We’ve seen each team play three preseason games while closely monitoring camp reports on every skill-position player in the NFL. This column is written in an inherently glass-half-empty, negative manner (see title), but based on the facts we’ve gleaned, should represent reasonable analysis.
This isn’t a list of overvalued players, necessarily, or a list of projected busts. This is a list of players I think you should consider approaching with caution or even scratching off your cheatsheets based on the way they’re currently priced in the fantasy community. They’re guys I think you might want to consider drafting around.
A largely unheralded fifth-round pick out of Indiana who rose to rookie-year fantasy prominence only after replacement-level starter Jeremy Langford suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 3, Howard nevertheless went on to average 114.5 total yards per game from Week 4 on, vaulting fantasy teams into the playoffs and beyond. Howard’s stock has skyrocketed from 2016 borderline-draft-worthy player to 2017 first- or second-round pick amid a flurry of red flags, however. According to Next Gen Stats, Howard’s 2016 yards-per-carry average plummeted to 3.36 against eight-man boxes, which he’s certain to see more of with Mike Glennon or Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. Rich Hribar already laid out the extensive risk skill-position players attached to rookie quarterbacks present. Howard also led all NFL running backs in dropped passes (8) as a rookie, so the Bears signed passing-game specialist Benny Cunningham and drafted explosive scatback Tarik Cohen in the fourth round. Howard caught only 24 passes across three college seasons and never projected as a receiving threat in the first place. This is likely to become problematic for Howard in negative game script on a Bears team whose Vegas Win Total is 5.5 games while facing a bottom-ten schedule in Warren Sharp’s SOS ratings.
Not only is Hopkins probably inevitably destined for the same aforementioned rookie quarterback effect Hribar laid out, Hopkins’ reasons for optimism are few and far between on a run-first team with an elite defense that can limit the pass attempts of their deficient signal callers. Deshaun Watson was a colossal disappointment in August, failing to even challenge statuesque Tom Savage for the starting job. When the Texans’ defense was bad and Brian Hoyer was his quarterback, Hopkins had an amazing ten-game run to begin the 2015 season where he averaged 13.5 targets per game and scored nine touchdowns. Across Hopkins’ other 44 career games, he has averaged 8.9 targets and scored only 14 times. Including the playoffs, Hopkins has scored just seven TDs over his last 25 games. Hopkins is a good receiver, but he simply isn’t the target-hog, touchdown-scoring monster he flashed being in the first half of 2015.
3. LeSean McCoy
The reasons to bet against McCoy are admittedly, mostly narrative driven. But something just doesn’t smell right about this year’s Bills. Immensely-powerful rookie head coach Sean McDermott essentially handpicked his own GM to replace fired Doug Whaley after the draft, then McDermott and Brandon Beane went to work to stockpile future draft picks. In addition to their own three selections, the Bills now have the Chiefs’ 2018 first-rounder, the Rams’ 2018 second-rounder, and the Eagles’ 2018 third-round pick after making the unprecedented move of trading their best cornerback and wide receiver four weeks before Week 1. McDermott and Beane both publicly denied the Bills are throwing in the towel on 2017. Consummate pro Anquan Boldin, who was running as a starter at Bills camp, abruptly retired nine days after the Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby trades.
The Bills have set up Tyrod Taylor to fail. A dual-threat playmaker whose best attribute as a passer is his placement on vertical throws, Taylor’s receivers have been reduced from vertical speedsters Watkins and Marquise Goodwin to possession-slot players Zay Jones and Jordan Matthews. Jones played nearly 70% of his snaps at slot receiver at East Carolina, and Matthews was an 85% slot man in Philadelphia. Even before Taylor was concussed in the Bills’ third preseason game, the coaching staff showed a strong affinity for fifth-round rookie Nathan Peterman. Left tackle Cordy Glenn has needed repeated injections into his foot during camp after battling a bothersome injury for months. The Bills say Glenn remains on track for Week 1. For whatever it’s worth, the Bills looked atrocious in their third preseason game.
