2012 Fantasy Football Targets and Players To Avoid

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Who should you be targeting and avoiding in your fantasy football drafts this season?

As we all know after playing fantasy football over the years, there are many ways to win a title. But these two facts seem to always hold true:

  • Don't MISS on your picks in the opening rounds, and
  • Find a mid- to late-round sleeper that outperforms his draft value

Even the best fantasy players in the world have issues competing after losing a top pick; just ask the Jamaal Charles owners last year. So, I really focus on minimizing my risk in the early rounds -- and NO year seems to be more full of early risk than this one.

Consider just the running back population. All of these guys are/were top picks, but all of them carry significant risk: Adrian Peterson (2011 ACL), Jamaal Charles (2011 ACL), Trent Richardson (knee), Ryan Mathews (collarbone), Maurice Jones-Drew (holdout), Darren McFadden (constant injury risk), Marshawn Lynch (suspension?). The list goes on and on and on.

Like investing in the stock market, we are constantly balancing risk against reward. But these top-40 (current ADP) picks are too risky for me at their price:

PLAYERS TO AVOID

(1) Andre Johnson (ADP: 22) -- How this guy is a second-round pick in a 12-team league is beyond me. I realize that people draft by name recognition, but come on. Consider that ‘Dre has missed 12 games over the last two years -- that's 38% of his starts. Couple that with his age (31) and the fact that he has never (like E-V-E-R) had double-digit touchdowns in a season, and he's on my UNDRAFTABLE list. That's not even mentioning that his QB is coming off of a Lisfranc fracture, and that with Arian Foster the Texans hardly ever pass in the red zone, choosing to run 62% of the time. (Compare that to Detroit, who only ran 34% of the time in the red zone in 2011.)

(2) Michael Turner (ADP: 32) -- If you've been reading any fantasy websites/magazines this year, you've probably had to search to find one positive word on "The Burner." Everyone is down on him. His family is even passing on him in the fourth round. But, just like Johnson above, he's still being drafted on name value. Perhaps he has value in a touchdown-only league, considering his TD production over the past three seasons (11, 12 and 10). But when we scratch the surface, we see the rust below the new paint job.

For starters, he turned 30 years old this February. And let's look back to the weeks that you needed him the MOST in 2011, down the stretch in weeks 12-16. In those five games, he averaged 3.33 yards per carry and had only one TD. Is that who you're hitching your wagon to in the third round this year? Not me.

I don't know if you put any credence to preseason stats, but consider that through two games this year, he has eight rushes for 14 yards. Yes, it's just preseason, but 2.13 YPC = NOT Good. Let someone else take him while you take a guy with upside.

(3) Mike Wallace (ADP: 36) -- Unlike Turner and Andre, Mike Wallace is young and exciting. But just like Turner, let's look closer at his 2011 stats.

Wallace was the No. 7 (non-PPR) WR, and had 8 TDs. But it was the "Tale of Two Halves" for Wallace. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" as we compare his first half versus his second half. In his first nine games, he scored in the double-digits seven times, averaging 96 yards per game and scoring six touchdowns. But in his last seven games, he had only one double-digit performance, averaging 46 yards per game and only two touchdowns (both in the same game).

He was clearly overtaken by Antonio Brown as Big Ben's No. 1 target. Couple that with a holdout that just keeps going, and I see a down year and a possible hammy/groin injury in his near future. Don't take the risk in the third round

(4) Frank Gore (ADP: 39) -- I just don't like old running backs, period. Especially those on teams that have added more and more competition in the offseason. Of course, San Francisco is a run-first offense (wouldn't you be with Alex Smith at QB and no top WR?), but there is just not going to be enough carries to go around between Gore, Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and rookie LaMichael James.

Gore wasn't the same guy after a November ankle injury followed by a bad knee, as he saw his YPG drop by more than 40 yards during that stretch. He will NOT be on any of my seven teams in 2012.

