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 overvalued players, necessarily, or projected busts. Those can be found in the 2014 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.
The Shy-Away 40 is an annual in-camp column on Rotoworld. For last year's Shy-Away results, bang it here.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $100,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 1's games. It's only $10 to join and first prize is $10,000. Starts Sunday, September 7th at 1pm ET. Here's the link.
To select Manning at his first-round Average Draft Position is to essentially assume he'll repeat his 2013 outlier campaign. The real question isn't whether Manning will statistically regress, it's to what extent.
38 1/2 years old now, Manning preyed on a bottom-six schedule last year, facing the AFC South and NFC East. In their division, each of the Broncos' two games against the Chiefs came late in the season, when Kansas City was hemorrhaging points due to defensive injuries. The Raiders and Chargers didn't play good defense. The Broncos now face the NFL's second hardest schedule (NFC West, AFC East), while the Chiefs' defense is healthy and both the Chargers and Raiders' defenses have improved on paper. Whether or not you believe Eric Decker is a "No. 1"-caliber receiver, his loss hurts. He has 32 touchdowns over the past three seasons. "Replacement" Emmanuel Sanders has nine.
The 2013 Broncos ran up the score in an attempt to get Manning records. As calculated by @FantasyDouche, over 10 percent of Manning's 659 pass attempts occurred with Denver up by two scores in the second half of games. Are you willing to bet that they'll keep running up the score? I personally believe the 2014 Broncos will skew more heavily toward the run and play ball-control football, a historical staple of John Fox teams. Montee Ball is more of a true volume workhorse than outgoing spread back Knowshon Moreno, while Denver's defense is absolutely loaded. Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, and first-round pick Bradley Roby were added in the offseason. Front-seven difference makers Von Miller and Derek Wolfe are healthy after combining to miss 12 games. This defense is going to be beastly.
My advice? Avoid Manning in the top two rounds and use one of your last two picks on the Broncos' D/ST.
2. Vernon Davis
We pushed Davis hard last year, and people wondered why. We're backing off him big time this year. Here's why.
Touchdown dependent to the extreme, Davis borderline-miraculously turned the 60th-most receptions in football into the third most receiving scores (13) last season. Davis finished 66th in the NFL in targets. I'm not saying he'll stop being a big-time red-zone threat, but Davis could easily still sport that description on a five-touchdown regression. And his target totals with Michael Crabtree back from injury paint a troubling picture. They were 5, 3, 7, 3, 5 in Crabtree's regular season appearances, and 7, 4, 3 in the playoffs. Davis topped five targets just twice in Crabtree's eight games played. And that was with Crabtree at less than 100 percent.
The 49ers traded for Stevie Johnson, re-signed Anquan Boldin, and return Crabtree at full health. Fullback Bruce Miller ranked third on the 49ers in targets a year ago. I think Davis will finish third or possibly fourth this year, behind Crabtree, Boldin, and Johnson. Downfield threat Brandon Lloyd, sophomore Quinton Patton, and quick-twitch rookie Bruce Ellington are also in the mix.
Now 30 years old, Davis has been a frustrating fantasy player for most of his career. He's got great speed and is a high-impact blocker, but he's never been a high-volume checkdown catcher like Jason Witten or even Jordan Cameron. He runs the vertical seam, plays tough in the red zone, and blocks -- a lot. I fully expect Davis to resume frustrating fantasy owners this year. Currently sporting a fifth-round ADP, Davis is on my do-not-draft list.
The Bengals have told us how they view Bernard in back-to-back years, and it isn't as a true feature back. They gave BenJarvus Green-Ellis 224 touches despite his ineffectiveness last season, and in the following offseason used a second-round pick on power back Jeremy Hill. Bernard has a reputation as an explosive playmaker, which can certainly be the case in limited doses. But he was an inefficient ball carrier as a rookie, averaging 4.09 YPC and 3.90 if you leave out his Week 9 highlight-reel 35-yard touchdown run against the Dolphins. Number Fire's @LateRoundQB recently suggested on this podcast that because everyone saw it on Thursday Night Football, that particular run has convinced the general public that Gio is better than he really is.
I like Bernard as a borderline RB1 in PPR leagues, but wouldn't draft him at his No. 16 overall Average Draft Position regardless of scoring format. And I'd definitely avoid him in non-PPR. He's going to get fewer carries than people expect, and it's only a matter of time before he begins losing short-yardage and goal-line work to Hill.
It also doesn't help that Bernard wore down as his workload piled up last year. Over his last four games -- playoffs included -- Bernard managed 120 yards on his final 51 rushing attempts (2.35 YPC) and just once broke a run longer than seven yards. Do people think Gio will become more efficient and sturdy on more carries? With Hill on board, I'm not sure the Bengals will even let us find out.
My advice? Avoid Bernard unless he falls deep into the third round, and draft Hill in the eighth or ninth.
One of the reasons we loved Garcon last year was his role in Washington's offense. "X" receivers in the Shanahan scheme are target monsters, dating back to Rod Smith, Javon Walker, Brandon Marshall, and Andre Johnson. Garcon went on to lead the NFL in targets, seeing 182. Santana Moss finished second on the Redskins with 79.
Out are the Shanahans. In is Jay Gruden, who historically features "Z" receivers in his offense. A.J. Green (178 targets) played Z in Cincinnati. Marvin Jones (80 targets) played X. There's also the matter of more mouths to feed in D.C. The Gruden regime signed Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson, the latter of whom will play Z. Jordan Reed is healthy after missing seven games last year. Garcon is a good player and Gruden knows that, but he's also a holdover from the Shanahan regime. I don't think Gruden will be nearly as willing to force feed Garcon footballs, particularly after the Roberts and D-Jax signings. I do think Garcon's efficiency will rise this year. His yards-per-reception average should go up, and he's a solid bet to score another touchdown or two. But there is a very realistic scenario where he loses 50-75 targets.
