Fantasy football can get tricky, as you all are likely aware, and one of the toughest parts of preparation is deciding between closely rated/ranked players.
Rankings and projections do a lot of the tough decision-making for you, but when it comes to crunch time in your draft, you may struggle between a pair or trio of guys. Which guy is really the best guy, who is the lesser risk, and so on.
I’ll run the gauntlet with you in this column, taking a look at some of the sticky situations, and use logic and fantasy numbers to show you back to the yellow brick road.
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers) vs. Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints) vs. Tom Brady (New England Patriots)
If you’re the first guy to take a quarterback, you probably want a pretty good explanation as to why you should take Rodgers over Brees or Brady, who are right up there in his class level. The easy way to put it is this: he’s better.
All three guys have sick offensive systems and crazy good offensive weapons, but the big separation here is Rodgers’ versatility. He totes the football, digs it into his ribs, and gets you extra fake points with his legs. These guys may be fairly neck and neck when it comes to most passing numbers, but Rodgers blows both Brees and Brady away in rushing yards and rushing scores.
Rodgers has never rushed for less than 200 yards or three scores (as a full-time starter), while Brady has topped 100 rushing yards just three times and more than two rushing scores just twice in his entire career. In addition, Brees has rushed for more than one touchdown just twice, and topped 100 rushing yards just one time, too, all the way back in 2002.
But don’t let this talk about passing guys using their legs get you all excited about Michael Vick, Cam Newton or Robert Griffin III just yet. Those three guys are killer runners, but none of them are at the level in the passing game as the three guys above. Because of that, you’ll want Rodgers, Brady or Brees first, while A-Rod takes the cake of the top three.
Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles) vs. Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers)
It’s the classic battle of potential versus stability when you look at Vick and Rivers entering 2012. Vick was supposed to be putting out number one overall pick stats in 2011, but instead was the 11th overall fantasy quarterback when it was said and done. Funny enough, Rivers still beat Vick out last year, despite throwing 20 interceptions and turning the ball over 25 total times.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean Rivers will top Vick again in 2012, or that you should draft Rivers over Vick.
I actually think Rivers is going to have a great year. Heck, he had a great year last year. He turned the ball over a bunch, but the guy still passed for 4,600+ yards and 27 touchdowns. Even without Vincent Jackson, I think he puts up similar numbers, while cutting back on the turnovers.
Michael Vick a healthy Michael Vick is an entirely different machine. If he can stay healthy, Vick is the type of the player that can put 3,500+ passing yards, 20+ passing touchdowns, 500+ rushing yards and close to 10 rushing touchdowns on the table. That type of talent and potential is what got him as most people’s top overall fantasy player heading into last season.
I know he’s a health risk, but in today’s game with concussions and ACL tears, so is everyone else. Sometimes potential has to out-weigh the safe pick, and that’s exactly the case here, in my mind. Both of these guys will be on the board come round four and possibly even round five in most drafts. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, only Vick should come off the board at that point.
Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers) vs. Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears)
Big Ben never fools me. I know he’s a solid yardage quarterback when he’s on top of his game, but I have yet to confuse him for an elite fantasy quarterback. Roethlisberger has thrown more than 26 touchdowns in a season just once in his entire career, and the two times he was unable to top 4,000 yards passing, he passed for under 3,600 yards. To me, that’s not elite. Cutler, on the other hand, has four 20+ touchdown seasons to Big Ben’s three in two less seasons – not to mention sitting out six games last year due to a thumb injury.
I’m taking Cutler in this battle, and it has everything to do with major weapon upgrades in Chicago’s passing game. Cutler was a passing demon when he has Brandon Marshall as a top weapon, and he has him as a teammate again. I also like the addition of big, physical rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, and see 2012 as Cutler’s best in a Bears uniform. I’m not ignoring the addition of offensive guru Todd Haley to Pittsburgh, but I’ve seen more elite production out of Cutler, and think he’s finally going to be huge in Chicago with a familiar target who also happens to be elite.
Arian Foster (Houston Texans) vs. Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens) vs. LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles)
Foster was my top running back in 2011 and that only changed because he entered the year with a bad hammy. Even though McCoy had more rushing scores and Ray Rice paced the fantasy realm in points (at the position), I still prefer Foster as the top dog.
Why? Because these guys are all pretty similar. They’re all explosive. They all score. They all are versatile. The only difference, really, is that Foster is more consistent. That, and despite only appearing in 13 games, he still only finished about 50 points away from being the top fantasy back.
My problem with McCoy is that I don’t see him scoring 20 touchdowns again. Michael Vick ran for one rushing score in 2011, and that will change. Maybe it cuts McCoy down to 15 scores, maybe quite a few more. But that number isn’t going to be repeated, while Foster’s offense and last two seasons suggest he will continue to score 10+ touchdowns with ease. Rice factors into the touchdown dance equation, too, but not in a positive light. He did score 15 times in 2011, but it was his first season with more than eight scores. I can see him topping 10 again, but not by much if he does. Factor in his contract situation, and I can’t take him first.
