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Fantasy Football draft advice: The No. 1 picks and NFL stars to avoid

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These days the world of fantasy football is full of tumult and uncertainty, much like the United States economy. Investors have driven gold prices sky high because gold is considered a sure thing even in the most difficult financial times.

Fantasy football owners, confused by the truncated offseason and the rushed lead up to the opening week (it all kicks off next Thursday, believe it or not), should take a cue from investors and try to identify the gold standard at each position. We’ll look at fantasy sleepers next week, but, for now, I’m going to tell you who my No. 1 picks are for each of the four main fantasy positions.

QUARTERBACK CANDIDATES: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees

OUTLOOK: Manning’s injury concerns knock him out of the running, although I have a feeling he’ll be back within the first four games. Vick is too much of an injury risk to put on top. Brees’ stats might drop with an improved running game. Brady and Rivers should both be brilliant, and I’d take them two and three in either order. But the No. 1 guy is . . .

GOLD STANDARD: AARON RODGERS

I can’t envision a game when Rodgers won’t throw for 300 yards and multiple touchdowns. It’s a deep group of quarterbacks, but the reigning Super Bowl MVP will be the very best.

RUNNING BACK CANDIDATES: Peyton Hillis, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson

OUTLOOK: Hillis is a little banged up in camp, which is a bit problematic for a guy following up a season many considered a fluke. Johnson’s holdout means a touch of uncertainty, something you never want from a top pick. I love Charles, but he doesn’t touch it near as much as the other guys on this list.

Foster actually seems a bit underrated this season, as some guys are scared off by the one-year wonder thing — and now his recurring hamstring issues. They shouldn’t be. But he’s just shy of the top. Standing alone is . . .

GOLD STANDARD: ADRIAN PETERSON

Donovan McNabb isn’t going to be great, but he’ll be good enough to keep defenses honest. That’s all AP needs, and I feel like he could have a peak season in an offense finally tailored to his strengths.

WIDE RECEIVER CANDIDATES: Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Roddy White, Larry Fitzgerald

OUTLOOK: Jennings is a notch below the other four, although he should be automatic 1,200 yards and double-digit TDs. The addition of Julio Jones should help the Falcons but also temper White’s stats a bit. Fitzgerald should have a nice bounce-back season with Kevin Kolb passing, but he’s going to get double teams galore.

Calvin Johnson also could use a better compliment to get defenses off his back. That leaves . . .

GOLD STANDARD: ANDRE JOHNSON

Johnson put up his usual brilliant numbers with a nagging injury hounding him in 2010. Without those issues, he should be devastating this season in what could be the league’s most prolific offense.

TIGHT END CANDIDATES: Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Jermichael Finley, Vernon Davis

OUTLOOK: Davis seems to be impervious to quarterback issues on his team, but one still has to wonder what he would do in a great offense. Witten is steady and productive, although he tends to be an erratic touchdown-scorer. That’s never been a problem with Clark, but any time without Peyton Manning will drain his value.

I’d accept an argument for Finley as the top guy, but he is coming off a season-ending injury and could be rusty. That means that the last one standing is . . .

GOLD STANDARD: ANTONIO GATES

Yes, I know that there are some lingering injury issues here, but if he is scheduled to play in Week One, you should definitely put Gates, who has redefined the position, at the top of the heap.

Next we’ll take a look at the best sleepers available. Until then, happy drafting!

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