My advice? Avoid Garcon at his early-fourth-round ADP. If you really want a Redskins wideout, Jackson is a better value in the fifth. With Robert Griffin III struggling as Gruden attempts to turn him into more of a pocket passer, however, I wouldn't argue against avoiding both Washington receivers this year.
5. Arian Foster
After leading the NFL in all-purpose touches from 2010-2012, Foster suffered a right calf strain at OTAs last May. Then-Texans coach Gary Kubiak conceded at the start of 2013 training camp he was a "little bit surprised" Foster was forced to open camp on active/PUP. Foster experienced back soreness while on the shelf. He resumed practicing in late August, ultimately needing three months of recovery. He suffered a hamstring injury last Week 7 and returned in Week 9, only to leave the game with an opening-drive back injury. In November, it was determined that Foster needed surgery to repair a disc problem in his back. The operation was called a "microscopic lumbar discectomy."
Foster participated in practices all this offseason. He suffered a hamstring injury at the beginning of 2014 training camp, however, and missed two weeks of practice. During his latest layoff, Foster revealed in an ESPN interview that he considered retiring after last season. "Any time an athlete goes through an injury like that -- a back, a neck, even knees or hips, something that puts you out for the entire season -- you kind of re-evaluate your life," said Foster, who turns 28 later this week. "You see what's really important. Is getting paralyzed more important than playing with your grandkids when you’re 50, 60 years old?"
Foster's hamstring problems actually date back to his rookie season, when he missed much of August. He also underwent knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in February of 2011. Foster suffered multiple hamstring injuries in 2011 training camp, costing him Week 1.
Foster was the No. 1 player on last year's Shy-Away 40 -- the column headliner. I had high hopes for him as a bounce-back candidate early this offseason. I'm now avoiding him in 2014 drafts. I plan to use a late-round flier on Jonathan Grimes instead.
Long term, I think Watkins projects as a combination of Pierre Garcon and Torrey Smith's strengths. In the short term, I think there's every reason to believe his production will fail to align with his mid-seventh-round Average Draft Position. Reggie Wayne, Terrance Williams, Golden Tate, Kendall Wright, and Eric Decker are the five receivers being drafted directly behind him.
Although Watkins has been the subject of endless hype, he is limited from a size standpoint and will likely struggle to win contested catches as an NFL rookie. Amid overwhelming media praise, Watkins has three catches for 21 yards on seven preseason targets. There's also the matter of being a rookie wide receiver in and of itself, where expectations can be unreasonably high. Throw in Buffalo's glaring quarterback concerns and the NFL's run-heaviest offense, and Watkins would do well to match college teammate DeAndre Hopkins' first-year stats (52-802-2). I wouldn't want any part of Watkins at his ADP. Fellow Bills starter Mike Williams, a proven touchdown scorer in the pros, can be had seven-plus rounds later.
7. Percy Harvin
Harvin has the reputation of being a great football player, and I think it's deserved. There aren't five more dangerous players in the league with the ball in their hands. Now entering his first full season in the NFL's most wide receiver-unfriendly offense, it's fair to wonder just how often the ball will be in Harvin's hands.
The only exposures to Harvin in Seattle we have so far are three games (one regular season, two playoffs) where he failed to play 50% of the offensive snaps in each, and totaled five catches on seven targets. We're not sure yet whether a healthy Harvin will be an every-down player, though his usage in Seattle's kickoff-return game suggests he probably won't. Coach Pete Carroll made it very clear last year the Seahawks wouldn't scheme specifically to feed Harvin. Beat writers were even skeptical Harvin would clear 1,000 receiving yards. (The Seahawks haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Bobby Engram in 2007.)
"He's here to be one of the fellas," Carroll said last May, just after trading for Harvin. "He's gonna complement a terrific receiving crew. Everybody's gonna contribute in their ways, and they're not going to worry about who's getting it but just how many points we can score and how many games we can win, and hopefully everybody will understand that it will be how we fit these guys together that will make this happen. Not just one guy showing up."
Ask yourself this question: Could be a limited-snap player on a run-committed team that isn't funneling offense through him pay off at a fifth-round ADP?
Oh, and we didn't even get to Harvin's injury history. He's missed 22 of his teams' last 25 games.
8. C.J. Spiller
I love C.J. Spiller. But it wasn't until I saw how Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett treated him that I realized how much I miss Chan Gailey. Drafted specifically to be a spread back in Gailey's five-wide offense, Spiller took the league by storm as a third-year player in 2012, with Gailey scheming him the football in space against defenses that were spread out by Gailey's Texas Tech-style receiver splits and shotgun Pistol formations. Gailey knew Spiller was best utilized as a "satellite" back, where he didn't have to make complicated decisions behind the line of scrimmage. Gailey gave him opportunities to run to daylight and Spiller did, averaging an absurd 6.01 YPC on 207 attempts en route to a No. 7 overall fantasy back finish.
Let's give the Bills' current coaching staff a momentary pass for allowing Spiller to play on a high ankle sprain last year, when it was clear to even the most amateurish observer that he didn't belong on the field. Marrone and Hackett believe in the run game, but they've shown no interest in adjusting theirs to highlight their most talented player. Whereas Gailey consistently ran Spiller out of four- and five-wide spread packages, Marrone and Hackett are committed to a power approach requiring its tailback to exercise patience and run with vision. The power game can work for some runners -- like Fred Jackson -- but not for Spiller, whose strengths are improvisation and lateral explosiveness. In space, he is capable of making the best defenders in the league miss.
