By Jake Ciely
Favorite/Best – Lamar Miller: With Reggie Bush gone, the starting job is Lamar Miller's to lose. The second-year back out of Miami has incredible upside with relatively little competition. Does anyone really believe Daniel Thomas is a threat? Unless Miller falls on his face in the preseason, the job is his, and you can draft him as your third running back if you play your cards right. (You might need a little luck, too, but such is the fantasy football life.)
Underrated – Larry Fitzgerald: Let's be real: Larry Fitzgerald is the second-best wide receiver in the NFL, not too far behind Calvin Johnson in terms of size, speed and skill. Unlike Megatron, however, Fitzgerald has had to deal with several different sacks of potatoes at quarterback since Kurt Warner retired. He gets Carson Palmer now, and, while he is no Kurt Warner, he is certainly a big improvement over the likes of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley. He could easily put up Top Five numbers.
Overrated – Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers is great. He's a future Hall of Famer. He will vie for top fantasy honors on an annual basis until his arm falls off or he retires at 42. Rodgers has plenty of weapons, and he can score points on the ground. But he is just not worth a first- or second-round pick. I am being a hypocrite here because I had Rodgers ranked higher than this when these rankings were submitted. But he has steadily dropped the more I have contemplated things. There are just too many quality quarterbacks out there to put him (or Drew Brees, for that matter) in the Top 25.
Harvin – It really is tough to tell. Obviously if he has surgery, he would all but be eliminated from my rankings. But if he can tough it out without surgery? I have dropped him down to 24th in my receiver rankings and 54th overall. Until we know more about the injury, this seems like a safe spot. (Editor’s Note: with surgery, as said, Miglio eliminates Harvin.)
No. 5 Overall – C.J. Spiller
Favorite/Best – Reggie Bush: The Lions have been without a versatile tailback since Jahvid Best's career was derailed by an October 2011 concussion. Now they have one. In addition to bringing the speed element Detroit has missed in Best's absence, Bush seems like a better every-down option than Mikel Leshoure. Starter or not, Head coach Jim Schwartz believes Bush could wind up catching between 60-80 passes for the Lions this season. Remember: Lions running backs caught 97 passes last season with Joique Bell catching 52 passes for 485 yards. Bush has caught 70-plus passes twice before, during his first two seasons in New Orleans. If Bush is able to stay healthy, it's not out of the question to believe he'd be able to achieve those numbers again. And if he does, he'll be more productive than any other back on this week's list.
Underrated – Darren Sproles: In 2011, the Saints ranked sixth in rushing (132.9), and Sproles set an NFL record for all-purpose yards. Then came last season. The offense led the NFL in passing (312.3), but they ranked 25th in rushing, averaging just 98.6 yards per contest. This year, HC Sean Payton intends to put an emphasis on improving the ground game. As we saw in 2011, that's not necessarily bad news for Sproles, who missed four games with a fractured hand last year but still caught 75 passes for 667 yards and seven TDs. He also averaged 8.0 yards per punt return and 26.8 yards per kickoff return. And perhaps because of the overall decrease in his total production, fantasy owners might find him slipping a bit on draft day -- much like he's slid down this list a bit. But the season-long totals don't tell the whole story. In the six games after he returned from the injury, Sproles caught 36 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Don't think for one second that a healthy Sproles can't sustain that production over the course of a full season.
Overrated – Stevan Ridley: This was tough. I'm not sure anybody in this tier is all that overrated. But if I'm forced to split hairs on this one, I'll go with Ridley. Yes, he's coming off a 2012 campaign in which he set career highs for rushing yardage, carries and touchdowns. The yardage total was good for seventh in the NFL; he was also third in first downs (82), and the 12 TDs tied for third. Ridley's five total fumbles (three lost) are a concern highlighted by a pair of fumbles (including one at the goal line) in practice this very week. Another issue would be receiving skills. Last year, Ridley had two drops on just eight catchable passes. The Patriots aren't afraid to use role players on passing downs -- and Shane Vereen opened camp with considerable momentum, so Ridley needs to continue maximizing his carries and scoring opportunities to continue delivering for fantasy owners. And without overplaying it, I'll note that Ridley suffered a concussion in January. He doesn't have a history of concussions, so it might not be a big long-term concern, and it won't keep me from drafting him, but given the direction the league is taking with concussions, it's something to consider. Did I mention I'm splitting hairs on this one?
