Fantasy Football: The 50 Riskiest Players of 2011

Dan Israeli Contributor IIIAugust 26, 2011

Fantasy Football: The 50 Riskiest Players of 2011

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    Fantasy football drafts are like minefields; one wrong step (pick) can explode in your face.

    The goal is to avoid as many land mines as possible, as one too many can destroy your draft, and potentially your season.

    The problem is risk runs rampant in fantasy football drafts, in which almost every player on the board comes with his very own blemish, red flag, caveat—whatever you want to call it.

    The one thing you can't do is go into a draft planning to avoid all risks; it is, in fact, an impossibility in the game of fantasy football.

    Risk is weighed in value, which is why first-round picks (or $40 auction bids) should ideally be low-risk ventures. There are, however, always a few players with such immense upside that despite the high price tag, the risk is worth taking. (One breakout running back from last season instantly comes to mind.)

    When it all boils down, draft picks are like prospective stocks, or big poker hands, in which you need to weigh out the pros and cons, evaluate the price and then ask yourself the question, "Is it worth the risk?" 

    Sick of the word "risk" yet? Well, I hope not, because here are the 50 riskiest players of the 2011 fantasy football season.

Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Why he's risky

    The real reason should be "one year does not make a fantasy star," but considering the tight stranglehold injury has on the risk market, Vick's reckless style of play is the main reason drafters are shying away from fantasy's most dominant player last season.

    Other than a high propensity for getting hurt, Vick is also being devalued for his 2010 finish, in which he racked up five picks and seven fumbles (only two were lost) in his final five games. Vick looked shaky again during Week 2 of this preseason, serving up three picks to the Steelers, the last of which was a pretty ugly lob into double coverage.

    Vick is also waiting on the return of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, one of his biggest weapons, who is reconditioning his body after a virus (lymphoma scare) sidelined him all summer.


    Worth the risk?

    While his Yahoo! average draft position (ADP) is 9.3, several drafters are taking Vick first overall, banking on the week-to-week domination he provided when healthy last season. While he's too bold a pick for the top five (plus QB is fairly deep this year), Vick's unmatched scoring potential makes for a worthy gamble at the end of Round 1.

    Vick's late-season turnover trouble was bad for his real game last year; however, it didn't affect his bottom line in fantasy—he still totaled 14 TDs, passing and rushing, in his final five games. If you take him, just make sure to draft a top-20 backup QB to insure the premium you pay on Vick.

Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Why he's risky

    Well, according to Tony Dungy, Manning will play Week 1 "unless he's dead," so maybe the Colts QB isn't as risky as we thought.

    Nonetheless, Manning is coming off May neck surgery, and while offseason operations are nothing new for the 13-year veteran, his prolonged placement on the preseason PUP list has some people thinking that football's active Iron Man may finally miss a start Week 1 against the Texans.


    Worth the risk?

    Here's the thing with Peyton and missing games—he doesn't. He's played 13 straight 16-game seasons, and it will take more than a little neck strain to stop that streak. The question is whether it actually is "more than a little neck strain," in which case Manning's status would feel more pressing for owners.

    According to Center Jeff Saturday, Manning will be under center in Week 1. Still, like Matthew Berry from ESPN pointed out, Manning got off to a slow start in 2008 following a knee injury that kept him out of the preseason. While a neck injury is different, it's enough to bump Manning outside the top five QBs (Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers).


    This just in

    Reports are ever-changing, but now ESPN's Chris Mortensen is saying that the Colts don't think Manning will be ready for Week 1. The situation is getting tough to evaluate, but right now, Manning is in "no man's land" for drafting purposes.

Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys

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    Why he's risky

    For all of Romo's praise as a borderline elite QB, he's only managed 30 TDs once in his five years as a starter for the Cowboys. Granted, injury played a big part in limiting his TD total last season and in '09, when he missed three games.

    Whether or not Romo should be deemed a legit "injury risk" is what drafters need to consider, entering a year in which his passing weapons are arguably the best in football.

    Romo infamously broke his clavicle (collarbone) on Monday Night Football in October of last year, going on injured reserve in December after a late-season comeback failed to materialize. He is fully healthy going into this season, as the fracture did not require surgery.


    Worth the risk?

    Romo has bypassed Manning in some rankings, as stock in the Cowboys offense continues to surge in drafts. For what it's worth, Dallas gets the always useful for fantasy NFC West this season, but it really doesn't matter. Health is the only thing getting in the way of a guy with a career 95.5 QB rating and 64.1 completion percentage.

    Romo needs to avoid the big hit the season, because as it stands, everything is in line for a monster 2011 campaign. Considering the insane upside, it's worth gambling on Romo staying upright at his current ADP.

Mathew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

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    Why he's risky

    Thirteen games out of a possible 32. It's not the most inspiring career start for a QB that was "ready-made" for the NFL upon being taken first overall in the 2009 NFL draft. Hampered by knee and shoulder injuries as a rookie, Stafford, like Romo, failed to protect himself in the pocket last season, leading to season-ending shoulder surgery.

    Also like Romo, he is fully healthy heading into this season and has plenty of individual talent, as well as weapons at his disposal, to produce elite numbers for a fantasy QB.


    Worth the risk?

    Stafford is going 13th overall among QBs (96.5 ADP), which makes him a borderline starter in 12-man leagues. When you consider that fact, the third-year gunslinger is a draft commodity with major upside and should be targeted by anyone going for a committee approach at QB.

Kevin Kolb, QB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Why he's risky

    Kolb is risky this season for the same reason he was last year; for a guy with so much hype as a starting QB, he has little to back it up over his brief career.

    Granted, Kolb never got a chance to prove his worth as a starter last season after his Week 1 concussion opened the door for Michael Vick's takeover. In four spot starts for an injured Vick, Kolb was both good and bad, but it was enough to convince Arizona that he was the answer to its mess at QB.