Spiller's preseason usage suggests nothing has changed. He's still being slammed into the line while coming off the field in all third-down and red-zone situations. I fully expect Spiller to have a few monster games this season, when he busts long runs because the blocking has sprung him into space. The coaches don't seem concerned with actively scheming to do that, however, which will lead to maddening week-to-week inconsistency.
Spiller's Average Draft Slot is late in the third round. In 12-team re-drafts, I'd rather select Jackson at his mid-eighth-round ADP.
Chris Johnson is the inverse of Percy Harvin. Harvin is a great football player, albeit too violent for his own good. All CJ?K cares about is his own good. He rarely runs hard but avoids injury, stays on the field, and compiles numbers. Nevermind that he torpedoes fantasy weeks and hurts his own team.
Potential CJ?K drafters who look at year-ending stats might perceive a value opportunity. After all, Johnson has finished the last three seasons a respectable-looking 16th, 13th, and ninth in fantasy running back points. Shoot, maybe he's trending upward based on those numbers. He isn't, of course, and fantasy leaguers who've owned him know best. As @LateRoundQB has noted, Johnson had as many top-24 PPR weeks as DeAngelo Williams last season. Although Johnson still intermittently (read: rarely) flashes game-breaking ability, his on-field effort has been inconsistent to be kind, and his 2013 YPC average of 3.86 was the worst of his career. Johnson turns 29 next month and is coming off of offseason knee surgery.
Johnson's fantasy value is volume dependent to the extreme, and in New York he will lose a ton of volume. Jets beat writers have pegged him for around 200 carries, 79 fewer than last year. He's also likely to lose goal-line work to Chris Ivory, and some passing-down duties to superior pass protector Bilal Powell.
For years, Johnson complained loudly about the Titans' offensive line. Pro Football Focus graded Tennessee as the NFL's No. 4 run-blocking offense last year. The Jets were second worst before losing top run blocker RT Austin Howard in free agency. As Dynasty League Football's @KarlSafchick has stated, Johnson managed one solitary run of 25-plus yards in 2013. Ivory had five on 97 fewer carries.
Ivory is the Jets' best runner, and I expect OC Marty Mornhinweg's backfield usage to ultimately reflect that. Johnson is a bust at his fifth-round ADP.
10. Trent Richardson
I'm not ready to throw in the towel on T-Rich's career. He just turned 23, can catch the football, and breaks tackles when blocking gives him room. His blocking dependency is a glaring and obvious limitation, however, and Indianapolis' offensive line is showing no signs of improvement. The Colts lost LG Donald Thomas to a year-ending quadriceps tear early in camp, and C Khaled Holmes to a high left ankle sprain. Rookie LG Jack Mewhort has missed time with a knee injury. RG Hugh Thornton finished 69th among 81 qualifying guards in Pro Football Focus' 2013 ratings. Until GM Ryan Grigson shores up his interior line, I think Richardson will struggle to generate positive gains. With T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, and impressive rookie Donte Moncrief at wideout, and Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener at tight end, the Colts' best offensive option is to play spread football.
I think Ahmad Bradshaw is the Colts' best spread back and will become this year's Donald Brown. Bradshaw is a superior pass protector to T-Rich and is also better at creating his own running room with more explosive lateral moves and first-step quickness. Indianapolis seems to know it needs Bradshaw, holding him out of preseason action even when he's at 100 percent health. Teams typically give this treatment to core players.
With Richardson's ADP sitting in the middle of round five, I'd much rather draft Bradshaw in the 11th round.
11. Andre Ellington
Whereas Giovani Bernard was not efficient as a rookie ball carrier, Ellington was, leading the NFL in yards per carry (5.53) among players with at least 100 attempts. He also has a much clearer path to carries than Gio, with plodder Stepfan Taylor and ex-Steeler Jonathan Dwyer next on Arizona's depth chart. I think fantasy owners currently targeting Bernard in the second round would be smarter to wait for Ellington in the third. Of course, I personally wouldn't draft either at their current ADPs.
Ellington's has surged into the early-third round, where he's going just behind Zac Stacy, and ahead of Reggie Bush, Toby Gerhart, Ryan Mathews, and Frank Gore. It's still an open question as to whether Ellington's 5-foot-9, 199-pound frame can handle the heavylifting he's apparently ticketed for. He did add 10 pounds before camp, although the history of offseason running back weight gains isn't pretty. Most notably, Steve Slaton, Felix Jones, Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, and Trent Richardson all fell off the map after putting on offseason weight. Adrian Peterson and Ryan Mathews later regretted it. Jamaal Charles is built somewhat similarly to Ellington, but Charles is a genuinely rare talent, and could be considered an outlier. Are you willing to bet Ellington is an outlier?
Ellington never reached 225 carries in a college season, but was frequently injured at Clemson. A severe toe injury cost him nearly half of his sophomore year, and he underwent post-season surgery to repair a ligament tear and fractured sesamoid bone. He played through an ankle injury as a junior and had surgery after the year. Ellington battled a bad hamstring as a senior, followed by setbacks during the 2013 pre-draft process. He suffered a concussion in 2013 training camp. He missed a game with a sprained MCL. He missed practice time with knee and thigh injuries. Sports Injury Predictor's algorithm has identified Ellington as one of the four likeliest running backs to suffer a 2014 injury. You can read more about that here.
The Cardinals' offensive line remains a concern, especially with LG Jonathan Cooper struggling mightily in camp and preseason games. Cooper has already been benched for Bucs castoff Ted Larsen. Right guard and right tackle still seem undecided. Preseason usage suggests Ellington will be replaced at the goal line by Taylor or Dwyer. I'm also skeptical Bruce Arians will truly be willing to slam Ellington into the line over 200 times. He appeared to be at peak effectiveness on 118 carries last year. In the fantasy community, I think Ellington has gone from severely underrated to pretty severely overrated in a one-year span.
