I have listened intently to the argument for drafting a first-round quarterback. I've pondered it and made every attempt to comprehend it. I still don't understand it.
The argument's initial premise states that the NFL is a passing league. Premise two cites last year's stats, which showed five "elite" quarterbacks followed by a drop off a cliff. Both premises are factual. But in the first-round quarterback argument, they could not be more poorly applied.
A logically sound rebuttal for premise one is that the passing league deepens the field. Wide receivers and quarterbacks score more points. There are more productive wideouts and passers. Premise two only took place because Peyton Manning got injured, Philip Rivers hit a wall, Matthew Stafford stayed healthy, and Cam Newton dominated as a rookie. A whole lot of unforeseen. To suggest there is truly predictability -- that five quarterbacks are elite and the rest will hurt you -- is awfully ambitious. And there is very little chance it will prove true. None, really.
The second premise is really rough. It's based entirely on last year's stats. There is little I can tell you right now with supreme confidence about the 2012 season. This stuff really isn't predictable. One of the few certainties is that last year's stats are not indicative of this year's. Do I think Brady, Rodgers, and Brees will give you elite production? Yes. But fantasy drafts are all about value. And I think Vick and Ryan will score like them at not nearly the draft-day cost. I think Luck, Locker, and Big Ben can be top-ten quarterback scorers. They are mid- to late-round value picks.
So read up. Do research. Check every player's Rotoworld news page. Form your own opinion, and apply it on draft day. You know mine.
Now to the Top 150.
Editor's Note: Full player-by-player descriptions will be updated following the third week of preseason games. And for consensus rankings, projections, tiers, sleepers, busts and much, much more - get Rotoworld's 2012 Draft Guide.
1. Arian Foster (ADP: 1st overall) -- Foster brings to the table elite talent and versatility, but workload and scheme separate him from McCoy and Rice. Foster has started 30 games over the past three years, in them averaging 24.9 touches a game. McCoy has a 19.5-touch average across 34 starts. Rice has averaged 22.3 touches per start over those three seasons. The Texans have the run-heaviest offense in football, and their zone-blocking system is a well-oiled machine.
2. LeSean McCoy (ADP: 4th overall) -- McCoy doesn't get the rock quite as often as Rice or McFadden, but he's more efficient with his touches and plays in an offense I think will explode in a post-hype year. McCoy's fantasy running back ranking has improved in each of his three NFL seasons, and he's still just 24 years old. He's the only player I'd briefly consider taking over Foster.
3. Darren McFadden (ADP: 9th overall) -- Though its annual occurrence gives the mirage of a trend, DMC's injury history is rooted in bad luck. In exchange for a shot at the league-winning reward, I'm willing to take him in the top three as an insanely talented every-down back whose path to goal-line carries has been cleared for the first time in his career. McFadden is so good that he could miss two games and still outscore the running back field. He is an awesome player.
4. Ray Rice (ADP: 2nd overall) -- Rice doesn't have quite the juice Foster, McCoy, and McFadden offer as a sheer running talent. But he is a durable workhorse who quietly may be headed for a career-high in snaps considering the failure of a No. 2 back to emerge in Baltimore.
5. Chris Johnson (ADP: 7th overall) -- I wrote a late-July column charting Johnson's 2011 snaps and detailing the collection of excuses offered for his career-worst year. I've watched his preseason and feel a bit better about him now. CJ?K still possesses uncommon elusiveness and burst. The fact that Johnson flipped his own off switch last year is the only reason I have him behind DMC and Rice. He's an elite talent slated for an elite workload in an offense on the rise.
6. Calvin Johnson (ADP: 6th overall) -- Megatron is the only receiver valuable enough to draft in the first round, and that's because he's head and shoulders above the rest. He's the most physically dominant wideout in the game playing in the league's pass-heaviest offense with the NFL's strongest-armed quarterback. For "last year's stats" guys, he scored over three fantasy points per week more than the No. 2 receiver (Jordy Nelson). Megatron gives you a huge edge.
7. DeMarco Murray (ADP: 11th overall) -- Dallas' interior line is a concern, but Murray lacks any hint of competition for carries and can compensate with pure volume. Assuming he gets good luck and stays healthy, Murray is a darkhorse to lead the league in rushing attempts. The Cowboys' passing game will likely start slow with Jason Witten and Miles Austin nursing injuries. Murray can be the early-season offensive centerpiece, and his passing-game role is sure to rise.
8. Jamaal Charles (ADP: Mid 2nd round) -- The Texans tied the Broncos for the 2011 league lead in rushing attempts. Denver will be a pass-first offense as Peyton Manning replaces Tim Tebow, and Kansas City now may be Houston's most viable "competitor" for the NFL's run-heaviest team. Workload should not be a major issue for Charles, who has avoided training-camp setbacks following last September's ACL tear while rediscovering pre-injury explosion and moves.
9. Steven Jackson (ADP: Late 2nd round) -- I've found Jackson to be among the league's most impressive runners through two weeks of preseason. Having dropped at least ten pounds, S-Jax has displayed improved quickness and speed while shedding the "hop-step" behind the line of scrimmage he bad-habited even in his prime. Jeff Fisher is going to run the ball early and often in St. Louis. I think Jackson may well approach the 379 touches Fisher gave Eddie George in his own age-29 season. I have a first-round grade on S-Jax, and he can be had in the second round.
10. Jimmy Graham (ADP: 15th overall) -- The first-round quarterback argument (see intro) applies more smoothly to tight ends. For the last-year's-stats crowd, Gronk scored nearly six more points per week than the No. 3 tight end. Graham, who finished second, scored 2.5 more points per week than No. 3. These tight ends tilt weekly scoring in a particular owner's favor and are unto a tier of their own. I like Graham to outscore Gronkowski ever so slightly because he's the clear-cut No. 1 option in his offense and blocks less. They are both late first-round picks.
