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Biggest Busts of 2006
Derek Aiken
July 10, 2006

Every year, fantasy owners draft players that fail to live up to expectations. These “busts” often derail entire seasons and championship hopes. While injuries can’t be predicted, bad situations certainly can. Some of the players below have already received loads of hype this off-season, others are just expected to produce better stats than they actually will. The players below have one thing in common: don’t rely on them to be starters for your team in 2006. They deserve to be drafted, but not as high as some other poor owner will take a chance on them.

Quarterbacks

Mark Brunell

In 2005, Mark Brunell experienced a career renaissance. The question is, was 2005 a sign of positive things to come, or one last day in the sun for the aging veteran? Brunell posted very respectable numbers last season (3,050 yards 23 TD‘s 10 INT‘s), despite failing to start all 16 games. Add former Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders, the play making Brandon Lloyd and the incredibly versatile Antwaan Randle El, and many are predicting even better things from Brunell in 2006. I’m not buying it.

In his 11 NFL seasons Brunell has thrown 20 touchdowns or greater, only three times. Another ominous “3” is the number of times that Brunell has been able to play an entire 16 game season. Just after the season begins (9/17), Brunell will turn 36 years of age.

Before training camp has even begun, Brunell has sustained a fracture to his left index finger. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but Brunell is a southpaw quarterback. While the injury should be healed by the time that camp heats-up, it has prohibited Brunell from taking place in any mini-camps. A seemingly minor injury, could make it that much harder for Brunell to pick-up Al Saunders’ new offense.

Speaking of Al Saunders, many reports have him excited to work with Brunell Fantasy owners shouldn’t be so thrilled. Saunders was the architect of Kansas City’s high-powered offense, but Washington isn’t Kansas City and Saunders’ system does not translate well for quarterbacks. Right now you’re probably saying, “But Trent Green went to the Pro Bowl every year!” Don’t expect Brunell to enjoy the same success that Green did. Saunders likes to emphasize the running game, so Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts shouldn’t see plenty of carries. Even with the emphasis on the running game, Green was able to enjoy “starter” fantasy numbers, so why won’t Brunell? Because Green enjoyed what I like to call “Garbage Points”. Ever since Green has been there, Kansas City has had one of the worst defenses in the league and had to play a lot of catch-up, thus inflating passing stats. The NFC East is definitely not the Wild AFC West.

If that isn’t enough to make you cautious about Brunell, then remember that the Redskins spent a first-round pick on Jason Campbell last year. Brunell will be the starter but, if things start to go wrong, Joe Gibbs will be very tempted to see what Campbell can do. First-round picks don’t get drafted in the first-round to hold the clipboard forever.

I’m not saying that Brunell will be terrible this year, but don’t expect the same success as 2005. Brunell will be a Top 20 quarterback, but don’t expect him to be the Top 10 quarterback that many are expecting.

Aaron Brooks

Brooks begins his tenure in Oakland with one of the most talented receiving trios in the league (Moss, Porter & Gabriel) and one of the games best pass-catching backs (LaMont Jordan) but don’t expect that to translate into big numbers for one of the games most under-achieving and inconsistent quarterbacks.

Simply put, Brooks plays sloppy and his statistics aren’t a true indication of what type of quarterback he has proven to be. In four of his five starting seasons, Brooks has thrown for over 3,500 yards and 21 TD’s. The problem is that he has also averaged 15.3 INT’s over the same five seasons. Many of Brooks’ stats and touchdowns have come after the game was out-of-hand, often because of his own mistakes.

In the world of fantasy football stats, not how their earned, are all that count. The same mistakes that help Brooks compile his stats are likely to earn him a spot on the bench in Oakland. Art Shell is not a coach who tolerates dumb mistakes very well. Exacerbating this situation is the presence of Andrew Walter. The fact that Oakland didn’t draft Matt Leinart, speaks volumes of what they think of Walter. Many have forgotten how good Walter was at ASU. Had he not separated his acromioclavicular joint, he certainly would have been the first quarterback off the board in the 2005 draft. Al Davis loves the long-ball and Walter has an absolute cannon of an arm (if you‘re in a keeper league, grab him now!).

Oakland was 4-12 in 2005, and don’t expect them to be much better this season. When teams miss the playoffs, the quarterback tends to get blamed, especially with the existing talent at wide receiver. If things start-off badly, Walter could be starting by Week 5 or 6. Even if things do go well for the Raiders, Brooks is a QB3 or at best a QB2, and that’s on a very good day.

