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2011 Draft Prep: Don't count out Collie

Senior Fantasy Writer
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I'm afraid for Austin Collie's long-term health. After watching him take those vicious hits last season and suffer multiple concussions, I'm worried about his future if he gets hit in the head again.

But I'm not afraid of Collie for my Fantasy team. In fact, I want him in as many leagues as possible. The prediction here is Collie will return as a starting Fantasy option in 2011, and you should draft him as a Top 24 receiver as early as Round 5.

Let's start with the facts. With the way the NFL views concussions, no team would allow Collie back on the field after what happened to him last year unless he was OK. And the Colts medical staff has cleared Collie at 100 percent. He's also wearing a new helmet designed to help him avoid another concussion.

If the Colts say he is OK, and he said he feels fine, you should have faith in him as well. I understand the hesitation considering if he suffers another concussion he could be out, and it's a reasonable concern. But does that mean you're staying away from every injury-risk player?

Look at all the different draft boards, and you'll find that many of the top players have injury concerns, from Michael Vick to Antonio Gates. Even Aaron Rodgers could be considered a concussion risk since he suffered two just last year.

But you're drafting Rodgers because he's expected to play 16 games, and you should do the same with Collie. Just look at the way he played last year prior to getting hurt.

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Collie was the No. 1 Fantasy receiver through the first six weeks in 2010 when he had 44 catches for 503 yards and six touchdowns over that span. He averaged nearly eight targets a game, which makes him a Top 15 receiver in terms of targets per game from last year. By comparison, Reggie Wayne averaged 11 targets a game, Dallas Clark averaged nine and Pierre Garcon averaged seven.

It's clear that Peyton Manning relies on Collie quite a bit even with a talented receiving corps full of other options. You can even argue that Collie would have finished with more Fantasy points than Wayne had Collie stayed healthy. Wayne had 111 catches for 1,355 yards and six touchdowns for the season. If you project Collie's stats from the first six games for a full year, he would have finished with 112 catches for 1,341 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Now, you're not drafting Collie ahead of Wayne, but Collie should move up on your draft board. His Average Draft Position is the No. 27 Fantasy receiver in Round 8. He's being drafted after receivers like Steve Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Sidney Rice and Garcon, and I would rather have Collie over all of those receivers.

There's definitely some risk in drafting Collie this year. But as long as he stays healthy and avoids another concussion he should return as a standout Fantasy option in all leagues.

Zegura's Fantasy facts ...
Our Nathan Zegura shares his take on Austin Collie
Austin Collie: I caught a lot of flack for ranking Collie ahead of Pierre Garcon in 2010, but the numbers don't lie: Collie is the second best wide receiver on that team (don't tell Reggie Wayne, but Collie is probably the best). After an incredibly impressive rookie year in which Collie caught 60 passes for 676 yards and seven TDs, I was pumped to see what he could do in Year Two. After all, Peyton Manning is as smart as they come and Collie had the seventh best target conversion rate in the league as a rookie (66.7 percent) in addition to finishing Top 10 in Red Zone TD rate at 29 percent. To me, that spelled more chances for Collie in his sophomore season and that is exactly what he got. In 2010, Collie saw his targets per game rise to 8 (from 5.6 -- again Peyton is a smart guy) and he turned in an even better set of metrics. He led the NFL with an 80.6 percent target conversion rate, averaged 9 yards per target and dominated in the Red Zone with a 55.6 percent Red Zone TD rate (best among the 66 receivers with at least nine Red Zone chances). In other words, there was no more efficient receiver in the NFL than Collie, who totaled 58 catches for 649 yards and eight scores in only nine games. Collie was a Top 3 Fantasy scorer on a per game basis last year and if it weren't for the concussion issues, he would have been Top 10 for sure at the end of the year. Headed into his third season, the sky is the limit for Collie if he can stay healthy, and yes that is a big if. Collie is one hit away from another concussion and at some point his health and his future quality of life will become a legit and very serious concern. However, when he is on the field, Collie has Manning's trust every bit as much as Wayne or Dallas Clark and he will get plenty of opportunities to make plays week in and week out. If Collie can play 16 games he will be a Top 10 performer because I have never seen metrics like his as long as I have been covering Fantasy Football. Bottom Line: Collie is a great No. 3 wide receiver for your teams because he has legit Top 10 potential and as the 27th receiver taken in drafts, you can survive if you get a shortened season from him. He is so efficient that he is literally the perfect receiver for Manning and I expect this to be one of the most potent hookups in the NFL again in 2011.
Nathan Zegura provides Fantasy Football analysis at thefantasyconsultant.com and will contribute to CBSSports.com throughout the 2011 Fantasy season.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg .

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