On the heels of the Rotoworld magazine and draft guide conference call last week, Evan Silva kicked off our 2012 preliminary rankings with his list of the top-10 players at each offensive fantasy position. Answering a few requests on Twitter, I'm adding my own lists and analysis below. Pat Daugherty is expected to follow suit later in the week.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers – The point guard for Mike McCarthy’s fast-break offense, Rodgers has finished first, second, and first in fantasy points the past three years while continuing to evolve as a passer. Jordy Nelson has emerged as one of the most efficient deep threats in the game, and Randall Cobb could do the same in the slot.
2. Drew Brees, Saints – I was tempted to go with Vick here, but Brees is simply too safe with three top-two fantasy finishes in the past four years. While Sean Payton is one of the most creative schemers in the league, the Saints offense hit its stride down the stretch last year with OC Pete Carmichael calling the plays.
3. Michael Vick, Eagles – If my fantasy sports philosophy could be boiled down to one sentence, it would be this: Give me the player with the highest upside in a best-case scenario. Vick may come with injury risk, but his fantasy ceiling is higher than any player in the NFL. I’m expecting a breakout season from Jeremy Maclin as well as a bounce-back campaign for DeSean Jackson.
4. Tom Brady, Patriots – Brady boasts two No. 1 finishes and a No. 3 in his last four full seasons. Acrobatic field-stretcher Brandon Lloyd will open up the offense, leaving defenses to pick their poison against Wes Welker and the two dynamic tight ends.
5. Matthew Stafford, Lions – Stafford edged Drew Brees out for the league lead in pass attempts and shotgun snaps last season. The Lions failed to bring in new backfield blood, leaving Stafford and Calvin Johnson to shoulder the weight of the scoring once again. This offense looks more and more like New Orleans North each year.
6. Cam Newton, Panthers – I agree with Silva on two points: 1. The top six quarterbacks are fairly interchangeable. 2. Newton’s 14 rushing scores are unrepeatable. I just don’t expect to see a big leap in Newton’s passing numbers with the same personnel in place.
7. Matt Ryan, Falcons – New coordinator Dirk Koetter runs a more vertical offense, which should allow Ryan to take full advantage of explosive downfield and run-after-catch threat Julio Jones. Coach Mike Smith has made it clear Michael Turner will have a reduced role this season. Hopefully that leads to more snaps for Ryan out of the no-huddle formation that clearly plays to his strengths.
8. Peyton Manning, Broncos – Denver’s non-divisional schedule is a bear, Manning’s arm strength is in question, and the early season could be spent developing a rapport with his receivers. I will be targeting Eric Decker in every draft this summer, but I’m inclined to let someone else roll the dice on Peyton as a QB1.
9. Eli Manning, Giants – I’m an Eli convert. Last year was the first time I’ve seen anything resembling an elite NFL quarterback, and he continued to improve throughout the season. Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and Martellus Bennett give Eli the best set of passing-game weapons in his eight-year career.
10. Tony Romo, Cowboys – Romo will miss security blanket Laurent Robinson in the red zone, but Dez Bryant has the talent to lead all non-Calvin Johnson receivers in touchdowns. When Romo is on the field, he always produces as a QB1.
Just Missed: Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Josh Freeman, Robert Griffin III
1. Arian Foster, Texans – The unanimous No. 1 overall pick, as chosen by the Rotoworld foursome of Silva, Wesseling, Mike Clay, and Pat Daugherty. Foster is slump-proof as one of the NFL’s most dangerous pass-catching backs in what has transitioned to a run-oriented offense.
2. Ryan Mathews, Chargers – Good luck finding a more efficient starting tailback. Mathews averaged 5.7 yards every time he touched the ball last season, tops among all backs with 200+ combined carries and catches. With Mike Tolbert out of the picture, Mathews’ 222 rushes, 50 receptions, and goal-line looks can all be expected to spike in 2012.
3. LeSean McCoy, Eagles - Those with a risk aversion should go the safe route and draft McCoy over Mathews. Although Shady won’t flirt with 20 touchdowns again, his fantasy floor is exceptionally high as one of the league’s best pass-catching backs in a highly explosive offense.
4. Chris Johnson, Titans – After averaging a fantasy-sabotaging 71.5 scrimmage yards per game in the first half of the season, Johnson spiked to 111.6 in the second half. One of the few durable three-down backs in the league, Johnson’s touchdown total should rise as the Titans open up the offense to showcase their explosive young talent.
5. Ray Rice, Ravens – Playoffs included, Rice has averaged over 400 touches per over the past three seasons. While that heavy workload has led directly to a pair of top-five fantasy finishes, it doesn’t bode well for his legs going forward.
6. Darren McFadden, Raiders – The goal is to fill your roster with unstoppable monsters that give you an advantage over every other team in the league each week. Injuries at running back are common enough that you have to place a high value on the ones who score the most points when they are in the lineup. Is McFadden injury-prone or a victim of bad luck? At his talent- and production-level, I’m willing to gamble that it’s the latter.
7. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – Jacksonville’s defensive players were calling the new offense the “greatest show on turf” at minicamp. That’s absurd, of course. The Jags will be lucky to rise to middle-of-the-road on offense, but the offseason additions at wide receiver (and the possible replacement of Blaine Gabbert with Chad Henne) should mean more scoring opportunities for Jones-Drew.
8. Trent Richardson, Browns – If you believe the top analysts in the business, Richardson is the best back to enter the league since Adrian Peterson a half-decade ago. The difference between the two as rookies is that Richardson is already entrenched as the starter and possible three-down back whereas Peterson came off the bench behind Chester Taylor. Richardson is a darkhorse to lead the NFL in touches as a rookie.
9. Adrian Peterson, Vikings – I don’t doubt Peterson. Ever. He’s been the best running back in the league since he first stepped foot on an NFL field. He’s also the rare physical freak who refuses to be outworked. I won’t be the least bit surprised if he’s starting in the Vikings backfield to open the season.
10. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks – Lynch looks out of place on any top-10 list, I know. I’m less than thrilled about his presence here, but he’s now Seattle’s offensive identity after the offensive line gelled behind Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme in the second half of last season. Pete Carroll is going to keep feeding him the ball 20+ times per game.
Just Missed: Matt Forte, DeMarco Murray, Jamaal Charles, Darren Sproles