Fantasy Football Players: The Top 10 for 2012

Cameron WardContributor IIIAugust 29, 2011

Fantasy Football Players: The Top 10 for 2012

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    As many of us fantasy football fanatics know, running backs are going to dominate the first round of our 2011 drafts. The key in these drafts is being able to identify which running backs are on the up and which running backs are on the down. Many times it is hard to tell when these fantasy studs are going to lose their "gusto" (L.T. in 2007-2008) and which ones are just coming into their own (Jamaal Charles in 2010). Now if you don't agree with taking running backs in the first round, your top 10 may look a little different

    Many times it is advantageous to look into the future and predict where players will be a year down the line. Thus, I have put together 2012's top 10 fantasy players. There aren't any huge swings, but you may be surprised by a couple names that have found their way onto the list.

    Take a look!

    Also, I would be interested in hear all of you reader's top 10 for 2012.

No. 1: Adrian Peterson

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    2011 Projections: 1,436 Yards, 13 TDs

    Adrian Peterson is a machine. They need to remake that Albert Pujols commercial and have Peterson pop out of the printer. He has been a staple in the fantasy football world since he busted onto the scene in 2007. I do not see him slowing down, or dropping in 2012 drafts, barring some kind of injury.

    People want to knock Peterson as an injury-prone running back, yet, he has only missed three games (two in 2007 during his rookie campaign and one in 2010) his whole career.

    2011 Drafts Current Rank: No. 1

    All I can say is “Thank your lucky stars!” if this guys drops to you at No. 2-4. Believe it or not, Donovan McNabb is a huge upgrade from Brett “Sexting” Favre and Tarvaris “Just Throw It Away” Jackson. He still has some wheels and got some much-needed rest at the end of last year.

    The Vikings are also going to need to rely on A.P. more this season with the subtraction of Sidney Rice and an effective downfield passing game. 

No. 2: Chris Johnson

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    2011 Projections: 1,462 Yards, 11 TDs

    Chris Johnson is being undervalued in many of the 2011 drafts. His sub-par season (wait, he still rushed for 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns last year!) and contract disputes have dropped him—in many drafts, out of the top three. It looks, though, that Johnson will be getting his money as negotiations continue to move forward.

    Simply, Johnson has the most upside out of any of these running backs on this list. He is a constant home run threat that can rack you up 10-15 points in one play. He is dynamic in the passing game and now has an actual QB in Matt Hasselbeck to spread the ball around and open up defenses for him. Look for Johnson to be 1a and 1b with Peterson in next year’s draft.

    2011 Drafts Current Rank: No. 3

    In my recent draft, Johnson dropped to the fourth spot with Peterson, Charles and Foster going ahead of him. While this seems to be the case in many drafts this year, I think you need to look at the consistence of these runners before you start taking Jamaal Charles and Arian Foster (one-year wonders…so far) ahead of a runner like Chris Johnson. 

No. 3: Ray Rice

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    2011 Projections: 1,306 Yards, 8 TDs

    Many forget that last year Ray Rice was going consistently in the top three in the 2010 fantasy drafts. He was tagged as a possible bust-out player that could produce ungodly numbers because he was so involved in Cam Cameron’s, high-octane, West Coast offense. While he had a solid year, Willis McGahee took a vast majority of Rice’s goal-line carries, and dropped him out of elite-running-back talks.

    This year, though, Rice will get a healthy diet of goal-line looks given that Willis McGahee has departed to Denver. Adding those three to five touchdowns to his totals at the end of the year will be enough to vault him back into top-five discussions for 2012 draft.

    2011 Drafts Current Rank: No. 6

    Having this guy listed below an injury-prone Maurice Jones-Drew and a one-year star in Jamaal Charles is interesting to say the least. Ray Rice is the focal point of the Ravens offense, which is only going to get better with the maturation of Joe Flacco. Rice can score just as many times through the air as he does on the ground. That combination of rushing and receiving yards means big things for Rice in 2011.

No. 4: Rashard Mendenhall

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    2011 Projections: 1,294 Yards, 13 TDs

    Wait, you are putting the guy that talked trash on the U.S. in the top five? Yes, yes I am.

    Know why? One: You don’t get negative points per idiotic tweet. Two: This guy plays for the best running team in the NFL.

    Rashard Mendenhall is a beast. He has the strength of Steven Jackson and runs like Adrian Peterson. With the Steelers being up late in games because of their defense, they find themselves trying to run out the clock on a consistent basis. This is why Mendenhall had the most rushing attempts out of any running back on this list last year.

    Another plus is that he is the No. 1 running back. The Steelers don’t mess around with that 1a-1b crap. Why take your best running back off the field?

    2011 Drafts Current Rank: No. 12

    I have no idea why this guy is ranked so low. Obviously you get negative brownie points with analysts for being an idiot. If you can grab this guy in the No. 8-10 section of your draft, I would advise that you do so. Maybe higher if you are feeling like 15-plus TDs this year is a good thing.

No. 5: Darren McFadden

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    2011 Projections: 1,138 Yards, 6 TDs

    The biggest riser on this list. I have a very strong belief that McFadden will show the world why he was the No. 4 overall pick in 2008. Not only did he rush for over 1,000 yards, but McFadden finished in the top 10 for running backs in receptions and receiving yards. McFadden did all this while missing two games due to a hamstring problem on an average-at-best Raider team.

    This year the Raiders are going to rely on McFadden even more. They got a taste of what he could do last year, and, believe me, Al Davis is going to want more. They have an underrated offensive line that dominated at times last year in the running game. They will begin to phase out Michael Bush (they tested his trade market this offseason) as Darren McFadden will look to be the next fantasy superstar.