My advice? Avoid Ellington in re-draft leagues this year. Shop him in Dynasty with his perceived value at its peak. If you're going to use early-round picks on running backs, draft high-volume workhorses. They'll be much more consistent and score more touchdowns.
12. Rashad Jennings
Jennings' Average Draft Position skyrocketed into the third round after he broke off a perfectly blocked 73-yard touchdown in New York's second exhibition game. Nevermind that he has 35 yards on his other 11 preseason carries. His rising cost is all the more reason to avoid this 29 1/2-year-old journeyman in drafts.
Jennings is a solid NFL backup, and in past spot-start opportunities has shown an ability to handle reasonably heavy workloads for short stretches. Unfortunately, Jennings lacks the running ability of Andre Williams, and will be replaced at the goal line by New York's more-talented rookie. Coach Tom Coughlin has a long history of using backfield committees, from Ahmad Bradshaw-Brandon Jacobs-Derrick Ward in New York to James Stewart-Fred Taylor in Jacksonville. The Giants already view Williams as their new Jacobs, giving him extensive first-team run.
Jennings will continue to be a quality role player, but his touchdown ceiling is capped and he could eventually lose primary-back work to Williams. Even if Jennings offers a relatively high "floor," he provides drafters with little or no chance at becoming a legitimate fantasy week winner. Williams is a better value in round nine.
13. Wes Welker
The Broncos have prepared for post-Welker life, signing Emmanuel Sanders, re-signing Andre Caldwell, and using a second-round pick on Cody Latimer. They know the end is near. Just how near is the question.
33-year-old Welker suffered two concussions in 2013, and is likely one more brain injury away from retirement. Welker remained effective on the field last season, but his career-high ten touchdowns were a mirage. Manning isn't throwing 55 TD passes again, and he may not even throw 40. With improved receiver depth, it wouldn't be surprising if the contending Broncos scaled back Welker's snaps in hopes of preserving his health for one last season. He missed each of Denver's final three regular season games last year, and failed to clear 75 yards in all but one of the final dozen weeks. People are still drafting him in the fourth round.
14. Ray Rice
I've watched each of Rice's preseason touches. He's noticeably shed weight and looks quicker. I also think he's struggling to adjust to new OC Gary Kubiak's zone-running scheme. Rice hasn't exhibited much patience or instincts on inside zone runs, instead barreling into the line and leaving yards on the field. Opening the season on a two-game suspension, Rice is being drafted early in round five, ahead of Shane Vereen, Joique Bell, Ben Tate, and Lamar Miller.
At 6-foot, 218, Bernard Pierce better fits the profile of a Kubiak/Shanahan ZBS back than 5-foot-8, 205-pound Rice. Alfred Morris is 5'10/220. Arian Foster is 6'1/226. Olandis Gary was 6'0/216. Terrell Davis was 6'0/240. Reuben Droughns was 5'11/215. Mike Anderson was 6'0/235. I've also watched fourth-round rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro closely in August. He's 6'0/229 and reminds me of a cross between Droughns and Anderson.
Still an open competition, Baltimore's backfield is highly volatile. In situations like this, I think the best approach is to reduce risk and take chances on the cheapest possible options. While Rice has an early fifth-round ADP, Pierce is acquirable nearly three rounds later. Taliaferro isn't even being drafted.
15. T.Y. Hilton
This is one player I genuinely hope I'm wrong about. I love T.Y. Hilton as a ballplayer, love watching him play. He needs to be utilized on crossers and screens in addition to lid-lifting routes. He can blow the top off of a defense, but also be a playmaker in space. I don't trust Colts OC Pep Hamilton to utilize him correctly. I also think his targets are destined to sink.
Hilton's 2013 usage was propped up by Dwayne Allen's year-ending hip injury, suffered in Week 1, and Reggie Wayne's Week 7 ACL tear. T.Y. finished 14th among all NFL receivers in targets, and 17th in catches. The cumulative stats (82-1,083-5) look nice on paper, but fantasy football is a week-to-week game. A classic boom-or-bust player who busted far more often than he boomed, Hilton produced just four top-24 fantasy weeks. As @LateRoundQB has pointed out, that's as many as Eddie Royal and Nate Washington. Hilton scored a touchdown in 2-of-16 games. He was held to 52 yards or fewer ten times.
Allen and Wayne are now healthy. The Colts signed Hakeem Nicks and drafted promising Donte Moncrief in the third round. Coby Fleener and Da'Rick Rogers return. Hilton was already frustratingly inconsistent as a target monster. How irritating will he be with (perhaps significantly) fewer opportunities?
His ADP is currently in the mid-fifth round.
16. Emmanuel Sanders
Peyton Manning has a history of working magic with surrounding offensive players. He makes his O-Lines look better than they are. He enhances receiver production. He turns plodding running backs into top-five fantasy scorers.
The problem with expecting Manning's historical magic to turn Sanders from a relative fantasy dud into a stud is that we've already seen him play with a really good quarterback in a pass-first offense. Led by Ben Roethlisberger, the 2013 Steelers ranked 13th in pass attempts, and Sanders spent most of the season as Big Ben's No. 2 pass option behind Antonio Brown. Sanders managed to turn 112 targets into a 67-732-6 stat line, good for 35th among fantasy wideouts. In Denver, Sanders will open the season as Manning's No. 4 option behind Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, and Wes Welker. To get Sanders on your fantasy team, you usually have to pay a sixth-round price. He's going ahead of Marques Colston, Mike Wallace, Reggie Wayne, and Golden Tate.
