| High Risk, High Reward Players
in your Draft
As any fantasy football veteran knows, the decisions you make during
your draft often make or break your entire season. Almost every
round we ask ourselves; “should I take a chance on this guy?”
or, “is this guy too risky to take here?” So many factors
go into whether a player will have a good season or not, but with
certain players there is a substantial risk involved right off the
bat. In the following piece I will look at a handful of players
who all have varying amounts of risk and compare that gamble to
the potential reward.
Note: ADP based on 10-team standard scoring league.
Risk: Vick was a fantasy monster last
season, but injuries forced him to miss all or parts of five games.
He is also now on the wrong side of 30, and his playing style leaves
him vulnerable to many big hits. The Eagles have tinkered with their
offensive line, but it remains to be seen how good they will really
be. Teams will also certainly be game-planning for Vick this year,
unlike most of last year where he was somewhat of a surprise. For
a player that you invest a first-round pick in, do you really want
a guy with the body of a quarterback who dives, jumps, spins, and
takes vicious hits on a consistent basis like a running back?
Reward: If Vick does play every game
and comes close to the pace he was on last year, we could witness
all sorts of fantasy records being broken. With the weapons he has
at his disposal (Jackson, Maclin, McCoy, Celek, Avant) and his unreal
natural talent, Vick could very well put up a 4000-yard passing,
1000-yard rushing, 40- touchdown year. If he comes close to this,
he will single-handedly win you games and perhaps even fantasy league
titles. A healthy Vick will almost ensure that your team is in every
game, every week.
Buy or Sell: I would certainly not
take Vick before any of the top five RBs (which is where he often
does go in many drafts I’ve seen), but after the top five
picks, he is a buy. Even if he does miss a few games, there are
few other players that display his explosive scoring ability on
a consistent basis. Take him after the top five and feel confident
that he will be among the top scorers each week, even if you have
to hold your breath on every snap he takes.
Manning's risk is too great for many fantasy
Risk: The usually steady Manning was still a top-ten QB last year,
but his stats dipped considerably compared to those of years past.
Is it age (35) catching up to him or perhaps his injury, or maybe
both? Now comes word that Manning may not even be ready by Week
1, and when he does get back, how long before he returns to form,
if he ever does? Even when he returns, the running game in Indy
is non-existent. And between Wayne’s age and declining skills,
Collie’s health, and Garcon’s questionable hands, it
must be asked: Is Peyton Manning an elite fantasy quarterback anymore?
Reward: For the better part of a decade, Manning was the first QB
taken in fantasy drafts. And up until the end of last year, he was
as consistent as they come at the position. Even last year, much
of the blame could be put on injuries to Collie and Clark and subpar
offensive line play. Those players should return to health this
year, and the Colts have tweaked the line in hopes of protecting
Manning even better—although he is already the best at getting
the ball out quickly. If the offense stays healthy, there is an
excellent chance that Manning regains his elite status, but this
time at a pretty bargain price.
Buy or Sell: I’m selling Manning this year for two reasons.
First, his health scares the heck out of me because it sounds as
if there is a slight chance of him missing significant time. Even
if he only misses a few weeks it may take him half the season to
get back into a good rhythm. Second, there are easily seven other
QBs that I could see putting up similar or better stats than Manning,
even if he does not miss any time. Save yourself the indigestion
and draft a different QB to run your squad.
Risk: Grant was a first-round pick in many drafts last year but
tore ankle ligaments in Week 1 and missed the entire season. Besides
the question of whether he can fully recover from his injury, there
is also significant competition in the backfield this year, with
last year’s playoff hero, James Starks, and rookie Alex Green,
who has looked great in the preseason and projects to one day be
an NFL starter. Grant was very good two years ago but was never
considered an elite back, so Green Bay would have no problem sitting
him on the bench if he does not produce early.
Reward: The Packers offense is one of the best in the league, so
Grant, who should get the first shot at being the feature back,
has a chance to put up top-12 RB numbers at a discount price. He
is also in a contract year and should be highly motivated after
a season of watching from the sidelines. Even if he loses a few
touches to the other backs, Grant should be a lock for 18-20 touches
a game, meaning he has the potential to be a low-end RB1 at an RB3
Buy or Sell: I’m buying Grant this year as a motivated guy
who I can get at a bargain price with the potential to exceed his
ADP by at least two rounds. If you can snag him as your third or
even second RB, you should have a leg up on the competition.
