mancrush (n.) — a strong, platonic infatuation for a distinguished or, more often, uncelebrated fantasy sports commodity.
Speaking as a purveyor of the mantastic, intense feelings for a particular player are loaded with potential consequences. Anyone who's drooled over and therefore outstretched arms to acquire high upside producers can empathize. Severed tendons, unbearable 'Ls', lopsided trades and, worst of all, leaguemate mockery are common results for overzealous gamblers who don't exercise objectivity.
Over the years, these obsessions have caused yours truly to run the emotional gamut. Some exaggerated predictions have yielded positive results (e.g. Aaron Rodgers in 2008, Arian Foster 2009 and Matthew Stafford 2011). Other forecasts, meanwhile, have led to endless reader ridicule and weeks of liquid therapy (e.g. Pierre Thomas '09, Mike Williams (Sea) '10 and Felix Jones last year).
Not swayed by my painfully mediocre track-record, I'm confident this year's class of undervalued fantasy darlings will live up to the hype. Consider my minimally ranked reputation staked.
The Noise presents to you the 2012 All-Mancrush team:
Robert Griffin III, Wash (Noise QB Rank: 9)
"Bob" has yet to log a single regular season down, but many are projecting Offensive ROY hardware for the No. 2 overall pick. They should. Completely unfazed by the spotlight, RGIII has looked every bit a future superstar. Within Shany's bootleg offense, he was largely composed, smart and precise in the preseason. His struggles against Chicago were only temporary. Several pundits have compared him to Cam Newton, which is lazy. An unrefined Steve Young is fairer. Unlike the Panther, he is a pass-first, run-second QB who can squeeze throws into tight windows. In preseason action, he completed 64.5 percent of his attempts for two scores and zero interceptions. By design, he didn't run much in exhibition play, but once meaningful games get underway, expect Lucifer to remove the kid gloves. And don't worry about his alleged mediocre arsenal. Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss and Fred Davis are quite useful. His rookie year will be the first in a long line of stellar seasons.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 226.7 passing yards per game, 23 passing touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 37.3 rushing yards per game, 5 rushing touchdowns
Deep Feelings: Russell Wilson, Sea, Jake Locker, Ten
Doug Martin, TB (Noise RB Rank: 13)
Comparing Martin to Ray Rice is a bit shortsighted. "Muscle Hamster," though blessed with a fantastic nickname, is nowhere near the caliber of rusher Rice is. In reality, he's reminiscent of another Martin, Curtis, a well-rounded back who doesn't stand out in any single category. Though lacking the 'wow' factor, he should be highly productive. His vision, cutback ability and versatility aren't to be taken lightly Yes, the loss of guard Davin Joseph hurts, but the remaining components of the Tampa offensive line are talented. Greg Schiano's conservative, pound-you-into-submission mindset won't change. The offense, as a whole, could mirror Kansas City's, which is great news for those who invest in his services. With LeGarrette Blount far back in the rear-view mirror, the rookie is slated to rack roughly 15-20 touches per game immediately, including totes inside the red-zone.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 239 carries, 1,051 rushing yards, 48 receptions, 313 receiving yards, 8 total touchdowns
Fred Jackson, Buf (Noise RB Rank: 11)
Jackson is that old flame you continue to go back to. Despite his advanced age, he's versatile, reliable and incredibly difficult to wrangle. His 3.7 yards per contact after attempt was tops among rushers a season ago. Gailey hasn't revealed exactly how carries will be distributed between the vet and C.J. Spiller, but based on preseason performance, it seems likely Jackson will tug roughly 65-70-percent of the load. Spiller hasn't exactly made a positive impression this summer, resembling the rusher that routinely tap-danced behind the line when he entered the league three years ago. Considering Jackson's marvelous skill set, appreciable track-record and likely 17-20 touch per game share, he should turn a handsome profit. As noted before, the Bills boast a very good offensive line and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't shy about checking down.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 248 carries, 1,166 rushing yards, 43 receptions, 381 receiving yards, 9 total touchdowns
Rashad Jennings, Jax (Noise RB Rank: 31)
The third-year rusher, fawned over by yours truly since he was stolen in Round 7 of the 2009 draft, possesses star qualities. Standing at 6-foot-1, 228-pounds, he's the antithesis of Maurice Jones-Drew in size-terms. However, his powerful interior running style, plus burst and versatility are reminiscent of his pint-sized teammate. Over 123 career attempts he's averaged a stout 5.4 yards per carry. And back in 2010 — he missed the entire 2011 season with a nonsurgical knee injury — he was the third-best RB in yards after contact per attempt. Through three preseason games, he's compiled a standout 4.9 yards per carry. Because MJD was a no show last weekend, Mike Mularkey revealed Monday he is fully prepared to hand Jennings the keys Week 1 at Minnesota. Given Blaine Gabbert's strides this preseason and Jacksonville's rigid offensive line, Jennings should roar out of the gate with a 90-110-yard, 1-TD effort. If that happens, he'll surely carve out a substantial role even when the reigning rush king inevitably caves.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 174 carries, 868 rushing yards, 22 receptions, 169 receiving yards, 6 total touchdowns