(5) Steve Smith (CAR) (ADP: 40) -- "Steve Smith South" (as I call him) is gritty and gutty and has gotten more out of his little frame over the years than could ever be expected. 2011 was quite a renaissance year for him, but I'm betting that the train stops in 2012.

Think about the fact that his QB did not have a SINGLE 300-yard passing game after Week 4 last year. That is not good. In addition, the Panthers have zippo at WR2 (come on Brandon LaFell!), so Steve will continue to see double teams. And with his advanced age (33 in May), I wonder how he can hold up late in the season. Consider that in the latter half of 2011 (Week 10 and beyond), he had only one game of more than 87 yards receiving. There is too much reliable WR talent for me to take the leap with SSS in 2012.

Thinking back to investing, the focus is on finding an undervalued stock, buying low and watching it flourish in your portfolio. In fantasy football, we search for players who outperform their draft position. We call these guys "sleepers." These guys (all with an ADP over 100) represent real value for me:

TOP TARGETS

(1) Darrius Heyward-Bey (ADP: 101) -- On the surface, DHB appeared to be the 35th-best WR in fantasy last year. But look at the final four weeks of the fantasy season, and he ranked 15th. That strong finish led him to career bests in nearly every receiving category, and is (slowly) helping him shed the "bust" label he received after being drafted No. 7 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. He has become Carson Palmer's No. 1 target (with exactly 10 targets per game over the final six weeks), and a full offseason with his QB should only help them gel. He is a steal as a WR3/WR4 in the ninth-11th rounds.

(2) Nate Washington (ADP: 117) -- Has there ever been a less heralded top-20 wide receiver than Nate Washington? His 18th-place finish in 2011 was his best finish ever. He is Mr. Consistent, playing 16 games each in the past three years. In fact, only five other top-50 receivers can say that (Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Mike Wallace, Robert Meachem and Reggie Wayne). Not bad company.

Washington's young QB (Jake Locker) is on the rise and he is protected by a good running game with Chris Johnson and other receiving weapons including Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Jared Cook. If Britt has suspension/injury issues and/or if rookie Kendall Wright has trouble getting onto the field, then Nate could be a sneaky top-15 receiver and a nice value for you as a WR3/WR4.

(3) Brent Celek (ADP: 118) -- Pop quiz (I bet that you get it right): Who was the No. 2 tight end over the last four fantasy weeks of 2011? Jimmy Graham? Nope, No. 4. Antonio Gates? Nope, No. 5. Witten? Nope, No. 22. It was, of course, Brent Celek.

But yet, the consensus top two tight ends, Jimmy G and Gronk, are going T-E-N rounds earlier than Brent this season. That, my loyal readers, is VALUE! And with nearly seven targets a game over Philly's last 11 games, it's clear that Michael Vick is looking his way. If Celek is fully healed from his hernia and hip issues, then wait on tight end and draft him late. Heck, couple him with Cook or Coby Fleener or Jermaine Gresham and you'll be golden.

(4) Carson Palmer (ADP: 124) -- At first glance, some fantasy owners will see Carson as old and washed up, as he was only the 27th-best QB in 2011. But you're smarter than that, right? You KNOW he came in mid-season, had no offseason with his guys and finished as a top-12 QB over the final four weeks.

One thing you can say about Palmer: he is surrounded by explosive weapons. DHB (mentioned above), Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, Darren McFadden and Palmer will be the ringleaders of a very exciting and balanced offense. He's currently being drafted in the 10th-13th rounds as the 17th QB, taken behind Matt Schaub, Josh Freeman and RG3. I'll eat my hat if he finishes behind those guys!

(5) Jake Locker (ADP: 150+) -- I REALLY hope that the Titans declare Matt Hasselbeck the Week 1 starter. I'd LOVE to have Locker fly under the radar at least until my last draft! He is young, exciting and on a team with various weapons. Consider that, in 2011, he had four touchdowns and 0 interceptions in five games. He also is mobile, rushing for 773 yards and 13 TDs his final two years in college. I'm going to stop writing now, to help quell the wave of hype around this guy. Just draft him and stash him (and thank me, later).

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