    Look, I'm not denying Kolb has talent; there are plenty of football insiders who have praised his attributes over the years. The fact remains he has a pedestrian 73.2 QB rating over his first four seasons and is now lining up behind one of the league's worst pass-blocking lines, with only one true (albeit amazing) weapon in WR Larry Fitzgerald.


    Worth the risk?

    The QB position is deeper now than it was last year, so despite Kolb's undying hype train, he's currently going outside the Top 100 (109.1 AD) as the 16th QB off the board. In that regard, you can draft Kolb as a platoon QB in fantasy or a backup with upside. He shouldn't be considered for Week 1, however, and just has the feeling of an injury risk, considering defenses will be looking to exploit Arizona's weak line.

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears

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    Why he's risky

    Cutler takes a lot of flak for being a "soft" player (flash back to last year's NFC title game, when he allegedly "quit" on his team), but the truth is the guy takes a good beating too. He was sacked 52 times last year and put up some rather pedestrian numbers on the season: 3,274 passing yards and a 23:16 TD:INT ratio.

    The Chicago offensive line does not project to be any better this season, and in Mike Martz's system, he will once again be vulnerable to concussion-causing hits. The Bears also didn't improve much at WR, as newly acquired Roy Williams is already looking like a lost cause.


    Worth the risk? 

    Cutler may still have a cannon, but when you consider the wide array of choices that surround him in the draft, the five-year veteran looks rather unappealing in fantasy this season. After throwing for 372 yards in Week 1 last season, he failed to eclipse 300 once the rest of the year and posted five games with zero TDs. He's an inconsistent injury risk with a poor supporting cast and not someone to target on draft day.

Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams

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    Why he's risky

    No one doubts Sam Bradford "the NFL quarterback" after an impressive rookie season that saw the Rams' win total improve by six games. It's Bradford "the fantasy QB" that people still need to worry about. Despite flinging it up 590 times last season (third in the NFL), Bradford only totaled 3,512 passing yards, as his 6.0 yards per pass ranked 30th in the league.

    It's also questionable whether Bradford has the weapons to really succeed in the make-believe game, as the addition of WR Mike Sims-Walker adds to several solid options, but no one player that can truly stretch the field.


    Worth the risk?

    While Bradford was handled with kid gloves last season, new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was not brought in to run a conservative passing offense. How big a leap Bradford can make from year one to year two is uncertain at this point, but anyone expecting a sudden leap into the top 10 of the position may want to take a rain check on 2011.

    Bradford is only an intriguing backup for someone with one of the top seven or so QBs and should not be relied on as a glorified sleeper.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Tennessee Titans

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    Why he's risky

    Name recognition can get you pretty far in fantasy drafts. For someone who posted an ugly 12:17 TD:INT ratio last season, Hasselbeck is still being drafted at a very generous 20th overall among QBs, ahead of guys like Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

    Maybe it was his three-TD performance against the Saints in the playoffs last season, or maybe it's simply his change of scenery in Tennessee this season. Whatever it is, Hasselbeck is being taken before younger QBs coming off better years and in arguably better situations for fantasy purposes. Hasselbeck is also a poor bet to stay healthy after missing 17 games over the past five seasons.


    Worth the risk? 

    Hasselbeck will not show up on a lot of fantasy rosters this season regardless, but for anyone intrigued by his new and improved digs, it's wise to remember that he may be without both RB Chris Johnson and WR Kenny Britt to start the year. Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans

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    Why he's risky

    This one is rather obvious. While every top running back has some form of inherent risk, CJ2K is is in danger of missing Week 1 (and possibly more) due to his ongoing contract dispute/holdout. Late drafters are keeping their heads above water, but for anyone with a decision to make before Johnson's deal is struck, the question of whether to pass on one of fantasy's hottest commodities is a pressing one.


    Worth the risk?

    In a nutshell, the answer is yes, especially for those in keeper leagues mulling a decision (one or two missed weeks is nothing compared to the years of production that lay ahead). For re-drafters, it's simply a matter of who to take ahead of CJ if your draft position presents the conundrum. As of right now, I'd take Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Ray Rice ahead of Johnson.

    Still, anyone feeling forced to draft Johnson will surely have thoughts of Vincent Jackson in their minds, who carried his lockout into the 2010 regular season and didn't return to action until Week 11. It's hard to imagine CJ's situation getting that bad, but for anyone that is really risk-averse, it's not crazy to pass on him for a Rashard Mendenhall, Aaron Rodgers or even Roddy White. As the saying goes, you can't win your draft in Round 1, but you can surely lose it.

Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders

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    Why he's risky

    Coming off a season where only Arian Foster was better on a per-game average among fantasy RBs, it can't be forgotten that McFadden missed three games last year with injury, as well seven over his first two seasons in the league. Whether is be a pulled hamstring or some bothersome turf toe, McFadden is no stranger to being dinged up, so penciling in his first 16-game season is a tough bet.

    In addition to that, Oakland lost its best run blocker in guard Robert Gallery to free agency, and as a result, a poor offensive line has only gotten worse. McFadden may also see competition from Michael Bush at the goal line, if last season was any indication.


    Worth the risk? 

    While the variables that surround him bear mentioning, last season McFadden was simply O-line proof, matchup proof, Al Davis proof—you name it.

    The only major concern is staying healthy, and while his fractured orbital bone already looks like a non-issue, it won't be surprising if McFadden pulls up lame on a big run this season and misses a game as a result. Still, considering his talent and upside, higher than arguably anyone in fantasy, McFadden is surely worth a late first-round pick.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Why he's risky

    There's something about hearing "bone-on-bone" that makes me cringe. To be honest, it creeps me the hell out. One could only imagine what Jones-Drew felt last season when he played with a torn right meniscus for 14 weeks, to the point that his knee joint was stripped of all cartilage. Again, this is making me sick.

