Fantasy Football Fix – The Top Free Agent Pickups of 2011

By Kristine Reese & Corinna Evans

After 10 weeks of Fantasy Football season come & gone you’ve most likely seen it all… injuries, bye weeks, underperforming players and possibly even a suspension. If you’re like us; I’m sure you’ve spent a fair share of your time scoping out the free agents in your league.

Some of your pickups may have been a dud, while others could have replaced your original draft picks as starters. As the writers of a fantasy football column, we were curious which players you picked up as free agents in your fantasy football leagues that have paid off the most? After a few days of Facebook polling, consulting friends & co-workers, and tweeting with our followers we compiled a list of the top free agents you picked up this year.

 

Cam Newton, Panthers QB – Debatably the best rookie to come out of the 2011 draft. This Heisman trophy winner showed NFL fans exactly why he was the #1 draft pick as soon as he took the field in week one. In his NFL debut, Newton became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in his NFL regular-season opener. Peyton Manning previously held this record.

With a completion rate of 60.6%, Newton has thrown for 2,393 yards so far this season. Newton may not have originally been drafted by most Fantasy Football team managers, as they may not have expected him to have such a significant rookie season. However, that all changed after week one & fantasy football owners scrambled to pick up the hot new rookie. He is currently owned in 99.6% of leagues. Newton is currently ranked 3rd in fantasy QBs.

I’ll admit I was lucky enough to claim Newton as a free agent in one of my fantasy leagues. However, I’ve been skeptical that he will consistently perform as he did in the beginning of the season so I have not started him. Before you discredit me based on that statement keep in mind I have Drew Brees. I understand that Newton is having a miraculous season, but you can’t bench Brees for a rookie. Cam continues to impress viewers every week & even though the Panthers are 2-6, Newton is a top fantasy QB every week.  In week 10, Newton will make his first start on my team… Don’t let me down!

 

Tim Tebow, Broncos QB – This is a perfect example of a situation where you have to make a distinction between fantasy football and real football. Incompletions do not count against total yardage in fantasy and there is no extra credit for making throws look pretty. You start Tebow in fantasy resigning yourself to the fact that yards are yards are yards and with Tebow’s unique ability as a runner they add up quickly.

Tebow is averaging about 60 yards rushing a game, which really increases his value when you consider that he is also averaging 2 touchdowns. He is currently averaging 22 Fantasy points a game (as the starter) and is the No.3 Ranked QB in the last 3 weeks.

Tebow is currently owned in 78.0% of leagues. Even if you own Aaron Rodgers, I would strongly recommend picking him up and using him in a trade.

Some people have a “thing” about using Tebow in Fantasy and I’m sorry to say I cannot help you with that. I write this column to advise you in fantasy football, not to answer the great mysteries of the universe. If you do start him, I suggest hitting the button with one eye closed. It does make it easier.

 

Demarco Murray, Cowboys RB – It’s not too often you’re able to acquire a “star” (yeah, I said it) running back off of waivers but that’s exactly what has happened with DeMarco Murray.

Murray was drafted by the Cowboys in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft, a move that was likely intended to provide the ‘Boys with a viable back-up for Felix Jones. Murray got his first shot as the primary back in Week 7 and has been a total stud ever since.

In his first start vs. the St. Louis Rams, Murray set a franchise record rushing for an incredible 253 yards and 1 touchdown (31 fantasy points). While it’s unreasonable to expect this kind of production from Murray on a regular basis, he has racked up 466 yards (8.5 yards a carry) and 15.8 Fantasy Points in the last 3 games.

If that wasn’t enough, he recently started sharing duties out the backfield, further increasing his value. He had an additional 47 yards on receptions alone vs. the Seahawks.

The only real downside with Murray is the inherent risk that Felix Jones will begin sharing carriers (or re-gain his role) once healthy. I’m not an NFL coach but if I were, I would stick with Murray as the starter. Sadly I am not an NFL coach and the future of the Cowboys backfield remains to be seen.

Felix’s inevitable return makes Murray a sell high-candidate but if you need him now, enjoy the production and begin making plans for the playoffs. You may not have him.

Murray is now owned in 99.7% of leagues. Not sure what’s up with the other .3% percent. Get on board, people.

 

Ben Tate, Texans RB – If it wasn’t for Arian Foster’s injury at the beginning of the season, the running back from Houston may not have received his chance to be a star this year. Tate was drafted by the Texans in 2010, but unfortunately broke his ankle during preseason & was placed on injured reserve for the season.

He returned this year & in his first game he rushed for 116 yards and 1 touchdown. Tate was not a high draft pick by fantasy owners, if he was even drafted at all. That all changed when Foster was limited in the first few weeks of the season. Tate made an extraordinary backup during those weeks and continues to be a great option even with the return of Foster. He is currently owned in 77.2% of leagues.

I’ve been starting Tate even with Foster back in the lineup. Tate continues to be a main target in Houston. However, when Andre Johnson returns Tate will have to prove he should still be a main component in the Texans offense or his fantasy value will significantly decline.

