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Recently, the popular sports / pop culture website Grantland.com ran a contest for the right to compete to become the site’s fantasy football writer.  Almost 4,000 entries were submitted, and only 10 survived to reach the next phase of competition.  Shockingly, mine did not get past the first chopping block.  I have shed many tears over this setback, and undoubtedly more will be forthcoming. But since I need something to post on this blog, I want to share my entry with you in its original, preserved form.  Please allow me to extend my 15 minutes of not-fame by feasting your eyes upon the fruits of my labor.

(The post asked for our top 5 players for the season as well as one sleeper, and a 750-word limit was implemented.)

1. Tom Brady, Patriots QB

Perhaps it’s easy to question putting Brady here, just as it’s easy to question this blatant brown-nosing of my potential future boss.  But Tawmmy is a safe and, unsurprisingly, sexy top pick: a guaranteed 15 points weekly, with potential for 30-plus.  Besides his ’08 campaign (lost to a torn ACL), he has missed a total of zero games going back to 2001, when he became the Patriots’ starter.  Add in his new deep-ball muse Brandon Lloyd, the departure of goal-line plodder BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and the continued ineptitude of the Pats’ defense, and suddenly Brady’s insane ’07 stats are within reach.

Finally, things are looking up for Tom Brady.

2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers QB

My logic thus far is that selecting a quarterback first is a way of hedging against the greater injury risks facing skill players.  Obviously, if your best player misses any games, your squad is likely crippled.  And although Brady is perennially listed as probable, he’s the league’s safest star-quality investment.

If Rodgers stays healthy, he’ll outscore Brady this season. Like the Pats, the Packers are returning Rodgers’ favorite targets while neglecting to even pay lip service to improving on defense.  Look for every Packers game to resemble a Madden showdown between drunken college roommates.

However, Rodgers’ concussion history makes him riskier than Brady.  His scrambling ability, compared to Brady’s lack of precisely that, will increase the number of hits he endures.  Does State Farm cover brain damage?

3. Ray Rice, Ravens RB

A sensational RB who’s guaranteed touches and minimal competition. Rice’s rushing and elusiveness after the catch will still be the focal point of Baltimore’s offense, despite however many times Joe Flacco claims that he’s elite.  I expect him to break 2000 all-purpose yards and once again lead the league in touchdown to leg length ratio.  For the record, I prefer Rice to Arian Foster due to Ben Tate’s lurking presence, and with MJD’s holdout and an expected drop in touchdowns for LeSean McCoy (20 last year), Rice is the safest option at RB.

4. Darren McFadden, Raiders RB

I preach risk-awareness with my first two picks, and then recommend drafting a RB who has never played more than 13 games in a season?  A Raiders running back, no less, when it’s common knowledge that the Raiders can’t have nice things?

McFadden would be Saul Goodman’s favorite client–so many injuries, such great injustice.  He’s missed games due to toe, shoulder, ankle, foot, and knee maladies, but missed zero due to repeat injuries.  Drafting McFadden here is an exercise in trust.  But if you’re assuming that this Irish workhorse (he is Irish, right?) has no greater risk of injury than any other RB, then all can you see is top-tier talent.

Last year, he had 761 total yards and 5 TDs through 6 games before his foot injury; in 2010 he had 1664 and 10 over 13 games.  Now, with vulture Michael Bush gone (15 TDs in past two years), McFadden’s the Raiders’ all-purpose back, and the Carson Palmer-led aerial attack means defenses can’t key on him like before.  A power runner, capable receiver, and probably the second-best passer on the roster–this guy will be a star in 2012.

5. Calvin Johnson, Lions WR

The only WR who makes fantasy opponents cower like defensive coordinators, Johnson has been remarkably productive through his first five seasons.   He’s also the only wideout who is an evolved version of Randy Moss.  The biggest risk facing him is Matt Stafford re-injuring, well, anything.  But if you’re afraid of drafting Megatron because of the Madden cover curse, shame on you–only a Prime can defeat him.

Sleeper: Denarius Moore, Raiders WR

Before you pin me as a Raiders fan, let me make a quick rebuttal: I’m literate.

(Just kidding, guys.  Show off those GED certificates with pride.)

Moore is poised for a big year.  He’s Oakland’s primary deep threat, and although that invites boom-or-bust potential, his rapport with Carson Palmer appears to be strong.  During the six games Moore played in when Palmer started, he averaged 6.83 targets per game, while only receiving an average of 5 in games Jason Campbell started.  Although his catch rate was low (43%), his drop rate was 18th among wideouts, with only two drops all year.  Once he develops chemistry with Palmer–and Palmer has a full offseason in which to learn the offense–more catchable balls should come his way, and Moore will really take off.

(But seriously, join a league that has, like, 10 Raiders fans and you’ll cruise.)

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