Silva's Pre-Camp Top 150Tuesday, July 10, 2012
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NFL training camps open in 16 days. While plenty will change as practices and preseason games commence, I wanted to unveil a Fantasy Top 150 before the first 2012 full-contact work begins.
The following rankings are for standard leagues, although I make many references to PPR. They also pay close mind to Average Draft Position. This is essentially the way I believe a pre-training camp fantasy draft should go. I discuss strategy throughout the explanations. Make sure you read the first three rounds to understand my reasoning for various rankings, before deciding I'm crazy.
I believe strongly that fantasy drafts are all about value. You should take the best player at every opportunity. But I also believe you need to understand position strengths and weaknesses. Entering drafts, you need to know that quarterback and receiver are deep. Running back is as shallow as it's ever been. Tight end is extremely top heavy, and there are only nine tight ends with whom I'd feel remotely comfortable as my starter. Tight end is not deep this season.
Some of the ideas here are unconventional -- I'm well aware. There is a perception that you must draft a quarterback considered to be among the top four or five entering the season, and that you can wait on tight ends. I'd vehemently challenge both of those popular notions.
Bottom line: Form your own opinions. These are mine.
1. Arian Foster (ADP: 1st overall) -- Foster is a premier, versatile tailback playing in the league's run-heaviest offense. He's a 25-year-old workhorse averaging 4.70 yards per career carry. Losses at right guard and tackle are not a concern because Houston's zone scheme has proven so reliable.
2. LeSean McCoy (ADP: 2nd overall) -- While McCoy's carry (273) and touchdown (20) totals may fall a bit, a likely increase in receptions will help him compensate. Two years younger than Foster, McCoy is the only legitimate challenger for the top overall fantasy spot. Foster gets the ball more.
3. Ryan Mathews (ADP: 5th overall) -- If Chargers coach Norv Turner has his way, Mathews will lead the NFL in touches. Sheer talent is another feather in Mathews' cap, as he boasts elite run skills and passing-game value that has improved by leaps and bounds since his rookie season.
4. Ray Rice (ADP: 3rd overall) -- Rice is a strong candidate for the third overall pick, but Mathews gets the edge because he offers superior upside in a better offense. The top-four selections here should be locked in for all drafts, regardless of format. Running backs are at a premium this year.
5. Calvin Johnson (ADP: 6th overall) -- Easily the biggest week-to-week difference maker among receivers, Johnson plays in the league's pass-heaviest offense with the NFL's strongest-armed quarterback. He's the only wideout who should be markered into the first round of fantasy drafts.
6. Trent Richardson (ADP: 12th overall) -- Maurice Jones-Drew led the league in rushing yards in the NFL's worst offense last year. Cleveland's "supporting cast" is a minor obstacle. Richardson offers elite talent and workload, and is every bit worth a mid to late first-round fantasy selection.
7. Darren McFadden (ADP: 10th overall) -- DMC is similar to Foster, McCoy, Mathews, Rice, and Richardson in that he projects as an every-down back and possesses every running trait we seek in RB1s. Durability has been a seemingly insurmountable obstacle with a career high of 13 games played.
8. DeMarco Murray (ADP: 15th overall) -- I was not high on Murray coming out of Oklahoma, but a recent interview with NFL Films producer Greg Cosell sold me that he's worth a first-round fantasy pick. Murray projects as a high-volume back in a high-octane offense, and those are very hard to find.
9. Jimmy Graham (ADP: Mid 2nd round) -- Times are changing in fantasy football, and acquiring a difference-making tight end needs to be a priority on draft day. Receiver and quarterback are as deep as ever, but there are only two tight ends capable of tilting fantasy scoring on a weekly basis.
10. Rob Gronkowski (ADP: Mid 2nd round) -- I gave Graham the edge because he's the clear No. 1 option in the Saints' passing game, and more likely to improve on last year's stats. Gronkowski is an unstoppable red-zone machine in his own right, and a good annual bet to lead the NFL in receiving TDs.
