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The Shy-Away Top 40
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
We've seen each team play at least two preseason games and closely monitored camp reports on every skill-position player in the NFL. The recommendations in this column are inherently negative (see title), but based on the facts we've gleaned, represent an informed and reasoned projection.
This isn't a list of undervalued players, or projected busts. Those can be found in the 2012 Fantasy Football Draft Guide. This is a list of players I think you should consider scratching off your cheatsheets altogether. Guys you should draft around.
1. Trent Richardson (ADP: Early 3rd round) -- I loved watching Richardson run in college, and I initially loved his fantasy landing spot as a projected 350-touch workhorse behind an underrated Cleveland offensive line. Recurring knee woes led to a second surgery in six months, however, and missing all of preseason and a huge chunk of camp erases Richardson's chances of being an early-season bellcow back. Montario Hardesty has earned a sizable role, and Brandon Jackson can handle all passing downs. I wouldn't draft Richardson before the fifth round.
2. Philip Rivers (ADP: Early 7th round) -- Rivers' Average Draft Position isn't grossly out of whack, but you don't want him as your fantasy starter. The 2011 tape showed Rivers lacking velocity on throws, leading to a career high in interceptions, and his pick-prone preseason has only furthered those concerns. It's not that Rivers isn't still capable of throwing 20-25 touchdown passes and winning some games. It's that you'll be at a weekly disadvantage if he's your fantasy football QB1.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew (ADP: Early 2nd round) -- Adam Levitan has broken down the history of training-camp holdouts and on-field production subsequent them. The falloff is downright scary. The Jaguars won't cave on this one, and Jones-Drew may not report until just before Week 1. In the interim, Rashad Jennings has held down the fort effectively enough to at least create a regular-season timeshare. It's shocking that people are still drafting MJD in the first two rounds.
4. Michael Turner (ADP: Late 3rd round) -- There are some hard-headed Turner believers out there, but you won't find any of them at Rotoworld. In Atlanta's new up-tempo offense, the cement-footed 30-year-old will lose significant field time to passing-game contributors Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling while morphing into a clock-killing role player who makes his biggest impact at the end of blowouts. Turner's performance is in decline, and he no longer fits what Atlanta wants to do schematically. He could fall to the fifth round and you still shouldn't draft him.
5. Frank Gore (ADP: Early 4th round) -- Once among the league's most versatile backs, Gore's passing-game role has evaporated in Jim Harbaugh's run-heavy attack, and he's sure to lose short-yardage duties to Brandon Jacobs. It's also fair to wonder whether impressive second-year runner Kendall Hunter will overtake Gore as the 49ers' top tailback by midseason. Gore is no more than a low-upside, low-end RB2 who will catch few passes and score very few touchdowns.
6. Jason Witten (ADP: Late 7th round) -- Witten's Average Draft Position has predictably plummeted since lacerating his spleen on August 13, but he continues to be drafted as a fantasy starter. Not a great idea. Witten has been a good player for a very long time, but he's coming off the least productive year of his career and now faces a diminished early-season role, especially in the passing game. Witten hasn't even been able to exercise since his injury. Look elsewhere for your TE1.
7. Mike Wallace (ADP: Early 5th round) -- The 2011 game tape shows Wallace is a more dynamic player than Antonio Brown, but that analysis flies out the window when we're projecting 2012 statistics and the guy isn't even on the field. The Steelers are running a brand-new offense, and Wallace held out for all of OTA "install" in addition to the first month of camp. When Wallace returns, will he know enough of Todd Haley's scheme to be anything more than a decoy, running clear-out routes so Brown can rack up stats like last year? Let someone else take this leap.
8. Tony Romo (ADP: Mid 6th round) -- I was aboard the Romo pre-camp bandwagon, and then things started to take shape. Dallas' interior line is a major issue in both pass protection and run blocking, while Witten (spleen) and Miles Austin (hamstring) have suffered injuries that seem likely to affect their regular-season production. Dez Bryant's patella tendinitis isn't helping. People seem to be catching on, as Romo's ADP has fallen about a round over the past week. It’s still too high.