    Jones-Drew called it a season after Week 14 and followed up with arthroscopic surgery, the details of which are a little hazy. Whether he had a simple scope or a full-blown microfracture, Jones-Drew claims he is as close to 100 percent as he could be and in way better shape than he was last season.

    While he's sat out the preseason so far, Jones-Drew is hopeful in getting some work against the Rams in the exhibition finale. 

    There have also been rumblings that after two years as a workhorse/every-down back, Jones-Drew may cede some carries to backup RB Rashad Jennings.


    Worth the risk?

    If you asked Jones-Drew personally, he'd tell you to draft him with confidence and ignore the "fantasy gurus" that have serious doubts about his surgically repaired knee. While I can't fault the guy for defending himself—and yes, he likely is pain-free at the moment—Jones-Drew still poses one of the greatest risks in this draft in regard to his ADP of 16.7.

    If he slips deep into the second round, the price may be right for a drafter who sandwiches MJD with two extremely safe picks (if such a thing exists). Nonetheless, and with all due respect to the guy, Jones-Drew is the epitome of a player you want someone else to draft.

Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Why he's risky

    It's always something with Gore, as far as injuries are concerned. Whether it's a broken hand in '07, an ankle injury in '09 or last year's season-ending hip fracture in Week 12, Gore has only played one full season in his career—his 2,180 total yard campaign in '06.

    He's fully recovered from his hip fracture, but the chance of Gore suiting up for a full 16 is not likely considering his career track record.

    Also of some concern is Gore's contract situation. Although he ended his brief holdout and is ready to start in Week 1, Gore is a malcontent right now entering the final year of his deal. He may request a trade, but his focus on the 2011 season is clouded by distraction without an extension in place.


    Worth the risk?

    When he's on the field, Gore is one of the best (and most complete) backs in fantasy and especially a gold mine in PPR leagues. Still, he just can't seem to stay healthy one way or the other, and like Jones-Drew, he is the type of player you want someone else to draft.

Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets

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    Why he’s risky

    Heading into last season, Greene was a hot commodity in fantasy drafts due to the departure of veteran RB Thomas Jones. Unfortunately for him, a resurgent LaDainian Tomlinson took over the starting gig, and Greene ended up with a disappointing season—766 rushing yards, two TDs.

    Heading into this season, Greene is a (slightly less) hot commodity, due to LT’s late-season fade in 2010, which has again opened the door for Greene to assume the bulk of early-down work. He will still be removed on almost all third-down/passing situations and is no guarantee for goal-line work due to Tomlinson’s nose for the red zone.

    Health-wise, Greene’s skin infection (foot), which sidelined him from Week 2 of the preseason, is considered a non-issue going forward.


    Worth the risk?

    A borderline first-round pick a season ago, Greene’s asking price has dipped by two rounds (29.8 ADP), making him an ideal RB2 option. Yes, LT is still lurking, but Greene is in line to get a ton of work this season. Also, if the Jets' improved passing game can open some big leads, the elder Tomlinson will likely hit the bench, providing Greene with mop-up duty to rack up some stats. He’s a solid option in the third round of drafts. 

Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams

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    Why he’s risky

    While he hit a two-year injury skid from 2007-08, Jackson has only missed one game over the past two seasons. Still, with 1,878 career carries, Jackson has more tread on his tires than any RB not named LaDainian Tomlinson, who is merely a backup now on the Jets.

    While he claims he’s in the best shape since his rookie year, Jackson is already battling a sore hip and has to be considered one of the biggest injury risks among starting RBs.

    Jackson also suffers from a severe allergy that has plagued the majority of his career—that being to the end zone. Since his 16 TD campaign in ’06, Jackson has failed to break double-digit scores in any season, making him an unattractive week-to-week option in non-PPR leagues.


    Worth the risk?

    I know a lot of people want to proclaim 2011 as Jackson’s comeback campaign due to the addition of OC Josh McDaniels. By doing that, though, you’re ignoring the fact that Jackson has clearly lost a step (or two, or six) and provides nothing from an upside standpoint when you consider the younger and more exciting options that surround him in drafts (Mike Wallace, Matt Forte). Steer clear, Big Tuna.

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants

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    Why he’s risky

    Coming off his best season as a pro (1,549 total yards, eight TDs), Bradshaw reluctantly signed a four-year deal to stay with the Giants after failing to break the bank in free agency. The reason he didn’t get "DeAngelo Williams money" is likely the multiple ankle/foot injuries/surgeries he has incurred in recent years.

    Bradshaw claims he feels great heading into the season, but another concern is his workload compared to 2010. Brandon Jacobs came on strong towards the end of last year, and considering Bradshaw’s fragile feet, a 50/50 split may be in the cards this season to preserve both of the Giants’ very skilled backs. Bradshaw will benefit from third-down work but will likely fight the “Juggernaut” for goal line opportunities.


    Worth the risk?

    Bradshaw’s split stats from last season—765 rushing yards and five TDs in games 1-8, 473 rushing yards and three TDs in games 9-16—foreshadow what could become of his 2011 totals. Jacobs has looked very impressive this season, while Bradshaw has struggled to make things happen.

    Being drafted as a sure-fire RB2 (38.8 ADP), there are simply guys with better season outlooks (DeAngelo Williams, Felix Jones) going later in drafts. Bradshaw seems due for a regression this season.

Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers

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    Why he’s risky

    Because when it all boils down, he’s probably just not that good? Mathews was a big disappointment last year due to his failure to stay healthy and make good on being the 12th overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft. He always seems to be battling some strains or sprains and even failed his conditioning test in training camp, alarming considering the emphasis on an improved sophomore season.

    Mathews is also likely heading into a RBBC (running back by committee) with Mike Tolbert, the former fullback who thrived in short yardage last season, scoring 11 TDs. The Chargers intend to keep Tolbert as the goal-line back this season and currently prefer him on third down due to his superior blocking over Mathews.


