NFL fantasy roundtable: Top receivers, rookies, draft debates
Receivers with reliable quarterbacks show better records of production
Robert Griffin III is in position to have similar rookie year as Cam Newton
Young weapons around him make Peyton Manning a good fantasy value
The SI Fantasy Roundtable continues its look at the coming football season.
1. Wide receivers are often a fickle bunch. Whom do you trust this season and whom do you not?
Will Carroll: I trust consistency. I like guys with track records, good situations (passing offense, solid QB), and then I'll shift down to talent. AJ Green was great last year and there was no question about talent, but no one had any idea about Dalton. The key ones like Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Wes Welker are easy, but what about Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas or Reggie Wayne? Making the right decisions on the WR3 and WR4 might be the most key ones in a draft this year.
Eric Mack: Going with the receivers with the elite quarterbacks is always the best strategy. Receivers rely on a number of variables, including their own health and the quality of the passer getting them the ball. You remove one significant variable when you draft the top receivers getting the balls from the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. That makes Gregg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, TE Jermichael Finley, TE Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, TE Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and TE Aaron Hernandez a bit more of sure things than, say, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson.
David Sabino: With the game thoroughly slanted toward the passing game there will be plenty of great receivers to go around. Among the best whom I trust are Calvin Johnson (obviously), Carolina's Steve Smith (the most underrated receiver in the league and the top target of one of the game's elite QBs, Cam Newton), both of Eli Manning's wideouts, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks (with Cruz higher on my list) and Larry Fitzgerald (for sheer talent and despite his quarterback situation).
On the opposite side, I'm wary of the Cowboys duo of Miles Austin (a fragile sort) and Dez Bryant (on and off the field issues). Wes Welker could see a downturn in catches with the arrival of Josh McDaniels' favorite Brandon Lloyd. I'd love to love Kenny Britt again but having been burned twice in a row, it's tough to go back to the well. And DeSean Jackson's 2011 left enough of a bad taste in fantasy owners' mouths that you can't blame anyone for passing on him in 2012.
2. Beyond Trent Richardson, what rookies will make a big impact this season?
Carroll: I like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Both should put up solid numbers, but won't be fantasy difference makers like Cam Newton was. I'm not as high on Richardson -- are we all forgetting Richardson was behind Mark Ingram at Alabama? Ingram's complete inability to get it done last year has me a bit worried about Richardson, though the situations and styles are different. I think Coby Fleener takes over a good role and will be Luck's safety blanket. He's a second tier TE especially in PPR.
Mack: Many people are drafting Doug Martin in the early rounds. Heck, his average draft position on MockDraftCentral.com is 22 this day. But we probably shouldn't have so much confidence he will beat out LeGarrette Blount going into training camp. You want a starter when picking a player in that premium spot, right? Griffin III, if only because he comes on the heels of Cam Newton's record-breaking rookie season, is a better bet to enjoy a huge breakthrough. He is at least being picked closer to being a fantasy backup (12th in average draft position right now). Luck is even further down the pecking order and he has a similar situation as Newton: A non-contending team with a potentially elite renaissance receiver (Reggie Wayne a la Steve Smith) and a lot of potential blow-out games to pile up garbage-time numbers.
Among the receivers, the Jets' Stephen Hill looks like he may start, as will the Jags' Justin Blackmon and perhaps the Cards' Michael Floyd. Hill might be the best bargain of that trio, because of opportunity. Blackmon's QB situation is sketchy and Floyd is clearly second fiddle to Fitzgerald.
If you're looking for a sleeper, watch the Giants' David Wilson if Ahmad Bradshaw's injury-prone ways continue. Bradshaw has had chronic foot issues, so Wilson could be pulled up the depth chart to be a primary ball carrier in one of the NFL's elite offenses.
Sabino: He's not Newton, but Griffin III will certainly have a big impact running the Mike Shanahan offense in Washington while Luck should experience more growing pains on a Colts offense that was 1-15 last year. Among running backs I'm very high on Martin in Tampa Bay, Ronnie Hillman, a younger version of Darren Sproles in Denver and in dynasty leagues I'd make grabbing St. Louis' Isaiah Pead the next priority. Among receivers I'm shying away from Blackmon in Jacksonville as I don't trust Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne. Kendall Wright, on the other hand, could step into the Titans lineup and be this season's AJ Green. Late in the draft think about taking a flier on Fleener as your second tight end, and if you're in an absolute pinch for kickers, Houston's Randy Bullock is stepping into a great situation.
3. Are you drafting Peyton Manning, and if so, where?
Carroll: I'm super high on him, but I'm not ignoring last year. He's older, the talent around him has more question marks and the schedule is brutal early. By Week 5, people might be jumping off the bandwagon right when he's about to put up numbers. I think Manning is a good QB2 and I'd be looking to grab him at about 18 (no pun intended).
Mack: Absolutely. Manning might no longer be an elite fantasy option and draft pick, but that is precisely what makes him intriguing. He should be drafted as a starter, but some fantasy analysts (ridiculously) are slotting him outside of the top 12 QBs to target. The Broncos clearly are expecting him to play, because they haven't backed him up with anyone on their depth chart. Even if Manning plays are some percentage less than 100 percent, we should expect solid production relative to draft position.
Sabino: In the 2012 SI Fantasy Football Preview issue I took Manning midway through the third round. Sure it's a risk, but with all of the medical scrutiny he's been through and the young talent like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme and Ronnie Hillman surrounding him, it's a chance I was willing to take. Third round seemed a little high to me at the time (it was a 12-team draft) but the rest of the elite throwers were already gone, including little brother Eli. In retrospect, I probably could've waited for one more trip through the loop, but late third to mid fourth makes a lot of sense, and if he is the Peyton Manning we all remember then he'll become the steal of the draft.
4. Whose hype is hotter than his production will be?
Carroll: I'm way off Dez Bryant. I just can't believe he's going to make a leap with Tony Romo both staying healthy and being a top tier QB. I think Michael Vick is what he is and that even after last year, he'll be drafted too high. I think his 2012 will look a lot like his '11. I also think people are a bit too high on Matthew Stafford. There's still a lot of risk there, though I do think he's solid when healthy.
Mack: It is easy to understand the hopes for Ryan Mathews and Trent Richardson as elite fantasy backs, but when you're seeing them being picked fifth and sixth overall, according to Mockdraftcentral.com, that isn't hope area as much as expectation area. You are putting yourself at risk of seeing your first-round pick being a disappointment. Like said above, the Bucs' Martin is in the same boat, particularly since he isn't yet even a starter.