Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys)
Eli Manning (New York Giants)
Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles)
Robert Griffin, III (Washington Redskins)
While Romo didn’t have his best season, it certainly would have been possible had he not suffered a thumb injury, dashing Fantasy owner’s championship hopes in the process. He threw for 4,184 yards, only 27 yards shy of his career best (in 2007). He threw for 31 touchdowns, five shy of his career best, but unlike in 2007, where he threw 19 interceptions, he only threw 10 in 2011. The biggest criticism of Romo is that he falters come playoff time. As a Fantasy owner, that doesn’t affect you. Instead, look at his numbers throughout the season: five games with over 300 yards, at least one touchdown scored in every game he played except one (also excluding the Week 15 thumb injury game) and over 50 percent completion percentage in every game. He’s not in the elite QB category, but he is certainly a QB1 that can get you though the season.
Manning has never been seen as a Fantasy quarterback. Sure, he can lead his team to a Super Bowl victory, but as a Fantasy owner, it’s hard to have him as your QB1. He’ll likely be someone’s, as he’s within the Top 10 on most Fantasy rankings for quarterbacks. Some rankings even have him ahead of Romo. The reason I don’t: Super Bowl Hangover. No, it doesn’t happen to everyone and yes it is a big deal (Friends reference, anyone?). Since 2008, Manning’s numbers have been increasing, with 4,933 yards last season. His eight games with over 300 yards are the most in his career – by far (previous best: four). He had 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The INTs were a large step in the right direction following 2010’s 25. Yes, he still has Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but without Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs, it’s hard to say for sure what the offense will look like. He’s still a QB1, but be wary.
Last season, Vick was a first-round pick in nearly every draft. Fantasy owners drooled at the rushing yards, the rushing touchdowns and the passing yards. The reality: 3,303 passing yards (slightly more than 2010), one rushing touchdown (compared to nine in 2010), 18 passing touchdowns (compared to 21 in 2010) and 14 interceptions (compared to six in 2010). Not quite what Fantasy owners were hoping for from their first pick. Still QB1 territory, sure, but not quite first-round anymore. The receiving corps remains the same, which will help Vick, but look for numbers similar to 2011, rather than 2010.
RG3 is reportedly picking up the Redskins offense, and he will be at the helm for Week 1. He’s a risky gamble for Fantasy owners in redraft leagues. Sure, he has the potential to put up Cam Newton-like numbers, but will he? Fantasy owners would be wise to grab him, if he’s available, in the later rounds as a backup to their starting quarterback. Assuming no injuries to your QB1, by the time the bye weeks roll around, you’ll know if Griffin is worth hanging onto and starting.
LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles)
Ahmad Bradshaw (New York Giants)
DeMarco Murray (Dallas Cowboys)
Roy Helu (Washington Redskins)
Tim Hightower (Washington Redskins)
Arguably the second-best running back heading into the season (behind Arian Foster), McCoy should put up similar numbers to last year. The Eagles are looking to keep him as their workhorse back, leaving him in on third downs and goal-line carries. He’s an excellent pass-catching back and if he’s utilized as such this year, he’ll be an even bigger asset in PPR leagues. He had 20 total touchdowns and six games with over 100 rushing yards. He did have more receptions and receiving yards in 2010, but if he keeps running like he did in 2011, the receiving yards are just extra. Draft him as a RB1 with confidence.
With Brandon Jacobs gone for the Giants, Bradshaw looks to take over the workhorse running back role. However, given his injury history, it’s going to be hard for him to maintain that kind of role. The Giants drafted David Wilson in the first round, so the rookie will come in to give Bradshaw a break. However, as long as Bradshaw is healthy, he’ll be in for the majority of the snaps. Even with playing in four fewer games in 2011 than 2010, he scored more touchdowns (11, compared to eight). The yards weren’t there, but he did seem to fix the fumbling problem he had (six in 2010, one in 2011). Draft him as a low RB1, based on workload and touchdown potential alone.
When Fragile Felix Jones went down last season, wise Fantasy owners picked up DeMarco Murray. After a glorious Week 7 (253 yards, one touchdown), Murray came back down to earth. He only scored one more touchdown and had two games with over 100 yards for the rest of the season (until he got hurt himself). This year, Murray will be drafted ahead of Jones on draft day, and with good reason. He will likely be the starter and the featured back for the Cowboys, with Jones filling the role of change-of-pace back. Murray owners should draft Jones as a handcuff, given that both have a history of injury, but keep Murray as a RB2 with potential, higher if he stays healthy.
