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Faceoff: Riskiest and Safest In Top 25

August 4th

Clayton Gray: Looking at our Top 25, which player stands out as the biggest risk (with a very low downside)? Which player seems incredibly safe (with very little downside)?

Will Grant: It's almost cheating to list Adrian Peterson as a safe pick but he feels like a slam dunk this season. The Minnesota passing game is going to be a crap shoot, even if they bring in a veteran QB to run the team. Sidney Rice has one foot out the door and after Percy Harvin, the WR group is a total mess. The Vikings are going to have to lean on Peterson early and often, especially at the beginning of the season because of the reduced preparation time any QB will have for this team. You can expect a simple scheme with frequent running plays, and a guy like Peterson is just going to eat that up. He's young and strong enough to handle 350 touches this season, and you can expect that the Vikings will give him that kind of attention.

From a Risk Prospective, Peyton Hillis is a guy that I would avoid as his ADP. Last season was awesome for him, but for a good portion of the year, he frequently appeared on the 'sell high' list because there were concerns that he couldn't maintain his blistering pace. For guys who rode him into the playoffs last year, they were disappointed with his 33.5 fantasy points over the final five weeks of the season. This season, Hillis will also have to contend with second year man Montario Hardesty. Hardesty was drafted in the second round last year to be the lead back in Cleveland, but went down to injury early in the pre-season. He's had a year to recover and will be certainly steal touches from Hillis this year as well.

Matt Waldman: Aaron Rodgers is the safest. He gets back Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant. If neither return to full speed, D.J. Williams and James Starks are more than capable of strong production. The receiver corps is loaded with quality players and Rodgers has a rare combination of youth, speed, arm, accuracy, and smarts all peaking at the same time. He may not be the No.1 fantasy quarterback this year, but I don't see how he falls out of the top 3-4. If you're about drafting players you can count on in the early rounds and not hitting bull's eyes, Rodgers does it for me.

I'm tired of picking on Darren McFadden, but I can't help it. Last year he feasted on a lot of bad defenses. I didn't see McFadden do anything to improve his skills between the tackles in terms of pad level or patience. He's a great big-play weapon who can bully defenses when the offensive line is playing well (or last year, when the opposing defenses make the offensive line possibly look better than it was).

I think McFadden's value is a bit inflated. I'd much rather take him in the third or fourth round than the mid-first. This is especially the case with team turnover. The run-oriented Tom Cable was fired, Al Davis is still micromanaging things, and the Raiders return only two of its five starters on the offensive line.

The front five is the greatest concern. Robert Gallery was the team's best run blocker and he's gone. Langston Walker is also leaving. That leaves center Stefen Wisniewski and left tackle Jared Veldheer.

Guard-center play is a very important part of a strong running game between the tackles and there's a chance both guards could be less proven players. This will especially be the case if Al Davis forces Bruce Campbell into the lineup. Apparently Tom Cable wasn't rushing Campbell's development to Davis' expectations, which was one reason for Cable's firing. While I like Wisniewski to help direct things, I'm concerned about the guards and I'm not sure a smart center is going to compensate.

I know I'm known for not being a big fan of McFadden, but I think these reasons are worth some concern.

Chris Smith: When looking for the safest player inside the top-25 you can certainly make the case for QB Aaron Rodgers. However since Matt already brought him up and gave solid reasons as to why he is the safest guy on the list. I'll switch gears here and mention another player I feel is equally as safe and that is WR Andre Johnson. He has caught 6.7 passes per game over the last four years, averaged 96.5 receiving yards per game and 0.6 touchdowns per game. The only thing that kept him from four straight top-five finishes was a couple of injuries but in head to head leagues, he is a great option to plug in each week. Last year he finished as the 9th best fantasy receiver despite missing three games. Yes, he is that damn good!