9. Wes Welker (ADP: Mid 3rd round) -- I still think Welker can catch 100 balls and be a PPR moneymaker, but I'm down on him in standard leagues. New OC Josh McDaniels' offense is more vertical-oriented than outgoing OC Bill O'Brien's and will feature Brandon Lloyd downfield as opposed to Welker on checkdowns underneath. I think a realistic Welker 2012 stat line would be similar to his in 2008, McDaniels' last year as Pats playcaller. Welker caught 111 passes for 1,165 yards and three touchdowns, ranking 21st among fantasy receivers. He was still top 10 in PPR.
10. Miles Austin (ADP: Late 5th round) -- The Cowboys initially stated Austin's August 4 hamstring strain was "minor," and he'd be "fine." They then projected him back for their August 25 exhibition game. Owner Jerry Jones has since ruled out Austin for all of the preseason, confirming he's well behind schedule. While Austin's role is safe for when he returns, this is a player who recovered incredibly slowly from similar injuries in 2011. I wouldn't even count on him as a WR3.
11. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (ADP: Late 4th round) -- A theory has made the rounds that Green-Ellis will be getting Cedric Benson carries in Cincinnati, but the Bengals have made it clear that won't be the case. They're going to use Bernard Scott as a 10-12 touch-per-game changeup, and Brian Leonard on passing downs. Outside of Foxboro, Green-Ellis' scoring will dwindle just as his subpar talent is exposed. And similar to 2011 LeGarrette Blount, Law Firm will singlehandedly kill your week when the Bengals don't grab an early lead. Be sure to let someone else draft him.
12. Robert Meachem (ADP: Late 7th round) -- Meachem seemed like a strong schematic fit when the Chargers signed him in March. Coach Norv Turner's offense is vertical in nature, and Meachem is actually an upgrade on Vincent Jackson when it comes to running past coverage. I can't say I'm surprised Meachem and Philip Rivers have experienced training-camp chemistry woes, though. Rivers doesn't throw the long ball like he used to, and Meachem is a deep threat.
13. Shonn Greene (ADP: Late 5th round) -- Greene seems ticketed for a heavy workload in Tony Sparano's prehistoric Ground 'N Pound offense, and that sounds great. He’s a total zero in the passing game and in danger of losing goal-line work to Tim Tebow's Wildcat package. Our 2011 game reviews exposed Greene as a poor back; he was so unimpressive that we don't even believe he should be an NFL starter. On a Jets team that quietly threatens to be among the worst in football, Greene will be a drain on 2012 fantasy squads. He will hurt you if you draft him.
14. Beanie Wells (ADP: Early 7th round) -- While Ryan Williams has avoided setbacks from his own knee injury and looked better than expected in Arizona's third preseason game, Wells has recovered maddeningly slowly from an alleged January knee "scope." He's struggling to make cuts in practice and donning a brace at club headquarters. With a more reasonable mid-eighth-round ADP, Williams is the guy to target if you're keen to roll dice on the Cardinals' backfield.
15. Santonio Holmes (ADP: Early 10th round) -- The cost seems reasonable; getting a big-time talent at the price of a WR4. But is there really any hope? An early-camp rib injury has led to tightness in Holmes' back, and he's spent little to no time in new OC Tony Sparano's offense. Meanwhile, New York's bush-league passing "attack" has been bumbling in preseason games and training camp practices. You think Holmes is gonna be cool with that when he gets back?
16. Matt Schaub (ADP: Late 9th round) -- Schaub has quieted health concerns with a polished preseason. He went 11-of-14 for 128 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers' starting defense on Saturday night. Unfortunately, Schaub plays in the NFL's run-heaviest offense and has no shot at rediscovering 2008-10 fantasy form. It's a scheme thing. He's a low-upside QB2.
17. Isaac Redman (ADP: Late 6th round) -- Redman's ADP needs to start dropping fast. Shelved by groin and hip injuries at Steelers camp, Redman has stood idly by while Jonathan Dwyer (10 carries, 83 yards) and rookie Chris Rainey (14 touches, 89 yards) have made strong cases for early-season roles. Redman is staring at three games of lead-back-in-a-committee work, before Rashard Mendenhall returns. The Steelers' backfield is a fantasy situation to avoid.
18. C.J. Spiller (ADP: Late 7th round) -- Spiller played well enough late last season that he deserves an increased role. I'm not sure he's going to get it. Fred Jackson has been Buffalo's clear lead back so far in August, much as he was pre-2011 injury. He's just so superior to Spiller running between the tackles. Spiller is a better player than his to-date statistics suggest, but he'll almost certainly need another F-Jax injury to be fantasy viable. A seventh-round ADP is rich for a guy you can't even feel good about as a flex.
