Life is all about minimizing risk. It's part of the reason I don't hike where bears roam or swim where sharks live, eat and make little sharks. (No, I'm not much of an adventurer). The same theme holds true in fantasy drafts, where owners should seek bargains and minimize risk. The truth is, though, that many of you will face tough decisions on players with question marks; some of those players will be the single-biggest reason you contend for a title or struggle to contend. With that said, here are the 10 biggest "risks" who will affect your fantasy football draft ... for better or worse.
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans From 2010-12, it was tough to find a running back better in the stat sheets than Foster. He finished no worse than fourth in fantasy points at his position, and was a virtual lock to see plenty of touches. A back ailment cost him significant time in 2013, but he's returned to full strength heading into training camp and has no real backfield competition. If Foster regains his past statistical glory, fantasy owners will all be rewarded.
Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos There are no guarantees that Bell will reach the potential so many analysts (including myself) see in him heading into this season, but he's still likely to cost fantasy fans one of their first two overall picks in drafts. Will he be worth it? Time will tell, but the past success of runners in a Peyton Manning offense is interesting, to say the least. Should Ball fail to become a star, however, it could be difficult for owners to overcome.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Which Martin will we see in 2014 -- the fantasy star of 2012, or last year's disappointment? New OC Jeff Tedford liked to use a featured back during his time at Cal, but he's also hinted at using a backfield committee in Tampa Bay. If Martin earns a prominent role, he's going to help countless owners win a league title. If he falters like he did before his shoulder ailment in 2013, the Boise State product could kill your chances quickly.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills At this point last year, no one argued that Spiller had first-round value. Heck, I saw him selected in the top five in some drafts ... yeah, that didn't work out so well. Here's the good news, though; Spiller is still a young runner with little wear and tear on him, and he'll be back at 100 percent from last season's troublesome ankle. If you can land him as a high-end flex starter, Spiller could turn into one of the year's top values.
Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers Since 2000, a mere five rookie wide receivers (including Allen) have posted 1,000-plus yards. Of the first four on our list, three of them (Anquan Boldin, Marques Colston, A.J. Green) all went for 1,000 yards again the following season. Fantasy fans hope Allen joins this list and avoids being the next Michael Clayton. Any deviation from his upward-pointing statistical arrow would hurt many owners' chances at a fantasy league championship.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots Gronkowski (knee) appears to be on schedule for Week 1, but can he stay on the field once he's back? He's missed a combined 14 games over the last two years due to various ailments, all of which required surgical procedures (in some cases, multiple surgeries). Gronkowski will cost you a selection in one of the first five rounds, so he's one of the major risk-reward propositions. He'll alo be impossible to replace in a worst-case scenario.
Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks Harvin was once considered a No. 1 fantasy wideout, and at 26 he's still in the prime of his career. Of course, he needs to stay on the football field to meet expectations. Since 2012, he's played in just 10 games due to various ailments. While he is expected to be fine for the start of camp, whether or not he remains healthy is a huge question. Should Harvin turn the clock back to his Minnesota days, he would become a serious bargain.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots If you owned Brady last season, you know just how frustrating it was to start him on a regular basis. He finished 13th in fantasy points among quarterbacks, and his inconsistent level of play was enough to make fans pull their hair out. Brady's fate seems tied to that of Gronkowski, so this is a fantasy double whammy of sorts. With an ADP somewhere in the middle to late rounds, Brady could be a real bargain ... or he could leave you bald.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens Once considered a surefire top-5 pick, Rice's stock is sinking faster than the Red Sox's chances of winning back-to-back World Series. Coming off a season with a dreadful 3.1 yards-per-carry average and staring a suspension in the face, the Rutgers product isn't even guaranteed to keep his starting job. If he does see a rebirth under new OC Gary Kubiak upon his return, however, Rice could have RB2 value for a flex-starter price tag.
Trent Richardson, RB, Indianapolis Colts Richardson has looked like two different players in his first two pro campaigns. A top-10 fantasy runner as a rookie, the Alabama product rushed for two or fewer yards on almost 54 percent of his carries and finished 33rd in fantasy points among backs last season. Those are scary bad totals. If you're able to reduce risk and draft Richardson as a high flex starter, go for it. But taking him as a No. 2 runner before Round 5 is a big gamble.