Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The first few picks of your NFL fantasy draft are easy as pie. You have plenty of superstars to choose from, but most likely they will be one of the following: Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy or Aaron Rodgers.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article describing the thought process that goes into drafting the fifth overall selection ("The fifth pick dilemma").
Today we will go about evaluating what you should do with the sixth pick of the draft.
For our purposes, we are assuming Foster, Rice, McCoy, Rodgers and Rob Gronkowski are no longer available. What should you do?
Below are the eight most obvious players to choose from: Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Ryan Mathews, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Jimmy Graham, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
If you are in quarterback-centric league, one that credits six points for a passing touchdown, then the decision would be much easier. But most leagues allow only three or four points per passing TD, so it brings all positions into the mix.
Tom Brady, QB, New England - Brady had a fantastic season last year despite not having a true deep threat - Deion Branch was too old and Chad Ochocinco never learned the offense. So Brady went to the shorter passes and dominated by using Wes Welker and his two talented tight ends - Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. In the offseason, the team added Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney to the receiving corps. Lloyd will stretch defenses, making Brady even more dangerous. It's hard to believe, but Brady could be much better in 2012 than he was a year ago when he posted 5,235 passing yards and 39 touchdowns.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina - Newton blasted out of the gate in his first two NFL game by throwing for more than 400 yards and turned into a fantasy sensation by throwing for 4,051 yards and accounting for 35 touchdowns - a record 14 on the ground. In leagues which credit quarterback rushing yards at the same rate as running backs, Newton is a dynamic weapon. He probably won't throw for 4,000 yards this season, but he'll be a top-three fantasy quarterback nonetheless.
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans - You can hardly go wrong if you select Brees, a quarterback who has thrown for more than 5,000 yards in two of the last four seasons and led the league in touchdown passes in three of the past four years. He's lost a solid receiver in Robert Meachem (now in San Diego), but still has plenty of talent remaining. The one thing to worry about with taking Brees is the team's improved running game. Mark Ingram can only get better and there is also Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego - The fantasy world is really excited about what they think Mathews can produce in 2012. Many have jumped on the bandwagon because it is believed that Mathews will inherit most of the red zone touchdowns that went to Mike Tolbert last year. Mathews totaled 1,546 yards from scrimmage in 2011 in just 13 starts. Therefore a healthier Mathews could hit 2,000 total yards and 12-14 touchdowns.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville - All Jones-Drew did was lead the league in rushing last season with 1,606 yards. He did that with no passing game whatsoever to keep opposing defenses honest. Management did a lot to remedy the situation, bringing in Laurent Robinson from Dallas and selecting the talented Justin Blackmon with their first pick. Now if Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne can get them the ball, MJD may actually have room to run.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland - McFadden averaged 109 yards per game in his seven games. Therein lies the problem, keeping the talented Raiders running back on the field. If he would play a 16-game schedule, he'd be a top-five back, particularly with Michael Bush now in Chicago. Of course, McFadden has never played more than 13. He is the ultimate in high-risk pick.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans - With Gronkowski off the board at No. 5, many fantasy owners will be tempted to immediately grab Graham. And with good reason. Graham posted 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011, a record-breaking season that would have had fantasy owners falling all over themselves if not for the fact that Gronkowski had a slightly better year. If you don't take Graham and he isn't there for you in the second round, then you will have to make up a 44-point difference between the Graham and the next best tight end.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit - Johnson had a monster season in 2011, leading the league in receiving with 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. Assuming his talented quarterback, Matthew Stafford, can stay healthy, his numbers are repeatable in 2012. If you skip on Johnson for a running back or Graham, then you will likely have, at best, Roddy White available by the time the snake draft returns to you. Based on our latest projections, that's a 46.2-point drop. For this reason, the man to choose at No. 6 is the best receiver in the league - Johnson.