1. Eagles QB Michael Vick; ; 2011 rank: 11th among QB’s, in 13 games (2010 rank: 3rd among QB’s, in 12 games).
Why he could be a slam dunk: The Eagles have upgraded their offensive line, they’ve cleaned Desean Jackson’s bib, and Michael Vick is a big play waiting to happen. The Eagles defense may be improved, but games against the titanic offenses of the Lions, Saints, Cowboys (twice), and Panthers will cause them to get into shootouts.
Why he’s controversial: The Redskins defense is considered the best young defense in the NFL, Philadelphia also has games against the high-ranked Browns, Bengals, Ravens, Steelers and Cardinals defenses. Since becoming the starter, Vick has not been able to play all 16 games, and he missed crucial fantasy weeks last season. GMs picked him 1st of all players, and – in the majority of leagues – Mark Sanchez scored more fantasy points.
Verdict: Similarly to when McNabb was with the Eagles, I’ll never plan on a QB getting injured and thus knock him down to the very bottom of my board. It’s just that, with a wide array of QB’s who are in better situations and don’t have the injury history, I move Vick down to on my QB’s list. I have him 6th after Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, and right before Peyton Manning. I do have an injury note next to him, so if I don’t want to get another QB for more than a few rounds in my draft, I may take Peyton, Stafford, or Romo. I may also let someone else take him while he’s still #1 overall on my board, though I usually stick with my board.
2. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson; 2011 rank: 8th among RB’s, in 12 games (2010 rank: 4th among RB’s).
Why he could be a slam dunk: He’s healed from his triple-injury – torn ACL, torn MCL, meniscus damage, faster than anyone, he’s the most amazing running back in the NFL. He’s Adrian Peterson, who took the mantle of #1 Fantasy Superstar from Ladainian Tomlinson in the 2007 season, his rookie campaign.
Why he’s controversial: The injury is one that often takes a year before the player gets his speed back (not that relies entirely on that).
Verdict: I like him in the second round, but am looking at how Welker and Benn came back from ACL surgery, and have him ranked 12th among RB’s. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were 4th or 5th, but the red flag is huge.
3. Broncos QB Peyton Manning; 2011 rank: missed (2010 rank: 4th among QB’s).
Why he could be a slam dunk: He’s motivated, he has smart players he trusts on the team, he’s one of the greatest QB’s of all time, the AFC West defenses are decent yet all vulnerable (ranked in points allowed).
Why he’s controversial: He missed the 2011 season with a neck injury, there are no recent 1000-yard rushers, and Brandon Stokley in 2004 is the only 1000-yard receiver. The Broncos’ punishment for finishing 1st is the toughest schedule statistically in the NFL, but not only is that really not the toughest schedule, but it is also pretty conducive to big fantasy numbers as Manning will play catch-up.
Verdict: 7th among QB’s. When I set up my draft board, I only have a few QB’s projected ahead of him, because I don’t EXPECT him to get injured. However, as with Vick and Roethlisberger, you want to have a great alternate ready to go any week.
4. Steelers RB Isaac Redman; 2011 rank: 48th among RB’s (2010 rank: 64th among RB’s).
Why he could be a slam dunk: Redman is slated to be the featured back on a team that will likely run the ball quite a bit with the lead.
Why he’s controversial: His career high in carries is 110.
Verdict: I place him 20th among RB’s but with more upside than Jamaal Charles or Shonn Greene due to the lack of players fighting him for carries. If it looks like Mendenhall is out, Redman will be my top sleeper RB.
5. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald; 2011 rank: 5th among WR’s (2010 rank: 16th among WR’s).
Why he could be a slam dunk: He’s Larry Fitzgerald and no corner, safety or double team will stop him from snagging the ball on the highest point.
Why he’s controversial: Kevin Kolb and/or John Skelton will be throwing him the football.
Verdict: 1st among WR’s. I always want a WR who has a supporting cast, but not too many target-eaters. Fitzgerald demands the ball, and the Cardinals are focusing their offense mostly around him, their franchise player.
