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Fantasy MVP: The early 2011 candidates

9/28/2011

Some of the players off to great statistical starts this season can be real-life MVP candidates, but not necessarily be considered for the same honor in the fantasy world. I took a look at Mike Sando's ESPN.com MVP watch recently and saw some of the normal suspects for the league's top individual honor, led by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and some guy on the New England Patriots named Tom Brady.

But in fantasy football, I view MVP candidates a bit differently. A year ago, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick were the runaway choices. They finished 1-2 in standard scoring, by a long shot, and neither was highly thought of on draft day (though Foster was at least drafted). I chose Foster as the fantasy MVP because he won leagues in Week 16, though it could certainly be argued Vick, better on a per-game basis, was more critical to getting teams to meaningful postseason tilts.

This season you won't find Rodgers, Brees or Brady at the top of my fantasy MVP list. They were early draft picks, expected to produce like champs. Value has to come into play when analyzing most valuable candidates, but of course this is all truly subjective. It's not about who has the most points, or whose team is 3-0 versus 1-2, either. Anyway, I thought it would be fun on this Wednesday afternoon to crank up the comments section and throw out my thoughts on MVPs and LVPs after three weeks, while of course looking ahead. So here we go!

MVP

1. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: Now just hear me out: So far the only wide receiver who has outscored him is teammate Wes Welker (a sixth-round pick), and only four running backs have done so. And Gronkowski, a 13th-round choice in ESPN average live drafts (13th among tight ends), has 19 more fantasy points than any other tight end. Basically, he's dominating. I don't think it will continue at this rate once fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez returns, but basically if you've used Gronkowski all season, it's been like having one of the top non-quarterbacks, which is a huge advantage on your opponents.

2. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: He ranks fifth overall in scoring, with two of the highest-scoring games so far (29 and 26 points, respectively, in Weeks 1 and 2), and it's not like he killed your team with his 14 points in Week 3. Newton was a 12th-rounder in ESPN drafts, 18th among quarterbacks, so not likely to have been started in Week 1, but I'd say the same goes for Matthew Stafford and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Personally, I think Stafford has the best chance of this threesome to sustain his numbers and make his way on this fantasy MVP list.

3. Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills: Why not Darren McFadden, currently leading all running backs in scoring? Well, he was the 23rd overall pick in ESPN drafts. Jackson went 70th, much later, and is only 11 points behind Run DMC in total standard scoring. Jackson was somewhat forgotten on draft day, as most people probably believed the Bills wouldn't do much offensively, and if they did, perhaps C.J. Spiller would be the catalyst. Jackson has 46 fantasy points the past two weeks and looks like a safe RB2, and perhaps rising into the top 10 soon.

Other thoughts: Brady does lead everyone in fantasy points, by nine over Brees. If he wins the overall by 30 or so, I can be convinced he's the MVP. Being so much better than everyone else matters, even if you're a second-round pick. I thought about Stafford and Fitzpatrick here, as well. Perhaps the next time I write this blog, they'll make it. Welker is on his way, as well. I think we'll see Ryan Mathews contend for MVP honors soon; he has gone from 11 fantasy points in Week 1 to 18 in Week 2 and then 26 last week. At this rate ...

LVP: We must give some thought to who has hurt fantasy owners the most, relative to draft position. I mean, I don't want to hear how Kellen Winslow has killed your team. Chris Johnson is the obvious choice, as the No. 2 overall pick has failed to rush for 100 yards total in three games. He was supposed to do that every week. The third overall pick was Jamaal Charles, and that ended poorly due to injury, but Johnson is worse because we continue to rely on him. At least we know to sit Charles. And by the way, you don't get an asterisk next to your team for finishing ninth because you owned Charles or Kenny Britt. A non-performer is still a non-performer. Johnson is top LVP right now, followed by Arian Foster and Charles. Michael Vick isn't close to a top 10 quarterback -- he's tied with Rex Grossman -- but he has produced stats. It could be much worse.

By the way, check out Sando's fine work as the ESPN.com NFC West blogger. Frankly, all the football blogs are must-reads for me each day, and you can find them at this link.

Now who do you think has been the fantasy MVP so far?