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What Have We Learned - Reaches and Bargains

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Each season, fantasy owners reach for players they like. I’m not talking about taking a guy a few picks early because they like him, or because they have a feeling he’ll break out. I’m talking about taking a guy a few rounds early because they bought into the hype.

There’s no denying that the NFL has some exciting guys at the top of fantasy draft boards. But Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Aaron Rodgers are few and far between. The key is to take the dynamic, sure thing guys first, then some solid, but safe choices, and gamble only when needed. Gambling throughout the draft will inevitably leave you with one or two guys who came through for you, but ultimately a team that flops. It’s all about getting proper value.

The players listed below are all fantastic options, but only at the right price:

Reaches

Felix Jones, RB, Dallas. Jones finally has the feature back role all to himself. And when healthy and given an opportunity, he’s been very good. And he may blow up this year, putting up Top 10 fantasy running back numbers. But I’d prefer to see him do it once or twice before buying in completely. I’ve seen him go as high as the second round in drafts, which is way too early for an unproven guy. I’d rather take Frank Gore or Darren McFadden, or take a Top 5 receiver. If he can be had in the fourth round, I’m thinking about it.

Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit. Best is an electrifying runner. He plays for an up-and-coming team, with a strong-armed quarterback, and enough receiving options to keep defenders out of the box. But he’s also got a checkered injury history, and his size leaves him at risk. Much like the aforementioned Jones, Best is being taken as high as the late second or early third round, among more proven guys. And like Jones, if he’s there in the fourth round, I’ll pounce.

Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego. The Chargers put a lot of stock in Mathews last year, and were ultimately disappointed. Nagging injuries and spotty performances plagued him all season. It wasn’t until Week 17 last year, when many fantasy leagues had already crowned a champion, that Mathews displayed what made him a first-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft. But it clearly wasn’t enough to take over the job completely, and fantasy sleeper Mike Tolbert, who served many fantasy owners well last year, will continue to share the workload and get goal line work. I can’t see taking Mathews in the third round, but if available in the sixth round, I’m putting him on my list.

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta. Speaking of reaches, the Falcons traded their No. 27, 59 and 124 picks in this past year’s draft plus their first- and fourth-round picks in next year’s draft in order to get Jones. This means they are obviously high on him, and will want a near-term return on their investment. But at the same time, he’s a rookie wideout who needs to master an NFL playbook, adjust to the speed of the NFL game, and then actually execute on the field. I think he’ll be a solid guy, especially in the second half of the season. But some owners are selecting him in the fifth round of drafts, which is about four rounds too early for me, especially considering that Percy Harvin, Kenny Britt and Malcom Floyd are going around the same time.

Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans. I think Graham is in for a big season. He clearly has the confidence of Drew Brees. He’s getting looks in the red zone. He may even lead the team in targets. But pump the brakes. Don’t take him in the sixth round, with more proven guys still available. But I really don’t have an issue with taking him a round or two early on a hunch.

Bargains

Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. If you’ve been waiting for him to be mentioned among the fantasy elite, wait no longer. He’s been performing at a high level for a few seasons now, but hasn’t yet cracked the Peyton Manning/Tom Brady level. In my opinion, he’s now above them. I rank Rivers as the third quarterback, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick, who I’m tempted to put him ahead of. He threw a ton last year, and will do so again this year. And he’ll actually have reasonable weapons this year.

Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans. For some reason, Colston is falling on draft day. Catch him. He’s the WR1 on a high-powered offense. He’s a big target in the red zone. Regardless of scoring format, he’s a fourth-round talent going as late as the sixth round.

Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. Manning is coming off neck surgery, and has yet to really participate in training camp. He’ll still play. His streak of consecutive starts notwithstanding, he’s too much of a competitor not to suit up. It would eat him alive to see Kerry Collins or Curtis Painter or anyone else under center. It’s also worth noting that the last time he missed training camp, he went on to win the league’s MVP award. If he slips past his third round value, take him.

Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee. Kerry Collins is gone. Vince Young is gone. Chris Johnson has signed. Matt Hasselbeck is under center. Britt’s nearly 100 percent recovered from his hamstring woes. The NFL has decided not to suspend him for his offseason antics. All of these are good things for Britt. He’s going as late as the seventh round, two rounds late in my opinion. This is a good thing for you.

Santana Moss, WR, Washington. Moss is coming off a fantastic season, in which he hauled in 93 passes for 1,115 yards and six scores. He’ll be working out of the slot this season, which usually means more targets. While his quarterback situation is less than exciting, both John Beck and Rex Grossman clearly like throwing to him. That kind of production is available in the 10th round.