Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: 10 Players You Must Draft in 2011
Fantasy drafts are starting to kick into full gear and before you end up drafting another team that just doesn't seem right, take my advice, and you'll have a team that you'll admire and that your fantasy football mates will be jealous of.
Every year, I find myself looking at guys that last until the later rounds and wondering if it's too good to be true. These are players that fall into that category. All of the following players will be overlooked, undervalued and will make a difference on your fantasy team—that is, if you know how and when to draft them.
Last year, guys that stood out to me were Arian Foster, Brandon Lloyd and Montario Hardesty. Two of those guys helped me to be successful, but you won't strike gold with every pick and that was the case with Hardesty.
Luckily, most late round picks will be on and off your roster through the season, so don't sweat the late picks too bad. Choose upside over certainty because at that point, your options are limited when it comes to proven talent.
Fantasy drafts are a constant mental battle of knowing when to take a chance on a player and gauging other teams' interest in your targets. I won't be there by your side to tell you when to pull the trigger, but if you're a solid owner, I'm sure you'll do fine.
QB Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
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Sophomore quarterbacks often make big leaps in production, and I believe Bradford will do exactly that in his second NFL season.
Bradford now has a much improved group of receivers. The addition of Mike Sims-Walker will be a boost to the Rams red-zone efficiency. Young quarterbacks often get flustered when near the end zone, so look at Sims-Walker as a security blanket for Bradford.
Josh McDaniels will utilize Bradford's strengths to the fullest and expect a big bump in Bradford's 6.0 YPA as a rookie. It will be much easier for McDaniels to do so with the return of oft-injured receiver Donnie Avery, who is a great deep threat when on the field.
I wouldn't entrust Bradford with your starting job just yet, but don't fray from sticking with him and only one other quarterback on the roster. By midseason, you may realize you have a steal in Bradford, so it's a smart investment to pick him up in the draft once you fill out your starting lineup.
Projected Stats: 3,750- 4,010 YDS, 23-26 TD, 10-13 INT
RB Tim Hightower, Washington Redskins
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Tim Hightower hugely benefits from the trade to Washington this offseason. He is now the featured back in Washington and has been impressive thus far.
Hightower has continued to improve in his short career and will have a breakout season in 2011. However, don't get too excited about his future moving forward because Mike Shanahan typically likes to switch running backs on an annual basis.
The oft-injured Ryan Torain is unlikely to win back his starting job and rookie Roy Helu just doesn't have the skill to earn playing time at this point. Look for Hightower to put up consistent numbers and surpass double digit touchdowns.
Projected Stats: 840-990 YDS, 11-13 TD, 240-300 REC YDS, 30-33 REC
RB Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers
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We all know that Aaron Rodgers will have plenty of targets to utilize this season, but how will Ryan Grant—who is returning from ankle and knee injuries—figure into this offense?
Well for starters, forget the hype about James Starks. He will not be the starter and was not as effective in the playoffs as you might have thought. Grant isn't extremely talented and doesn't have top end speed, but he is a hard worker and runs with toughness and balance.
There's no better way to keep this offense rolling than to involve the running game more than they did last season. Aaron Rodgers won't be able to win them the game every weak, so expect them to lean on Grant, who will not shy away from carrying the workload.
Projected Stats: 1,050-1,220 YDS, 9-12 TD, 180-250 REC YDS, 18-22 REC
RB Montario Hardesty, Cleveland Browns
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Peyton Hillis couldn't hold up down the stretch last season when fantasy owners needed him most. This year, Montario Hardesty will be your ideal "Hillis Insurance."
I strongly believe that Hillis will lose the starting job by midseason and Hardesty will be getting the bulk of the carries by fantasy playoffs time.
Hardesty was injured for the length of his rookie season, but looks to return strong. He is a very well balanced runner and in the end, I wouldn't be surprised if he put up better numbers than Hillis.
Hardesty warrants a very late round pick, but there is some big upside for him to don't be afraid to pull the trigger. If you drafted Peyton Hillis earlier, Hardesty should be even more attractive to you.
Projected Stats: 590-730 YDS, 6-8 TDS, 190-240 REC YDS, 23-25 REC
RB Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins
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Bush's career has gone downhill ever since being drafted with the second overall pick by New Orleans. He's moved on to Miami now, where he will get a chance to be the featured back.
