Fantasy Football 2011: Adrian Peterson and 50 Sure Bet Draft Picks
There are a few sure things in life, especially in football. In a game that is predicated on violence, fans often put their team's hopes and goals on one or two players.
Every year in fantasy football, those feelings are taken to new heights.
Have you ever had a huge draft bust? What about a crucial, season-changing injury? Or have you ever been lucky enough to find that hidden gem after Week 2?
Most of us fantasy football stalwarts will have at least one of those scenarios play out this season. So the question really is, how do you create the least amount of risk for yourself?
Some of the next 50 players won't be sexy, but they will give you consistent numbers every week. Some of them will be very sexy picks—and none of them will be kickers.
A brief disclaimer, some of these picks are based on "safeness" rather than productivity.
Do I think Mike Vick has a better year than Peyton Manning? Yes I do, but I think Peyton has less a chance of falling on his face, whereas Vick could blow his knee out or lose a couple games with a concussion because of his rushing antics. This would make me believe Peyton is a surer bet than Vick.
With that being said, these are the 50 surest bets in fantasy football.
50. Pittsburgh Steelers Defense
Weird to start a fantasy football list with a defense, right?
The Steelers are consistently one of the top three ranked defenses and have studs at just about every position. Whether it is James Harrison or Lamar Woodley getting sacks, or Troy Polamalu getting interceptions, the Steelers create turnovers and keep scores low enough to get you the most amount of points possible.
49. Rob Gronkowski, TE (New England Patriots)
Brady seems to be back to the old Brady. Once Moss left the picture last year, the QB got back to what made the Patriots successful—spreading the ball around with short-to-medium passes.
Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez already saw the benefits of this system, and unless Brady suffers a season-ending injury, we should expect more of the same.
So why Gronkowski more than Hernandez? Gronkowski will get more playing time because he blocks better. When he has a quick release to the flat, Gronkowski will likely see more opportunity as a second and third option, whereas Hernandez is more of a pass-catching tight end.
Hernandez will get looks, but not as many as Gronk.
48. Anquan Boldin, WR (Baltimore Ravens)
Boldin came to the Ravens last season in an effort to finally bolster the poor passing game in Baltimore. He did not tear the roof off like hoped, but he showed he could make passing a focus for the Ravens.
With an extra year of working with Joe Flacco, Boldin should adapt more to John Harbaugh's offense. With only two other seasons prior to last year where he gained less than 1,000 yards, Boldin should grow from last year and develop into a top threat on the field for the Ravens.
47. Tony Gonzalez, TE (Atlanta Falcons)
Gonzalez is definitely past his prime, and he likely won't hit Pro-Bowl level performances either. So outside of the elite tight end conversation now, Gonzalez is a nice option for Matt Ryan if a play breaks down.
It's not like he can't contribute anymore either. Even though the addition of Julio Jones might mean less passes thrown his way, Gonzalez makes it his business to get in the end zone.
With the Falcons acting like now is their time, Gonzalez looks to feature prominently in an explosive offense. If this truly is the last part of his career, he will likely go out strong.
46. Greg Jennings, WR (Green Bay Packers)
Greg Jennings can undoubtedly be one of the best receivers in the game, but ask a fan who had him in the starting lineup last year about his inconsistency.
Jennings' seasons totals look stellar with 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he didn't have those kind of numbers for most of the first half of the year.
If Jennings was more consistent, he would rank a lot higher.
45. BenJarvis Green-Ellis, RB (New England Patriots)
"The Lawfirm" was nearly out of the NFL last season when the Patriots picked him up.
With a running back by committee stable, Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead turned the Patriots' running attack around and bought Brady some extra time in the pocket.
With his straight-forward running style, Grenn-Ellis may not be durable for years to come, but he should still make an impact next seasons, even with the Patriots drafting two new running backs.
44. Sam Bradford, QB (St. Louis Rams)
There were major concerns about Sam Bradford's shoulder coming into the NFL season last year. After injuring it two years in a row, it looked like he may not be durable enough to get the job done.