If Brooks is still around when names like Charlie Frye and Simms are being drafted, then give him a shot. Just don’t take him too early. Its very hard o get points from the bench, and Brooks could definitely be there before the season is even half over.

Phillip Rivers

When you’re the #4 pick in the draft and inherit an offense full of perennial Pro-Bowlers, you become a pretty trendy pick to be a viable fantasy sleeper. Surrounded by names like Tomlinson, Gates, McCardell and Neal, how could Rivers not succeed? Pretty easily.

While Rivers may turn-out to be a very good dynasty prospect, he’s not a good target for those in yearly drafts. Expecting Rivers to step into this offense and put up Brees-like numbers is like expecting the champion of the Madden Bowl to be able to step-in and coach and NFL team.

This isn’t an indictment on Rivers or his talent, just the truth. Even the greatest fantasy quarterback ever (Peyton Manning) struggled mightily in his first NFL season. This will be Rivers third NFL season and he his stats are as follows: 5 games, 17 completions, 148 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.

Expect Rivers to have a couple of good games this year, but nothing that you can depend on. I would compare him to Chris Henry last year. He had some great games, but you never put him in your lineup because you never knew when they were going to happen. Rivers may become a Top 10 fantasy quarterback, but it won’t be in 2006.

Running Backs

Deshaun Foster

Or as I like to call him: “The Fred Taylor of the NFC”. Foster has all of the talent in the world, but can’t seem to stay healthy for any period of time. Many believe that, with the departure of Stephen Davis, Foster will become a fantasy star. I’m not convinced.

In his three NFL seasons, Foster hasn’t averaged only 11 games per year, despite seeing only part-time duty. Its not as if Foster has been a workhorse either. In three seasons, he has a total of 377 carries. To put that in perspective, Shaun Alexander had 370 carries in 2005 alone.

Even when he has been healthy, Foster has hardly been a fantasy monster. His total yardage is respectable (2,218) but his TD numbers are nothing short of paltry (3). Some believe that the departure of “vulture” Stephen Davis, will increase Foster’s TD total. Don’t rule out Carolina re-signing Davis to fill a role similar to that of Jerome Bettis last year. Even if they don’t, Eric Shelton spent all of 2005 on IR, but could very well fill the short-yardage role in 2006.

And then there is Deangelo Williams. Aside from freak of nature Reggie Bush, he is the best running back in this year’s draft. Williams is an incredibly talented runner, who will likely see a great deal of carries this year. While the talk now is of him returning kicks, don’t expect that to last for very long. Williams should significantly cut into Foster’s yardage and could even be a candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Foster is worth drafting, but only in later rounds. If your team is depending on him, you probably won’t be seeing the playoffs this year.

Corey Dillon

While he may be one of the most underrated backs in recent memory, don’t expect Corey Dillon to have a very good year in 2006. Dillon has missed eight games in the last three years and four in 2005 alone.

Backs can only take so much punishment, before they begin to slow down, and Dillon definitely appears to be slowing down. In addition to missing time in the last three seasons, Dillon has averaged over four yards per carry in only one of those years and has topped 1,000 yards in only one of those years.

While he may be slowing down, Dillon’s touchdown numbers have not, recording 24 TD’s in the last two seasons. Even with respectable touchdown numbers, Dillon’s lack of yardage and inability to stay healthy are concerning. While he is still worth drafting, Dillon’s time as a Top 10 back appears to be over. His real value has become a great fill-in for bye-weeks.

Its questionable what Dillon’s role in the New England offense will be in 2006. The Patriots spent a first-round pick on Minnesota Gopher’s running back Laurence Maroney. All reports have Maroney enjoying a spectacular mini-camp season. Expect Maroney to eat heavily into Dillon’s carries. Complicating the situation even further is that Dillon is not a very good receiving  back. When healthy, Kevin Faulk receives the majority of catches and rookie Garrett Mills and the triple-headed monster at TE could make the passing game even more appealing.

So, what kind of season will Dillon have in 2006? Expect a season similar, but a little better than, Stephen Davis 2006 season. Dillon’s role will likely be that of limited rush attempts and heavy goal-line work. As spectacular as Maroney has been, it is unlikely that he will be immediately trusted with goal-line carries. Look for Dillon and Maroney to split carries pretty evenly. If Maroney continues to impress, Dillon could even wind-up a cap casualty at some point this off-season.

