December 06, 2011

Each week of the NFL season, a committee of fantasy experts will huddle together and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.

1. Cam Newton appears to have staked a claim to being the No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts for next season. Since many readers are now left looking to next season, who would you take No. 1?

Mike Beacom: Can I trade the pick? No one excited me at the No. 1 spot this past summer, and at this point I can't say I'd want to hold that position for 2012. There isn't a running back on the board who doesn't scare me for one reason or another, and Aaron Rodgers can't be perfect two years in a row (can he?). Newton has the most going for him, but I cringe at the idea of drafting (a) a quarterback, and (b) a second-year player with the top selection.

Will Carroll: I think we still have to go with running backs for first picks. Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, etc., for the first five, but QBs like Aaron Rodgers are going to come in early. I think Michael Vick being overdrafted will hurt Newton a bit, but Tim Tebow is a major wild card.

Eric Mack: No way Newton should be considered No. 1 overall. He might not be worth picking in the top five at his position. Rodgers clearly is the No. 1 quarterback, with Tom Brady (or Drew Brees) a distant second (but still far ahead of Newton). Also, no fantasy veteran will pick a QB in the top three. Foster, LeSean McCoy and Peterson should go in the top three, in any order. Ray Rice probably should be added to that group, too. Foster, after getting over his hammy issue in September, has been the No. 1 running back in fantasy. He should be the top pick in 60 percent of leagues. A QB will go No. 1 in about 10 percent of leagues, and it will be Rodgers, not Newton. Everyone talks about how bad of a QB Tebow is, but they fail to mention Tebow has 10 TDs to one INT. Newton has 13 TDs to 14 INTs. Newton might throw for 4,000 yards as a rookie, with 16 TDs. He is a very good fantasy player, but he is still not a great QB.

David Sabino: The 2012 season will be the 17th year in a row that I'll be ranking NFL players and in that time running backs from Marshall Faulk to Priest Holmes to LaDainian Tomlinson to Adrian Peterson have dominated the preseason top spot. But with the numbers of a good quarterback and a great running back, Newton will certainly be at the center of the top pick discussion. Unlike the diminutive, and therefore injury-prone, Michael Vick, who many believed should have gone as high as No. 1 in 2011, Newton is a beast and will dish out as much punishment as he gets. Assuming that Rodgers can't repeat the insanely terrific season that he's enjoying this year, the only other player I would strongly consider with the top pick besides Newton would be Arian Foster because of his double-threat capabilities and strong line in front of him. However, should the Panthers add another quality receiver or two for Newton to throw to, he'll be hard not to take first.

2. The calls for Donovan McNabb to be signed by the Bears are growing. What value would he have and what difference would he make for the Bears offense?

Beacom: McNabb doesn't offer much more value to fantasy owners than Caleb Hanie, which is why I don't see this scenario playing out. Plus, anyone who lines up under center for Chicago will be handicapped by the absence of Matt Forte, who makes the Bears' offense go.

Carroll: At least he's not Brett Favre. I'm not sure if McNabb has much left, and with Mike Martz's offense I doubt he could pick it up. Reggie Wayne defended Curtis Painter for the same reasons Devin Hester did for Caleb Hanie,but we know they're not playoff-caliber guys.

Mack: McNabb would do something Caleb Hanie hasn't been able to do: Avoid mistakes. McNabb might not have had great numbers in his brief starting time with the Vikings, but he wasn't throwing picks. The supporting cast isn't great in Chicago with Matt Forte out, but there would be enough viable targets for McNabb to spread the ball around and go for 200 yards and a couple of scores in the final weeks. This will all be a moot point if Chicago doesn't make the phone call, though. Expect your the Bears, excluding Marion Barber and the D/ST Bears, to be bad plays at Denver this weekend.

Sabino: There's no way that McNabb will go to the Bears. Chicago has one of the most complex offensive schemes in the league and McNabb has never played in it before. In any case, the Bears have much deeper concerns with Matt Forte likely out a few weeks at the minimum.

3. Michael Turner has struggled over the last few weeks. How concerned should owners be?

Beacom: Turner faced two of the league's best run defenses the past two weeks (Houston and Minnesota), so his poor performances in those games do not bother me much. He has a better yards per carry average (4.3) than he posted a year ago (4.1) and the upcoming schedule is favorable. Sleep easy, Michael Turner owners.

Carroll: Some. He wore down a couple years back, and I do worry that it still affects him. I thought that the Falcons offense would do much more.

Mack: If you have Turner, you likely are still happy with his production. In fact, you're happy he has saved some in the tank for the fantasy postseason (if you didn't need it to get in last Sunday). Turner faces the suspect run defense of the Panthers, then the Jags and Saints. He should be in for a very good final three weeks. If you play in Week 17, well, the Bucs are on the slate and they are awful against backs, too. Turner is fine and fully prepared to pay you back.

Sabino: I wouldn't be concerned at all. Although Turner averaged just 3.2 and 3.1 yards per carry, respectively, the past two weeks, it was against a Vikings team that begs to be passed against and the Texans' No. 1-ranked defense. I fully expect Turner to have a field day this week against the Panthers, and while Week 15 may be a struggle against Jacksonville, he'll bounce back well in Week 16 against New Orleans.

4. The playoff season brings new variables into the fantasy mix, such as injuries, teams waving the white flag and bad weather. How should an owner's preparation change in the postseason?

Beacom: Of the three, weather is the biggest thing. For example, the cold could slow the red-hot Packers passing game a tad. But mostly these things are overstated this time of year. Injuries must be studied no differently in December than any month of the football season. Few teams will sit players, and those that choose to probably will not until Week 17 when most fantasy leagues have been decided. If anything, fantasy owners need to remind themselves not to over-think these situations.

Carroll: You have to play the competition more. If you're up against the No. 1 seed you go upside. If you're the No. 1 seed you can play to their level. Matchups are also more key.

Mack: If you've made the postseason, you know exactly what you're doing. If not, your team is so strong even you cannot mess it up. Go with whatever has gotten you to this point, mostly starting your studs. Matchups should only break ties when setting your lineup. When choosing stopgaps off the waiver wire, this is where the matchups play the biggest role. You don't need someone to be good for three weeks in those cases, just one. If he does or does not work out and you advance, cut him and move on to the next waiver-wire flavor of the week. The best part about this time of year is there are far less fantasy teams fighting for waiver pick-ups, and the nature of the late season in the NFL actually makes for far more viable players coming out of the woodwork -- like Marion Barber in Chicago, Toby Gerhart in Minnesota and Kevin Smith in Detroit.

Sabino: Since you made the playoffs you've been doing something right, so making many drastic moves isn't advised. However, you have to be even more attentive to things like injuries to your players (and those who make them better like linemen, fullbacks, etc.) and act swiftly to rectify any potential problems. Otherwise, make sure you have a quality reserve or two at every position, and by quality I mean someone with a good matchup when you'd need them (likely Weeks 15 and 16). It's been a long haul to get to this point and I wouldn't do much differently.

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