    Worth the risk?

    I’m not as big a Mathews hater as one would think; I just feel that his role as San Diego’s feature back of the future is still a year away. 2011 can easily be a promising work in progress for the guy, and he could do a lot to improve his 2012 stock by season’s end. But Tolbert isn’t going anywhere, and for that, Mathews cannot be trusted as a top RB2.

Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints

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    Why he’s risky

    Rookies, by default, are always risky in fantasy. At first, all you have to go by are college stats. After that, you can decide if the rumblings out of training camp and glimpses from preseason are enough to push the respective player into your draft plans.

    All early indications suggest that Ingram will be heavily involved in New Orleans’ rushing attack, especially at the goal line. Still, his carries haven’t exactly been guaranteed between the 20s, and trusting Sean Payton, even if he’s one of Ingram’s biggest supporters, is never a wise decision for fantasy purposes.

    Ingram also had that “mysterious” left knee surgery last season and is already experiencing some swelling in the knee this preseason. He isn’t expected to miss any action and has already returned to practice.


    Worth the risk?

    I’m going on the record to say I love Ingram this year, and considering the friendly price tag (77.6 ADP), he is a player you should target in drafts as an RB2 or RB3, depending on where you get him. Simply put, I believe he is a great talent joining a great team, and I’m not too concerned with Pierre Thomas serving as his main competition.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, New England Patriots

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    Why he’s risky

    Nicknamed the “Law Firm” last season, Green-Ellis was better suited as the “Janitor” considering all the mop-up work he got during New England’s blowouts. Green-Ellis was great in the role, as well as being the Pats’ goal-line back. He was brought back to New England on a one-year deal.

    Threatening the very same role Green-Ellis filled last season is rookie RB Stevan Ridley, who aside from having a really cool name is a stronger, younger and (arguably) more versatile version of the Law Firm. Green-Ellis is clearly ahead of him on the depth chart, but the fact remains that head coach Bill Belichick drafted Ridley to be a power back in the offense; how soon that happens remains the question.


    Worth the risk?

    I had the pleasure of owning BJGE last season, and he was as consistent, on a week-to-week basis, as a RB2 in fantasy could be. Considering his 82.3 ADP, I endorse the Law Firm for drafting purposes since he can easily be used as an RB3/flex. However, it would be wise for his drafters to grab Ridley later on, not so much as a handcuff, but a replacement player if Belichick favors the rookie at some point in the season.

Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions

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    Why he’s risky

    Best is brittle as an every-down back; there is simply no question about it. Some analysts have compared his talent to the likes of Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles, but those guys have proven they can break tackles, something Best struggled mightily with last season.

    I was insanely high on the rookie last year (drafting him in the third round of a 12-team draft) and proceeded to watch him get stuffed more than a Turducken at John Madden’s house on Thanksgiving. (Apologies for that visual.) Best dealt with bilateral turf toe all season and is a risk to develop the condition again, playing at least 10 games on turf per year.

    While the loss of Mikel Leshoure boosted Best’s draft value, I for one see it having a negative effect on the sophomore, who will be relied on more for early downs (which he struggled in last season), increasing his chance of getting hurt.


    Worth the risk?

    I know he has a lot of potential as a receiver out of the backfield, but as a pure RB, Best stunk last year, and he has done nothing to impress during the preseason. He actually suffered a concussion during his second exhibition, and playing in the unforgiving NFC North, with a lot of pressure to spark Detroit’s running game, just sounds like a recipe for disaster for a guy with a history of injury problems.

    Being drafted as a RB2 following the Leshoure injury, I want no part of Best and foresee him riding the bench of many fantasy teams in 2011.

Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins

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    Why he’s risky

    Bush came into the league with much hype and a big question mark over whether he was a true starting RB in the NFL. After five seasons in New Orleans, Bush never once eclipsed 200 rushing attempts and was shipped off to Miami, where he will get a career restart and a chance to be the every-down back he always wanted to be.

    While Bush is pacing the RB depth chart so far in Miami, the Dolphins did draft rookie RB Daniel Thomas, who will also get his chances early in the season. Bush still has to show a consistent ability to break inside runs, as he has relied too heavily on cutting to the edges over his five-year career.

    Bush is also coming off a broken leg during the 2010 season, which cost him eight games. After playing all 16 his rookie season, Bush has missed 20 games in four years and as such is a big injury risk.


    Worth the risk?

    I’ve never been a fan of Bush, but for some reason, I’m sensing a big season for him in 2011. Head coach Tony Sparano has been very impressed with his ability, especially his work ethic in running multiple drills in hopes of becoming a better inside runner.

    On top of that, Thomas has struggled to impress in these early goings, opening the door for Bush to run away wit the starting gig. He likely won't get goal-line work and remains an injury risk, but as an RB3/flex with upside, I’m buying Bush this season.

Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins

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    Why he’s risky

    Not much to cover here, since Bush is clearly the guy I favor in Miami, but the shortened training camp has not been kind to Thomas, who has failed to impress Dolphins brass as a power back. Once considered a top-two option among rookie RBs (along with Ingram), Thomas has seen his stock plummet recently, while Bush has been on the rise.


    Worth the risk?

    ADP is cloudy now on a guy like Thomas since it doesn’t reflect his recent tailspin. He doesn’t look worth a Top-100 pick (where he is currently going) and is only worth drafting as a handcuff to Bush at this point. Expectations remain low for the once promising rookie.

Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Why he’s risky

    Drafters always give in to Benson at some point, because he is one of the few true feature backs in this league. The truth is he’s mostly an early-down back on a terrible team, going into a season where he will likely sniff the fewest goal-line carries of any starter in football.

    Simply put, Benson is a poor talent on a dreadful team, so the upside for 2011 is practically nonexistent. Not to mention he has Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard—two faster and fresher backs—breathing down his neck.

