Fantasy Players to Avoid in 2012

Normally I would begin by gratuitously pointing out my mad success at picking losers in this article over the last decade. But I have spent the last 9 years doing that, and quite frankly it seems rather redundant to revel in my superior skills at spotting draft day landmines at this point. Besides I’m trying hard to work on my one personality flaw - an extreme lack of humility So instead, I‘ll just get right down to the business of saving your fantasy season… again.

The following anti-draft picks are based on the current Average Draft Position in PPR (points per reception) leagues, starting one QB at 4 points per passing TD. I am not necessarily saying these players will all bust, but I believe each will be drafted higher than his year-end stats will justify. In some cases I will throw out alternative names or strategies. Lets start with one of the hottest players in this year’s fantasy drafts.

Cam Newton

I ran across an interesting phenomenon while researching for this article. I’ll call it “the curse of 400” There were 3 quarterbacks that eclipsed the rarely seen 400 point barrier in 17 weeks of the 2011 season. I believe that was the first time 3 players from any position achieved that total in the same season. And in fact from 2004 through 2010 a total of only 4 players hit 4 bills in a season. It may not come as a surprise that each fell off rather significantly the following year, but you may be surprised at the extent of the crash and burn that followed each of those huge seasons.

In 2004 Daunte Culpepper had his career year at 403 fantasy points. The following season he was injured in week 8 and spent the rest of the season on the IR. In ’06 Tomlinson and Steven Jackson both surpassed 400 points. Tomlinson fell off 120 points in ’07, and S. Jax missed 4 games with injury, ending up with about half of his previous season’s total. I included Tom Brady on this list in 2008 after his 414 point effort in ‘07 had fantasy drafters taking Tom Terrific in the mid first round. Brady was injured and spent the season on IR.

If we extend the barrier down to 395 points, we can throw in Chris Johnson who dropped from 398 in ‘09 to 276 in ‘10, and Arian Foster who missed time with injury last season en route to a 309 point season after a stellar 396 point effort in 2010. Now, what does all this have to do with Cam Newton? Maybe nothing. Maybe he breaks the trend. But I doubt it. The “new” is off Newton at this point. Teams will understand what to expect when they face him, and his impressive rushing numbers, so important in his overall scoring are almost certain to decline. It’s hard to imagine a crash and burn with Newton, considering the clinic he put on last year, but then it was hard to envision each of the aforementioned fantasy heroes killing their owners following their blow-up performances.

If you must have a top tier quarterback, target Rodgers or Brees. Yes, they were the other two players to hit the magical 400 mark last year, but those guys have been consistently at the top of the QB rankings year after year, and their downside would appear considerably more tolerable than is possible with Cam in his sophomore season.

Vincent Jackson

Full disclosure: I am former VJax honk, and I owned him on my dynasty and some redraft leagues over the last 2 years. The day I traded him away in my dynasty league was one of the happiest days of my life, right behind the birth of my child and the day I finally sold the one and only boat I ever owned back in ‘01. But Kevin, you say, “VJax put up good numbers last year. And he’s only being drafted as the 17th receiver off the board.” True and true. But dig a little deeper and you will see that VJax’ success is like bananas. It comes in bunches.

Last year Jackson had 5 games over 15 points in PPR. 8 of his 15 games during the fantasy season were below 10 points, with 4 games of 5 points or less. He was an inconsistent performer shagging throws from one of the best flingers in the business. And now he is going to a new system in it’s first season with a QB that crashed and burned in his sophomore campaign. Inconsistency abounds. 

Personally, I wouldn’t put him on one of my teams again come hell or high water. I would take any of these guys drafted in the same neighborhood ahead of him: Mike Wallace, Jordy Nelson, Steve Smith, and Antonio Brown. I would also take many guys drafted well after him: Maclin, Torrey Smith, and Steve Johnson. And truth be told I think you will get way better value drafting his heir apparent in San Diego, Malcom Floyd. He is the same kind of inconsistent play, but you won’t be nearly as disappointed with the results when you draft him 4-5 rounds after someone overpays for Jackson.

Shonn Greene

Come on now. Haven’t we all clung to the Shonn Greene dream long enough? Just because Tomlinson finally hung ‘em up is no reason to walk the Greene mile. Anything Greene may have gained with the departure of LT will be eaten up by the human hype machine, Tim Tebow.  At 15 carries a game, and 4 yards a carry at best, you need some receptions and TDs from this guy, and I just don’t think it is going to happen. If you can survive on 10 points a week from your RB, Greene will be your man.