Bradford proved everyone wrong, not only playing in every game, but also starting and nearly leading the Rams to the playoffs. He should come back next year a little bit wiser and a lot more confident that he is capable of getting St. Louis to the top of the NFC West.
43. LeGarrette Blount, RB (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Another sophomore on the list, Blount came out of nowhere to win some teams a couple fantasy matchups last season.
After going undrafted due to concerns about his character, Blount worked hard and made his way onto a roster. Without starting in more than half the games he played in last season, Blount still racked up more than 1,000 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
With a full season at starter, Blount has a legitimate chance to be a Pro Bowler.
42. Marques Colston, WR (New Orleans Saints)
If Colston was not on the Saints, his name would be much higher on the list.
Colston is a game-changer for Drew Brees and company. His big, tall body allows him to go up and grab balls smaller defensive backs are not able to get to. He has had one year of less than 1,000 yards in a season, including his rookie campaign.
Colston is likely to miss a game or two due to injury, but he will make up for it at some point with major productions. There will be players who consistently give you more even numbers game to game, but Colston is guaranteed to have a few games a season where he blows up and makes it worth while to have him on your team.
41. Josh Freeman, QB (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Josh Freeman put it together his second year. Paired with Mike Williams and Arrelious Been, and a running game backed by LeGarrette Blount, the Buccaneers' offense looks to be one of the most ready for long-term success in the NFL.
After an incredible season with 3,500 yards, 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions, Freeman looks to build upon this with his young receivers and coaching staff.
With his team just on the outside of the playoffs, it may be too much to overcome the Saints and the Falcons for a spot in the playoffs this year, but Freeman looks to put up even bigger numbers this year and have his name mentioned as one of the game's best.
40. Vernon Davis, TE (San Francisco 49ers)
No matter who starts in San Francisco this season, one thing is for sure—they will throw the ball to Vernon Davis.
Acting as Alex Smith's release valve these past few years, Davis has been able to haul in nearly 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons and 20 touchdowns over two years.
With a solid pass-catching tight end, Jim Harbaugh should see to it that Davis gets even more touches until his quarterback, whomever that may be, is more comfortable with his new offense.
39. Peyton Hillis, RB (Cleveland Browns)
Madden Curse be damned!
Hillis found his way into the national conversation after a grass roots campaign earned him the Madden '11 cover.
Using a straight-forward running style and possessing some wicked stiff-arm action, Hillis literally bowls over defenses on the way to 100-yard games.
Due to the physicality of his playing style, Hillis may see some time off and wear down as the season goes on, but for the first three quarters of the season, he is as good a bet as any.
38. Dwayne Bowe, WR (Kansas City Chiefs)
Dwayne Bowe was constantly a receiver you heard being mentioned as ready to break out.
Last year he finally did.
With a solid running game and passing options surrounding him, Bowe was able to find open spots on the field and make the most of his opportunities.
With the Chiefs adding a young wide receiver to pair with him, Bowe won't be the only focus spread outside the hash marks.
He should sustain his recent success, giving the Chiefs a real shot at winning the AFC West.
37. Percy Harvin, WR (Minnesota Vikings)
Percy Harvin found success with Brett Favre as his quarterback in his rookie season, but last year was not as kind to the Viking, as he was plagued by debilitating migraines. Even with more playing time, he barely saw an uptick in production, part of that due to Favre's overall performance.
With a new quarterback at the helm, there should be no more guessing as to whether Favre will be back. Harvin and his new quarterback should be able to build a rhythm, and he should be able to build upon his prior success.
Combining his receiving skills with his return skills, Harvin should be a dual-threat to add extra points for your team.
36. Darren McFadden, RB (Oakland Raiders)
Darren McFadden finally became the running back we all expected him to last season.
After two injury-filled seasons, McFadden started more than half the games in the 2010 season and gained nearly 1,200 yards with seven touchdowns.
