Every year I make a list of fantasy players that I believe will be overrated or underrated. If you are an expert fantasy football player, there is no such thing as an overrated or underrated player. You have a projection in mind for someone and you take the emotion out of which player you should be selecting with that pick. However, there are new players to fantasy football each year and a lot of them think that big name players are the ticket to winning championships.
If you are a regular fantasy player, you have heard these names and know they can help your team. However, the casual NFL fan that is playing fantasy football for the first time does not know these names. I think these players have the chance to put up big numbers this year and could be bargain picks in the middle to later rounds.
1) QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (Buffalo Bills) – He is never going to put up the numbers that Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers or New England Patriots QB Tom Brady deliver. However, he was the 12th ranked fantasy quarterback last year. The average football fan is going to be able to tell you who Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger or Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco is before they name Fitzpatrick, but Fitzpatrick outscored them both last year.
I am not advocating building your fantasy team around him, but if you are not able to draft one of the elite players, you can pair Fitzpatrick with another low QB1 or high QB2 and do just fine this year. He is a sleeper for 4,000 yards passing and 25 touchdown passes if he stays healthy and builds on last season.
2) RB Roy Helu (Washington Redskins) – Helu has some risk, because coach Mike Shanahan has a tendency to switch featured running backs faster than Kim Kardashian switches husbands. Helu finished 31st among fantasy backs last year, despite starting only five games.
From Week 11 to Week 14, he had 96 carries for 387 yards, 16 receptions for 118 yards and two rushing touchdowns. He is a player that can handle 20 carries a game and can also catch the ball 14 times, which he did against San Francisco last year.
I would not bet on Helu as my RB1. Unless the Redskins are serious about trotting RB Tim Hightower out there to start the season, they should be building around this back. He has good speed, can handle big carries and can catch the ball. I view him as a mid RB2 talent that can be drafted where a lot of the flex backs are selected. He is poised to have a big year.
3) WR Eric Decker (Denver Broncos) – No player had his season sabotaged by the Tim Tebow mania worse than Decker did. Decker had 20 receptions for 270 yards and four touchdowns in the first four games last year. He had 24 receptions for 342 yards and four touchdowns in the remaining 12 games. Once the Broncos fired up the option offense and Decker had to watch Tebow skip footballs across the field like stones across the lake, his fantasy season was derailed.
The average fan does not know who this guy is. The Broncos were irrelevant when he was doing well, and when they became relevant he was not in a position to do anything. The fear is that QB Peyton Manning will not be able to stay healthy, but if he can expect Decker to have a big season. You will probably be able to draft him with other WR4 or WR5 players, but he has the potential to be a WR3 or WR2, depending on the chemistry between him and Manning. He should out-produce where he is drafted.
4) WR Torrey Smith (Baltimore Ravens) – The receiver everyone recognizes on the Ravens is WR Anquan Boldin. The one you want on your fantasy roster is Smith. Smith actually out produced Boldin last year, finishing ahead of Boldin thanks to a 7-3 touchdown advantage. Some of that can be attributed to a three-touchdown game in St. Louis, but Smith was a big play receiver that averaged 16.8 yards per reception as a rookie.
I do not think the Ravens pass the ball enough and QB Joe Flacco is not good enough to turn Smith into an elite fantasy receiver. I think it is well within the realm of possibility that Smith could tally 1,000 yards receiving and score eight touchdowns, with them being spread out over the course of the season, not all against the Rams. Smith is a player to watch this year; he should be improved over 2011.
5) RB C. J. Spiller (Buffalo Bills) – You are probably going to have to wait on Spiller again, because the Bills resigned RB Fred Jackson and he is likely to begin the season as the starter over Spiller. Jackson is also 31-years old and unlikely to make it through an entire season. Spiller had a nice six-game stretch to close the season. Spiller had 86 rushing attempts, 446 rushing yards, 24 receptions, 187 receiving yards and five total touchdowns. That is an average of about 16 fantasy points per week.
