Mission Impossible!
By Anthony Borbely
August 27th, 2012

Well, maybe it is not impossible, but you get the point. Every season there are players who are very tough to rank for a myriad of reasons, such as durability, questionable past performance, injured teammates, or having a hot-shot young player behind them. Sometimes I wish I could just rank the players that fit nicely into a slot and skip the rest, but it just doesn't work that way. I am going to list some of the players who were toughest for me to rank, along with the reasons.

Quarterback

Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles: I know, what a surprise. Every year I write this article, there are certain players that always pop into my mind, and Vick is tops on the list. The thing with Vick is that you know he is unlikely to play in all 16 games, but you also know he is a real weapon in your lineup when he does play, largely because of his running ability. Vick's rushing ability sets him apart from the majority of QBs and generally limits the numbers of fantasy clunkers that he will have, but it also increases his chance of being hurt. Normally, I do not like to predict injury, but I don't think it is unreasonable to expect Vick to miss 2-4 games in any given year. In 2010, Vick was the fourth highest scoring fantasy quarterback, averaging more than 30 fantasy points per game and despite missing four games was only ten points from being the top scorer. Last year, Vick's performance was below expectations and part of that was not having a training camp, the injury and holdout of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin's illness, and the general dysfunction that engulfed the Eagles last year. Despite all of that and missing three games, Vick was still a QB1 and averaged more than 22 points per game. I expect Vick's numbers to be somewhere in the middle of what he did in the last two seasons. I have Vick ranked just outside the top five quarterbacks because his potential points per game outweighs the negatives related to his chance of injury. I can certainly understand not ranking Vick this high because of that, but in the end, I think the potential rewards outweigh the risks. Any owner who drafts Vick should secure a solid backup and/or draft Nick Foles late in the draft.

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: Roethlisberger has had fantasy numbers all over the board in his career. He has thrown for more than 4000 yards twice, and also thrown for fewer than 3500. The Steelers offense has changed over the years, from a run-oriented attack to one that throws more. Now, the coaching staff reportedly wants to run the ball more and that was part of the reason given for the change in offensive coordinators from Bruce Arians to Todd Haley. But the running game is in flux right now. Isaac Redman has battled a groin injury and although he will play in week one, his effectiveness is in question. Rashard Mendenhall was removed from the PUP list but he is not expected to play in the first month of the season. Once Mendenhall returns, it's anyone's guess how much they will run the ball and that makes ranking Roethlisberger difficult. Ultimately I ranked Roethlisberger at the end of the QB1 tier. I just think he is a better bet to be a fantasy starter than those ranked below him, but I would much rather set my QB1 target a bit higher, namely due to the year-to-year inconsistency in Roethlisberger's fantasy stats.

Running Back

All Washington Redskin Running Backs: After watching how Mike Shanahan handles running backs for many years, it is pretty obvious that trying to rank any of the current Washington running backs is an exercise in futility and it is made even more difficult by the injuries to Roy Helu and Tim Hightower. When training camp began, it seemed like a lock that Helu would be the running back to own, largely because he is the most talented back on their roster. Then there was some buzz about Evan Royster and he has ran with the first team during the majority of training camp and preseason games. But Royster has minor knee issues of his own and now Alfred Morris has appeared on the radar. Waiting in the wings is Hightower, who is coming off a torn ACL and has still not seen any action in preseason. This has the makings of a total disaster from a fantasy perspective and it is downright impossible to predict anything with certainty. My best guess is that Helu's talent will eventually be the difference and that he will be the final leader in touches among the running backs, but he has issues with both Achilles tendons and drafting him anywhere above a RB4 is very risky. Royster is a marginal talent and players like him are easily replaceable and for a Shanahan-coached team there are very few things worse than seeing an average talent starting at running back. You know it's just a matter of time before someone else steps in and that makes it tough to rank Royster. Hightower is coming off a serious injury and is nothing special, but Shanahan seems to like him so he is a threat to start at some point. Morris is an unknown at this point, but we all know that means nothing here. He could wind up being the starter for all we know. Basically, this is a situation where I will rank the Redskins running backs lower than I would if they played for any other coach. I think reaching for any Shanahan running back is a mistake.
Draft for value only and don't reach for a Redskins running back just because they are listed as the starter. We all know that could be short-lived.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars: As of this writing, Jones-Drew is still holding out and although there have been whispers that he may return soon, we are getting to the danger point. Running backs that hold out usually struggle upon returning and are also susceptible to muscle pulls and other nagging injuries (generally the type that linger). We are two weeks from the start of the season and it is apparent that Jones-Drew will not see any action in preseason. He is also not going to be in any kind of football shape and that is equally concerning. We are talking about one of the premier running backs in the league and one that would have been a likely top-five pick in drafts. But with this much time past, it is obvious that Jones-Drew has to be dropped in the rankings, but trying to determine how much is not easy. Jones-Drew could easily return right before the start of the season and after a couple of games he could once again start posting elite top-five caliber fantasy numbers. But ranking him near the top five is much too risky at this point and I am ranking him as a borderline RB1.

Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh Steelers: This is another situation that is as clear as mud. there are several things in play here with the most important being the status of Rashard Mendenhall. He was activated from the PUP list but is not expected to play during the first month of the season. Redman has 3-4 games to show what he can do and that will play a role in determining how the playing time is split between Mendenhall and Redman later in the year. Another thing to note is nobody has any idea how effective Mendenhall will be, namely because his torn ACL came late last season. It seems obvious that there will be some kind of committee, but how the touches gets divided after Mendenhall comes back is anyone's guess. For now I am ranking Redman as a borderline RB3 because he should have at least be part of a committee but there is potential upside because of Mendenhall's uncertainty.

Wide Receiver

Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers: When Jackson was with the Chargers, it was pretty easy to just pencil him as a WR1 and move on to the next receiver. But the talented Jackson left the Chargers and signed a long-term contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and that drastically changes his fantasy outlook for the upcoming season. The difficult part is deciding how much of a drop Jackson will have. There is an enormous difference between Philip Rivers and Josh Freeman, not to mention that the Bucs will utilize a run-heavy offense. One positive for Jackson is that he does not have to play second-fiddle to Antonio Gates and he is now the undisputed number one receiver and that is important because Jackson has never had more than 114 targets in any season. The balance is between that and playing in a run-heavy offense with a big downgrade at quarterback. I currently have Jackson ranked as a mid to low-level WR2. I just believe Jackson will see much more attention from defenses and I'm not sure Freeman is good enough as a passer to throw a lot into heavy coverage.

Brandon Lloyd, New England Patriots: I think Lloyd may be the single toughest player to rank that I can remember in all the years I have written this article. The Patriots have a powerful passing attack with several elite options, including Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker. Brady threw for more than 500 yards last season and now Lloyd is being added to the mix. Adding another high quality option to a passing game that has already generated more than 5000 yards of passing offense just muddies the water. Lloyd adds the element of a deep outside threat to the passing game, something that has been lacking since Randy Moss was with New England. I am a big fan of Lloyd's game and I think he is a great fit in New England, but in the end I can't see where the targets will come from that could vault Lloyd into the top-20 wide receivers. The tough thing is Lloyd is capable of producing top-10 numbers, but there are three other targets that can all produce elite numbers and everyone has to decide how they think they will be divided up. I just can't come up with enough lost targets from Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Welker to justify ranking Lloyd as anything more than a WR3 but in all honesty he could finish anywhere from a WR1 to a WR3 and I would not be surprised.

Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans: There is little doubt that Kenny Britt has elite talent. If Britt were to ever put it all together he is capable of top five numbers. If that were the only thing that mattered, it would be easy to just slot Britt near the top of the wide receiver ranking and be done with it. Unfortunately, there is a lot more to ranking Britt. First, he is coming off a torn ACL and has had three separate surgeries since the end of last year (two of them related to the ACL). If that wasn't enough, Britt was recently arrested for the eighth time since being drafted and a suspension is looming. Most reports suggest the suspension will be about 2-3 games, but with so many arrests it would not be a shock if the suspension was longer. A short suspension would actually not be that big of a deal because Britt will not be ready for a full workload for a few weeks. For ranking purposes, I am expecting a 2-3 game suspension, after which I think Britt will be close to full strength. That leads to the last problem and that is whether the surgeries will affect Britt's explosiveness this year. I'm of the belief that it might early on but Britt should get better as the season wears on. That is just speculation though because nobody knows for sure. I decided to rank Britt as a low-end WR3. While I think he could be worth significantly more than that, the risks are just too high. If you do decide to take a gamble on Britt earlier, just make sure you have a good sleeper WR that has great value.

Tight End

Owen Daniels, Houston Texans: Daniels posted back to back seasons of top-ten fantasy numbers and was well on his way to a third, but a torn ACL midways through the 2009 season put a stop to that and Daniels has not been able to crack the top ten since. Last year, Daniels finished 16th, but once Matt Schaub was injured, Daniels only had one game the rest of the year with more than 35 receiving yards. As we enter the 2012 season, Daniels should be the third option in the passing game behind Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster. I think it is difficult to predict what Daniels will do because this is a run-first team and there are several young wide receivers that should improve as the season wears on. In addition, Daniels has not been the same since he injured his knee. I decided to rank Daniels 10th among tight ends because there are not enough viable options in the passing game to keep Daniels from cracking the top ten tight ends. It might be on the optimistic side, but I think Daniels should see enough targets to get in that vicinity.

Any questions or comments, please e-mail me at borbely@footballguys.com.

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