Fantasy Football ’12 preview — Vinegar Strokes

Wondering how the Five Cents tickled his fantasy football fancy this year? The 2012 lineup for the fantasy season is ready!

THE MINT — For the first time in roughly five years, I can honestly say that I’ve got that funny feeling I put together a winner with my team this season, Vinegar Strokes.

Sure, there’s some moves to be made throughout the season. But the confidence is there with this team as the season begins tomorrow. I feel so good about the team, I’ll go as far as saying I’ll win the whole damn league this year. Sorry Andy, it’s going to happen, if you’re reading this.

I’m also on a two-year hiatus since I won a league title and even during that season I didn’t feel I had a team quite like this. That season, I drafted a no-name in Arian Foster, had Mike Wallace, Mike Vick and others and almost went undefeated. I finished with only one loss and a fantasy title.

So knock on wood, here’s a preview of what’s to come from the Strokes in 2012.

Note: league is in a PPR format.

Quarterbacks:

Eli Manning (NY Giants) —  This is fact: the two-time Super Bowl MVP is elite. In fact, without Eli, you can’t have elite. OK, enough of the crap.

There was a time when I waited on quarterbacks till later rounds. Lately, guys like Brady, Brees, Stafford and Rodgers are off the board right away and I’ve had to abandon that strategy. Since I knew it would happen this year again, I figured could stack playmakers in the opening rounds while using the middle rounds to find a quarterback since the league is so deep with its quarterbacks.

Luckily enough, the old strategy worked. Eli was there at the end of round four. I picked him up and the rest is history. Note: I did choose him over Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub, who were still available.

Manning is a lot more accurate than you think and the Giants will be throwing a lot more this season. Hello Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Eli racked up nearly 5,000 yards last season. The down side is that he had only 29 touchdowns. Those touchdowns should rise with the departure of Brandon Jacobs (SF) and you just never know what Ahmad Bradshaw’s injury report might be like. With two rings, Eli’s confidence is supremely up, and so are the Giants.

Eli had the sixth-most passing yards in a single season in NFL history (thanks Howard) and ranks fifth in that department, with Drew Brees ahead of him twice. Meaning — don’t sleep on Eli and his dynamic receivers.

Russell Wilson (Seattle) — Owned by just 38 percent of fantasy owners in Yahoo!, this rookie might just be this year’s Cam Newton. The third round pick out of Wisconsin won the job from Matt Flynn and is only the third rookie QB in the last 10 years to be drafted outside of the first round and opening up the regular season as a starter. Athleticism? With a 119.6 QB rating in the preseason while converting over 67 percent of his passes — something that helped Badger to two-straight Rose Bowl appearances —  Wilson might be a nice pickup just in case the Seahawks put together some wins and Eli and the Giants get off to a bad start.

Running backs:

Arian Foster (Houston; overall No. 1 pick) — I won’t spend time on Foster, but I had the No.1 overall pick and thought it’d be foolish not to spend it on him. Foster was an easy choice. Who did I flirt to draft over him? Surprisingly, LeSean McCoy. But when I heard McCoy might be taking less carries in Philly, I quickly went back to Foster. Though, I’ll be honest — I’d like to shop him for Ray Rice.

Beanie Wells (Arizona) — The Cards saw Wells breakout for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011 and if his knee stays healthy, there’s a good shot he could replicate those numbers. That’s especially true with the problems Arizona is having in the passing game. If they can’t pass, they’ll go to Wells a lot.

Cedric Benson (Green Bay) — This was the biggest gamble and hopefully the biggest steal of the draft. I’m not high on James Starks or any GB back for that matter, and neither is anyone else. However, the Packers offensive line, plus the defensive assignments on Rodgers and the pass should be beneficial for Benson, who’s the clear-cut No. 1 back in Green Bay and a hard, hard runner (a new dimension and freaky if it works).

Sometimes you have to take chances in the draft, and with Benson’s output the last few seasons (three-straight 1,000 yard seasons and at least 6 touchdowns ) and him sitting there in Round 10, I took a chance. Could be huge in the red zone and late in games when the Packers want to run in garbage time. Hopefully, Benson doesn’t fall apart midway through the season or begin a fumbling.

Ronnie Hillman (Denver) — Hillman’s selection was induced by Peyton Manning and what Manning can do for other players. I may end up releasing the rookie, but if Willis McGahee goes down or the change-of-pace works in his favor, he might end up becoming big on passing plays.

Wide receivers: 

Victor Cruz (NY Giants) — Both Hakeem Nicks and Cruz should be pretty explosive and both him and Manning have quite the rapport together. There’s a possibility Cruz won’t put together the receiving numbers last year (1,536 yards) that set a Giants record, but his production will no doubt be there, as it was in the preseason. But in a contract year coming up, who’s to say Victor won’t put it Cruz Control this season?

