Tebow Up, Vick Down: Five Locks, Crocks for the 2011 Fantasy Football Season
Fantasy football is a game that is impossible to predict.
We enter each new season with an abundance of rankings and projections, but by season’s end our predictions usually have more wrong answers than Vince Young’s Wonderlic test. Whether it’s an unheralded rookie, injury replacement or ex-convict, we can almost never accurately predict who the game’s top performers will be.
Projections are difficult to make with all that uncertainty, but somebody has to do it. And who better to do it than me, a 20-year-old college student with a laptop and a dream?
Here are my Five Locks and Five Crocks for the 2011 fantasy football season.
Lock: Tim Tebow, Fantasy Stud
[Insert readers’ intense Tebow-bashing here]. Listen, I know you all love to hate on Timmy, but the key thing to understand is that fantasy success and real-life success can be very different things. Remember when Tyler Thigpen had that impressive run in 2008? Of course you don’t, because Thiggy isn’t a good player. But he did carry a few fantasy teams that season, and Tebow can do the same for you.
Tebow is young, inexperienced and a Denver Bronco, which isn’t exactly a recipe for fantasy success. But with the ability to run (definitely) and throw (almost), he’s a good bet to have some big fantasy weeks. He finished the last three weeks of the 2010 season with 20-plus points in each game, so you could do worse with a mid-to-late-round QB pick. And if that’s not enough, remember this: God wants Tebow to succeed.
Crock: Michael Vick, Fantasy Dud
I’m more confident in this statement than I am in any other statement I will make this season. In fact, I’m so confident, if Vick finishes as a top three QB option, I will mail every reader (all nine of you) $40 in crisp $10 bills (I’m not actually going to do this). Here’s why: Michael Vick has never put together back-to-back Top 10 fantasy seasons. He finished No. 3 in 2002, 2006 and 2010, but in between those seasons he finished outside the Top 10 each year.
“But Vick is really fast! And… he’s awesome!” Yeah, I know. We all love to love Vick. But we know how injury prone he is. If you look at his year-to-year stats, the consistency isn’t there. Now, I would draft him No. 1 overall in 2014 ('02, ’06, ’10…see a pattern?), but I’m avoiding him this season. Go ahead, ignore my warning and draft Vick. But when he misses six games with an injury, I don’t want you to come running to tell me how right I was. (Yes I do! Follow me on Twitter!)
Lock: Adrian Peterson won’t be the No. 1 RB, but he should be drafted first
In the past four seasons, there have been four different No. 1 fantasy running backs. The top guys in the past two years—Chris Johnson and Arian Foster—weren’t even drafted in the Top 10 at their positions in their No. 1 year. What I’m saying here, America, is predicting the game’s top running back is more difficult than predicting exactly how many stupid statements Rex Ryan will make this season (we can’t quantify numbers that high).
With that in mind, I’m going to take the guesswork out of the draft’s top pick and suggest you take Adrian Peterson No. 1 everywhere. Why? Because consistency is king. Peterson has never been the top back in the game, but in his four seasons he has finished no worse than third. When it’s that difficult to project the top running back, drafting a guy early who seems a lock for the top five is a no-brainer.
Crock: Steven Jackson definitely won’t be the No. 1 RB, so don’t draft him early
One player I refuse to have on any of my teams this year is Steven Jackson. Even in a fantasy league where “most Rams players on your team” is a stat category, I’m still not drafting him. He’s almost never healthy, and to make things worse, new Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels isn’t a huge fan of the running game. (He had Kyle Orton averaging over 83 passes-per-game. That might be an exaggeration, but if you watched the Broncos play last season, this number seems possible).
And with his quarterback throwing until his arm is dead (Orton literally missed games with this condition), McDaniels’ running backs suffer. Add in the oft-injured status, and you have a recipe for a fantasy nightmare with Jackson.
