Early 2012 Fantasy Football Rankings

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Early 2012 Fantasy Football Rankings

Kevin English is a blog contributor for Gold Star Games, a one-stop-shop for tailgate gear and much more.  

I know, it’s early January.  We’ve yet to even get into the Wild Card action that’s on tap this weekend.  There are plenty of enticing matchups, as usual.  In fact, I think all 4 games minus Pittsburgh vs. Denver will be decided by 7 points or less.  But that’s not the topic at hand today.
Unless you’re in a postseason fantasy league, you’re fantasy fix for the 2011-2012 season has run out.  And if you’re a fantasy football nut like me, you know it’s never too early to look forward to next season. 
Below, I’ll take a look at the top-10 options at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end for 2012 fantasy football drafts…
Note: Rankings are for non-PPR formats

1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Drew Brees
3. Tom Brady
4. Cam Newton
5. Matt Stafford
6. Philip Rivers
7. Michael Vick
8. Ben Roethlisberger
9. Eli Manning
10. Matt Ryan

Honorable mention: Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman
-I wouldn’t try and over-think things at the top.  Rodgers and Brees are slam dunk picks at 1 and 2, as two of the game’s best passers, playing on two of the game’s best offenses. Both guys have finished in the top-5 every year since 2008…Brady isn’t far behind, still in his prime at 34 with 3 dynamic weapons...Newton excelled in his rookie year, and there’s no reason to believe his sophomore season will be a flop.  Steve Smith will return for another season and he showed he has plenty left in the tank with a 17.6 YPC average in 2011.  What’ll be most difficult for Cam is putting up another 14 rushing scores…With Stafford, it’s all about staying healthy.  He finally put up the eye-popping numbers many believed he was capable of and it was because he finally avoided a serious injury.  Calvin Johnson – with his 96-1,681-16 line – had something to do with it too. Jahvid Best – health permitting – will give him another dynamic target next season…Rivers was a puzzling guy to watch this season.  But it’s hard not to love him next year, assuming Vincent Jackson – a free agent – returns.  Remember, before 2011, Rivers finished among the top-5 fantasy signal callers in 2 of the past 3 seasons…Vick could be without DeSean Jackson next season and remains an injury risk.  To me, his arrow is pointing downward, but rushing scores will support him in fantasy…Big Big has two dynamic pass catchers in Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, and another one emerging in Emmanuel Sanders…Manning and Matty Ice are in similarly fantasy-friendly situations.  Who would you take, Roddy White and Julio Jones, or Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz?  Talk about a win-win. 

Running Back
1. Ray Rice
2. Arian Foster
3. LeSean McCoy
4. Chris Johnson
5. Marshawn Lynch
6. Jamaal Charles
7. Ryan Mathews
8. Darren McFadden
9. Matt Forte
10. Maurice Jones-Drew

Honorable mention: Ahmad Bradshaw, Beanie Wells, Michael Turner, Frank Gore
Rice’s involvement in the passing game gives him a huge boost in fantasy leagues. Only Darren Sproles’ 86 receptions bested his 76 this season.  Oh, and he also set a career-high with 1,364 rushing yards…Foster played in 13 games this season, yet managed 12 total TDs, nearly 2,000 total yards and a top-5 fantasy finish. He’ll be in line for another monster workload in 2012…McCoy’s slight build scares me from an injury standpoint, but when you watch him play, you notice he doesn’t take many shots.  He’ll be in high demand over the summer… I’m not ready to give up on CJ2K.  With a fresh offseason to get in shape, I think he returns to his 2010 form…Beast Mode is for real.  He finished 5th this season among RBs in 15 games.  A lack of involvement in the passing game caps his upside, though…Don’t sleep on Charles, who tore his ACL just 2 weeks into the regular season.  He should be 100% by the preseason…Mathews broke out this season, performing at an elite level for fantasy owners despite sharing time with Mike Tolbert.  His injury history is troublesome, but the sky-high upside is undeniable…McFadden’s season ended on a sour note, but he’s arguably the most dynamic RB in the league when healthy.  The foot injury figures to be a thing of the past come September…Ditto for Forte’s bum knee.  In fact, he’s pushing to play in the Pro Bowl.  If Chicago retains him, he’ll be in store for that 300+ touch workload fantasy owners want…Sure, MJD finished 3rd in standard league scoring this year, but the wheels are due to fall off any time now.  He’s averaged an insane 361.3 touches over the last 3 years, and is coming off a career high 386 touches.  He’s too much of an injury risk for my liking.

