This is not your typical “Top Five” fantasy football list. Ranking the handful of players at the top of the draft seems a useless exercise to me. If you have a high pick and you can have almost any player you want, then your decision should come down to personal preference and how your league values each position. Rather, I will highlight five players that will likely be available in each of the first five rounds that represent value relative to their talent, past production, season outlook and draft position.
1. Maurice Jones-Drew: The NFL’s rushing champion, healthy and on the right side of thirty, is currently going eighth. Now I know he’s still holding out, but I feel comfortable that he will show up to work before the first game. I’m not worried that he will show up rusty and/or out of shape a la Chris Johnson. Mojo is a professional and I bet on him reporting ready to go. Over his six year career, MJD has played in all 16 games four times and missed only three games in his career. Four times he has scored at least ten touchdowns. In three years or being the Jaguars’ ‘bell-cow’ back, he has rushed for 1,391, 1,324, and 1,606 yards. The offensive personnel around him seems better, with Blaine Gabbert and Justin Blackmon showing signs of life sans Mojo in the preseason. Draft MJD in round one and you’ll have the surest bet of any running back to get 1,200+ yards, ten touchdowns and 16 games in return.
2. Roddy White: Roddy White, despite the fact that he’s being drafted a full round lower than last year, is coming off a typical Roddy season, his fifth consecutive over 80 catches and 1,150 yards. The reason for his precipitous fall is the meteoric rise of his teammate, Julio Jones. Roddy’s role won’t diminish much, and the Falcons’ aggressive passing attack this preseason portends to great production for both. Roddy has yet to miss a game in his career, has been the NFL’s most consistent receiver over the last five years and is about to play in the most pass happy offense he ever has.
3. Trent Richardson: This might seem a little high for a player currently recovering from surgery and yet to play in a game. However, it is because of Trent’s knee that he has fallen to a position where I would take a chance on him. While he is lacking the history of production, he does have the talent to be one of the league’s best, a team with very little else to scare opposing defenses and a coach that will give him the rock in abundance. True number one fantasy backs are difficult to find, and this guy has both the ability and opportunity to become exactly that in his rookie season.
4. Percy Harvin: Harvin can get you points all over the field. He set a career high last year in receiving yards while adding 345 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns. He has great natural gifts, consistent past production and has a primary role on his team. Vikings’ quarterback Christian Ponder was not hesitant to throw to Percy last year. After Ponder took over in Week 11, Harvin accumulated over 60% of his yards and seven of nine touchdowns. Look for Ponder and the Vikings to lean on him again this season.
5. Phillip Rivers: In today’s fantasy climate, you need to have a reliable point producer behind your imaginary center. If you don’t pick one of the top guys early, you need to find a quarterback somewhere that will produce close to elite level. Rivers is coming off a “down year” despite throwing for over 4,600 yards. The 20 interceptions didn’t help, and his 27 touchdowns were his lowest since 2007, but I like Phillip’s bouncebackability. Speedsters Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal join Malcolm Floyd and a healthy Antonio Gates in the receiving core. The Bolts aren’t scared to throw the ball and Rivers will need to have a good year to get them back in the playoffs. Expect him to have a season much more similar to 2008, 2009 or 2010 than 2011.
Obligatory Sleeper: LaMichael James: James has blazing speed and might contribute immediately in the passing and return games. With Frank Gore approaching the hill’s crest, if not already over it, the ‘Niners drafted LaMichael last April in the second round. The opportunity is not there yet, but that could quickly change.