Harvin – While the Seahawks are said to be hoping Harvin returns in November, it seems to me they were also hoping the versatile receiver would pass on surgery and try to play through the injury following some rest and non-invasive treatments. Hope is cheap, so I tend to indulge myself. But in this case, Harvin's history has been to follow his path as opposed to the team's. Indeed, as NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal suggested this week, the fact that Harvin announced his surgery on Twitter and not through the team is a sign of disconnect between the organization the newcomer. So if I'm going with a "hope" pick, I'd rather go with Michael Crabtree at this point.
No. 5 Overall – Calvin Johnson
Favorite/Best – Lamar Miller: According to many in the ‘experts’ community, the no-longer-sleeping Miller is the prettiest back in the room, for good reason. He’s improved in pass pro, possesses eagle-eye vision, is explosive and looks poised for a major uptick in carries. After losing Jake Long to St. Louis, Miami’s offensive line isn’t as strong as it once was, but volume speaks in fantasy and the sophomore back is in line to rack at least 275-300 touches. He’s aiming for 1,500 yards and 15 TDs, but even if he falls into the 1,200-yard, 11-TD range, he’ll be a friggin’ steal just inside the overall Top 40.
Underrated – Drew Brees: Yes, everyone and their grandmother is telling you to exercise patience at QB this season, but I’m fading the industry. It’s asinine a record-shattering passer who’s thrown for over 5,100 yards and accounted for 92 touchdowns the past two seasons is essentially listed as an early Round 3 pick. Only in ‘expert’ leagues. If fortunate enough to luck into a Top Five overall pick, snatching up Brees at the back-end of Round 2 is ‘the nuts.’ Think about it. You could score Peterson/Foster/Martin and a QB that averaged 27.3 fantasy points per game in standard formats last year. Those are the building blocks of dominance.
Overrated – DeMarco Murray: Let’s not kid ourselves; Dallas’ porcelain doll would suffer a devastating lower-body injury penetrating a light fog. His upright running style and poor pad level leave him susceptible to setbacks. When healthy, he’s a talented, explosive runner in a great offense. However, missing nine games over his first two seasons in the league doesn’t instill much confidence. Unless you’re a self-proclaimed masochist, avoid the NFC’s version of Darren McFadden.
Harvin – Though the situation remains extremely fluid, I currently have Percy Harvin at No. 27 among WRs, meaning he’s a mid-draft only pick in 12-team leagues. (Editor’s Note: This was pre-surgery news.)
No. 5 Overall – BEAST MODE, Marshawn Lynch. Taste the Rainbow, fools.
Favorite/Best – Larry Fitzgerald: I am all in (Editor’s Note: Chet owes me royalties.) on Fitzgerald this season. The guy is the consummate professional and can't have a good feeling about last season's train wreck. Now with Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer at the helm, I don't see Fitz having any trouble getting back to form.
Underrated – Darren Sproles: The closer we get to the number one pick the more I question players rankings in relation to value. It's really tough to find any kind of real value at this point, but if I had to pick I'd lean Sproles. I've never seen a year where he wasn't undervalued really. Last year he was injured, but still managed to be the 12th best PPR running back, and if you take his average out to 16 games he would have finished sixth. And even in non-PPR leagues, he would have finished as the 14th best RB if he'd played a full season. He's just too consistent not to like in head-to-head leagues and really all leagues.
Overrated – Chris Johnson: Johnson finished as the 13th best fantasy running back last season, which isn't too shabby, but he also was one of the most inconsistent players in the league, and in head-to-head leagues that means you have dead weight in your RB slot about half the time.
Harvin – I wouldn't draft Harvin in any league.
No. 5 Overall – Right now, my number five ranked player is LeSean McCoy. The sheer number of plays Chip Kelly's offense will run should keep the defense tired and with Kelly's run-first attitude, McCoy should have no trouble getting his work in, which is good for someone as skilled as he is.
Lamar Miller is going to shine baby!