Preparing for a fantasy football draft can be a daunting challenge. I like to simplify the process by identifying players that are over-rated by the fantasy community at the outset, and crossing those players off my list. It is just as important to identify potential busts as it is to find that next sleeper gem.
Just in case you are new to The Huddle (and to stroke my enormous ego) you need to know that I have about a 70% success rate with these picks over the last 6 seasons. Unless otherwise specified in my assessments, I measure success by the player performing below his expected average draft position (ADP). I play exclusively points per reception (PPR) leagues so this list is tailored toward that format. I like to lean toward higher ranked players, as those are the most likely to sink your ship should they falter. I never shy away from first round selections, so lets start there.
I included Jackson on this list last year, and just like one of B.F. Skinners rats, I am back pressing the bar for another pellet. The things that made me leery of him last year are still in play. He has played in 16 games only once since 2004. His team is smack in the middle of a horrific “transitional” phase. And neither Rams quarterback will exactly strike fear into the hearts of DC’s. Jackson has been a bad-ass throughout his career, but this will be his 7th season as a ball-carrier in the NFL. Last year Jackson was the 8th best RB in PPR format, but he was also bested by 10 wide receivers in fantasy points. The 18th ranked non QB player in fantasy football being drafted 8th overall this season. Hmm. Sounds shady.
Some might be prone to optimism with the addition of Sam Bradford, but realistically this team will still try to run everything through Jackson, and it seems unlikely he will be anything less than the focal point of every defense he faces. By the time Bradford can really help this team, Jackson will be all but used up. I think you are praying for a best case scenario if you draft him mid-first round, I see no compelling reason for such reckless optimism. If he is there late second round, go with my blessings…I guess…if you must.
Some players ride off into the sunset in a blaze of glory, some ooze downhill like sewer run-off into the cesspool of mediocrity. Tomlinson slid past the cesspool of mediocrity last year, and this year (assuming the Jets don’t wake up before final cuts and realize they can find anyone to take handoffs and fall forward two yards for a lot less than 5 million) I expect nothing but more of the same.
Look, I don’t mean to be cruel here. I hinted in the ’09 article comments section that LT was on my personal “do not draft“ list. It was only out of respect for all that Tomlinson has done to kick my fantasy team’s ass through the years that I left him off this list. But I’m not here to do L.T. any favors. I am here to make sure your fantasy team doesn’t drift pass the cesspool of mediocrity into the swamp of suckitude. Let someone else draft the name, go find someone that still has game.
Yeah, I’m beating up on the old guys. If any player in the game has earned more respect on the field than Brett Favre I don’t know who that would be. And last season proved what many may have doubted. Brett Favre could still play football at a high level. But as great as he has been, from what I remember about Life Sciences class, he is pushing his luck. Indeed, what a sad sight it was to see our man Brett beat to a pulp in the conference Championship game.
At the end of that game, watching Favre lurch around like Ali after the Leon Spinks fiasco, I couldn’t help but think, “how in the hell could he possibly want to come back next season for more of this?” But he is Brett Favre, and that is what he does. Problem is, football is a young man’s game. Never was that more apparent than watching Favre drag his ass off the field after that game deciding INT, opting to throw a misguided pass rather than take the yards on the ground offered him by a defense that knew damn well he would not run. Favre will still have some good games, no doubt. I’d love to have him as a backup. Or maybe a starter if the rest of my team was really nasty. But I would do so knowing that the law of averages and father time are standing just around the corner, ready to kick me in the nuts.
One might assume that CJ‘s inclusion on this list has something to do with the fact that I was one of the poor fools that spent a high draft pick on him last year. And that assumption might be right. We fantasy writers are only human, and we take it personally when a player we tout comes up short. I don’t have any problem with CJ’s ability or his potential. I do have a problem with the team he plays for.
My reasoning last year was that CJ was such a dominating physical presence that he could overcome the deficiencies of those around him. But my optimism proved reckless, and I was burned at the fantasy football altar. Looking at the Lions situation this year, it is hard to say conclusively that things will be better than last. And that isn’t good enough for the price you will have to pay for him. Sometimes my picks are based in logic and statistical history and projections. Sometimes I just don’t feel right about a player. When it comes to Johnson this season, I’m just not feeling it. I’ll take what I consider decidedly less risky propositions Roddy White or Miles Austin instead.
For years everyone outside of Arizona thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if Boldin and Fitzgerald were on different teams?” Somehow we all deduced that each would perform statistically better on different rosters. And now we have it. And alas, here I am to pee all over your Cheerios. Life is full of irony. Boldin is and has been a great player in the league. No doubt. But people tend to over-estimate a star receiver going to new team. It is fairly rare, if memory serves me well, for a traded receiver to bust it out of the gate for his new team. The transition takes time. And time is of the essence in fantasy football. You don’t have six weeks to let Boldin “figure it out” with his new quarterback. This situation is likely to be compounded by the fact that the Ravens open the season with a tough schedule against the pass.