Sanders is 5-foot-11, 186 with small hands and short arms. He excels on quick hitters and crossing routes, but isn't a true lid lifter, and will never be a high-volume touchdown scorer. Look, if Peyton repeats his 2013 production, all bets are off and Sanders could blow up. I don't think that will happen for all of the reasons explained previously. I'd rather have Wallace, Colston, Wayne, and Tate than Sanders this year.
17. Julian Edelman
Edelman's mid-sixth-round ADP seems to be another classic case of fantasy owners drafting last year's stats. Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson, Shane Vereen, and Danny Amendola combined to miss 37 games last season, creating a perfect storm for Edelman, whose 151 targets ranked tenth among NFL wideouts. While Edelman deserves a butt-slap for admirably filling Tom Brady's go-to receiver role, I don't believe New England wants him doing that heavylifting going forward. I don't think the Patriots see Edelman as a player they want to funnel offense through. The situation forced them to last year.
Look for the Pats to scale back Edelman's usage while Gronk, Vereen, Brandon LaFell, Amendola, and Dobson siphon targets. At 5-foot-10, 195 with a career 10.2 yards-per-reception average, Edelman is dependent on volume, and now virtually certain to lose a ton of it. I wouldn't be surprised if his catch total dips from last year's 105 into the 70s. He's a low-ceiling WR4 in standard leagues and dicey WR3 in PPR.
My Top 150 Rankings have RG3 bunched in a six-pack of quarterbacks I believe should be targeted in the middle rounds. The tier includes Jay Cutler, Andrew Luck, Nick Foles, Tony Romo, and Matt Ryan. I have Griffin dead last in the group. According to the latest ADP data, Griffin is being drafted ahead of Cam Newton, Cutler, and Romo.
I feel the least confident in RG3 among that tier. He's learning a non-college-style offense for the first time in his life, and camp reports suggest Griffin's transition hasn't gone smoothly. Multiple Patriots reporters opined that RG3 was outplayed by Kirk Cousins during the Pats-Redskins joint practices in early August. Rookie coach Jay Gruden is trying to morph Griffin from a dual-threat quarterback into a pocket passer. Griffin doesn't seem to have gotten the message. He's still playing reckless, undisciplined football. Griffin looked like a lock to get injured in Washington's MNF exhibition game against the Browns.
I still have high long-term hopes for Griffin, who is only 24 years old with undeniably remarkable talent. But I think he'll take his fair share of lumps in year one of Gruden. I ultimately wouldn't mind drafting Griffin as my QB1, but I'd much prefer a number of quarterbacks who are being selected behind him.
19. Brandin Cooks
I love Cooks long term and condone selecting him early in Dynasty drafts. (My Dynasty Rookie Rankings are available here in the Rotoworld Football Draft Guide.) The hype resulting from impressive practice and preseason play has Cooks' re-draft ADP soaring out of control. I liked Cooks as a potential value pick when you could get him in the ninth round before camp. He's now going in the sixth, ahead of Marques Colston, Mike Wallace, and Reggie Wayne.
Everyone behind Jimmy Graham is a complementary role player in the Saints' passing offense. Colston will more often than not be Drew Brees' No. 2 option. Passing-game back Pierre Thomas caught 77 passes last year, and his receiving role won't dwindle with Darren Sproles gone. Cooks, Thomas, and impressive sophomore Kenny Stills will fight to be No. 3 in the pecking order.
Although Cooks is viewed in some circles as an "upside" pick, he really isn't because of the way the spread-the-wealth Saints distribute targets. While alpha-dog Graham hogged 142 of Brees' 2013 passes, Colston, Sproles, Thomas, Lance Moore and Stills all fell in the 50-111 range. Sproles and Moore are gone, but Stills' role is a lock to increase, and Colston's figures to as well after an injury-plagued first half of last year. The high end of Cooks' target projection would probably be 100 -- Stevie Johnson, Rod Streater, Golden Tate territory last season. It's also conceivable Cooks sees closer to 80, which would make him un-startable in normal-sized fantasy leagues.
Unless Cooks' ADP falls two full rounds by September -- and it won't -- I'm letting someone else draft him.
20. Darren Sproles
I think the Eagles were smart to take Sproles off the Saints' hands for a fifth-round pick. I think he can help Philadelphia win games, particularly as a punt returner. I just don't think he's going to help anyone in fantasy football this year.
31 years old, Sproles' receiving efficiency dipped dramatically in 2013, and he is a non-factor as a ball carrier at this stage of his career. He remains a quality special teamer and gives Chip Kelly increased multiplicity in specialty packages. But Sproles won't be a player Kelly leans on for production in a decidedly run-based attack. The foundation of Kelly's offense going back to Oregon has been the running game; the 2013 Eagles led the NFL in rushing and ranked fourth in rushing attempts. Sproles was a high-volume receiver in Sean Payton's pass-happy attack. The Eagles are far more run committed. Because of his ball-carrying limitations, Sproles isn't even an effective handcuff for LeSean McCoy. Chris Polk is second in line for carries.
I think Sproles would do well to catch 45-50 passes in 2014. Perhaps he'll carry the ball 35-50 times. I wouldn't touch him at his late-seventh-round ADP in standard leagues, and believe he'll disappoint PPR owners as well.
21. Greg Olsen
Olsen has finished sixth and eighth in fantasy tight end scoring his last two seasons. He set a career high in yardage in 2012 (843), and a career high in receptions in 2013 (73). He's been a pretty steady fantasy contributor. He's been far from a difference maker.
Olsen ranked 13th among tight ends in fantasy points per game last year. His 7.4-point weekly average was sandwiched between Charles Clay's 7.5 and Garrett Graham's 7.0 at the position. Clay and Graham were waiver-wire pickups. This year, Olsen costs an early eighth-round pick. (Clay's ADP is the 13th round, while Graham's is undrafted.)
