Fantasy Football Rankings 2011: 20 Players To Target in Your Draft
It is the same every year. Who to draft? Who will play better than last season?
Who will play worse? Who is going to be this year's Arian Foster?
While it is nearly impossible to predict who will be the next freak-of-nature breakout star, we can look at the statistics and make intelligent draft choices.
Creating a winning fantasy team is about getting the best value for any given pick.
Yes, it would be great to have Drew Brees on my team, but it is a waste to take him at the beginning of the second round.
Here are 20 players that you should try and target to have on your roster because they are exceptional players who have great draft value.
*All of the statistics used are based off ESPN standard scoring, ESPN Average Draft Positions (ADP) and 12-team fantasy football leagues.
Philip Rivers: QB San Diego Chargers
Passing: 4,700 Yards
Fantasy Points: 270
Philip Rivers is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. The Chargers had the No. 1 offense in the league last season, and will only get better now that Vincent Jackson will be back for a full season.
Rivers also has Gates to throw to, and a healthy Ryan Mathews coming out of the backfield will only free up passing lanes.
All of this will lead to a very successful fantasy season for Philip Rivers.
Matthew Stafford: QB Detroit Lions
Passing: 535 Yards
Fantasy Points: 49
Stafford had a very rough year due to injuries. He was only able to participate in three games, and only two complete games.
The reason why you want Stafford on your team is because thew six touchdowns, rushed for another score and had only one interception in those few games.
If Stafford kept up his 24 points per game, he would have scored 384 fantasy points last season, which would have been 84 more than the best quarterback in the game, Mike Vick.
Obviously he would not have kept up that pace, and he is a injury risk because the Lions offensive line is so bad.
These are small risks when you can draft Stafford in the 10th round.
Matt Cassel: QB Kansas City Chiefs
Passing: 3116 Yards
Fantasy Points: 217
Matt Cassel had a great season, but he did have the good fortune of having Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones leading the league in rushing and freeing up passing lanes.
Cassel was the 12th-highest-scoring quarterback, but is listed as the 16th quarterback drafted this season.
If you are starting Matt Cassel on your roster this season, then you are in a very deep league, or can start two quarterbacks.
Even if Cassel is your second option at the quarterback, he is a great filler for a bye week.
Josh Freeman: QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Passing: 3,451 Yards
Fantasy Points: 246
Josh Freeman has been one of those trendy quarterbacks this season, and for good reason. Last year Freeman was the seventh-highest-scoring quarterback.
Like I said before, a successful draft is about finding great value, and Freeman is the epitome of value.
Freeman is being drafted at the end of the fifth round and into the sixth round, whereas Drew Brees is being taken in the second round.
The value of Freeman is that he scored 17 fewer fantasy points than Brees, or one point per week. Yet he is being drafted over 50 picks after Brees.
He also rushed for over 350 yards, and I expect this 6'6" giant of a man to rush the ball into the end zone a few times in 2011.
Jay Cutler: QB Chicago Bears
Passing: 3,274 Yards
Fantasy Points: 196
Yes, I am including the turnover-prone Jay Cutler.
Jay Cutler is on my list because he has the capabilities of being a top-five NFL quarterback.
Cutler's numbers are skewed because the Bears gave up more sacks than any other team in 2010, but they showed improvement in the latter portion of the season and have added pieces to their line.
The Bears are also more than likely going to land a substantial free-agent wide receiver to give Cutler a legitimate passing weapon.
Cutler cut his interceptions by 10 from 2009 to 2010, and he will reduce his turnovers again this season.
You can draft Cutler as a backup quarterback, but he might be starting for a lot of rosters a few weeks into the season.
Jamaal Charles: RB Kansas City Chiefs
Rushing: 1,467 Yards
Fantasy Points: 223
Jamaal Charles is the best running back in the NFL.
His 6.4 yards per carry from last season is out of this world.