Jordy Nelson (Green Bay Packers) — There’s no doubt Nelson delivered with a breakout, career season. He notched 1263 yards and 15 touchdowns, giving yet another weapon for QB Aaron Rodgers. With so many good receivers on the Packers, it’s tough to really shutdown their offense. If utilized in the slot more to offset the improved defensive schemes on him, Nelson will continue to be solid.

** I also chose Nelson and Cruz over Roddy White and Andre Johnson because I felt with the targets Nelson and Cruz would get (especially in a PPR league) and the 2011 season both had, Johnson, who’s age and injuries are becoming a factor and White’s quarterback — Matt Ryan — would make Cruz and Nelson better options. Plus, Eli and Rodgers are throwing the balls to those guys, remember that.

Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) — Is Brown the Steelers’ best receiver? He just might be. Roethlisberger found more confidence in Brown, a speedster, who learned to run his routes and became such a big possession receiver. The two of them can be quite the tandem in 2012, especially as Brown showed in the preseason. Mike Wallace’s double teams do help Brown out, but his touchdowns must increase from the two he had in 2011.

** Brown was a steal as the No. 10 pick of the 6th round.

Eric Decker (Denver Broncos) — Thank you, Peyton Manning. If Decker caught 44 passes for 612 and eight touchdowns with Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow as quarterback, with a real quarterback, Decker should be deadly. He already looks like Manning’s go-to-guy, and

Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oakland Raiders) — In the fantasy scheme of things, Heyward-Bey isn’t a top receiver and still needs to build a rapport with QB Carson Palmer. If Heyward-Bey’s speed is vitalized and Palmer bounces back this season after being out of shape last year, it could propel the WR past his 2011 output of 975 yards and four touchdowns. Palmer should be in better shape and the bootlegs and rollouts he’ll run should help the offense improve.

Danny Amendola (St. Louis Rams) — After a 2010 campaign of 85 receptions, 689 yards and three touchdowns that doubled his output from his previous rookie season, there was high hopes for Amendola in 2011. But Amendola dislocated an elbow in the first game of the season and missed the entire season. This year he’s expected to be the top receiver in St. Louis and Sam Bradford’s go-to-guy. If he doesn’t have a good touchdown clip, his receptions should be there.

David Nelson (Buffalo Bills) — With his ability to go underneath, having him in this league isn’t so bad. He managed 658 yards receiving with five touchdowns and he’s worthy for a bench spot, if Ryan Fitzpatrick can find his rhythm this year and the Bills don’t go 1-8 in their last 9 games.

Tight Ends: 

Antonio Gates (San Diego Chargers) — Gates has been a solid tight end for years — when healthy — and this year I expect with the loss of Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay that Philip Rivers will look to the big man even more than ever. He’s been suffering injuries the past few seasons and hasn’t notched a year above 800 yards since 2009. I bet on his health being significantly better and his touchdowns to be there. He hasn’t had less than seven touchdowns since his rookie year (2).

** I chose Gates over Vernon Davis and Aaron Hernandez because he’s still a machine when healthy. He relatively finds the end zone constantly and is such a huge target for Rivers. Hernandez, while one of the best young TE’s in the league is the second TE option in New England and won’t have the kind of stats the Gronk has. Also, Jermichael Finley and Jimmy Graham were both gone by the fifth round. I’m also thinking San Fran will have a down year and need an upgrade over Alex Smith.

Dustin Keller (NY Jets) — Keller for me is a primary backup for Gates, but I know in the Jets offense Sanchez loves to go to Keller and is a valuable safety valve for Gang Green. He just might be their second-best receiver.

Defense:

Baltimore/ST — Terrell Suggs won’t be back until December so the run defense may suffer a bit. Age is always a factor and LB Ray Lewis is 37 now. But him and Jameel McClain should still do well on the inside and teams will still find it somewhat hard to run on the Ravens. Nonetheless, there’s still stars on this defense and Baltimore’s pride has been its defense. Ed Reed is also in a contract year.

Kicker: 

Jason Hanson (Detroit) —  Hanson is pretty accurate. He hit five field goals from 50-plus, though from 40-49 he needs to improve. If Detroit’s offense continues to have the success, Hanson should have more opportunities.

Vinegar Strokes, baby. That’s the team.

While I can’t disclose other moves I’m considering because the Commish might be reading this, NFL football begins tomorrow which should be the start of a great fantasy season for everybody. Good luck to your team and hopefully you’ll be coming home with the Shiva in your league at the end of the season.

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