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Offseason Extra: Our fine 15 for Draft Day

Jamey Eisenberg
Senior Fantasy Writer

Every year, Fantasy owners go into their draft with players they must have. Whether it's a stud or a sleeper, these are guys you want on your team and will go out of your way to get them.

It could mean reaching for this player a round or two early, and if you miss out on a guy you target you usually scream in disgust and throw something. At least that's my reaction.

These are some of the guys I plan to target on Draft Day in my leagues ...

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Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers
2011 stats: 69 catches, 1,108 yards and two touchdowns
Early 2012 projections: 80 catches, 1,154 yards and four touchdowns
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 7
I would draft him in: Round 5
There's a lot to like about Brown this year, and I consider him a potential starter in all leagues. You should be able to draft him as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver, but he can easily be a Top 20 option if he plays to his talent level. He's entering his third year in the NFL, which is typically a breakout season for receivers, and the Steelers could be a little more pass-happy in 2012 with Rashard Mendenhall (knee) banged up. Hines Ward is gone, and the Steelers will lean on Mike Wallace and Brown in the passing game with help from Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Heath Miller. If Wallace is a holdout because of his contract then Brown's value will rise, and I expect him to build off last year's performance in a breakout campaign.

Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals
2011 stats: 56 catches, 596 yards and six touchdowns
Early 2012 projections: 58 catches, 656 yards and five touchdowns
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 11
I would draft him in: Round 9
Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said he wants Gresham to play like Rob Gronkowski. Those are lofty expectations, but Gresham certainly has the talent. We consider Gresham the No. 2 option in the passing game for the Bengals behind A.J. Green, and he has done a nice job scoring touchdowns in his first two years with 10. But we need Gresham to score 10 touchdowns this year if he's going to take the next step in his career. The good thing about Gresham is you can wait on him in your draft. While other owners reach for Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham in the first three rounds, you can secure standout running backs and receivers and then take Gresham later. If he plays as expected then he will reward you for your patience.

Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
2011 stats: N/A
Early 2012 projections: 3,787 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions; 544 rushing yards and four touchdowns
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 12
I would draft him in: Round 10
Griffin should not be considered a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback coming into the season, but he is worth drafting in all leagues as a top backup. And if he's able to play at a high level right away, even in a tough division like the NFC East, he could turn into a starter in deeper formats. A lot of people want to compare Griffin to Cam Newton, but that's not realistic. Griffin is smaller than Newton and won't score as many rushing touchdowns. But Griffin does have a decent receiving corps around him with Santana Moss, Fred Davis, Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, and he has the chance for 4,000 total yards and 25-plus touchdowns. If he can limit the turnovers then his production should be solid, and he is a great No. 2 quarterback to target in all leagues.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
2011 stats: 58 catches, 961 yards and four touchdowns
Early 2012 projections: 68 catches, 1,078 yards and five touchdowns
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 6
I would draft him in: Round 5
Jackson is ready for a rebound year after what turned out to be a frustrating 2011. Last year, Jackson was drafted as a No. 1 Fantasy receiver in Round 3, but he barely finished in the Top 30 at his position. He had some monster games -- six outings with double digits in Fantasy points, including two in a row to close the season -- but he struggled early on with contract-related issues. He got a new five-year deal this offseason worth $51 million, and coach Andy Reid is confident he will play up to his potential. He now presents great value on Draft Day since he should fall to Round 5 or later, making him a steal. Jackson can be considered a low-end No. 2 Fantasy option with upside. He is a great bounce-back candidate for 2012.

Chris Johnson, RB, Titans
2011 stats: 1,047 rushing yards and four touchdowns; 57 catches for 418 yards
Early 2012 projections: 1,433 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns; 41 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 2
I would draft him in: Round 1
Johnson struggled in 2011. He signed a huge contract following a holdout and then managed just eight games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league. He only had four games with 100 rushing yards and scored just four touchdowns. It was easily the worst season of his career. The good news is Johnson should have gotten all of the bad play out of his system. He should return as a No. 1 Fantasy running back, worthy of being drafting toward the end of Round 1. Some Fantasy owners will pass on Johnson based on last year's performance, but he should rebound in a big way. Don't be surprised if he reaches 1,500 total yards and 10 touchdowns. That's what he had in 2010, and he's easily capable of doing that again in a comeback campaign.