In regards to a player I find to be a risky pick inside the top-25, it is Ryan Matthews of the San Diego Chargers. I do believe he has the potential to ultimately put up good fantasy numbers and slide in that high, I see no reason to expect him to finish as a top-16 running back this year. The problem I have with Ryan Matthews is that Mike Tolbert put up some very solid numbers in spelling him last year and I don't see the Chargers handing all of those carries over to Matthews. The team has said in fact that they would like to limit his touches as long as they have a viable 2nd option and Tolbert has the team's trust. I do expect Matthews to get more work this year but with Tolbert likely to carry the ball 120+ times himself, Matthews simply will not get enough touches to finish as a top-25 player.

Mark Wimer: I'll argue for Jamaal Charles to be the safest among the top-25. I was a skeptic last year when the team brought in Thomas Jones to be in a running back by committee with Charles, and Jones actually did get more carries in that backfield last year. However, Charles was hugely productive in his time on the field, averaging a ridiculously-good 6.4 yards per carry (230/1,467/5 rushing with 45/468/3 receiving), and the team has been very upfront that he'll have more of the load during 2011: Chiefs head coach Todd Haley said on June third he wants RB Jamaal Charles to be ready if the team asks him to carry the ball more next season.

I'm a believer of Charles now, and expect him to easily surpass 300 touches on the football during 2011.

Adrian Peterson has a muddled offense with either a free agent import or a rookie starter at QB (either guy will have precious few reps before the season starts), and problems along the O line that could limit his effectiveness especially early in the year before the new passing game jells. We know that Chris Johnson intends to hold out for a bigger contract, potentially limiting his reps in the shortened practice schedule of 2011. Arian Foster would seem a candidate to regress from his astounding 18-total-TD season of 2010, and he had a knee surgery during the offseason to correct an injury he hid from the team during 2010.

I think that Charles is the safest guy among the top four running backs of the top 300.

The biggest downside risk among the top 25 has got to be Michael Vick. He runs the ball a lot (99/679/9 rushing in 2010), which exposes him to big hits from opposing defenders. His shoulders (especially the A/C joints) haven't held up to that punishment at various points in his career, so I consider him a greater-than-usual risk for some lost time during the season (he's played a full 16 game slate just once during his time in the NFL, with 12 games played for Philadelphia last year, missing most of week four and all of weeks five through eight including the bye week last year due to a rib injury that included cracks in his rib cartilage). His top wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, may be mulling a holdout and the Eagles are extremely stubborn when dealing with players who pull that stunt - with the attenuated practice schedule this year due to the labor stoppage, it would be very negative for Jackson to miss training camp reps with Vick due to a holdout.

In addition to all the above, Vick has made very bad decisions/engaged in criminal activity off the field for most of his NFL career, and I'm not convinced that he's staying clear of the negative influences that almost destroyed his career once already. The shooting of one of his old "Bad Newz Kennels" co-felons - Quanis Phillips - at a July 2010 party arranged by his brother Marcus Vick - a party at which Michael Vick was present - really is a huge red flag for me. Michael Vick is just one more arrest/conviction away from a long ban from the NFL, possibly a lifetime ban. He shouldn't be putting himself in the position to possibly violate his parole, yet there he was exposing himself to contact with people/in a situation that could have been found to violate the parole and send him back to jail.

No thanks, I'll pass on Vick due to the many intangible risks he has as his baggage.

Jeff Pasquino: I'll second the fears on Michael Vick. Expecting such big games and performances again this year is simply not realistic. Vick started to struggle at times in December and January as teams forced him to make more "football decisions" and minimized his abilities to make raw athletic skill plays happen. Couple that with a few other QBs that might make the Top 3-4 fantasy QB names by year's end - and Vick's injury history - and the downside risk presents itself quickly.

Running back is an easy call with Hillis. The Browns ran their offense - quite literally - through Hillis last year. No way he gets over 330 touches again this season. Colt McCoy has a few new toys to throw the ball to this year (such as rookie WR Greg Little) so Cleveland will look to throw the ball more behind McCoy. Factor in the return to action of Montario Hardesty as the RB2 for the Browns and there is a great deal of downside risk to Hillis.