By Andrew Pavlou
While we haven’t even gotten done with the month of April yet, it’s never too early to mock the first round of your league’s fantasy draft. Merely a rough sketch, this is my initial fantasy mock draft with player rankings. It’s always good to know where players are projected to fall, even this long before the season.
Watch out for any of these players to gain or lose a few ranks as the season approaches.
1. HB Arian Foster, Houston Texans
The best running back in the league, Arian Foster has shown no signs of slowing down in two productive fantasy seasons. He should be number one on everybody’s fantasy boards.
2. HB Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Bringing the added element of being a receiver out of the backfield, Ray Rice ranks second in the running back category. He’s an all-purpose type and will rack up the fantasy points on both running and passing plays.
3. HB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
‘Shady’ McCoy is a versatile running back and he rounds out the big three of premier backs in the upcoming year—expect another big year from this Eagle.
4. QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers’ passing performance was off the charts last season, as he broke the record for QB rating and lit up the scoreboard week after week. Expect to see similar numbers from this Packer signal caller in 2012.
5. QB Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
The sky is the limit for Cam Newton this upcoming year—he could very well end up being the first pick in some fantasy drafts. He was a rookie in 2011, so just imagine what he can do with a year of NFL experience under his belt.
6. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees will have to shoulder a lot of the load for a depleted and demoralized Saints team in 2012, but don’t forget this quarterback’s phenomenal season in 2011. While the New Orleans field general’s numbers will digress slightly, he’ll still put together a fantastic 2012 season.
7. WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Far and away the best wide receiver in the NFL, Calvin Johnson just received a fat, new contract. It doesn’t matter what coverage he faces, this Lions pass catcher will find a way to bring down receptions, score touchdowns and rack up fantasy points.
8. QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots
With the offseason addition of Brandon Lloyd, look for Tom Brady to get a nice kick to his consistently good numbers. One of the best quarterbacks in the league, Brady is worth a look in the middle of the first round.
9. TE Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
When healthy, Gronkowski can’t be covered. This 6’6” freak will pick up right where he left off in 2011 and will be, without contest, the NFL’s best tight end for the second straight year.
10. HB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Does anybody realize that Maurice Jones-Drew had almost 300 more yards than the second best running back last year? Until the Jaguars find some kind of passing game, Jones-Drew will continue to be a safe choice at the bottom of the first round.
11. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
It doesn’t matter who is playing quarterback for the Cardinals in 2012. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton both know that their best option is to get Fitzgerald the ball…a lot.
12. HB Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
After a great year on the ground in 2011, Michael Turner enters 2012 fantasy drafts as a solid end-of-the-first-round type. In a traditional snake draft, this person would have the following pick as well, in which they’d likely take a quarterback. Either of the Mannings or Matt Stafford would be a feasible pick next, but it is good to get your primary running back out of the way.
In summary, although the NFL is becoming a passing league, it is still important to realize how much of a game changer your primary running back can and will be. Look for the ‘Big Three’ at running back (Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy) to go off the board before anyone else. After those three are picked, it’s safe to select a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton. Don’t forget, though, about valuable rushers like Maurice Jones-Drew or Michael Turner—the two can also be game changers.