The first round of all 2012 Fantasy Football drafts will look dramatically different than they have in recent years. That's because for the first time since 2008 we won't see Adrian Peterson among the Top 12 picks.
Peterson might not be ready to start the season after tearing his ACL and MCL in Week 16, and no one should reach for him with a first-round pick. The same goes for Jamaal Charles and Rashard Mendenhall, who are also coming off significant knee injuries. Charles should be ready by Week 1, but he's not a Top 12 running back next season. And Mendenhall hurt his knee in Week 17, so his rehab might take a long time and linger into the start of next year.
What we saw in 2011 is three quarterbacks deserve to be drafted in Round 1 in 2012 with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. They were the Top 3 overall players in all standard leagues, and they should be able to duplicate their performances in 2012. They are safe, and they are stars.
Running backs will once again dominate the first round, with Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy the easy Top 3 overall selections. The reason you should take that trio ahead of Rodgers and Brees is because what they can do at the running back spot gives them more value. You should feel more comfortable about taking McCoy and Matthew Stafford in the first two rounds then taking Rodgers and Frank Gore. For example, McCoy and Stafford combined for 685 Fantasy points in 2011, while Rodgers and Gore combined for 637.
Only one receiver cracks my initial Top 12 for 2012, and that's Calvin Johnson. The reason is simple: He was the No. 3 non-quarterback in Fantasy stats in 2011 behind Rice and McCoy. And he should continue to play at an elite level as long as Stafford stays healthy.
Four players you could argue who deserve first-round consideration are Darren McFadden, Michael Turner, Steven Jackson and Rob Gronkowski. McFadden is a star, but health makes him a risky first-round pick. Turner and Jackson are ready to hit a decline in production, and I wouldn't draft them early next season.
As for Gronkowski, he is the clear-cut No. 1 tight end in 2012 after he scored 233 Fantasy points this past season, which would have made him the No. 2 receiver behind Johnson and No. 5 running back behind Rice, McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew and Foster. Taking Gronkowski early would give you a significant edge at tight end since he outscored Jimmy Graham by 56 points. But it's still too soon to draft a tight end in Round 1, and the earliest I would take Gronkowski is the beginning of Round 3 after securing two studs at either running back, quarterback or receiver.
Before we look at building a roster, we'll give you a glimpse of a potential first round for 2012. Remember, a lot can change between now and August, but this is a sample of what Round 1 might look like next year.
1. Arian Foster, RB, Texans
2011 stats: 278 carries for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns; 53 catches for 617 yards and two touchdowns (71 targets); three fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 238 (18.3)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 3 overall (Round 1)
Foster finished 47 Fantasy points behind Rice for the No. 1 running back spot in 2011, but that was with him getting just three points over the first three weeks of the season because of an injured hamstring. If Foster hit his average weekly points during that period he would have finished with 293 Fantasy points and ahead of Rice. We like Foster to be No. 1 in 2012 with Gary Kubiak back because the system in Houston is catered to rushing success. Foster could also be in a contract year if he's not signed this offseason, and he again has a favorable schedule in his division and against Buffalo, Green Bay, New England and Denver -- all teams that struggled in run defense this year.
2. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens
2011 stats: 291 carries for 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns; 76 catches for 704 yards and three touchdowns (104 targets); two fumbles; one passing touchdown
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 285 (17.8)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 4 overall (Round 1)
Rice is a free agent this offseason, but we hope he can work out a new contract and stay with the Ravens without any problems. He showed in 2011 that he can be a featured rusher, and he was second in receptions and targets at running back behind Darren Sproles. Rice can easily repeat as the No. 1 running back in 2012, but we would take him just after Foster. He also has a favorable schedule next season against Denver, Oakland, New England, Kansas City, San Diego and Washington. The Ravens will likely bring in another running back to help share the load with Rice, but he should continue to be the No. 1 option on offense in Baltimore.
|LeSean McCoy proved once again in 2011 that he's a complete Fantasy back. (US Presswire)|
2011 stats: 273 carries for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns; 48 catches for 315 yards and three touchdowns (69 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 270 (18.0)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 9 overall (Round 1)
McCoy might have been the No. 1 running back in 2011 if he played in Week 17. He sat out the season finale against Washington with an injured ankle, and Rice had 31 Fantasy points to take the top spot. McCoy was the picture of consistency in 2011 with double digits in Fantasy points in all but one game. He was No. 2 in weekly average for non-quarterbacks behind Foster, and he should have another outstanding season in 2012 with Andy Reid back. McCoy will be entering a contract year in 2012, which could give him more incentive for a big season, but he is proving that Reid can do wonders with running backs since he is playing just as well, if not better, than Brian Westbrook did in his heyday. McCoy should again be a star next season.
4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
2011 stats: 4,643 passing yards, 45 touchdowns and six interceptions; 257 rushing yards and three touchdowns
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 475 (31.7)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 6 overall (Round 1)
Rodgers continues to prove he's the best quarterback in the NFL, and he's definitely the best Fantasy quarterback. Even though he sat out Week 17 against Detroit to rest for the playoffs, he was still three points better than Brees. He accounted for 48 total touchdowns with just six turnovers, and his receiving corps is amazing with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley leading the way. We hope Finley is retained as a free agent, but even if he leaves Rodgers will still post amazing stats. You can definitely take him at No. 1 overall, and he should be the first non-running back drafted in all leagues. Rodgers is safe because he will produce at a high level for 16 games. He had fewer than 25 Fantasy points just twice in 2011.
