Avoid taking Michael Vick too early in fantasy football drafts in 2011
The 2011 NFL season kicks off on Thursday night, September 8, and while football is the most heavily bet sport in North America, betting on games is not the only way fans can benefit from their vast football knowledge.
Fantasy football has increased in popularity over the years, and it is now easier to play fantasy sports than ever with legal United States based fantasy sites like FanDuel making it easy to play with easy deposits and withdrawals, and if you prefer free fantasy leagues, FanDuel is sponsoring a $500 NFL Freeroll contest at SBR.
Odds are that many of you have already participated in fantasy football leagues in the past, be it in office leagues or simply among friends. Many football prognosticators are closet general managers that prefer drafting teams to actually wagering on games, as projecting which players will or will not do well on a particular week is often easier than making an NFL pick on the game itself.
So with the fantasy geeks (and we are using that term affectionately) in mind, here is our list of top picks, sleepers and bust in each of the offensive skill positions for the 2011 season.
Top Pick – Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay): It can no longer be denied that Rodgers is an elite quarterback, as after playing in the shadows of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in his first few seasons in the league, Rodgers passed for 3922 yards and 28 touchdowns last season despite the fact that the Packers were one of the most injury-riddled teams in football. His greatest accomplish was obviously carrying Green Bay to a Super Bowl victory despite the team losing so many manpower games. The scary part for the rest of the league is that Rodgers is just now reaching his peak and his numbers should actually be better this year with a healthier offense around him.
Sleeper – Matthew Stafford (Detroit): Stafford was the top choice of the 2009 NFL Draft, but he has gotten injured in each of his first two NFL seasons. Well, Stafford is 100 percent healthy right now, so with many league owners down on him due to his injury history, this may be the year he offers the most value once the elite quarterbacks are off of the draft board. He is certainly surrounded by talent at Detroit’s offensive skill positions, and having Calvin Johnson as your primary target is never a bad thing. Nate Burleson and rookie Titus Young also make nice secondary targets.
Bust – Michael Vick (Philadelphia): Some fantasy experts have Vick pegged as the top quarterback in the draft, and some even have him as the number one overall pick. Do not make that same mistake! Vick had career highs last year in passing yards, passing touchdowns and completion percentage, and he will not match any of those peaks this season, especially since teams have figured out how to confuse him with blitzes. The lowly Minnesota Vikings took him out of his game late in the year last year and then the Green Bay Packers did the same thing in the playoffs. Finally, remember that only once in his career has Vick been able to play a full 16-game schedule and that came way back in 2006.
Top Pick – Arian Foster (Houston): The Texans have high hopes of making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history this season, and much of that hope has to do with them finding a dominant running back last season in Foster, who led the NFL with 1616 yards while rushing for 16 touchdowns and adding two receiving touchdowns. As great as those numbers are, the 24-year-old Foster is only getting better and he could actually top those figures in 2011, especially with increased goal line opportunities. The fact that he is a good receiver out of the backfield adds to his value and versatility, so not only is Foster the top running back in the draft, but he should be the top pick overall.
Sleeper – LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia): One man’s loss is another man’s gain. We have already mentioned that quarterback Michael Vick will not have the same year he had last year, and once the Eagles realize that they will need to run the ball more to win, McCoy will be the biggest beneficiary. McCoy has a breakthrough season in 2010, rushing for 1080 yards and adding 592 more yards as a receiver out of the backfield while totaling nine touchdowns. With opposing defenses keying on the duel-threat Vick, McCoy’s numbers should go up this season, both in the rushing department and also in receptions, as Vick figures to check off to him more often.
Bust – Peyton Hillis (Cleveland): Now do not get us wrong, we love Hillis’s bulldozing style, and the fact that it often takes three or four tacklers to get him to the ground. The irony of all this though is that is the exact reason we see him as a bust this season. Many fantasy owners love him and plan on drafting him relatively high, but he obviously wore down late in the year last season, and that was without having a heavy workload in the early weeks of the season. Hillis is the number one back from the get-go this year, so his style of play could see him getting run down by midseason. Granted, Montario Hardesty has looked good in the preseason and the Browns plan on giving Hillis some series off this year by inserting Hardesty. Yes, that may keep Hillis fresher longer, but he will not be accumulating any fantasy points in the meantime while on the bench.
Top Pick – Andre Johnson (Houston): No wonder the Texans have high playoff hopes this season, as they have the top running back in the draft in Arian Fister and the top receiver in Johnson. Andre catches everything thrown his way, as his height, athleticism and great hands are all simply too much for defensive backs to overcome. Johnson actually had a down year last season with 1216 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, as he constantly faced double coverages. Do not be surprised to see 100 receptions, 1500 receiving yards and a double-digit touchdown total from Johnson this year, removing all doubt that he is truly the most elite receiver in football.
Sleeper – Mario Manningham (N.Y. Giants): Manningham is not a household name, but that is precisely our point. Eli Manning said in a recent interview that he considers himself an elite quarterback, and if he is to back up those brazen words on the field, Manningham will be a big part of his success. Remember that Steve Smith is no longer around, so Manningham should get increased touches after finishing the year strongly last season, notching 16 receptions for 346 yards and four touchdowns just in the last three games alone. He finished with 944 yards and nine touchdowns last year, and both of those numbers, especially the yardage, should rise in 2011, making Manningham underrated in our eyes.
Bust – Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City): Bowe had a career year for the Chiefs last season despite being their only true home run threat, as he had 1162 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. This has many fantasy owners salivating, but we are of the belief that there is no way he will match those numbers this season, especially the touchdown total. We are not big fans of Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassell, who we felt overachieved last year, and his regression will obviously impact his receivers. Also, the Chiefs drafted wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin out of Pittsburgh, meaning that Bowe will no longer be asked to carry the offense by himself. Besides, we feel that this will be a down year for the Chiefs in general, as they took advantage of a weak schedule in 2010 and have now lost offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
Top Pick – Antonio Gates (San Diego): Gates had fifty receptions last season for 782 yards and 10 ytouchdowns, and he was selected to play in the Pro Bowl. Those are obviously great numbers for a tight end, but also consider that Gates did that while playing only 10 games! He is obviously a fantasy stud, and while most tight ends are a dime a dozen when it comes to fantasy numbers, Gates is the notable exception and the only tight end that merits consideration in the early rounds, as you can wait on the rest of the tight ends in the league.
Sleeper – Owen Daniels (Houston): Why not have a third Houston Texans’ offensive player on our list? Daniels was one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL before he tore his ACL in 2009, and indications are that he is now fully recovered from that devastating injury two years later. He showed no lingering effects over the last four weeks of last season, accumulating 271 yards on a nice 22 catches with two touchdowns. If he is indeed fully healthy now, 75 or so catches this year and not out of reach, and he may even approach 1000 receiving yards if defenses continually over-play Andre Johnson and leave the underneath routes open.
Bust – Jermichael Finley (Green Bay): We actually think that Finley is very gifted when he is on the field. However, with most tight ends not separated by all that much after Antonio Gates, why take a chance on a guy like Finley that is coming off of knee surgery? Finley is considered an elite tight end by most experts, but we would rather wait on tight ends whose last name is not Gates as we mentioned earlier, and we do not feel it is worth taking an overvalued Finley with so many decent tight ends available later.