Lock: Two Top 10 Quarterbacks You Can Draft Outside the Top 10
I may be avoiding Jackson like the fantasy plague, but I definitely want to own his quarterback, Sam Bradford, in every league. Hell, he’s even starting at first base on one of my fantasy baseball teams (thanks a lot, Adam Dunn). And while none of that may be true (he’s not starting, he’s on my bench), he’s definitely a guy I’m targeting. He finished as the 20th-best quarterback his rookie season, but with a year of experience under his belt and the talent he has, he could rise into the Top 10 this season.
Another guy to take a close look at is Matthew Stafford. Matty has had a tendency to get hurt in his short career, but with a big arm and talent surrounding him, he could be a fantasy stud (and a real-life stud, too. Look at that hair!) if he can stay healthy for a full season.
Crock: Five Top 5 Quarterbacks You Shouldn’t Draft
Some of you may think that title sounds stupid. At this point, some of you may also think I’m stupid. But you’re really going to think I’m crazy when I tell you not to draft Vick, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Tom Brady.
Top five quarterbacks simply are not worth their price. These guys will all be fantasy studs again this season (well, not Vick. Go back and read why again!), but they’re not worth drafting when there is so much talent left on the board. It will be much easier to win your league with stud running backs and wide receivers and a later-round quarterback—think Bradford, Stafford and Tebow—than it will be with a guy like Rodgers and only mediocre flex players.
Lock: Wide Receiver is DEEP
Last season, you drafted Randy Moss in the second round, expecting him to have a huge season in a contract year. Your league-mate picked up Brandon Lloyd after Week 2. One of you (you) watched the fantasy postseason angrily from last place, while the other (your jerk league-mate) was carried to the championship by Lloyd, the game’s No. 1 wide receiver.
The lesson here is this: Randy Moss is the devil, and wide receiver is a deep position.
Even when you get outside the position’s Top 40 on draft day, there are plenty of veterans—Dancing with the Stars champion Hines Ward, Chad “Johnson” Ochocinco and Moss (oh god, no)—and young guys—Danny Amendola, Emmanuel Sanders and Earl Bennett—who could be worth starting on a week-to-week basis. So grab your running backs early (read why next!) and be active in the wide receiver market in the later rounds.
Crock: Running Backs are WEAK
If I can impart one lesson onto you, dear readers, it’s this: Draft running backs early. Sure, there will be plenty of time to draft sleeper/bench-type running backs later in the draft. But the elite—and even the semi-elite—will be off the board early, and you won’t want to miss the boat (unless you get seasick).
We all know who the stud guys are and where they will get drafted, but once you get outside of the Top 20 guys on draft day, the running back rankings begin to fill with question marks. There’s potential from the likes of Beanie Wells, Joseph Addai and C.J. Spiller, but you (definitely) don’t want to be relying on any of those guys as your RB2.
Lock: Draft Handcuffs, Win the Championship
Ok, so now you know running back isn’t deep this year. So what players should you draft to fill in the back end of your bench? Handcuffs! Pick one of the many injury-prone running backs, and get his backup on your team. Think Rashad Jennings, Maurice Jones-Drew’s backup. As soon as MJD gets hurt (haha just kidding! He’s already hurt), insert Jennings into your lineup and ride the injury-replacement train all the way to the top. Also target Montario Hardesty—see Hillis, Peyton below—Kendall Hunter (yeah, like Frank Gore is going to stay healthy) and Ben Tate.
Crock: Draft Peyton Hillis, Win the Consolation Bracket
If there’s one thing I know for sure (and there literally might only be one thing I know), it’s that the Madden Curse exists. I’m going to spare you the details but know what kind of fantasy risk the curse invokes.
That’s why Hillis should be avoided this season. If you combine his ridiculously high workload, the fact that the Browns are still bad at football and his appearance on the Madden ’12 cover, Hillis will most certainly not be worth the second- or third-round pick he’s currently going for. I know he’s everyone’s favorite white running back, but let’s leave him for your leaguemates this year.
Five Locks, Crocks for the 2011 Fantasy Football Season
So there it is folks; five locks and five crocks to remember come draft day. Remember to research thoroughly, draft responsibly and, of course, treat the writing above as your fantasy football bible.
This article was written for Razzball.com's "Next Great Fantasy Football Writer" contest. I placed first runner-up.