    Benson is also a suspension candidate following a July arrest for assault in which he basically beat the crap out of his former roommate. So yeah, pretty typical Cedric Benson stuff.


    Worth the risk?

    Over the past few years, Benson is the player in drafts I whisper “yesss” to myself about when someone else takes him, since it makes players I want more available. If that didn’t answer your question as to what I think about Benson in 2011, I don’t know what will.

Ryan Grant, RB, Green Bay Packers

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    Why he’s risky

    A model of health over his first three seasons in Green Bay, Grant tore a ligament in his right ankle during Week 1 last season (which also resulted in a knee fracture), putting an end to his year before it ever really started. Grant underwent ankle surgery last year, and while he’s fully back to practicing and playing, the injuries he sustained were major and should not be ignored.

    Grant is also being pushed on the depth chart by RB James Starks, who came on strong last season in the playoffs and has looked better in camp, according to some reports. Grant is first on the depth chart and will start Week 1, but the situation in Green Bay reeks of a committee.


    Worth the risk?

    While the potential for a starting RB in Green Bay is high, Grant was never an amazing talent, is coming off multiple injuries to his right leg and has a younger, healthier RB in Starks hot on his tail. It looks more like a “hot hand” approach than a starter/handcuff scenario, and as such, Grant is not worth a Top-100 pick.

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers

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    Why he’s risky

    J-Stew, aka the “Daily Show,” is the epitome of the term “playing through the pain.” While he is perceived as an injury risk, Stewart has only missed two games over his first three pro seasons (both last year) due to his constantly problematic left Achilles. The condition is again acting up this preseason after Stewart claimed to be pain free earlier this summer.

    Of course, Stewart is still second in command in the Panthers rushing attack behind recently re-signed starting RB DeAngelo Williams. There are always plenty of carries to go around in Carolina, but the situation doesn’t project as a 50/50 split considering the enormity of Williams’ contract.


    Worth the risk?

    Stewart would have been a Top-25 pick if Williams re-signed elsewhere; instead, he’s barely worth starting in even 12-team leagues. If Carolina can somehow become the rushing team it was from '08-09, Stewart can provide value, but considering his health, not to mention the team’s dreary outlook, it’s not looking very likely.

Joseph Addai, RB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Why he’s risky

    Addai is somewhat similar to Ryan Grant in that he isn’t the most talented runner but benefits from being solid all around and the starter for a very good team. He was also hampered by injury last season, missing eight weeks with a neck problem.

    Addai remains the starter in Indy, but the title will lose some serious luster if Peyton Manning does indeed miss some action. It can also mean the team depends on Addai more early on, but there is little doubt that not having Manning get Addai his easy goal-line scores will affect the RB’s bottom line in fantasy.


    Worth the risk?

    Addai is not a sexy pick in fantasy drafts and is going outside the Top 100 this season, his best value since becoming a starter. If that’s the case, I like Addai as an RB3/flex early on. I said it in a previous column; it is important to “draft in the now” with your mid to late picks, and as an every-down back, Addai is a good bet for a solid start—just don’t depend on a strong finish.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Why he’s risky

    The top 10 wide receivers, in any given year, are usually the safest investments you can make in a fantasy draft. Being taken just around 10th among wideouts, DeSean Jackson is one of the game’s most exciting players but lacks the consistent week-to-week production of the guys he’s drafted around. From a PPR league perspective, his 47 catches last year were not helping anybody.

    Jackson won’t be affected by the new kickoff adjustment rule since he is the Eagles’ primary punt returner, but depending on return scores every season (as well as swing play TDs) is troublesome. Jackson is also tied to Michael Vick’s health, and if he goes down again this season, there is no Kevin Kolb to serve as a serviceable backup.


    Worth the risk?

    I have never owned Jackson in fantasy, and while I am constantly amazed by his ability, I can't help but consider the “dud factor” in evaluating his week-to-week value. Last year, Jackson had five duds (weeks in which he scored less than five fantasy points in standard leagues), including a two-catch, 32-yard effort in the most crucial of fantasy weeks—Week 16, when most leagues have their championship game.

    As a WR1, I want a guy I can depend on for five catches and 75 yards a week (at the least), and Jackson just isn’t that guy.

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Why he’s risky

    So yeah, I’m not exactly instilling a lot of faith in the Eagles passing game by including Vick, Jackson and now Maclin on the risk list. Maclin would be off this list (and a candidate for my "Value Pick" list) if not for his recent lymphoma scare, which has sidelined his status for the beginning of the season.

    Like Jackson, Maclin is tied to a risky QB in Vick, but he possesses more of an all-around game and should be a safer week-to-week option once fully healthy.


    Worth the risk?

    Maclin is doing his best to get into game shape after losing 15 pounds during his ordeal, which required surgery to remove his lymph nodes. As such, there are safer WR2 options, but if Maclin slips into WR3 territory, he is worth the gamble if you can deal with a slow start to the season.

Brandon Marshall, WR, Miami Dolphins

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    Why he’s risky

    Marshall still racked up the targets last year (fifth in the league), but his new digs in Miami led to the lowest TD total (three) since his rookie year. The Dolphins did not acquire a replacement for QB Chad Henne, so the two will have to get on the same page, or Marshall’s value in standard leagues will continue to suffer.


    Worth the risk?

    As a result of last year’s minuscule TD total, Marshall is no longer looked at as a Top-10 WR in fantasy. As a result, he is being drafted 18th among wideouts and makes for a great value at WR2. Another year together can only help Henne and Marshall from a chemistry standpoint, and when you consider his other numbers from last season (86 catches, 1,014 yards), the outlook for 2011 is pretty positive.

Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints

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    Why he’s risky

    Remember when Colston had TE eligibility his rookie season? That was fun—and also highly irrelevant to this list. What is relevant is the state of Colston’s knees; he’s had five surgeries combined on them, including a microfracture procedure on his right knee this past offseason. Colston also had microfracture surgery on his left knee in ’09, so that makes two major surgeries for both knees.

