The Perils and Pitfalls of Fantasy Sports

It’s an illuminating, if unsurprising, friendship.

Native Californians born 16 days apart, both at the peak of probable Hall of Fame careers, and the two most famous people in Wisconsin. But Ryan Braun and Aaron Rodgers are both also emblematic of the perils and pitfalls of fantasy sports. In fantasy baseball—a discipline where hard work and sage decisions nearly always pay off in championships—there is no more sure thing than the Milwaukee Brewers left fielder. He’ll bat .300, hit 30 homers, score and drive in 100 runs, and steal at least 20 bases every season. He is the epitome of consistency in a fantasy discipline that rewards past performance nearly as much as future potential.

Fantasy football? Not so much. To the endless frustration of its most serious competitors, luck plays an extraordinary role in determining who takes home the title. But that element of chance can be mitigated. And if you draft the signal caller for the Green Bay Packers, you’ve taken a huge step down that road of favorability. For like Braun, the odds that Rodgers does not have his typical year—4,000 yards passing, at least 35 touchdown passes, and single digit interceptions—are much lower than with any other player. And that above all is why he should top your draft board in every conceivable fantasy format.

Deciding on whom to join him in the top five is a much tougher call. But banking on Ray Rice, Calvin Johnson, Chris Johnson, and Tom Brady will also help you hoist that trophy high the first weekend in January. Why them? Prodigious talent, overwhelming opportunity, and an excellent supporting cast.

Last season, Rice totaled 2,068 yards from scrimmage, caught 76 balls, and scored 15 touchdowns. And now Ricky Williams is gone, the offensive line has improved, and a more dangerous vertical passing game—speedster Jacoby Jones joins last year’s rookie phenom Torrey Smith—figures to open up the draw play and short screens for the elusive back.

In general, football nicknames are silly. But for every ‘He Hate Me’ and ‘Fred Ex’, there are some that perfectly encapsulate the greatness of their target. Walter Payton’s ‘Sweetness’ was one; ‘Megatron’ is another. To put it succinctly: Calvin Johnson’s talent is otherworldly. And last season he began to enter his prime, totaling 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns, and adding a 12-211-2 line in his first playoff game.  With Titus Young and Nate Burleson across the field from him helping to alleviate that omnipresent triple coverage, there is simply no stopping him this season.  Far and away he is the premier fantasy wide receiver.

It was a frustratingly up-and-down 2011 campaign for Chris Johnson as he struggled to alleviate his holdout hangover. Along with games more emblematic of his 13 carries for 21 yards in Week 3, there were moments of brilliance—190 yards rushing versus Tampa Bay and another 153 yards the following week in Buffalo—that augur dynamic things to come. A greater familiarity with the new offense implemented last year, a full participation in offseason conditioning, and more room to run with Jake Locker’s ascension to QB1 (and his penchants for throwing the deep ball) all point towards Johnson earning his CJ2K moniker.

Gone is Chad Johnson, in is Brandon Lloyd. Out is the Law Firm, BenJarvus Green Ellis, and in are two super sophs—Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen—poised to inherit the estimable mantle of Kevin Faulk. Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez? They’re still there.  And if Tom Brady didn’t have enough weapons, the Pats just inked silver medalist sprinter Jeff Demps.  Originally penciled in as solely a returner, you can bet Bill Belichick is already scheming ways to get him on the field.  So what could possibly make you think that Tom Brady’s 2011 numbers (5,235 yards passing, 42 total touchdowns, and just 12 interceptions) will go down?

It’s not a proper fantasy football preview without a sleeper pick.  And while I usually tend to err on the side of hibernation rather than mere catnapping, I can’t help but name David Wilson of the New York Giants as my selection.  His average draft position of 111—and the fact that 39 running backs are being chosen before him—is perplexing.  I predict that the speedster will be the de facto starter on the defending champs by the quarter pole of the season.  And I don’t think 1,100 total yards and double digit touchdowns are out of the question.

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