It is never too early to try to be the Mel Kiper of fantasy football.
Can you believe that fantasy-football drafts and auctions are less than two months away? My fantasy baseball teams better start wrapping up their championships or begin tanking so I do not have them distracting me while I rank the top 20 kickers for my September cheat sheets.
So, do you want some early thoughts on which players will be the most dominant in fantasy football this upcoming season?
Here are my predictions for the top five fantasy scorers of 2012 at the major positions.
1. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Eminem might be Slim Shady, but McCoy is the Shady fantasy football owners love the most. McCoy racked up 1,624 combined yards and 20 total touchdowns in just 15 games in 2011, and he did it in a pass-first offense.
Bounce-back years from teammates Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson will only help create more running room and scoring chances for McCoy this season.
2. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Foster overcame anti-awesomeness in his hamstring to still be one of the top five running backs in fantasy football last year. He finished with 1,224 rushing yards, 617 receiving yards and a dozen touchdowns in only 13 contests.
Imagine what he can put up this year when he plays a full 16 games.
3. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Rice had always been a dangerous double threat because of his rushing and receiving. Now he is a triple threat, thanks to his newfound scoring.
With 12 rushing touchdowns and three receiving scores in 2011, Rice became the all-around fantasy package and a definite first-round pick in all leagues.
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Even with opposing defenses disrespecting quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Jacksonville’s horrific passing attack by stacking the line, Jones-Drew still bowled over linebackers for a league-leading 1,606 rushing yards last season.
MJD should be one of the top contenders to add another rushing championship to his trophy case this season.
5. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
No holdout, no problems hopefully for Johnson.
Johnson will not be as dynamic as he was in 2009, when he galloped for over 2,000 yards, but he will not be as pedestrian as he was last season, when he could not get out of first gear for the first half of the year and barely broke the 1,000-yard barrier. Expect somewhere in between—1,400 to 1,500 rushing yards—and a dozen touchdown trips.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Fantasy owners who draft the big cheese of the Packers passing game will be discount double-checking like crazy.
Rodgers is coming off a season in which he threw 45 touchdown passes and only six interceptions, and he might be able to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns this upcoming year.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Brees set the NFL record for passing yards last season with 5,476, all of his main weapons are returning and he will still play half his games inside the pass-friendly Superdome.
Head coach Sean Payton might not be around to help guide the offense, but that should not prevent Brees from being one of the best QBs again.
3. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton muzzled all his doubters by throwing for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushing for 706 yards and 14 more scores.
If he scrambles away from the dreaded sophomore jinx and improves, he could end up with 4,500 passing yards, 800 rushing yards and 40 total touchdowns, which would arguably make him the most valuable player in fantasy football.
4. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brady would be penciled in for 4,500 passing yards and 35 touchdowns if his receiving corps were led by Snooki and The Situation.
But with Wes Welker and his terrific tight-end twosome of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez returning, and with veterans Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney added to the mix, Brady will be as dominant as ever for fantasy owners.
5. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
No disrespect to the Manning brothers, but neither has ever thrown for 5,000 yards in a season, as Stafford did in 2011, and neither has Stafford’s upside or Calvin Johnson as his top target.
Stafford’s upgraded offensive line should continue to keep him healthy, so another monster season is in the offing.
1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
“Megatron” is the unquestionable leader at his position after besting everyone last year with 1,681 receiving yards and tying for the top spot in receiving touchdowns with 16.
The Stafford-to-Johnson connection should be the most lethal combination in fantasy football for the next several seasons.
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
It is amazing how productive Fitzgerald has been the past two years with average-at-best quarterbacks like Derek Anderson, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton throwing to him and with no other receivers on the roster scaring secondaries.
Fitz has four 1,400-yard years and four double-digit-TD seasons to his credit and could make it five in both categories in 2012.
3. Victor Cruz, New York Giants
The jitterbugging Cruz went from being on the verge of getting cut to becoming the breakout star of 2011. He finished third in the league with 1,536 receiving yards and was totally dominant in distance leagues, in which his long touchdowns translated into bonus fantasy points.
4. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
No wide receiver was targeted more often than White last season, and he has now caught 100 passes in back-to-back seasons and topped the 1,000-yard plateau for five consecutive years.
And the topper is he is as durable as Martin Brodeur, having never missed a game in his seven-year career.
5. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
Two bad hamstrings, not opposing defenses or Father Time, caused Johnson to have a nightmarish 2011 campaign.
But when Johnson is 100-percent healthy and on his game, not many receivers put up the fantasy stats he does.
Another 100-reception, 1,500-yard season could be in his immediate future.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
All Gronk did last year was have the best season for a tight end in the history of fantasy football.
Even if Gronkowski comes down to earth a little, he is still going to get 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, and who says he is going to come down to earth?
2. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
If the aforementioned Cruz was not the breakout star of 2011, then Graham was. He finished second to Gronkowski among tight ends and seventh overall in receiving yards and is still learning.
With Brees teaching him, the sky is the limit.
3. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
Davis is still the centerpiece of San Fran’s passing offense, although newly acquired Mario Manningham and Randy Moss might steal some of his receptions and the 49ers prefer to ground and pound rather than air it out.
Davis is a monster down the middle, though, and should be good for 850-900 yards.
4. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
While young guns Miles Austin and Dez Bryant make the highlight-worthy grabs (and frustrate fantasy owners with their injuries), Witten has been the steadiest tight end in the league over the past few years.
Witten has had 940 receiving yards or more in each of the last five seasons.
5. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
Gates has had more problems with his feet than Chad Ochocinco had with the New England Patriots playbook, and that is why Gates cannot be rated in the top four.
But he has scored at least seven touchdowns in eight straight seasons, and he can still have 900 yards and 10 TD if his feet do not fail him again.
1. Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers
Kicking in Green Bay’s swirling winds and frigid conditions never seems to bother Crosby, probably because he has had lots of practice, thanks to Aaron Rodgers’ high-powered offense.
Crosby should lead the league in extra points again and be among the top five in scoring.
2. David Akers, San Francisco 49ers
Akers blew away the kicker competition last season by scoring 166 points, buoyed by 44 field goals, 11 more than the next closest kicker.
But the problem is that San Fran acquired tons of running backs and receivers this offseason, and that should lead to more extra-point opportunities—and fewer field goal chances.
3. Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots
Just as you can always count on Brandon Marshall to drop passes, you can always count on Gostkowski to score 125 points. He has done it the last four times he has suited up for 16 games in a season.
The Patriots offense has not gotten any less explosive, so neither will Gostkowski.
4. Neil Rackers, Washington Redskins
Why Houston had a problem with this kicker is anyone's guess. Rackers has averaged 118 points per year since 2005 and connects regularly on the majority of his field-goal attempts, no matter how short or long.
5. Matt Prater, Denver Broncos
Manning will guide the Broncos into the red zone more often than Tebow ever did, and Prater, who has proven that he has above-average accuracy, length and nerves, could see his point total jump by 30-40.
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