Overall, all three guys will rack up the yardage as runners and receivers, but Foster is the more consistent and reliable touchdown threat. He also doesn’t have contract issues and his quarterback isn’t a threat to steal scoring opportunities in the red-zone. Check and mate.
Darren McFadden (Oakland Raiders) vs. Trent Richardson (Cleveland Browns)
It’s the risky injury guy with loads of potential versus the rookie on a terrible team with, well, loads of potential. McFadden can be a beast, plain and simple. Michael Bush is gone to Chicago now, too, so if McFadden could actually stay healthy for a full season, the sky really would be the limit. His crazy start to last year (614 yards in seven games) tells you all you really need to know. McFadden may be a huge injury risk, but he has the back-field all to himself in 2012, and could blow up.
While I’m excited about McFadden’s potential, I’m just as excited about Trent Richardson’s anticipated role in a paltry Cleveland offense. At the very worst, I envision the Browns getting somewhat better with Brandon Weeden and some receiving weapons being added to the roster. I mean, they can’t get a whole lot worse, right? But even though I’m slightly optimistic, I’m also realistic. Cleveland is still rolling with two rookie starters on offense for sure, plus possibly a rookie wide receiver or two. That could be awesome, or it could blow up in their face.
The other question you have to ask is, considering all the hype, is Richardson going to be the next coming of Adrian Peterson as a rookie, or will we see something more like Mark Ingram from 2011? There’s risk with both guys, but McFadden has the experience and I think at least in 2012 he has the higher ceiling. It’s close, but in a pinch I’ll take McFadden over T-Rich.
Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings) vs. Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs)
Two dudes with torn ACL’s that were awesome in 2010. It should be a tough battle that I analyze until you fall asleep, but I really don’t see a need.
Working in Charles’ favor in terms of the knee injury is the fact that it happened in week two. That means come week two he’ll be a full year removed from his injury. That means he’ll get back to his explosive self faster – at some point in the season – if he doesn’t get there already by the start of the season. Peterson, on the other hand, messed his knee up in week 16. So, unless he’s the crazy freak we all kind of, sort of think he is, he won’t be quite the same guy we’re accustomed to until very late in the season.
With that said, I’ve come to the conclusion that neither of these guys will be the same guys in 2012 – at all. But that doesn’t mean a Peterson or Charles at 85% isn’t worth owning. And if you had to take a chance on one, it’s got to be Peterson. Charles is probably more explosive and could get back to normal faster, but he’s never been a touchdown machine and Peyton Hillis is around to help shoulder the load. Peterson scores touchdowns at will, and Toby Gerhart scares me a little less long-term than Hillis. Like most of these, it’s a close call, but I think Peterson takes the cake between the two.
Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals) vs. Andre Johnson (Houston Texans)
Calvin Johnson is the top wide receiver in the game today, and that counts for fantasy purposes, as well. The Madden Cover is scary, but the fight for number two involves Fitzgerald and AJ, and has nothing to do with Megatron. So, Calvin Johnson is off the board and you’re wondering who the next best wide receiver is, right?
It’s actually painfully close, but I have to side with Fitzgerald. I know AJ is a sick talent and Matt Schaub targets him like crazy, but he is coming off a lost season (hamstring) and Larry Fitzgerald seems to just get the job done, regardless of who is throwing him the rock. I actually am starting to believe in Kevin Kolb a bit more these days, too, which makes me think Fitzgerald could be better than he was in 2011.
History tells us both of these guys can rack up the catches and yards at will, but Fitzgerald has always been the more dominant touchdown machine. The only thing ever holding him back has been his quarterback play, and if Kolb can progress even mildly, I think it makes Fitzgerald the more explosive fantasy asset in 2012.
Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis Colts) vs. Torrey Smith (Baltimore Ravens)
The old guy goes up against the rising burner. I’ll make this one short and sweet. I like the old dude more than the young guy here, and it has a lot to do with Wayne still finding a way to put up 900+ receiving yards despite having three different inept quarterbacks toss lame ducks at him all year long. I know he’s 33 and not the same guy he once was, but he’s a very solid possession receiver and is still the number one guy. He’s also getting a quarterback upgrade in rookie Andrew Luck, and this team may be forced to pass quite a bit. He won’t find his way back to 111 balls like he did in 2010, but I think Wayne will shock some people in 2012.
Smith, on the other hand is explosive and carries a ton of potential, but his offensive system and own inconsistency should keep him from stud status for another year. He’s going to make a good amount of big plays and could offer WR2 value, but looking back on his rookie year, he basically had two crazy good games, and was otherwise pretty average in most of the others. Overall, Wayne is just the more consistent option right now.