In Washington, no one ever knows what to expect from a Mike Shanahan offense. Currently the word is that Hightower has the starting job. Given his injury history, it will be amazing if Hightower is even playing by the time the bye weeks begin. Roy Helu helped Fantasy owners in the homestretch last year with three back-to-back 100-plus yard games during the Fantasy playoff run. While Hightower may start, Helu is the better option of the two if you really trust adding a Redskin running back. Heck, Evan Royster may end up being the starter by the Fantasy playoffs.
Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants)
Victor Cruz (New York Giants)
Dez Bryant (Dallas Cowboys)
Miles Austin (Dallas Cowboys)
Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia Eagles)
DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles)
Pierre Garcon (Washington Redskins)
Santana Moss (Washington Redskins)
After looking at this list, sorting and resorting, I ended up keeping the receivers ranked by team. As in, the two Giants receivers are better than either of the two Eagles receivers. I do think the first four listed here can arguably be interchanged, but I would take Nicks out of the whole group if they were all available when my draft position came around. He did have foot surgery, however, all signs point to him starting at the beginning of the season. While Cruz did take away from Nicks’ value last season, Nicks is still the top receiver for the Giants. In 15 games, he had 76 receptions for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns. His 2010 numbers were slightly better, but look for him to get back to those numbers with Mario Manningham out of the picture. Cruz will likely stay in the slot, which gives him better value in PPR leagues. Nicks will get the long ball, but Cruz may end up with more receptions by the end of the season. His 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns didn’t go unnoticed last year. He’ll be scooped up as a WR1 on draft day.
In Dallas, Austin may be on the depth chart as the No. 1 receiver, but Bryant will likely be the better option for Fantasy purposes, mostly because he’s more likely to find the end zone. In a PPR league, owners may want to consider Austin based on volume of catches and yards, but in a league that rewards touchdowns, go with Bryant. Both receivers dealt with hamstring injuries last year, but both should be fine by the beginning of the season. Reports from camp have said that Bryant is in good shape and has improved his mental game. If this stays true, he may be a worth reaching for on draft day. Both WRs are in the Top 20 for receivers in redraft leagues.
Any Fantasy owner that has ever had DeSean Jackson on their team knows how frustrating it can be. He can have 102 yards one week… and follow that with 21 yards the following week. He scored four touchdowns last season and the most receptions he had in a game was six (three different occasions). Jackson is known for dropping the ball and that’s not exactly what you want out of your receiver. Draft him as a WR2, but look for Maclin to put up better numbers than him. Maclin was ill through the offseason and it was questionable for awhile if he would even be available for Week 1 in 2011. He was and he played, but with a full offseason of working out and being in shape, he’s shaping up to be a sneaky WR pick this year. In 2010, he had 964 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. While his numbers dropped in 2011, look for numbers similar to 2010 this season.
It is difficult to recommend drafting a Redskins wide receiver without knowing how well RG3 will fare. Garcon was not exactly a stud in Indianapolis and Moss has been aging and his numbers have been declining. At 33-years-old, he only had 584 receiving yards last season. However, in 2010, he had a career-high for receiving yards with 1,115. While it is possible there is still something left in the tank, save Moss for a late round, potential value pick. Garcon is worth drafting slightly higher, but don’t expect spectacular numbers from him, based on his past. He’s inconsistent and needs to work on not dropping the ball.
Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys)
Brent Celek (Philadelphia Eagles)
Fred Davis (Washington Redskins)
Travis Beckum (New York Giants)
Witten is a fairly consistent tight end. You can count on three to five receptions per game, about 50 yards and maybe a touchdown. He’s still a TE1, but know you’re not going to get the kind of numbers that you will from some of the other, more elite guys out there. With Laurent Robinson gone, Witten has a better chance of seeing more balls, but he still has Austin and Bryant to compete with.
In Philadelphia, Celek is a decent TE2 option. Coming off two off-season surgeries, he claims he feels good and is ready to go for Week 1. He’s not one to get you hundreds of yards or double-digit touchdowns, but Celek’s 2011 numbers are probably what you can expect for 2012 as well: 62 receptions, 811 yards, five touchdowns.
Davis will likely fall in drafts because he did miss the last four games of the season because of a suspension. In 12 games, he had 796 yards and three touchdowns. He did look good, but again, it is hard to tell what kind of chemistry he’ll have with RG3. He’s a TE2 with potential to be better.
Beckum may end up starting the year on the PUP list after having ACL surgery in February. The other tight end on the Giants roster is Martellus Bennett, who was acquired from the Cowboys. Leave both alone on draft day.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know at email@example.com follow me on Twitter @RotoExpertSarah