    Colston returned to preseason action against the Texans in Week 2, but his status is clearly alarming heading into the season. WRs like Torry Holt and Antonio Bryant were never the same after the procedure, and while Colston rebounded nicely from his ’09 surgery, he is now facing a new hurdle. It’s a bilateral problem now.


    Worth the risk?

    You can also say that Colston suffers from being in New Orleans’ spread attack, but that hasn’t affected his season stats over the years. The major concern is his health, and with a wide variety of healthier options, Colston just seems like a big red flag this year.

Stevie Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills

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    Why he’s risky

    Why so serious? OK, I couldn’t help myself there. The Joker-obsessed WR was no joke on the field last season, finishing top-10 at the position (82 catches, 1,073 yards, 10 TDs). As a result, some people are screaming “fluke” at the seventh-round selection in the 08’ draft.

    Johnson will also be without WR Lee Evans lining up across the field, and while he was the No. 1 guy with Evans, Johnson will now deal with more rolling coverage and double-teams. The “fluke factor” spreads to his QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will also have to prove he is no one-year-wonder.


    Worth the risk?

    Despite producing like a WR1 last year, Johnson is going 20th among WRs in drafts (48.9), and as a WR2 he is a great pick. Yes, a regression is likely, but even so, Johnson doesn’t have to match last season's results and will benefit from plenty o’ garbage stats on the dismal Bills. I am “serious” when I say draft Stevie with confidence.

Anquan Boldin, WR, Baltimore Ravens

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    Why he’s risky

    I don’t know if Boldin is risky as much as he is boring, but last season was a pretty mundane campaign for the solid veteran. He played 16 games for only the third time in his career but posted just 64 catches and 837 receiving yards, averaging a career-low 52.3 yards per game.

    Boldin has been an injury risk his whole career but has stayed healthy for two straight seasons now. He doesn’t have Derrick Mason or T.J. Houshmandzadeh to compete for catches anymore and instead will line up across from deep threat WR Lee Evans.


    Worth the risk?

    Boldin has slid all the way to 22nd overall among receivers in drafts and as a result can easily be had as a WR2. While last year may seem like a scary sign of things to come, Boldin is in a way better position to succeed paired up with Evans as opposed to the quagmire of possession receivers he failed to emerge from last year.

    I don’t love his upside in Baltimore, but the arrow is definitely up for Boldin this season. He makes for a safe (yet boring) WR2 in most leagues.

Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans

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    Why he’s risky

    Britt assumed the lockout would be a good time to rack up the arrests (including a felony charge), but commissioner Roger Goodell is here to say, “Not so fast, buddy.” No decision has been made as of press time, but Britt may face a multiple-game suspension, which he would likely appeal.

    When he does play, Britt is an explosive deep threat at WR, but he will have to get acclimated with new QB Matt Hasselbeck. He isn’t considered a major injury risk, even though he missed four games with a right hammy injury last season, which acted up a little during training camp.


    Worth the risk?

    Britt has already totaled seven arrests since entering the league (on a potpourri of charges), and even if he evades suspension, the guy is clearly becoming the WR position’s answer to Pacman Jones. That alone makes him a risky venture, and when you add the hamstring issue and new QB, Britt is among the riskiest options at WR2. The upside is huge, but the asking price (63.6) is a tad high considering the safer (and more law-abiding) options.

Austin Collie, WR, Indianapolis Colts

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    Why he's risky

    Apparently Collie will don a new carbon-fiber Kevlar helmet this season, which will, you know, prevent future concussions. The helmet even weighs less than a normal NFL helmet—two pounds as opposed to six. While you try to wrap your brain around that defying logic (and google Kevlar), I’m here to remind you that Collie suffered three concussions last season.

    Collie also dealt with a knee injury early in camp, which has resolved, and a foot injury that's cost him some practice. The biggest injury concern for all Colts WRs right now is clearly Peyton Manning, as the domino effect will ripple throughout the passing game.


    Worth the risk?

    Kevlar technology notwithstanding, in my opinion, Collie is a pretty big risk to suffer another concussion. As a slot receiver, his style of play leaves him plenty vulnerable in the open field, and after three concussions in one season, it has to be apparent that Collie isn’t just unlucky—he has awareness issues too.

    Collie’s TD total from last year really stood out of from his game, so when you consider all the options Indy has in the passing attack, it's unlikely he'll average close to a score per game this season. With an ADP of 66.4, Collie is one of my biggest stay-aways in this year’s draft.

Sidney Rice, WR, Seattle Seahawks

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    Why he’s risky

    While viewed as an elite talent at the position, Rice is still clinging to his one productive season in ’09 with the Vikings, when he and Brett Favre hooked up for countless big plays. Now playing for the Seahawks, Rice will be hooked up with familiar QB Tarvaris Jackson, but the drop-off in talent (also in surrounding cast) is evident.

    Rice is fully healthy from the hip injury/surgery that plagued his 2010 season but is already dealing with a sore shoulder and has never been a model of health over his four-year career.


    Worth the risk?

    I originally expressed faith in Rice after the signing since I’m a big fan of his ability and liked the NFC North to NFC West change of scenery. The early reports haven’t been positive, however, and it’s becoming hard to predict whether Jackson will be at least decent to accommodate a useful fantasy year from Rice.

    It may be in the team’s best interest to go with “Check-Down Charlie” Whitehurst as the starter, and while that will limit Rice from a big-play perspective, it’s probably better for his overall production. Draft Rice as a WR3 with upside.

Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers

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    Why he’s risky

    Smith is coming off his worst season in years, putting up really putrid numbers for a No. 1 receiver (46 catches, 554 yards, two TDs). Of course, he had arguably the worst QB situation in football, but that fact does little to change Smith’s plummeting fantasy status.

