As many Fantasy Football players get ready to draft the next two weekends, they are fretting, worrying and second-guessing themselves. That’s nothing new in this grand hobby of ours, but the concerns only grow when issues surround major players. This season, there are three big names that are creating negative stirs and biting of the fingernails.
No bigger news came out recently than the Colts being unsure about Peyton Manning’s availability for the beginning of the regular season. Manning is still recovering from offseason neck surgery, and he may not be ready for Week 1. Indianapolis actually coaxed Kerry Collins out of retirement to possibly take Manning’s place as the game one starter. Curtis Painter actually did a nice Manning impression until he actually released the ball, so adding a proven veteran was the only answer. Manning has always been a model of durability and annual excellence, and the Collins signing brings about an unusual sense of uneasiness when considering Manning on draft day.
Normally a surefire bet to be off the board in most drafts by rounds three or four, some Fantasy owners are now letting Manning slip by them or waiting a round or two later to consider him. The lockout certainly did not help Manning in his recovery, as pointed out by our injury expert, Dr. Roto, who offers more in-depth analysis of the Manning situation here.
Some NFL insiders are of the opinion that Manning will be ready for the season, even though he is on the Physically Unable to Perform list right now. Yet he may not be quite as effective earlier in the season, as we have to see if there will be any residual or lingering effects of the injury. Our advice is to avoid Manning until the other elite passers are off the board, such as Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers. Manning comes with an aura of risk now for the first time in his career, so make sure you get a solid backup in the middle rounds. Don’t waste a draft pick on Collins, who has been mostly mediocre in recent seasons.
The other usual Fantasy standout who has significant doubts surrounding him is Maurice Jones-Drew, normally a first-rounder in past seasons. He is working with a surgically-repaired knee as he tries to get back on the field. Jones-Drew may not play in an exhibition game until the final week of the preseason, and some Fantasy experts are very concerned about whether he can play all season. Jones-Drew’s camp has publicly maintained the stance that there will be no setbacks for him.
MJD has even taken to the airwaves on his Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio show and warned Fantasy players they will regret it if they pass on him in drafts this year. Yet the Jaguars have been very cautious with him in the preseason and there have been rumblings that Rashad Jennings could be on the verge of gaining more playing time and stealing much of MJD’s thunder. Fantasy players must keep Jennings on their middle round radars, while playing it safe with Jones-Drew and steering clear of him. When in doubt, you should always go with the healthy player and minimize risk as much as you can.
Chris Johnson was an even bigger name in Fantasy last year than Manning or Jones-Drew, and while he is not injured, he has not reported to camp yet as he is involved in a contract dispute with the Titans. The lockout, coupled with Johnson’s lack of team activity in the preseason, now makes owners worried that he could miss time during the regular season. Not only could Johnson conceivably miss a game or two early in the regular schedule as he digs in on his contractual stance, but we have also seen players who have held out in the past become candidates to suffer injuries when they do rejoin their teams.
Johnson was considered a Top Three Fantasy running back before the lockout was lifted, but each day and week he misses with the Titans threatens to drop his value and rank even more. Many owners are now hesitant to use that all-important first-round pick on him, and you cannot blame them at all. I have dropped Johnson to eighth at running back from fifth in the past few weeks. You can view all of my updated ranks in the RotoExperts Xclusive Edge package.
The issues with Jones-Drew and Johnson have reduced an already dwindling number of truly elite Fantasy running backs. Those drafting in the Top Five this year simply cannot afford to pass on guys like Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy. Michael Vick looks like a sexy pick, but you do not want to have to take Steven Jackson or Michael Turner as your true No. 1 RB in the second round. Quality QBs such as Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman can be landed later in the draft.
Another less significant, but very disappointing recent piece of news was the season-ending knee injury to rookie running back Ryan Williams. Many Fantasy experts, including myself, had Williams pegged as a possible instant breakout player this year.
One NFL insider told me he could rip off 2,000 total yards from scrimmage early in his career. Now, the enigmatic Beanie Wells will get an opportunity to carry a heavy load. But opportunity does not always lead to production. The Cardinals may have no choice to hand the rock to Wells often, but that does not mean he will produce as hoped. You should only consider Wells a borderline No. 2 Fantasy RB until he shows he can make the most of his expanded workload.
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