Draft-Day Bargains Could be Key to 2012 Fantasy Football Championships

By Jeric Griffin

Fantasy football championships are rarely decided by the studs drafted in the first round before the season begins. Most of the time, titles are won and lost by risks taken by fantasy owners on draft day and that will be more true than ever during the 2012 fantasy football season.

If you’re looking for sleeper picks, check out the other fantasy columns on RantSports.com because this is about proven players who will carry your team to a title in 2012 and the best part is they’ll be available well after Round 1.

As already stated in an earlier fantasy article, QBs have become the most important position not only on the real football field, but in fantasy land, too. There are an elite group of five passers who will likely all be gone in the first 15 picks, and rightfully so. However, you can grab studs at other positions then and get a top-tier passer like Tony Romo later on.

Romo finished 7th among QBs in scoring last season, but that’s a deceiving stat because he also finished 9th in overall scoring. Even though he’s a perennial 4,000-yard passer, Romo is often overlooked on draft day and fantasy owners should use that to their advantage in 2012.

Likewise, passers like Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan will also be available in Round 6 or later and they’re all top 13 scorers based on standard 2011 numbers. Obviously, all-out studs like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady will be taken early, and they should be, but that doesn’t mean you should pass on the best player at another position just to take one when one of the four mentioned passers will be available in the middle-to-late rounds.

Speaking of other positions, RB is one that is the most intriguing of all this season, and not in a good way. Holdouts and season-ending injuries in 2011 make the draft approach to RBs more difficult than ever this season, but that doesn’t mean you can’t end up with some solid options after the first two rounds.

Darren Sproles, Willis McGahee, Jonathan Stewart and Jahvid Best are four names who will be overlooked in 2012 although each of them could turn out to be a dynamite fantasy options this year. Sproles finished 8th in scoring among RBs in 2011 and 5th in PPR leagues, so he’s really a second-round option when you boil it all down, but he won’t go that high in draft. That means the owners who select him in Round 5 will get a steal.

McGahee was a 1,200-yard rusher last season on a Denver Broncos team that had literally no passing game, so he’s expected to eclipse that same yard mark again this season with Peyton Manning at the helm. Speaking of which, the elder of the Manning brothers will also provide some smart drafters with a bargain in the middle rounds.

Stewart shares the Carolina Panthers’ backfield with DeAngelo Williams, Cam Newton and now Mike Tolbert, but he’s still a viable fantasy option after he recorded nearly 200 touches last season. A similar situation applies to Best, who’s having a tremendous off-season coming off a season-ending concussion. Considering he’s the primary back in the Detroit Lions’ high-flying offense, he could put up top 10 numbers at the position if he stays healthy.

At receiver, Steve Smith finished sixth in scoring at his position last season and an even better campaign can be expected in Newton’s second year at the helm of Carolina’s offense. Still, Smith seems to slip in drafts, which means owners can land him in Round 4 or later and reap the benefits of his superstar status.

Another Bronco who will benefit from Peyton Manning’s presence is Demaryius Thomas, who automatically catapults from a borderline draftable player to a top 10 option at his position. Thomas is Manning’s top receiving option and he’ll benefit heavily from it. Most owners will look to Eric Decker instead and pass on Thomas, but those who take Thomas in the middle rounds will likely be contending for fantasy titles in December.

Miles Austin is another star receiver who will be overlooked due to another big name on the same NFL roster. However, Austin has the potential to rack up 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns with Romo throwing him the ball, so he’s a steal in Round 5 or later. The same applies to Kenny Britt, who was off to a monster start to the 2011 season before tearing his ACL. With Chris Johnson back to attract the attention of opposing defenses, Britt is ready for a breakout season.

If Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham were any sign last season, TEs are more valuable than ever. While those two players will likely be gone by the end of Round 2, guys like Jason Witten, Jacob Tamme, Brandon Pettigrew and Coby Fleener will still be available in Round 5 or later.

Witten and Pettigrew finished 6th and 11th, respectively, among tight ends in scoring last season. However, both players seem to fall on draft day, which means you can wait to draft your tight end until Round 5 at the earliest and still get a top five talent.

Tamme put up No. 1 overall tight end numbers while playing with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis two years ago, so there’s no reason the two can’t rekindle that magic in Denver this season. Like Manning, Tamme will likely be available in Round 7 or later, so take him then and enjoy the ride.

The same applies to Fleener, who will likely go undrafted in many leagues. However, Fleener is playing with his college quarterback, Andrew Luck, who isn’t your average rookie quarterback, but will still lean on his former Stanford teammate and security blanket during his first NFL season. That means Fleener could see upwards of 80 targets in 2012, making him a potential top eight option at the position.

There’s no reason fantasy owners should draft a defense before the second-to-last round. That’s because owners will draft the San Francisco 49ers’ defense in Round 9 will only get 35 more total fantasy points than owners who take the Lions’ defense in Round 14. That’s right; Detroit finished 8th among fantasy defenses in 2011 and will likely do even better in 2012.

The same applies to the fantasy defenses of the Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals and Broncos. All three of these units will likely be available in the very late rounds, but they will serve their purpose by consistently putting up roughly 10 points per week.

Thus, there’s no reason to reach for a defense, or any other position. There will be value on draft day and fantasy owners who draft patiently and smartly will reap the benefits in 2012.

Follow Jeric Griffin on Twitter @JericGriffin or on Facebook at Jeric Griffin – RantSports.com

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