Fantasy Football 2012: 20 Gambles Worth Taking

Nick Kostora@@nickkostoraContributor IIIJuly 19, 2012

Fantasy Football 2012: 20 Gambles Worth Taking

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    With great power comes great responsibility, and with great risk comes the potential to win your fantasy football league in 2012.

    A little heavy-handed, but every fantasy owner knows chances must be taken in order to rise to the top.

    So what players are worth rolling the dice on?

    Everyone knows to take Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Eli Manning early, but is a mid-round question mark like Josh Freeman worth the risk?

    And once all the receivers nicknamed after Transformers and super-heroes are off the board, should you consider Malcom Floyd or Demaryius Thomas?

    Here are 20 fantasy football gambles worth taking in your 2012 draft.

20. Josh Freeman

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    2011 was an aberration for Josh Freeman. A fluke, a misnomer, a falsity.


    Freeman was so impressive as a sophomore that his fall from grace last season was at times hard to watch.

    But, have no fear Buccaneers fans and fantasy owners, Freeman has all the pieces in place to bounce back in 2012.

    Adding Vincent Jackson to the receiving corps gives the Bucs a legitimate No. 1 wideout.

    And adding Doug Martin to the backfield gives Freeman another set of hands to work with instead of the lead blocks LeGarrette Blount has attached to his arms.

    Freeman is not likely to be highly sought after in fantasy draft's this year, so grab him in the later rounds, and watch him prove the doubters wrong.

19. Marshawn Lynch

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    Marshawn Lynch loves three things: Skittles, money and football.

    I'm sure he loves plenty of other things like family, friends and his community, but for now, let's focus on the proverbial "Big 3".

    Lynch is in the middle of a 24-month free supply of Skittles.

    He has a new contract that keeps him financially secure.

    And his Seattle Seahawks have a confusing QB situation that should ensure his continued dominance in the offensive game plan.

    The gamble stems from his recent arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence.

    This may put enough of a damper on Lynch's stock to make him a mid/late round steal.

    Don't go reaching in round one or two, but Lynch showed last season that he can be a difference maker.

    With patience in drafting him, you could lessen the gamble and make Lynch a solid pick.

18. The Arizona Cardinals QB

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    Someone is going to start at quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.

    If your fantasy draft takes place before that decision is made, then you may get a nice free agent steal once the dust settles.

    Kevin Kolb and/or John Skelton are both going to be solid backup fantasy options in 2012.

    When Larry Fitzgerald is lined up on the outside, anything is possible.

    Nine times in 2011 an Arizona QB threw for at least 250 yards, and only twice did the team's leading rusher go over 100 yards on the ground.

    The Cardinals are going to put the pigskin in the air, and while this is not the biggest gamble you could take, adding a Cardinals QB to your roster is not as crazy as it sounds.

17. Brandon Jacobs

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    New situations can often bring new results for athletes.

    Brandon Jacobs is hoping that is the case for his move from the New York Giants to the San Francisco 49ers.

    While the 49ers may have a seemingly endless supply of running backs, Jacobs will find a niche quickly: power back.

    He can handle goal-line carries and short yardage situations while also being a great insurance policy in the case of Frank Gore, who is suffering his umpteenth injury.

    LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter are simply different backs from Jacobs and cannot add the same elements to a depth chart that he can.

    Jacobs is not a No. 1 RB option on fantasy rosters anymore, but a later round waiver on a guy that will smell his fair share of end zone paint is a sound strategy. 

16. Carson Palmer

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    Carson Palmer is well past his prime.

    In fact, most people have cast him off as an afterthought when talking about great NFL quarterbacks.

    The fact remains though that he can be a highly productive fantasy option.

    The Raiders are going to throw the ball, as evidenced by Palmer having a minimum of 40 passing attempts in four of the teams final five games last season, and Palmer will have plenty of chances to find the end zone.

    His interception statistics from last season are troubling, but after a full year and an offseason to digest the offense, Palmer is in a much better position heading into 2012.

    Is he worth an early round selection?


    But when the middle to late rounds of the draft are approaching and you forgot to take a QB, Palmer is not a bad route to go.

15. Coby Fleener

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    Quit looking at the guy in the red jersey.

    It's No. 80 that could provide a nice fantasy surprise in 2012. Rookies are always a scary draft prospect because by their very nature they are gambles, but Coby Fleener is entering a near perfect position with the Indianapolis Colts.

    Rookie QB's tend to lean on TE's early in their career, and when that TE happens to be their collegiate teammate—as is the case between Fleener and Andrew Luck—there is no doubt that trend continues.

    Fleener has a sure set of hands and will provide a consistent target for Luck, especially early on in the Colts season.

    Don't be afraid to wait around and take a risk on this rookie.

    He just may be the best gamble you take.

14. DeSean Jackson

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    2011 never happened.

