What can I say? I was right again last year in this column. There is no reason why you shouldn't be paying attention now. If you read my Players To Avoid column last year, you may have been swayed to avoid Moss, Culpepper, and a whole slew of other fantasy team tankers. I hit about 75% in this column over the last 2 years and I am back for more anti-glory.
Last season in this column I advised against Willis McGahee, but when my turn came in the first round of the Huddle Writers Top Gun League, I punched in McGahee with pick number eight. It probably cost me a first place finish. I never recovered. I wasn't even smart enough to listen to myself and I paid the price. Don't let that happen to you.
The point here is to help you avoid drafting a guy that underperforms his expected draft position. This is about relative value, and risk to reward ratio.
My picks are mostly based on Points per Reception yardage leagues. If you playing in one of the 4 TD only leagues still in existence these opinions may not be so useful. I have increased the list to 15 players this season. This was not an arbitrary decision, I just see more red flags than usual.
I am not telling you to completely ignore all of these players come draft day. I am trying to help you avoid drafting a guy in the 2nd round that puts up 5th round numbers. Some of these guys may well fall below their current expected draft positions by the time the actual fantasy drafts roll around, and at that point may be worth a shot. But I will make it clear with my picks how I see each scenario shaking out. Let's start with a fast one inside.
Edgerrin James: Well, I got burned hedging against Edge in this column 2 years ago, but I find myself going to the well again. I must admit though, that I am finally a believer in Arizona Cardinals. When a guy like Matt Leinart falls in your lap at pick number 10 in the draft, you have momentum on your side as an organization. The pre-Denny Green Cardinals may have passed on Leinart to draft a kicker and save some money, but it seems those little kinks have all been ironed out with the Green regime. His decisions confuse me sometimes. And yes, he does look a little bit like Grimace even now dressed in red instead of purple. But I must admit the man knows how to win, and getting one of the most dominant running backs of the century on your team is a good way to start winning.
When Edge went to Arizona, I heard the news break on the radio. And I thought it must be some sort of hoax, or maybe I had run across a broadcaster with a drawer full of Oxycontin. My first thought after that was that Edge had lost his mind. Arizona is historically where good football players go to die. And while I am not necessarily predicting catastrophe here, anybody that thinks Edge will put up the numbers on this team that he put up with the Colts is probably overly optimistic. The Cardinals for all their badass talent at the offensive skill positions, still have huge question marks on both the offensive and defensive lines. And as the Steelers, and the Patriots will tell you, Championships are won in the trenches, and football games are won in the trenches. Rushing yards are won in the trenches. The Cardinals have a wealth of skill position players, but I wonder if they will have the trenchers to optimize those skills. If you are drafting Edge any higher than 6th in the draft, you are banking on it, I don't think I will.........probably. You are also banking on a quarterback that is questionable at best to start more than half the teams games, with a rookie backing him up. You can ignore that fact if you want to, but I can't.
All I know is that it has been eons since the Cardinals had a legitimate fantasy producer at running back, and that fact alone has to make you a bit nervous if you find yourself calling out his name in late August. But then again, after the big 3 of Larry Johnson, Tomlinson, and Alexander the running backs are somewhat of a crap shoot this season (as usual), so I suppose you could do worse than Edge. But keep in mind his age, the bird on his helmet, and the supporting cast inferior to the one he has thrived in thus far, and it all points to disappointment for Edge owners this season. If the Cards spend the preseason bulldozing first team defensive fronts I might change my thinking, but I can't imagine that will be the case.
They have a new stadium in Arizona. They have a team with a legitimate chance of winning. It is an exciting time for the 12,000 known Cardinal fans in existence. And Edge will make the Cardinals better, but I don't think the Cardinals will make Edge better.