Boldin’s new quarterback is cause for concern for me as well. Flacco was a surprise through the first half of last season, but the statistical slide from that point forward was nasty. Granted, Flacco didn’t have a guy like Boldin to throw to, so I’m not ready to bury him. But the fact is that the Ravens have one of, if not the toughest schedules against the pass this year. And I don’t think Boldin is the magic pill that can fix that. if you have to have a Ravens player this year, Ray Rice is the one to own.
Clinton Portis, Willie Parker, Larry Johnson
It would be bad enough if you had to pick one of these guys ,and they were all on separate teams. But as luck would have it, they are all on the same team so I can summarily dismiss all of them at the outset. I do this not just because they collectively as used up as Pamela Anderson’s landing pad, bad enough in itself, but also because their fates will be in the hands of a head coach whose unpredictability and skullduggery is only matched by the diabolical Belichick. For all we know the Rat could eschew all of these veterans and anoint Ryan Torain. Would any of us really be surprised if he did?
I will grant you, Shanahan’s teams have had some pretty impressive rushing numbers through the years. But I can’t point to one guy out of the three here and say, “this guy should get the bulk of the carries.” and I suspect the coach will come to the same conclusion. The team may end up with respectable rushing yards, but predicting from week to week where the bulk of those yards will come from will likely be a fool’s game. I should probably be publicly flogged for taking this pot-shot at a bunch of lame ducks, but I’m a cheap-shot artist at heart, and I basically have no pride. I’m just glad I talked myself out of listing them individually. Now that would have been REALLY lame!
I’m not sure how many times Moss has made this list since I am too damn lazy to go back and look at the last 6 year’s articles. And I really thought last year would be the last time I would feel compelled to include him. But alas, now comes McNabb and The Rat, and hope springs eternal once again. His ADP is currently WR26. Not exactly outrageous to connect the dots between the arrival of McNabb and a bump in Moss’ numbers. I understand the thought process there. But facts is facts. Moss is now 31, and in all likely-hood his best days have passed him. Moss and his teammates face yet another new offensive system to grasp this year. All these new moving parts may instill hope in the hearts and minds of long-suffering Redskins fans, but do we really expect McNabb to suddenly right the ship with a weaker surrounding cast in every way to the one he just left? And what guarantee is there that the terminally inconsistent Moss will be the main recipient of this new offensive joy?
There are rumblings that Moss may be implicated in a performance enhancing substance investigation, and there is at least the possibility that he could be suspended at some point. And even if nothing materializes in that realm, I think it is optimistic indeed to be drafting him over potential breakout bargains like Jeremy Maclin or Mike Wallace. And it seems pure insanity to draft him over the stalwart veteran Hines Ward. But that is exactly what is happening in mock drafts. Folks, last season was fairly typical for Moss. He had 8 games under 10 points in PPR format. Take out his 33 point monster performance in week 3 (he is good for one of these every season) and the rest of the time he was WR4 material. Will that help you win a championship? I just don’t understand the love this guy gets season after season. Hopefully, this is the last time I will need to include him on this list. But in a way I will kind of miss having him to kick around. He has been money every time so far.
Fitz’ has been rock solid over the last three seasons with Kurt Warner running the show. And as much as I have been a disgusting slobbering fan of his over that span, I can’t help but look back to his season with Matt Leinart at the helm in 2006. That season was Fitzgerald‘s worst statistically, other than his rookie year. He missed 3 games due to injury and averaged close to 20 yards less per game than he has since Warner showed up. By all accounts Leinart has not progressed much, and has been unimpressive in OTA’s this summer. The loss of Boldin may embolden some fantasy drafters, but I don’t necessarily see the subtraction of Boldin as an addition to Fitzgerald’s numbers given the additional subtraction of Warner.
Fitzgerald is being drafted 10th overall and the 2nd WR off the board. And while his last three seasons might suggest this is where he should be taken, it is hard for me to view him as the rock solid lock he has been with Captain Kurt under center. Great performances by great receivers with less than average quarterbacks are rare. In other words, even the great Fitzgerald may be greatly over-rated this season.
I don’t feel great about telling you not to draft arguably the most dominant player at his position over the last several years. Especially when that player is amazingly just now entering what should be his prime years. But quarterbacks matter. I think it is best if we don’t live in denial about this. Unless the Cardinals have a secret weapon ala’ Kurt Warner up their sleeves, I think the die is cast. Leinart or Anderson either one could potentially get Fitz killed with their poor judgment alone, not to mention the butchering of his stats. The Huddle has Fitz ranked around the #10 WR and unless I see some real compelling evidence in the preseason, sadly I think that ranking is in the right neighborhood.
I hate to do this, but here is yet another name that was on last year’s list. Few of you believed me then, and few will probably believe me now. This is evidenced by an impromptu and completely unscientific poll ran on The Huddle message board. Over 2/3 of the respondents polled say they are willing to draft Turner in the first round this year despite his disappointing 2009 season.
My initial instincts told me to include Jackson on this list and leave Turner off. That would have been the “safe” way to go since most of you probably lean that way anyway. I could have put several players in this spot instead. But the rub is that I want to help you win championships. And winning a championship becomes a whole lot harder once your first overall pick is blown. I speak through painful experience.