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Lions
2011 stats: Injured
Early 2012 projections: 1,111 rushing yards and eight touchdowns; 20 catches for 150 yards and one touchdown
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 9
I would draft him in: Round 7
The Lions will have a three-headed backfield this season with Leshoure, Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith, but Leshoure should be the best of the bunch. He could be in line for a big season if he's 100 percent healthy following last year's Achilles' injury. Best is a star when healthy, but concussion problems could ruin his career. And Smith is more of a safety option in case the other two struggle. But Leshoure has the chance to shine. He not only has to prove he can stay healthy, but he also was arrested twice for allegedly using marijuana and could face a suspension. Still, he's a good combination of size (6-foot, 233 pounds) and speed, and he could reach 1,000 total yards and 10 touchdowns. We like him as a No. 3 Fantasy running back with upside.

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Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
2011 stats: College
Early 2012 projections: 1,017 rushing yards and three touchdowns; 38 catches for 276 yards and one touchdown
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 5
I would draft him in: Round 4
Fantasy owners are going to drool over Trent Richardson, and rightfully so given his talent and opportunity to succeed in Cleveland. But don't be surprised if Martin is the No. 1 rookie rusher this year. He will share playing time with LeGarrette Blount, but Martin could easily take over as the No. 1 running back this season. He has the chance to be a three-down back, and even if Blount works at the goal line, Martin has the chance for 1,500 total yards and five-plus touchdowns. That would make him a quality No. 2 Fantasy running back, and he has all the intangibles to succeed. Tampa Bay improved its offensive line with the addition of Carl Nicks, and the Bucs would be smart to lean on Martin this season.

Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers
2011 stats: 1,091 rushing yards and six touchdowns; 50 catches for 455 yards
Early 2012 projections: 1,352 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns; 54 catches for 488 yards and two touchdowns
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 1
I would draft him in: Round 1
I am going to struggle at No. 4 overall because I will have to decide between Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Maurice Jones-Drew and Mathews. He is likely the fourth option of this group, but I like Mathews a lot this year. After a productive sophomore season where he had an average of 12.4 Fantasy points per game, he should actually see increased production this year. Mike Tolbert is gone after signing as a free agent in Carolina, and Mathews should have little competition for carries. If Mathews can take over the goal-line work and continue to be a factor in the passing game we can see him being well over 1,500 total yards and close to double digits in touchdowns. That makes him an elite Fantasy running back and someone you want.

Denarius Moore, WR, Raiders
2011 stats: 33 catches, 618 yards and five touchdowns
Early 2012 projections: 63 catches, 966 yards and four touchdowns
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 8
I would draft him in: Round 7
Moore enters this season as the best Fantasy receiver for the Raiders and a potential starter in all leagues. Moore played well as a rookie in 2011. He only played in 13 games with 10 starts, but he flashed his big-play potential by averaging 18.7-yards per catch and 12.2-yards per carry. Moore needs to stay healthy for a full year, but he has the chance for 1,000 receiving yards and double digits in touchdowns. He should be drafted as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver with a mid-round pick, but he could definitely emerge as a starter. The Raiders have a crowded receiving corps with Jacoby Ford, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy, but Moore should be the favorite target for Carson Palmer this year.

Isaac Redman, RB, Steelers
2011 stats: 479 rushing yards and three touchdowns; 18 catches for 78 yards
Early 2012 projections: 988 rushing yards and eight touchdowns; 24 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 7
I would draft him in: Round 5
Redman should have the opportunity to lead the way for the Steelers' run game in 2012. Mendenhall is still recovering from a torn ACL and could be limited all season. Redman looked great in the playoffs against Denver with Mendenhall out, rushing for 121 yards on 17 carries with two catches for 21 yards, so he showed he can handle the role. The likes of Jonathan Dwyer, Chris Rainey and Baron Batch will compete for reps with Redman, but for now he seems to be the most likely candidate to not only pick up at least 15 touches per game but also work at the goal-line. We consider Redman a candidate to begin the season as a No. 3 Fantasy running back with the chance to start in most leagues sooner rather than later.

