Last week, I examined
the Top 10 quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers from
2011 in hopes of identifying who among them might be primed to disappoint
and fall from the ranks this upcoming season. This week, I’ll
take an educated wag at who, conversely, might be ready to emerge
(or perhaps reemerge) in 2012 to snag the vacated spots. Some of
the names won’t surprise you, I’m sure, but some certainly
might. After all, did anyone peg Victor Cruz for a Top 10 run before
the start of last season? Here goes nothing…..
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard
A quick reminder of the Top 10 fantasy QBs from last season...
Manning, DEN: Too obvious, right? Letís play devilís advocate
first. Heís 36, past the age most quarterbacks not named Favre or
Elway start to decline. Heís coming off a serious neck injuryóand
three surgeriesóthat scuttled his entire 2011 season. Heís traded
the climate-controlled fast track of Lucas Oil Stadium for some
bona fide grass and the great (if unpredictable) outdoors of Mile
High. Heíll be taking over the reins of an offense that led the
league in rushing attempts last year. Yes, Manning faces some stiff
headwinds as he recommences his Hall of Fame career.
And, no, it wonít matter. Weíre talking about Peyton
freakiní Manning here! You know, the guy who practically invented
the Top 10 list. Since the turn of the century, heís only
failed to achieve that status once (last year) and has averaged
a #3 overall ranking at the position during that span. Heís
thrown for over 50,000 yards and nearly 400 touchdowns, good for
third on the all-time list in both categories. Heís been the
picture of consistent production under center for nearly 15 years.
Will a change of scenery and a year off really change all that?
The ďscenery,Ē by the way, isnít as bad as it
might appear. John Fox is still an NFL throwback (think ground and
pound), but heís also desperate. Manning is his best chance
to keep the job. Additionally, the Broncos arenít entirely
bereft of passing-game talent. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas,
two third-year targets, are capable and may, as others have before
them (e.g., Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, etc.), rise from relative
anonymity to fantasy glory with Peyton at the helm. Should they
falter, he can still rely on a couple of buddies from Indy: Jacob
Tamme and Brandon Stokley. Finally, Manning is arguably the least
mobile alpha quarterback since Dan Marino ruled the roost in the
eighties. Thus, the neck injury, it would seem, should only continue
to affect him if it robs him of arm strength or range of motion.
Early indications from Denver are that it hasnít.
Griffin III, WAS: I actually got to see RGIII in person last
September as he kicked off his Heisman campaign against TCU in Waco.
Hereís what I saw: a supremely gifted athlete with a cannon for
an arm, laser-like precision (especially on deep balls), and Michael
Vick-esque speed and slipperiness when plays broke down. Well,
for three quarters, at least. Little Bro, who gets bored when games
get out of hand (it was 47-23 at that point) or donít feature beer
concessions (Baylor is a Baptist institution), convinced the rest
of us to leave. Whoops. We only missed a furious (though unsuccessful)
TCU rally, 28 more points, and a last-second field goal in ESPNís
first ďInstant ClassicĒ of 2011. On the bright side, Little Bro
earned a hilarious new nickname.
RGIII: Another rookie ready to crack the
Griffin now takes his game to the NFL, where his tantalizing skill
set already has fantasy owners salivating. Itís probably asking
too much of him to reproduce Cam Newtonís record-setting rookie
numbers of 2011, but heís already a better passer than Newton
will likely ever be and heís even more explosive when running
with the ball, if not as devastatingly powerful. Indeed, the only
real knock on RGIII, his somewhat narrow frame, is something he
has basically no control over.
Of course, he also has no control over the situation heís
landed in. The Redskins upgraded the wide receiver position in the
offseason but still lack depth and quality along the offensive line.
They also canít seem to figure out who will be shouldering
the load at running back. Worse, they donít really seem to
care. Whoís coaching this team, anyway, Mike Shanahan? RGIII
faces some challenges, but I believe his overwhelming physical gifts
will be a sight for sore eyes in our nationís capital and
the reason he threatens to crack the Top 10 in this, his inaugural
Palmer, OAK: Not who you were expecting, right? I could probably
write an entire article about Mr. Vickís prospects for 2012 (donít
tempt me) but, suffice it to say, Iím just not convinced heíll be
the dual-threat he once was. And letís face it: Take away Mike Vickís
legs and he starts to resemble, statistically speaking, guys that
arenít even close to as good as guys like Carson Palmer. The latter
sports a career 86.3 passer rating. Vickís hovers right around 80.
Palmer has topped the 3500-yard mark four times in his career. Vick?
He hasnít done it. Palmerís thrown for more than 20 touchdowns five
times. Vickís managed the feat only twice. Oh, and the clincher?
Michael Vick, despite missing two complete seasons, has actually
appeared in more career games than the former Heisman winner.
Even setting aside the comparisons with Phillyís triggerman,
Palmer is significantly underrated coming in to 2012. The reasons
for that are varied and probably somewhat justified. He was inconsistent
his last couple of years in Cincy. He hasnít always been healthy.
He still throws too many picks. He provides nothing in the ground
game. So, heís not perfect. Got it. He did, however, manage
to tally oodles of yardage in his abbreviated 2011 stint. The 275.3
yards-per-game figure he posted was, believe it or not, the highest
of his career. Not hurting matters is the fact that Oakland possesses
easily the speediest receiving corps in the league. Palmer has always
thrown a nice howitzer, and with guys like Denarius Moore, Darrius
Heyward-Bey, and Jacoby Ford running under his bombs, it wouldnít
shock me to see the Raiders lead the league in home runs this season.
Somewhere up there, Al Davis is smiling.
Next: Running Backs