Fantasy Football Rankings 2011: The 50 Least Risky Players
I'm sure most of you diehard fantasy footballers out there still have a draft or two left on your schedule or maybe you still haven't done one at all.
With the lockout, I'm seeing more and more fantasy football drafts getting pushed to the beginning of September, and it's never too late to refresh yourself with some new information.
My focus here was to find the top 50 players that I've gotten the best read on. In other words, I feel supremely confident in the value I've put on them and expect minimal fluctuation in value from them as the season progresses.
Few of these players have a history of severe injuries, off-the-field issues or inconsistent play on the field. So if you're looking to build a team where you know what you're gonna get, week in and week out, look no further than this list.
50. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
ESPN Ranking: 96th Overall
The beauty in Nelson is that you won't have to draft him until the 10th round and beyond in some leagues. He's flying under the radar because a third-string receiver typically isn't looked at as a viable option to play for your fantasy team. Don't be so shortsighted though.
Nelson may just break into the starting lineup as Donald Driver continues to look frail at the age of 36. Whether or not he does start by midseason, the Packers will mix in a lot of three and four receiver packages to give Nelson some opportunities to produce.
49. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
ESPN Ranking: 44th Overall
In 2011, Green-Ellis largely benefited from a Patriots offense that was often near the goal line. I don't expect that to change this season, and he'll have a change to produce another double-digit touchdown season.
You may see some risk here if you were fooled by Laurence Maroney a few seasons ago, but the "Law Firm" is here to stay, and he's clearly the best runner that the Patriots have, although he won't be in on many third downs and long.
48. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
ESPN Ranking: 98th Overall
There is no better year to target a young quarterback than their sophomore season. They're typically flying way under the radar and will likely put up exceptionally better numbers than in the previous season.
Bradford now has a healthier and more talented supporting cast so I would expect him to make a Josh Freeman type leap, and you'll only have to spend a late-round pick on him.
47. Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis Colts
ESPN Ranking: 74th Overall
After a disappointing start to the 2010 season, Garcon finished strong and may have saved face with quarterback Peyton Manning, which is essential to his production this season.
Garcon has managed to stay healthy while Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie have been in and (mostly) out of the lineup.
That earns him some major points from the standpoint of a fantasy football owner.
46. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ESPN Ranking: 63rd Overall
Freeman took huge steps forward in his second NFL season and expect him to continue to make a name for himself as a solid fantasy starter in 2011.
He may not post an incredible 25:6 TD/INT ratio, but he'll likely be given more opportunities to win games as he pairs with an improving group of young receivers.
45. Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles
ESPN Ranking: 40th Overall
This season, Maclin will presumably have Michael Vick at quarterback for the bulk of the season, barring injury. Last year, the Kevin Kolb saga interrupted what could have been a stellar year for Maclin.
This year, Maclin may start off a little slow because he's been battling a viral illness, but he's one of the best red-zone threats that you'll be able to find at the bottom of the third and into the fourth rounds.
44. Shonn Greene, New York Jets
ESPN Ranking: 66th Overall
Last year, Shonn Greene was unexpectedly overcome by the veteran back, LaDainian Tomlinson, and he wasn't able to win back the starting job or step into a role as the team's goal-line back.
This season, things will change. Tomlinson has aged and was only a shadow of himself near the end of the season. That means that even if Greene isn't handed the starting job, he will be getting the majority of the carries by the time Fantasy Playoffs are in full swing.
43. Mario Manningham, New York Giants
ESPN Ranking: 59th Overall
If last year's ending was any indication of what's to come for Manningham, you'll be getting an elite player in the sixth round.
This is a very low-risk proposition because the Giants will be passing almost exclusively to the receivers with Kevin Boss gone, and the more chances the Giants give Manningham to impress them, the more likely it is that he will have a breakout season.
42. LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ESPN Ranking: 39th Overall
Blount was one of the big surprises from the 2010 season, and he won't sneak up on anyone this year.
He ended the season very strong and proved to be a sure thing at the running back position.
He wasn't the goal-line scorer that you might expect with his frame, but with more opportunities this season, it looks like he will enter the double digits in touchdowns.
41. Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens
ESPN Ranking: 62nd Overall
In Boldin's first season with the Ravens, things just didn't seem right. He just wasn't the consistent red-zone target that we are used to seeing and save Week 3, he hardly looked like himself.
Adding speedster Lee Evans will do worlds for Boldin's production, as he's more of a possession receiver; 10 touchdowns is not out of reach.
40. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
ESPN Ranking: 17th Overall
Nicks was a touchdown extraordinaire last season, but there are some minute injury concerns. He never disappeared when he was on the field, and he only has upside in 2011.
