Posted: Wednesday February 1, 2012 2:37PM ; Updated: Wednesday February 1, 2012 2:37PM
Eric Mack
Eric Mack>INSIDE FANTASY FOOTBALL

Davis, Manning rise up fantasy rankings after strong postseasons

Story Highlights

If Alex Smith remains solid, Vernon Davis may be Top-5 tight end in 2012

Eli Manning will be on cusp of elite fantasy QBs with elite receiving corps

Demaryius Thomas was Tim tebow's No. 1 target down stretch this season

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Vernon Davis proved to be the Niners most explosive weapon in the playoffs, with 292 yards receiving and four TDs in two games.
Vernon Davis proved to be the Niners most explosive weapon in the playoffs, with 292 yards receiving and four TDs in two games.
Peter Read Miller/SI

We went into the postseason with a warning that you shouldn't dramatically change your opinion of your 2012 fantasy picks based on playoff performances. Postseason heroes can be overrated, right James Starks owners?

We should stand fast to that belief, but there are some players who should be upgraded because they showed us something extra, perhaps something we didn't see in the 2011 regular season.

Yes, Mr. Vernon Davis -- with your Terrell Owens-esque playoff-winning catch, size, speed, emotion and tears -- we are referring to you.

Alex Smith might not have been able to duplicate his coming-out party he had against the Saints, and the 49ers couldn't put away the red-hot Giants, but Davis did show he belongs a lot higher in the early '12 fantasy football rankings than the No. 9 tight end we had him listed at this December.

As we wait for the Tom Brady-Eli Manning (elite or not elite) grudge match, here are the top 10 fantasy footballers who upgraded, or legitimized, their status for this August's drafts:

1. TE Vernon Davis, 49ers

Davis had a couple of 100-yard games this season (Week 3 and a Week 17 that didn't factor in most fantasy leagues). He had one two-touchdown game (Week 5). In the postseason, he had a pair of 100-plus-yard games with two scores apiece. He went beast mode, which was what many owners expected he would do more often during the fantasy season.

Davis, assuming Smith continues his show of competence, looks capable of posting a top-five TE season in '12. We had originally placed him ninth at the position in our early look back in December.

His hot finish and record-breaking postseason changes things; here is how the top of the TE rankings should look now:

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2. Jimmy Graham, Saints
3. Antonio Gates, Chargers
4. Jason Witten, Cowboys
5. Vernon Davis, 49ers

Davis' move up drops: 6. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots; 7. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons; 8. Jermichael Finley, Packers; and 9. Fred Davis, Redskins. Dallas Clark rounds out the top 10, but the likelihood that Peyton Manning is leaving Indianapolis in lieu of Andrew Luck might make that spot debatable for the injury-plagued Clark.

2. QB Eli Manning, Giants

Manning opened the year saying he belongs next to Brady among the NFL's elite quarterbacks. He then went out and threw for almost 5,000 yards, made a fantasy superstar out of the undrafted and unheralded Victor Cruz and now stands beside Brady in the Super Bowl again.

Manning should not crack the group of the elite fantasy quarterbacks, but he does warrant a move up from our early December No. 8 spot at the position.

Here is how the top of the QB rankings should look now:

1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
2. Drew Brees, Saints
3. Tom Brady, Patriots
4. Matthew Stafford, Lions
5. Cam Newton, Panthers
6. Eli Manning, Giants
7. Tony Romo, Cowboys
8. Matt Ryan, Falcons
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
10. Peyton Manning, Colts (likely a free agent)

We have to move down Philip Rivers out of the top 10 because his regime didn't change, so expecting his numbers to dramatically improve is unlikely. Also, Peyton Manning's uncertain health and new destination moves him out of the top five, which is where we had him when it was still thought he might return to Indy, and health.

Oh, and Eli Manning looks pretty darn good now that he is avoiding turnovers and with a pair of top-10 fantasy receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Cruz. Eli Manning, like Rodgers (with Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings) and Brady (with Wes Welker and Gronkowski), has not one elite target, but two, to rack up stats with him.

3. RB Arian Foster, Texans

We have already devoted a whole column (actually two) on the topic, but Foster earned No. 1 overall status with his performances against two very good run defenses in the postseason (Cincinnati and Baltimore). Foster posted the best two-game rushing total in playoff history, and those numbers came against two defenses focused to stop the run with rookie T.J. Yates at QB for the Texans.

Sure, you can make a case LeSean McCoy should be a candidate, but Foster missed about four games during the regular season. If you replace those three-plus games of production with his two postseason games -- against the odds he faced -- you get fantasy numbers that trump McCoy.