Joseph Addai

This April, the Colts drafted Addai to be the heir apparent to perennial Pro-Bowler Edgerrin James, who departed to Arizona via free agency. In 1999 Edgerrin burst into the Colts offense with 1,553 yards rushing, 17 total TD’s and 62 catches for 586 yards. Ever since then, James has been a mainstay in the Colts offense and the Top 5 of fantasy drafts.

The Colts drafted Addai in the first round because of his tough running skills and aptitude for catching the ball out of the backfield. Addai has the talent to make contribute this season, as the Colts try to find a way to replace James’ productions.

The problem is that many think Addai’s rookie season could be a repeat of James’ 1999 campaign and will draft him too in the single-digit rounds of your draft. Expect to see the dreaded running back by committee in Indy this season. Dominic Rhodes will see the lion’s share of the carries. Last year, James Mungro took many of James’ goal-line carries and is expected to fill that role again.

And then there is the question of durability. Addai was never able to shoulder the full load at LSU and split carries for his entire career and was limited by multiple injuries. His upright running style, means that he will probably suffer the same type of injuries as he did in college.

With Manning, Harrison and Wayne, the Colts still have the best offense in the NFL. Its easy to believe that that a running back could step right into this offense and put-up Pro Bowl numbers. This is true, but Addai isn’t this running back. Don’t make the trendy mistake of thinking that he could be.

Where does Addai fit-in in 2006? Probably as a 3rd down back who sees some occasional carries. Addai is an excellent dynasty prospect, but is nothing more than a sleeper-with-upside in 2006.

Wide Receivers

Javon Walker

Before 2004, the Green Bay Packers used a three-headed monster at the wide receiver position, with Walker, Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson splitting catches. In 2004, Walker emerged as the unquestioned WR1 of the group and posted a career best 89 receptions, 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. Walker then followed-up his breakout season with a nasty contract dispute and a Week 1 ACL tear, ending his season and his career in Green Bay.

Now Walker is a Bronco and many are expecting big things from him this year. Don’t be so sure. The fact is, with the exception of Terrell Owens, receivers in their first year in a new team and system rarely live-up to expectations. It usually takes a receiver at least a year to find a comfort level with their new quarterback and offensive system.

Jake Plummer isn’t a bad quarterback to have throwing to your fantasy receiver, but expect Plummer to continue to send most of his looks the way of he ageless Rod Smith, who will still be the WR1 for at least another year. While Ashley Lelie is still on the roster, he probably won’t be for long. If, through some miracle Lelie stays, that will mean even less catches for Walker. Denver is also a team that prides itself on the running game. Their not a team to “air the ball out” with any frequency. With Jake Plummer at QB, you can understand why Mike Shanahan likes to call a conservative game. In 2005, Denver’s top-two receivers had only a combined 127 catches (85 for Smith, 42 for Lelie). Even if the catches are shared equally, 63 catches isn’t enough to justify drafting a receiver in the first few rounds.

And then there is the ACL. The good news is that, since he was injured in Week 1, Walker has had almost a full year to rehabilitate the injury. The bad news is that he still isn’t fully healed, has yet to participate in a mini-camp, and may not even be ready for the start of training camp. Two of the games best quarterbacks (Palmer and Culpepper) are way ahead of schedule in their ACL rehabilitation, and athletes are consistently coming back quicker from this injury. The problem is that it’s a lot more difficult for a receiver to come back from this injury, than a quarterback. Receivers have to consistently sprint downfield and change direction, quarterbacks only have to take a 3-5 step drop and don’t need that kind of mobility. It is likely to be 2007, before Walker is truly 100% back from the injury.

Walker should only be drafted in the double-digit rounds of your draft. He’s got a lot of talent and may be a solid WR3 in most leagues. Just don’t expect WR1 production from him in 2006. There are simply too many obstacles to overcome. If you’re in a dynasty league, try to buy low on this guy now but, in annual drafts, he’s not worth taking in single-digit rounds.

Joey Galloway

2005 proved that fantasy football is full of surprises and, those that can benefit from unexpected production, can obtain lightning-in-a-bottle in the later rounds. Last year, Galloway had 83 receptions, 1,287 yards and 10 touchdowns. Those numbers were the best of Galloway’s entire career and his first productive season since his mildly successful 2002 season (61/908/6) with the Cowboys. Galloway’s 2005 numbers were even better than his best season in Seattle (72/1,049/12). Even more amazing than his 2005 numbers, were that Galloway experienced a renaissance at the age of 34, and 7 season removed from his last 1,000 yard campaign.

