I’ve been asked who my “MUST” gets are in this year’s fantasy drafts so I thought I would put together a few guys. None of them should be taken way ahead of their ADP because you want to get value at each pick, but these are guys I would reach for slightly
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Jamaal Charles: I’m a JC Superstar fan boy, so I already go into my evaluation slightly biased, but let’s not forget that he currently holds the record for most yards per carry for a career with 5.8 yards. And it’s not like he’s had just a few carries. He’s up to 784 for 4,536 yards. His biggest problems keeping him from fantasy eliteness (not a real word) have been receptions and touchdowns. That’s where Andy Reid comes in. Charles will double to triple his average targets and will benefit from a more vertical offense, which should get him closer to the end zone more often than he has been in this career. His ADP is pretty spread between 3 and 7 overall and I’m happy to draft him anywhere in between.
Trent Richardson: I love his ability when healthy, but his problem has been his health, so it has been difficult to really see how good he can be in the NFL. Last season he had broken ribs and ankle problems and he still managed 11 touchdowns and 50 receptions. This preseason he has looked phenomenal on just a few carries, but those carries are what he’s capable of. His sub-4 yard per carry 2012 is not who he is when healthy. Yes, he is risky based on his past injuries, but his upside is sky high in Norv Turner’s offense (just think about LaDainian Tomlinson for half a second). His ADP is sitting at 10th overall. If you can grab him there and pair him with Matt Forte, Steven Jackson or Dez Bryant, I’m liking that team.
LeSean McCoy: McCoy still has a bit of stink on him from his team’s 2012 debacle, which he had very little to do with. Add to that he was injured for a few games and you sometimes can get Shady toward the end of the first round when his ceiling this season is right up there with the top two or three running backs.
McCoy’s abilities aren’t in question. He can catch the ball well, he can score from short yardage and he can make people look extremely stupid in the open field. So we’ve got that part down, but now we add Chip Kelly to the equation and we’ll see an offense that doesn’t let up. He wants to get up to the line of scrimmage and make adjustments as soon as possible for every play, but instead of going all Jim Kelly on them, he gets the ball to his running backs more often than not. Oh, and McCoy is a running back.
Dez Bryant: What we’ve seen from Dez Bryant over the last half of 2012 and so far in preseason should get everyone giddy over drafting him this year. Yes, he’s not going to come at a discount, but he’s one of those talents that can surpass even the most optimistic of prognostications. I usually try to draft running backs with my first two picks, but if Dez is there and I’m choosing between him and Ridley or MJD, it’s not even a choice.
Larry Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald is getting plenty of fake football love this season, but still not enough for my taste. It really was a perfect storm this off-season for him to shoot right back up the wide receiver rankings. The hiring of Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer must have been Christmas day for him. Palmer is no Andrew Luck, but he’s also no Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, Brain Hoyer or John Skelton. According to Pro Football Focus Fitzgerald had a total of two passes over 20 yards that were catchable. Two! Less than three! So that number will go up. He has already looked good in preseason with Palmer in limited playing time. His 27th overall ADP is right where I’d like to get him early in the third round after grabbing two late first/early second round running backs.
Darren Sproles: If there was one player I’d want to make sure I drafted this season in points per reception leagues it would be Darren Sproles. That’s not going out on a high, rotting limb, but when you look at his ADP of 25 in PPR leagues, it is still too low. For PPR leagues he finished 2011 as the 5th best fantasy running back and in 2012 he was on track to finish as the 6th best before he was injured. This means you can get a player who consistently scored top 6 PPR running back numbers as the 18th drafted running back. Sounds like highway robbery to me. Also, for non-PPR leagues he finished 2011 as the 11th best running back and in 2012 was on pace to be the 14th best and he’s going off the board as the 20th running back in non-PPR. It seems that wherever you draft him this season, you’ll probably be getting him at value.