I think there's a good chance the Panthers' receivers are better this year than last. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin is showing signs of becoming Cam Newton's true go-to guy, while Jerricho Cotchery is coming off a 10-touchdown season and is as reliable and efficient as NFL wideouts get. Benjamin could be an enormous upgrade on outgoing 35-year-old Steve Smith, particularly in the red zone. I prefer Cotchery to Brandon LaFell. There's also athletic marvel Brandon Williams to worry Olsen owners as a potential target vulture. 6-foot-3, 248 with 4.56 speed and an otherworldly 10-foot-8 broad jump, Williams has four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown this preseason. In two-tight end packages, Williams' promotion onto the first team should be nigh.
Olsen is a good football player, but I don't like him at his ADP. He's going ahead of Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph, and Zach Ertz, and I think his numbers could diminish this season both between the 20s and in scoring position. If you miss out on Olsen, you're really not missing out on much. I wouldn't be surprised if he's outscored by both Garrett Graham and Heath Miller this year. I think Pitta, Rudolph, and Ertz will all significantly outperform him.
22. Danny Woodhead
Woodhead opened last season in a high-volume Sprolesian role before taking a second-half backseat to Ryan Mathews, to whom the Chargers committed bellcow work. Whereas Woodhead averaged nearly 13 touches per game over the initial eight weeks, he dipped to ten touches a game over the final eight. Donald Brown and versatile rookie Branden Oliver now pose potential threats to Woodhead's playing time. The Chargers also lost playcaller Ken Whisenhunt, a proponent of utilizing specialty backs like La'Rod Stephens-Howling in Arizona and now Dexter McCluster in Tennessee. Whether coach Mike McCoy and new OC Frank Reich carve out as big a role for Woodhead as Whisenhunt did remains to be seen.
At age 29, Woodhead is more of a backup PPR flex than standard-league asset, and even in the event of a Mathews injury would remain a role-player back. He offers fantasy owners no upside and has a lower floor than last year's usage suggests.
Folks drafting Williams in the ninth and tenth rounds have a different fantasy philosophy than me. He has an established role in Carolina's backfield, creating about a 175-carry floor. With every pick regardless of round, my goal is to target potential fantasy difference makers. Players I think might be able to give me an edge on my opponents in head-to-head weekly matchups. Williams has no chance to be a fantasy difference maker.
At 31 years old with a YPC average that's dipped in back-to-back seasons, "D-Will" won't be on the radar of upside seekers. Jonathan Stewart is back in the mix, and Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton will continue to vulture goal-line scores. Williams is an aging back who doesn't break long runs or get the ball in scoring position. After watching both of them this preseason, I'd much rather take a 14th-round flier on Stewart than Williams at his ADP.
24. Tavon Austin
A sub-package specialty player on a run-first team, Austin has settled in as a limited-snap role player on the Rams. Kenny Britt and Brian Quick appear entrenched as the starting wideouts, while Austin will be mixed into specified personnel groups. Regardless of his 2013 draft status, 5-foot-8, 174-pound Austin is too small to be a consistent fantasy producer unless his team makes a clear-cut commitment to funneling him a high volume of targets. There are no indications that will happen, and for good reason. Drop prone and unable to win contested catches, Austin is a mouse among men on an NFL football field. He has no business being selected at his early-tenth-round ADP (ahead of DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, Justin Hunter, Jarrett Boykin, and Britt.)
25. Khiry Robinson
Robinson has an intriguing skill set and underrated receiving chops -- he caught 60 passes in two college seasons -- but he's the least fantasy-valuable member of New Orleans' three-headed backfield committee, which will feature Mark Ingram in scoring position and Pierre Thomas in the passing game. I expect Thomas to lead this backfield in receptions, and Ingram to lead it in carries. Robinson should have his moments, but not on a consistent basis due to his fantasy-unfriendly role. He'll bang between the 20s with very little scoring or PPR upside.
I wouldn't bail on Robinson in Dynasty leagues, though. Ingram is a free agent in 2015, and aging Thomas' contract is year to year.
26. Knowshon Moreno
Finally back practicing after a miserably slow recovery from his June knee scope, Moreno's ADP has begun to rebound. He's now going in the middle of round ten, just behind Jeremy Hill and ahead of Mark Ingram, LeGarrette Blount, and Ahmad Bradshaw. I suspect Moreno will begin flirting with round nine after he plays in a preseason game. People seem to love him.
I don't. The Broncos certainly didn't, letting Moreno leave in free agency without a fight. And I don't think new Fins OC Bill Lazor will, either. Long before his knee surgery, Moreno reported to offseason workouts out of shape. Operating as Peyton Manning's feature back against tissue-soft fronts all last season, Moreno managed 4.23 yards per carry, including the playoffs. Dolphins starter Lamar Miller averaged 4.01 behind the worst offensive line in the league. Moreno appeared especially dead-legged after his 37-carry Week 12 game at New England. Over his final eight games, Moreno managed 372 yards and two touchdowns on 96 runs (3.88 YPC).
Moreno can pass protect and catch, and I expect him to earn a rotational role in Miami's backfield. But at age 27, it's quite likely we've seen the best of Moreno. Slated for the LeSean McCoy role in Lazor's Philly-like offense, 23-year-old Miller is just getting started.
There might not be a running back on an NFL roster that's more fun to watch than Christine Michael. He is incredibly explosive both vertically and laterally. He runs with hammer-dropping power and sprint-winning speed. When I get bored, I flip on C-Mike highlights and consider selling the farm for him in every one of my Dynasty leagues.
And then I relax. I look at his standing on Seattle's depth chart. He's No. 3 behind Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, and that's become especially clear in this year's training camp. Michael has insane, I'm talking insane running ability, but Turbin is pretty good too, and he's a more complete back. The Seahawks' coaching staff certainly seems to prefer Turbin over Michael at this stage of the process. Michael is an undisciplined runner and overall player. Turbin is a far superior receiver and pass protector, and as a runner pretty much always gets what's blocked.
