It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, I’m not speaking of the yuletide season. At least for fantasy football enthusiasts like myself, it‘s draft night. We’re all undefeated at this point and the big money score can still be ours. It’s time to start preparing yourself for domination. Time again to rank hundreds of players and alienate our significant others while also neglecting basic responsibilities. Who to take with that first round pick ? Who to gamble on in the closing rounds ?
Fantasy Football has long been the most popular type of fantasy sport, just as football itself has displaced baseball as the great American pastime. The most enjoyable part of the fantasy football experience is most definitely draft night. ( It can be all downhill from there, can’t it ? ) Getting all the guys and girls together for a two hour micro-party at a favored establishment. Plying the commissioner with Jaeger Bombs in the hope he’ll lose all rationality and draft a kicker in the third round. It’s a night of cursing your best friend’s parentage when he drafts a coveted player out from under you, or laughing at the moron who drafts a retired tight end.
There are already cheat-sheets and player rankings available to you on this site by writers who really know their stuff, so I’ll just try to add some suggestions to aid in your player evaluations.
The first thing I would suggest you consider as a red flag, is the dreaded, training camp hold-out. I was burned twice last year. By Chris Johnson of the Titans ( I still fume as I picture his visage ) and Arian Foster of the Texans. Mr. Johnson, after his valiant stance against the front office, ended up rushing for 100 yards just four times and was held to 34 rushing yards or less six times last season. He never got on track, appeared to be in poor condition, and even his very effort was under scrutiny, as he fell victim to an all out barrage of critical Twitter posts. Arian Foster suffered from his hold-out, as well. He missed three games entirely, had six games rushing under 100 yards, but still finished fifth in league rushing ( with 1,224 yards ), due to several very good games.
The late start a player gets from a training camp hold-out will effect his conditioning, at the very least guaranteeing a slow start for him. The player will also pose a greater injury risk. Hamstring muscles are often pulled, resulting in a season long, nagging injury. The player may have a new scheme to learn, a new offensive coordinator may be in charge, or there may be a new quarterback to develop chemistry with.
Three current players to watch closely, in regard to their holdouts, are Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaguars, Mike Wallace of the Steelers, and Dwayne Bowe of the Chiefs. Unless these guys get into camp soon, I wouldn’t take them until at least the second or third round.
Next, you need to know what players are recovering from injuries and where to rank them on your list. The three best players with serious injury concerns are the Viking’s superstar running back Adrian Peterson, along with acrobatic wide receiver Andre Johnson, and of course, Peyton Manning.
Peterson was injured in the final week of the 2011 fantasy season, so he might not get back to speed until the latter part of the season. I’d wait and take him as my third back, or let someone else take on the problem. Andre Johnson has missed twelve games over the last two years (including nine in 2011) due to injuries. He was reportedly looking good at training camp before suffering a mild groin injury that put him out for a week. I would still take him in the second or third round, while realizing the risk involved. As for Peyton, I have him ranked eighth on my QB list, although the thought of drafting him terrifies me. One bad hit and his season and career might be finished. We won’t know until game play how he will stand up to those bone-crushing hits. If you take him, I wouldn’t wait too long to draft another QB as insurance.
Antonio Gates used to be the first tight end off the board, but these days that honor goes to either Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham. By missing nine games in the last two years, Gates has seen his value take a dip. There are several competent top-ten tight ends, that don’t happen to come with his issues. I have Gates ranked sixth, after Gronkowski, Graham, Vernon Davis, Jason Witten, and Jermichael Finley. Other players coming back from injuries to consider are running backs Jamaal Charles, Darren McFadden, and Jahvid Best. The Chief’s Jamaal Charles was injured very early in the season, so he’s had plenty of time to rehab and recover. I would still take him in the second round. If you were a McFadden owner last year and didn’t have Michael Bush to back him up, you were in a world of hurt. Bush was a reliable, productive back for Oakland, but has since moved on to back-up Matt Forte in Chicago. I still have McFadden as a top ten back, but doubt he’ll go against type and have an injury-free season. As far as Jahvid Best goes, I would avoid him like sushi at a Las Vegas buffet. Best has took more hits to the head than Curly Howard. He’s had concussion issues since rushing for California in college. If you abandon all common sense and decide you want him, I’d be sure to take teammate Mikel Leshoure as a handcuff.
Speaking of Leshoure, I actually consider him to be a potential late round sleeper pick. He’s in the mix at RB for Detroit with Best and the equally injury-plagued Kevin Smith. Leshoure has incentive to prove he’s worthy of the second round pick the Lions used on him two years ago. He is coming off an achilles injury that wiped out his rookie season. He also will start out by serving a league ordered suspension of two games for two marijuana arrests. The Lions had so many players getting baked in the off-season, one would think Willie Nelson had joined the coaching staff. I still see Leshoure as an eighth or tenth round reach that could produce fourth round stats. Leshoure is currently battling hamstring issues in camp, however, so that should be monitored, also.
Other sleepers and dark horse picks….WR Greg Little led the Browns in receptions (61) and receiving yards (709) last season, while being 18th in the league in targets. Brandon Wheeden should be an upgrade as his quarterback over Colt McCoy. RB Stevan Ridley is the best bet to carry the ball in New England this year, and Carson Palmer will be leading the Oakland Raiders right from the get-go. I also expect a comeback year from Sidney Rice on the Seahawks. ( I was surprised that he will only turn 26 years old on September 1st ). Also, keep your eye on Titus Young, the second year receiver on the Detroit Lions. Young had 48 receptions for 607 yards and six touchdowns in his rookie season, as teams focused their attention on Calvin “Megatron” Johnson. Young could play an even bigger role this season in an explosive offense commanded by Matthew Stafford.
On draft night, just be sure you’ve done your homework and know the pitfalls and risks of drafting certain stars. Cover your backside when gambling on a player, and you’ll be prepared if bad luck comes your way.
Topics: Adrian Peterson, Andre Johnson, Antonio Gates, Arian Foster, Darren McFadden, Dwayne Bowe, Fantasy Football Draft, Injury Risks, Jahvid Best, Maurice Jones Drew, Mike Wallace, Mikel Leshoure, NFL, Peyton Manning, Sidney Rice, Sleeper Picks, Titus Young, Training Camp Hold-outs