It might almost be Opening Day for baseball, but this fantasy football owner is dreaming about the kickoff of the NFL season.
It’s never too early to look ahead to the upcoming NFL season, at least when you are a fantasy football owner. So let’s fast forward five months to when we will all be having our drafts to see which players will be taken in the first round and how high they will go.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (QB)
Unless you hold Rodgers’ "Discount Double Check" commercials against him, he should be the first guy taken in your fantasy draft. He threw for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns in 2011 and can still improve upon those ungodly numbers. Is 5,000 yards and 50 TDs really a stretch?
With Jordy Nelson and JerMichael Finley signing long-term deals, Rodgers does not have to worry about having enough talented targets to throw to. He is the No. 1 man to build your fantasy team around.
2. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (RB)
Shady is not shabby when it comes to his fantasy value. All he did last season was lead the league in rushing touchdowns and average over 100 combined yards per game. McCoy might find a little less running room next year because Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Paters tore his Achilles and could miss the season, but McCoy is the type of back who is super shifty and makes tacklers whiff, so it should not bother him as much. Pencil McCoy in for 2,000 total yards and 16 scores.
3. Arian Foster, Houston Texans (RB)
You may look at Foster’s 2011 numbers—1,224 rushing yards, 617 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns—and think that his ranking here is a little high. If so, than you are about as high as Cheech and Chong, because you must have forgotten that those stats were accumulated in only 13 games thanks to Foster’s anti-awesome hamstring.
Foster runs behind one of the best offensive lines in the business, and Houston’s zone-blocking schemes mesh perfectly with his downhill running style. And since Foster is also aces inside the red zone and on third-down pass plays, he is a yardage monster. Take him and smile widely.
4. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (QB)
Newton is a one-of-kind talent who can do things fantasy-wise no one else on the draft board can do. Sure, many quarterback can throw for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns like Newton did as a rookie, but no QB can run for 14 additional touchdowns like he did.
Dismiss a sophomore jinx. Newton should improve with another year under his belt and throw for 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns while rushing for 650 yards and dozen more scores—at least.
5. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (RB)
Rice’s fantasy value is at its highest point now that Baltimore has entrusted him with the ball near the goal line. He is the Hanley Ramirez of fantasy football—without the me-first attitude and the unruly hair—because Rice helps fantasy owners out in all categories.
Each of the last three seasons Rice has rushed for at least 1,200 yards and added at least 550 receiving yards, and now he scores double-digit touchdowns, too! And this mighty mite is as durable as John Calipari’s hair . Rice has not missed a game since 2008. He is definitely a top-five pick.
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (QB)
New Orleans has had the worst offseason of any NFL team thanks to “Bountygate,” and the thought of Brees not having head coach Sean Payton around to guide the offense has to worry fantasy owners. But Brees is Brees. He is coming off a record-breaking season where he threw for 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns and was one of the most valuable players in fantasy football—again.
Payton may not be on the sideline calling plays, but Brees will have favorite target Marques Colston back, and last I looked the Superdome is still the pass-friendly place it always has been. Brees’ numbers could take a slight hit, but he will still be worthy of a fantasy first-round draft choice.
7. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars (RB)
Jacksonville has no choice but to force feed MJD the ball 30 times per game. The Jaguars have no other options, and that has not changed so far this offseason. They whiffed on acquiring Tim Tebow and signed journeyman WR Laurent Robinson to a free-agent contract, so they still have below-average talent at the skilled positions besides Jones-Drew.
Because Jones-Drew gets more touches than almost anybody else in the sport, he has the best chance of gaining the most yards. This is why he won the rushing title in 2011 with 1,606 yards. He should be one of the favorites to win the title again in 2012 and is a first-round must, although he is not rated as high as McCoy, Foster and Rice because of his lack of talent surrounding him.
8. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (RB)
OK, I know millions of fantasy owners were screwed over by Johnson last year and they will be hard-pressed to make the same mistake twice. But the speedster has learned his lesson. Now that C.J. is signed he will report to training camp on time and be in optimum shape, and we should see the Johnson of 2009 and 2010 in 2012.
Will Johnson gallop for 2,000 yards again like he did three years ago? Highly doubtful. Will he only run for barely over 1,000 yards like last year? Highly doubtful. Look for Johnson’s yardage to end up somewhere in the middle, and 1,400 to 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns is good enough for him to go late in the opening round.
9. Tom Brady, New England Patriots (QB)
For many years Brady and Peyton Manning were virtually slotted evenly on cheat sheets and draft lists. But Brady is not coming off several neck surgeries, playing on a new team or dealing with an inexperienced group of receivers.
Brady already had a whole host of weapons that the Avengers would have been envious of, and now Brandon Lloyd has been added to Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Imagine if Chad Ochocinco finally learns the Patriots playbook?
And 5,000 yards and 40 TD is a distinct possibility for Brady. And if fantasy owners draft Brady where I have Brees ranked and move Brees down a few pegs, that would be understandable.
10. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (QB)
A healthy Stafford is an amazing Stafford. After having his shoulder popped out of place in back-to-back seasons, Stafford stayed injury-free and threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. And the scary thing is his fantasy value could go higher.
Stafford throws indoors for half his games and throws to the best receiver in football in Calvin Johnson. He gets the nod over San Diego’s Philip Rivers and New York’s Eli Manning here because even though they are more sure things, they do not have the ability to post the insane numbers Stafford can and has.