PORT ARTHUR — In my fantasy football column two weeks ago, I talked about taking a stand against players who had risky tags and believing that they will perform. But, not all risky players are created equal. How do you decide which risky guys to back?
That’s why I decided to have a throwdown between a number of risky guys to see who makes the safest bet. I’m not necessarily advocating drafting the guy who wins, just that the winner may make more sense to be drafted earlier.
Without further ado, let’s get it on…
The matchup: Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow
The risk: One’s the starter and one’s, well, Tebow.
The verdict: How many backup quarterbacks have their own huge press conference? Well, I guess Tebow is pretty unique. But the fact is, Tim Tebow is the backup to Mark Sanchez right now. There’s no telling if or when Tebow will unseat him.
Does that mean Tebow is automatically behind Sanchez on the riskiness scale? Not so fast, my friends. See, if reports on how the Jets plan to use Tebow are correct, he might have more value right now than Sanchez, even if he’s not the starter.
That’s because Tebow could be used in certain packages even when Sanchez is starting. If Tebow becomes a red zone QB extraordinaire, he provides value by scoring touchdowns. That can mean quite a bit in fantasy circles, even if Tebow isn’t scoring a ton on passing yards.
Of course, once upon a time, the Patriots tried to do this with former Kansas State standout Michael Bishop, and he did nothing. So, there’s still risk in selecting Tebow. Tebow may be less risky than the guy who’s actually starting for this team.
The matchup: Randy Moss vs. Plaxico Burress
The risk: One was out of football; the other one is currently out of football.
The verdict: Moss is being counted on to provide a weapon for the San Francisco offense. The traditional thinking among many sportswriters is that the year off will let his legs heal, and he’ll be able to provide a deep threat who may catch 30-40 passes this year.
Burress, on the other hand, isn’t currently signed with a team. He tried to court the Carolina Panthers earlier this summer, but they passed. His former team (the Jets) seemed disinterested in bringing him in. It figures that some team will take a gamble on him during training camp, though, especially when injuries set in.
So, which one is the safer bet? I’d go with Burress here, even if he hasn’t played. See, Burress has the size to be a redzone weapon and a proven ability recently to get that done. He may not be a guy to catch 70 passes, but I bet he could get 6-8 touchdowns in the right situation. Moss, though, may have been out of football too long. I know the Niners like him, but will he have anything left? We at least saw Burress catching TDs last season. That’s why he’s the choice here.
The matchup: Kenny Britt vs. Marshawn Lynch vs. Dez Bryant vs. Adrian Peterson
The risk: Arrested, arrested, arrested, arrested. Suspensions, anyone?
The verdict: All four of these players have gotten in trouble with law recently. They all could be facing suspension and losing game time. What does that do for the risk in drafting them?
Well, that all depends on how long they’re suspended for. With guys like Britt and Lynch, this is not their first rodeo in Roger Goodell’s discipline system. Both have gotten in trouble multiple times in the past, so expect them to see maybe four game bans to start the year.
Peterson and Bryant are relatively safer, and seem to have court cases that may not even be prosecuted. While Goodell has shown that he doesn’t need a conviction to suspend a player, I’d expect these two will not get four-game bans. Instead, they may get one to two game suspensions, with the possibility that they may not even get suspended at all.
Of the four, I suspect Peterson has the best chance to avoid a suspension, and thus, is the safest bet here.
The matchup: Tony Gonzalez vs. Antonio Gates
The risk: Age and deterioration.
The verdict: Even though he’s had a career that seemingly has spanned two millenia, Tony Gonzalez is still chugging along. He’s an integral part of the Falcons passing game and should still have open passing lanes with Roddy White and Julio Jones stretching defenses.
Antonio Gates is younger and probably more dynamic, but there are serious concerns with his injury history. At his age, will he be able to perform at the same level that made him the best tight end in the game for a while? Plus, will he be able to stay healthy?
Gonzalez appears to be a better bet here, simply because he still has a solid role in a pretty good offense. With Gates, he may be Phillip Rivers’ favorite target, but with all the time he’s missed because of injuries, things may have changed. If you’re going to take a later round gamble on one of then, Tony G makes more sense.
The matchup: DeMarco Murray vs. Ryan Mathews vs. Darren McFadden
The risk: Injuries, of course.
The verdict: With these three running backs, injuries have held them back more than anything. If healthy, they can all put up the kind of numbers that will win you fantasy league titles.
The question, though, is which one will stay healthy and for how long. DeMarco Murray burst onto the scene last year and looked like he could be a workhorse back. However, he did not play a full season for the Cowboys, so it’s hard to project him through 16 games. Add in an injury history in college and there are some legitimate concerns there.
Mathews is in his third year, but he still hasn’t shown he can be healthy for a full season. Though he only missed two games last year, he was hampered in more, which affected his numbers. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and his yards per carry went up to nearly 5 last year, so there are plenty of signs he can be a force when healthy.
Run DMC is probably the biggest question, since he’s been in the league for four years now and hasn’t played in more than 13 games. He’s also coming off a year where he played in just seven games and had a lingering foot injury that didn’t end his season at first, but essentially kept him out for the entire year.
Of the three, McFadden looks like the best running back when healthy. However, you have to expect more out of Mathews at this point. He’s the one who has the smallest injury history, and is in an offense that will still feature him prominently. Murray may be the least risky, since he’s younger and hasn’t actually been hurt in the pros nearly as much as the other two.
It’s a close, close race, though. I’d be worried drafting any of these three as a No. 1 running back.
David Coleman writes a weekly fantasy football column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @MDavidColeman.