You know Evan Silva, Chris Wesseling and Mike Clay. I, sir, am no @evansilva, @ChrisWesseling or @MikeClayNFL. That doesn’t stop me from getting paid to try to be, however.
Come for the surprises (man this guy who isn’t Wess or Evan really loves receivers who get sued!), stay for the dated cultural references and delight in the fact that this list is evidence that, yes, fantasy football is finally right around the corner.
One more thing while I’ve got you — no list would be complete without some shameless self-promotion: follow me on Twitter @RotoPat. Now to the fun.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers — It’s hard to put Rodgers’ 2011 into words, but consider: 39. That’s how many more touchdowns Rodgers threw than interceptions. That total would have been ninth all time had it simply been his raw touchdown total, and not his TD/INT differential. Alas, his actual total of 45 — compiled in 15 games, no less — was the fifth most in the 91-year history of the NFL. Like the Beatles in the late-60s, Rodgers should only get better in 2012.
2. Matthew Stafford, Lions — With Stafford, it’s simple. In his first full NFL season, he threw for the fifth most yards in league history. Think about that. If anyone is going to knock Rodgers off his pedestal, it’s Clayton Kershaw’s childhood friend.
3. Drew Brees, Saints — With Brees, don’t focus on the fact that he’s lost his coach and one of his top receivers (Robert Meachem). Focus on the fact that 40 percent of the 5,000-yard passing campaigns in NFL history have been posted by Brees in the past four seasons. He’ll get his contract, and he’ll get his numbers.
4. Tom Brady, Patriots — Occupy Tom Brady? We might as well, because Brady is a one-percenter who only got richer this offseason. With underrated deep threat Brandon Lloyd now in the fold alongside Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Brady should face little resistance on his way toward another monster campaign.
5. Cam Newton, Panthers — Let me take you back in time to a place called June 2011. It was then that some were mulling the question “Cam or Gabbert?” One year later, Newton is preparing to follow up the greatest rookie season in league history, while Blaine Gabbert is readying for a fight with Chad Henne. A weak(ish) receiver corps may be the only thing holding Newton back from No. 1 overall status.
6. Eli Manning, Giants — Don’t call it a breakout. Manning’s 2011 was the culmination of years of slow and steady progress. Now with the league’s top receiver duo and a late-game pedigree that would make Joe Montana blush, don’t be surprised if Manning doubles down on his monster ‘11 and ends up closer to 5,000 than 4,000 yards for the second straight season.
7. Philip Rivers, Chargers — We’ll never know if Rivers was playing hurt during his dismal first eight games last season. What we do know is that he was much closer to the Rivers of old in his final eight, posting a 96.8 QB rating to go along with a 2,155 yards and a 16:6 TD:INT ratio. The loss of Vincent Jackson will sting, but an infusion of youth at both receiver and tight end should leave Rivers better off in the long run.
8. Tony Romo, Cowboys — While you dog Romo, he just laughs and remembers two things: Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Throw in Jason Witten, climate-controlled Cowboys Stadium and a creative play-calling HC in Jason Garrett, and you have the recipe for yet another 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown campaign.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers — Hampered by injuries, Big Ben never quite got in rhythm in 2011. His biggest blow came in the offseason, however, where he lost aggressive, pass happy OC Bruce Arians. Bad news. Flash forward four months, though, and in Arians’ place is Todd Haley, who may be even more aggressive. (Although it's true Haley likes to run more than Arians.) With a healthy Emmanuel Sanders set to rejoin Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown and form the league’s most imposing trio of deep threats, Big Ben should have little problem posting 4,000 yards and an 8.0 YPA.
10. Michael Vick, Eagles — Evan and Wess? Two dudes who are vastly smarter than me. They have correctly pointed out that Vick has as much upside as any player in the game. I agree. But with fantasy football often ending up a game of injury roulette, why roll the dice on Vick at a position positively overflowing with elite talent? Vick will light it up when he’s on the field, but at age 32 behind an offensive line adjusting to the loss of All-Pro Jason Peters, will he always be there? I won’t take the chance.
Just Missed: Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Robert Griffin III and Jay Cutler.
1. Arian Foster, Texans — The game’s most dangerous runner is also its most complete back. And, oh yeah, he’s still only 25 with fewer than 1,000 career touches to his name. Fantasy’s top overall player.
2. LeSean McCoy, Eagles — McCoy drew more than one comparison to Barry Sanders last season. Yes, they were loose, but far from insane. Shady isn’t just shady, he’s a one man thunder and lightning duo. He'll earn every penny of his new deal in the Eagles’ explosive offense, at least in 2012.
3. Ray Rice, Ravens — Durable and versatile: there isn’t a sweeter combination for fantasy running backs. Rice doesn’t have quite the flash of Foster or McCoy, but that won’t matter as he’s rolling toward another top-five fantasy campaign.
4. Ryan Mathews, Chargers — If we could turn off injuries Madden style, Mathews might be No. 1 overall. Alas, he’ll have to settle for being 2012’s most obvious candidate to make the leap from “on the verge” to “elite.”
5. Chris Johnson, Titans — CJwhateverK is trying something new this offseason: staying in shape. Gasp! With the Titans boasting an improved line and one of the game’s most dynamic stables of young passing-game talent, Johnson should have little trouble bouncing back from his dismal 2011 and reminding us why he was a consensus top-five pick each of the past two seasons.
6. Matt Forte, Bears — One of the safer bets at a position that’s more unpredictable than Jim Irsay’s Twitter feed, Forte will have to contend with the arrival of short-yardage sponge Michael Bush and passing-game plaything Brandon Marshall. Neither should stop him from racking up over 1,400 yards from scrimmage for the fifth straight season, however.
7. Darren McFadden, Raiders — You know the DMC story well, but you should also know this: new Raiders OC Greg Knapp is one of the run-happiest dudes in football. DMC is an injury risk, but heck, who isn’t these days? As much upside as anybody in the league.
8. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars — We thought the mileage would finally catch up with MJD last season, but everyone’s favorite human-sized bowling ball proved even more resilient than previously thought. The needle is going to approach “E” at some point, however, and it could very easily be in 2012.
9. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs — As Charles completes his recovery from a torn ACL, it’s easy to forget that his 2010 was literally historic — his 6.4 yards per carry were second all-time only to Jim Brown’s 1963 campaign. Of course, ACL injuries are particularly scary for players who rely on speed. That being said, Charles is far enough removed from shredding his knee that, at the very least, he should be ready to do a pretty good impression of the player who rushed for 1,467 yards in 2010.
10. Trent Richardson, Browns — What we know: Richardson is a physical freak set to inherit an every-down role as a rookie. What we don’t: what the heck he’ll look like in the NFL. Richardson has the skills and situation to climb much higher on this list, but until we actually see it, why take him ahead of any of these fine nine?
Just Missed: Adrian Peterson, Beanie Wells, DeMarco Murray and Marshawn Lynch.