Tiki Barber: This is a moment I though would never arrive. For years Barber has been undervalued at fantasy draft time. But at long last the tide has turned and the previously blind can now see. Tiki is, and has been a force in fantasy football. Two years ago he was the number 1 running back in PPR leagues, yet he was still drafted around the end of the first round or later in last years fantasy drafts. He rewarded his owners with a 4th place finish in PPR leagues. We can deny him his place no more. He is indeed among the elite fantasy players especially in points per reception leagues. Everybody seems to know that now. And therein lies the problem. Tiki is not going to be a "value pick" in this years drafts. He will be drafted based on best case scenario, probably around the middle of the first round. And he is about as solid a choice as any running back in the league. So why am I dissing him here? I'm not exactly sure, but it seems like once a "sleeper" player gets his due from the masses something bad happens. Tiki deserves to be drafted 4th and he will have a hard time outperforming that lofty position in fantasy drafts this season. He is about the only RB that has a shot of hanging with the "Big 3" so he is sure to be drafted shortly after them. This reminds me of my Hines Ward pick 2 seasons ago. Underrated guys that finally get their due in fantasy drafts almost always disappoint. I don't know why, it's just one of those truisms of fantasy football. Tiki is not a bad draft pick, but you won't grab him out the bargain bin anymore.
Jamal Lewis: Many will place the blame last year's freefall in production entirely on eating prison food and spending last summer in an 8 x 8. And that surely had a detrimental effect on Mr. Lewis. But throughout the season, he mostly looked like a guy that has lost whatever he had. And he wasn't alone, the Ravens looked lost as a team. Two seasons ago Lewis was virtually unstoppable. Last year many fantasy owners found themselves introducing Lewis to the waiver wire by midseason. He was virtually worthless. Lewis lacked the vision, and instincts that led to his huge success 2 years ago. According to reports, he showed up at mini-camp overweight this summer. And the offensive line is still a huge question mark. He could bounce back. Sometimes they do. But my gut tells me outside of two years this guy will be a memory in the NFL. Don't go down with this ship unless the fare is cheap.
Chester Taylor: While we are in the neighborhood lets discuss Lewis' former understudy. While Taylor has shown flashes of brilliance, we have no proof that he is capable of carrying the load for a team, or being a consistent fantasy performer. Of course that didn't stop the Vikings from giving him 14 million for 4 years. Taylor has skills. He is a good pass catcher. He will have some value in PPR leagues to be sure. Maybe the Vikings will put him in a position to succeed. But there are still other backs on the roster and no guarantee that Taylor gets the majority of touches. It seems every preseason the Vikings running backs are hyped, but since Robert Smith left town (remember him?) the Vikings backfield has been useless in the fantasy world. If you can get him cheap enough, he may be worth a shot, but the trend would suggest otherwise. And I suspect he will be overvalued on draft day just like most other running backs are. I like Taylor. But drafting any Vikings running back at this point is like having a carton of spoiled milk in the refrigerator. You reach in and grab it and take a big swig. You spit it out in disgust. But instead of throwing the milk away you put it back in the fridge. Don't reach for that milk again in this years fantasy draft.
Daunte Culpepper: This is the second year in a row Mr. Culpepper graces this list. As they say in Vegas, "Let it Ride." With a change in scenery, and an exciting supporting cast, who wouldn't be feeling good about Daunte's chances? He has an offensive scheme he has been successful with in the past. He knows the system right out of the gate. Not much of a learning curve compared to most team transplants. And with Michaels, Chambers, and Booker, Daunte has plenty of big targets to chuck the ball to. But if you look past the glitz and glamour of picking Culpepper this season, keep in mind that he is a player coming off an injury. He is a running quarterback that has sustained major damage to one of his sticks. Nobody really knows what to expect from Culpepper. But one could reasonably expect at least some loss of mobility. Mock drafts have him going around the 6th quarterback taken at this early writing, and I see guys being drafted lower than him that I like better. Daunte impressed everybody with his first mini-camp appearances, which will only serve to further inflate his value in the eyes of fantasy drafters.
Culpepper may very well have a decent season. And when game circumstances warrant it, he may put up some big numbers. But I don't think it will be a habit. The Dolphins defense is on the rise, and they have an up and coming stud running back to keep the clock moving. Culpepper has been as good as he is going to get. We have seen his best, but I doubt we will see it again this season. We have seen his worst, and we very well could see it again this season. I'll pass on Daunte again.
