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2012 Fantasy Football: Rising and Falling Stock Values Version One

SAN DIEGO - SEPTEMBER 19: Running back Ryan Mathews #24 of the San Diego Chargers carries the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Qualcomm Stadium on September 19 2010 in San Diego California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO - SEPTEMBER 19: Running back Ryan Mathews #24 of the San Diego Chargers carries the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Qualcomm Stadium on September 19 2010 in San Diego California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The time is drawing ever closer. Soon, players will be taking the field and scoring points in mythical fashion, subsequently allowing one proud, lucky owner to hoist a championship trophy as homage to his, or her's, tireless efforts. I'm talking, of course, about fantasy football - the greatest sporting spectacle controlled on a mouse pad. It takes a cunning and maniacal individual to spend three months behind a computer desk, relentlessly scouring the waiver wire and dissecting their roster week to week. That's why my diabolical self is here to help you prepare.

The most stressful time of any fantasy season is actually drafting one's roster in the beginning. After all, there's really no telling what will actually unfold as the year progresses, so a season's worth of speculation engulfs you in one swift wave of panic as the clock begins ticking. Strategies are dismantled while players are stolen from beneath your feet, and gameplans crumble with every untimely injury. Calm down. We'll get you through this.

In my eye, there are three classes players when entering the draft process: those taken in rounds 1-5, 6-10 and 11-15. The uppermost echelon is reserved for the elite of football stars; those taken early with the intention of leading your team to the promise land. The middle group is where the question marks begin to pile up. These are the boom or bust players who may shuffle in and out of the starting lineup or simply be cut from the roster all together after only a few weeks. Finally, the sleepers come in last. Aside from kickers and defenses, these players are largely chosen based on potential alone. Sure, you could simply wash your hands of these guys after a couple of bad games, but where is the fun in that?

Now come in the variables. How do they all ultimately stack up to other players of their position, and how much weight should be placed on that player's past when imagining their future. Nothing truly matters but what lies in the season ahead; however, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that history tends to repeat itself. You wouldn't make your franchise quarterback an injury risk, would you? Well...let's get to it...

First Tier (Rounds 1 – 5)

Redarrowdown_mediumPeyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos:
Oh, how the mighty hath fallen. Heading into last season, this future Hall of Famer seemed to be consensus first or second round pick. What happened? He never saw the field, shattering the hopes and dreams of fantasy footballers everywhere whom gambled their fortune on an uncertainty.

144960889_extra_large A year and a half removed from playing his last down – and any physical contact – after multiple neck surgeries, it goes without saying that Peyton Manning is all high-risk, high-reward. I’m not saying that he won’t be suiting up in week one like last year, but every time he is taken to the ground, I expect a vast, quiet malaise to settle over Mile High. Like it or not, that "18" on his back may as well be a bull’s-eye to defenders. Peyton Manning is a (slowly) moving target, without the luxuries to which he has long been accustomed.

In Indianapolis, Peyton had a stable of quality offensive weaponry at his disposal. In Denver, he has Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Those two have shown potential, but haven't proven anything in regard to becoming 1,000-yard, Pro Bowl caliber targets. Also, while Manning has never been one to lean on his ground game, Bronco fans would be ill-advised to expect the same surprising productivity out of Willis McGahee (30) in 2012. To sum up, I want Peyton Manning nowhere near my fantasy team. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the best to ever play the sport, and is sure to have at least some great games if healthy. Take him if you have to, but invest in a quality insurance policy at backup.

Greenarrowup_mediumRyan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers:
While I emphatically disapprove of Yahoo!’s No. 4 ranking for Mathews, there is no disputing his potential this season from a fantasy standpoint. Four seems a little premature for a player with 13 career touchdowns in two seasons, right? Coach Norv Turner and the Chargers intend to employ a more balanced attack in 2012, taking some of the weight off Philip Rivers’ shoulders in hope to get back to the type of philosophy that made them so dominate for many years. I think they miss what LaDainian Tomlinson used to bring to the table? The playoffs.

LT and Darren Sproles are now long gone, making Ryan Mathews "the guy" in San Diego. He will see a drastic increase in playing time and responsibility, making the jump from role player to all-around feature back. There’s a reason that he was a top-15 draft pick in 2010 after all. With a proven track record to shoulder the load – and success receiving out of the backfield – it’s not unreasonable to expect at least 25 touches per game. On the flipside, however, Mathews has yet to play an entire season. Is 2012 the year? You make the call. I’d make mine, but I can’t show my hand in the first round.

