Sept. 11, 2011; Jacksonville FL, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (28) runs up field against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half at EverBank Field. The Jaguars defeated the Titans 16-14. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-US PRESSWIRE

Fantasy Football: Top 5 Boom Or Bust Players


Need help with preparing for your fantasy football league? The Fantasy Guru is here once again to give you a few tips on how to play the crazy game of fantasy football.

When it comes to the NFL there are always those players who come into the season either coming off a bad year and needing to show they still have it or coming off an exceptional year and needing to prove they can do it again. Fantasy football has taken this thinking to a new level as we are now more analytical and critical of players than ever.

When it comes to drafting for fantasy, it’s all about weighing risk vs reward and early in the draft these decisions are most crucial of all as just one pick can make or break your season. Just ask anyone who drafted Tom Brady the year he went out early or LaDainian Tomlinson when his career hit that sudden plateau that eventually resulted in his recent retirement. Picks like that can kill a fantasy team because so much of a team’s overall value and production is tied to the higher picks you make.

I’ve made a list of the five players I think are the biggest risk/reward picks in fantasy. You’ll note that all of these players are expected to be drafted in the first three rounds. I hear some of you asking “what about the players lower down who fail?”. Truth is that those players, while risky, aren’t as big a risk as those taken earlier simply because by the time you get to say the 5th round some of the risk is built into the value of the pick already and indeed makes a pick a great value at that point – Peyton Manning being the perfect example of this.

So here you go – my list of the top 5 boom or bust fantasy picks of 2012:

5. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans

Huh? What’s Foster doing on this list? Here we have a player who is a consensus top 3 pick going number 1 in many fantasy drafts this season and yet he missed a number of games in 2011 due to injury and has a very talented guy alongside him in Ben Tate taking carries and threatening to take his job should there be a drop in production. Is it just me or is this a lot of question marks for a top 3 overall pick?

I love Arian Foster and think he is one of the most exciting running backs in the NFL but truth be told I’m avoiding him for the most part this season because he costs far too much for a guy with the question marks Foster has. You disagree? That’s ok, I’m sure you know what you’re doing – just like DeAngelo Williams owners did when they ignored the warning signs a few years back and the fact he had Jonathan Stewart in tow. Whatever happened to DWill anyway?

4. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

Gronk won many of you fantasy championships last season with his huge numbers that resembled those of a star wide receiver as he busted through cornerbacks and almost single-handedly forced a rethink from defensive coordinators on how secondaries should be constructed. With all that being said, I am stunned to see Rob Gronkowski being drafted in the first round in some of the mocks I’ve participated in and in the majority he’s been drafted in the first 15 picks. The hype on this guy is going WAY too far based on just one season of production. I remember a Rob Gronkowski who had weeks of very little production to the point where he was dropped in leagues or owners sold high on them while they thought he’d reached his peak already.

Now I’m not saying Gronk is gonna fail to repeat his 2011 numbers. In fact I think he’s likely to become a permanent fixture in the NFL in much the same way Antonio Gates has. What I am saying however is that you should be cautious when drafting him because drafting a tight end so early means you are rejecting options at other positions that could be more crucial to your success. Remember – Gronk wmade good teams great last year because he was drafted late or traded for relatively cheaply. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can build a strong lineup paying so high a price.

3. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

It comes as no shock to anyone to see Michael Vick on this list as it seems he makes lists of this nature every year. Vick is one of those players who has a high probability of being injured, has a very high ceiling but also a rather low floor for someone drafted relatively high. You’ve heard a lot of this stuff before and the reality is that every year Vick is going to pose something of a risk to those who draft him no matter where in the draft he goes.

If you look at my mid June top 150 rankings you’ll see that I have Michael Vick as the fourth quarterback off the board and some time in the second round. Looking around the other websites and having done several mock drafts I’m a little surprised to find that many have him much lower than this. Now I knew that I had Vick higher than most if not all of the other fantasy analysts out there but the general consensus seems to be that he’s a fourth round pick.

Really!?!?! A player of Vick’s upside and history of production who had a bad year for touchdowns in 2011 and yet he gets ranked alongside players with much lower upside and the same sorts of question marks like Fred Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Michael Turner and Frank Gore? For me, Michael Vick is a definite risk and could decline from even last year’s poor numbers but when you get down to the fourth round it is well worth the risk for the upside of a player of this caliber.

2. Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders

When it come to Run DMC it always comes down to one thing – health. The talent is there in abundance and when he is hot there’s no-one in the NFL who can stop him. When it comes to injuries however McFadden is one of the most injury prone players in the NFL as it seems he’s never met a bandage he didn’t like and when you draft him it seems you always have to accept that he’s going to miss at least 3-4 games due to injury.

This year the risk is greater than it has ever been and it’s because of two men – Carson Palmer and Michael Bush. I hear you – you understand about Palmer and the fact his ineptitude may force the Raiders to get behind a lot but why Bush? For the past few season Michael Bush was the thorn in the side of McFadden’s owners as he took precious carries away from DMC but the reality is that he helped to keep McFadden healthy by taking some of the workload. There is inherent risk that the Raiders could burn out Darren McFadden that much faster if they don’t limit his carries. If you draft him, just hope that either Taiwan Jones or Mike Goodson – who I’m a big fan of – can step up and handle the gap left by Michael Bush’s absence.

1. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans

2009 seems like such a long time ago for Chris Johnson. Titans fans and fantasy owners groaned in despair at some of Johnson’s numbers last year as he just couldn’t seem to get going and now we hear talk that CJ2K might not be the focus of the Tennessee offense anymore. It seems as though his glory days are already over aged just 26 – but are they?

When we look back at 2009 and compare his numbers from that year to the rest of his career, they outstrip everything in all aspects by a long way except for two spots – receptions and fumbles lost. Let’s discount the fumbles at this point as his decline in the number of fumbles lost has more to do with his carries dropping than anything else. Receptions on the other hand is a crucial difference. Little known fact – Chris Johnson had more catches in his “terrible” 2011 season than he did in his amazing 2009 run. Coincidence? I think not.

When I read that the Titans were changing their offensive gameplan to incorporate the passing game I had one initial thought – I hope it works so that CJ2K will have a little more room to work and not have to carry the team. That’s right – I was happy with the news. When it comes to running backs they can go one of two ways – either they can remain a bell-cow in just the running game and decline as we’ve seen with Michael Turner or they can become an active component in the passing game and get production in both stages of the offense like Ryan Mathews seems to be.

When it comes down to it, Chris Johnson’s greatest risk lies in the fact that he has shown he is human and can indeed be stopped. For me, the reason he’s less boom or bust than Darren McFadden at number 2 on this list comes down to Run DMC being explosive whenever he is on the fieldwhereas with CJ2K we may get a whole season of mediocrity like we did last year. Just keep this in mind – Chris Johnson still had 4 yards per carry for over 1000 yards last year and 57 receptions to go with it. Sure he’s a risk but an acceptable one on the cusp of the top 10.

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Who’s your biggest boom or bust candidate? Be sure to tweet me @chrissmithsz or leave a comment below. Until next week this is the Fantasy Guru signing off.

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Tags: Arian Foster Chris Johnson Darren Mcfadden Fantasy Fantasy Football Michael Vick NFL Rob Gronkowski