McCoy is inarguably a top-five NFL running back talent, but his situation appears to be deteriorating, and his stock would suffer significantly downgrading from dual-threat Taylor to day-three rookie Peterman. McCoy has had extremely fortunate injury luck recently, missing only five games over the past three seasons despite enduring turf toe, a torn MCL, a dislocated thumb that required in-season surgery, a high ankle sprain, another ankle sprain, a neck strain, a shoulder strain, a hamstring strain, another Grade 2 strain to the same hamstring, and yet another hamstring strain Rex Ryan regrettably let McCoy play through last season, resulting in an aggravation. The torn MCL and high ankle sprain occurred in Weeks 15 and 17, so McCoy was fortunate to miss only two combined games because of them. McCoy would likely have lost at least eight games combined had those injuries occurred earlier in the season.
I get the arguments for Lynch. The Raiders have a great offensive line, and Lynch offers double-digit touchdown upside after Latavius Murray scored 12 TDs in a similar role last year. Lynch simply isn’t my kind of fantasy investment, particularly at his third-/fourth-round ADP. First, we haven’t seen Lynch play effective football since the 2014 season. The last time Lynch was an active NFL player, he appeared in just seven 2015 games due to recurring calf and hamstring strains and underwent sports hernia surgery late in the year. This year’s Raiders have the NFL’s fifth-toughest running back schedule based on 2016 fantasy points allowed, while Lynch has never been a high-volume pass catcher and certainly won’t be in Oakland due to the presences of DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. Again, I get the favorable thinking on Lynch. But I think the negatives pretty significantly outweigh the positives here.
Especially since all they gave up was CB E.J. Gaines and a draft pick, Watkins made all the sense in the world for the Rams to acquire in that Watkins greatly upgrades fledgling sophomore quarterback Jared Goff’s weapons and helps boost Goff’s chances of success. Watkins will carry injury concerns for the foreseeable future considering his history of hip and foot problems, however, and Watkins’ situation downgraded severely in the move to L.A. New Rams coach Sean McVay intends to use Watkins as his next DeSean Jackson, who averaged just 6.1 targets per game in three years with McVay in Washington. Watkins averaged 7.5 targets per game in three years with the Bills.
If we lose volume, we need to replace it with efficiency, but Goff completed just 4-of-17 passes thrown further than 20 yards downfield as a rookie and averaged an underwhelming 7.8 yards per attempt in 37 starts at Cal. Goff's air yards per target was lowest in the NFL in 2016. Over his first ten 2017 games, Watkins will face Josh Norman, Richard Sherman, Jalen Ramsey, Patrick Peterson, Janoris Jenkins, the Texans’ stingy secondary, and Xavier Rhodes, then Peterson again and Sherman again in the fantasy playoffs. Wide receivers changing teams notoriously disappoint, and the history of success of wide receivers traded four weeks before Week 1 is nonexistent. An exciting third-round fantasy pick with deep-ball specialist Tyrod Taylor and minimal target competition in Buffalo, Watkins plummeted to a fringe sixth-round gamble with a low floor and concerning ceiling on the Rams.
Jordy Nelson’s slow start coming off an ACL tear, Randall Cobb’s continued ankle woes, the Packers’ utter lack of tight end contributions before the playoffs, and Green Bay’s highest finish in pass attempts during the Mike McCarthy era contributed to Adams’ 2016 third-year breakout. But most important were Adams’ 12 touchdowns, especially since he didn’t even reach 1,000 yards. After turning just 3-of-22 red-zone targets into touchdowns to open his career, Adams scored on 7-of-20 red-zone targets last season. Adams’ touchdown scoring is a virtual lock to regress, especially with Cobb healthy, Nelson now a full season removed from his knee injury, and Martellus Bennett signed to upgrade on Jared Cook. Adams does offer a relatively safe floor as Aaron Rodgers’ No. 2 receiver, but his volume is likely to take a significant hit, and Adams scoring four or five fewer touchdowns then last season is realistic, if not downright likely.
7. Jay Ajayi
Ajayi broke out in 2016 to finish fourth in the NFL in rushing, but a look beneath the hood revealed an inefficient, boom-bust runner whose fantasy points were scored in a highly inconsistent manner. Ajayi ranked a lowly 32nd among 42 qualified NFL running backs in Football Outsiders’ Success Rate and rang up nearly half of his rushing yards in three individual games. Ajayi topped 80 rushing yards in just four games all year and wore down as the season progressed, perhaps partly because of his violent, no-holds-barred running style. Ajayi’s passing-game usage was minor, drawing just 2.4 targets per game.