I sold Michael in the only Dynasty league where I owned him this offseason. I got tired of waiting for his theoretical talent. Both Turbin and Michael need a Lynch injury to become fantasy viable, and in the event of one I think Turbin would be Seattle's lead back. Michael isn't even a strong handcuff.
28. Kenny Stills
There's a lot more value in Stills' 11th-round ADP than there is with Brandin Cooks in round six. Barring a 2013 Broncos-like offensive explosion, however, my bet is both will be week-to-week fantasy headaches.
It's worth noting Stills was fantastic as a rookie. Highly efficient, he ranked 89th among NFL wideouts in targets, but still finished as a top-50 fantasy receiver on a league-high 20.0 yards per reception. He only dropped one pass and secured nearly 70 percent of his targets, a filthy rate for a player who runs so many low-percentage routes.
But his role in Sean Payton's offense would have to change dramatically for Stills to become a reliable fantasy weapon. The Saints funnel their passing game through Jimmy Graham, and to a lesser extent Marques Colston. Pierre Thomas will remain a highly active receiver, and Cooks was drafted to play a more fantasy-friendly role. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson form a quality rock-toting committee. New Orleans' defense is better than ever, reducing the probability of shootouts.
Stills' 2013 efficiency was remarkable, but can only regress. He's a sideline-route-running role player in an almost-unfairly deep offense. I'd rather take late-round fliers on players with at least a puncher's chance to be focal points. Kenny Britt, Jarrett Boykin, Cecil Shorts, Jordan Matthews, and Markus Wheaton are all going behind Stills.
29. Marvin Jones
Jones wasn't well positioned for a third-year breakout even before fracturing a bone in his left foot last week. New Bengals OC Hue Jackson intends to scale back Andy Dalton's pass attempts, diminishing opportunities for Cincinnati's pass catchers behind alpha-receiver A.J. Green. Jones might have added a few targets just because he was slated for an increase on last year's playing time, but his ten touchdown catches were a lock to regress. Mohamed Sanu will now fill the X receiver role in Jackson's offense, and could conceivably keep the job when Jones returns.
Jones' projected return date is in question. The Bengals are believed to be targeting Week 5, following their Week 4 bye. That seems optimistic. Based on Rotoworld's partnership with algorithm-based Sports Injury Predictor, we know foot fractures are among the most difficult injuries NFL players can suffer. They don't always heal correctly, and more often than not lead to further and/or future injury.
Jones still has an ADP in the 13th round. He shouldn't be drafted in 12- or 14-team leagues.
30. Steve Smith
Smith is a big name without much remaining game. No longer a vertical threat, Smith was relegated to possession duties by Carolina's coaching staff last year. Having lost a gear or two at age 35 and never a strong red-zone option at 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, Smith will be a low-volume role player in new Ravens OC Gary Kubiak's system.
Kubiak's offense is run-devoted with a lackluster history of No. 2 wideout production. Just after Baltimore signed him, Smith compared his projected usage to that of Kevin Walter. “I don’t see myself in Coach Kubiak’s system like Andre Johnson,” acknowledged Smith. “I see the complementary dude of Kevin Walter. I see how he contributed and how he was instrumental in getting Andre the ball but also getting his own opportunities.”
31. Eric Ebron
Rookie tight ends tend to start slow in the NFL, even ones who eventually become great. Jimmy Graham's first-year stat line was 31-356-5. Rob Gronkowski scored ten touchdowns as a rookie, but finished with 42 catches for 546 yards, and didn't have a 50-yard game until Week 10. Tony Gonzalez's rookie stats? 33-368-2. Antonio Gates? 24-389-2. Jason Witten? 35-347-1. Vernon Davis? 20-265-3. Dallas Clark? 29-340-1.
Young for a rookie, Ebron is 21 years old and may face a particularly daunting learning curve. He's struggled with blocking and drops in both OTAs and training camp. Through two preseason games, he has three catches for 38 yards on six targets. The Lions will be patient with Ebron, and Dynasty owners should do the same. Re-draft leaguers shouldn't bother with him. We're bound to see sporadic flashes, but I'd consider 40 receptions a legitimately awesome rookie year for Ebron.
32. Tre Mason
Running backs aren't typically thought of as "raw" or "developmental," but Mason is. In the passing game, he hasn't a clue. He caught only 19 passes in his Auburn career, and was a whiffer in pass protection on college tape. In St. Louis' second preseason game, Mason blew two blitz pickups, getting Rams backup QB Shaun Hill sacked each time. As a runner, Mason is a relentless jump cutter in the hole, to the point that he's regularly leaving yards on the field. Mason has an awful lot to learn.
I'm still intrigued by Mason long term. He's only 21 years old, and possesses exceptionally light feet with explosive potential once he learns to stick his foot in the ground and run downhill. As a rookie, Mason would do well to be active on game days. Zac Stacy is locked in as the Rams' feature back. Coming off a 5.55 YPC first NFL season, Benny Cunningham is a rock-solid No. 2.
33. Brian Hartline
Hartline's upside is capped by his inability to score touchdowns -- he has seven among his last 228 receptions -- and his floor could be affected by new OC Bill Lazor's philosophy. Whereas last year's Dolphins were the pass-heaviest team in football in pass-to-run ratio, Lazor has an extensive track record of run-heavy offense. Lazor worked as an assistant on Joe Gibbs' 2004-2007 Redskins' staffs, when Washington ranked 12th, fourth, eighth, and fifth in the NFL in rushing attempts. Lazor spent last year in Philadelphia, where Chip Kelly's Eagles led the NFL in rushing and ranked fourth in rushing attempts. Lazor spent 2010-2012 as offensive coordinator at the University of Virginia. The Cavaliers ran the football on 49.5 percent of their plays in those years, and 52.8 percent in UVA's only winning season. For perspective, Buffalo was the run-heaviest team in the NFL last year but only ran on 49 percent of its plays.