Sidney Rice, WR, Seahawks
2011 stats: 32 catches, 484 yards and two touchdowns
Early 2012 projections: 64 catches, 977 yards and seven touchdowns
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 9
I would draft him in: Round 7
Rice struggled in his first year with the Seahawks and will attempt to make amends in 2012. Shoulder and concussion problems limited him to nine games. He had shoulder surgery this offseason and also a minor knee procedure, but he is expected to be ready for the start of the season. He also has a new quarterback in Matt Flynn, which should help his production. Though he's an injury risk, we consider Rice a No. 3 Fantasy receiver because of his upside. Rice might never duplicate his 2009 breakout campaign when he had 83 catches for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns for the Vikings, but he could definitely come close if he plays a full season. He should present great value in all leagues on Draft Day.

Stevan Ridley, RB, Patriots
2011 stats: 441 rushing yards and one touchdown; three catches for 13 yards
Early 2012 projections: 1,005 rushing yards and eight touchdowns; 28 catches for 244 yards and one touchdown
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 9
I would draft him in: Round 6
The Patriots haven't been known for their rushing prowess since Tom Brady attacked the record books in 2007, but this year New England could have a running back Fantasy owners should target in Ridley. He has the chance for a productive season with BenJarvus Green-Ellis gone. We'll most likely see a committee backfield of Ridley, Shane Vereen, Joseph Addai and Danny Woodhead, but Ridley has the most upside. He played well in limited action as a rookie in 2011 and should be a candidate for 1,100 total yards and seven touchdowns this year. He is worth drafting as a solid No. 3 Fantasy rusher with the chance to start if he lives up to the early expectations.

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers
2011 stats: 4,624 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 20 interceptions
Early 2012 projections: 4,544 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 5
I would draft him in: Round 4
Rivers enters this season with the chance to rebound from a down year in 2011. Rivers had some positive stats with his fourth year in a row with at least 4,000 passing yards and 27 touchdowns, but the interceptions were a career high. That's something he needs to correct this year, but it's not the biggest hole he'll have to fill. Rivers lost a top target in Vincent Jackson, and he'll try to make up for the departure with new talent in Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. With Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd still in the mix, Rivers should be fine. We expect him to again exceed 4,000 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and with minimal turnovers his value will again be on the rise. He should be drafted as a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback.

Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens
2011 stats: 50 catches, 841 yards and seven touchdowns
Early 2012 projections: 66 catches, 1,007 yards and six touchdowns
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 7
I would draft him in: Round 5
Smith's goal for 2012 is to gain at least 1,000 yards and score 10 touchdowns. It's realistic if he can be more consistent, which was a problem for him in 2011. Of his seven scores, three came in one game and he scored in consecutive games once. His yardage was also shaky as there was only one occasion where he had back-to-back games with at least 50 yards. Smith admitted to being raw as a rookie and has worked this offseason to improve his technique in hopes to "dominate." We like Smith a lot heading into this year, and he has the chance to be a solid Fantasy contributor. He should be viewed as a No. 3 Fantasy option, but he could be a starter in all leagues if he continues to progress based on his rookie year.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos
2011 stats: 32 catches, 551 yards and four touchdowns
Early 2012 projections: 73 catches, 1,165 yards and six touchdowns
Likely Average Draft Position: Round 5
I would draft him in: Round 4
Put Eric Decker and Jacob Tamme on this list because I would target all three. Decker should be drafted in Round 6, and Tamme is worth drafting with a late-round pick as a No. 2 tight end. The reason is obvious. Now, I would try to avoid Peyton Manning if possible with the risk of his comeback from neck surgery, but you should still invest in his targets. Thomas showed what he could do last year in a limited passing attack with Tim Tebow, and the same goes for Decker. Tamme has a history with Manning going back to the Colts, and all three should thrive in 2012. Thomas has the most upside of this group, and he could be a Top 10 Fantasy receiver this season.

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