5. Drew Brees, QB, Saints
2011 stats: 5,476 passing yards, 46 touchdowns and 14 interceptions; 86 rushing yards and one touchdown; one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 472 (29.5)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 14 overall (Round 2)
The Saints have some decisions to make on offense since Brees, Marques Colston and Robert Meachem are all free agents. We know Brees is staying in New Orleans, but hopefully Colston and Meachem will be there as well. Brees was amazing in 2011 as he set the NFL record for passing yards in a season, and he did well with new toys in Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. We hope he has all his weapons back because that offense is exceptional with Brees at the helm. He now has at least 4,300 passing yards and 34 touchdowns in his past four seasons, so he should remain consistent as an elite Fantasy quarterback, just one notch behind Rodgers.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars
2011 stats: 343 carries for 1,606 yards and eight touchdowns; 43 catches for 374 yards and three touchdowns (63 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 249 (15.6)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 12 overall (Round 1)
Many Fantasy owners doubted Jones-Drew heading into 2011 because of his knee problem and the lack of talent around him in Jacksonville. All Jones-Drew did was lead the NFL in rushing with a career year in carries and yards. He also had double digits in touchdowns for the third time in four years, and he should remain the focal point on offense no matter who coaches the Jaguars in 2012. Jacksonville needs to get better players to help Jones-Drew if the team wants more success, but the Jaguars should remain a run-first team for the immediate future. Jones-Drew could be a steal at No. 6 overall and should be the fourth running back drafted.
7. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
2011 stats: 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns (158 targets); 11 rush yards; one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (average): 4,011 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions; 72 rushing yards and one touchdown; two fumbles
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 16 overall (Round 2)
Johnson was easily the No. 1 receiver in 2011, and he would have been the No. 3 running back based on his Fantasy points. He is definitely worth drafting in Round 1, and he should be drafted after the Top 4 running backs and Top 2 quarterbacks. This was a career year for Johnson in catches, yards and touchdowns, but he now has double digits in touchdowns in three of his past four seasons. The key for Johnson is keeping Stafford healthy because we saw the potential both have, which is immense. Johnson can be a consistent threat for 15-plus touchdowns on a yearly basis based on this passing tandem in Detroit.
8. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks
2011 stats: 285 carries for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns; 28 catches for 212 yards and one touchdown (41 targets); two fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 203 (13.5)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 84 overall (Round 7)
Lynch is a free agent this offseason, and we hope he can return to Seattle without any problems. He has the chance to remain a star after his best season in the NFL. The Seahawks have a good system in place to run the ball, and their offense should improve with a new starting quarterback to replace Tarvaris Jackson. Lynch had a touchdown in 11 consecutive games in 2011 with at least 11 Fantasy points in 10 of those outings. We had him as a sleeper in 2011, and he is now worth drafting as a Top 10 overall player in 2012. Some Fantasy owners will be concerned about Lynch falling off after a big year, but he should play well as long as he returns to Seattle next season.
9. Matt Forte, RB, Bears
2011 stats: 203 carries for 997 yards and three touchdowns; 52 catches for 490 yards and one touchdown (76 targets); two fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 157 (13.1)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 21 overall (Round 2)
Forte is a free agent this offseason, but he is expected to stay with the Bears with at least the franchise tag. We hope there isn't a holdout because Forte has proven to be a star when healthy. He finished the season with a Top 10 weekly average at running back, and he would have had better overall numbers if he didn't injure his knee and miss the final four games of the year. The loss of offensive coordinator Mike Martz will hurt Forte, but he should still be a dual threat and lead Chicago's offense in 2012. You can take Forte ahead of Lynch or even Jones-Drew, but I consider Forte the No. 6 running back coming into the season and a solid selection on Draft Day.
10. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
2011 stats: 5,235 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions; 109 rushing yards and three touchdowns; two fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 430 (26.9)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 13 overall (Round 2)
Brady just continues to be the model of Fantasy consistency with his third season with at least 36 touchdowns since 2007 and his second year with at least 4,800 passing yards over that span. This was the second time since 2007 that he had more than 40 total touchdowns, and he should continue to keep throwing in 2012 at a high level. It would be great if the Patriots gave him a deep threat to complement Wes Welker, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but those three weapons are still enough to help Brady excel in all formats. He is a great consolation prize if you miss out on Rodgers or Brees, and he should be drafted in the first round.
11. Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers
2011 stats: 222 carries for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns; 50 catches for 455 yards (59 targets); two fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 173 (12.4)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 52 overall (Round 5)
Health is always going to be an issue for Mathews, who missed two games in 2011 and was limited all season with nagging injuries. But he could be ready for a huge season in 2012 if Mike Tolbert leaves as a free agent. Keeping Norv Turner as the head coach is great for Mathews, who had a solid sophomore campaign in 2011. He had nine games with double digits in Fantasy points, and that's with scoring only six touchdowns. He showed his versatility as one of only eight running backs with at least 50 catches, and that number could skyrocket if Tolbert leaves since he also had 54 catches in 2011. Mathews could be a steal with a late first-round pick, and we expect him to have a breakout season in 2012.
12. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans
2011 stats: 262 carries for 1,047 yards and four touchdowns; 57 catches for 418 yards (79 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 157 (9.8)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 5 overall (Round 1)
Ranking Johnson at No. 12 was tough for me because I don't know if I would draft him there. I might consider McFadden ahead of Johnson if I was guaranteed McFadden would play at least 12 games. But the hope is that Johnson will improve with a full offseason, and now that he got paid, he should want to show that he can be an elite playmaker. Keep in mind that Johnson is still a workhorse, was among the league leaders at running back in receptions in 2011 and can easily reach 1,500 total yards and double digits in touchdowns, which is something he basically did in three previous seasons in the NFL (he had 1,488 total yards as a rookie in 2008). There's now risk involved in drafting Johnson in the first round, but he should be worth it since there aren't many running backs in the NFL who can do what he does when he's playing at a high level.