So, what happened to help Galloway put-up these numbers last year? There are several different factors that created the perfect storm for Galloway’s success. First, he established a connection with Brian Griese, who was able to put Galloway in a position to succeed. Chris Simms was also able to get him the ball. But now Griese is gone and Simms remains as the starter, but for how long? Chris Simms has hardly proven an ability to stay healthy. If he is injured, the options are Jay Fiedler and Luke McCown. Do you feel comfortable with either or them throwing to your receiver? I wouldn’t.

Another reason for Galloway’s 2005 success is the injuries to two key teammates. Most expected sophomore Michael Clayton to be the WR1 in Tampa Bay, but a multitude of injuries made Clayton one of 2005’s biggest busts. With no other viable receiving options (Ike Hilliard, Edell Shepherd) Galloway saw more balls than he will with a healthy Michael Clayton in 2006. Rookie sensation Cadillac Williams started out 2005 with a bang, but was then slowed by injury for much of the year. With Michael Pittman as the only other option at tailback, the Tampa offense threw more and more often, to its only viable receiver. All reports have Clayton ready to go for this year and Cadillac should be ready for a full season.

By November, Galloway will be 35 years of age. He is no longer in his physical prime and should be expected to decline as the season progresses. While receivers like Rod Smith continue to thrive as they age, Galloway plays a style of the game that is predicated on speed and elusiveness. Toughness can survive with age, speed cannot. In his 11 year NFL career, Galloway has only played a full 16 game schedule six times. Galloway missed 7 games in 2003 and 2004 alone.

Looking ahead to 2006, Galloway’s 2005 season should be considered nothing more than a statistical anomaly. Galloway is likely to produce numbers deserving a roster spot and occasional start, but not the Pro Bowl numbers of 2005. Somebody will spend a 6th or 7th round on Galloway, don’t be the owner to make that mistake.

Lee Evans

He is loaded with talent, but talent doesn’t always equal fantasy points. Evans was a riddle to owners in 2005. He would have big games, and then completely disappear. It quickly became apparent that Evans would have his best games with J.P. Losman at QB, but would disappear when Kelly Holcomb came into the game. The situation hasn’t changed. No one, not even the Bills, is really sure who will be starting at QB this year. If anything, the situation is more complicated than last year. Losman, Holcomb, or newcomer Craig Nall could be taking the snaps this year.

Evans recorded 48 receptions for 743 yards and 7 touchdowns. While you could probably live with the touchdown production, the 48 catches and only 743 yards were not enough to make fantasy owners happy. Even more troubling is that that 5 of Evans’ 7 touchdowns came in only two games. Owners that started him in the other 14 weeks, most likely faced an uphill battle to victory. Evans 2004 numbers were very similar to 2005 with 48 catches, 843 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Evans is an outstanding deep threat, not a possession receiver. If a quarterback can’t get him the deep ball, Evans isn’t likely to see any type of consistent production. In 13 of the 16 2006 games, Evans recorded less than 4 receptions in all but 3 of those games.

With the departure of Eric Moulds, Evans is now the undisputed WR1. He is surrounded by a lackluster corps of receivers (Andre Davis, Peerless Price, Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish) and will garner all of the attention of opposing defenses. Some receivers can catch the ball and make a play on the through traffic. Evans is more of a deep threat, and is much easier to contain with single coverage and safety help. Evans will face consistent double-teams and has yet to prove that he can be a solid WR1.

I’ve seen him ranked pretty high on some lists, but that ranking is premature. In his two NFL seasons, Evans has only averaged 3 catches-per-game and has yet to reach 1,000 yards or double-digit touchdowns. Like many others on this list, his talent makes him a great dynasty prospect, but not a great 2006 prospect.

Tight Ends

Kellen Winslow, Jr.

“K2” has been nothing short of a huge bust since being drafted 6th overall in the 2004 draft. In his only two NFL seasons, Winslow has played only two games. From an ACL injury that wasn’t his fault (why was he even on the onside kick team?) to stupid motorcycle tricks that were his fault. The grand totals for the 6th pick of the 2004 draft: 2 games, 5 catches, 50 yards, 0 TD’s.

But 2006 is a whole new season and Winslow reports that he is 85% recovered from his injuries. He was touted as one of the best tight ends to emerge in recent memory and has the physical talent to fulfill those expectations. But the question has never been Winslow’s talent, only his health and maturity.

“The Soldier” is being projected as a Top 10 tight end in 2006, but don’t expect him to fulfill that potential. Even if he stays healthy and doesn’t do anything immature, Cleveland is not exactly a hotbed of fantasy value. Charlie Frye is a promising young quarterback, Braylon Edwards has all of the talent to become a top-tier receiver, and Reuben Droughns has become a consistent running threat. But Frye isn’t exactly proven yet, Edwards isn’t expected back until at least October and Droughns is far from an elite back.