The Raiders looked to be turning a corner last year, and McFadden is a big reason why. The Raiders need to make sure they have a strong secondary back to team with McFadden to make sure he is fresh and injury-free.
If McFadden can stay on the field, his numbers should only get better.
35. Vincent Jackson, WR (San Diego Chargers)
No one really knows if Vincent Jackson will be with the Chargers next season, but his fantasy numbers should not suffer, even if he is moved.
Jackson is an elite receiver with great hands and the ability to find space in the open field. With Philip Rivers as his quarterback, he should see huge numbers again with a full season under his belt.
34. Sidney Rice, WR (Minnesota Vikings)
Sidney Rice's season last year was one he would like to forget.
Sidelined with hip surgery, Rice nearly missed the entire season before being activated at the last minute. He might have been better off waiting.
As part of the travelling Brett Favre circus, Rice didn't connect with Favre the way he did the prior season—then again, no one did. Rice had one great performance against the Bills, and that was it.
Solving the quarterback situation and an offseason to get healthy should have Rice's numbers back where they were in 2009.
33. Green Bay Packers Defense
You should not draft the Packers' defense somewhere in the third round—that would be ridiculous.
With a Super Bowl title under their arm already, Clay Matthews and co. look to continue their overall dominance of the NFC next year in an attempt to get back to the Super Bowl. With plenty of pieces from last year still in place, the Packers should not have any problem putting on a repeat performance on defense.
32. Brandon Marshall, WR (Miami Dolphins)
Brandon Marshall came to the Dolphins last season after being shipped out of Denver, and he immediately made an impact in Miami, but was not able to find the end zone quite as often as he hoped.
With struggles at quarterback, the Dolphins may be looking to shore up the quarterback spot this offseason.
If Henne returns as the starter, Marshall already has chemistry with him.
If the quarterback is different, Marshall should not have problems adjusting and should look to get more looks toward the end zone.
31. Jonathan Stewart, RB (Carolina Panthers)
Stewart did not have the break-out season he had hoped for last year. With DeAngelo Williams hurt for part of the season, Stewart should have taken that as his moment to show he was capable of being a lead back.
But with the Panthers' injury problems, Stewart was never able to really show what he has; he instead got injured himself, then split time with Mike Goodson.
With a healthy line and more potent offense surrounding him, Stewart should regain his old form.
30. DeAnelo Williams, RB (Carolina Panthers)
For now he is listed as a Panther.
Williams is not the world's most durable back, so he needs to find a team where he can split carries.
Carolina was a great fit, but the entire team was plagued by injuries last year, which didn't help keep Williams on the field.
If he does move to a team where he can split carries, he should not see any loss in production. If he stays in Carolina, Williams may see a reduced role due to the emergence of Mike Goodson, but that may keep him on the field longer as the season wears on.
29. Tony Romo, QB (Dallas Cowboys)
With all those offensive weapons, Romo should have no problem finding a way to regain his old form after injuring himself last year.
Although he may be criticized for his playoff performance and late-year swoons, Romo is still a top-10 quarterback in a quarterback-driven league. He has elite numbers every year, and that trend should continue into 2011.
28. Wes Welker, WR (New England Patriots)
Welker is not a big-name receiver like some of the others on this list. After coming off major knee surgery last year, Welker found his way onto the field only after missing one game; his drive and determination make him one of the Patriots' most valuable players.
Welker is a ball magnet. He caught more than 100 balls every year except last season while with the Patriots. The trend should continue next year when he is fully healthy.
Although Welker doesn't see a ton of the end zone, part of that has to do with the Patriots and Tom Brady spreading the ball around.
27. Ben Roethlisberger, QB (Pittsburgh Steelers)
"Big Ben" often doesn't receive credit for being a great quarterback. He is "gutsy," a "winner" and all sorts of other terms used for players who win, but don't produce at elite levels.