Justin Blackmon (Jacksonville Jaguars) vs. Michael Floyd (Arizona Cardinals)
People who say Floyd isn’t as talented as Blackmon are wrong. People who say neither will have an impact in fantasy football are probably wrong, too. But there’s going to be a middle ground here, as Blackmon and Floyd both have questions at quarterback. Blackmon gets to see if Blaine Gabbert improved at all, while Floyd isn’t quite sure if he’ll be catching passes from Kevin Kolb or John Skelton just yet.
While I’m very high (probably one of the few that are) on Floyd’s potential working opposite of Larry Fitzgerald, right now I’m still giving the edge to Blackmon. We know he’s the top receiver on that team right away, and that Jacksonville will find ways to put the ball in his hands. Arizona will try to do the same eventually with Floyd, but it may take longer with Early Doucet and Andre Roberts also vying for targets. I wouldn’t be that shocked if Floyd ended up blowing up later in the year, but for now it’s really not that close. You have to take Blackmon.
Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots) vs. Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints)
It’s The Gronk vs. Golden Graham, because that’s as creative as I get before noon. Truth be told, these two are mammoth fantasy tight end options, and after both guys put up 90+ catches, 1,000+ yards and 10+ scores, they’re basically WR1′s in TE1 bodies.
I could easily make a pretty strong case for either guy to be the top tight end off the board. They’re both athletic, have outstanding size and strength, excellent ball skills and great speed and athleticism for the position.
You could say that Graham will see a rise in receptions with Robert Meachem leaving. A rise would put him over 100 receptions, which is crazy for a tight end. On the flip side, the addition of Brandon Lloyd in New England and constant presence of fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez could make you think Gronk’s targets will take a hit.
I think both are skewed assumptions, and neither will really make a huge difference. Sure, Meachem is gone, but there’s still Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, Lance Moore and Devery Henderson. And yes, Lloyd is a Patriot, but he’s no PPR beast and his presence actually means a hit to backup tight end Aaron Hernandez and/or a regressed role for Deion Branch. Gronkowski won’t see his numbers affected too much.
So, if their roles aren’t going to be changed dramatically, shouldn’t we base their value off of what they’ve shown us so far, as well as what they’re capable of going forward? If we do that, I think it’s safe to say Gronk is the more reliable red-zone option. I also think his system is considerably more stable. Sean Payton, the Saints’ offensive master mind, won’t be with the team at all in 2012. When there isn’t much separating two beastly tight ends, you have to monitor the scraps. And if you ask me, I’d rather have the guy (Gronk) who scored 17 touchdowns in 2011 and still has the same head coach going into the new season.
Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys) vs. Vernon Davis (San Francisco 49ers)
Jason Witten’s value took a hit for two reasons in 2011. First, because Laurent Robinson came out of nowhere to give the Cowboys a stud third receiver option. Second, because at the end of the year, all three of the Cowboys’ top wide receivers were healthy. That made Witten the third option in the passing game, at best, and often the fourth. With that said, Robinson is gone now, and the lack of a reliable third receiver could put Witten back in Tony Romo’s good graces.
Davis, on the other hand, had a good but not great 2011, and really only got everyone talking in the playoffs, when he beasted out in two games against the 49ers and Giants. With Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in town now, you have to think targets will be hard to come by for all involved – especially given the 49ers’ nature to lead a run-first, balanced attack.
It’s an awfully close battle between these guys, but ultimately I think you have to take your chances with Davis, even with the added talent in the passing game. The fact is, Davis has 26 touchdowns over the past three seasons, going up against just 16 for Witten. Witten is probably still going to be your guy in PPR leagues, but pretty much everywhere else, Davis is the guy you’ll want.
Coby Fleener (Indianapolis Colts) vs. Jacob Tamme (Denver Broncos)
It’s the new Colts tight end versus the old one in our last fantasy battle of this column. Both guys don’t get the blood flowing, but both could have very solid value in 2012.
Fleener may be a rookie, but he gets to keep playing with Stanford teammate Andrew Luck, while his size and athleticism bode well for the next level. I don’t think he turns into a PPR owner’s dream, but he should be a solid red-zone option and an overall quality TE2 at the worst in standard leagues,
Tamme is the guy that has me interested, and I am also loving that I can get him in the final rounds of some drafts. Let everyone else keep sleeping on this guy, because being reunited with Peyton Manning could make him a PPR beast over the course of an entire season. Back when the two played together with the Colts, Tamme was red-hot after Dallas Clark went down during the 2010 season. In just 10 games, Tamme racked up over 60 catches, 600+ yards and four touchdowns. Extrapolate that over an entire year, and you’re looking at 100+ catches out of your tight end. I can’t guarantee production like that, but Tamme will be targeted a good amount as Denver’s projected starting tight end, and history says that means quality production when Peyton Manning is under center.
I like Fleener and his potential out of the gates, but Tamme is a big sleeper of mine. He’s the pick here.
Have more battles you want run through the Gauntlet? Hit me up on Twitter and I’ll try to help you out.