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Vernon Davis: Davis is the #1 receiver on the 49ers and he has the best quarterback of all time throwing him the ball. Well, maybe not the best, but Colin Kaepernick has all the skills to be one of the best. Davis has shown unbelievable ability when given the chance, but over the last two regular seasons he was often used as a blocker and didn’t see as many targets as his ability warranted. But this season the 49ers’ top wide receivers are Anquan Boldin and some other guys (yes, I know who they are, but Davis is still better than them right now). If the 49ers want to move the ball this year, it will have to involve Davis.
Jordy Nelson: I’m taking a little risk with Nelson this season after his surgery, but that surgery was minor, he’s back practicing and looking good all ready and his ADP has dropped. He’s currently going off the board 53rd overall. I will take him in the 5th round in non-PPR leagues every single time. His upside in the Packers offense is as good or better than any 4th/5th round wide receiver and as long as he’s being devalued due to his injury I’ll take the perceived risk.
Antonio Brown/Markus Wheaton: The Steelers are hurting at running back, but still have the elusive Roethlisberger at quarterback. It may be a tough year for the Steelers as a team but they should throw the ball a good amount and Todd Haley is the kind of offensive coordinator who can make noise in the passing game. Brown is locked in as the #1, but Wheaton has the skills to be 1b to his 1a. Brown is going off as the 63rd receiver in drafts while Wheaton as the 230th. Both numbers are good value and if Wheaton can overtake Emmanuel Sander in targets, which I think he can, he could be a huge value. I’m targeting both at and before their respective ADPs.
Eddie Lacy: Watching him in the second preseason game against the Rams was all I needed to see. He looked quick for his size; hit holes hard and hit defenders harder. And when he lined up next to Rodgers in shotgun I got giddy. When DeJuan Harris came back and looked like he would take over passing downs I was a little worried, but Harris got hurt and Lacy has the green light to do some real damage, especially against soft run defenses trying to stop Rodgers, Nelson, Cobb, Jones and Finley.
Desean Jackson: Jackson is one of the more disappointing players in the NFL on a regular basis, but opportunity is knocking and knocking loudly this season. I talked about how fast the Eagles will play in my LeSean McCoy praise and that will also help Jackson, since he is the one and only good receiver on the team. He has looked strong in preseason games in the new offense and has a ton of upside. His ADP is currently in the middle of the sixth round which is a prime location to grab him.
Giovani Bernard: Bernard has looked good in each of his preseason games which jive with him being one of, if not the, best running backs in this draft class. The Bengals are looking to get Dalton throwing more and besides AJ Green, Bernard will be his second best target. Gio will start the season splitting time with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but it will be hard keeping him off the field with his superior talent. Green-Ellis will most likely remain the short yardage back, but Bernard will run circles around him this season and showed his value in short yardage in preseason with three 1-yard touchdowns.
Kenbrell Thompkins: Yes, I know that his ADP is shooting through the roof and he’s losing value by the day, but his ceiling is so high that even if you have to reach into the 6th or 7th round you are still getting the starting New England Patriots X receiver pretty late. Yes, he’s unproven and risky, but without risk there’s usually not much reward. I’m taking the risk.
Tony Romo: Romo is currently going at the end of the 6th round as the 11th quarterback off the board. I like to wait until the 7th or later for a quarterback if I can, but I’ve been known to reach a little earlier for Romo who has never been outside the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks when he plays a full season. And now he has Dez Bryant peaking, Miles Austin seemingly over his hamstring issues and Jason Witten as his security blanket.
Shane Vereen: Vereen has lost all of his “sleeper” status and is now going near the top of the fifth round in PPR drafts but I’m still targeting him there due to his ability and the offense he plays in. Like the Eagles offense the Patriots want to run more plays than their opponents and at a faster pace, but unlike the Eagles, the Patriots have proven they can do it. With most of their receivers from last season gone and/or incarcerated, Vereen will see more snaps than your normal third down back as he will line up all over the field as a receiver.