11. Jamaal Charles (ADP: Late 2nd round) -- Charles' ACL tear would be more of a concern if it occurred later last season. He'll be nearly 12 months removed by Week 1, and I like his chances of rediscovering past form at age 25. While Peyton Hillis may vulture a handful of goal-line scores, Charles' workload shouldn't be a huge problem because the Chiefs plan to run as much as anyone.
12. Chris Johnson (ADP: 7th overall) -- I have watched Chris Johnson's 2011 games over and over, and I can say with conviction that he struggled because he wasn't playing hard. Are you willing to draft a guy who quit after getting paid? I'd lean toward balking at C.J.'s current ADP.
13. Matt Forte (ADP: Early 2nd round) -- Forte's possible camp holdout isn't as much of a fantasy concern as would be a timeshare with Michael Bush. Forte projects as the Bears' surefire lead back, but Bush will likely swipe all goal-line carries while also cutting into Forte's open-field looks.
14. Marshawn Lynch (ADP: 13th overall) -- Lynch should be red-flagged for a breakout season in a contract year and history of offseason conditioning problems, but he plays in a tried-and-true zone-blocking scheme and is set up for 300 carries. That's tough to pass up in the second round.
15. Andre Johnson (ADP: Late 2nd round) -- There's no reason to believe Johnson's missed time the past two seasons is a long-term concern, and he returns as the heavy favorite for targets in an offense that commands eight defenders in the box. Johnson is my No. 2 overall fantasy receiver.
16. Larry Fitzgerald (ADP: 14th overall) -- Fitzgerald is right on Johnson's heels for No. 2 wideout ranking after a 1,411-yard season amid musical chairs at quarterback. The signal-caller quandary probably won't be rectified, but Fitz maximizes his targets with dominant hands and big-play skills.
17. Julio Jones (ADP: Late 3rd round) -- Indications out of Atlanta are that new OC Dirk Koetter will feature Jones in one of the NFL's most pass-happy offenses. Jones is a better vertical and run-after-catch threat than Roddy White, and will surpass him as Matt Ryan's top target this year.
18. Maurice Jones-Drew (ADP: 9th overall) -- I don't think MJD can repeat his 2011 stats in the NFL's worst offense -- and I don't think he can come close. Jones-Drew's workloads are also piling up with three straight seasons of 299 carries, and last year's league-high 343 alongside declining big-play ability. I'd rather draft Rashad Jennings in the 12th round than MJD in the first.
19. A.J. Green (ADP: Early 3rd round) -- Defenses will game plan to take Green away in his second year, and I'm not sold on Andy Dalton as any more than a game manager after his second-half swoon. Green will face a ton of bracket coverage. Hopefully, target volume will compensate.
20. Doug Martin (ADP: Mid 4th round) -- Many fantasy owners are sleeping on Martin, despite the fact that he was drafted to replace LeGarrette Blount as the lead back in a run-first offense. You may want to wait a round if his ADP holds, but Martin gets a second-round fantasy grade from me.
21. Mike Wallace (ADP: Late 3rd round) -- Wallace will play the X receiver spot that contributed to monster seasons from Fitzgerald and Dwayne Bowe in Todd Haley's Arizona and K.C. offenses. Antonio Brown will be the Anquan Boldin/Steve Breaston. Wallace is a sneaky candidate for a career high in targets because Haley will quickly realize his strengths are in the passing game.
22. Hakeem Nicks (ADP: Early 4th round) -- Nicks' Average Draft Position may have been bogged down by the initial scare of his broken right foot. But the injury won't threaten his Week 1 availability, and the 24-year-old will reclaim clear-cut No. 1 status in Eli Manning's receiver corps this season.
23. Steven Jackson (ADP: Early 3rd round) -- Jackson gets a solid top-25 grade as the Rams plan to skew heavily toward the run while nursing a quarterback shaken by early-career hits back to form. S-Jax will open the year seeing 25 touches per game. Be sure to 'cuff him with Isaiah Pead.
24. Adrian Peterson (ADP: Mid 2nd round) -- That's right. I couldn't bring myself to draft Peterson before the final pick of the second round. I'm sure he'll go earlier in most drafts. While I don't quite feel comfortable betting against Peterson, there's simply zero precedent for successful next-year returns from an injury of his severity. Adam Levitan did a great job of breaking it down.