Through thick and thin, the Dolphins are going to stay committed to running the football this year. Since Hartline is very much volume dependent -- he doesn't bust many long plays or find the end zone -- losing volume would make him all but worthless in fantasy.
34. James White
White feels like this year's Patriots version of Zach Sudfeld or Kenbrell Thompkins. Practice and beat writer reports have effusively praised the fourth-round pick, but there's been no translation into games. White has looked overwhelmed on inside runs this preseason, managing 36 yards on 14 carries. (To be fair to Sudfeld and Thompkins, both looked better last August than White has.) Billed as a solid pass protector coming out of Wisconsin, Pro Football Focus charged White with two quarterback hurries allowed in New England's second exhibition game.
White's college tape suggests he's a good football player and could be a factor by 2015, when both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley are slated for free agency. This year, I wouldn't even draft White at his 13th-round ADP. Even if Ridley were benched for fumbling or Vereen got hurt, White's upside would be that of a low-ceiling committee back with no chance at weekly consistency. At this stage, at least, Brandon Bolden is better than White.
35. Tyler Eifert
Overrated by the draftnik community (and NFL) coming out of Notre Dame, Eifert struggled across the board as a rookie, which explains his limited playing time. He worked squarely behind Jermaine Gresham on the depth chart and graded out poorly as a run blocker according to PFF. Eifert also dropped five of his 59 targets.
We've already established that rookie tight ends struggle in the NFL, so long term this isn't a huge worry. The big concerns are the return of Gresham, whom the Bengals fancy as a superior blocker and more complete tight end, and new OC Hue Jackson's run-game prioritization. Cincinnati is planning to reduce the volume of its passing attack, so forecasting pass-catcher breakouts behind A.J. Green figures to prove a fool's errand. I do expect Eifert to take a step forward on the field this year, but not to the extent of consistent fantasy start-ability. I'm targeting 2015 for Eifert's blowup. That's when Gresham will hit free agency.
Already 26 years old, Thompkins was a dud as an overaged rookie last season, managing a 32-466-4 stat line and securing just 45.7 percent of his 70 targets. Folks apparently thought he'd become the next Marques Colston, drafting Thompkins as early as the seventh round. He was pretty much un-startable at any point in the fantasy season.
Thompkins is running as the Patriots' starting X receiver again, but only because Aaron Dobson is coming back from a foot injury. Even if Dobson suffers a setback, Thompkins would be an uninspiring late-round target as a complementary player in New England's Gronk-dominated passing attack. Dobson, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, and Brandon LaFell will all be competing for Tom Brady's passes behind Gronkowski. As Dobson is the future at New England's X position, he's a much higher-ceiling fantasy gamble than Thompkins.
37. Odell Beckham
Ticketed for the Greg Jennings role in ex-Packers assistant Ben McAdoo's offense, Beckham has been unable to shake a hamstring injury he originally suffered in the spring. He's yet to appear in any of the Giants' three preseason games while encountering at least one known setback. The 12th pick in May's draft, Beckham should have a bright future. But it's conceivable he opens the season as the Giants' punt returner and No. 4 wideout, behind Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and Jerrel Jernigan. Cruz and Randle are much better targets in re-draft leagues.
38. Coby Fleener
Coby Fleener is a great athlete, but Coby Fleener isn't very good at football. This is a reality we've had to acknowledge through his first two NFL seasons. He's allergic to contact and doesn't make contested plays despite a 6-foot-6, 247-pound frame. Fleener is additionally awful in the blocking game, a strength of returning tight end Dwayne Allen. Fleener was a huge disappointment despite a perfect storm of opportunity last year.
The Colts lost Allen to a year-ending injury in Week 1, and Reggie Wayne to a torn ACL in Week 7. Fleener became Andrew Luck's de-facto No. 2 option in the passing game, behind T.Y. Hilton. Fleener did not capitalize, topping 55 yards in just one of Indianapolis' final eight regular season games. He scored one touchdown during that span.
Fleener is big, but doesn't play big. Falling down the target pecking order in Indy, Fleener is fool's gold for fantasy leaguers expecting improvement on last year's stats. With Wayne and Allen healthy, and Hakeem Nicks added to the mix, I actually envision Fleener's numbers getting worse.
39. Delanie Walker
Walker finished his first year in Tennessee as the overall fantasy TE12, although he ranked 17th in per-game scoring and was rarely a useful starter. Walker hit the 60-yard mark twice in 15 games. Much of Walker's production came with pass-happy gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. Fitzpatrick is gone, and Jake Locker is the Titans' locked-in starter. Walker averaged three catches for 34 yards per game in Locker's seven starts.
Now entering his age-30 campaign, Walker will play a lot of snaps in new coach Ken Whisenhunt's offense, but has never been a playmaker. Risk-taking tight end streamers might like him. I don't see Walker as worthy of a selection in re-draft leagues.
40. Ka'Deem Carey
I thought Carey had a bright future when I watched him play in Rich Rodriguez's offense. I saw him as a quick-footed slasher with plus versatility. I presume GM Phil Emery thought similarly when Chicago selected Carey in the fourth round. My guess is Emery & Co. are disappointed with Carey. He's been physically and athletically overwhelmed in preseason games and is losing the Bears' No. 2 tailback job to journeyman Shaun Draughn. If you draft Matt Forte, you're going to have a tough time handcuffing him. At this point, Draughn would be your best bet. Carey isn't worth a re-draft pick.