Water hammered our raft from seemingly all sides, dropping from one wet plateau to the next as our tour guides and the rest of my college classmates lined up down the calm stretch of the Youghiogheny River outside of Pittsburgh.
This was one of many stretches our guides offered dire warnings about to our group, suggesting that even seasoned whitewater enthusiasts struggled with the rapids we were now attacking with a vengeance.
The experience was amazing. We had clear waterways to tackle. The guides, doing their jobs of course, were required to overplay the danger of those rapids to reduce the number of knuckleheads that attempted to navigate them. By zigging when everyone else zagged, we had an amazing experience.
And so can you on Draft Day. The following players are dangerous—just like the Youghiogheny rapids. However, fantasy guides and experts have been downplaying these guys so much that they are actually becoming value options in most every league format. In other words, the risk may be worth taking, and the view couldn’t be sweeter.
Brandon Lloyd, DEN.—Finding a 2011 “busts” list without Lloyd’s name on it is harder than finding a clean table at a McDonalds Playland. And there is good reason for that. Lloyd had a career season last year—his eighth in the NFL. He did it with his fourth team. One would expect such an isolated breakout to be a one-hit wonder.
Which of these players will be the best value in fantasy this season?
Then again, Jose Bautista followed a similar arc in fantasy baseball circles last year. After six seasons of barely notching double-digit homers, he nailed 54 of them in 2010. Everyone, including me, was shouting warnings off the rooftops this spring that there was no way Bautista would come close to his 2010 stat line.
And with 33 homers to date, he definitely won’t reach 54 this year. But he was an insanely good value this spring when so many avoided him like the plague due to so many experts suggesting his downfall.
Lloyd will be similar this year. Sure, he lost pass-happy Josh McDaniels and now plays for run-minded John Fox. But even in his most run-centric offenses in years past with the Panthers, there was still room for solid scoring by Steve Smith and even Muhsin Mohammed.
One concern for Lloyd was that Orton would give way to Tim Tebow under center. After gobs of rumors this summer, Orton stayed in Denver and already has impressive chemistry with Lloyd. Tebow is struggling to stay out of the media circus that surrounds him.
Will Lloyd notch 1,400 yards receiving again this year? Probably not. But he should easily be able to surpass 1,000. And he’ll get a fair share of TDs, too. I’d love to have him as my WR2 in most fantasy formats this year, and with a current ADP that puts him in the fifth round, he can be just that with some fluff to play with.
Peyton Hillis, CLE.—As with Lloyd, Hillis came out of nowhere last season after bouncing around with different teams. As with Lloyd, there is little doubt that Hillis will see a down-tick in stats this season.
However, the negative vibes are so strong for Hillis right now that he finds himself with an ADP that projects him into the late-fourth, early-fifth round.
Now, Madden curse or no Madden curse, there is little doubt that Hillis can be a solid RB2 in most formats, especially with news that new Browns coach Pat Shurmur’s West Coast offense will incorporate more passing opportunities for Hillis.
It also is a good sign for Hillis that last year’s rookie sensation, Montario Hardesty, is still dealing with a balky knee. He hasn’t practiced yet this summer and the Browns are so concerned that they paid $4.5 million over two years for Brandon Jackson to come in—the same Jackson who couldn’t capitalize on several golden opportunities with a prolific offense in Green Bay.
So Hillis, at the moment, has less competition than most fantasy experts thought. He should have a decent role in the new West Coast offense and produce enough to be a solid RB2. Just don’t expect top 5 production at the position again this year.
Felix Jones, DAL.—Perhaps his drop in stock is the whole post-hype jet lag? Enough people have been burned by Jones that they’re automatically overlooking him in 2011 drafts. Especially after the Cowboys brought in rookie DeMarco Murray and kept Tashard Choice in the stables, too.
However, there is little doubt that Felix has first-round potential. Anyone who saw him for a little while back in the playoffs can attest to that. He’s a favorite option of Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett has suggested that one of the Cowboys' shortfalls in the past was not getting Felix more involved.
Felix has always been able to average a healthy yards-per-carry mark and showed last season that he can handle more action in the passing game. The big key for him is that he stayed healthy for a full season, yet many fantasy experts are still leery of him.
The Dallas passing game is primed to take off like never before behind Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and a healthy Tony Romo. Defenses will have their hands ways too full to worry themselves with Felix Jones out of the backfield. This is the first time that Felix has gone into the season as the unquestioned bona-fide starter, especially now that both Murray and Choice are dealing with injuries of their own.
And yet, Felix falls into the sixth round in most drafts. He’s a great RB2 with upside.
And some late-round RB sleeper options you can't afford to miss.
And my bold prediction that Knowshon Moreno will fall flat on his face.
And five post-lockout fantasy strategy changes you need to consider.
For all your hard-hitting fantasy football advice, go to our 2011 fantasy football draft kit.