Let's establish a few things up front about this Fake Football racket.
First off, it's a game of opinions. We're supposed to disagree on many, many things - that's why we have a game in the first place.
Strategy is great, but remember any strategy can work (even a bad one) if you pick the right players. Gene McCaffrey likes to say that if you show him a good strategy, he'll find a team in first and in last using that strategy. The assembly game plan is just the first step in a four-month journey.
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Today I'm going to discuss "my guys" - the Yahoo Fantasy Football players I've drafted the most through August, and some areas where I disagree with industry consensus. You might agree with some of these picks, a handful of them, or perhaps none of them. That doesn't guarantee success or doom for either one of us; the game is far more dynamic than that.
I welcome your feedback and I welcome your Wallet Picks as well - the recurring themes that will go a long way to defining your 2013 season. To the clipboard:
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: It might not look like it at first glance, but Brown quietly had a growth season in Year 3 (it's important to realize he missed three games with a bum ankle). His touchdowns crept up from two to five, and he showed more versatility as a route runner (albeit his YPC also collapsed in the process). The Steelers clearly plan to feature Brown as their go-to option in 2013, the new split end in the offense. And heck, look at all the missing pieces here - Mike Wallace is gone, Heath Miller is coming off an injury, Le'Veon Bell isn't healthy yet. Someone will pick up the slack, and let's look to Brown first.
Brown's current receiver ADP of 24 offers tremendous room for profit - I'd be fine slotting him as a WR2 anywhere. And I know many of you will be lucky enough to land him as your third wideout.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers: While we should be careful with what the eyes tell us in August, sometimes you have to trust your instincts, too (see Russell Wilson 12 months ago). Lacy's done everything we wanted to see on the August tape - run decisively inside, pick up the blitz, occasionally show some lateral skills (albeit he's a power guy first and foremost).
The Green Bay offensive line isn't ideal, but Lacy will enjoy the benefit of the Aaron Rodgers show - every defense headed to Lambeau Field is focused on defending the passing. DuJuan Harris is done for the year and Johnathan Franklin hasn't done anything. I expect Lacy to take this job and run with it, easily the most productive of the rookie running backs.
Rueben Randle, WR, Giants: The learning curve is steep for any first-year wideout, and Randle, predictably, didn't do much in 2012. Nonetheless, the light started to go on in the final couple of weeks; he had a 43-yard grab in the Week 16 loss at Baltimore, and he torched the Eagles for two touchdowns in Week 17.
The Giants went out of their way to praise Randle's development in spring workouts, and he's slotted behind a couple of injury-prone receivers (Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks). Randle will also see a lot of work with the starters anyway, as the Giants prefer to keep Cruz in the slot. There's a major upside with the Year 2 receiver, and it's coming at a national ADP average of about 50 at the wide receiver position. Yes, please.
Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers: It took him a while to get comfortable in Carolina, but look at the second half production: 40 grabs, 496 yards, four touchdowns. With Steve Smith at the tail end of his career and nothing new added to the Panthers passing game (I don't dislike Brandon LaFell but he's not a monster-upside guy), I give Olsen a strong chance to become Cam Newton's primary target in 2013. A perfect middle-round selection.
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: I'm mostly playing the market in the middle of the QB board, content to take what the room gives me. But I can't help but have a sweet tooth for Romo, mostly because of the presence of the ridiculously-talented Dez Bryant. If Bryant goes bonkers and scores 15-20 times (possible; look at those second half game logs), Romo comes along for the ride. And the other puzzle pieces look good in Big D: reliable Jason Witten, rededicated Miles Austin. Even the shaky Dallas running game fits the narrative here; the Pokes will need to score via the air.
Phil Dawson, PK, 49ers: There's a long-standing myth in fantasy football that suggests you can't forecast the high-variance kicker position. That's a bunch of bunk. There are logical patterns that come into play with kickers. It's actually one of the easiest spots to negotiate.
You want a kicker tied to a winning team, first and foremost (be it for the long haul or on a week-to-week streaming basis; the same goes for your defense, by the way). Teams trailing by big numbers in the second half don't kick many field goals - it becomes end-zone or bust on every possession. You want a kicker tied to a strong defense and a solid running game. Think of the setup that sparked Justin Tucker's terrific rookie year in Baltimore.