Risk: Just a few years ago, Williams looked like he would join the
elite club of fantasy backs, but injury and competition issues derailed
that notion pretty quickly. This year he has three things going
against him: injury history, competition, and bad quarterback play.
Williams has missed 13 games over the past two years and played
in another handful of games where he was tagged with the dreaded
‘game time decision’ label. Williams also has competition
from Jonathan Stewart and even Mike Goodson, who have both played
well when Williams has been out. Even if Williams stays healthy,
the Panthers will find ways to get all three of these guys touches,
eating into all of their fantasy values. Finally, with either Clausen
(Ugh!) or the rookie Newton (Eek!) at quarterback, the Panthers
offense may very well lead the league in three-and-outs.
Reward: In 2008, Williams scored 20 touchdowns and certainly has
the raw talent to come close to that number again. On top of that,
the Carolina offensive line is among the league’s best units,
and everyone knows they will lean heavily on the run game to power
the offense. As far as competition goes, Stewart has also had his
share of injuries, and by giving Williams a huge contract this offseason,
it is clear that the Panthers want him to be their starter and workhorse.
If Carolina can get just a little improvement at the quarterback
position (which theoretically should not be hard to do) to take
some heat off the run game, Williams has a chance to flourish and
perhaps even approach the fantasy elite once again.
Buy or Sell: With too many “if” factors, I am selling
Williams, especially when there are several other backs around his
ADP that look like better picks. If you do decide to take the plunge
on Williams, make sure you grab Stewart a round or two later.
Risk: Jones-Drew was the model of consistency before last year,
when knee issues hampered his play and eventually led to his missing
vital time during the fantasy playoffs. Offseason knee surgery followed,
and while he claims to feel great, Running Back + Knee Surgery doesn’t
always add up. At this point, MJD has not played in a preseason
game and likely will not take the field until opening day. Rashad
Jennings showed he can play and, even if MJD is healthy, chances
are Jennings will take over some of the workload to keep Jones-Drew
fresh. Add all this to the fact that the Jaguars offense is not
the most dynamic and may possibly be run by a rookie at some point
in the year, and you have a recipe for big worries.
Reward: Everyone knows that MJD can dominate when he is running
on all cylinders. Even with a bum knee last year, he managed six
straight 100-yard games and wound up as a top-ten RB—despite
missing two full games and parts of several others. Regardless of
down and situation, Jones-Drew does it all and is still in the prime
of his career. Despite his size and a lack of good weapons around
him, MJD has shown year after year that he is capable of being a
top-five back. To get him at the very end of round one or the beginning
of round two might be considered a steal.
Buy or Sell: At his current ADP of 2.03, I believe MJD has to be
a buy. While I would not consider him in the top eight picks, he
may just turn out to be the draft’s best bargain if you are
able to pair him with another top-13 overall pick. I believe MJD
when he says he feels healthy, and I see no reason to believe that
another top-10 performance is not on its way.
Risk: Last year at this time, Greene was many people’s fantasy
sleeper darling, poised to run wild as the workhorse in the Jets’
ground attack. Then LaDainian Tomlinson decided he was not going
to act his age, and Greene became nothing more than an over-drafted
handcuff. Tomlinson is still around this year, and while Greene
has shown flashes of brilliance in his short career, nothing really
screams “elite back” about him. Even if Tomlinson begins
to show his age, as he did at the end of last year, Greene will
still likely be pulled on third downs and very possibly even at
the goal line. Someday Tomlinson will fade away and Greene will
have the job all to himself, but do you want to take the gamble
on 2011 being that year?
Reward: With a ball-control offense, decent skill players, and a
stout defense, in theory the Jets are set up to be one of the best
situations for a fantasy running back to thrive in. With three years
in the system and fresh legs, Greene should be poised to put up
at least top-20 RB numbers, with an upside to sneak into the top
12. Even if Tomlinson eats up all the third-down touches and most
of the goal-line carries, there should be plenty of room for Greene
to get about 18 touches a game behind an offensive line that knows
how to run block.
Buy or Sell: I’m selling Greene this year, especially at his
current ADP, where you could wait at least a round and get a running
back in a similar or better situation. Tomlinson remains a great
talent. And even if his role diminishes, by taking away third-down
and goal-line duties he really limits Greene’s ceiling this
year. In addition, I actually believe the Jets will throw a bit
more this season, which takes Greene out of the mix since he is
not a great receiver out of the backfield.