This year’s Dolphins interior line remains problematic with practice squad-type Jesse Davis at left guard and Jermon Bushrod at right guard after Bushrod graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 76 run-blocking guard amongst 77 qualifiers last year. Ajayi entered the NFL with concerns about a degenerative condition in his knee and missed over two weeks of training camp with a concussion. An extreme-risk running back with severe injury concerns and a spotty passing-game track record on an average to below-average Dolphins team, Ajayi is one of this year’s red-flaggiest second-round fantasy picks.
8. Eddie Lacy
Probably the most obvious avoid in the 2017 fantasy football landscape, Lacy spent his second straight offseason training with common-man workout regimen P90X while the rest of his competition built up muscle and speed as opposed to preparing for the NFL season with a weight-loss program. Lacy broke down physically early last season, and he has been lapped by Thomas Rawls when Rawls has been healthy so far in training camp. Seventh-round rookie Chris Carson has outplayed them both. I’m putting a full fade on Lacy and drafting Rawls and Carson when they last until the double-digit rounds.
9. Tyrod Taylor
It pained me to write this because I genuinely believe Taylor is a top-20 NFL quarterback after he led the Bills to consecutive top-12 finishes in points scored in two years as a starter. The rushing and big-play elements Tyrod brings to the table go overlooked by quarterback observers focused solely on pocket play. But Taylor looks destined for the bench in Buffalo, where the new regime has fallen for fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman and traded Sammy Watkins, who on average added 26 yards and 0.6 passing touchdowns per game to Tyrod’s weekly fantasy output. Anquan Boldin retired, leaving the Bills with second-round pick Zay Jones of East Carolina as its No. 1 receiver, and Eagles castoff Jordan Matthews as the No. 2. Carson Palmer is a much better late-round quarterback pick, and it’s gotten to the point where I would rather draft Sam Bradford than Tyrod, too.
10. Andrew Luck
The replaceability of the quarterback position in start-one-QB leagues renders Luck a full fade for as long as uncertainty about his playing availability persists. Not only does drafting Luck force you to roster two quarterbacks and therefore NOT roster a higher-ceiling lottery ticket at running back or wide receiver, rostering Luck simply doesn’t give you a true difference maker in fantasy. Luck outscored lower-drafted Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott by only one and two points per game, respectively, last season, while a slow 2017 start seems inevitable whenever Luck does return, reducing our confidence level when weighing whether to start him. Luck missed all of camp and preseason, costing him time to build rapport with his pass catchers, and it certainly doesn’t help that the Colts will be without stud second-year C Ryan Kelly (foot surgery) until midseason. Recovering slower than expected from throwing-arm surgery at a devalued fantasy position, Luck is an obvious draft avoid before the double-digit rounds.
11. T.Y. Hilton
Colts players remain ranked high in online draft room applets without the severe risk of playing without Andrew Luck baked in. That means they’re going higher than they should be going, because most fantasy drafters make their decisions based on what those applets feed them. Since Hilton entered the NFL, he has averaged 17 fewer yards and less than half as many touchdowns per game without Luck in the lineup as opposed to with him, and despite the Colts’ tendency to lose and play behind more sans Luck, Hilton has averaged more than a full target per game less in Luck’s absence. The Luck-less Colts simply can’t sustain drives, so their skill-position players produce less. Hilton led the NFL in receiving yards last year, and he is one of my favorite wide receivers. But he’s not worth drafting where people currently take him.
12. Frank Gore
At age 33 last season, Gore ranked 52nd of 53 qualified running backs in Pro Football Focus’ Elusive Rating and 59th among 61 qualified backs in pass-blocking efficiency, long a career strength. Gore averaged under four yards per carry for the second straight year after topping 4.0 YPC in ten consecutive seasons previous. He lost increased snaps to Robert Turbin, who outperformed Gore on red-zone carries and re-signed a two-year deal with the Colts this spring. By far, fourth-round pick Marlon Mack has been the Colts’ most explosive runner this preseason. Indianapolis lost C Ryan Kelly (foot) until midseason, while Andrew Luck’s (shoulder surgery) early-season availability is uncertain. The Colts are in trouble, and so is Gore’s job security at age 34 under a new regime. Sell low-floor, low-ceiling fantasy picks.
