Each week, TSN.ca's NFL Editor Justin Boone and Fantasy Editor Scott Cullen will compare fantasy football rankings and provide justification for some of the more notable differences in their opinions.
With the release of the preseason rankings, there are now some issues to debate.
Boone (Jones #5, Welker #7): There are few receivers with the rare combination of athleticism and skill to challenge Calvin Johnson as fantasy's top receiver, but Julio Jones is on that list. The Falcons paid a heavy price to move up in the 2011 draft and acquire Jones and they are planning on getting the most out of their sixth overall pick. Roddy White may be the star in Atlanta's receiving corps, but even he has stated that Jones is going to be “really, really special” this season. Jones backed up the training camp hype by hauling in 109 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter of the Falcons preseason opener. Don't be a year too late having Jones on your fantasy roster.
Welker has thrived in the Patriots' offence, giving Brady a reliable target to fall back on in times of distress. With the return of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the addition of deep threat Brandon Lloyd, this year's version of the Patriots is so potent that Welker may become the fourth read on most plays. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez create mismatches that leave them open and begging for the ball. Meanwhile, Lloyd showed in the first preseason game Thursday night that he will be challenging defences deep (The Saints defender made a nice play to break up the pass). Welker will still be valuable in fantasy, but he won't be a top five receiver overall while the more explosive Jones will.
Cullen (Welker #6, Jones #12): I feel like this could be an episode of Old School vs. New School. I like Welker because he's Tom Brady's favourite target. As deep as the Patriots' receiving corps is (seriously - Gronkowski, Hernandez, Lloyd, Deion Branch and Jabar Gaffney are all going to get balls), Welker is the one that has more than 100 catches and more than 1,100 yards in four of the last five seasons. There's safety in that track record.
If Jones played 16 games as a rookie, instead of 13, his 959 yards would pro-rate to 1,180 yards, so it's certainly possible that he could go above and beyond in his second season. The challenge, however, is that White is still the primary target for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and if White is going for 1,200-plus yards, as he has in four of the last five years, then how likely is it that Jones will also gain similar yardage? The Steelers and Giants were the only two teams with two 1,000-yard wide receivers last season. Maybe the Falcons duo will get there, but Welker's reliability gives him the edge.
Cullen (Bush #18, Martin #34): My optimism around Reggie Bush is actually somewhat muted because I could see Daniel Thomas emerging in a more prominent role with the Dolphins this season, but after a career-high 1,382 yards from scrimmage with a gaudy 5.0 yards per carry in 2011, Bush earned some respect - at least from people like me, who had long since written him off as a great collegiate player who couldn't handle the rigors of being an every-down pro back.
As it stands now, the Bucs still have LeGarrette Blount at the top of their running back depth chart, so that limits my projections for Martin, who may turn out to be a terrific back, but it's a risky game to try and pick the backup that is going to actually take the starting job. The reason for that is that if Blount opens the season as Tampa Bay's starter and doesn't fall on his face (he finished with 44 rushing yards on 17 carries in the last three games of 2011 and he wouldn't survive with that kind of production), then there isn't necessarily an urgency to get Martin the majority of the carries immediately.
Two weeks from now, Martin could have the job and all this won't matter, but Martin wouldn't be the first rookie runner to spend a year or two in a backup role before getting his chance to carry the mail full-time.
Boone (Martin #18, Bush #26): Tampa Bay's new head coach Greg Schiano isn't going to hand over the starting job to the rookie from Day One. Still, the Boise State product was drafted in the first round to add a more dynamic element to the Bucs' rushing attack after Blount came up short in 2011. Fantasy football owners have all been guilty of overhyping rookie running backs, but Martin's arrival in Tampa is part of the perfect storm. The Buccaneers brought in Schiano, who is a run-first coach. They spent the money to bring in former Pro Bowl OG Carl Nicks, who joins an already solid offensive line that will be able to implement Schiano's new approach. Finally, the Bucs used their first round pick on Martin, who will be a steal at his current ADP.
Bush was impressive last season, showing an ability to carry the ball between the tackles that very few people, including myself, thought he had. However, the party in South Beach is getting crowded, especially in Miami's backfield. Thomas dealt with injuries a year ago, but is poised to see his carries increase. The Dolphins also drafted Lamar Miller, who has shown glimpses of big-play ability in training camp. Even veteran Steve Slaton has apparently caught the eye of the Dolphins' new coaching staff. Bush is also expected to split out wide more often in 2012, allowing Thomas and Miller to carry the rock, further limiting his effectiveness. Martin will lead all Tampa Bay ball carriers in touches, and will see far more action than Bush in Miami.
Boone (Mathews #4, Jones-Drew #6): Plenty of people will be jumping off the Ryan Mathews bandwagon this morning after finding out that he will miss the next month with a broken collarbone suffered in last night's pre-season opener. I'm not one of them. We all knew the multi-talented rusher had injury concerns heading into the year and while it's a surprise that he was hurt in his first action of the season, he should be back very early in the year (possibly even Week 1). When he returns, Mathews will still be the workhorse back that Norv Turner envisioned, in part because there is no one else to vulture carries in San Diego. This injury will also serve to lower Mathews average draft position, making him a much nicer value outside of the first round.
Maurice Jones-Drew led the league in rushing last season on an offence that lacked any semblance of a passing attack. Jones-Drew was also helped by the fact his backup Rashad Jennings was out for the year. Since Mojo hasn't risen in Jacksonville yet this season, Jennings is getting the first team reps in his absence and will definitely cut into MJD's workload if/when he returns this season. If the holdout doesn't end soon, MJD is in danger of repeating Chris Johnson's 2011 season where he missed training camp and ultimately never regained his elite form. Jones-Drew is also at risk of breaking down, coming off three straight years with over 300 touches. Both Mathews and Jones-Drew are likely to fall in my next rankings, but I'm still giving the edge to the more electric back, Mathews.
Cullen (Jones-Drew #4, Mathews #8): If Jones-Drew's holdout carries on for a few more weeks, then I may be inclined to change my position, but I'm an optimist when it comes to contracts getting done for star players and MJD is the Jaguars' only hope offensively. Additionally, I was skeptical about his chances last season, with a shaky quarterback situation in Jacksonville, so I downgraded Jones-Drew before the season, only to watch him go for a career-high 1980 yards from scrimmage despite inept quarterback play.
I like Mathews, and acknowledge that he may be ready for a breakthrough season. However, even though he finished strong as a runner (511 yards rushing in the last five games) his impact as a receiver diminished as last season went along (254 receiving yards in Mathews' first four games, 201 in his remaining 10 games), so I'm more confident in Jones-Drew topping 1,600 yards from scrimmage for the fourth straight season than I am in Mathews getting there for the first time. Call me a sucker for the proven commodity.