Turner’s supporters are still high from the fumes created during his breakout season in 2008. I mentioned the curse of 370 last season as a driving factor to include Turner on this list, and just like clock-work, he had injury issues and fell fall short of his previous season’s success. But all has been forgiven and forgotten in fantasy circles. Turner ramped up his conditioning in the off-season, and expects to enter camp in top form. And the Falcons schedule figures to ease up compared to last year’s. A turnaround seems imminent. And it could work out that way. Turner could stay healthy and everything could go perfect like it did for him and his owners in 2008.
But more likely in my opinion is that he falls somewhere between his injury shortened season of last, and the extremely fortunate circumstances that led to his breakout the season before. I just think we have already seen his best, and he has already given his best. His ADP is 7th overall. In that spot you might still have the option of drafting Andre Johnson. Are you really more confident that Turner will be the ’08 version than you are Johnson will be the ‘08-’09 version? And if so, are you really willing to cede those 30-40 points or so you give up to the thankful Johnson owner, in your best case scenario?
This is the last guy I expected to make this list as I am firmly in the Ryan Mathews camp. I think he is all that and more. But I am seeing him creep up draft-boards already, and I want to caution you about getting caught up in the hype of discovering the “next big thing.” I firmly expect Mathews to have a great rookie season. But I suspect that by the time the bulk of the real drafts take place this year, Mathews will be routinely drafted mid 2nd round. I could be wrong, but I think that is where he is headed. A couple of long runs in preseason would be all it would take to light the match on this potential draft day powder-keg.
My problem with Mathews this year is not his ability or his potential. My problem is the potential limits to his ability when you will need him most, during the fantasy playoffs. While the phenomenon may be mitigated somewhat by the presence of Darren Sproles to help shoulder the load, the fact is that even the best rookie runners usually have a bit of a downturn at the end of that first grueling NFL season.
I looked at the rookie seasons of four great NFL running backs in recent history. Marshall Faulk (also from a WAC school), Ladainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, and Chris Johnson. All of these players had fine rookie seasons as I expect Mathews will have. But if you collect their stats from weeks 14-16 during these great rookie campaigns the numbers are not all that inspiring. Out of the 12 games in the sample, there were (3) 100+ yard performances. The other (9) games netted less than 80 yards total. There were a grand total of 3 TDs, two of those belonging to Chris Johnson in ’08. And his touchdown in week 16 of that season was the lone touchdown scored by any of these guys during the critical weeks 15-16. The average yards per carry of this group of rookie running back legends in weeks 15-16? 3.02.
Maybe those stats are just a fluke. Or maybe the “rookie wall” applies to even our greatest players. Some of you may correctly point out that the Chargers schedule during weeks 14-16 this season looks like a cakewalk. Very true, and that does give me pause. But a look at the opponents for those other backs I mentioned shows they didn’t exactly face a murderers row themselves. Am I telling you not to draft Mathews? No. Do what you must do. But if you really want to win a championship this season, you might consider dealing him at the league trading deadline. His value should be sky high at that point, and you can probably name your price. And your price should be a player that is likely to still be going strong when you need him most.
Nearly two decades into this experience we call a hobby and mental health professionals call an obsession, I have become an advocate of skepticism. I am particularly skeptical about hype. And when that hype leads to the lofty status a player like Greene is reaching this pre-season, I can’t help but jump to the other side. People, people, people. Shonn Greene is being taken as the 12th RB off the board. And that is in PPR mocks! What am I missing here? Okay, yes he did tear it up in the playoffs last year. But that was coming off a 108 carry regular season. Fresh legs, tired defenders anybody?
If we look at the resume' outside of those playoff games, it is thinner than a meth addicted, anorexic Ethiopian. A hundred eight regular season carries. One year as a starter in college. And, uh, what else? Oh yeah, he spells his name differently than most guys named Shaun, er Shawn, er Sean…whatever.
We know he has talent, he has flashed it during his oh so brief playing stints. But I am trying to figure out why that equates to him being drafted mid to late second round. I guess one could suppose that I am right about Tomlinson. (let’s face it, that’s a given) That he will be rendered useless even behind the Jets big bad offensive line, therefore it is Greene there to pick up the pieces. You must think Greene is in line for a ton of carries if you draft him this high. Yet you have little to no proof whatsoever that he is up to that task. You have just put the situational puzzle together in your mind and anointed Greene the next big thing. And I haven’t even touched on the Jets rugged schedule versus the run this season.
There is also the reasoning that Thomas Jones was no great shakes last year, yet he still piled up rushing stats thanks to the holes opened up for him by that big bad Jets line. But the thing is, Thomas Jones, despite his diminishing skills, is a veteran of 16 game NFL seasons. He is a known. Greene is still largely an unknown.
Bottom line: Greene is being drafted as though he were a slam dunk. I won’t try to block you in the paint, you just blow right by me with that and take your shot. Oh man, I’m not seriously going to end this thing on a basketball reference, am I? Freaking lame…