19. Anquan Boldin (ADP: Late 8th round) -- Boldin turns 32 in a month, and he hasn't cleared 900 yards in either of the past two seasons. His final fantasy receiver ranking has fallen in four straight years. Slower than ever and moving behind Torrey Smith in Baltimore's pass-game pecking order, Boldin is no longer on the WR3 radar and offers limited upside even for a WR4.
20. Jacob Tamme (ADP: Late 7th round) -- I hope you're not passing on Gronkowski, Graham, Gates, and Hernandez because you "can get Tamme late." His out-of-control ADP has already made him overvalued, and Tamme may end up splitting production with Joel Dreessen, who's a fine pass catcher in his own right. Tamme will be a poor standard-league tight end starter.
21. LeGarrette Blount (ADP: Early 9th round) -- Blount ran hard behind effective blocking in the preseason opener. He showed his true colors in the second exhibition game (eight carries, 11 yards) before getting hurt. A complete passing-game non-factor and embarrassment in short yardage for a power back, Blount is a flawed and inefficient player. Doug Martin has been running circles around him all August. Blount will be a useless early-down pace-change back by October.
22. Felix Jones (ADP: Mid 13th round) -- ADP isn't the problem. DeMarco Murray has run away with Dallas' starting job, while the incumbent has exhibited decreased explosiveness with 17 total yards on six preseason touches. Jones isn't even a strong handcuff anymore. If pressed into significant duty, Jones would be a virtual lock to struggle behind the Cowboys' woebegone O-Line.
23. Josh Freeman (ADP: Early 12th round) -- Freeman might be a more effective on-field player than he was last season, but he doesn't offer the qualities we should pursue in QB2s. Greg Schiano's brand of offense is smashmouth and run-based, crushing the statistical ceiling of his quarterback. Joe Flacco, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Jake Locker are higher-upside fantasy backups.
24. Donald Brown (ADP: Early 6th round) -- Brown sits atop Indianapolis' depth chart and that may not change, but the Colts are headed for RBBC. Rookie Vick Ballard and third-down specialist Mewelde Moore have been heavily involved with the first-team offense, while Delone Carter has gotten goal-line looks. Brown does not possess the talent to live up to his sixth-round Average Draft Position. He's an RB3. You’re in trouble if you get stuck with him as a starter.
25. Mikel Leshoure (ADP: Late 10th round) -- Leshoure missed virtually all of OTAs and early camp with ankle and hamstring injuries. He did resume practicing in 11-on-11s this week. Keep an eye on Leshoure in the Lions' third preseason game, but there's typically little hope for running backs coming off Achilles' tendon tears to stay healthy and/or effective the following year. With Jahvid Best out for the foreseeable future, Kevin Smith is the fantasy back to own in Detroit.
26. Laurent Robinson (ADP: Mid 13th round) -- In order to minimize the impact of Blaine Gabbert's poor pocket presence, the Jaguars have resorted to a quick-hitting passing game that will feature the "Z" receiver. That's rookie Justin Blackmon's role, with Laurent Robinson as the deep threat at "X." In Mike Mularkey's old Atlanta offenses, Roddy White played Z and Michael Jenkins was the X. While White was a target monster, Jenkins never cleared 800 receiving yards.
27. Daniel Thomas (ADP: Mid 11th round) -- A poor fit for Miami's new zone-run scheme, Thomas has received just three preseason carries and been clearly outplayed by Lamar Miller. Reggie Bush seems safe as the starter, but don't be surprised if Thomas is leapfrogged by the rookie. Thomas was awful in his first season, and he hasn't improved much as a second-year pro.
28. Brandon Pettigrew (ADP: Late 8th round) -- Pettigrew is a plodding power forward and in-line tight end who racked up catches last year because the Lions led the NFL in pass attempts. While Detroit will continue to chuck the rock, annually overrated Pettigrew has never finished better than 11th in standard-league tight end scoring and will always lack playmaking ability to be a difference maker beyond PPR settings. He'll be a liability if he's your non-PPR league starter.
29. James Starks (ADP: Late 11th round) -- Starks' running skills have always left much to be desired, and his lack of third-year development on top of a severe turf-toe injury sent GM Ted Thompson into action, signing reliable workhorse Cedric Benson. Starks could open the season as low as third on the Packers' tailback depth chart, behind CedBen and Alex Green.