6. 49ers RB Frank Gore; 2011 rank: 12th among RB’s (2010 rank: 20th among RB’s, in 11 games).
Why he could be a slam dunk: Great offense that ran the ball for the 3rd-highest number of attempts with 498.
Why he’s controversial: He has an injury history, and now could have Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs AND Heisman finalist LaMichael James stealing carries.
Verdict: He’s my 15th-ranked running back, but I would pay close attention to training camp reports and how he looks in preseason. I also tend to ignore my draft board in some drafts and just try to go for guys who I know will get the touches if I get the sense I’m going to abandon RB for three-four rounds. Him being slotted at 15th is static.
7. Buccaneers RB LeGarrette Blount; 2011 rank: 29th among RB’s (2010 rank: 24th among RB’s).
Why he could be a slam dunk: He’s 6’1″, 245 lbs., he runs angry, and Aaron Rodgers thinks he could be one of the best in the NFL.
Why he’s controversial: The Buccaneers took a RB (Doug Martin) in the 1st round, one who excels at pass-catching and pass protection (special teams gunning as well), so he can help Mike Sullivan disguise his hand better than Blount can.
Verdict: Ready to emerge as a red zone monster (or at least a short yardage behemoth) on an offense that will have way more goal-line carries than last year, 11th among RB’s.
8. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski; 2011 rank: 1st among TE’s (2010 rank: 5th among TE’s).
Why he could be a slam dunk: Teams had much difficulty stopping him pre-injury.
Why he’s controversial: The Patriots have so many weapons (adding Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, ‘Donte Stallworth, Anthony Gonzalez and Jeremy Ebert). When you throw in a tougher schedule and tougher division this year, you could see his numbers go down.
Verdict: He’s the best big-play weapon on the Patriots, but I think he’s still going to get doubled more than Aaron Hernandez (who played with an injury, and missed 2 games). For that reason, I’m ranking him 2nd among TE’s behind Jimmy Graham. Graham’s biggest contender for intermediate-deep targets (most of Sproles’ 86 catches were short) is Colston, while Hernandez, Welker and Lloyd will cut into Gronk’s targets this season.
9. Packers WR Jordy Nelson; 2011 rank: 2nd among WR’s (2010 rank: 66th among WR’s).
Why he could be a slam dunk: Anyone who’s seen him play knows he’s not a one-year wonder. He’s big, fast and part of a pass-heavy offense.
Why he’s controversial: Defenses started keying in on him last year, so I still view him as unstoppable. The issue with offenses with this many playmakers is that it’s often an issue of who a defense wants to take away each week, quarter, drive, and play.
Verdict: It’s tough to imagine him matching the numbers he did in 2011 (15 TDs), so I’m placing him 14th among WR’s. Personally, I prefer young receivers like A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and even Alshon Jeffrey (if he makes the starting line-up; I’ve heard undrafted rookie Chris Summers has outperformed him so far in OTAs) on offenses where there are fewer alternatives. I know he’ll be targeted a lot, but I doubt how consistently, as the Packers offense feeds Jennings, Finley and a healthy James Jones.
10. Vikings WR Percy Harvin; 2011 rank: 7th among WR’s (2010 rank: 20th among WR’s).
Why he could be a slam dunk: He gets rushing yardage, plays at least 10 games indoors, the offense should be much more fluid this year, and he gets a few return TDs.
Why he’s controversial: By racking up rushing numbers, Harvin finished, despite no other serious passing weapons in Minnesota, and with McNabb as the starting quarterback early. Yet, we don’t know if they want to keep using Harvin as a running back and new weapons can mean fewer targets. They could take him off kickoff returns for the majority of this season due to new acquisitions.
Verdict: Childs, Rudolph and Carlson will be his friends up until the red zone, then become his fantasy enemy, 11th among WR’s.
When I was first writing this, ESPN put up a list similar to this. It’s decent.
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