Miami's offense lacks a good quarterback that can get the most out of the team's playmakers, but Bush can still put up impressive stats. If healthy, Bush is a big play guy who can really put up some fantasy points.
Especially if you're in a PPR league. Bush will be used just as much as a slot receiver as he will a running back, making him very attractive to you PPR guys.
Bush should be off the board around the same time as teammate Daniel Thomas, but he will end up providing much more value. Just like I suggested with Hillis and Hardesty though, drafting one increases the value of the other.
Projected Stats: 440-500 YDS, 10-12 TD, 500-580 REC YDS, 65-70 REC
WR Jacoby Ford, Oakland Raiders
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Ford is my pick for breakout player of the year. Kevin Boss is just good enough to keep the pressure off of Ford while not "vulturing" too many touchdowns, and the Raiders have numerous other young receivers that will keep the offense balanced.
Ford, although only in his second season as a pro, is the most proven receiver on the roster and will be the top target for quarterback Jason Campbell. Ford is one of the fastest players in the NFL and put that speed on display in his rookie season, compiling seven all-purpose touchdowns.
I expect to see huge growth from Ford, who wasn't very polished in his rookie season, but still managed to reel in nearly 500 receiving yards. He will be a fringe starter on a weekly basis, but look for matchups against slower cornerbacks that will be ideal for starting Ford.
Projected Stats: 48-54 REC, 920-1060 YDS, 8-10 TD (All-Purpose)
WR Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers
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Sanders started to dig into Hines Ward's production last season, and I fully expect that to carry over into 2011. Sanders not only has breakaway speed, but also shows off great quickness and burst as a route runner.
His foot surgery this offseason is a minor setback and I don't think it should affect his fantasy value much. The fact is that this guy will be drafted in one of the late rounds and the upside is there to make it worth your investment.
Many fantasy owners will take note of Sanders' sleeper status though, so you may need to take him higher than you believe his value warrants.
If you're not interested in Sanders, put on your poker face and praise him, because there's a possibility that you can dupe another owner into taking him too high. There is a risk in this pick because Sanders isn't a starter, but Sanders may just be starting by season's end.
If you're in a dynasty league, Sanders should surely be a player that you target.
Projected Stats: 52-60 REC, 620-740 YDS, 3-5 TD
WR Lee Evans, Baltimore Ravens
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Lee Evans struggled to be consistent in Buffalo last season, but much of that can be attributed to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who does not have a strong arm and was unable to make use of Evans' speed.
In Baltimore, Evans will be a great deep threat as a compliment to Anquan Boldin. Joe Flacco isn't lacking in arm strength in the least bit and they will form a tandem that I can believe in. Evans won't be the most steady performer, but I'm sure he will have some big games so keep an eye out for favorable matchups.
Ultimately, Evans isn't a surefire fantasy starter, but keep an eye on him if you're looking to fill one of your flex positions in your lineup.
Projected Stats: 50-62 REC, 830-960 YDS, 5-8 TD
WR Mike Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars
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Mike Thomas was a solid option as a starter in your deep fantasy football leagues last season, and he will be even more attractive in 2011. Thomas is a fantastic all around player who will be the leading receiver on this team.
Mike Sims-Walker, who stole countless touchdowns from Thomas in 2010, is off to St. Louis. As he leaves, Thomas will be relied on to be the number one target and he fits the mold. Thomas is a great route runner and rarely drops passes.
I'm not discouraged by Thomas' small frame and think he'll handle the job well. He won't necessarily win you many contests, but he will be a reliable starter to count on.
Projected Stats: 80-90 REC, 890-1020 YDS, 4-6 TD
TE Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
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The Panthers have numerous options at tight end that will be used in the passing game, but lack many attractive targets at receiver, making Olsen's value that much better.
The Panthers have a pair of young quarterbacks who will need to check the ball down often, especially early in the season before the build some timing with their receivers. Olsen is the ideal man for this role because of his talent and consistency.
He managed to put up solid numbers in a Bears offense that underutilized him. So let's see what he will do when he is one of the team's main targets.
Olsen will be about the sixth to ninth tight end off of the board, but his value will be much greater than that.
Projected Stats: 70-74 REC, 750-820 YDS, 8-10 TD