The way Greene is built, you expect him to bulldoze his way through defenders, but his yards after contact last year were among the lowest in the league. This guy just doesn’t have it. He had 30% of his production in two big games last year in back to back weeks against the 18th ranked run defense of the Redskins and the 26th ranked Chiefs. Take those games out and there’s your 10 point a week RB staring you in the face. I think last year will be remembered as the best of his career. Sad but true.

Mike Vick

A guy in my dynasty league feverishly tried to trade me Mike Vick this off-season.  Obviously I rebuffed his overtures, but applauded his efforts to ditch Vick before his value fell off the cliff. For Vick to be a viable fantasy option, worthy of a high draft pick, he needs to stay on the field and run for a bunch of TDs like he did a couple of seasons ago. I don’t see either scenario panning out. I see Philip Rivers and Eli Manning being drafted after Vick, and I would rather have either of those guys and their virtually guaranteed 16 starts. Way further down the ADP list I see Matt Ryan, also close to a lock to start all 16 and also likely to best Vick’s numbers. Vick seems to have matured as a player and as a human being, but unfortunately and tragically these things happened after his body passed it’s peak efficiency, and more importantly it's powers of recuperation.

Michael Turner & Steven Jackson

Both of these guys have graced the list before and I feel almost guilty including them again. Dissing aging running backs with tons of carries on their odometers is not exactly risky business. But Turner is amazingly being drafted in the 2nd round and Steven Jackson shortly after so there are plenty of people living in the past with their mock drafts. I suspect both will fall some by the time actual drafts occur, but neither will be a prudent way to spend an early pick. Best case scenario, they live up to their draft position, but the downside for each plumbs the depths of fantasy hell. Don’t go there.

Ryan Matthews

I pride myself on always including some first round picks on my list. But this season I just don’t see as much trouble on the horizon as I do most years. But there are a couple of players that would make me nervous, and Matthews probably tops that short list. Many people will simply add half of the stats of the departed Mike Tolbert, and pencil Matthews in as the next stud RB. And it could very well work out that way. I was enamored as anybody with Matthews out of college. Then came his rookie season and the love affair was over. But Matthews bounced back last year and busted into the top ten RBs.  Despite his performance last season, he again missed time with injury. Two games to be exact.

And that has been the case with this guy all through college and now in the pro’s. For whatever reason, injuries seem to follow him like gold-diggers follow rich drunk guys out of the bar at closing time.

I’m not sure Matthews can handle a Ladainian Tomlinson-like workload, nor am I sure the Chargers have that in mind for Matthews. I don’t think he is going to be a bust, but I think the hype machine is out of control on this guy and his owners are more likely to be disappointed by season’s end than most of the other first round picks. You can’t predict injury, but when a guy has missed time with injury every season he has played in the college and pros, you shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. I’m more about following trends than bucking them, so I’ll be letting someone else roll the bones on Matthews in the first.

Randy Moss

Once upon a time there was a one dimensional receiver that left defenders in the dust and snagged long touchdown bombs from Daunte Culpepper, and then later from Tom Brady. But then father time put the same ass-whuppin’ on him that he puts on all speed merchants. The one dimensional receiver got cut by a trio of teams and then retired when nobody wanted him any more. So now at 35, with Alex Smith launching him the occasional bomb in a ball control offense, Moss will rise from the ashes, and recapture his old glory? Okay. Look, I made the biggest blunder of my fantasy writing career when I included Moss on the list in ‘07 and he proceeded to destroy the league with the help of Tom Brady. Why would I want to tempt fate? Why would you, by drafting a 35 year old formerly retired one dimensional receiver playing in a ball control offense guided by Alex Smith?

Andre Johnson

For all his greatness, since 2005 Andre Johnson has only played 3 sixteen game seasons. Those seasons were monsters, the others not so much. Now at 31, coming off another injury plagued season, playing with a quarterback coming off a season ending injury, and finding his once pass-happy team now well grounded with the likes of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, Johnson is still finding lots of love in the fantasy community. A.J. is going as the 5th receiver off the board in PPR league mocks, just behind Victor Cruz, and a few picks ahead of the likes of Jennings, Marshall, and Julio Jones.

Fantasy football is not about living in the past, it is about forward thinking. And thinking forward it is hard to imagine even the talented Mr. Johnson climbing back to the top of the ranks given all that seems to suggest against it. Johnson is a big bodied oft-injured receiver on the wrong side of 30. I think he is being drafted at the very top of the best case scenario, and I would take any of the other WRs drafted in his neighborhood before I would call his name, and probably not even then. A very risky pick in my opinion with little to no upside based on his current ADP.