Theme Team: The Sophomore Studs
This team is comprised entirely of second year players.
QB: Cam Newton (also consider Andy Dalton)
RB: DeMarco Murray, Mark Ingram (also consider Roy Helu, Stevan Ridley )
WR: A.J. Green, Julio Jones (also consider Torrey Smith, Denarius Moore, Titus Young)
TE: Kyle Rudolph (also consider Lance Kendricks)
Analysis: I don’t think you could build this team in a snake draft: your first four picks would need to be Newton, Green, Jones, and Murray in some order, and I’m not sure you could get them all (or that you'd want to pass on other available players to do so). But you could definitely make this team in an auction league.
This is actually a good team at QB and WR. If your league gives more points for rushing TDs than passing TDs, Newton can be really valuable, and both A.J. Green and Julio Jones showed great production for rookies in ’11. They should be good picks: both have potential to become elite in their second years. Even if you need to start three WRs, you can find some good potential second year players (I only named a few). You can, obviously, do better at TE, but that’s not a major worry.
The big weakness of this team is at running back. Make no mistake about it: there will be sophomore running backs that break out in 2012. But based on their ’11 production and their situations, I don’t know who those running backs are going to be. After DeMarco Murray, no ’11 rookie running back really exploded with signs of potential. I am going with Ingram over Helu or Ridley: I don’t like any of their situations, but figure Ingram is the more talented (you could probably draft all three!). It is quite likely that some other sophomore RB, one that didn’t or barely played in ’11, will be a breakout player. Good luck guessing who.
You may find a lot of other potential second year players as well: this draft list (with ’11 production included) from pro-football-reference.com should be helpful.
So, can you win a fantasy league with this team? It really depends on hitting on the right running backs, the WRs stepping up from words like "explosive," "exciting," or "potential" to "elite #1," and Cam Newton doing something approximately like what he did in 2011.
Previous Theme Teams: The Return from Injury Team
You can tell fantasy junkies by the finicky and specific critiques they offer of fantasy magazines.
I bought Sports Illustrated's fantasy magazine this year, and it is overall excellent (clean organization, profiles with three year stats including targets, detailed explanations/analysis, relevant coaching/player/rookie/roster change info, terrific team pages with red zone stats and opposing coach's comments on the team, auction values out of 100 so you can easily translate it to your own league's salary cap--something most fantasy mags screw up). That magazine and I are going to be spending a lot of time together. But it has one really serious flaw.
There is no position by position cheat sheet. A cheat sheet organized overall, with all players thrown into the mix, is not very helpful in any draft (unless you've really familiarized yourself with it, you don't always know where to look, and while any fantasy manager is going to have slightly different rankings from any fantasy magazine, different managers have wildly different ideas about the value of certain positions over others, so mixing QBs, RBs, WRs, and TEs into one big list is almost entirely worthless). But it is entirely worthless during an auction draft, when players aren't nominated for bidding in anything resembling a ranking of quality. With no positional cheat sheet, SI has just ensured that I need to create or print another list just to manage during a live draft (or page through the mag checking each positional ranking section, but a cheat sheet is supposed to simplify things by eliminating that need).