If you're in a PPR league, Nicks will be even more attractive, as he was Eli Manning's most targeted receiver last season.
39. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
ESPN Ranking: 27th Overall
In 2010, Forte's forte—I apologize, but I had to say it—was picking up major yardage as a receiver out of the backfield.
This makes him a top-flight running back in PPR leagues. With Greg Olsen out, Jay Cutler will only check down to Forte more often.
38. Eli Manning, New York Giants
ESPN Ranking: 81st Overall
Manning was bombarded by the turnover bug last season, but don't expect it to stick.
He has now passed for 4,000 yards in consecutive seasons, and he hasn't missed a game since his rookie season.
With the group of receivers he has, I wouldn't shy from making Eli my starting quarterback.
37. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
ESPN Ranking: 19th Overall
Despite constant concerns about his health, Jackson never missed a game last season and was a solid starter week in and week out. It's easy to foresee some loss in production from Jackson, but I expect him to do exceed the performance he put up last season.
I'm putting a lot of faith in the Rams offense to improve, but I don't think that's much of a reach at all and if they do, Jackson will be getting the goal-line opportunities.
36. Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers
ESPN Ranking: 26th Overall
Jackson raised a lot of concerns last season with injuries and a contract holdout, but that appears to be behind him. He is now healthy and will be in sync with Philip Rivers again.
Rivers will find a way to get Jackson the ball deep, and while he may not reel in a ton of receptions, he will pick up a lot of scores in a high-power Chargers offense.
35. Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills
One-year wonder? I think not.
Johnson is, by far, the best option the Bills have at receiver, and Ryan Fitzpatrick will find him.
Don't be deterred by his detractors who cry "double coverage." He is a great route runner who will get open, and the Bills will rely on him to do exactly that.
A breakout season by Rosdouble-coveragecoe Parrish would also do wonders to relieve Johnson a bit.
34. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
ESPN Ranking: 33rd Overall
Bradshaw seems healthy again, which is good news for the Giants. He was one of the more reliable backs in the league last season.
He was always getting it done on the ground or through the air, and he seemingly will retain his starting spot.
He won't give you many game-breaking performances, but he'll always be counted on for double-digit points.
33. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
ESPN Ranking: 13th Overall
The hype about Michael Turner finally falling to a severe injury has been exactly that—hype.
He didn't miss a game last season, and the Falcons also didn't overload him with the dreaded 350-carry curse.
He's a beast at the goal line so you should confidently use a first-rounder on him without fears that he will take a dip in production.
32. Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos
ESPN Ranking: 45th Overall
When I thought Tim Tebow would be the starting quarterback for the Broncos, I was genuinely concerned about Lloyd's value, but that saga has passed, and it seems as if the Broncos will head into the season with Kyle Orton at quarterback.
That is ideal for Lloyd, who had great on-field chemistry with Orton.
31. Santana Moss, Washington Redskins
ESPN Ranking: 78th Overall
I'm sure you didn't notice, but Moss quietly had one of his most productive seasons ever in 2011.
At 1,000-plus yards and six touchdowns—those are starter quality numbers, but I'm seeing him on the bench for a lot of fantasy teams.
Moss has been a fantastic deep threat to his career but showed some signs of development last season, refining his route-running skills and becoming more of a possession receiver.
30. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
ESPN Ranking: 69th Overall
Unlike most of your fantasy tight ends, Davis will actually make a difference for your team, instead of just filling out a spot in the lineup.
Jim Harbaugh will run an offense that utilizes tight ends in a lot of its sets so I'm confident he'll put up an elite performance again—possibly even better than last season's.
29. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
ESPN Ranking: Third Overall
When Foster was finally given a chance as an NFL starter, he didn't once look back.
After drafting him in one of my league's, I mistakenly traded him for Santana Moss, and it was a move that likely cost me the league championship.
Foster was, by far, the most dependable fantasy player in the league last season and worries of his demise are far overblown.
28. Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys
ESPN Ranking: 31st Overall
If Tony Romo stays healthy this season, Austin will—simply put—be a fantasy star.
The Cowboys will pass the ball plenty this season, so don't fear Dez Bryant digging into Austin's production.
Austin is clearly the more polished player at this point.
27. Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers
ESPN Ranking: 14th Overall
When you're the starting receiver on a pass-happy team like Green Bay, you're going to put up numbers.
Jennings did that, and he's the clear No. 1 once again. He's surrounded by complementary receivers, which will only make his stock soar.
He's worth first-round consideration in your 10 and 12-team PPR leagues.
26. Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ESPN Ranking: 38th Overall
Williams produced the best rookie season by a receiver in recent memory. He was a touchdown machine and with another season to build chemistry with Josh Freeman, expect him to be a reception machine.
