With the NFL lockout mercifully over, it’s time to turn our attention to fantasy football. With a shortened offseason and a still-continuing whirlwind of roster activity, this promises to be one of the most interesting fantasy football seasons in recent memory.
While many outlets choose to focus on analyzing the first few rounds of the fantasy football draft, I like to go with more of a “bang for your buck” approach. It’s important to realize where certain players will still be available so you can plan ahead.
So beginning today I will be breaking down a fantasy football grocery list of sorts for each position. Included will be players you can find in the bargain bin, and others you should be wary of. This is not a statement on the overall quality of the player himself, but rather his production relative to where you can draft him.
I have taken part in two drafts already this year, and I will include in parentheses the round (or pick if it’s in the first round) in which each player was selected in a 10-team league. Today we start with quarterbacks.
1) Matt Ryan (Round 6)
Ryan has been solid in each of his three NFL seasons, and is coming off his best performance thus far. He is not a particularly sexy pick, since he very rarely will put up monster numbers like Drew Brees or Preyton Manning. But Ryan is the model of consistency.
Last year, he had touchdown passes in 15 consecutive games and threw multiple interceptions only twice. He plays behind a stellar offensive line, which only allowed 23 sacks all season, third fewest in the NFL.
All of the pieces around Ryan also remain intact, including favorite targets Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons do tend to focus on the run, which is the main reason why Ryan tends to fall in the draft. But he still finished last season with 261 total points, an average of 16 per game.
2) Josh Freeman (Round 6)
Freeman is a popular pick to make a major leap this season, and with good reason. The Buccaneers are stacked with young talent throughout the offense, and Freeman has progressed significantly faster than most people anticipated.
He has a cannon arm and at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds is a chore to bring down. He showed remarkable improvement in pocket awareness and quick decision making last season, finishing with only six interceptions on the year.
His final season stats were somewhat inflated by a five-touchdown performance against the Seahawks in Week 16, but like Matt Ryan he was consistent. He did not have any games with more than 300 passing yards last season, but expect that trend to end at some point this year. This could be the last time Josh Freeman is available outside of the first few rounds.
3) Kevin Kolb (Round 12)
Kolb has the potential to be one of the biggest steals of the fantasy football draft. He is a guaranteed starter on a team with Larry Fitzgerald and Todd Heap, already giving him two solid receiving options right off the bat.
Kolb had up-and-down production during his tenure in Philadelphia, looking brilliant one week and mediocre the next. He has a tendency to get rattled and rush throws under pressure, which could be a significant problem behind a bad offensive line in Arizona.
But if his line gives him time to throw, Kolb has shown an ability to pick defenses apart. The Cardinals undoubtedly gave up too much to get him, but that doesn’t matter in the fantasy world.
As late as you can draft him, Kolb gives you zero risk. If he doesn’t pan out, you can just drop him for somebody else. But if he is able to produce, he can be a solid backup or good trade bait to a team whose top QB gets hurt.
Michael Vick (No. 7 overall)
The Eagles have been the biggest movers of the shortened NFL free agency period, and an already dangerous team has gotten even better. Vick still will have weapons DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin at his disposal, as well as a two-heading running attack of LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown.
So Philadelphia’s offense still will be outstanding. Placing Vick in this category is not an indictment of his play or an indication that he will have a bad season. It’s just a question of value.
Vick is off the board in the first round of nearly every league, taking a spot that could have been used on an elite running back or receiver. Meanwhile, guys like Drew Brees and Philip Rivers will still be available in the third round.
It is a much better strategy to use your first pick on a running back or receiver, because there is a massive drop in production at those two positions. But at quarterback, the loss you’ll take falling from Vick to Brees will be minuscule. Think of it this way: Would you rather drop from Vick to Brees, or Ray Rice to Matt Forte?
Plus, keep in mind that Vick’s ridiculous numbers came during a year in which teams were unsure of what he still was capable of doing. He took the league by surprise, but now teams have a full year of tape to study.
He likely will put up big numbers because of the talent surrounding him, but he won’t be as godly as he was last season. His style of play also makes him very vulnerable to injury, and the Eagles’ offseason moves have them public enemy No. 1. Vick will get everyone’s best shot, and he has only shown one year of solid production. That is far too much of a risk to use on your No. 1 pick.