Roethlisberger will never be mistaken for Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning, guys who can throw the ball and get their team to victory.
While he can certainly do that, Roethlisberger's game isn't built around that.
He has had several outstanding seasons as a quarterback, but none that truly say "elite" when just looking at the numbers. With a full slate of games this season, Roethlisberger should push 4,000 yards passing and maybe 30 touchdowns again.
26. Steven Jackson, RB (St. Louis Rams)
Since the Rams have been a joke for most of Jackson's career, he has often been undervalued. Now that he is closing in on 30, it may be too late to fully appreciate him.
Jackson is a rare breed as a workhorse back. He consistently has sees than 250 carries and more than 1,200 yards. Jackson is not a flashy back—just consistent. He has taken a beating over the years as the only real option for the Rams on offense for the better part of six seasons.
Jackson's productivity may slightly decline, but he will still be a force to be reckoned with.
25. Michael Turner, RB (Atlanta Falcons)
Michael Turner is easily one of the few workhorse backs in the NFL.
That being said, to preserve him for a few more years, the Falcons would be wise to ease up on giving him so many carries. With the addition of Jaquizz Rodgers, Atlanta is looking to do just that.
Turner should only see a slight decline in production, but he will still remain among the league leaders.
24. Larry Fitzgerald, WR (Arizona Cardinals)
Larry Fitzgerald is blessed with an outstanding set of hands.
He is consistently able to pull down balls despite double coverage. With the revolving door that was the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback position last season, Fitzgerald should be pleased once the Cardinals make a permanent move to fill that spot.
With a consistent arm throwing to him, Fitzgerald should bounce back next season.
23. Hakeem Nicks, WR (New York Giants)
Hakeem Nicks is the main guy for Eli Manning in New York.
Despite missing time the past two seasons, Nicks has emerged as a huge deep threat who can open up the field for Steve Smith and Mario Manningham.
With Nicks healthy this season, the Giants should expect close to 1,200 yards and nearly 15 touchdowns. While that should rank him higher on the list, Nicks hasn't been able to make it through a full season.
If he can get healthy and stay healthy, he might be a top-three receiver next year.
22. Antonio Gates, TE (San Diego Chargers)
Gates is coming off an injury-plagued season.
Yet, if you just looked at the stats, you would think he played in all 16 games. With close to 800 yards and 10 touchdowns, last year was an off year due to missed time.
When on the field, Gates was dominant with a touchdown and 78 yards per game.
He is likely at the end of his peak, but Gates should still have solid production like this for at least a few more seasons.
21. Matt Ryan, QB (Atlanta Falcons)
After bouncing back from a sophomore year slump, Ryan led his team to the playoffs and a division title, only to have an early exit at the hands of the Packers.
Ryan and the Falcons have already retooled their offense with Julio Jones and a change-of-pace back in Jordan Todman. With these new weapons, Ryan should have an even better season than last and should creep closer to being mentioned as an elite quarterback.
20. Matt Schaub, QB (Houston Texans)
From a pure yardage perspective, Schaub might be the second or third best quarterback in the league. Unfortunately, with that kind of yardage, he should have closer to 35 touchdowns instead of 28.
Schaub and the Texans are always in a shootout, and it leads to Schaub constantly being atop the leaderboard in passing stats. It also means the Texans' defense is terrible.
Schaub should continue to have success throwing the ball, but hopefully because he plans to, not because the Texans are behind and need him to.
19. Frank Gore, RB (San Francisco 49ers)
Frank Gore takes a huge beating in San Francisco because he is the only true offense the 49ers have been able to muster recently.
With Alex Smith not living up to expectations, the passing game doesn't exist outside of Vernon Davis, so Gore is expected to be a featured back. He should be on a team that has two solid backs though.
Gore would rank higher if he could stay healthy. Even though he has only had one full season, Gore can usually put up the numbers of a healthy backup in three-quarters of games.