This duo has the ability to be one of the best the league has ever seen.
25. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
ESPN Ranking: 12th Overall
Mendenhall is the Steelers' workhorse so the stats will come to him, he just has to remain healthy—and he's done that ever since he won the starting gig.
He doesn't offer much additional value as a receiver, but he'll pile up a lot of touchdowns, which makes him a star in any non-PPR league.
24. Wes Welker, New England Patriots
ESPN Ranking: 58th Overall
Welker made a miraculous comeback from an ACL tear late in the 2009 season and was able to put up solid numbers when most players would still be sitting on the sideline recovering.
Look for him to regain some of the quickness and YAC ability that we expect from him.
That's where he makes his money so a boost in production should be in the works.
23. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
ESPN Ranking: 87th Overall
If you ignore his disappointing—but typical—performances against the Bengals, Flacco was one of the steadiest performers at the quarterback position.
He ranked 10th among quarterbacks and would be a few slots higher if he could figure out the Bengals' defense.
With Johnathan Joseph gone, that task may be a little easier.
22. Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins
ESPN Ranking: 65th Overall
Three touchdowns is way less than we're used to seeing from Marshall, but we can attribute most of his statistical shortcomings to the quarterback play in Miami. But don't lose any hope because Marshall has looked fantastic in the preseason.
It's possible that he just needed to get up to speed with quarterback Chad Henne, but whatever the issue was, I expect it to be resolved, and Marshall to put up a huge year and you're only going to use a mid-round pick on him, so why not take advantage of his low stock.
21. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
ESPN Ranking: Second Overall
Charles was one of my sleeper picks in 2010, and he was key to my success in a few of my leagues.
He was the most efficient runner ever last season and should Thomas Jones stop stealing his carries, Charles will have an insanely productive season.
His slight frame does raise some concerns about durability though, but he's still worth a look at the No. 1 pick in PPR leagues.
20. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
ESPN Ranking: Sixth Overall
McCoy was the top receiving back in the league last season, and he fits perfectly into what Andy Reid wants from this offense.
He's a much improved pass blocker so he will be on the field on most third downs, and he's a very efficient runner, who is capable of breaking a big play at any time.
19. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
ESPN Ranking: 36th Overall
Gates is the most injury-plagued player on this list, but his ability is absolutely undeniable.
He missed a total of six games last season—and played through injury in the others—but still managed to finish second in points among tight ends.
That is a feat that cannot be forgotten. If Gates is healthy, he may begin to shatter fantasy records for tight ends.
18. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers
ESPN Ranking: 24th Overall
Some will argue that this is too high for a young, speedy receiver who for the most part relies on deep routes to pick up the bulk of his yards. But this is right where he belongs.
Wallace is a very complete receiver, who has displays the frame and toughness to go over the middle and make a catch in traffic.
His 1,250 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns in 2010 make him an extremely attractive option as a second-round pick.
17. Santonio Holmes, New York Jets
ESPN Ranking: 48th Overall
Holmes is now quarterback Mark Sanchez's most-trusted target and for good reason.
Holmes came to New York an improved receiver, and if Sanchez can be a little more consistent with his accuracy, Holmes will have a huge season.
He's paired with possession receiver Plaxico Burress to form a solid duo made up of Pittsburgh Steeler products.
16. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
ESPN Ranking: 55th Overall
Witten was one of the only top-flight tight ends to survive the entire season without injury so he takes the top tight end spot on this list.
Witten has been a reliable target for the Cowboys for years now, and with Tony Romo back from injury, he could once again be the top scoring tight end.
15. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
ESPN Ranking: Eighth Overall
Jones-Drew's 2010 campaign was a time of mixed feelings. He started out slow—presumably due to a knee injury—and didn't catch fire until midseason. He surpassed the century mark on the ground for six straight games and was on fire heading into the fantasy playoffs.
That's when he re-injured his knee and was forced to have surgery.
However, I doubt that he'll show signs of rust, and he'll likely go back to his old ways of double-digit touchdown scoring.
14. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
ESPN Ranking: 46th Overall
For the past two seasons, Schaub has been healthy and productive, clearly the two keys to being a safe fantasy pick.
When Owen Daniels is healthy, Schaub has been a much better quarterback, and believe it or not, Daniels is now healthy and ready to help Schaub return to his 2009 form—when he led the league in yards and posted a career-high 98.6 passer rating.
13. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
ESPN Ranking: 18th Overall
"Megatron" came into the NFL a polished product—particularly for being a receiver.
He has the size, the speed and the hands to be an elite player, and he's almost there.
So...what then, is holding Johnson back? The simple answer is quarterback play.
