Bragging rights are one of those rare commodities that fantasy players cherish more than anything. Such rights give you the ultimate insurance policy for a full year. At any point during your glorious championship year, you have the ability to brush off any mistake you make with the simple fact that you won fantasy football this year.
For example, let’s say you are at the bar with a group of your friends when your wife calls. As you hang up, you say the words no men are supposed to say on the phone in front of other men, “I love you sweetheart.” Those cautious words rang with confidence, however, because you knew that whatever jokes your friends made that night, your response will simply be, “I won fantasy football.”
Those bragging rights are hard to come by, though every other member of your league is preparing for the draft just as much as you are. As you sit there at your computer, wearing the same underwear all week, reading every sleeper article that you can find, your biggest rival, “Second Place Seth” hasn’t shaved nor talked to his girlfriend in weeks studying the same kind of material you are.
So how do you stay ahead of the “Seths” in life, you might ask?
Maybe skipping that in-law dinner party you’ve had scheduled for months to do some extra pre-draft studying and snagging one of these “can’t miss” players that I have laid out for you. Grabbing one of these guys I have deemed fantasy champions will ensure your chances of regular season prominence and keep you ordering that Sunday pizza and wings when playoff season rolls around.
So without further ado, here we go.
5) Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions WR
Described by Nate Burleson as a cross between Usain Bolt and Hercules, Calvin Johnson has to be the most dominant wide receiver the NFL has seen in recent memory. The 6'5", 236-pound receiver out of Georgia Tech has a 6'10" wingspan and a broad jump of over 11 feet.
To put that in perspective, Calvin’s wingspan is as wide as Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin is tall. These physical gifts make him nearly impossible to guard by consistently overmatched corners.
If you couldn’t tell by the $132 million deal Detroit gave him in the offseason, making him the highest-paid NFL wide receiver in history, or the league-leading 1,681 receiving yards, you can see Calvin’s on-field brilliance through his insane highlight reel.
In the Lions’ first game of the 2011 season, Calvin made an incredible touchdown reception, falling toward the back of the end zone over Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib. That set the precedent for the Lions’ season, as Calvin and quarterback Matthew Stafford connected for 15 more touchdowns, leading Detroit to its first playoff berth since 1999.
4) LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles RB
Despite lingering ankle and toe injuries, McCoy was able to avoid defenses to the tune of 17 rushing touchdowns in 2011. His elusiveness helped him break a total of 50 tackles, which led the league.
In 321 touches last year, he broke a tackle in over 15 percent of his carries (via Football Outsiders).
His league-leading 17 rushing touchdowns and 20 total touchdowns set Eagles single-season records. He was voted as the Associated Press All-Pro first-team running back as well as the Fed Ex Ground Player of the Year.
On a team that features one of the most run-capable quarterbacks in the league, Michael Vick (assuming he’s healthy), defenses have to account for both speedsters out of the backfield. His versatility and youth make “Shady” McCoy a major threat in 2012 leagues and possibly a No. 1 pick in keeper leagues.
3) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers QB
I had to lift Rodgers up to the third spot because of his consistency year to year. If it were possible to list all of the accolades that he accumulated in 2011, I would flunk out of school for lack of sleep.
Regardless of the early playoff defeat that left Packers fans in utter dismay, Rodgers displayed incredible pocket awareness and uncanny accuracy, throwing 45 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
If you appreciate the sabermetrics of the NFL like I do, you would appreciate that in 2011, Rodgers had the highest QBR (Total Quarterback Rating) in the recent quarterback era at 85.2.
What also makes Aaron Rodgers so dangerous is his ability to change the play at the line and rush for the first down. In the past four seasons as starter, Rodgers has accumulated more than 200 yards on the ground each year.
With the addition of capable running back Cedric Benson and returning players Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and James Jones, Aaron Rodgers is unequivocally the best quarterback in the NFL.
2) Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens RB
If you are looking for an all-purpose back on whom you can absolutely count in every league, look no further.
Not only did Ray Rice finish second in rushing this past year with 1,364 yards, he also finished in the top six in receptions among AFC wide receivers with 76.
In all PPR leagues, I have Rice valued at the top spot. This kind of dual production has made Rice one of the most respected backs by defenses, and the most important player to any team in the NFL, in my opinion.
The running back out of Rutgers is the entire focal point of the Ravens offense. Without the consistency of Rice in the backfield, who averages 85 yards per game, their offense would crumble.
Said best by Ravens fullback Vonta Leach, “He's the guy on offense. He's the playmaker. Every team has a playmaker, and Ray Rice has to be ours. As he goes our team goes.”
He is an extremely versatile and consistent player who will continue to fight for those extra yards and stay healthy.
1) Arian Foster, Houston Texans RB
How many running backs can you say were undrafted free agents yet emerged as the nation’s best? Priest Holmes and probably Joe Perry (if we’re going back to the '60s here) are the only names I can think of.
Although two preseason hamstring injuries set him back early in the 2011 season, Foster broke out for 1,224 yards in spite of missing three games. I’m no math major, but at the rate he was going, he would have eclipsed the 1,500-yard mark for the second straight year along with approximately 1.3 more touchdowns.
Regardless of his recent change of diet to vegan, Foster looks stronger and more equipped than he has ever been. Any questions at all about his explosiveness have also been put to rest through his strong preseason.
Ben Tate, the Texans’ secondary running back, has been a nice complement to Foster as a change-of-pace back, and the two will continue to run over and by defenses all year.
The NFL’s leading rusher in 2010 and a two-time Pro Bowler is now healthy and ready to reclaim his throne as the nation's leading running back.
I wish you all the best of luck with your fantasy football drafts and hope that you find those bragging rights that we all crave so much.
Follow Danny Passovoy on Twitter: @dpass18