    2011 Drafts Current Rank: No. 21

    I understand the injury concerns with the hamstring last year and the broken orbital bone this year, but considering Darren McFadden’s upside, I do not see how he is dropping into the third round. This man will shame you when you pass up on him in the second round for a WR like Hakeem Nicks or Larry Fitzgerald.

No. 6: Jamaal Charles

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    2011 Projections: 1,551 Yards, 7 TDs

    I understand the hype around Jamaal Charles this year. He had one of the highest per carry averages in NFL history last year and helped lead the Chiefs to their first playoff berth in a while. Many site that if the Chiefs had given Charles the carries that they wasted on Thomas Jones, that Charles would have had as good of a season as Arian Foster. With many predicting that Thomas Jones will lose a vast majority of his carries from last year, Charles looks to be heading toward a huge year 

    While I would agree that Jones took fantasy value away from Charles, I would have to disagree on the fact that this year is going to be that much different. While Charles will be getting more carries, he still will not be the goal-line back (Jones will still have that role). Not to mention that the Chiefs defense is still young. While very talented, they will still be giving up a lot of points, causing the Chiefs to air it out more down the stretch.

    Charles is a solid pick, but in 2011 he will take a small step backwards as teams game-plan around him.

    2011 Drafts Current Rank: No. 4

    Charles is going as high as No. 2 in some drafts. While he does have upside, it is a definite stretch to take a, one-year, breakout player so high. As I mentioned in the Chris Johnson section, with top-three picks it is much better to be safe than sorry. You know Johnson will be a top-three runner; you don't know if Jamaal Charles will even be in the top five.

No. 7: LeSean McCoy

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    2011 Projections: 1,081 Yards, 8 TDs

    LeSean McCoy (aka Brian Westbrook Version 2.0) will continue to make fantasy owners happy in 2011. Remember when Brian Westbrook, in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense, was being draft No. 1 overall? I sure do. McCoy has the potential to be in the very same spot a few years down the line.

    Westbrook was drafted there, not because of his ability in the running game, but because of his ability in the passing game. This is what will continue to make McCoy so valuable in fantasy owners for years to come.

    Analysts seem to overvalue a running back’s potential in the running game and disregard his potential in the passing game. With Michael Vick in top form, defenses will continue to game-plan around ways to contain him. Usually that means using a linebacker to QB-spy, leaving McCoy wide open in the flats. This is going to result in some big numbers for McCoy in 2011

    2011 Drafts Current Rank: No. 8

    McCoy will stay planted in the last first round next year too, but look for him to be on the rise for the next few years to come. If Andy Reid can make him produce like Westbrook in 2011, many fantasy owners will be kicking themselves for not taking him earlier over players such as Jamaal Charles, MJD and Michael Vick.

No. 8: Maurice Jones-Drew

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    2011 Projections: 1,263 Yards, 10 TDs

    Knee surgery is never good for a running back and Maurice Jones-Drew is no exception. The Jaguars have run him into the ground over the past couple years and it is starting to show (he only had five touchdowns last year). In 2011 he will continue to impress, but look for him to drop on draft boards for the 2012 draft because of injury concerns and the continued rise of Rashad Jennings (who filled in nicely for MJD last season and can be seen as a late-round sleeper).

    2011 Drafts Current Rank: No. 5

    As I said before, MJD is accurately ranked for this year’s draft if he can stay healthy. The Jaguars were one of the more underrated teams last year and look to continue their runs toward the playoffs this year. Just keep in mind you are taking a huge risk drafting MJD in the top five of any draft.

No. 9: Philip Rivers

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    2011 Projections: 4,734 Yards, 29 TDs, 14 INTs

    Philip Rivers will be the top quarterback selected in 2012 drafts. Why, you ask? One: Philip Rivers has his top options back in Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. Two: He’ll have his top eight offensive linemen back, including Marcus McNeil who missed a good part of last season due to a contract dispute. Three: He runs the No. 1 offense in the league.

    Rivers was without his playmakers in 2010 and still threw for over 4,700 yards to 17 different receivers. His season didn't get the type of attention that it would have had the Chargers made the playoffs. While Aaron Rodgers is a close second, Rivers is going to take that next step into an elite fantasy QB form in 2011.

    2011 Drafts Current Rank: No. 22

    I have seen Rivers fall into the third and fourth rounds in some drafts behind names such as Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. While these five QBs are close in point totals, being able to get Rivers as the fifth or sixth option in the draft is an absolute steal. Plain and simple.

No. 10: Arian Foster

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    2011 Projections: 1,374 Yards, 12 TDs

    Arian Foster. What else can we say except for “touché." No one saw this coming in 2010. While his 2010 season was dominant to say the least, I just don’t see him repeating his success in 2011.

    For a couple of reasons:

    1. Ben Tate is back. Tate was slated to be the starter before his season-ending surgery in 2010. Although Tate will be splitting backup duties with Derrick Ward, he will still take away carries from Foster.

    2. That hamstring. A reoccurring problem for Foster that has him sitting out the rest of the preseason and maybe longer. While he will obviously get healthy (he says he will be back for the season-opener), how long will it hold up? If he misses any sort of time in 2011, that will immediately drop his draft stock no matter how the 2011 season ends up.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy, but taking him as the No. 2 running back in the draft seems like a stretch to me. Plus, Houston has so many other options.

    2011 Drafts Current Rank: No. 2

    This guy is going to be gone by pick No. 4. He may drop due to injury concerns, but he is going top five in a majority of drafts. While I understand the pick, he is a huge risk and most likely will not score 16 rushing touchdowns again.