If you are a risk-taking fantasy football owner, this is the column for you!
Fantasy football has its sure things like New England’s Tom Brady, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Baltimore’s Ray Rice. It also has its sure flops like Oakland’s Matt Flynn, New York’s Mark Sanchez and Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart.
But there are many players you can label as high-risk/high-reward. They could be All-Pros or no-shows. They could win rushing or passing titles, or they could finish ranked 50th at their positions. They could help you win your fantasy leagues, but they could also dash your championship dreams.
So if you feel like gambling during your fantasy drafts this week and next, here are the six biggest high-risk/high-reward players in fantasy football for the 2013 season.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (QB)
By the time your fantasy draft rolls around, hopefully word will be out on whether RG3 will be suiting up and starting Week 1. But if your draft happens before Washington head coach Mike Shanahan finally announces the team’s intentions, then Griffin will easily be the biggest high-risk/high-reward guy on the draft board.
Even if Griffin is ready to go for the season’s start and you know ahead of time, how many weeks will he last? He has not proven that he can tone down his reckless running style and shield himself from horrific hits and terrifying tackles. Will fantasy owners risk a second or third-round draft choice on Griffin when there are several high-profile quarterbacks available who have proven themselves to be productive AND durable?
Plus we do not know if Griffin’s speed and explosiveness will return after blowing out his knee in last year’s playoffs. What if he is not the super specimen Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson is? What if instead of his usual RG3 top gear he has to settle for a slower Vince Young gear?
Yet if Griffin plays 16 games, he will certainly be a top-10 fantasy quarterback and possibly in the top five due to the rushing numbers he can tack on to his solid passing stats. Griffin is coming off a rookie campaign that saw him throw for 3,200 yards, run for another 815 yards and be responsible for 27 total touchdowns.
With a year of experience under his belt and the assumption he will improve, is 4,000 passing yards, 900 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns crazy to forecast for RG3? That is why fantasy owners will be willing to take the risk in the hopes of a reward like that.
Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles (QB)
Vick has been named the starting quarterback of Chip Kelly’s 1,000-plays-per-game offense that runs at a Usain Bolt-like speed. More plays means more pass attempts and scrambles, so it should mean more yards and touchdowns for Vick, too.
But Vick is the most injury-prone quarterback in the NFL, so more plays also means more chances to get tackled and hurt. The dude has played one full season in a decade. Rihanna is more reliable than Vick.
With the able Nick Foles waiting in the wings, one awkward fall for Vick could turn into his fantasy worth drying up to zilch. Fantasy owners should be used to this from him, though, and know the fail-safe option of snagging Foles late in their drafts.
Vick is not the risk Griffin is simply because Griffin is the more highly sought player in fantasy leagues these days. Vick’s upside is not where Griffin’s is now that Vick is in his 30s and has become an injury-riddled turnover machine. But Vick could be an extremely useful fantasy QB in Kelly’s potent offense and is worth a middle-round risk as long as you have other quarterbacks on your roster.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants (WR)
Sorry, Victor Cruz, but Nicks is New York’s No. 1 receiver...when he is healthy. The problem is Nicks is always nicked up. He has never played in all 16 games of any season in his first four years, and his leg problems reduced him to an average receiver in 2012 when he only had 53 receptions for 692 yards and three touchdowns and had no burst whatsoever.
Nicks’ combination of size and speed makes him impossible to cover one-on-one when he is 100 percent, though. He piled up 2,244 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns between 2010 and 2011 even though he missed four contests during that span. Small cornerbacks have no chance because he can leap over them, and taller corners that lack quickness cannot keep up with him on deep routes.
A healthy Nicks could give lucky fantasy owners 1,300 yards and a dozen touchdowns. An injured Nicks could give unlucky fantasy owners ulcers. He is the walking definition of a high-risk, high-reward receiver. If you would rather know what you are going to get, draft his teammate Cruz instead.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns (QB)
2012 was the year of the rookie quarterback, but not because of Weeden. While Griffin, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson were cementing their top-flight fantasy statuses, Weeden was throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes.
But the pieces are in place for Weeden to take a step up stats-wise in 2013, mostly because of the revamped coaching staff. First-year head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner are well-known offensive gurus who have helped upgrade the fantasy values of several quarterbacks over the years. Weeden is now their newest pet project.
Some fantasy owners will still be weary of Weeden because of what they saw last year, however. He looked stiff when he threw, had problems locking in on receivers and was consistently inconsistent. His 14-to-17 TD-to-INT ratio was terrible, and his 72.6 QB rating did make him look like the next Bernie Kosar let alone a solid fantasy signal-caller.
Weeden has an exciting arm, though. He can get the ball downfield, and quarterbacking in a Turner offense demands downfield throws. If young receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little step up their games and stay out of trouble, and the coaches can mentor and mold Weeden into an above-average passer, the fantasy rewards could be surprising.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars (RB)
Will fantasy owners get the bowling ball on legs that won the NFL’s rushing title in 2011, or the guy who missed most of 2012 with a serious foot injury? I’d bet on the former, but because Jones-Drew has had tons of touches over his career, the latter is a possibility.
Jones-Drew is 28 years old. For a running back who initiates more contact than he avoids and has been a workhorse in recent years due to his passing-game prowess and his awful backups, this is when his body should start slowing down and breaking down.
The fact is, though, that MJD just won the rushing title two years ago. He ran for 1,606 yards on a team with no passing attack and an average offensive line, and he ran against defenses who stacked eight to 10 defenders in the box to stuff him. That does not deserve applause, that deserves a standing ovation.
Jones-Drew will probably not be one of the top 10 running backs taken in many or most fantasy drafts, but he should be taken in the second round and no later than the third. Running backs are still gold in fantasy football, and he is one of the few with a superb track record who does not have to worry about splitting carries with another back. Fantasy owners just have to worry if his gas tank is closer to empty than full.
Danny Amendola, New England Patriots (WR)
Fantasy owners know all too well about the numbers Wes Welker racked up as the slot receiver in New England’s offense over the past six seasons. He caught over 110 passes five times and averaged 1,243 yards per year during that spectacular span.
Those same stats could be printed on the back of Amendola’s football cards in future years. He has a lot of the same traits Welker has—sure hands, quick feet and pinpoint route running. Some could argue Amendola is even more talented at this point because he probably has more breakaway speed and is younger.
Even so, can you trust a guy who has only amassed 1,726 receiving yards and seven touchdowns during his four-year career? Blame it on Amendola’s major injuries, the underwhelming offenses he was in and the erratic quarterback play of the guys throwing to him if you want. Other than a couple contests where St. Louis’ Sam Bradford picked on bad corners “covering” Amendola, I did not see a top-flight fantasy receiver when I watched him.
Amendola will have a couple killer games in points-per-reception leagues, no doubt. Tom Brady might complete five passes in a row to him on one single drive. But will donning a Patriots uniform keep him healthy and help him find the end zone more often? That’s for you to decide.
If you are a risk-taking fantasy football owner, this is the column for you!