Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
When selecting your NFL fantasy roster, getting the most talented players is not always enough. There are a few other factors which must be evaluated, such as strength of schedule, opportunities to perform and, most importantly, the player's current and future health.
Playing an "easy" schedule allows less talented players to succeed at a high level, but sometimes it's harder to predict who will be good and who will struggle from year to year.
At the beginning of last season, the San Francisco 49ers defense was coming off a middle-of-the-road season, after ranking 16th in scoring defense in 2010. But the 49ers were a drastically improved squad in 2011, finishing second in points allowed (14.3 ppg), first in rushing defense (77.2 ypg) and fourth in overall yards allowed (308.1 ypg).
Conversely, the New England Patriots yielded 6,577 total yards last season to rank 31st of 32 teams after giving up 713 more yards than the previous season and more than 1,400 more than in 2009 when they finished 11th overall.
Opportunities comes in different forms. For a receiver or running back, just getting on the field is not enough. The coach has to call plays designed to get your guy the ball and the play has to produce results.
In the case of wideout Brandon Lloyd, he was the fifth-most targeted receiver in 2011 (150), yet finished with the 20th-most receiving yards (966).
Or, your receiver/running back could be buried on the depth chart as Arian Foster was in 2009 when Steve Slaton, Ryan Moats and Chris Brown all got opportunities to start before Foster finally did in Week 17. Foster rushed for 119 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and the rest was history.
But probably the most important factor in winning your fantasy league is starting the season with a healthy team and keeping it that way. While you have no control over whether your guys will get hurt, there is an advantage to starting the season healthy and picking guys who have a history of playing a full season.
Until last year, one of the benefits of drafting Peyton Manning was that you could count on him to be your starting quarterback week in and week out. From 1998 through 2010, Manning played every game and, not coincidently, posted huge fantasy numbers each year. His worst passing yard total was 3,739 yards as a rookie and only twice in 13 years did he fail to crack the 4,000-yard mark.
Contrast Manning's reliability with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. In nine seasons, Vick has played a 16-game schedule just once (2006). Or Oakland running back Darren McFadden, who has started seven games or less in three out of four seasons.
Which bring us to today. If you have to decide who to draft there are a number of guys to avoid due to the fact that they aren't healthy. They include:
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota - Sure, it's tempting to draft "All Day" in the second round (ADP 14.4), because he's been a top-three fantasy selection since he came into the league in 2007. But this year is different. He'll head into opening day without so much as a single carry in preseason. He's coming off major knee surgery just eight months ago and the team figures to ease him into the action. With a solid option in backup Toby Gerhart the Vikings aren't going to give AP a full workload, the kind a fantasy opener needs until late in the season, at best. The second-round pick is too high a price to pay for a part- time player.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh - Though he came off the active/PUP list last week, Mendenhall isn't close to being ready to play an NFL game. He's likely to miss the first half of the season and even a 10th-round pick may be too much to pay.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland - He might be the highest-risk, highest-reward player in the draft. As previously mentioned, he's started less than half his team's games in three of four seasons. When he plays, he's very good, but is that worth the high price you will pay? It will take a first-round choice to get him (ADP 8.3).
Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland - Richardson was all the rage in early mock drafts, going anywhere from late in the first round to the middle of the second as teams knew the Browns traded up to make him the feature of their offense. But Richardson just had knee surgery - minor, but still enough to send me running for cover even if he only cost's me a third-round pick (ADP 27.6).
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston - Johnson has a history of injuries, but fantasy owners thought he had gotten past that when he played all 16 games in both 2008 and 2009. Unfortunately, his injuries returned over the past two seasons as Johnson missed 12 games during that span. Johnson has already missed some time during training camp with a groin problem and at 31 may just be too beaten up to survive a 16-game schedule. If I had a choice in the third round between Johnson (ADP 25.2), Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker or Roddy White, my choice wouldn't be the Texans No. 1 wideout.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants - I love Nicks' talent and when he's on the field, Eli Manning and the Giants passing offense is dynamic. But Nicks (ADP 36.6) will start the season at less than 100 percent, and that's dangerous. Take a receiver like Jordy Nelson or Steve Smith of Carolina.
Miles Austin, WR, Dallas - Austin played just 10 games last season and he's already on the sidelines watching preseason due to a hamstring injury. Injuries to a wideout's legs are the worst possible problem and you should look elsewhere for receiving. Instead of Austin, you could get a receiver like Vincent Jackson or Reggie Wayne for the same price.