Ladarius Green: The Charger’s second year tight end is 6’6” 245 pounds and runs a 4.45 forty. His physical attributes are amazing, but this preseason we saw him take those attributes and put them together on the field. He caught 13 of 14 targets for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Yes, Antonio Gates is still there, but we’ve watched his decline for a long while now and at 33 it seems just wrong to not get Green in there, at least in more two tight end sets, especially with their lack of depth at wide receiver.
Josh Gordon: Gordon’s ADP has been slightly depressed due to his two game suspension, which makes sense, but things have gotten out of hand. He is currently going as the 98th player and the 38th receiver off the draft board. The problem for those that aren’t drafting him is that two games aren’t all that much and Gordon has #1 wide receiver ability. In Norv Turner’s offense we watched as Vincent Jackson averaged over 17 yards a reception. Turner likes to beat you long and open up the middle for people like one of the guys I’ll mention below here. Gordon is a perfect deep threat and the Browns offensive line is one of the best in the league, which will give Brandon Weeden time to find Gordon downfield. Don’t worry about those first two games.
Golden Tate: Last season Tate was second in fantasy points per target and third in yards per target for all wide receivers who had 50 or more receiving targets. That’s better than Pierre Garcon whom we all were pretty happy with when he was on the field and not injured last season and he had two less targets. So this season we get to see what Tate can do as the #1 receiver in a contract year at an ADP of 103. I’d like him to be on my team while we watch.
Kendall Hunter: Hunter looks like he’s recovered from his ACL surgery and is Frank Gore’s clear back up. Last season everyone was on Hunter with the idea that Gore was declining, but Harbaugh used Gore well and kept him rested so he didn’t wear down much and kept some explosiveness all season. But this is a year later and Gore is still oldish. And now Hunter is just coming back from his injury and is much easier to grab late. Plus, the upside of any running back for the 49ers is pretty high in that offense. He’s worth stashing.
Jordan Cameron: As I was saying earlier, the Browns will open the game up with deep routes for Josh Gordon and give plenty of room for Cameron to beat linebackers in the middle of the field. His athleticism and ability to go up to make catches will also help him in the red zone this season. Tight ends not named Jimmy Graham will have trouble keeping consistent value without touchdowns and Cameron should be the main end zone target for Weeden.
Alshon Jeffery: Watching Jeffery this preseason has been a bit of a revelation. Last year you could see that he had ability, but he looks much sharper in his routes and knows what he’s doing on each play. Add that to a more pass oriented offense and you have some nice upside.
David Wilson: This is a bit of a no brainer, but Wilson’s only hiccup was Andre Brown taking looks away and now Brown is hurt. He may return earlier than first thought, but Wilson is so much better that he should prove himself and run away with the job.
Carson Palmer: I’m not under any delusion that Palmer is going to rise back into elite consideration, but Bruce Arians, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts and Rob Housler all are going to give him plenty of pass attempts and receptions. If their offensive line was better I’d be even higher on him, but as long as his ADP is as the 18th quarterback off the board I love his upside as my backup quarterback.
Ryan Broyles: The best thing about Ryan Broyles ACL injury is that he’s not fully back in time to get people too excited. Broyles is a perfect fit for the Lion’s offense and will have no trouble getting targets in the target heavy Lions offense.
Terrelle Pryor: At 6’4” 233 pounds Pryor is a load to bring down in the running game. And then when he adds in his 4.38 forty time, well, forget about it. Of course you also have to take into account that he’s not the best passer in the league, but heck, Tim Tebow was a top 10 fantasy quarterback when he started in Denver and he couldn’t hit the broadside of the planet. Pryor isn’t going to set the league aflame or win many games as the starter (if he starts), but he could rush for 100 yards in his sleep if they give him designed runs with Darren McFadden and him in the backfield.
These are just a few of the guys I feel good about this year. We all have “our guys” who we end up with on a big percentage of our teams and that’s good. It shows we have researched and taken a leap of faith that if it pays off will feel even better than if we hadn’t. See if some of my guys might turn into your guys, but also be sure to just have some guys!