Fantasy football 2011 draft guide

Jahvid Best is now healthy and won’t be 23 until January.
JEFF GROSS/GETTY IMAGES

The safe play is to go with the proven talent, the guys that have been there and done that. That’s also a losing strategy — especially when it comes to running backs.

Last season, 11 of the top 12 fantasy running backs were 25 years old or younger and they had an average age of 24.1. Only Michael Turner, 28, bucked the trend.

By now, everyone should realize how short a running back’s shelf life is. They fall off a cliff without much warning, succumbing to dead legs and injuries. While unproven talent seems riskier, the old guard actually comes with the most risk.

That’s because the established players have a higher price tag on draft day. By targeting younger runners, we get discounts while simultaneously avoiding potential cliff-divers. 

So take the plunge and get on the right side of career arcs with backs like these:

Jahvid Best, Lions
Now that Best is healthy and Mikel Leshoure is out for the year, the sky is the limit. Best’s all-world speed on the Ford Field turf is scary.

Shonn Greene, Jets
LaDainian Tomlinson has been reduced to a third-down role only. Greene is the bell cow and will push for 300 carries in a run-first offense.

Mark Ingram, Saints
As the star of Saints camp so far, Ingram is locked into the starting job. And as the only true goal-line option in an explosive offense, double-digit touchdowns are a real possibility.

Don’t touch players

These four are being drafted way too high and will bust:

WR Marques Colston
Where he’ll go: 4
Why not: Colston is coming off tricky knee surgery and will lose red-zone chances to Jimmy Graham. We’ve seen the peak.

WR Greg Jennings
Where he’ll go: 2
Why not: With Jermichael Finley healthy and James Jones re-signed, Jennings’ targets are going to take a hit. He’ll regress this season.

TE Chris Cooley
Where he’ll go: 10
Why not: Cooley was already in a bad spot thanks to the Redskins’ poor offensive line and quarterback play. Now he has knee issues.

RB Cedric Benson
Where he’ll go: 5
Why not: Benson managed just 3.5 yards per carry last season and is now a year older with an
inferior supporting cast. There’s no hope.

Must-own players

These four can be had relatively cheap and will break out:

WR M. Manningham
Target in Round: 6
Why: With Steve Smith gone, Manningham will see a major bump in targets. He’s a big play waiting to happen.

QB Matt Stafford
Target in Round: 8
Why: Now fully healthy, Stafford is at the controls of a pass-happy, potentially explosive offense. His aggressiveness will lead to heaps of TDs.

TE Jared Cook
Target in Round: 11
Why: Cook is an athletic freak that is now locked into the “move” tight end position. Matt Hasselbeck already loves throwing to his new toy.

RB Felix Jones
Target in Round: 4
Why: For the first time, Jones has this backfield all to himself from jump street. We know he’s explosive and now he’s staring at 16-18 touches per game.

Cream of the crop: The overall Top 10

1. Arian Foster, RB, Hou. — Elite talent running behind the best offensive line in the NFL. Can’t miss.

2. Chris Johnson, RB, Ten. — Don’t worry about the holdout. Johnson will have more space in new regime.

3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Min. — Worries about his supporting cast knock “All Day” out of the top 2.

4. Jamaal Charles, RB, KC
— Now established as one of the game’s premier backs, Charles’ workload will grow.

5. Michael Vick, QB, Phi.
— If you’re worried about injury, snag Vince Young late as a handcuff.

6. Ray Rice, RB, Bal. — Willis McGahee is gone, leading to goal-line work for Rice.

7. Andre Johnson, WR, Hou. — No wideout is a safer bet for 1,400 yards and 8 TDs.

8. Darren McFadden, RB, Oak. — Elite pure talent that plays on all three downs. Get Michael?Bush as handcuff.

9. Calvin Johnson, WR, Det. — As the Lions’ offense improves, Megatron will see less double-teams.

10. Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB
— Underrated running ability makes A-Rod worth a first-rounder.

Local prospects

Hakeem Nicks
Metro WR Rank: 5
Outlook: Nicks is Eli Manning’s top target and one of the premier playmakers in the game.
Strategy: An upside pick in the late second round.

Plaxico Burress
Metro WR Rank: 51
Outlook: He’ll start, but he hasn’t played football since 2008, and remember, he is 34 years old.
Strategy: Name is worth more than game. Avoid.

Ahmad Bradshaw
Metro RB Rank: 21
Outlook: After flopping on the open market, Bradshaw figures to lose more carries to Brandon Jacobs. 
Strategy: A solid player, but will go too high.



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