Last weekend an earthquake hit fantasy football in the form of Adrian Peterson tearing his ACL and presumably being out for a good chunk of the 2012 season. It’s hard to imagine the first round of a fantasy football draft without Peterson, but that’s exactly what we’re looking at. In fact, with torn ACLs usually taking players a year to recover, I’m getting close to advising staying away from Peterson all together in the 2012 season.
The 2012 draft is bigger than just one player. For the next two weeks, we’re going to start preliminary discussions on the 2012 season. We’ll start with the 2012 draft and focus our attention on the first round. We have nearly six months until drafts start in August, so a lot will change between now and the new season, which seems years away at this point. Still, it’s not too early to take a look at the first round, whose in … and whose noticeably out.
1) Arian Foster
It’s amazing that even though Foster either missed or played hurt for the first three games of the season, he’s still going to end up as a Top 3 running back by the end of the season. He’s had two straight seasons of being the best running back in fantasy football, the most important position in fantasy football. He’s earned the top spot in all drafts next season, and this time, unlike last year, there’s little to no debate on whether anyone else should have his top spot.
2) Lesean McCoy
With 1 game left to play, McCoy has nearly 1,600 total yards and 20 touchdowns. He’s had an absolutely incredible season and you can make a convincing argument that he should be picked first overall. In points per reception leagues, with 47 catches, 307 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns, McCoy’s value is even higher. The only reason he’s not ranked higher is because Foster has been doing it longer and is thus a safer pick. With another great season under his belt though, I wouldn’t be surprised if McCoy is the consensus No. 1 pick in 2013.
3) Ray Rice
Rice has had three straight seasons of more than 1,700 total yards. He’s an amazingly talented runner and also a great pass catcher with three straight seasons of more than 60 catches and 500 receiving yards. If there’s a knock on Rice it’s his lack of touchdowns, averaging about eight over the last three seasons. Another concern is that every now and then, he somehow becomes a forgotten man in Baltimore’s offense. Regardless of those concerns, though, he’s a great runner in the prime of his career and poised for success, next year and beyond.
There were a lot of doubts about Jones-Drew at the start of this season. He was recovering from surgery, and most preseason projections predicted he’d have a down year, probably filled with injuries and disappointment. This hasn’t been the case. Jones-Drew has been playing his best football in the final weeks of the season, which has helped propel many an owner into the playoffs and beyond. He’s having the best season of his career and is on pace to finish with more than 1,500 rushing yards. The weakness here is that he plays in one of the worst offenses in the NFL and has an awful quarterback, who Jacksonville management still somehow seems committed to. If he played in just a mediocre offense, Jones-Drew would have a chance of being ranked first overall. Since the Jaguars offense is so putrid, it severely limits his red zone chances, only 10 touchdowns this season, which puts him at the fourth overall spot.
5) Matt Forte
Before he was injured three weeks ago, Forte was arguably the best running back in fantasy football. Even though he’s going to miss the last month of the season, he’s still going to finish with nearly 1,500 total yards. The Bears offense is built around Forte, and despite his most recent injury he’s been healthy for most of his career and has never missed a game until this season. In an NFL that is filled with running back by committees, Forte is that rare workhorse back and that makes his value extraordinarily high. As long as he’s healthy for the 2012 season and does not have a lengthy holdout, he should be picked in the middle of the first round in most drafts.
I might receive a lot of flack for putting Lynch in the first round. I’m willing to take the heat, though, because those critics haven’t been paying attention to what’s been happening for the last two months. Lynch has been arguably the best running back in fantasy football for the last eight games, rushing for 855 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s become matchup proof, having excellent games against tough run defenses like the Baltimore Ravens (109 yards/1 TD) and the Chicago Bears (42 yards/2 TD). Just last Sunday he rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers’ run defense, which has the best run defense in the league and had previously not allowed a touchdown all season long. He has 13 touchdowns on the season and will probably finish with a couple more before it’s all said and done. Lynch has returned and he may be the most underrated running back in next year’s draft.
There’s going to be a lot of people, who are going to be outraged that the top scorer in fantasy football this year is ranked at the seventh spot. My philosophy on fantasy football is that running back is still the most important position. With the NFL becoming a pass-crazy league, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a stud running back that you can rely on. Those few, lucky owners who have a true stud running back have a major advantage over their competitors each and every week.
There are close to 10 great fantasy quarterbacks owners will have to choose from in the first three rounds of the draft. Of course Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady are a cut above the rest and deserve to be in their own tier, but since there are so many great quarterbacks available, I rate the value of a stud running back much higher than I do for a stud quarterback.
If given the choice, I’d much rather have my first two picks be something like Maurice Jones-Drew and Eli Manning, for example, instead of Aaron Rodgers and Steven Jackson. There’s a much bigger drop off between the First Tier running backs and the Second Tier than there is between the First Tier quarterbacks and the Second Tier quarterbacks.
That being said, if all of the First Tier running back sare off the board and Rodgers is still available, of course he’s the guy you want. He’s having a record-breaking season and is on his way to get the MVP award and maybe win his second straight Super Bowl title. Rodgers is in the midst of the best season of his career with 40 touchdowns and more than 4,354 passing yards.
8) Drew Brees
In any other season, Brees would be a lock for the MVP award and would easily be the best quarterback in fantasy football. Since Aaron Rodgers and even Tim Tebow are stealing all the spotlight, Brees isn’t getting the attention he deserves. He’s having the best season of his career with close to 5,000 passing yards and 37 touchdowns. He’s been greatly assisted by the great play of Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham. All signs point to him having another stellar season in 2012.
9) Tom Brady
Brady is the final player in the First Tier of quarterbacks for fantasy football. He’s having the second-best season of his career after his record-setting 50-touchdown campaign in 2007. Similar to the Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, he plays in a pass-happy offense and he’s in the prime of his career. With close to 4,600 passing yards and 38 touchdowns, Brady is a great
“consolation” prize for those owners, who miss out on Rodgers and Drew Brees. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots target a wide receiver in the offseason, which should raise Brady’s value even further.
10) Cam Newton
Including a second-year quarterback coming off a stellar rookie campaign in the first round is something I’ve really struggled with. Still, after Newton broke Peyton Manning’s rookie passing record last Sunday and added four more touchdowns to his 34 touchdown total, I can’t resist any longer. With one more year of fantasy greatness, I’ll be willing to put Newton in the First Tier of fantasy quarterbacks, but I can’t do that after just one great season. For now, he deserves a spot at the tail end of the first round and at the top of the Second Tier of fantasy quarterbacks.
11) Calvin Johnson
As far as Johnson goes, he’s easily the best wide receiver in the NFL. The second half of his season has been disappointing because the Detroit Lions have lost their running game and defenses are having an easier time of double and triple teaming him. Still, last week’s 210-receiving yard, two-touchdown performance from Johnson is a clear reminder that he’s still the best receiver in the game. If the Lions can fix their running game over the offseason, he should be the first receiver drafted next August.
12) Wes Welker
Welker has become the most reliable receiver in fantasy football, and this year, in most formats, he’ll be the top scorer among receivers. He’s having another 100-plus reception season, this time with nine touchdowns and more than 1,400 receiving yards. By the time the season is over, he’ll have career bests in receiving yards and touchdowns. He’s the No. 1 receiver in the New England’s high-octane offense and this season he’s finally getting touchdowns, which was a weakness earlier in his career. In points per reception leagues he’s an absolute monster. No matter the format, though, he’s about as safe a pick as you can get, and as long as Tom Brady’s throwing to him, there’s no sign he’s going to slow down any time soon.
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