Dawson has to battle the fickle winds of San Francisco, but big deal - we're talking about someone who connected on 14-of-15 distance kicks (50-plus) in Cleveland, of all places, the last two seasons. The Niners are a likely playoff team and the defense and ground game provide the ideal backdrop. I'm shocked to see some industry scribes uninterested in Dawson - all the pieces connect here. I'm not going to throw heavy resources at any kicker, but if I have my choice of all of them, Dawson's the play.
Joique Bell, RB, Lions: While I'm bullish on Reggie Bush for 2013, we also have to be mindful of his injury concerns. Bell becomes the intriguing upside backup in Detroit (it's not Mikel Leshoure), a nifty combination of inside power and pass-catching versatility. Bell is going to have a role on this team either way, and maybe he's a Top 20 back if something happens to Bush.
Anquan Boldin, WR, Niners: I love to find a few Ibanez All-Stars in every fantasy sport, the boring-but-reliable veterans who seldom command a big price tag. Boldin's no longer a Pro Bowl contender, but the Niners need him to be a third-down option and chain-moving target in place of the injured Michael Crabtree. You'll chase upside elsewhere, but I have no problem with the expected floor here, say 800-950 yards and 6-8 touchdowns. A perfect WR4. (I also played the Ibanez card a few times with Reggie Wayne and Wes Welker, earlier than Boldin of course.)
Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: He's no longer a shiny toy, no longer a buzzy player. You won't find Rice on any of the magazine covers. But I'm a floor-driven owner when it comes to first-round picks or big-ticket items, and Rice is one of the safest players you can find. Bernard Pierce is around, sure, but he's not going to reduce Rice's workload too much. And with Boldin and Dennis Pitta gone, the Ravens might have to throw an additional 20-30 passes in Rice's direction over the balance of the year.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers: He's burned you, he's burned me, he's burned just about all of us over the past few years. Mathews has been hurt in San Diego, he was constantly hurt in Fresno, and he probably came out of the womb with a questionable tag. But the market has finally adjusted to Mathews, to the point that you can land him as a RB3 or RB4 in many leagues. Dependable starter? Heck no. But if you can grab Mathews as an upside swing only, I'll definitely sign off. The offensive line has been upgraded in San Diego (it's not great but it's better than last year's horror show), and Mathews looked impressive during the exhibition season.
Chris Givens, WR, Rams: Here's a rookie season that didn't get enough fanfare, a snappy 698-yard campaign from a modest 42 receptions. Givens can score from anywhere on the field and he was all over the tape in August, looking every bit like a sophomore breakout candidate. Let the other guys in your league focus on Tavon Austin; the more polished Givens is the Rams receiver you want.
Before we wrap this up, let's quickly mention a few non-Wallet players of note, in two categories:
- Players I probably like more than general consensus: Emmanuel Sanders, Tony Gonzalez, Cecil Shorts, Owen Daniels (very much an Ibanez All-Star), Vincent Brown, Jeremy Kerley (last round), Mohamed Sanu (could score eight times), Stevie Johnson (some fleas here but discount getting silly), Dwayne Bowe, Michael Floyd (or maybe I simply agree with the buzz), Matt Forte (especially in a Trestman scheme), Bilal Powell.
- Players I probably like less than general consensus: Marques Colston, Robert Griffin III (not sure how much he can or will run in 2013), DeMarco Murray, DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson (he's terrific but something's up with Josh Freeman), Tom Brady (always good but they've lost a lot of talent, obviously), Giovani Bernard (better than Law Firm, sure, but not convinced he takes over immediately), Shane Vereen (got trendy awfully fast), Brandon Marshall (go safer in Round 2-3), Montee Ball, DeAndre Hopkins (as a rule, I'm not chasing rookie wideouts), Pierre Garcon, Michael Vick, Jamaal Charles (not Top 5 for me), Mark Ingram, Ryan Broyles (buried in late August), Greg Jennings, Chris Ivory, and of course the Non-Wallet Five (click on that group right here).
I've had my say; the floor is yours now. What common-link players are ready to rock for you in 2013? And on the flip side, who are you avoiding?