The vast majority of reader questions I receive at this time of year revolve around the top-12 picks. That’s confusing to me.
The first round is the most overanalyzed and vetted portion of the draft. Even casual players know all there is to know about Arian Foster, Calvin Johnson and Aaron Rodgers. The projected difference between these players is so marginal that the thoughtful, informed fantasy player doesn’t gain an edge.
On the other hand, the later portions of drafts serve as our chance to shine. If you read the tea leaves and used an 11th-round pick on Jordy Nelson instead of Donald Driver last year, you had a great shot at championship glory. The same can be said if you took a chance on Aaron Hernandez as your TE2 instead of Ben Watson.
I call these picks “fliers.” They are essentially the lottery tickets we take between Rounds 11 and 14 of a 16-round draft. We target talented, athletic, high-upside players that need a couple breaks to go their way in order to emerge. If it doesn’t happen, we move on early in the season. If we hit, we have a potential season-changing asset.
For this column, a flier must have an ADP (average draft position) of 115.0 or later, as defined by the ADP report in our Draft Guide. That means guys like Ronnie Hillman, Jared Cook, Kevin Smith and David Wilson are out. I also didn’t include the handcuffs I discussed in last week’s column, such as Isaiah Pead and Rashad Jennings. Bang it here to read more about those guys.
So here we go with the 2012 Favorite Fliers, listed in order of how badly I want them.
1. TITUS YOUNG, WR, LIONS - ADP 117.6
Right now, the Lions receivers in two-wide sets are Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson. But as Mike Clay showed us in this highly useful column, they used three-plus wideout packages 58 percent of the time last season. And with Jahvid Best/Mikel Leshoure a mess, they could be spreading it out even more. Young has been the absolute star of Lions camp, proving impossible to guard thanks to his speed. The second-year man will quickly be pushing the 31-year-old Burleson for snaps in those pesky two-wide formations.
2. RANDALL COBB, WR, PACKERS - ADP 143.2
Much like Titus Young, Cobb embodies the main qualities we look for in a wideout flier. He is young and brimming with talent. He plays in one of the game’s best passing offenses. And there are old players ahead of him on the depth chart. As we’ve stated plenty of times before all over this site, the Packers are going to have a very hard time keeping Cobb off the field.
Editor's Note: For constantly updated rankings, projections, chats, exclusive columns, player profiles and much more, check out the 2012 Draft Guide!
3. EVAN ROYSTER, RB, REDSKINS - ADP 139.4
Royster probably won’t be a true “flier” by the time it’s said and done. Tim Hightower (ACL surgery) isn’t close and Roy Helu has taken a clear backseat in the coaching staff’s eyes. That makes Royster the unquestioned starter in a Shanahan running game, and we all know what that means. Even if Royster’s pedestrian talent prevents a season-long stranglehold on the job, he’s well worth a long look.
4. JAKE LOCKER, QB, TITANS - ADP 171.8
Locker’s ADP will soar if/when he officially beats out Matt Hasselbeck. The Titans are shifting to a pass-happy offense and once Kenny Britt (knee, suspension) gets on the field, they’ll have some really potent weapons. Locker brings an aggressive, rocket arm and speed/fearlessness in the running game -- assets that often lead to heaps of fantasy points.
5. BRANDON LAFELL, WR, PANTHERS - ADP 157.1
Last year, starter Legedu Naanee and backup LaFell combined to catch 80 passes for 1,080 yards and four touchdowns. This year, Naanee is in Miami and LaFell has locked up the No. 2 receiver job opposite Steve Smith. He’s an athletic every-down wideout in an aggressive passing offense led by Rob Chudzinski and Cam Newton.
6. KYLE RUDOLPH, TE, VIKINGS - ADP 140.8
Rudolph goes 6’6/258. He also has a monstrous catch radius, strong hands and crisp route-running ability. The Notre Dame product is finally over his 2010 hamstring surgery, which is a big reason he’s been the unquestioned star of Vikings camp. Meanwhile, Christian Ponder is showing serious signs of life, John Carlson has a knee injury and Rudolph is getting work as a “move” tight end.
7. AUSTIN COLLIE, WR, COLTS - ADP 153.8
We originally thought that Collie would strictly be a slot receiver, only playing in three-wide sets. Nope. The Colts are using a two-tight end formation as their base and are deploying Reggie Wayne and Collie as their outside receivers in those sets. In other words, Collie is going to be an every-down player in a situation where the passing game should pile up stats.
8. KENDALL WRIGHT, WR, TITANS - ADP 144.1
There are a lot of reasons to like Wright. First and foremost, he’s a special talent playing in an offense that is shifting heavily toward the pass. Furthermore, he lit up offseason workouts while learning all three wideout positions and there are a ton of question marks surrounding Kenny Britt (knees, suspension). The Titans are going to need Wright to be an every-down player, especially early on.
9. ANDREW LUCK, QB, COLTS - ADP 160.8
Luck is not Joe Montana. But in his preseason debut against the Rams on Sunday, he went 10-of-16 for 188 yards and two touchdowns during four possessions. Luck is ready to play at a high level in the NFL right now, just as everyone suspected. Also, the Colts are going to be trailing in a lot of their games, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is a quarterback’s dream and they play in a passing-friendly dome.
10. DWAYNE ALLEN, TE, COLTS - ADP N/A
Coby Fleener may be Andrew Luck’s boy from Stanford, but Allen is making more waves in camp and going much later in fantasy drafts. He’s operating out of the “F” spot in the offense, the same position that Aaron Hernandez plays in the Patriots’ two-tight end sets. He’s also a former basketball star turned tight end, often a path for NFL success.
11. BERNARD SCOTT, RB, BENGALS - ADP 158.9
The Bengals haven’t viewed Scott as a back that can carry the load. Last year, they gave him a couple series per game in relief of Cedric Benson -- who they knew wasn’t a quality back anyway. The difference this year is that BenJarvus Green-Ellis comes in with even less of a pedigree than Benson. The two backs are already under the assumption that they’ll share the load.
12. BILAL POWELL, RB, JETS - ADP 188.8
At the ultra-thin running back position, we’re grasping at straws late. Powell isn’t the most talented guy in the world, but beating out Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight isn’t exactly like climbing Mt. Everest. Powell has some pass-catching ability and can be a pounder as well. With the Jets set to ground-n-pound once again, the 2011 fourth-round pick should be able to carve out a role.
Santana Moss, WR, Redskins -- The rare aging veteran flier. Moss has slimmed down and regained quickness in an effort to be Robert Griffin’s go-to guy out of the slot.
Alex Green, RB, Packers -- James Starks has turf toe, Cedric Benson can’t play and Green is the best pass-catcher of the group anyway.
Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders -- The arm strength is back and Palmer has plenty of weapons to work with. They also figure to be in a ton of shootouts thanks to a rancid defense.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Steelers -- Just in case Mike Wallace decides to stretch his holdout through the first 10 games of the regular season a la Vincent Jackson.