13. Sterling Shepard
Since the turn of the decade, these are the catch totals posted by No. 3 receivers on Brandon Marshall’s teams: 42 (Robby Anderson), 22 (Quincy Enunwa), 17 (Marquess Wilson), 32 (Earl Bennett), 24 (Alshon Jeffery), 35 (Brian Hartline), 43 (Hartline). And it doesn’t help that Shepard has major TD regression coming after flukily scoring eight touchdowns as a rookie with an unsustainable 5-of-6 conversion rate on targets inside the ten-yard line. Shepard could become a season-long fantasy factor should Odell Beckham or Marshall go down. As is, Shepard is a role-player slot guy who should be avoided in drafts.
14. Danny Amendola
Amendola generated Twitter buzz on the night of Julian Edelman’s ACL injury, but the 32-year-old (in November) reserve slot receiver is unlikely to become a bankable fantasy factor. Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks both played nearly 40 percent of their 2016 snaps in the slot, and Rex Burkhead offers slot experience from Cincinnati. We could see more two-tight end sets involving Dwayne Allen, and/or Malcolm Mitchell further entering the mix. In their third preseason game, the Pats used a ton of two-back sets with Dion Lewis and James White on the field together. Mitchell is a superior on-field weapon to Amendola, whose fragility has been identified by the Patriots with fewer than 90 targets all four years in Foxboro. Let someone else in your draft convince themselves Amendola is going to “replace” Edelman.
15. Matt Ryan
It’s not that Ryan is going to have a bad year. I think he will have a good year. But a year more in line with his career norms, wherein Ryan never finished above fantasy QB7 through eight NFL seasons before 2016, then abruptly set a career- and league-high 7.1% touchdown rate (touchdowns/attempts) in an NFL MVP year. Ryan is a solid quarterback with a lot of talent around him, and he will be a useful fantasy quarterback this year. But he doesn’t deserve to be drafted four rounds ahead of Kirk Cousins.
Blount’s touchdown upside makes him appealing at surface level, and the Eagles’ line has top-ten or even top-five potential if they stay healthy and off suspension. Philadelphia wants to play shotgun, three-receiver offense, however, and Blount’s career yards per carry tumbles a half yard from 4.4 to 3.9 in those three-wide “11 personnel” sets. In Blount’s 2016 career year with the Patriots, he led the league with 121 carries in an I-formation with a fullback in front of him. Last year’s Eagles used a fullback on seven snaps, and this year’s Eagles don’t have a fullback on their roster. Darren Sproles is the back to own in Philadelphia.
17. Terrance West
There is some room for argument in West’s favor based purely on projected opportunity, but West’s to-date pedestrian career and August struggles render him a low-floor, low-ceiling investment. Danny Woodhead is going to dominate Ravens passing-game and potentially red-zone work, and there has been increasing buzz Buck Allen could play a bigger role than expected. In RT Rick Wagner (Lions) and LG Alex Lewis (shoulder), the Ravens are missing two of their best linemen from last season, which is good news for all-purpose threats Woodhead and Allen but bad for interior runner West. Aim higher.
Smallwood generated some late-camp hype for pushing LeGarrette Blount, but that isn’t all that impressive. Blount has reportedly struggled with conditioning, and he has never been an effective runner outside of New England. The Eagles are rumored to be interested in adding an early-down back via trade or final cuts. Smallwood does appear likely to have a role, but he’s unlikely to be any kind of fantasy asset as a timeshare member in a backfield Darren Sproles will lead in fantasy points.
19. James Conner
No third-round rookie should be guaranteed a No. 2 running back job, and certainly not one who missed the first three weeks of training camp, then struggled mightily in preseason games. Conner has caught just 1-of-4 targets in August with two drive-killing drops, struggled in pass protection, shown an inability to avoid his own blockers when running between the tackles, and also shown a tendency to bounce interior runs outside, a no-no amongst NFL coaches, and a reason Conner remains behind Fitzgerald Toussaint and potentially Knile Davis on the depth chart. Conner is a great story after beating Hodgkins Lymphoma as a college sophomore, and he could become a contributor in time. But he’s not ready for the big leagues. I expect the Steelers to add a veteran backup for Le’Veon Bell before the season opener.