    It was a mirage, a nightmare or maybe even an optical illusion.

    However you want to justify drafting DeSean Jackson this year is fine, just make sure you do in fact draft him.

    The reality of the situation is that while last season's contract negotiations and off-field shenanigans were big news for the Eagles wideout, his on-field production took only a minor hit.

    His touchdowns and yards dropped, but not to cliff diving degrees.

    Jackson and Jeremy Maclin make a formidable pair of receivers for quarterback Michael Vick to throw to, and with Jackson's head on straight, he should be in line for something close to the nine touchdowns he scored in 2009.

    The bottom line is this: He is too much of a vertical threat not to gamble on.

13. Sam Bradford

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    Sam Bradford has to be getting a good chuckle out of the contracts the new wave of rookie quarterbacks are getting.

    However, beyond his deep wallet, Bradford is also seeing a deeper receiving corps assembling around him.

    Names like Brian Quick, Danny Amendola, Steve Smith and Austin Pettis may not jump off the page, but these are solid options.

    Bradford is not going to be an elite NFL quarterback anytime soon, but he is far from the forgettable impostor that wore his jersey in 2011.

    His rookie season of 2010 saw him throw for 3500 yards and 18 touchdowns.

    If you are looking for slightly better production than that, you should consider drafting the 2012 version of Bradford.

12. Reggie Bush

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    The constant fantasy letdown: Reggie Bush.

    That was until last season when everyone cast him off and Bush decided to become a legitimate force with the Miami Dolphins.

    Yes, it appears the grass really was greener on the other side once Bush left the New Orleans Saints and joined Miami (insert your own ironic Ricky Williams pun here).

    So can Bush be counted on to continue the trend he started in 2012.

    As long as you are not looking for a No. 1 fantasy back, the answer to that question is yes.

    Bush's 1086 rushing yards and six touchdowns were both career highs (although he also had six TD's in his rookie year of 2006), and he seemed to find a comfortable role within Miami's offense.

    The Dolphins have an unstable QB battle playing itself out this season, and that should mean a continued dependence on the running game.

    Injury concerns will always surround Bush; he has simply gone down too many times for them not to.

    But the kinda-sorta Heisman Trophy winner deserves a spot on your fantasy depth chart in 2012.

11. Antonio Brown

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    Playing at a school like Central Michigan University makes it tough to become a household name immediately upon arrival in the NFL.

    Antonio Brown is quickly trying to do just that.

    In 2011, he averaged 16 yards-per-catch on his way to over 1100 receiving yards for the season.

    With all the turmoil surrounding star wideout Mike Wallace, now may be the time to gamble on this former Chippewa.

    The fact that he only found the end zone twice last season may be a little discouraging, but Brown is the type of down-field weapon that can make the big play at any time.

    This is a boom-or-bust guy that could make some real noise in 2012, and he is certainly worth a late-round gamble.

10. Jacob Tamme

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    What a difference a year makes.

    2010 was a breakout year for tight end Jacob Tamme.

    Dallas Clark went down with an injury, and Tamme was able to emerge as a great asset for Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts offense.

    He caught 67 passes for 631 yards and four touchdowns.

    In 2011, Manning was hurt, Clark came back and Tamme re-entered obscurity.

    But then again, what a difference a year makes.

    Now, in 2012, Tamme is reunited with Manning in Denver and ready to rekindle that magic from two seasons ago.

    Is he going to become Antonio Gates or Dallas Clark?


    But with Manning again throwing him the ball, Tamme is worth a bench spot on your depth chart.

9. Robert Griffin III

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    The mystique surrounding Robert Griffin III is too hard to ignore.

    Someone is going to take a chance on the Heisman Trophy winner in every draft, and while he may be overdrafted quite a bit, he is still worth a mid-round gamble.

    Yes, he is a gamble. 

    However, Griffin's skill set is one that can produce gaudy, fantasy statistics. 

    Is he Cam Newton or Michael Vick?

    Maybe, but I see him more of a tweener of the two.

    Surprisingly accurate, Griffin III will have no shortage of passing yards this season, and if he is able to utilize his legs without too much concern towards being a "pocket-passer," he could quickly become a fantasy dream.

    Interceptions may come with the territory as a rookie, but don't be discouraged.

    Griffin is going to produce right away in the Washington Redskins offense.

8. Malcom Floyd

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    Vincent Jackson has taken his talents to Tampa Bay.

    That means a giant window of opportunity has opened up for Malcom Floyd.

    Constantly undervalued behind Jackson and Antonio Gates, this could be Floyd's big chance to prove he can be a top receiving option for the Chargers.

    He has caught for over 700 yards in each of the last three seasons and at least five touchdowns in the last two.

    Solid, but unspectacular numbers to be sure.

    However, 2012 should see a sharp increase in targets for Floyd, and his production can skyrocket.