Here is how the top of the running back position should look now, which will remain unaffected by anything that happens next week in the Super Bowl:

1. Arian Foster, Texans
2. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
3. Ray Rice, Ravens
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
5. Matt Forte, Bears

4. RB Ray Rice, Ravens

Rice had two of his three worst games of the season in the playoffs; only Week 7 at Jacksonville was worse in terms of fantasy numbers. The Texans and Patriots stopped him as well as the 49ers did in Week 12. Those are some good run defenses, the 49ers are the best. Foster handled the elite defenses better.

So, Rice shouldn't be No. 1 overall, but he actually moves up a spot in our early December rankings because Adrian Peterson succumbed to a torn ACL that required surgery that puts his start of 2012 in doubt. Rice made it through the postseason unscathed and entirely worthy of being picked behind Foster and McCoy, if not second in PPR formats.

5. D/ST New York Giants

They always seem to be over-owned in fantasy because of the potential of the pass rush producing sacks and turnovers. Well, it took until the postseason for defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's unit to finally look elite and get the sacks and turnovers it should have been getting all season.

Only the Buccaneers (494), Vikings (449), Bills (434), Raiders (433), Colts (430), Panthers (429), Rams (407) gave up more points this season than the Giants' defense (400). In fact, the Giants are the only Super Bowl team in NFL history to be outscored in the regular season, and that was tough to do because the Giants have a pretty good offense (394 points for).

They Giants averaged more than 23.5 points against per game in the regular season. In three postseason games, they have given up just 39 points total (13 per game, over 10 less, against Super Bowl-caliber opponents).

Something has clicked of late -- perhaps because of health.

The Giants will get help next season in their weakest area, too, with the return of Pro Bowl-caliber corner Terrell Thomas, who missed the season after knee surgery, and rookie Prince Amukamara proving healthier and more ingrained in the defense with a full offseason and training camp. Also, an unproven linebacker corps has improved and still might get more help from the draft.

The Giants might be worthy of being a top five fantasy defense in August; here is how the top D/STs for 2012 should look now:

1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Baltimore Ravens
4. Chicago Bears
5. Houston Texans
6. New York Giants
7. New York Jets
8. Green Bay Packers
9. Philadelphia Eagles
10. New England Patriots

You might make the case the Jets, Packers and Eagles should be listed ahead of the Giants, but they have clearly moved into the top 10, if not top five. They probably shouldn't have been considered top 12 after the 2011 regular season.

6. WR Mario Manningham, Giants

Manningham is in a contract year and he has proved healthy and effective in the postseason, finally. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are clearly the Giants' go-to men, but Manningham had been the go-to man in crunch time.

You might need a double-take on this, but Manningham has caught fourth-quarter touchdown passes in each of the past three playoff victories for the Giants. Yes, Manningham gets lost behind Cruz and Nicks, but the Giants know where he is at when they need a late touchdown. The Patriots best take note.

Manningham has proved to be clutch. Whether or not he is back with the Giants, he will be far more valuable than the 42nd-best fantasy receiver he was in 2011. He might be a top 25, if not top 20 candidate as a No. 1 or 2 elsewhere.

7. WR Demaryius Thomas, Broncos

The Broncos are going to go with Tim Tebow as their starting quarterback going into the preseason. They also said they would allow him to compete for the starting job last preseason, before demoting him to No. 3 behind Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn. It is still possible, if not likely, the Broncos use an early round pick on a pocket passer.

Regardless, the Broncos' Thomas has proved to be the team's No. 1 receiver. It took awhile for him to prove healthy and become Tebow's primary target, but his performances against the Steelers and Patriots make him a potential top 25 fantasy receiver.

8. WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers

Crabtree wasn't impressive in the postseason and certainly is not his team's No. 1 target with the revival of Davis, but his QB, Smith, has proved more confident and capable. Smith is clearly the 49ers' quarterback going forward, so Crabtree should be given a lot more room to grow.

Smith is going to use his wideouts a lot more next training camp and Crabtree is the best option on the outside. He is a Top 20 receiver, talent-wise, and should outperform his draft position if he is not picked among the top 30 receivers next August. He was 35th, behind Manningham, in our early WR rankings.

9. WR Torrey Smith, Ravens

It wasn't his performance in the AFC Championship Game with three catches for 82 yards and a touchdown -- although that helped. Smith's upgrade comes from the fact Anquan Boldin is falling behind in his latter years and Joe Flacco has made some improvements in behind a go-to passer with Rice getting slowed down on the ground.

Flacco and Smith are going to be fantasy gems for the future, keeper-league must-haves, and should show significant strides next season after the top tiers.

10. QB Joe Flacco, Ravens

Ray Lewis was right. Flacco played his a** off against Brady and the Pats. He deserved a chance to compete in overtime -- curse you Billy Cundiff!

Flacco was out of our Top 15 fantasy QBs in the December rankings, but he has all the potential to perform like a Top 12 option -- basically a fantasy starter. He is capable of improving to 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. Those are Top-10 fantasy QB numbers, especially if you consider he should be more consistent in Year 5.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there and takes them very personally.

 
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