Peyton Hillis, RB
Perhaps the biggest question mark in terms of whether or not he’ll be given the franchise tag, Hillis was (predicted by many) a bust in 2011. He only started nine games, and finished the season with 587 rushing yards, 130 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Not quite the numbers that Fantasy owners were hoping for, regardless of where he was drafted. Whether it was the questionable decision to sit because of strep throat or the nagging hamstring injury, Hillis did not show signs of his mid-2010-season self. However, Cleveland did learn that there really isn’t another back on the team that can carry the load like Hillis. A healthy Hillis paired with Montario Hardesty was the ideal, but once both backs were injured, Chris Ogbonnaya was able to fill in. Out of the three, none is a feature back, and none should be drafted high in 2012. In some very early mock drafts, Hillis has gone as late as the eighth round, seen as a hit-or-miss RB3. If Hillis stays in Cleveland, that may be a little low, but don’t expect to see him off the board before the sixth round.
Ray Rice, RB
Fantasy owners should be thrilled to hear that Ray Rice isn’t leaving Baltimore. Not that he wouldn’t succeed anywhere, but why not, from a Fantasy perspective, put your trust in a guy who has proven to be a success running the ball, in the passing game and in the red zone. Oh, and he hasn’t had any major health issues, and unlike a few top running backs, his ACLs are still intact. The biggest debate over Rice is whether he should be the first overall pick. In a PPR league, he certainly has value, although, so does Arian Foster. This debate can continue from now until August, but as it stands now, if Foster stays in Houston and Rice stays in Baltimore, you have your Top Two running backs heading into 2012.
Matt Forte, RB
Most likely, the Chicago Bears will place the franchise tag on Forte. He will be healthy heading into 2012, however, that doesn’t mean that he is necessarily a top running back pick. Forte isn’t used, for the most part, on the goal line. Marion Barber came in when there was an opportunity to score. Even if the Bears release Barber, Kahlil Bell will likely fill Barber’s role. Forte only scored four total touchdowns on the season, compared to Barber’s six. The other thing to watch is if the Bears sign a top receiver (such as Reggie Wayne or Mario Manningham). The presence of a passing game will help Forte, as defenses will have to spread the field as opposed to stacking the box. The only downside to Forte is simply the fact that he doesn’t score touchdowns. However, given the amount of injured running backs, he’s still a first-round pick for 2012.
Dwayne Bowe, WR
If Bowe remains in Kansas City, he should be considered a second-tier wide receiver. He’s not going to be drafted with the elite, but Fantasy owners that haven’t been burned before will likely take him in the fifth round or so. He did top 1,000 yards in 2011, but he only scored five touchdowns. Granted, Kansas City had their share of injuries (Jamaal Charles, Matt Cassel) which affected Bowe’s play, but even with their starters back, Bowe isn’t a WR1. As long as expectations are tempered, he will continue to be an inconsistent wide receiver for your Fantasy team. In 2011, he had three 100-plus yard games… and four games with less than 50 receiving yards. At the end of Week 5, he had four touchdowns, but by the end of the season, he had only added one more. Bowe is maddening to own, but he will put up WR2 numbers, overall.
DeSean Jackson, WR
Speaking of maddening to own, Jackson is even more inconsistent than Bowe. In 2011, he had two 100-plus yard games, compared with eight games with under 50 yards. He scored four touchdowns on the year and drove Fantasy owners crazy with his “alligator arms” and his attitude. The Eagles are likely hoping that if they can use the franchise tag on Jackson, he’ll continue to try to play for the elusive contract. However, heading into last season, many thought he would step up his game because he wanted a big contract. That didn’t happen. While Jackson does have value in return-yardage leagues, he likely won’t be drafted before the sixth round. Depending on whom Philadelphia adds in the draft and free agency, Jackson’s value may fluctuate.
Wes Welker, WR
After his disappointing drop in the Super Bowl, many fans may be anti-Welker. However, Fantasy owners know that Welker is Fantasy gold, especially in a PPR league. You’ll be able to get him, most likely, in the early second round, and if he can put up numbers like he did last year, it is certainly worth the investment. Welker had eight games with over 100 yards and finished with 122 receptions for 1,569 total receiving yards and nine touchdowns. The concern with Welker is that he is going to be 31 years old and is slowly slipping out of his prime. However, if tagged, he’s still playing with Tom Brady. He’s still playing with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who aren’t necessarily threats to his receptions, but rather, they help keep defenses spread across the field, leaving room for Welker in the slot. If Welker remains a Patriot, be sure to take him as one of the Top Five receivers on draft day.
Fred Davis, TE
Davis was helping Fantasy owners win games until his untimely suspension just before the end of the regular Fantasy season and the start of the Fantasy playoffs. While owners may have a bad taste in their mouth, as they went scrambling for Anthony Fasano or Brent Celek, they will still remember how Davis helped them throughout the season. With only three touchdowns, he’s not cracking the Top Five tight ends any time soon. However, as owners quickly realized last year, there is a huge gap between the elite tight ends and the rest of the bunch. Davis is worth a flier in the seventh round or so for those that choose to pass on the top tier of tight ends. Also, be sure to monitor who will end up as the starting quarterback for Washington, as this could help – or hurt – Davis’ value.