With Matthew Stafford returning to the starting lineup, Calvin Johnson now has an exceptionally talented quarterback. It's not too much to expect Johnson to best his 2010 season, when he caught 12 touchdowns.
12. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
ESPN Ranking: Fourth Overall
Rice was a hit-or-miss guy last season; he wasn't incredibly consistent. The Ravens will give him much more of a shot to be a star this season though.
The Ravens dumped veteran touchdown vulture, Willis McGahee, and Rice will now get the majority of carries near the goal line.
The prospect of a 2,000 yards-from-scrimmage running back now getting even more chances to score should make any fantasy owner drool.
11. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
ESPN Ranking: 23rd Overall
Fitz hasn't been the same without Kurt Warner, but he will enter the 2011 season with a more than capable quarterback in Kevin Kolb.
Kolb is still developing, but Fitzgerald will make that transition a lot easier.
Fitzgerald has lost complimentary receivers the past two offseasons—first Anquan Boldin, and now, Steve Breaston.
He appears to be the last standing option for Kolb, who will likely repeatedly hurl it up to the star receiver this season.
10. Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints
ESPN Ranking: 42nd Overall
Colston is probably the least notorious player in the top 20, but he shouldn't be.
With exception to 2008, when Colston missed five games due to injury, he's finished every season of his career with 1,000-plus yards and seven or more touchdowns.
Those are numbers that I can trust.
9. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
ESPN Ranking: Ninth Overall
Johnson has led the league in receiving yards per game in three out of the last four seasons, and the one season he didn't, he set a career best with 98.4 ypg.
In each of those seasons, he's ended up with eight or more touchdowns.
If you want to know you're getting a guy who will be an elite player on a weekly basis, with little downtime, Johnson is your man.
8. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
ESPN Ranking: Seventh Overall
You had to be kidding yourself if you thought the reigning Super Bowl champ wouldn't be this high on the list. While Rodgers did miss the team's Week 15 matchup with New England in 2010, he came back improved.
He was on fire during the playoffs, and his ability to utilize all of his weapons was a joy to watch.
If you draft Rodgers, you'll enjoy watching him pick apart defenses even more.
7. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
ESPN Ranking: 11th Overall
If you targeted Roddy White in your league after his surprise performance in 2007, you will agree with this placement.
White's been a guy who shows up every game and every season and puts up big numbers.
He is a very complete player who steadily produces for the Falcons and will occasionally have a huge game to put your team over the edge.
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
ESPN Ranking: 16th Overall
Since Brees has been a Saint, no passer has thrown more or for more yardage. The team relies on him heavily to carry them to success, and he has done that.
Brees has some talented options around him on offense, but he's most effective when he has a solid running game, and he lacked that in 2010.
The Saints addressed that need for improvement and drafted Mark Ingram—the top rookie running back that entered the NFL draft.
Expect Brees to throw for no less than 4,300 yards.
5. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
ESPN Ranking: 22nd Overall
Now we get to the man that replaced Drew Brees in San Diego.
Rivers hasn't had a particularly strong core of receivers in San Diego, but he's still put up exceptional fantasy numbers. Vincent Jackson nearly missed the entire 2010 season and likely put the Chargers out of the playoffs.
With Jackson back, the sky's the limit for this offense. Actually, I think the sky would constrain this offense.
We'll say that the exosphere is the limit for what Rivers can do with the NFL's No. 1 offense.
4. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
ESPN Ranking: 20th Overall
Brady missed nearly the entire 2008 season with a knee injury, but I don't let that affect my opinion of him going forward.
Brady has stunned us all when we thought he couldn't play any better, and he's rarely disappointed his fans.
It's hard to ask for more from Brady, and that's why he's stuck here at four.
3. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
ESPN Ranking: 28th Overall
Reggie Wayne's career in Indy has flown by. He hasn't missed a game in his last nine seasons and has finished the last seven with more than 1,000 yards and five touchdowns.
There isn't much more to expand on. Wayne shows few signs of age and is once again the unquestioned top target for Peyton Manning.
2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
ESPN Ranking: 29th Overall
Manning has never missed a game in his entire career. That alone earns him a spot in the top five.
In those 13 seasons that Manning has been on that streak, he has made a name for himself as one of the best quarterbacks ever.
You know that he's going to show up and be great.
There are some concerns with this nagging neck injury that has prevented Manning from playing in the preseason.
If it wasn't for that, he might just be at one on the list.
1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
ESPN Ranking: First Overall
His nickname says it all—All Day.
Peterson delivers every season, and he's ranked in the top three among running backs in every season since he entered the NFL and top eight among all positions.
If you find another player who can even come close to that level of consistency, please let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading guys and good luck in your drafts!