Matt Leinart / Vince Young: Well, the debate will be decided over the next few seasons which of these young college stars will translate into a stardom in the pro's. For this season I predict neither. Not a tough call. Most rookie QB's that are cruelly pushed from the sidelines and onto the field turn pro football games into something resembling an old Keystone Cops episode. They are young. They are dumb. The pro game is now so much more sophisticated than the college game, the transition is usually brutal, especially high draft picks, which usually go to teams that are not very good. Just answer this: Name the last 1st round quarterback that put up good numbers his first season? 'Nuff said. It seems to be the 6th and 7th round draft picks that end up having a good first season. I'm not going to buck the trend. It is likely neither of these guys will help your fantasy team this season, and even in a keeper league you probably won't hold them on the roster once the season starts, they languish, and your team needs injury replacements. So why bother drafting them at all? Now if we are talking dynasty league, that is another matter entirely as with the player directly below.
Reggie Bush: Alright, I just had to do it. About half of all first round draft picks flame out. Reggie Bush will not be one of them. But if you are a starry eyed dreamer thinking Bush will lead your fantasy team to the promised land this season, you might be expecting a bit much. After all there are barriers between Bush and fantasy greatness, none the least of which is a questionable supporting cast. Add to that the presence of one Mr. Deuce McAllister, who himself is a perennial top 10 fantasy pick that finds himself competing for playing time. Make no mistake, Bush will be a star in this league. But I expect his production to be similar to a Brian Westbrook type back........next season. That being said, with McAllister coming off surgery it remains to be seen how well he will come back. If Bush gets a lot of carries early he could put up some nice games for you. But I just can't see him winning me a fantasy championship come week 16 this season. And that is the goal here, isn't it? If you must have Bush in the draft I would definitely recommend a draft and trade strategy if he tears it up out of the gate. Ride him and then get off well before he hits the wall that seemingly all running backs coming out of college seem to hit.
Joe Horn: He had a nice run. Nobody showed much interest in Horn when he became a free agent after a somewhat successful stint in Kansas City, but New Orleans got more than they bargained for when they signed Horn. He was a great pickup for the Saints, and finished 2nd among receivers in fantasy points just 2 short years ago. But Horn suffered through injury last season and lost some playing time. He wasn't particularly effective when he was on the field. This is one of those classic situations where the players reputation will exceed his performance for the upcoming season. Even when healthy, Horn is getting up there in years and has probably lost a step. I think he will be a decent possession receiver, but his days of putting up gaudy numbers are probably over, especially considering the dicey quarterback situation. I think Horn is a player I will go out of my way to avoid unless I can get him garage sale cell phone cheap.
Marvin Harrison: Well, it had to happen eventually. Harrison is no longer considered one of the top tier fantasy receivers in the league. The addition of Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley have indeed cut into Harrison's production. He finished 9th for receivers in points in points per reception leagues last season, after finishing in the top 5 for the better part of the last decade. While Harrison's abilities showed no obvious decline last season, he is at the age where it could rear its ugly head at any time. Add to that the uncertainty of the offensive chemistry with Edge James no longer with the team, and Harrison smells like a guy that could be risky to make the top ten this season. I can't imagine that he would suddenly fall off badly, but there are probably better upside players that will be drafted after Harrison in most drafts. He isn't a bad pick. He is solid. He will get his catches. But if you are drafting him and expecting a return to the top 5 at the position, I predict disappointment.
Drew Bledsoe / Terrell Owens: Alright, maybe I'm the only one that really sees this clearly. What do we have here? A spoiled brat receiver that has been trouble every place he has played. (allegedly) And of course the popular sentiment is that Owens learned his lesson, and he will fly straight, at least for one year. What lesson did he learn? He threw a tantrum, got sent to his room, but eventually he found rich new foster parents to take him in. In the process, Owens has given us all a disturbing peek into the strange inner workings of his psyche, and I think I can safely say none of us are sure he will remain lucid for an entire 16 game schedule.
