- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is an absolute fantasy monster, an annual top performer in a safe offense that has yet to fail in producing among the best statistics in the game. Not only is he fantasy's top quarterback, the case can be made -- and I won't really argue it -- that he's the No. 1 pick off the board. Oh, one more thing: I've never drafted the guy in a league.
It's not that I refuse to change with the times, but I'm still a believer in the sanctity of early-round running backs and wide receivers to construct the puzzle that is a potent fantasy lineup, even as the former position is about as weak and ugly as ever, and the latter boasts pristine depth. I've had the first, second, fourth, eighth and 10th picks in drafts this summer, both real and mock, and I haven't chosen a quarterback in the first or second round yet. Again, nothing against Rodgers or stalwart statistical providers in awesomeness Tom Brady and Drew Brees, but I crave the players who start at running back and wide receiver early in the draft, so LeGarrette Blount doesn't end up my top flex option. There's quarterback depth and I can wait for it.
So here's my 2012 version of the "Do not draft" list, which is a bit of a misnomer. It's hardly a list of players that you shouldn't draft, because even I would at some point. It's your team and you should go with the philosophy that works for you, but it's a list of players I just haven't been drafting, mostly due to a different opinion on strategy or value. Would I take Aaron Rodgers in Round 3? Of course. It's ridiculous value. I'd draft all the players below at some point, just not where they typically are chosen, so as a result they've become highlight options on my "avoid" list. Please understand the reasoning and distinction.
Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton: Well, let's just lump the top five passers all together. In truth, the only one of this group I see taking a step back statistically is Newton. Yep, he's a stud, but 14 rushing touchdowns is a crazy number. Try seven this year. Mike Tolbert hurts his value more than he does that of Jonathan Stewart or DeAngelo Williams. I haven't taken a quarterback in the first five rounds of any drafts this season.
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: What, do we need to be hit over the head over and over on this guy? Or hit in the ribs, as it were? He's not playing 16 games. I'm hoping he plays in 12, but even then, if I knew I was getting his 2010 production, I'd get him and a strong backup. I acknowledge the upside to be a top-three QB option, but I rank him 10th at the position. Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers will play every single week. They'll be productive, too. Honestly, I expect Eagles rookie/backup QB Nick Foles to be a popular subject all season long.
Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns: The negatives seem to be piling up here, with injury status, the mess of an offense around him and most notably the team schedule, with a quarter of the games against the Steelers/Ravens, all from Week 13 on. I rank Richardson 19th at running back, meaning he's extremely unlikely to fall to me in a draft. Yes, I'll take geriatric Michael Turner over him, easily. It doesn't mean I choose all old players over young; not at all. I've been acquiring a number of younger running backs later in drafts, like Ryan Williams and Mikel Leshoure, for example. But we know that early in drafts rookies are far too loved.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Well, I thought I liked him, but compared to others choosing him in the second round of some drafts, I guess I don't. I see a shared September and a 1,000-yard campaign, but I still trust Ryan Mathews more.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Way too crowded there for him to be a top-20 running back. As of now I'm still selecting Jonathan Stewart, if I select him at all, a round earlier.
Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins: He's been going too early in drafts for months considering the fact that coach Mike Shanahan is constantly changing his mind. I actually like the other Redskins running backs as sleepers, but I think the competition here will be a constant pain all year. Will any Redskin rush for 800 yards? I doubt it. I'd take Helu after 30 or so other running backs, including Cedric Benson. That says a lot.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: This position is incredibly deep, so one could argue that my point about avoiding wide receiver risk early is foolish. Well, I aim to avoid early risk no matter what. Johnson is incredibly talented, but has become brittle. He's not 24 years old anymore. And he's hurt now again, too. I rank him too well, frankly. When given chances in the second round to select him, I have instead gone with running backs who scare me like DeMarco Murray or wide receivers with some risk, like Mike Wallace.
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys: I have a policy about diva wide receivers who need a full security detail to keep them outta trouble and making it to games on time. I avoid them in the top 50. And Austin just can't stay healthy.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, New England Patriots: I know all the reasons a monster year could happen. Brady's awesome. Lloyd himself is awesome; he was, after all, fantasy's top wide receiver in 2010. This situation is different. Wes Welker and a pair of incredibly gifted tight ends are vying for Brady's love, and they'll get it. And there will be a running game. Unless there's a sudden injury to Welker or Rob Gronkowski, I don't see enough targets for Lloyd to be a top-20 wide receiver.
Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, extraordinary tight ends: Sorry, these guys aren't second-rounders to me, especially not with the depth at tight end. Yes, tight ends now fit nicely into the flex spot in ESPN standard formats, but I'll wait another six rounds for the likes of Tony Gonzalez and Fred Davis, or longer for Brandon Pettigrew and the wildly underrated (this was obviously going to happen) Jason Witten. I'm pretty much ignoring the entire list of tight ends in the first seven rounds, including Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis.
Any defense before Round 12: I don't understand why even the top defenses are going in the eighth or ninth round, but I've never done it. Every year the top fantasy defenses change. Give me my fifth or sixth running back first.
Just so we can finish on a positive note, here are players who do not scare me nearly as much as they do others: Chris Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Steven Jackson, Ryan Mathews, Mike Wallace, Victor Cruz, Michael Turner, Reggie Bush, Philip Rivers and Josh Freeman. Doesn't mean I'd take Rivers over Brady, for example, just to be clear. It's always about value.