Second Tier (Rounds 6 – 10)

Greenarrowup_mediumIsaac Redman, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers:
Take it from a Steeler fan bound by location – this kid has game. Redman, an undrafted rookie in 2009, didn’t make an impact until his second season, but has been productive when given a prominent role. Coach Mike Tomlin has since named Redman the feature goal line back. Remember: fantasy football is about scoring points.

I’ve taken a lot of flak around the ‘Burgh for saying this, but I’m sticking to it. I believe there will soon be a new No. 1 ball carrier in Black N’ Gold, for both the foreseeable and distant future. There remains no set timetable for Rashard Mendenhall’s return after tearing his ACL in early January, and all indications suggest that he won’t be available to start the season. Even if Rashard recovers ahead of schedule and retains his starting role, a reinstatement of "old-fashioned Steeler football" will allow Isaac Redman to showcase his talent in a large capacity. While I think Redman has the potential to be any fantasy team’s second RB, as a mid-round prospect, he could also be the best bench-warmer on a roster with the ability to sub in any week.

Redarrowdown_mediumLaurent Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars:
Due to his unanticipated and moderately ludicrous breakout 2011 season, Laurent Robinson was a hot commodity on the free agent market. With the Dallas Cowboys, Robinson played fast, consistent and healthy; three traits of which fans did not see during his time in St. Louis. He officially earned his big payday on March 14, signing a five-year, $32.5 million contract. That’s great for him, but is he headed for a favorable situation? No.

In Dallas, he was an afterthought to opposing defenses who were preoccupied with other, previously more troublesome big-play threats. With defensive backs concerned over starting receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, and tight end Jason Witten, Robinson was often left unaccounted for and/or poorly covered. That won’t be a problem in Jacksonville, where he is now entrenched as an every-down starter.

Although the Jaguars made waves on draft day by selecting Justin Blackmon to eventually be their No. 1 target – and help divert attention from Robinson – extracurricular activities could delay that transition and the Oklahoma State prospect’s progression. If Laurent Robinson couldn’t hold a starting job with the Rams in 2010, what’s to say that he can fend off a team’s best cornerbacks now? Do I need to mention that Blaine Gabbert is not as good as Tony Romo? Robinson appears to be a pretty good receiver in space, and will be a go-to target for Gabbert; however, I would only consider him to be a good bench option at best. He should not be an every-week starter for your team.

Third Tier (Rounds 11 – 15)

Greenarrowup_mediumSt. Louis Rams DEF/ST:
I trust many at Turf Show Times (if you are anything like me) took a flier on the Rams’ "D" in the ladder portion of your draft last year. I’d also wager that not long after – likely following either Torrey Smith’s or DeMarco Murray’s coming out party – you unceremoniously dropped them in anger and disgust. Shame on you! Didn’t you realize that the Rams were to play the Saints right after the Cowboys?!

127883106_extra_largeSeriously, though, this unit showed promise across the board in 2011, and now finally seems to have enough pieces to put it all together. (See C. Finnegan, K. Langford and multiple draft choices) Another double-digit season out of Chris Long and Robert Quinn’s continued development would do wonders for the Rams’ sack total. The run defense should also be dramatically improved with Langford and first round pick, Michael Brockers in the middle.

The only real question mark heading into the season is the young special teams unit, most notably rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein, and how they handle the transition. Is there really a learning curve for kickers? I’m not naïve – this is not a top-ten fantasy defense. If Pittsburgh, Baltimore or any other powerhouse unit is available, take them without thinking twice; however, if you plan to keep a second DEF/ST on your bench, you could do much worse than the St. Louis Rams.

Redarrowdown_mediumTim Tebow, QB, New York Jets:
No, just no. Like your mother at the grocery store, if I see you reaching for a candy bar at the checkout counter, I’m going to slap your hand and say "We have enough junk!" Actually, I can’t prevent you from selecting Tebow. I don’t condone it, but it’s your team.

While conventional wisdom states that incumbent Mark Sanchez will eventually be pulled in favor of Tebow, the former Bronco is in no way deserving of one of your precious few roster spots. Backup bench options are not used for literal backup quarterbacks. Until you actually see #15 throwing 15-yard passes at receivers’ feet, leave him on the waiver wire. Trust me, he’ll be safe there.