By Jeff Paur
Senior Fantasy Writer
Realtime Fantasy Sports
The quarterback position continues to be very deep for fantasy teams. And as last year showed, having a top quarterback can be a big-time difference maker for fantasy teams. Teams that had Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers made a lot of noise last season as both players posted a ton of points.
You can still wait on a quarterback and get a quality option such as Eli Manning, but getting an elite, top-five option will cost you a pick in the first three or four rounds of your draft. And with the way things played out last season, getting one of those top guys isn't a bad idea these days for fantasy teams.
But you will also want to know your scoring system. Every league is different. Some leagues favor quarterbacks a little more while others try to devalue the position some by making passing touchdowns worth less as well as penalizing more for interceptions. So you'll want to know your scoring inside and out before deciding when to take a quarterback.
When it comes to fantasy, the running back position is a top priority. And this will be the case even more this season. The top five or so backs really stand out over the other options. These guys will go fast come draft day, and teams having them will have an advantage over their opponents. There just aren't that many elite backs any more, especially with more teams using a two-back approach.
But there are other options out there with potential after those top guys are gone. Who is the Marshawn Lynch of this season? DeMarco Murray has the capability, playing in a good offense his second season in the league. Roy Helu could surprise, likely becoming the No. 1 back in Washington from day one. So there are options out there after those top guys are gone. Don't give up hope if you don't get an early-round pick.
The receiver position is a lot more coveted these days, mainly because so many leagues are points per reception (PPR). This makes getting someone like Calvin Johnson a big plus for fantasy teams. Top receivers have even more value in PPR leagues. If you don't get an elite option in a PPR league, you aren't likely winning your league.
And we have some quality top options. There are about 10 or so elite fantasy receivers - guys capable of leading the league in scoring. After the top guys, though, we have a lot of similar options, which is why many wait on receivers after the elite guys are gone. It is another reason teams load up on No. 1 receivers early. You can use different strategies at the receiver spot and have success both ways.
Just like at running back, teams are looking for the next surprise. Who will be Victor Crus in 2012? There are some breakout candidates. Dez Bryant finally seems ready for that breakout season, emerging as the No. 1 option in the passing game much of last season. Torrey Smith lacked some consistency last season but sure had some big games as a rookie. If he can become more consistent, he can post huge numbers for the Ravens. Malcom Floyd just seems to produce when given the chance and should get plenty of chances as the likely No. 1 for a pass-heavy Chargers team. So there are options out there that could break through. It would be good to target one, get one on your team and hope for the best.
It is becoming more and more evident that the tight end position isn't overlooked these days. Just look at last season when Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham were among the top point scorers at any position. Having either of those guys likely meant you made the playoffs. A top No. 1 tight end that produces similar to an elite receiver can be a huge plus for fantasy teams.
Gronkowski had numbers most No. 1 receivers didn't match. There are about five or so tight ends capable of having a Gronkowski-type season this year. If you want one of those guys, act quickly. You'll likely have to use a pick in the first five rounds.
But there remains a lot of talent after those top options. Guys like Fred Davis, Jared Cook and Brent Celek can be had fairly late in drafts but still produce solid starting tight end numbers for fantasy teams. All guys seem setup for solid seasons and are good reasons why some fantasy teams wait on a tight end while loading up on other positions.
We mention it every season, but the key to finding a successful fantasy kicker is drafting a kicker that is on a team that wins games. Of the 14 kickers that finished with 120 or more points last season, every single one of them played on team with a .500 or better record. There will be an occasional kicker that breaks this rule, but for the most part, the best kickers play on the best teams. They are giving them more opportunities to score, making their point totals among the best in the league.
And please don't be the guy that takes a kicker in the fifth round of your draft. The point deferential from week to week between the top kicker and the 10th rated guy is minimal. We aren't saying to totally discount the position, but use some discretion. Every point does matter, but having your core team in place before taking a kicker is a good idea come draft day.
You also know that some teams will surprise and a kicker's production will be rewarded. Last season, Mike Nugent was the big surprise at kicker. He was seventh in the league in scoring, but went undrafted in many leagues because the Bengals weren't a team on everyone's radar last season. Keep that in mind when thinking about taking a kicker in the early rounds of your draft. Let someone else use a mid-round pick on Mason Crosby while you solidify the rest of your roster.
Def / STs:
The big thing with the defense/special teams position is knowing your rules. Some leagues really reward defenses for sacks, turnovers and points allowed while others just give points for touchdowns scored by your defense/special teams. This is quite a different approach, so before ranking or picking a defense during your draft, know what your league favors. Your rules will dictate the value the position in your league.
With that said, the 49ers are our top selection this season after a monster season last year and most of those key guys returning in 2012. But after them, we have several solid choices. The Steelers, Packers, Patriots, Bears and Cowboys should have solid seasons and are capable of finishing near the top of most leagues in defense/special teams scoring.
And there are a couple different approaches to taking a defense. If you want to use a mid-round pick on a defense/special teams, take the 49ers or Steelers or whoever you have rated high. But if you want to wait until the later rounds, grab two defenses you think you can platoon based on matchups. This is a good strategy to use if you want to wait a while before taking a defense and use that mid-round pick on another position. Getting two teams like the Lions and Falcons could do just as well as taking the Steelers with a higher pick. It is just something to think about heading into your draft. Platoon options can work well with this position.
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