20. Joe Williams
Williams generated a ton of beat writer hype after the 49ers traded up to draft him, but the fourth-round pick out of Utah endured a sluggish camp. While Kyle Shanahan’s apparent pre-draft infatuation with Williams in addition to his 4.41 speed do make Williams intriguing, he did not make enough depth-chart headway in August to be worthy of a fantasy pick. Williams is in danger of entering the season as the 49ers’ No. 5 running back behind Carlos Hyde, Tim Hightower, Matt Breida, and Kapri Bibbs.
21. Marqise Lee
Betting on a complementary receiver in a run-first offense with league-basement quarterback play is bad process to begin with, and Lee’s outlook is poor even in the extremely unlikely event the light flips on for Blake Bortles. Lee has been dogged by lower-leg injuries since college and suffered a high ankle sprain in camp. Lee’s first, third, and fourth highest yardage totals of 2016 occurred in games Allen Hurns missed, and Hurns is back healthy. Allen Robinson is the only Jaguars pass catcher worth drafting.
22. Hunter Henry
Henry is a promising prospect, but his single-digit-round ADP is unwarranted with an expected leap built in. Henry played behind Antonio Gates all preseason after doing so throughout 2016, and Henry’s lofty touchdown rate won’t be repeated for as long as Gates stays off the shelf. Henry tied for the NFL lead in receiving scores by a tight end (8) as a rookie, but he caught only 36 passes overall. Henry averaged just 18.7 yards over his final nine games yet flukily maintained fantasy value with five TDs during that stretch. Primarily a three-receiver, “11 personnel” team, last year’s Chargers used two-tight end “12 personnel” on just 18% of their offensive plays, which ranked 21st in the league. Henry will break out in the near future, but it’s probably not happening as long as the Bolts’ first-ballot Hall of Famer is playing.
23. Donte Moncrief
If you can't already tell, I’m bailing on the Colts. It has to do with Andrew Luck’s shoulder. It has to do with the loss of C Ryan Kelly. It has to do with Donte Moncrief’s recurring shoulder problems. It has to do with Moncrief’s efficiency struggles the past two seasons, ranking 54th/85 and 83rd/96 in Pro Football Focus’ predictive yards-per-route-run metric. Moncrief has shown touchdown-scoring prowess when both he and Andrew Luck have been healthy, but neither Moncrief nor Luck has been healthy in quite some time.
24. Alfred Morris
Although Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension increases the intrigue of Dallas’ backup running backs, Darren McFadden is the only other Cowboys back worth drafting as the heavy favorite for early-season bellcow work. Used as a true feature back this preseason, McFadden logged 35-of-37 first-team snaps while Morris played just two. The Cowboys have long favored McFadden for his versatility, immediately reinstalling him as Elliott’s backup over Morris when McFadden came off the reserve/non-football injury list last December. Morris will only become a fantasy factor if Zeke’s ban stands and McFadden suffers another injury. And there is a seemingly good chance Zeke's suspension will be reduced, if not expunged altogether.
25. Alvin Kamara
Kamara flashed big-play ability this preseason not unlike Ameer Abdullah two years ago. Kamara is also like Abdullah in that his role is threatened on two fronts. Mark Ingram is the Saints’ primary all-purpose back coming off consecutive 45-plus-catch seasons, and Adrian Peterson is the early-down grinder with a chance to dominate red-zone carries. Kamara won’t become a re-draft-league factor unless Ingram or Peterson goes down, the odds of which are lessened by their lighter, committee-back workloads. I do love Kamara in Dynasty leagues and can’t totally dismiss him as a 2017 factor, but he is tough to draft. The Saints intend to use Kamara as a Travaris Cadet upgrade and contributor on special teams returns.
26. C.J. Prosise
Prosise’s college resume, pass-catching prowess, and 6-foot-1, 220-pound stature lock him in as Seattle’s highest-ceiling running back in both the short and long term. Unfortunately, the Seahawks’ coaching staff seems to envision Prosise as a niche player in spite of his feature back size. Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, and even seventh-round rookie Chris Carson have been given longer looks for the early-down big-back role. Prosise’s previous bad luck has convinced the coaching staff he is injury prone.