 

Darren Sproles, Saints RB,The Saints RB is currently in his 7th NFL season. He was originally drafted by the Chargers in 2005 & spent most of career there before being traded to New Orleans.

Since being traded he has made an impact on the dynamic Saints offense.  After his seventh game in N.O. he had already recorded over 1,000 all-purpose yards. With a roster filled with successful targets, Sproles seems to capitalize whenever he is targeted. This has helped him become a more prominent fantasy player as he puts up major yards on his limited amount of touches.

He is currently owned in 99.7% of leagues. Currently ranked 16th in the league, he has been averaging 7.1 rushing yards & 8 receiving yards per game.

 

Antonio Brown, Steelers RB- The Steelers drafted Brown in the 6th round of the 2010 draft, which is a borderline steal for a guy with his physical abilities.  It was only a matter of time before he got his chance to earn a permanent spot and if you watched any Steelers preseason games it’s highly possible you already had Brown on your list of fantasy sleepers.

It took a little while for him to get going in the regular season, but with injuries to both Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders, Brown has quickly become one of Big Ben’s favorite targets.

Not only does Brown now lead the Steelers in targets (over Mike Wallace, no joke), he has had two 100-yard games in the last three weeks. Go get him now while you still can. He is only owned in 49.3% percent of league, which is rather unbelievable.

 

Victor Cruz, Giants WR – The undrafted wide receiver out of University of Massachusetts Amherst was signed by the Giants in 2010. Cruz caught the attention of NFL fans during the 2010 preseason, after catching 6 passes for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns which led to the Giants 31-16 victory over the Jets. Unfortunately for Cruz he only played in 3 regular season games before injuring a hamstring & remaining on injured reserve for the rest of his rookie season.

Since Cruz made a minimal impact in 2010, he was not a drafted by most owners this season. Cruz started the season as the 4th wide receiver on the Giants roster, but after Hixon & Manningham sustained injuries Cruz made his way up the depth chart. Cruz showed the Giants exactly why he was worth a second look versus the Eagles. He finished the game with 3 catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns.

After that Fantasy owners were quick to add him to the roster. The following week versus the Seahawks he caught a one handed 68 yard touchdown reception off a tipped pass. This play was highlighted throughout the week as one of the best catches of all time. 

Cruz has continued to be an integral part of the Giants offense this season. He is currently ranked the 17th wide receiver & is owned in 94.6% of leagues.

 

David Nelson, Bills WR –Even if you did foresee the Bills offensive emergence, it’s likely you had your money on Stevie Johnson and not David Nelson.

Fantasy owners rushed to pick up Nelson after his out-of-nowhere performances in weeks 2 and 3. Unfortunately, his production tapered off a bit when Donald Jones went down and he drew more double coverage. Now that Jones has returned, Nelson’s production should normalize and the red zone targets will continue.

Nelson is averaging 6.8 fantasy points a week, which makes him a solid flex play. The unfortunate thing for Nelson is that is fantasy production is largely dependent on the big play, which is impossible to predict.

Nelson is only owned in 27.5% percent of leagues. While he is not an every week start he is a great match-up play. If you’re in need of filler, you could do a lot worse.

 

Jimmy Graham, Saints TE- Graham was drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft by the New Orleans Saints for his unique physical gifts (he is 6’6”) and his athleticism (he was a basketball player).  He is yet another example of the hybrid-type of tight end we are seeing more and more today’s NFL.

Much like Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, Graham is less of a tight end and more of a receiver. In fact, he is the New Orleans Saints #1 receiver through the first 9 games. He is 3rd in the NFL in receptions, 5th in receiving yards and 8th in reception percentage.

Graham is currently the top ranked tight end for the year, just slightly ahead of Rob Gronkowski, and averages 11.1 Fantasy Points a week. 

Graham is now owned in 100% of leagues and mysteriously started in 89%. If you own him, you have to start him.

 

49ers Defense – Few people expected this from the 49ers defense, which explains why they made our best free agent pick-ups list.

The 49ers DST is the 4th highest scoring fantasy defense, behind the Packers, Jets and Lions. They average 11.4 points a week and are owned in 97.5% of leagues.

 

Honorable Mentions –  

Jake Ballard, Giants TE, is becoming a more significant factor in the Giants’ offense. After catching a 28 yard, game winning pass versus the Patriots he has become a more prominent fantasy TE. He is still only owned in 18.6% of leagues so if you are in need of a TE check him out. Keep in mind his role with the team changes depending on the healthy players surrounding him.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills QB, has established himself as a top QB in the NFL this season. With a surprisingly performance from the Bills during the first half of the season, Fitzpatrick is currently owned in 86.4% of leagues. He had a season high in week one with 208 passing yards & 4 touchdowns. The least amount of yards he has thrown for this season was 193 yards with one touchdown versus Philly.

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This week’s Fantasy Football Fix is brought to you by Kristine Reese & Corinna Evans. Kristine Reese is the lead New York Jets writer and Corinna Evans is the lead Jacksonville Jaguars writer for Aerys Sports. They are also regular contributors of Fantasy content for Aerys Offsides. You can follow them on Twitter @kristinereese or @RoarBlackNTeal.

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