You will have to take Charles very high, as he is currently the fourth overall pick off the board, but he is more than worth it.
Charles did not have many goal-line carries because of Thomas Jones, but due to Jones' age, Charles will have more looks in scoring distance.
He also caught 45 receptions for over 450 yards and three touchdowns.
Jamaal Charles is pure talent, and can score from anywhere on the field.
LeSean McCoy: RB Philadelphia Eagles
Rushing: 1,080 Yards
Fantasy Points: 206
LeSean McCoy's value lies in his ability to catch the ball.
He caught 78 passes last season, and had almost 600 yards receiving.
McCoy is a top-two or three pick in a PPR (point per reception) league, and still holds excellent value for a standard scoring league.
McCoy has the potential to be a top-three fantasy running back, and is a fantastic pick at the end of the first round.
Matt Forte: RB Chicago Bears
Rushing: 1,069 Yards
Fantasy Points: 199
Matt Forte is similar to LeSean McCoy because he also catches a lot of passes out of the backfield.
He caught 51 receptions for 547 yards and three touchdowns. Forte has been a monster in his first three seasons. He has over 1,400 total yards in all three seasons, and over 1,600 total yards in two of his three seasons.
Even though Forte consistently puts up great numbers, he is not touted as a top-tier running back.
Forte scored 17 points fewer than Chris Johnson in 2010, for a difference of one point per game, making Forte an excellent value pick in the third round.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: RB New England Patriots
Rushing: 1,008 Yards
Fantasy Points: 176
Green-Ellis is not a big-name, sexy running back, but he is a workhorse and a touchdown machine.
For years, the Patriots have lacked a running back that could be their feature back, but they seem to have it in Green-Ellis.
Green-Ellis was a top-15 scoring running back in 2010, but is being taken as the 22nd running back off the board.
If you go early on wide receivers or a quarterback and are weak at running back, then Green-Ellis will be a great pick for your team in the fifth to sixth round when everyone else is drafting wide receivers.
LeGarrette Blount: RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Rushing: 1,007 Yards
Fantasy Points: 126
Blount did not get the starting role in Tampa until Week 7, and from then on, he rattled off 118 fantasy points.
Given a whole season to run the ball, Blount should flourish alongside Josh Freeman.
The downside for Blount is that he does not catch the ball very often, so he will need to get the majority of his points on the ground.
Blount is being taken as the 18th overall running back during the fourth round. This is a fair place for him to be drafted.
He value is not outstanding, but he will be a very good fantasy scorer in 2011.
Brandon Marshall: WR Miami Dolphins
Receiving: 1,014 Yards
Fantasy Points: 112
Brandon Marshall is not being as drafted as high as he should because last year he only found the end zone three times.
A wide receiver not getting touchdowns but still getting catches is not an indicator for a bad fantasy pick because he is still getting the ball.
The odds that Marshall only gets three scores is very unlikely, especially because Kyle Orton is rumored to be traded to the Dolphins.
This is very good news for Marshall because he and Orton connected 101 times for 10 scores in 2009 when they played together in Denver.
Brandon Lloyd: WR Denver Broncos
Receiving: 1,448 Yards
Fantasy Points: 203
Brandon Lloyd was the No. 1 receiver in fantasy football last season, which no one would have predicted because he had more yards last season than in his previous four combined.
Lloyd is older now at 30 years old, but coming off a season like that, you would think the man would be given more respect in this year's draft.
Unfortunately, he is being drafted as the 17th wide receiver in the fifth round.
Lloyd did have an uncharacteristically good season, which most times means that it is just a one-season wonder, but he is worth the risk.
Calvin Johnson: WR Detroit Lions
Receiving: 1,120 Yards
Fantasy Points: 182
Calvin Johnson was a top-five wide receiver as he is most years. He is also being drafted in a fair location for his value.
What I like about Johnson more than other receivers around him is you know what you are going to get.
You will get 1,000 yards and low double-digit touchdowns from Johnson.