18. Roddy White, WR (Atlanta Falcons)
Roddy White might be considered one of the game's top-five receivers. He consistently puts up huge numbers despite being surrounded by lesser talented receivers on the opposite side of the field.
With the addition of Julio Jones, White should see that change. While rookie wide receivers generally don't make a huge impact, Jones could provide enough distraction to free up White more.
White should be targeted less with the addition of Jones, but he might be open more often, and with his speed, he should be able to break away into the end zone more.
17. Jason Witten, TE (Dallas Cowboys)
Jason Witten might be Tony Romo's favorite target, and with Romo coming back, Witten should see increased exposure in Jason Garrett's offense.
Witten always puts up top-three numbers for a tight end and should continue to do the same with the receiving unit the Cowboys have.
If Romo stays healthy and Dez Bryant progresses in his second season, Witten should see a small spike in last year's numbers.
16. Jamaal Charles, RB (Kansas City Chiefs)
As the feature back last year, Charles broke onto the scene, piling up 1,500 yards and eight touchdowns.
While Charles will likely need to break some longer touchdowns to get into the end zone, he has shown he is capable of being a lead back.
Paired with Thomas Jones, Charles is a burst of speed and should see his attempts increase next year.
15. Miles Austin, WR (Dallas Cowboys)
Austin saw a dip in productivity last year despite having a solid partner on the other side of the field in Dez Bryant.
Part of the reason for the regression was Austin's prominence as a feature receiver. It also didn't help that Tony Romo was out with an injury.
With Romo back and a full complement of people to get the ball to, Austin should see his numbers go up.
14. Rashard Mendenhall, RB (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Rashard Mendenhall is another workhorse back who doesn't appear to need any assistance in running the ball.
Mendenhall provides balance to the Steelers' offense. He is able to grind out the clock and eat up yardage so the Steelers can play physical, hard-nosed football.
With Pittsburgh's unchanging offensive philosophy, Mendenhall should expect to see the ball plenty, and those who grab him for their team should see similar—if not better—numbers next year.
13. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB (Jacksonville Jaguars)
MJD had an off-year by his standards last year; used to scoring 10 or more touchdowns in a season, MJD only had half that in 2010.
Part of the problem in Jacksonville is the complete lack of a balanced offense. Jones-Drew is the only real option in Jacksonville right now, and the Jaguars' opponents know it.
Even though this is the case, MJD keeps producing. Although he didn't see the end zone as much last season, he should bounce back to have a similar performance of years' past.
12. Calvin Johnson, WR (Detroit Lions)
"Megatron" has been the one good thing in Detroit the past few seasons. With the Lions looking like they are building toward being a contender, Johnson should continue to see beefed up stat lines.
The only thing truly holding the Lions back is Matt Stafford's health. If Stafford can stay healthy, the entire Lions offense should see better numbers.
Johnson will thrive with or without Stafford, but having him wouldn't hurt.
11. Michael Vick, QB (Philadelphia Eagles)
Vick's story last year catapulted him back onto the national scene.
After returning from two years away from football (basically three, if you count 2009) Vick came back and got himself into the MVP race last year.
With a full season under his belt, Vick should improve on all the things we hoped he would turn into. As a more complete quarterback, Vick is less prone to take off if something doesn't develop right away; this will save him from injury at some point.
Vick still runs and takes risks. The reason he isn't higher on this list is because he is more likely to get injured due to the chances he takes.
10. Reggie Wayne, WR (Indianapolis Colts)
Being Peyton Manning's most trusted receiver certainly allows for a higher stat line than most receivers should expect.
With Wayne nearing the end of his peak years, his production is likely to begin declining, but since he plays on the Colts, Manning will still get him the ball a lot. Wayne will therefore still remain at the top of the stat sheet for years to come.
9. Arian Foster, RB (Houston Texans)
Foster should probably be higher on the list considering he led the league in rushing last year, but he was not drafted and wasn't even slated to start until injuries during the preseason.
