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High-risk, high-reward fantasy players for 2014

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Aside from a select few, there is risk involved in drafting almost every player in fantasy football. However, due to a less than ideal situation or a return from a serious injury, some players carry far more risk than others. Below are 10 high-risk, high-reward fantasy players, some of whom were covered in Wednesday's episode of NFL Fantasy Live. To help you understand the risk involved, I've added a handy DEFCON-esque risk number next to each player's name. The lower the number, the higher the risk involved. It sounds weird, but that's how DEFCON actually works. Trust me, I looked it up.


Montee Ball -- DEFCON fantasy risk level: 5

No player has rocketed up fantasy draft boards this offseason quite like Montee Ball. His situation in 2014 is the perfect confluence of ability and opportunity, and many are projecting a monster season for the former Badger. The risk in drafting Ball is that he'll likely command a late first or early second-round pick and he only had 140 touches last season. However, based on his outrageous production in college and his growth at the end of last season, Ball's risk in not producing with a full NFL workload is minimal.

Arian Foster -- DEFCON fantasy risk level: 3

To call Foster injury prone is rather unfair, as prior to last season he'd only missed two games due to injury (he sat out Week 17 of 2011 to rest for the playoffs). Yet, the risk in drafting him this year is that from 2010 to 2012, Foster pretty much was the Texans offense. During that span he averaged an insane 371 touches and 1,900 scrimmage yards per season. That's an immense workload, yet, with Ryan Fitzpatrick struggling under center, the team may need to rely on Foster once again. Like Ball, Foster will cost fantasy owners at least a second-round pick as he has the potential to finish in the top 10 fantasy scorers at his position. One way to mitigate Foster's risk is to be sure to grab Jonathan Grimes later in the draft. It never hurts to have a backup plan.

Doug Martin -- DEFCON fantasy risk level: 3

Remember Martin's amazing rookie campaign? Pepperidge Farm remembers. So do most fantasy players. Even though Martin averaged a yard per carry less last season, is playing behind a paper mache offensive line, and his coordinator Jeff Tedford has been shouting the dirtiest word in fantasy ("committee") from the Tampa rooftops since he came to town, Martin is still being drafted in the third round. Oh, and the team drafted Charles Sims in the third round of the actual draft back in May, too. So what's to like about Martin in 2014? The guys is still undeniably talented, and if the Bucs can shore up the offensive line Martin figures to be the lead option, even if it is a committee. It'll be up to owners to decide if the risk in the third round is worth the reward.

Percy Harvin -- DEFCON fantasy risk level: 4

Remember when Percy Harvin started a full 16 games? Pepperidge Farm doesn't, either. Sure, Harvin played in all 16 games in 2011, but there was still his nagging migraine problem that left fantasy owners in fits even up until game time on Sundays. Harvin's injury history is long -- he's missed 22 games over the last three seasons due to injuries. Yet, as we saw in Super Bowl XLVIII, he's explosive, dynamic and will be a big part of the Seahawks offense. Ultimately, Harvin's best ability will be his availability, which is hard to trust at this time. The risk is miminimized if he can be obtained as a fourth or fifth option in the middle rounds.

Cam Newton -- DEFCON fantasy risk level: 3

Even though he has still been a top-tier fantasy quarterback, Netwon's fantasy points have dropped in each of the last three years. Add in the fact that he's throwing to an entirely new crop of receivers and returning from offseason ankle surgery and it's easy to see the risk involved in drafting the man with the million-dollar smile. Cam's current ADP is Round 6, and considering the likes of Matt Ryan, Colin Kaepernick, Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler can all be had rounds later, the risk might outweight the potential reward for Cam at that price.

Ben Tate -- DEFCON fantasy risk level: 3

Tate finally received his chance to be a starting back, but the situation isn't likely what he dreamed it would be. The team drafted Terrance West to compete with Tate (and likely share the load in a committee) and Tate's fumbling issues have already reared their ugly head in the preseason. Tate has flashed great talent, but it appears fantasy owners are getting wise to the reality of the situation. Tate is currently being drafted as the 24th running back, which helps control his growing risk level. But that risk isn't going away anytime soon. Be wary if targeting Tate in fantasy drafts this fall.

Rob Gronkowksi -- DEFCON fantasy risk level: 2

As Akbar said on Fantasy Live, Gronk "plays the game on the brink of disaster," and puts himself in harms way. That being said, Gronk is one of the most prolific scoring skill position players (43 touchdowns in 50 career games) in the history of the NFL. As he returns to more action in the preseason, his ADP (currently Round 3) could rise even higher. The potential reward is massive, however, the higher he is drafted, the higher the risk.

Andre Johnson -- DEFCON fantasy risk level: 3

Call this appearance on the risk list the "Ryan Fitzpatrick effect." Johnson is a phenomenal player, and put up deceptively great numbers last season. However, he hasn't caught a touchdown in 16 of his last 18 games. He's about to enter the twilight of his remarkable career on a team without a starting-quality quarterback, yet he's currently being drafted as the 11th wide receiver. I'm not doubting Dre ... just doubting that in his current situation he can produce as well as he's being drafted. Thus the high risk level.

Marshawn Lynch -- DEFCON fantasy risk level: 5

Lynch makes an appearance because of his short holdout and titanic workload over the last few seasons. Lynch is still a first-round pick, but he might be sliding down draft boards ever so slightly. It'd be foolish to think Beast Mode doesn't have at least one more monster fantasy season in him, but the days of never doubting he can be an every week starter are beginning to come to a close.

Vernon Davis -- DEFCON fantasy risk level: 5

Hear me out. I know Davis finished second in fantasy scoring for tight ends last season, and caught 13 touchdown passes. However, prior to last season Davis had been an average fantasy tight end under Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman. He caught 11 touchdown passes in 2011 and 2012 -- combined. The biggest difference between those numbers and last season? Michael Crabtree's injury. After Crabtree returned to San Francisco's starting lineup in Week 13, Davis averaged almost two less catches and 30 less yards per game (not to mention a lower touchdown rate as well). Davis is still a great tight end, but I for one won't be drafting him in Round 5 where he's currently going. Even though the risk is minimal, waiting on someone like Jordan Reed or Kyle Rudolph seems to make more sense.

-- Alex Gelhar writers fantasy and features for NFL.com and you can follow him on Twitter @AlexGelhar. The greatest risk in his life is currently whether or not his soul will be crushed beyond repair if he actually goes to see the new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." The DEFCON risk level for that currently sits at 1.

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