Spiller would be a scary proposition as a RB1 or RB2. If Jackson is named the starter, Spiller is a great player to target in the later rounds and tuck him away on your bench until he overtakes Jackson by outplaying him or because Jackson is hurt. I think Spiller could be a fantasy steal for savvy fantasy owners.
6) Minnesota Vikings Defense – The Vikings were a bad NFL defense last year. They allowed 28.1 points per game, which was 31st in the NFL and surrendered 358.2 yards per game, which was 21st. They allowed 34 passing touchdowns to just eight interceptions and fantasy owners celebrated when their skill position players took on the Vikings.
The reason that they can be so bad on defense, but still be a good fantasy scoring defense lies with their pass rush. They led the NFL in sacks last year with 50 sacks. Despite all the problems with their NFL defense, they ranked a respectable 16th in fantasy defense. If they can make any improvements in the interception department, there are several games they could tally solid fantasy totals. When you consider they outscored the Pittsburgh Steelers by 14 fantasy points and scored only two fewer points than the Houston Texans, this is a bargain defense given their horrific status as a NFL defense.
7) QB Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – He had a terrible year last year. People expected more than 3,592 yards passing, 16 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions. Keep in mind he had 25 touchdowns and six picks in 2010; a coaching change and the addition of WR Vincent Jackson, TE Dallas Clark and rookie RB Doug Martin could help immensely. Those should be upgrades over the lackluster supporting cast he had in 2011.
We have a tendency to crown players after one good year or forget about them after one bad one. I do not ever see Freeman being an elite fantasy quarterback, but he is a serviceable QB2 against the right defense. One bad year is not enough for me to forget about him and I think he will be a cheap QB2 that will do just as well as quarterbacks that go three or four rounds before him. He was to blame for last year, but his weak supporting cast was a big reason for the decline. If these additions pan out, he should bounce back.
8) WR Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) – He has to improve on two touchdown receptions if he is going to be an elite weapon, but he did post 69 receptions for 1,108 yards last season. WR Mike Wallace is the big name in this offense and rightfully so, but he is also in the midst of a contract dispute. I expect him to be there in Week 1, but the question is how much training camp is he willing to miss to force a new contract.
Brown is only 23-years old and has upside. He pretty much flew under the radar last year and people that are new to fantasy are not going to realize that he was the 24th ranked fantasy receiver. He is not unknown enough that you will receive a five round discount on him, but I think he is enough under the radar that you will be able to take him two rounds after he should go of the board. He is a very intriguing weapon on their offense that could have a big year in 2012.
9) QB Christian Ponder (Minnesota Vikings) – I think we have a tendency to write off players before their career even starts. Not every rookie takes the league by storm in his first year. Plenty of Hall of Fame quarterbacks have looked lost their rookie year. Ponder did not even look lost. He had 1,853 yards passing, 13 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions and a QB rating of 70.1. Those are not awful rookie numbers, especially when the Vikings lacked a dominant receiver on the outside. WR Percy Harvin was terrific, but his strength is in the slot. Ponder threw the third most touchdowns of any rookie last year, the fact that nobody is even talking about him is a little odd.
I do not have him ranked high yet, but I may think about bumping him up later in the off-season. Word out of Vikings camp is that he looks much improved and has more command of the offense. In seasonal leagues, you may be able to pick him up off waivers and he is going to be a late round pick in most dynasty leagues. I am not predicting 4,000 yards passing and 30 touchdown passes this year, but I think he will surprise people and do better than some bigger names that are drafted ahead of him. He is too far off the radar given what he did as a rookie last season.
10) RB Mark Ingram (New Orleans Saints) – His thunder was stolen last year by injuries and RB Darren Sproles finishing 10th among fantasy running backs. Ingram did finish the year with 122 rushing attempts for 474 yards and five rushing touchdowns. More was expected from the first round pick, but when he was healthy, he looked very effective.
He is going to have problems being a RB1 or RB2 given the crowded backfield in New Orleans and the fact that they pass the ball a ton. I still think the is going to be able to be a good touchdown running back that scores eight to ten rushing touchdowns in their offense. He is someone that is going to be off the radar this year and you may be able to find good value in the later middle rounds. I would not give up on him yet based on one injury riddled rookie season.