Deep Feelings: Jacquizz Rodgers, Atl, Alex Green, GB, Robert Turbin, Sea,
Antonio Brown, Pit (Noise WR Rank: 10)
Mike Wallace may finally be back in the mix, but Brown is the Steelers' top stat-sheet stuffer. Coming off a very respectable 69-1108-2 campaign, the third-year product is primed to explode. Pittsburgh's ground game is a complete mess, which should prompt Todd Haley to exercise Ben Roethlisberger's arm early and often. Expect Brown to benefit. This preseason he's morphed into a complete receiver. Not the home run hitter Wallace is, he can run every route imaginable, is highly explosive and plays fearlessly. His 57-yard TD scamper on a quick screen two weeks ago against Buffalo is fantastic propaganda. Comfortable in PIT's redesigned offense, he should widen last year's 124-to-114 target gap with Wallace considerably. Bank on Brown developing into one of the most consistent producers in the virtual game.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 83 receptions, 1,213 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns
Eric Decker, Den (Noise WR Rank: 15)
Questions about Peyton Manning's arm strength and accuracy beyond 10-15 yards were answered in Week 3 of the preseason. The venerable QB packed plenty of pepper, distributing the ball with zip to all points on the field, including two TD passes to Decker. The former Golden Gopher is a PPR gem in-the-making. His sharp route-running skills, plus-size and tacky hands are similar to legendary Bronco Ed McCaffery. Demaryius Thomas will also be heavily involved, but Decker's reliability in the short-to-intermediate field cannot be overstated. Provided Peyton remains upright and is impacted little by the outdoor elements, Decker is in position to potentially seize the receptions title in the AFC. And, no, I'm not riding the 'Pineapple Express.'
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 94 receptions, 1,188 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns
Titus Young, Det (Noise WR Rank: 30)
The mere scent of Calvin Johnson draws DBs from far and wide. In a class by himself, it's understandable why defensive coordinators throw the kitchen sink at the multi-time All-Pro. That reason alone is why Young is so attractive this year. Lost in Matthew Stafford and Johnson's otherworldly seasons, the tertiary target was occasionally effective in his first season. His 48-607-6 line was quite useful to owners in challenging formats. Dominating training camp headlines, he's reportedly had a tremendous summer. Because he's tied to an elite QB in a pass-heavy offense and will see many single coverages, it's logical he takes a quantum leap forward in the followup, developing into a top-flight WR3 in 12-teamers. For now, the Lion sleeps tonight.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 69 receptions, 1,053 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
Deep Feelings: Davone Bess, Mia, Danny Amendola, StL, Josh Gordon, Cle
Greg Olsen, Car (Noise TE Rank: 10)
After years of flirtations, is this the year the He-Man lookalike taps into the "Power of Greyskull?" I think so. Make no mistake, Steve Smith, when not hampered by gangrene, is the focus of the Panthers' vertical attack. At 33, he still has plenty left in the tank. But Olsen, not Brandon LaFell, is Cam Newton's true No. 2. This summer, he's drawn rave reviews, tightening his routes while catching everything in sight. Ron Rivera even went on record predicting "it's possible" the tight end posts similar numbers to what Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham accomplished a season ago. Because Gronk and Graham are tied to more proven signal callers, that forecast is very fearless. Still, Cam's expected advancements as a passer should vault Olsen into the position's top-12. His excellent blend of size and speed have always been alluring. With Jeremy Shockey, who was lined up in the crosshairs 62 times a season ago, no longer stealing away looks, Olsen is a near lock for 110-plus targets this year. Stock up.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 70 receptions, 804 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns
Deep Feelings: Kyle Rudolph, Min, Coby Fleener/Dwayne Allen, Ind
MOST VALUABLE CRUSH (MVC)
Ryan Mathews, SD (Noise RB Rank: 5)
I know what you're thinking. The receiving end of a Super Macho Man uppercut sounds more appealing than dealing with Mathews' constant setbacks and occasional bouts of fumblitis. Despite his impressive natural talents, he is the essence of frustration. Totally get it. But as discussed numerous times previously, the situation is ideal. The third-year rusher, ahead of schedule in his recovery from a broken clavicle, will be loaded up like a rented mule by Week 3, netting roughly 18-22 touches per game. Ronnie Brown and Le'Ron McClain aren't significant threats. San Diego's offense, though not as potent with Vincent Jackson and, for the next seven weeks, Vincent Brown in tow, still packs quite a wallop. The offensive line, returning several key members from last year's team, is nothing to scoff at. Combine that with Mathews' dedication to conditioning this past off-season and versatile skill set and it adds up to a marquee campaign. His top-10 finish in per game average among RBs over 2011's final five weeks was only a preview. Consider his injury-influenced discount a blessing in disguise. Hopefully you stole him in Round 2 or, in leagues filled with fraidy cats, a little later. Cherish the love.
Fearless Forecast (15 games): 258 carries, 1,238 rushing yards, 60 receptions, 511 receiving yards, 13 total touchdowns
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