Wide Receiver
1. Calvin Johnson
2. Andre Johnson
3. Larry Fitzgerald
4. Greg Jennings
5. Victor Cruz
6. Wes Welker
7. Steve Smith
8. Roddy White
9. Antonio Brown
10. Julio Jones

Honorable mention: Kenny Britt, Marques Colston, A.J Green, Hakeem Nicks
It’s Johnson and Johnson at the top.  Calvin and Matt Stafford are an unstoppable duo, while Andre will welcome the return of Matt Schaub…Still in his prime, Fitz has shown an ability to produce top-notch numbers without top-notch QB play…Jennings is an elite talent, with an elite QB throwing him the ball.  The only argument against him is that Rodgers likes to spread the ball around.  It’s a pretty weak argument, considering he finished 18th among WRs in just 13 games – with a healthy 93 targets… Cruz’s emergence is for real.  And with an elite talent in Hakeem Nicks deflecting defensive attention, he’ll be a fantasy force again next season…You know what you’re gonna get with Welker by now.  He’s notched 110+ catches and 1,100+ yards in 4 of his 5 seasons with New England…Smith’s chemistry with Cam Newton will only grow stronger, and Smith’s age (32) isn’t worrisome to me…Roddy benefited from the emergence of Julio Jones, posting his second 100+ catch season along with 1,296 yards and 8 TDs.  I see the Falcons leaning even more on Matt Ryan’s right arm in 2012…Brown out-targeted Mike Wallace by a slim margin (113 to 108) but didn’t truly emerge until mid-season.  I think he overtakes Wallace as Pittsburgh’s most productive pass catcher…Julio finished as the WR17 this season, despite playing in just 12 games.  Playing alongside Roddy and Matt Ryan, the upside is undeniable.

Tight End
1. Jimmy Graham
2. Rob Gronkowski
3. Jermichael Finley
4. Antonio Gates
5. Aaron Hernandez
6. Jared Cook
7. Jason Witten
8. Tony Gonzalez
9. Fred Davis
10. Vernon Davis

Honorable mention: Owen Daniels, Brandon Pettigrew, Brent Celek, Jermaine Gresham
Consider Graham and Gronk as 1A and 1B.  The only thing stopping them from another lights out year is an injury…I’ve always been amazed by Finley’s athletic ability.  I think he becomes more consistent as he enters his prime years…It won’t be long before Gates is no longer among the elite TEs. But I think he enjoys one more season in top-5 territory.  Playing through a foot injury and Philip Rivers’ struggles, he still managed to finish 7th among TEs – in just 12 games...Don’t think two New England TEs can finish in the top-5?  The Pats finished 2011 with two top-3 fantasy TEs (Gronk 1, Hernandez 3). Hernandez, just 22-years-old, improved each week in 2011… Cook is one of my favorite breakout picks for 2012. He’s always had the size (6’5, 250) and speed to be a seam stretcher, and now he’s got the experience under his belt.  The 3-year pro caught fire down the stretch with 21 grabs, 335 yards and 1 TD over the last 3 games…Witten’s a tough guy to get excited about, but he’s a model of consistency with 7 consecutive top-10 fantasy finishes dating back to 2005…Gonzalez signed an extension last month, so he’ll remain in Atlanta for another season.  While they’ve moved to a pass orientated offense, an over-the-hill Gonzo will be a poor bet to repeat his surprising 80-875-7 line…As a free agent Davis might not return to Washington next season.  If he does, he’ll be slated to take over full-time TE duties with Chris Cooley likely on the outs because of his contract situation…VD finished 8th among TEs this season, and will continue to have limited opportunities in San Francisco’s run-first offense.

Enjoy the playoffs, and good luck to those of you playing in postseason fantasy leagues! 
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  1. How about DeMarco Murray in the top 10? I think he is the starter next yr. He looked incredible this season...watched him every week (I'm a Cowboys fan....yeah, that was hard to admit) :/

    1. Looking at my draft guide I have DeMarco Murray ranked #6. Kevin is a guest blogger and has his own insight. Murray will be a beast next year for SURE!

  2. Lot of tough calls at WR, even with guys on the same team. Wallace/Brown, Jennings/Nelson, White/Jones. There's probably more Im missing.

    1. I agree, there are a number of tough calls due to multiple talents at WR. The key is obviously what QB is throwing to them. The Aaron Rodgers WR's will most likely outperform the Big Ben WRs.