The Minnesota Vikings playmaker has caught 62 passes in nine games this year.

    He’s still looking for his first 1,000-yard receiving season, but he already topped the 1,300 total scrimmage yards plateau in 2011. He had 345 rushing yards that year (96 in 2012).

25. Tom Brady

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    Age: 35

    Position (Rank): QB4

    Brady’s last three full-season averages: 4,511 passing yards, 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. This year, he’s on pace for 4,816 yards, 32 touchdowns and six picks. He should continue to be productive next season.

24. Calvin Johnson

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    Age: 27

    Position (Rank): WR5

    After being everybody’s No. 1 WR coming into the season, Calvin Johnson hasn’t been as productive in fantasy football because of one thing: his lack of touchdown production.

    Megatron is on pace for the same amount of catches (96) and just 147 fewer yards than his league-leading 1,681 in 2011. Yet, he has just one receiving touchdown in eight games this season—and none of them have come from Matthew Stafford.

23. Julio Jones

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    Age: 23

    Position (Rank): WR4

    Julio Jones is still a big-play wide receiver. After averaging 17.8 yards per catch in his rookie season, the Atlanta Falcons sophomore is averaging 15.7 yards per grab this year. He has five touchdowns in eight games and will be entering his third season in 2013.

    He still has room to grow.

22. Jimmy Graham

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    Age: 25

    Position (Rank): TE2

    Jimmy Graham could end the season with 10 touchdowns, and it would still be a disappointment. That’s how good he is. Last season, the New Orleans Saints tight end had 11 scores on 99 catches.

    He is more than capable of topping that effort, but he has been derailed by injury in 2012. He had only missed one game prior to this season, however.

21. Ryan Mathews

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    Age: 25

    Position (Rank): RB14

    Ryan Mathews still has to shake the injury-prone label. He missed the first two games of 2012 because of a broken clavicle that he suffered on his first carry of the preseason.

    He’ll also have to fight off all comers for touches in the San Diego Chargers backfield, but he has already proved himself capable of rattling off a 1,000-yard season in limited time.

20. Robert Griffin III

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    Age: 22

    Position (Rank): QB3

    RGIII should only get better as a passer in his second season with healthier weapons around him. He also learned—the hard way, but he actually seems to have learned—to protect himself in the NFL. That should work in his favor in terms of longevity and, in turn, fantasy production.

19. Victor Cruz

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    Age: 25

    Position (Rank): WR3

    The biggest question regarding Victor Cruz’s fantasy outlook entering 2012 was whether his touchdown production would repeat itself. The answer to that has turned out to be a resounding yes.

    Cruz played 16 games last year and scored nine touchdowns. This season, he’s got seven scores in nine games.

18. Rob Gronkowski

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    Age: 23

    Position (Rank): TE1

    Rob Gronkowski faced the same question that Victor Cruz did entering 2012: Would his touchdowns hold up?

    Yes. Yes, they would as well. Gronk scored 10 touchdowns in his rookie year, 17 as a sophomore and is on pace for 14 more in 2012.

17. Matt Forte

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    Age: 26

    Position (Rank): RB13

    Matt Forte continues to be a scrimmage-yards beast. He has increased his yards per carry in each of his last three seasons.

    Forte’s receiving yards have taken a dip this season, presumably because Jay Cutler is able to consistently count on his No. 1 wide receiver. Still, Forte is a solid investment at running back.

16. Maurice Jones-Drew

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    Age: 27

    Position (Rank): RB12

    Maurice Jones-Drew is a great player, but after a holdout and three straight seasons of 299 carries or more, injuries have caught up to him this year. Unfortunately, they are derailing his second-most productive season in terms of yards per carry, but he is on pace for a very low-usage season by his standards.

15. C.J. Spiller

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    Age: 25

    Position (Rank): RB11

    C.J. Spiller has upside for days. In eight games, he already has a career-high 562 rushing yards and has increased his yards per carry each season he’s spent in the NFL—by a lot.

    Spiller averaged 3.8 yards per carry in his rookie season, 5.2 as a sophomore and 7.2 this year.

    He even catches the ball out of the backfield. All he needs in 2013 is touches. He will do magical things with them.

14. Brandon Marshall

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    Age: 28

    Position (Rank): WR2

    The hype surrounding Brandon Marshall’s reunion with Jay Cutler seems extremely justified halfway through the season. He is on pace for 1,594 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, which would both be career-highs, in his first season as a member of the Chicago Bears.

    Marshall’s well on his way to his sixth-straight 1,000-yard season. He should continue his productive ways next year.

13. Alfred Morris

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    Age: 23

    Position (Rank): RB10

    Alfred Morris has yet to be Mike Shanahan’d out of his starting job with the Washington Redskins. The rookie rusher is on pace for 1,410 rushing yards as a result. He also finds the end zone. 