Even if everything goes right for Winslow, one cannot expect Gates or Gonzo numbers. Probably not even Todd Heap numbers. Winslow’s name and promise of untapped potential are enough to have him drafted well before his value truly dictates. Winslow is likely to be drafted somewhere around 5th amongst tight ends. He isn’t even likely to finish in the Top 10. Randy McMichael is likely to have much better stats and can probably be had 5 rounds later.

Winslow’s true value is as a backup tight end. He definitely has some upside, but is too risky to pin your TE1 hopes on. Drafting him when viable RB3 or WR2 are still on the board, would be detrimental to an owner’s championship hopes. If you’re in a dynasty league, try to buy low. If Winslow does turn it around, you’ll never get him for a better price than you can right now.

Vernon Davis

“The next Antonio Gates.” How many times have you heard that in the last six months? Davis has freakish physical skills and could provide an instant impact on almost any team. He does have the physical skills to be the best tight end in football, but will he?

Much like Winslow, Davis’ name will cause him to be drafted well before he should be. Davis is likely to be a Top 5 tight end in most fantasy drafts. Also much like Winslow is that drafting him there will be drafting him well over his value.

The simple fact is that Davis is not in a very good offense. Any receiver, needs a good quarterback to get him the ball. There is a theory that young quarterbacks rely more on the tight end, thus increasing his fantasy points. Don’t base your season on this theory. Davis is the only true playmaker in San Francisco’s offense and every defense will be focused on stopping Davis. Many veterans would have trouble overcoming that kind of attention, let alone a rookie.

The quarterback throwing Davis the ball, Alex Smith, is arguably the league’s worst starting quarterback. Even in the best case scenario, if Trent Dilfer comes in, Davis will still be the main focus of every opposing defense. Dilfer would improve his numbers, but not enough to warrant his expected draft position. Just like with Winslow, tight ends with equal or better numbers can be drafted several rounds later.

In keeper leagues, Davis may only be second to Gates as a long-term prospect. If you can acquire him in such a format, do so immediately. However, in redraft leagues, He is nothing more than a TE2 with some very good upside.

Dallas Clark

Clark is the in the opposite situation of the other two tight ends that you read about. He is in what is arguably the greatest offense in fantasy history. I know you’re thinking of the Warner/Faulk Rams, but Indy has been doing it for longer and will continue to put up ridiculous fantasy numbers. Peyton is the greatest fantasy QB in history and Harrison is the most consistent fantasy receiver in history.

Edgerrin James is gone and most believe that Indy will be throwing the ball much more this year, thus increasing the value of any starting Indy receiver or tight end. While Indy should be throwing the ball much more this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Clark will reap the benefits or that he will fulfill the potential that got him drafted in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft.

While Clark is far from brittle, he’s hardly durable either, having missed six games in his first three NFL seasons. While six games in three years doesn’t sound like Fred Taylor, the missed time isn’t the reason to be concerned about Clark’s production.

Clark is the classic “all-or-nothing” player. In 2005, Clark recorded 37 catches for 488 yards and 4 TD’s. Not only do the overall numbers not warrant starting, but Clark had only one impact game (6/125/1). In each of his first three seasons, Clark has had only one game in each season over 100 yards. His 37 catches in 2005 were his career best, but still not worthy of anything more than a back-up spot.

Clark frequently gets drafted as a starter because he has a great deal of talent and plays with Peyton Manning. The problem is that Indy consistently spreads the ball around and an owner never knows which week will be the blow-up week.

Just because James is gone, don’t expect Clark to become a Top 5, or even Top 10, fantasy tight end. Do yourself a favor and draft somebody like Jerramy Stevens three rounds later.

Many of the players listed above had very good seasons last year but, if current success could be predicted this easily, there wouldn’t be much of a challenge to fantasy football. Before your draft, due your homework and take a close look at which players have some significant obstacles keeping them from reaching their potential. A player doesn’t become a bust because of a lack of talent, but because of a bad situation. Every year, players are hyped all off-season long, only to cost their fantasy teams dearly during the season. In 2005, those players included: Kerry Collins, David Carr, Kevin Jones, Willis McGahee, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Jason Witten and Jermaine Wiggins. Many of these players were drafted in the first few rounds and all failed to live up to preseason projections. Their disappointing seasons didn’t come from injuries, just bad situations.