The unpredictability of fantasy football is, among countless other
things, what makes it such an entertaining activity. Every year,
there are players that fall short of expectations and players that
come from nowhere to put their names on the fantasy map. It’s
a fascinating process and one that keeps us coming back for more
each season. Some will struggle, some will shine. The idea, of course,
is to have less of the former and more of the latter. Here’s
a list of five who I think may shine in 2012 and five who I think
Five To Shine
Victor Cruz, NYG: Cruzís spot on this list is nothing
more than a presumed continuation of his breakout year of 2011.
He came from nowhere last year, finishing the season with 10 games
of at least 91 receiving yards. Thatís a ridiculous figure when
you consider he barely made the squad in 2010. Cruzís torrid play
should continue into 2012 for several reasons. For starters, fellow
wide receiver Hakeem
Nicks is just coming back from a broken bone in his footóyet
another nagging injury he'll have to face. Heís battled through
irritating injuries two of his first three seasons, and while
Nicksí latest bout probably wonít linger too long into the season,
it certainly gives Cruz more time to strengthen whatever rapport
he has with quarterback Eli
Secondly, the Giants arenít usually a team that spreads
the ball around much. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has skills out
of the backfield, but Manning is not known to include the tight
end in the passing game very often. That translates into more
opportunities for the wideouts. Depending on what cheat sheet
you look at, Nicks is probably ranked ahead of Cruz. But Cruz
appeared to be a game-breaker in 2011, and could very well continue
into this season. He should prove to be a solid and reliable WR1
this year, so donít shy away from using an early-round pick
Dez Bryant, DAL: I acknowledge, first and foremost,
that Bryant has serious knucklehead tendencies. Relying on a player
with his track record could be a dicey proposition. I concede
that. But I think he is on the verge of becoming one of fantasy
footballís most dynamic receivers. With Miles
Austin fighting through yet another hamstring issue this preseason
and tight end Jason
Witten nursing an injured spleen, Bryant now emerges as Tony
Romoís undisputed top optionóif he wasnít that already, prior
to these injuries.
Bryant plays with an attitude, with an edge. When heís
between the white lines, it seems he cares about football; he
has a palpable passion for the game. Those traits in and of themselves
donít always translate to production on the field, but with
the way things appear to be shaping up offensively for the Cowboys,
Bryant has an opportunity to make a name for himself both in the
NFL and in fantasy football circles as well.
The Steelers have found a gem in Antonio
Antonio Brown, PIT: I traded for Mike
Wallace last year after his Week 7, 118-yard performance against
Arizona. I thought I was getting a player that would help fortify
my squad. What I got was a player who all of a sudden appeared
to turn into the Steelers' No. 2 receiver right before our eyes.
Every Pittsburgh game I watched, I kept seeing #84 targeted by
Roethlisberger. Now with Wallace sitting out training camp
and the Steelers losing running back after running back, I suspect
Brown will become more and more entrenched as the teamís most
reliable offensive option outside of Roethlisberger.
Wallace may be more physically gifted, but by rule I shy away
from players who hold out during the preseason. They seem to never
attain the level of productivity they could have had, had they
reported to camp on time. But even had Wallace been in camp since
day one, Brownís ascension in the passing game, I believe, would
have still been realized. Brown will continue to represent my
alma mater, Central Michigan, and will become a solid WR2 for
fantasy owners everywhere.
C.J. Spiller, BUF: Spiller filled in for an injured
Jackson last season and performed admirably, including two
fantasy playoff games in Weeks 14 and 15óone where he ran for
91 yards and had nine receptions, and another in which he had
111 yards on the ground. Jackson is expected to return this season
and have a major role in the teamís running game. But the fact
that Jacksonís late-career renaissance is coming as a 31-year-old
running back should give some fantasy owners pause.
There have been whispers that the Bills will use both backs on
the field at once, with Spiller used primarily in the slot. Some
may think that the only way Spiller shines in 2012 is with Jackson
sidelined for whatever reason. While that could certainly expedite
the process, I believe Spiller will be utilized enough in the
offense to carve out a productive seasonóperhaps even to
the extent that he supplants Jackson as the bell-cow running back.
As it stands now, though, Spiller can be had cheaply in your draft,
and heís as big a low-risk/high-reward player as there is
Jay Cutler, CHI: Cutlerís importance to the Bears was
put on full display in 2011 when he missed the last six games
of the season with a thumb injury. He was having a solid, if unspectacular,
season up to that point, as he had not turned the ball over as
much as he did in 2010. The fact that Cutler has even been fantasy-relevant
with the collection of receiving options heís had during his time
in Chicago speaks volumes on his overall ability. Devin
Now heís reunited with Brandon Marshall, a player who should
infuse a healthy dose of explosiveness into an offense that has
been as boring to watch as any over the past several years. Marshallís
presence as the teamís top receiving threat will do wonders
for Cutler, and the addition of rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery
wonít hurt either. The offensive line has long been a concern
for Chicago, but if they can shore up the pass protection, Cutler
will be in line for a dynamic season in which he could become
a solid QB1 by seasonís end.