    Floyd may not be a marquee name that will wow your fantasy counterparts, but a mid-round selection on this San Diego receiver will have huge dividends.

7. Reggie Wayne

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    Curtis Painter is no longer anywhere near the starting lineup for the Indianapolis Colts.

    So Colts wideouts can again be considered fantasy options, and Reggie Wayne can return to the top fantasy receivers discussion.

    Is his production going to return to Peyton Manning era numbers?

    That is unlikely, but gambling on the No. 1 wideout for rookie Andrew, luck is not a bad idea.

    Even amidst the travesty that was 2011, Wayne still found a way to haul in 960 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

    Other owners may be low on Wayne after his worst season since 2003.

    That's fine.

    More Reggie Wayne for you.

6. Peyton Hillis

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    2011 was an awful season for Peyton Hillis.

    But hey, it wasn't his fault right? That darn Madden cover jinx ruined his season, and that is why no one in their right mind would draft Calvin Johnson this season...right?

    Luckily Hillis has put the jinx—and more importantly—the Cleveland Browns behind him and moved onto the sea of red that is the Kansas City Chiefs organization.

    Hillis is no longer the disgruntled, injured, odd, frenzied, jinxed shell of himself that he was a year ago.

    In fact, he looks more on par with the 2010 fantasy beast that racked up 1177 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    Want to take that gamble?

5. Demaryius Thomas

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    This one should come as somewhat of a no-brainer, but for those still wavering on whether or not to draft Demaryius Thomas, here is a definitive answer: Get your hands on him early.

    Thomas now has Peyton "I can make any receiver look elite" Manning throwing him the ball, and that should counteract the pedestrian throwing efforts of the Broncos previous signal caller.

    Thomas is now one of those guys that every expert likes to label a "sleeper," which in turn makes him not much of a "sleeper" at all.

    Make sure to snag him early because Denver's offense is going to evolve into a passing machine this season, and Thomas will be the biggest beneficiary.

    Surpassing his career totals of 834 receiving yards and six touchdowns is far from a long-shot.

4. Chris Johnson

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    If you draft Chris Johnson what exactly can you expect?

    Is it the dynamic playmaker that garnered the nickname "CJ2K" after shocking the NFL world on his way to 2000 rushing yards in 2009?

    Or the mere mortal who rushed for 100 yards in a game only four times last season?

    Expect some middle ground in 2012.

    Johnson may never again rush for 2000 yards, but few players ever do.

    He is still only 26 years old and in the prime years of his football ability. 

    The Titans have a QB battle playing itself out, and that should mean no shortage of carries for Johnson as the season progresses.

    Solo feature backs are hard to come by in today's NFL, and Johnson is well worth the inherent risk he imposed on himself after his poor production last season.

    Take him in the first round; if you don't, someone else will.

3. Trent Richardson

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    Drafting a member of the Cleveland Browns is scary.

    Drafting a rookie is scary.

    Drafting Trent Richardson is not scary.

    How's that for an unbalanced equation?

    Richardson is going to be the focal point of the Browns offense as they groom yet another quarterback to be the franchise savior.

    Defenses will of course hone in on Richardson right away, but with the amount of carries the Alabama product is going to get, he won't be able to help but be productive.

    It is a gamble to spend an early round pick on an unproven rookie, but few rookies come in as NFL ready as the new Browns running back.

2. Ryan Fitzpatrick

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    Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown the ability to be an absolute fantasy beast when the Buffalo Bills are firing on all cylinders.

    Unfortunately, when Buffalo is bad, he can be mediocre at best.

    Fear not, the wagons will definitely be circling in 2012, and Fitzpatrick will prove to be a reliable fantasy starter.

    Fitzpatrick is coming off the best statistical season of his career, and with the two headed monster of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson rushing the ball, balance should not be a problem for the Bills offense.

    Improving on his 3832 passing yards from a season ago will come with more consistent play, and if the Harvard product can cut down on his staggering 23 interceptions from 2011, he may be one of the biggest fantasy surprises this season.

    There are far worse scenarios than waiting until the mid/late rounds and taking Fitzpatrick.

1. Darren McFadden

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    Overlook the injuries.

    Yes, I am saying to overlook the injury history when drafting Darren McFadden in your fantasy football league.

    I realize this is like asking you to avoid the biggest elephant in any sized room, but look at the situation the Oakland Raiders running back is in.

    Gone is second fiddle Michael Bush, and McFadden is completely healthy heading into training camp.

    He has Carson Palmer under center to help balance out the offensive load and a shiny new offensive guard to run behind in rookie Tony Bergstrom.

    And when on the field last season, McFadden was a beast.

    He averaged 5.4 YPC and rushed for 614 yards in just seven games.

    In four years, McFadden has never played a full 16 game slate, but 2012 is shaping up nicely for him.