Eric Mack
Wednesday August 31st, 2011

Bold is scheduling your fantasy football draft during your wedding. Bold is picking a Cincinnati Bengal. Being bold is usually a function of acting foolhardy or doing something dumb.

So, let's go ahead and do just that. It sounds exciting and new!

Fantasy owners tend to specialize in minimizing risk and playing it safe, but what is the fun in that? Maybe we should all be focused on maximizing potential.

Under the veneer of following the fantasy football draft playbook to a T -- or an X and O -- there are some places you can step out and be bold. It usually requires doing the opposite of the common path.

No, that doesn't mean being the first to pick your kicker.

Below are six bold predictions for fantasy football 2011. Why six? Well, isn't that every player's goal on every snap: Take it to the house for six (points).

Fantasy owners celebrate the joy of six.

No matter how dominant your team is, there is always the possibility anyone can win on any given Sunday. And any dummy could luck out by having picked Arian Foster before he became the No. 1 rusher in fantasy last season -- he was merely the next name on the cheatsheet -- or Brandon Lloyd before he finished No. 1 at wide receiver in 2010.

Or maybe you were lucky enough to be first in the waiver order last year and picked up renaissance-man Michael Vick, who stepped into fantasy stardom after an unfortunate (for Kevin Kolb), fortunate (for Vick) injury.

The season never quite goes according to plan. That's why we love the NFL and that's why we can't get enough of fantasy football.

These bold predictions aren't going to tell you free agents Tiki Barber and Terrell Owens are going to sign in Cincinnati -- again, raggin' on poor Cincy -- and lead the Bungles to the Super Bowl and millions of fantasy owners to championships.

That's not bold; it's just dumb.

These bold predictions twist logic and fantasy-public perception, telling you something you should know for yourself, but probably don't.

They cover each of the positions that matter: quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end (the last of which matters far less). You are certain to disagree with them. Heck, that is the very reason these six statements below are bold.

But you have to listen up, because ...

This should sound obvious, not bold, to the NFL layman. Brady is one of the game's brightest stars. They already know it.

Ah, but fantasy folks think they're clever.

They are really just outsmarting themselves.

Not only is Brady not going to get picked No. 1 overall in fantasy -- he shouldn't because of the importance of elite running backs -- but he isn't even going No. 1 at his own position. Almost all websites, fantasy pundits and Joe Schmoe rankings like Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick over Brady.

Not this guy.

After leading standard scoring leagues in points last season, Brady isn't getting the proper love for an encore. He is not getting picked in Round 1 in most leagues and his average draft position makes him around a second-round pick.

That Patriots offense won't be as good as it was in 2007, but anything close is going to make Brady a big-time boon to fantasy owners.

This one is more clearly bold. The fantasy world loves to follow the sheep and use last season as gospel according to fantasy.

Foster was a fantasy deity a year ago, opening with a smashing 231 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts in Week 1. He finished with 180 yards and two scores against the Jaguars.

In between, he was a good, not great fantasy player; yet, many are still considering him for the No. 1 overall pick. He might not be worth taking in the top five. He might not finish first-round-worthy.

He won't finish the season as the Texans' leading fantasy point producer, Matt Schaub will, and he might not even finish the season as the Texans' back of choice -- Ben Tate can.

Yes, Foster was great last year, but you're not drafting last year's fantasy team, you're drafting 2011's.

Again, to be bold, you have to think counter to common thought. It would have been way too easy to say Vick is going to go down with a season-ending injury and Vince Young is going to be valuable, like Vick became a season ago, as the Eagles' starting quarterback.

Everyone understands Vick's injury risk. He puts himself out there like no other quarterback in the NFL, escaping the pocket and taking hits from flying bodies in open space. It is a recipe for injury that makes a running back's NFL lifespan almost half that of a quarterback or wide receiver.

But Vick, like he has dodged would-be tacklers and career obstacles, is going to avoid serious injury and play a full 16 games. If he does that, he can outscore everyone in fantasy. (He still won't outscore Brady, though).

You still shouldn't pick him before Brady, Rodgers or maybe even Drew Brees because of the risk involved -- but Vick is going to defy the odds and keep his 30-something body away from a major injury.

Fitzgerald entered training camp the age of 27, a man's prime, before he turned 28 on Wednesday. This writer loves that age.

After tying a career-low with just six touchdowns last season, Fitzgerald is going to set career highs across the board.

Let's put the numbers at 110 catches (103 is his high), 1,500 yards (1,431 is his best) and 15 touchdowns (13 is his most). Those should easily help him unseat last year's No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy, Denver's surprising Lloyd.

No other position goes through more of a shuffle at the top than wide receiver. Fitzgerald is going to shuffle back to the elite, despite being unanimously ranked out of the top tier (Andre Johnson, Roddy White and Calvin Johnson).

Fitzgerald was barely a top 15 scorer at the position a year ago with the likes of Derek Anderson and John Skelton as his quarterbacks. Kolb might not be a household name on the level of a Kurt Warner yet, but Kolb is plenty capable of getting Fitzgerald back to the elite of the diva position.

It was hard to word this bold prediction, but Charles won't get injured and he isn't going to suffer from the lack of touches the Chiefs notoriously hold him back with. He just won't do enough to warrant his top-five selection in fantasy.

Charles still isn't a starter on the Chiefs' depth chart, as he wasn't a year ago in his breakout campaign. He isn't the goal-line back either, as veteran Thomas Jones still holds that title, too. But neither of those factors is going to keep Charles from performing up to expectation. The schedule is.

The Chiefs play one of the toughest schedules in the NFL this season after their revival in 2010. They came out of nowhere -- relatively like Charles and because of Charles -- against a subpar path last season. Now it gets tough for the Chiefs and Charles.

Playing a first-place schedule, it will be a lot harder to establish and maintain a running game long enough to accommodate two backs. Charles is clearly the superior of the two, but those mere 15 touches against the Pats, Steelers, Bears, Jets and Packers in Weeks 12-15 will render about 40 yards and no scores per game.

That is pretty bad production in the most crucial weeks of the fantasy football season by your No. 1 pick. Charles won't be in charge, and your hair won't be staying in your scalp.

A Patriots rookie tight end was the fifth-highest scorer at the position a year ago, but it was Rob Gronkowski not Hernandez. Naturally, everyone loves Gronk now.

As we've said, fantasy owners love what they have already seen. We all tend to overlook what we have yet to see.

Hernandez is a breakaway threat at the slow, rumbling, stumbling, bumbling position. Gronk might snag some 1-yard touchdown scores, but Hernandez is going to break through as a fantasy star himself, despite not being picked as a starter in most leagues on draft day.

Let's put the numbers at 80 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. OK, that would make Hernandez as good as last year's No. 1 tight end, Jason Witten, who went 94-1,002-9.

Saying Hernandez will be the No. 1 TE in fantasy would be a bit too bold, so we will go with top five. Regardless, the potential of those numbers is sick for a player getting selected after the top 12 at his position.

So, all told, what did we get out of this exercise: Draft Brady, Fitzgerald and Hernandez -- at least try to -- avoid Foster and Charles early in Round 1 and don't bother sticking pins in the Vick voodoo doll (it won't work).

Enjoy your draft, the season and -- if you must -- the Bengals and your marriage.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com and will outline all the news and nuggets game-by-game every week of the NFL season in his Fantasy Football Fast Forward. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy.

ON SALE: Sports Illustrated's Fantasy Football 2011 issue tells you where all the free agents landed and what their fantasy impact will be, along with the critical draft strategy and stats analysis you need to win your league. Order one now.

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