This is not to say Foster isn't a capable back, but to be considered a sure thing, there should be a track record. Last year got Foster off to a good start; one more solid season, and Foster will move his way up the list.
8. Ray Rice, RB (Baltimore Ravens)
Rice is an all-purpose back. He can run inside, outside, catch and block all at a high level.
It is this flexibility that makes him one of the top three running backs in the NFL.
For fantasy owners, Rice finds a way to get points every week. If he can't get yards running, he gets into the receiving game. If he can't catch, he usually explodes on the ground.
Rice is a points machine and has proven to be so ever since he left Rutgers.
7. Aaron Rodgers, QB (Green Bay Packers)
Aaron Rodgers finally got his name into the elite quarterbacks club with Brady, Brees and Manning by getting himself a ring this year.
Rodgers has always been part of the club from a numbers standpoint, though. He is highly accurate, throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns a year. He is about as consistent as they come.
Rodgers will be the best quarterback in the NFL soon once Manning, Brees and Brady step off the field.
6. Andre Johnson, WR (Houston Texans)
Johnson has some of the best hands to ever play in the NFL. That, combined with a mean streak meant for a linebacker, makes Johnson one of the most feared players in the NFL.
He has consistently had eight touchdowns in each of the past four seasons and would have had more if not for some missed time last season.
Johnson is breaking away from the pack as the best receiver in the NFL. Paired with Matt Schaub, he will likely continue to put up huge numbers for a few more years.
5. Drew Brees, QB (New Orleans Saints)
Drew Brees brought life back to New Orleans. When he paired with Sean Payton, the Saints found a magic combination for putting up huge stats.
The thing about Brees and the Saints is that it doesn't matter who is lined up with him, Brees will always put up big stats.
And he will continue to put up big numbers as long as the Saints keep finding talented players to put around him.
The only downside to Brees is because he spends so much time throwing the ball, he often ends up getting it to the wrong team. While he is highly accurate, he tends to put the ball in places where the defense can get it.
4. Chris Johnson, RB (Tennessee Titans)
Chris Johnson has no business continuing to put up huge rushing numbers. The Titans' offense is basically an one-man show—and that one man show can't be stopped.
In his third season, Johnson had what he considered an "off-year," rushing for 1,300 yards and receiving another 250 yards. While doing this, he was generally the singular focus of the Titans' opponents.
If Tennessee ever gets the rest of the offense on board, Johnson could be truly scary with his speed.
3. Philip Rivers, QB (San Diego Chargers)
Since taking over in San Diego, Rivers has done nothing but put up monster season after monster season, and his numbers just keep getting better.
Rivers is closing in on 5,000 yards passing for a season, but is not likely to get there without the return of his biggest receiver, Vincent Jackson, and a healthy Antonio Gates.
Rivers is another highly accurate quarterback, but unlike Brees, Rivers isn't quite as much of a gambler and has far fewer interceptions, which is why he ranks slightly ahead of Brees.
2. Adrian Peterson, RB (Minnesota Vikings)
With the circus of Brett Favre's travelling road show, Peterson was often overlooked last season. While it wasn't his best season, it was better than most.
Peterson had his lowest total yardage ever and came nowhere near his touchdown total from the prior year. Part of this is because as the year progressed, it became clear Favre wasn't what he once was.
With a new quarterback and some stability on the team, Peterson should get back on track and have another huge season.
1. Tom Brady, QB (New England Patriots); Peyton Manning, QB (Indianapolis Colts)
Can you really separate the two?
Manning has 11 seasons of 4,000 or more yards and six 30-touchdown seasons. He also briefly held the record for most touchdown passes in a season with 49 in 2004.
Brady hasn't been on the field as long, but had what may have been one of the most efficient performances ever by a quarterback last year, with 36 touchdowns and four interceptions. He's also the guy who broke Peyton's aforementioned record.
Brady and Manning are the most consistent thing in the NFL right now. You can basically set a watch to them. If you want a sure thing at quarterback, you take one of them.