30. Brent Celek (ADP: Mid 13th round) -- Celek's ADP is fine, but we've seen him pushed as a legitimate TE1 if you miss out on fantasy football's "elite" tight ends. Don't get caught up in that. Celek's past two seasons have shown his ceiling to be around six targets per game, and he never lines up in the slot or out wide. He's a low-upside fantasy backup, and there's no intrigue in that. Jared Cook, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Olsen, and Coby Fleener are all much better TE2 options.
31. Andy Dalton (ADP: Late 11th round) -- Dalton's rookie year is commonly remembered as a resounding success, but he faded mightily in the second half. Posting a 7:12 touchdown-to-turnover ratio in the final nine games, Dalton's physical limitations were uncovered as passing windows shrunk against better defenses. Dalton might be an effective real-life quarterback in 2012, but he has little or no chance to help you in fantasy. Look elsewhere for your second QB.
32. Nate Burleson (ADP: Undrafted) -- Burleson has generated no training camp buzz, so it's not surprising that he's been overlooked in fantasy football drafts so far. He's a slot receiver lacking run-after-catch skills, and that poor combo will end up costing Burleson snaps in favor of explosive second-year man Titus Young as fast-healing rookie Ryan Broyles waits in the wings.
33. Owen Daniels (ADP: Mid 13th round) -- Much like his quarterback Schaub, Daniels' fantasy appeal went in the gutter when Houston switched its offensive philosophy from pass-first to run-heavy. It's not insane to think that "move" fullback/tight end James Casey could catch more balls than Daniels in 2012. Daniels spends most of his games blocking. Another low-ceiling TE2.
34. Ronnie Hillman (ADP: Late 12th round) -- Hillman entered camp as a popular fantasy sleeper, but he missed all of August with a hamstring strain and is buried on a muddied depth chart behind clear feature back Willis McGahee. Hillman could enter the season as low as No. 4, after McGahee, Lance Ball, and Knowshon Moreno. Don't look for any rookie-year fantasy impact.
35. Michael Floyd (ADP: Late 13th round) -- Floyd has a lot of god-given ability, but the Cards are bringing him along slowly as a No. 4 receiver in a passing game destined to struggle. If you really want to draft a rookie wide receiver late, think more along the lines of LaVon Brazill.
36. Heath Miller (ADP: Undrafted) -- Fantasy leaguers clearly never bought early-camp talk of Todd Haley increasing Miller's receiving role. Rookie LT Mike Adams' brutal preseason pass protection suggests Miller will spend another year as Pittsburgh's sixth offensive lineman.
37. Steve Breaston (ADP: Undrafted) -- We've seen the best of Breaston, and he's not going to be a starter in Kansas City this year if the Chiefs are intent on playing their best receivers in two-wide sets. (Jon Baldwin and Dwayne Bowe will get the nod.) Likely a third receiver in a run-heavy offense, Breaston would need a Bowe injury to have any chance at 2012 fantasy relevance.
38. Ronnie Brown (ADP: Late 12th round) -- You're begging for early-season fantasy losses if you're counting on Brown until Chargers starter Ryan Mathews (collarbone) returns. Don't even bother. Brown has zero juice left in his tank, and he'll be rotating with Le'Ron McClain, Curtis Brinkley, and Jackie Battle. Instead of drafting Brown, look for other options to tide you over.
39. Javon Ringer (ADP: Undrafted) -- I'm a big believer in stacking fantasy benches with backup running backs in "hopes" the starter goes down. It panned out with Michael Bush, C.J. Spiller, DeMarco Murray, Toby Gerhart, and others last year. The strategy pays off every single season. But one of the tenets of this approach is to target No. 2 backs who have strong running skills. Ringer can pass protect and catch passes in the flat, but he is extremely short on running talent.
40. Mark Sanchez (ADP: Undrafted) -- Green fantasy owners tend to glare at last year's final fantasy standings and apply them to this year as if they provide some indication of the future. Sanchez deceptively ranked 10th in 2011 quarterback scoring due largely to six super-fluky rushing touchdowns. So it's refreshing to see him falling out of drafts altogether. Sanchez is more likely to lose his starting job to Tim Tebow than repeat or even approach his specious 2011 stats.