Risk: Best had the injury-prone label
attached to him before he played a single down in the NFL, and so
far that label is sticking like glue. While he only missed one game
last year, he was hobbled most of the season and was productive
from a fantasy perspective in only four or five games. Recently
Best suffered a mild concussion—a problem he also faced in college—and
who knows how long the effects may linger. Add this up with the
fact that the Lions are among the league leaders in pass attempts,
and Best has quite the uphill climb to be a real force this year.
Reward: All you had to do was watch Best’s performance against
the Eagles last year to get a sense of what this man can do in the
right situation. Not only is he lighting quick and agile, but he
can catch the ball quite well and explode from any area of the field.
The guys behind him on the depth chart (with Mikel Leshoure now
out for the year) are nothing special, so the opportunity is there
to become a feature three-down back. Add this to the strong passing
attack led by all-world receiver Calvin Johnson and strong-armed
Matthew Stafford, and you have the makings of a dynamic offense
that should give Best the chance to get into space and create a
lot of long runs.
Buy or Sell: I really want to believe in Best, but in this case
the risk slightly outweighs the reward, so he is a sell for me as
a fourth-round pick. For a team that will still air it our more
times than not, this seems like a situation where no RB will be
better than an RB3 on a consistent basis. If Best is healthy, he
will certainly have a few explosive games, but games of 10 touches
for 40 total yards will likely be the norm.
Risk: Colston is coming off his third knee procedure in the past
15 months, and at 28 years old, he has the medical history of a
player several years older. If this in itself is not enough, the
Saints spread the ball around better than almost any other team,
and with the drafting of Mark Ingram in the first round, they may
even run the ball more this year. At one point in his career, Colston
may have been considered an elite fantasy WR, but those days are
gone. There are now many games each year where Colston would barely
be considered a WR2.
Reward: The Saints still have one of the best quarterbacks around
in Brees, and Colston usually gets the first look on many of their
pass plays, especially around the goal line. With other talented
wideouts around him, and now a power run game to bring the safety’s
up, Colston might actually have less defensive pressure on him this
year than any year before. Even if he does have a spotty injury
past, the truth is, he only missed one game the past two seasons.
While his days of being a top-five guy are past, there is a good
chance he can perform as a low-end WR1 at a low-end WR2 price.
Buy or Sell: As a WR2 in the early to mid fifth round, I am selling
Colston. Sure he may gut it out through most games, but he simply
does not put together many big games anymore, and he may be living
off of his name more than any real value. With the Saints’
receiver depth being pretty deep this year, wait a round or two
and chances are likely you’ll find a guy similar to or better
Risk: It would be bad enough that
Britt has a hamstring issue this year—the same issue as last year—but
that is just the tip of the iceberg. Britt has been in trouble off
the field more often than Brett
Favre has retired. His latest issue will most likely earn him
a suspension from the commissioner, and by that time, he may be
too out of shape, still gimpy from his hamstring injury, or perhaps
even in jail.
Reward: If you look at pure talent at the WR position, there are
only a few guys in the league that outshine Britt. He is big (6’3’’,
215) and fast and has excellent body control and leaping ability.
In the Titans’ new offense, Britt should be featured not only
on long bombs, but also in the red zone where he can use his frame
to shield away defenders. Add into this a slight improvement at
quarterback and a very strong running game to keep the defense busy,
and you have the makings of a top-ten WR just waiting to explode
in that magical third year of his career.
Buy or Sell: It’s hard to argue with pure talent, but I’m
selling Britt this year and not regretting it one bit. To me, the
situation just looks like a boulder rolling down a steep hill, out
of control and getting more and more dangerous. Britt would really
need a lot of luck this year to even be worth drafting in the first
Risk: Gates was on pace for a career year last season before foot
and toe problems finally did him in, causing him to miss six total
games. That toe injury has stuck with him the past few years and
most likely is something he will have to deal with for the rest
of his career. For a guy who relies on his speed and cutting and
jumping ability, a foot injury should not be taken lightly. He is
also not a young guy anymore, and Vincent Jackson will surely take
away many of the enormous amount of targets that Gates got last
Reward: He is without a doubt the best fantasy tight end of this
decade, and having him on your team gives you a clear advantage
over your opponents at the tight end position. When he was healthy
last year, Gates not only outscored every other tight end, but almost
every wide receiver as well. With an elite quarterback throwing
him the ball, a healthy Gates should easily be among the top tight
ends again this year. Having him as your tight end is like having
the scoring potential of an elite WR or a decent RB2.
Buy or Sell: Gates is great, but at his current ADP, I am selling
him based on the fact that you can get similar production from the
tight end position one to three rounds later, without quite as much
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