Aside from that we have a head coach that is desperately going for one more Gatorade shower that really means something. Parcells may have not been the driver for the "get Owens" express, he seems willing to be the latest head coach to try to tame the NFL's biggest head case. A marriage made in heaven? More like a marriage of convenience. Owens and Parcells may play nice for the entire season. But I sure as hell wouldn't bet on it. The party will be over when Owens realizes he is in a system designed to get him the ball about 5 times a game.
And then we have Drew. He surprised us last year. He put up some numbers. But once his protection wore down so did Bledsoe's passing numbers. But at times last year, Bledsoe was about as good as anybody. What will he do with T.O.? Well, for Drew's sake let's hope he miraculously loses the "mechanical man routine" in the pocket. If Drew has a few seconds to wind himself up, he will get Owens the ball. If he doesn't, and instead gets sacked (again) T.O. will not be happy. And when T.O ain't happy, nobody happy. Owens expects a lot out of himself, and a lot out of his teammates and coaches. If he plays 16 games and keeps his yapper shut, he will probably justify his loft draft position no matter who is flinging him the ball. But in the final analysis I see little upside with Owens and tons of downside.
As for Bledsoe, he is not a guy that takes criticism well. And I just don't see him as a guy that thrives under pressure. And the pressure this year in Dallas will be tremendous. We have heard Michael Irvin early on predicting a Super Bowl victory for Dallas, and I'm sure the average Dallas fan would agree. But this combination of Bledsoe and Owens is just a time bomb in my opinion. Owens ripped Garcia. He ripped McNabb. He will be looking back fondly on his playing days with those "bums" once he gets a load of Bledsoe's act. Bledsoe was a great bargain pick in last years fantasy drafts. He was either picked up in the closing rounds, or left as waiver wire fodder. He definitely out produced what most expected from him. But he won't start the season on your league's waiver wire this year. He will probably be drafted too high. Buy low. Sell high. I'm selling Bledsoe.
Boldin and Fitzgerald: Kind of sounds like a law firm, but it is actually the hottest dynamic duo of receivers in the league. Yes, they have officially arrived. They are playing with the big boys. They will both be drafted as number ones this season in your fantasy draft. Make no mistake. These guys are good, and getting better. Hell, I might find myself drafting one of these guys, even though I am telling you not to. They are that good. They may very well live up to their preseason expectations. I almost left them off the list, but the gnawing in my gut just won't stop.
The first problem is Kurt Warner. Yes, Warner is still the quarterback, and he is still and always an injury waiting to happen. And though I keep praying that he will gain the strength to walk away, Kurt will do nothing of the sort. So he gains the distinction of making my Players to Avoid List 3 years in a row. And after scoring twice with Warner, I'd be a damn fool to leave him off this years list now wouldn't I? I looked like an idiot by week 4 last season predicting a Warner crash and burn, but he did indeed run into trouble eventually, and his numbers for the season reflect that. He missed 7 games, and ended up 22nd for quarterbacks in fantasy points. If Warner could avoid injury, he could very well have a great year. And if Santa Claus really existed, I could end up with a Porsche in my driveway come late December. I'm not holding my breath on either count.
Matt Leinart is waiting in the wings, and he's no stranger to winning himself. While Leinart ripped it up in college, in a pro-style system, keep in mind that his pro-style system primarily played against elementary level defenses. Leinart may be a sharp cookie, but if he is pressed into starting sooner than expected (and with Warner under center, you know he will) the results for your number one receiver might leave a lot to be desired. Will he hone in on one receiver? If so, which one? The Cardinals are going to put up numbers, no doubt. But as hyped as they are at this point and in the near future, I think the buying price for all will be too steep for my taste, based on the risk associated with the quarterback situation. I am rooting for these guys, and I think they will win. But there will probably be people willing to give more than I will for the big name players. The offensive pie is only so big, and either Boldin or Fitzgerald could end up as the primary receiver, depending on what the quarterback situation is at any given time I don't blame you if you draft one of these great receivers, but just understand that it may be riskier than you think.