Five to Struggle
Andre Johnson, HOU: The one thing thatís more troubling
about Johnsonís recent rash of injuries is the fact that theyíve
come without contact from the defense. There wasnít a defender
within five yards of him when he ripped his hamstring last year,
and the strained groin he suffered in training camp this year
came without contact. Thatís a bit disconcerting when youíre a
31-year-old receiver on a team that runs the ball as frequently
and as successfully as the Texans do.
Iíve seen cheat sheets that have Johnson as high as the
No. 2 WR. Iíd let someone else take that risk on a player
whoís never had double digit touchdowns in a season and
has proven to be a bit fragile recently. Johnson wonít be
a bust; I just donít think he can be relied on with the
level of confidence that his ADP (2.12) would suggest. Heís
being drafted as a WR1, and that would be a nervous proposition
Marshawn Lynch, SEA: Lynch had the best season of his
career last year and finished with an impressive six games of
100 or more rushing yards through his last nine games. The Seahawks
allegedly improved their passing game with the acquisition of
Flynn, which in turn should improve their running game. That
assertion remains to be seen.
The issue I have with Lynch is that thereís nowhere to
go but down; he has no upside. And to expect him to perform at
the same clip as last year is asking an awful lot of a player
who had never been more than a mid-range RB2 prior to last season.
His current ADP (2.07) presumes many fantasy owners are banking
on him to repeat his career performance from 2011. I have a hard
time envisioning that. Iíd need more than one yearís
worth of that kind of productivity before I invest that high a
draft pick in a player at such a premium position.
Trent Richardson, CLE: The Cleveland Browns have been
an anemic offense since they reentered the league in 1999. Only
in 2007 were they ranked higher than 23rd offensively, and they
struggled mightily running the football. Thus the drafting of
Trent Richardson. The only problem with that is heís battled with
the same knee issue this preseason that he had to contend with
late last season while at Alabama. The expectations seem to be
off the chart for this kid, starting with his draft position.
I guess the Browns didnít get the memo that the NFL doesnít use
high draft picks on running backs anymore.
In addition to his knee problems, Richardson will have to deal
with a subpar supporting cast, eight-man defensive fronts, and
six games going against the run-stuffing defenses in his division
(Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincy). And, oh, by the way, in case you
havenít noticed, Montario Hardesty is doing quite well this
preseason; he wonít go away easily. It could even be a platoon
approach to start the season, and thatís something fantasy
owners donít want to hear about a player with a 3.07 ADP.
Lowered expectations are in order for this rookie.
DeMarco Murray, DAL: Murray sure is getting a lot of
love, especially for someone with only two rushing touchdowns
on his resume. He replaced an ineffective and fragile Felix
Jones last year and performed the way many were hoping Jones
would. Now people are apparently pinning their hopes on Murray
to the tune of a 1.12 ADP. These people have obviously not been
paying attention to the struggles of the Dallas offensive line.
Murray could possibly produce numbers; I just donít know if Iíd
use a first-round selection on him.
Further, the Cowboys had one of the highest pass-to-run ratios
in the league in 2011, passing the ball 60 percent of the time.
Murray is not used heavily in the passing game, which could hinder
his production even more. Look, I get the idea of jumping on a
player while heís ascending. I understand that philosophy. But
the price for Murray heading into this yearís draft is astounding
to me. A first round pick? Preposterous! His touchdown total is
bound to go up from the two he had last year, but donít expect
RB1 production from this dude. Buyer beware, especially at his
Rodeo Drive price tag.
Brandon Lloyd, NE: Lloyd followed offensive coordinator
Josh McDaniels to New England just as he said he would. Lloyd
has had a fairly productive last two years, and now he goes to
the Patriots and their pass-first, pass-often offensive attack.
So why is he on this list? Well, there are only so many receptions
to go around.
At best, Lloyd could end up the No. 4 option behind Rob Gronkowski,
Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. Whatís the production level
of a teamís No. 4, even on a team as potent as New England?
Thatís the ultimate question regarding Lloyd. If you think
he could supplant Hernandez as the No. 3, then heís probably
your guy as a high-end WR3/low-end WR2. If not, then Lloyd will
toil on your roster while you struggle weekly on whether or not
to place him in your starting lineup. Will Lloyd have a productive
game or three this season? Quite possibly, yes. I just think theyíll
be too sporadic for anyone to count on him as a weekly starter,
which is how he is being drafted (4.09 ADP).