27. John Ross
A surprise top-ten pick, Ross delayed impending shoulder surgery until after April's draft so he could run freely at February’s Combine. It paid off, as Ross broke Chris Johnson’s record with a 4.22 forty. But Ross’ delayed surgery cost him all of spring practices and all but two weeks of training camp, and Bengals beat writers anticipate Ross coming off the bench early in the year. Even when Ross does get healthy, he will be competing for targets with A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, and Brandon LaFell. All in all, Ross making a re-draft impact is very unlikely.
28. Kevin White
White sat out his entire rookie season with a fractured left tibia, then suffered a year-ending “fibular spiral fracture” with “severe ankle ligament damage” in the same leg in Week 4 last year. Due to two catastrophic injuries to the same leg, White was essentially forced to relearn how to run this spring. Over the last two decades, six first-round wide receivers have caught fewer than 20 passes through their first two seasons. They are Yatil Green, R. Jay Soward, A.J. Jenkins, Rashaun Woods, Marcus Nash, and Kevin White. I’m actually fine with White’s Average Draft Position following Cameron Meredith's ACL tear, but I personally want no part of him.
29. Kenny Stills
Stills’ nine 2016 touchdown catches are a severe outlier on the rest of his career, while DeVante Parker and Jay Cutler’s growing connection threatens Stills’ target share. The addition of Julius Thomas will take away red-zone looks. Coach Adam Gase’s 2015-2016 Bears-Dolphins offenses finished 25th and 31st in the NFL in rushing attempts. Although Cutler has a big arm and Stills has the capability of getting behind the defense, Stills is likely to remain a low-volume deep streaker on a run-first team whose touchdown rate regresses toward the mean. There are few scenarios in which Stills is worthy of a re-draft-league pick.
30. Robert Woods
Woods looked like a sleeper for heavy volume when the Rams signed him to a five-year, $34 million deal, but that was before they traded for Sammy Watkins and drafted Cooper Kupp, who has been Jared Goff’s favorite target in preseason games. Woods has never cleared 700 yards through four NFL seasons, and Kupp’s presence in the slot will force Woods to play outside in Los Angeles, decreasing the number of high-percentage routes he runs. Continue to avoid low-floor, low-ceiling fantasy picks.
31. C.J. Anderson
People are still forcing the issue with Anderson, even after so many years of being let down. Anderson’s physical skills are adequate or better, but he has never reached 850 rushing yards in a college or pro season, persistently struggles with conditioning, and was outshined by both Jamaal Charles and rookie De’Angelo Henderson this preseason. Behind a sub-par offensive line with Trevor Siemian at quarterback and competing for carries in a deep Broncos running back corps, it’s hard to imagine this being the year everything finally comes together for Anderson.
32. Paul Perkins
We can start off simply by saying that I believe Shane Vereen is the Giants’ running back to own in fantasy leagues this year, at least based on price point. Yet Perkins literally goes six rounds in front of Vereen in PPR Average Draft Position. A lowly 28th-percentile SPARQ athlete coming off a pedestrian rookie season, Vereen has all the appearances of a timeshare back behind poor run blocking in New York. Last year’s Giants offensive line finished 24th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, and no up-front improvements were made. Early-down grinder Orleans Darkwa and fourth-rounder Wayne Gallman are also in the mix for touches. In a weak offense, this looks like a backfield to avoid.
33. Will Fuller
Fuller should be a gimme to avoid after fracturing his collarbone on August 2, but he still floats toward the top of online draft applets and therefore gets drafted more often than not. Not only is Fuller a role-player receiver in an offense that will inevitably be quarterbacked by a rookie, those close to the team believe Fuller won’t play until October. Maybe Fuller will be worth a pickup later on. Do not draft him.
34. Jack Doyle
This list is, expectedly, littered with Colts because Andrew Luck on a player-to-team basis is one of the five most valuable players in the sport. The Colts are nothing without him. And it’s unclear when they’re going to have him back. One of the primary reasons to consider Doyle relatively highly among this year’s late-round tight ends was the on-field rapport Doyle flashed with Luck last season in the red zone and on third down, even in a part-time role sharing time with Dwayne Allen. And Erik Swoope is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Whereas Doyle might have been a legitimate top-ten fantasy tight end play to begin the year with Luck healthy, he is barely a top-15 option with Scott Tolzien.