12. A.J. Green

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    Age: 24

    Position (Rank): WR1

    A.J. Green’s sophomore season is going very, very well. He’s the top-scoring fantasy wideout through nine weeks (tied with Brandon Marshall) by virtue of scoring touchdowns every game for the last seven weeks.

    Green has eight touchdowns on the year and has caught five passes in every game but one this season.

11. Jamaal Charles

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    Age: 25

    Position (Rank): RB9

    Jamaal Charles is averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season. That would be great for virtually any running back not named Jamaal Charles. His average yards per attempt—which has improved with every passing year in the NFL—was 5.3 his rookie year.

    Of course, there’s the fact that he tore his ACL at the beginning of last year. Charles should resume his ridiculously explosive ways in 2013.

10. Drew Brees

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    Age: 33         

    Position (Rank): QB2

    Despite the New Orleans Saints’ struggles, Drew Brees is leading fantasy owners to wins on a weekly basis. This year, he’s on pace for 5,098 passing yards, 44 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

    If he hits those marks, this will be the second year in a row that he has topped 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. He’s dependable as a fantasy (and NFL) quarterback.

9. Marshawn Lynch

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    Age: 26

    Position (Rank): RB8

    The theme for the Seattle Seahawks offense in the last two years has been feed the Beast. Marshawn Lynch has 185 carries this year and, despite his high usage, is averaging a career-high 4.8 yards per carry.

    The touchdowns will be there with that volume of touches. Lynch is on pace for 329 rushing attempts this season.

8. Aaron Rodgers

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    Age: 28

    Position (Rank): QB1

    Aaron Rodgers was fantasy football’s top scorer last season in 15 games. This year, he won’t likely sit out the last one because the Green Bay Packers aren’t leading their conference.

    He combines elite passing skills with enough running to matter in fantasy football and should be the first quarterback off the board next season.

7. Chris Johnson

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    Age: 27

    Position (Rank): RB7

    Don’t look now, but Chris Johnson is running by everybody. He’s finally resembling CJ2K again and performing at a level that makes him matchup-proof in fantasy football.

    Johnson has run for 91 or more yards in five of the last six weeks, topping 140 yards three times.

6. Arian Foster

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    Age: 26

    Position (Rank): RB6

    Arian Foster is on pace for an obscene 384 carries this season. You don’t notice it in his fantasy production due to his 10 touchdowns in eight games, but his yards per carry have suffered: He’s running for a career-low 4.0 yards per carry this season.

    Foster is still a top-10 running back, but fantasy owners—and the Houston Texans—need to beware of his usage rate going too high this year.

5. LeSean McCoy

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    Age: 24

    Position (Rank): RB5

    LeSean McCoy’s touchdown production has plummeted this year. He scored 20 total touchdowns in 15 games during 2011, but is on pace for half that in 2012.

    Shady’s rushing touchdowns have sunk from 17 to two (on pace for four) behind an unhealthy offensive line. McCoy is also a key cog in an offense that can’t seem to keep possession of the ball in the red zone. The Philadelphia Eagles’ turnover problems should eventually even out, giving him more opportunities for TD production.

4. Doug Martin

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    Age: 23

    Position (Rank): RB4

    The Muscle Hamster, Doug Martin, has been a monster in his last couple of games—including a 251-yard, four touchdown effort against the Oakland Raiders on the road in Week 9.

    He now boasts a 5.2 average yards per carry, totaling 794 yards and seven rushing touchdowns on the season. Martin also catches the ball and is an every-down back.

    Next season, he’ll get his two starting guards back (Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph) on the offensive line, too.

3. Trent Richardson

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    Age: 21

    Position (Rank): RB3

    Trent Richardson may be the focal point of defenses facing the Cleveland Browns, but he’s also the focal point of that offense. His numbers are less impressive than Doug Martin’s to this point in the season—in part due to the presence of an established passing game in Tampa Bay.

    When the Browns’ passing game catches up to their running game’s potential, Richardson should have a breakout season.

2. Ray Rice

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    Age: 25

    Position (Rank): RB2

    Ray Rice’s usage is projected to fall off a bit this season, as the Baltimore Ravens are using him less. That should work in his favor next season, however, especially given that Joe Flacco has not proved that he can ignite the passing game on a consistent basis.

1. Adrian Peterson

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    Age: 27

    Position (Rank): RB1

    Less than a year removed from tearing his ACL, Adrian Peterson is tearing up the NFL. He’s on pace for about 300 carries, but averaging the highest yards per carry in his career (5.7).

    Peterson’s on pace for 1,701 rushing yards, 46 receptions, 267 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns. When you add in the fact that athletes tend to do better in their second year back from ACL injuries than their first, we might be asking ourselves if Peterson is the best running back ever this time next season.


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