11. Rob Gronkowski (ADP: Late 2nd round) -- Barring injury, Gronkowski and Graham's 2011 catch and yardage totals are reliable barometers as to their 2012 production. Aside from perhaps Gronk's TDs, I don't think there will be dramatic downturn from either of their final-year stats. I think Antonio Gates has an outside chance to approach Gronk and Graham's catches and yards, and Aaron Hernandez, Jermichael Finley, and perhaps Vernon Davis will at least keep you competitive. But Gronk and Graham are weekly matchup tilters and every bit worth top-12 picks.
12. Ryan Mathews (ADP: Late 2nd round) -- Fantasy footballers have every right to be shaken by Mathews' fractured collarbone considering his past durability woes. But the facts of the matter are it was a hard-luck injury, and Mathews is expected to miss no more than two games. Mathews was a top-seven weekly running back scorer with Mike Tolbert in the 2011 picture and won't struggle for top-five per-week statistics with Tolbert gone to Carolina. Commonly available throughout the second round of drafts, Mathews is a value pick anywhere beyond the top 14.
13. Marshawn Lynch (ADP: Mid 2nd round) -- Lynch's position and volume lock him in as a top-15 overall fantasy pick, and he's impressed with quickness and burst in August games after cutting offseason weight. Despite his July DUI, Lynch no longer appears in danger of suspension.
14. Matt Forte (ADP: 10th overall) -- The No. 10 fantasy pick seems rich for a back who never got goal-line carries in the first place, and now threatens to lose precious open-field touches to Michael Bush. The Bears may look to "preserve" Forte a bit after committing big money to him.
15. Julio Jones (ADP: Mid 2nd round) -- If any receiver can give Calvin Johnson a run for the 2012 fantasy scoring lead, Jones is the NFL's best bet as a freakish talent becoming the featured player in a pass-first, up-tempo offense. Julio is going to shred defenses this season.
16. Fred Jackson (ADP: Late 2nd round) -- Jackson isn't a "sexy" pick as a 31-year-old running back who plays in Buffalo. But the preseason has shown he remains locked in as the feature runner ahead of C.J. Spiller. Chan Gailey's Pistol Spread offense floods the field with four and five receivers, creating running lanes. Jackson should be secure as a top-12 fantasy back.
17. Doug Martin (ADP: Early 4th round) -- I've viewed each of Martin and LeGarrette Blount's August snaps, and there is no question that the rookie brings more to the table in every facet of the game. At worst, Martin will open the season as a 14-18 touch-per-week RB2 playing in Greg Schiano's run-first, smash-mouth offense behind the NFL's highest-paid offensive line. By October, Martin should be handling the ball 20 times a game. He is way better than Blount.
18. Andre Johnson (ADP: Early 3rd round) -- This guy was a first-round fantasy pick last year. Johnson's 12 missed games over the past two seasons combined with an early-camp groin injury appear to have sunk his Average Draft Position, making Johnson a value pick. He's lost nothing off his fastball, evidenced by three 90-plus yard performances among his last four "real" games and last Saturday's 43-yard preseason catch in double coverage against San Francisco.
19. Larry Fitzgerald (ADP: Late 2nd round) -- Fitz drafters and keeper-league owners need John Skelton to win Arizona's quarterback job. The Cardinals' signal caller must accomplish two tasks: 1) Stand tall as his pocket inevitably collapses behind a sieve of an offensive line, and 2) Get the ball to Fitzgerald. When Skelton played more extensively in 2011 games, Fitz averaged 94 yards per contest. His per-game average fell to 82 yards with Kevin Kolb under center.
20. Dez Bryant (ADP: Mid 4th round) -- I think Julio Jones has the best shot at unseating Calvin Johnson for the receiver fantasy scoring lead. I think Dez is the best bet to challenge for Johnson's receiving touchdown crown. Particularly with Jason Witten (spleen) and Miles Austin (hamstring) nursing worrisome injuries, Bryant is headed for a target-heavy breakout season.
21. A.J. Green (ADP: Late 2nd round) -- Andy Dalton's rough preseason is cause for some pause, but Green is dynamic enough to be quarterback-proof. Green can "go get" poorly thrown passes, and Dalton has shown a willingness in August to throw it to him up for grabs. Green is a sneaky candidate to lead the league in targets. The Bengals really have no one else.
22. Antonio Gates (ADP: Late 4th round) -- Fantasy owners should wait until the third round to even begin considering Gates in light of his late fourth-round Average Draft Position, but I'm confident he'll meet expectations and then some. Philip Rivers has lost something off his deep ball, and Gates is still capable of dominating underneath. I expect him to lead San Diego in pass targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, and to rank third among fantasy tight ends.
23. Hakeem Nicks (ADP: Early 4th round) -- Even after Victor Cruz's 2011 breakout year, Nicks is the Giants' best receiver. I think he's a value pick at his current ADP. His spring foot injury no longer an issue, Nicks will start Friday's preseason game and be 100 percent for the opener.
24. Adrian Peterson (ADP: 13th overall) -- Peterson's recovery has proceeded smoothly by all accounts, but I remain skeptical that he stands any chance of living up to his top-of-round-two Average Draft Position coming off ACL and MCL tears with damage to both meniscuses. He's someone I'd let another owner draft. Peterson isn't going to be a full-time back early in the season even if he's active for games, and the possibility of setbacks remains as he begins to face contact.