Also, his value also goes up if Matthew Stafford stays healthy all season long.
Calvin Johnson has a combination of size, speed and athleticism that enables him to be a top wide receiver every year.
Mark Clayton: WR Saint Louis Rams
Receptions: 306 Yards
Fantasy Points: 40
Clayton got off to a hot start in 2010, but his season was quickly derailed by a season-ending right patellar tendon injury in Week 5.
Clayton was averaging 10 points per game prior to his injury, and if he would have continued that pace, he would have been a top-15 wide receiver.
The Rams are still in rebounding mode, so Clayton should be able to regain his starting position if he comes to camp healthy and fit.
Clayton is currently going undrafted in 97 percent of leagues.
If you want to pick up a sleeper in one of the last rounds, then Clayton is your man.
Mike Williams: WR Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Receiving: 964 Yards
Fantasy Points: 151
The Tampa Bay Mike Williams (not to be confused with the Seattle Mike Williams) was a favorite of Josh Freeman in 2010.
Williams had an outstanding rookie campaign, and the Buccaneers are only going to get better with their young talented core.
If you are drafting in a keeper league, you might want to reach for Williams, who is being drafted in the third to fourth round because he is going to be a coveted wide receiver for years to come.
Jermichael Finley: TE Green Bay Packers
Receiving: 301 Yards
Fantasy Points: 34
Finley was just one of many Green Bay Packers to go down very early in the season.
Finley is a 6'5", 250-lb animal who has the capabilities of being the best tight end in football.
This will be the second straight year that Finley will be taken as a top TE based off what he can potentially do.
He will likely become a favorite target of reigning Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers because Donald Driver is aging, and James Jones might not be suiting up in green and gold in 2011.
Finley is being drafted as the fourth overall tight end which is a fair value for his risk vs. reward, but this season should be all reward for Finley owners.
Antonio Gates: TE San Diego Chargers
Receiving: 782 Yards
Fantasy Points: 134
Gates was unstoppable in his first eight games in which he scored nine touchdowns, but the second half of his season was plagued by injuries.
Gates is an extreme talent at the tight end position, and Philip Rivers throwing him the ball creates a very scary sight for a defense and a joyous sight for Gates owners.
For those concerned about Gates' injuries, don't be; prior to missing six games in 2010, he had only missed three games combined in his previous seven seasons.
You might have to take Gates earlier than you feel comfortable, but you will not be disappointed.
Jason Witten: TE Dallas Cowboys
Receiving: 1,002 Yards
Fantasy Points: 146
Jason Witten has caught at least 94 passes in three of the previous four seasons with over 1,000 yards in those seasons.
He has proven that he does not need a great quarterback to succeed, which makes him even more desirable.
Romo being healthy will only help Witten, but he is not a TE that depends on his quarterback.
Witten is the third overall TE taken, and could be a steal in the fourth or fifth round.
Brandon Pettigrew: TE Detroit Lions
Receiving: 722 Yards
Fantasy Points: 88
If you do not like drafting tight ends until the later rounds of the draft, then Pettigrew might be your man.
Pettigrew was tied last season for the third-most targets among tight ends.
He only had four touchdowns on his 71 receptions, but do not expect his touchdown numbers to remain low.
This 6'5" tight end should be a giant target for Stafford in the red zone this season.
Benjamin Watson: TE Cleveland Browns
Receiving: 763 Yards
Fantasy Points: 88
Benjamin Watson is very similar to Brandon Pettigrew. Both have tremendous potential and are being drafted very late.
Watson was fifth in TE targets in 2010 with 102 looks.
This season, I expect Colt McCoy to connect with Watson often and early, and rely on Watson as his safety net in difficult situations.
It is also likely that the Browns will struggle this season. This will lead to more passing because they will be trailing in most games.
Watson will be a top-10 tight end, yet he is going undrafted in almost all fantasy drafts.