35. Dak Prescott
I’m a huge believer in Prescott in both the short and long term. He is a legitimate franchise quarterback and he has all the traits of a star down the road. I also think he’s going to have a good 2017 season. But he is extremely difficult to back as a re-draft fantasy pick because of his early-season schedule. The Cowboys face the Giants, Broncos, and Cardinals in Weeks 1-3. Prescott had his two worst 2016 games against the Giants, playing in Denver is never a favorable quarterback environment, and the Cardinals on the road are a bad matchup. Dak’s schedule loosens up from there, but he won’t be a top-15 fantasy quarterback start in the first three weeks of the season. I actually wouldn’t be shocked if Prescott hits waiver wires in shallower leagues within the first month. That’s when you pounce, but not during your draft. At fantasy’s most replaceable position, Prescott is going to be dead roster weight to begin the year.
36. Matt Forte
No one is particularly excited to draft Forte this year, but it’s for good reason. The Jets’ offense threatens to be historically bad, and at best Forte will operate as a committee back sharing time with Bilal Powell and/or rookie Elijah McGuire. Forte missed almost all of 2016 training camp with a hamstring injury, then suffered a torn meniscus in his knee. He missed almost all of this year’s training camp with an injury to the same hamstring. Forte is healthy at the moment, but it’s hard to imagine him staying that way, even on a reduced workload. He turns 32 later this year. Forte is another low-floor, low-ceiling fantasy commodity. Even in the late rounds, we should be aiming higher.
37. Zay Jones
Jones does carry fantasy appeal from a “somebody’s got to catch the passes” standpoint because the Bills have the shallowest pass-catcher depth in the entire league. Their No. 2 wideout is in-camp trade acquisition Jordan Matthews, and their No. 3 is either Andre Holmes or Rod Streater. Their starting tight end is knee-hobbled Charles Clay, who has averaged 540 yards through two seasons in Buffalo. Jones, however, is a second-round rookie receiver out of East Carolina who is being forced to learn to play outside after logging 70% of his college snaps in the slot, and the overall volume and efficiency of the Bills’ passing game is more than fair to question considering their quarterback uncertainty and run-first philosophy. Jones isn’t a terrible late-round flier, but I think there are much better receivers to target in his range like Chris Hogan, Ted Ginn, Corey Davis, John Brown, J.J. Nelson, and Cooper Kupp.
38. Deshaun Watson
Watson, admittedly, isn’t on the radar in most standard-sized fantasy leagues. He’s not even someone savvy drafters are targeting with a late-round pick. But there are deeper best-ball and two-quarterback-league formats where Watson offers theoretical appeal. He’s someone to avoid in those leagues. Watson was, by far, the most disappointing of the “big four” rookie quarterbacks in August this year, and didn’t even give Tom Savage a realistic preseason fight. Watson panicked with bodies around him, held onto the ball far too long, and showed an inability to drive throws with velocity and accurate location. I’m by no means writing off Watson as a long-term bust, but he’s not ready to play in the near term. The more Watson played this preseason, the longer I came away believing Savage will remain under center in Houston.
39. Julius Thomas
Just based on watching him the past few years in Jacksonville and during the 2017 preseason, I think Thomas is washed up. And I also think he has been overrated for a long time. Thomas scored a bunch of touchdowns during a two-year run with Peyton Manning in 2013-2014. Otherwise, he has never topped five touchdowns in a season. He has never played more than 14 games across a six-year career. Thomas averaged 11.8 yards per reception in those two years with Manning. He hasn’t cracked ten yards per catch in two years since. Now playing in a run-first Dolphins offense while competing for targets with DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, and Kenny Stills, Thomas is a touchdown-dependent streamer at best with a painfully low weekly and season-long floor.
Note: Ezekiel Elliott was originally included as the 40th member of the Shy Away 40, however, reports surfaced on the day of this column's posting that the NFL bungled its investigation into Elliott's alleged domestic abuse so badly that Elliott became increasingly likely to play in Week 1, or have the suspension reduced to a small number of games. Therefore, Elliott has gone from a player to avoid in drafts to a player to proactively and aggressively target in drafts where league members are presently under the impression he was still likely to miss the first six games.