    This season, the QB situation remains in flux with rookie Cam Newton and sophomore Jimmy Clausen. No matter who wins the battle, Smith will once again have to deal with a developing QB. The departure of head coach John Fox suggests that Carolina will be less conservative this year, but Smith can only go as far as his QB takes him at this stage of his career.


    Worth the risk?

    Smith used to be a perennial Top-10 WR in fantasy, so even at 32, there has to be something left in the tank. His asking price is now lower than ever, as Smith is slipping out of the Top 100 in many drafts. If you get him as a WR3, just remember he wasn’t even that last season from a production standpoint.

Santana Moss, WR, Washington Redskins

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    Why he’s risky

    Unlike Smith, Moss is coming off a very productive season at age 32. Similar to Smith, he is plagued by one of the league’s most uninspiring QB situations. It’s uncertain whether Moss can match his production in catches and yards last season, and considering his pedestrian TD totals over the years, he’s going to have to be a "volume guy" to remain relevant.


    Worth the risk?

    For what it’s worth, Moss still produced last season during QB Rex Grossman’s three starts from Weeks 15 to 17. Whether it’s Grossman or John Beck under center this season, Moss has basically proved he is QB proof from a fantasy perspective. He should continue to lead Washington in targets, and even with a downturn in production, he makes for a fine WR3 in drafts.

Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts

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    Why he’s risky

    Expectations were high for Garcon last year, but despite increasing his reception total from 47 in ’09 to 67, his yardage barely budged (765 to 784). Garcon has clearly fallen to fourth in Peyton Manning’s pecking order behind Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Austin Collie. Garcon also suffers from the dropsies, as he’s been among the league leaders in dropped passes since he entered the league.


    Worth the risk?

    For some reason Garcon is still being drafted as a Top-100 player despite an overall lack of talent and diminished role in the passing game. As such, he is a very poor value at his current ADP, and it will take another plague to Indy’s passing options to give Garcon any chance to succeed this season.

Plaxico Burress, WR, New York Jets

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    Why he’s risky

    At 34, Burress is no spring chicken, and the thesis on “whether being incarcerated has any effect on the NFL athlete” has yet to be published. While he showed no signs of rust in his preseason debut against Cincinnati (three catches, 66 yards, TD), Burress rolled his ankle early in camp and is dealing with a sore back following his first pro game in 33 months.

    While the Jets will pass more this year, they are still built as a run-first team, so there is the question of how big a role Plax can play in an offense also featuring WR Santonio Holmes and emerging TE Dustin Keller.


    Worth the risk?

    Oh yes. While the response may seem rather emphatic, I am a believer after watching Burress haul in three vintage catches in his preseason debut. The 6'5" WR is the perfect complement to the smaller/speedier Holmes and could be a red-zone beast for the Jets. At his current ADP outside the Top 100, Burress is a WR3 you should target.

A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Why he’s risky

    The third rookie on this list, the same rule applies to Green as far as tempering expectations for first-year players (with the exception of one WR in Atlanta who I was terrified of putting on this list). Green has immense talent and size but will be held back by his rookie QB Andy Dalton. Can you tell me the last time a rookie QB and WR linked up for a successful season? You can’t, because it probably never happened.


    Worth the risk?

    I have a feeling that drafters who miss out on WR Julio Jones will go after Green in frustration, and that’s just unwise. Green has plenty of upside as a future elite WR, but this season should come with a steep learning curve. Still, if you can get him as filler on your bench, he’s definitely more exciting than some middling veteran WR.

Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers

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    Why he’s risky

    While Crabtree has showed brief glimpses of his ability over his first two seasons, he has to be considered a mild disappointment so far. Of course, there was the holdout that kept him out of the first six games of his rookie season, and entering a hype-filled second year, Crabtree failed to produce consistently.

    His reputation may be on the mend in San Francisco, but he is now dealing with issues in his surgically repaired left foot. The injury may delay his season debut, while new WR Braylon Edwards takes over as the second option to elite TE Vernon Davis.


    Worth the risk?

    Crabtree has seen his fantasy value plummet from last season, when he was considered a high-upside WR2. Right now, his role is the offense seems rather ambiguous, and considering the limitations of his QB, as well as the addition of Edwards, Crabtree is not worth reaching for.

Braylon Edwards, WR, San Francisco 49ers

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    Why he’s risky

    Edwards join San Francisco after a solid season with the Jets (904 yards, seven TDs). While he will clearly never be the guy that scored 16 TDs in 2007, Edwards is still a deep threat who really cut down on the drops last season, which plagued him previously in his career. Unfortunately, Alex Smith, the 49ers' short-armed QB, is a poor fit for a vertical receiver like Edwards.

    Like Britt before him, Edwards is also in risk of suspension (possibly two games) following his September 2010 DWI and recent bar brawl.


    Worth the risk?

    Edwards is going pretty late in drafts for a starting WR with his talent, but considering his suspension risk and limited upside with Smith, it’s understandable. Still, at his current ADP, you could do a lot worse.

Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Why he’s risky

    Father Time may have finally caught up to Ward last season, as he ceded his No. 1 role in the passing game to WR Mike Wallace. Ward finished with 59 catches for 755 yards, and his 47.2 yards per game was his lowest season average since 2000.

    Ward did play 16 games for the third straight season, but with a crowded WR group in Pittsburgh, health can only go so far in guaranteeing the 13-year veteran playing time.


    Worth the risk?

    Ward is 46 catches shy of 1,000 for his career, so despite guys like Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown breathing down his neck, his starting gig should be safe this season. He’s still an undesirable fantasy option and the type of player someone will draft too early based on name recognition.

Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers

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    Why he’s risky

    Get ready to see a lot of big-name tight ends on this list. The position was extremely volatile last season, and Gates was no exception, missing six games. The league’s premier TE has dealt with foot injuries his entire career but finally succumbed to right plantar fasciitis last season. After nearly 10 months of recovery time, Gates still feels the effects of the injury but claims he is ready for the season.


    Worth the risk?

    There is no doubt that Gates is dealing with a nagging injury that will never go away (he also has a history of turf toe in his left foot). Plain and simple, Gates is one big dude who puts a lot of pressure on his feet. On a per game basis, he was surprisingly better than ever last season, scoring 10 TDs in as many games while averaging 78.2 yards per contest.

    While the position is deep this year, none of the upside guys you can get late will top Gates on a per-game basis. If you must have him, Gates should be the first TE taken this season; just make sure to have a solid backup if his foot acts up and causes the big fella to miss games.

Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers

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    Why he’s risky

    Finley was poised for a breakout season last year, but a torn meniscus injury in Week 5 led to season-ending surgery. Finley was limited by injuries over his first two seasons as well, so despite his immense talent and chance to dominate the position, staying healthy will continue to be a concern until proven otherwise.


    Worth the risk?

    Finley claims he’s in his best shape ever heading into this season, but we’ve heard this before from players with the injury bug, including Finley last season. While he does have the potential to post Gates-like numbers (potentially better ones), the fact is he hasn’t done it yet, and while Gates can play through his injuries, the same has not been the case for Finley.

    He is an enticing pick but will not come cheaply in drafts. Every player is worth drafting at some point, but if you’re asking me whether I’d take Finley in the fourth round of my draft, the answer is no.

Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis Colts

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    Why he’s risky

    The hits just keep on coming. Clark is ranked third in most TE rankings, and like the two players going before him, he’s a considerable injury risk.

    Similar to his teammate Collie, Clark leaves himself vulnerable to big hits up the middle. Last season, he suffered a displaced tendon in his right wrist, leading to season-ending surgery. While he is now fully healed, Clark will wear a brace on his wrist this season as a precaution.

    Like all Cots passing options, Clark will be negatively affected by Peyton Manning missing time. He’s still arguably Manning’s top option when the QB is healthy, along with Reggie Wayne.


    Worth the risk?

    Prior to his six-game 2010 campaign, Clark played in at least 15 games for three straight seasons. He was on pace for a great season last year, and while the injury is concerning, Clark has a clean bill of health for now. If he slips to Round 5, he’s worth drafting, but I’ll go on the record to say that this is a year to wait for a TE.

Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons

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    Why he’s risky

    Once the standard at his position, Gonzalez may finally be in a decline following a season where he mustered just 656 yards. It’s a respectable total for an average NFL TE, but not for Tony G, and it marked his lowest season total since 1998, his second season in the league.

    Anyone expecting a bounce-back performance this season clearly hasn’t watched Julio Jones play, who, along with Roddy White, should dominate the majority of targets in Matt Ryan’s passing attack. Even slot receiver Harry Douglas looks like a better option than Gonzalez this season.


    Worth the risk?

    While Gonzalez may still be a good option in the red zone, Atlanta employs one of the best goal-line backs in the league in Michael Turner, so banking on scores from the Canton-bound TE is risky in itself. Considering the plethora of emerging TE options going after him in drafts, Gonzales is another big stay-away this season.

Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints

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    Why he’s risky

    One of the trendier picks this season, Graham is being touted as the next TE to make “the leap” to the Top 10 this season. Despite a four-TD finish in the season’s final three weeks, Graham did not surpass five catches or 72 yards in a game last season. While many project him to be Drew Brees’ go-to-guy in the red zone, the Saints still employ a spread attack and now have Mark Ingram to feature from close.


    Worth the risk?

    I don’t hear many people praising Graham’s route-running or pass-catching ability (he’s actually suffered from drops in practice) as reasons for his impending breakout. Instead, Graham supporters believe the 6'8" former college hoops player will simply be a machine in the red zone and flirt with 10 TDs.

    That sounds all good and nice, but I’m not about to draft a second-year TE, in a spread offense, with hope that he makes his bread and butter scoring TDs. That’s all the risk I need, and considering Graham’s fairly high asking price, I won't be on the bandwagon this season.

Chris Cooley, TE, Washington Redskins

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    Why he’s risky

    Following a solid 2010 (77 catches, 849 yards), Cooley underwent left knee surgery in January to treat a torn meniscus. The injury has not healed well, however, as Cooley is dealing with residual soreness and swelling, which has sidelined him in camp and from preseason action.

    His status for the regular season is up in the air, and Cooley himself admitted that the knee could be problematic all year, requiring multiple drainings and missed practices.


    Worth the risk?

    Um, yeah, absolutely not. Cooley is the biggest stay-away on this list, and considering his plummeting ADP, drafters have definitely taken notice. If Cooley attempts to play, the condition can only get worse, and as of now backup TE Fred Davis is worth drafting ahead of him. 

Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

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    Why they’re risky

    We cap off this list with a “New England 2-for-1 Special” in Gronkowski and Hernandez. Last year, the rookie TE duo combined for 87 catches, 1,109 yards and 16 TDs. If you could combine them into one player (ESPN’s Bill Simmons dubbed the hybrid TE Aarob Gronkandez), you’d have the most dominant TE in fantasy history.

    Alas, most leagues probably wouldn’t allow such an exception, so it’s up to you to decide which Patriots TE is the one to own. Gronkowski is clearly the favorite in standard (non-PPR) leagues due to his 10 TDs from last season and dominant role in the red zone. Hernandez is more likely to lead the two in catches and yards; by what margin is the question.


    Worth the risk?

    While I’d prefer to pick a TE who is the main option for his team at the position, I still understand the intrigue behind both of these guys. Still, if I had to pick one, it’s definitely Gronkowski.

    I know I just said not to chase touchdowns with Graham, but Gronkowski has already proven his scoring propensity in a big way last season and has been getting rave reviews in camp. Hernandez, meanwhile, is way too inconsistent and is coming off hip surgery.