Fantasy Football: 25 Players to Avoid in 2014
They’re ticking time bombs and they’re here to ruin your fantasy football team. Avoid these 25 players in 2014 and spare yourself the agony of a lost season.
Winning your fantasy league is all about finding value. To be specific, it’s about building more collective value on your roster than every other owner in your league.
Whether it be in the draft, on the waiver wire or in a trade, every roster move made during a fantasy season is about receiving the highest possible return on investment. Any trade should perceivably benefit your team at least as much as it benefits your trading partner. A third-round draft pick should yield at least a third-round value. If not, you made a poor investment.
The purpose of the following list is to predict the players who will yield some of the worst relative values in the draft. Did you happen to select Trent Richardson or Ray Rice in the first round last year only to promptly fall to the bottom of your league’s standings by midseason? Don’t let that happen again this year.
The following 25 players will (and should) get drafted in all leagues. Their fantasy value is not zero. However, their expected draft position significantly overrates their expected return on investment.
Name recognition, more “favorable” situations, talk of bounce-back years—there are many reasons why players become overrated in the offseason. They might look great on your roster following the draft—on paper, your team looks stacked!
Then, the season starts.
Tick, tick, tick, tick—boom. Your season was over before it started.
Steer Clear of These Running Back Committees
First up, the running backs. The following 16 rushers play for six different teams, and these running-back-by-committee situations should prove disastrous in 2014.
Miami Dolphins RBs: Knowshon Moreno, Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas
Knowshon Moreno totaled nearly 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Now, he’s in a trifecta of fantasy frustration running behind a questionable offensive line. He finally thrived in his fifth NFL season in a prolific, Peyton Manning-led offense, but his running lanes could look a bit more crowded in Miami.
Moreno ranked 13th in the NFL in RB carries, and 53rd in the NFL in RB carries against 7 men or more in the box.— Christopher Harris (@CHarrisESPN) March 27, 2014
Third-year back Lamar Miller failed to separate himself from the competition last season and Daniel Thomas will likely be in the mix for third-down work and goal-line touches. It’s hard to imagine any back emerging from this committee as a relevant fantasy contributor in 2014.
San Diego Chargers RBs: Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown
Ryan Mathews, much maligned by fantasy owners in the past, finally seemed to prove that he could stay healthy and carry a full workload last season. Danny Woodhead complemented Mathews in a surprisingly productive San Diego backfield, totaling 76 receptions and eight touchdowns on the year.
Both backs were a steal in 2013 and their fantasy stocks only seemed to be rising.
Enter: Donald Brown, former Indianapolis Colts running back.
Suddenly, the Chargers have three capable backs, which may work out well for the team but will likely send fantasy owners to the loony bin trying to figure out which back will go off on a given week. Mathews should still be the clear “starter” in San Diego, but you would be lying if you said you could trust him as a reliable, every-week fantasy back this year.
Carolina Panthers RBs: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert
Predicting that no Carolina running back will have an impressive fantasy season is not exactly Nostradamus-level forecasting. However, this year could be especially ugly for the well-compensated Panthers trio. Age and injuries have led to unpredictable fluctuations in production among all three players in recent seasons, and the arrow may only be pointing up for Tolbert.
Furthermore, Carolina recently bid farewell to its starting receiving corps from last year and thus far has failed to sign any suitable replacements in free agency (sorry, Jerricho Cotchery). Without capable pass-catchers, the Panthers may see more plays breaking down and more improvised scrambles from the team’s other primary rusher, quarterback Cam Newton.
Crowded backfield + declining talent + age + injuries = avoid, avoid, avoid.
Oakland Raiders RBs: Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew
The Oakland Raiders backfield looks like a powerhouse—if the year were 2010. That was the last season that both Jones-Drew and McFadden broke 1,000 yards rushing (the only year McFadden reached the mark in his six-year career). It also may not help that the team just lost their starting left tackle and the quarterback position is in flux.
To say that trusting either Oakland back to produce from week to week is a gamble is a severe understatement. On name recognition alone, it is likely that someone in your league will draft both backs several rounds earlier than they should. Don’t let that person be you.
Indianapolis Colts RBs: Trent Richardson, Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw
Proponents of Richardson likely cheered when the news broke that Donald Brown joined the Chargers. After a supremely disappointing 2013 season, it appeared that the Colts might still trust Richardson to be the workhorse back they expected after trading away a first-round pick to acquire him last season.
However, Bradshaw and Ballard should return this offseason and it’s unlikely the Colts will feed Richardson 20-plus touches per game before he first proves to be the most talented back on the roster. If Ballard can build off his preinjury success from 2012, the starting job should be far from decided come Week 1.
Jacksonville Jaguars RBs: Toby Gerhart, Jordan Todman
One hundred and nine. That is the most rushing attempts in a full season by either Gerhart or Todman in their career (Gerhart, 2011). One guy is a career backup and the other an unproven young talent. Both players have shown flashes of starting running back ability, but it remains to be seen if either player can handle 200-plus touches over the course of a season.
Also, how valuable are those touches in a Jacksonville offense that averaged six rushing touchdowns per year over the last two seasons?
Wide Receivers to Avoid: Don't Let the Names Fool You
Next up: the wide receivers to avoid next year. Changing teams and recovering from tough injuries plague this group of once-top-notch fantasy producers.
Eric Decker, New York Jets
Fifty-five and 12. Those are the respective passing touchdown totals for quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Geno Smith in 2013. Eric Decker alone had 11 receiving touchdowns last season.
Smith should improve in 2014 and Decker will likely be part of that improvement. But can the Jets offense sustain enough drives and find enough red-zone opportunities for Decker to retain even 50 percent of his value with the Broncos? If you are not sure of the answer to that question, you should probably not draft Decker this season. Someone else will.
Hakeem Nicks, Indianapolis Colts
Eleven, seven, three, zero. Those are the touchdown totals for Hakeem Nicks beginning with his breakout 2010 season.
Nicks is a bit of an enigma. He went from the cream of the fantasy receiver crop to essentially unstartable in two short years without any clear justification as to why. Now he finds himself catching passes from one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league.
Has he just been saving up that elite talent the last couple years, waiting for the right time to re-emerge as a fantasy stud? Or will he continue his downward trend and be the fourth- or fifth-best receiving option for Andrew Luck and the Colts in 2014?
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
Speaking of re-emergence, Reggie Wayne exploded back on the fantasy scene in Andrew Luck’s rookie year. He appeared on his way to another great season in 2013 before his year suddenly ended due to a knee injury. In his absence, third-year speedster T.Y. Hilton became Luck’s new favorite target.
It remains to be seen how much work Wayne will receive following his lengthy recovery. The team could opt to decrease his reps early on while Luck and Nicks build a repertoire.
Wayne has been counted out before only to prove the naysayers wrong, but it’s hard not to ask if age has finally caught up to the 35-year-old veteran.
James Jones, Oakland Raiders
Fantasy Downgrade [fan-tuh-see doun-greyd]
1. Leaving Aaron Rodgers for Matt Schaub.
2. To lower the stock of a player: I downgraded James Jones in 2014 when he joined the Oakland Raiders.
Jones, much like Decker, enjoyed his cushy role as the third or fourth receiving option in an elite, pass-happy offense over the past couple seasons. Coincidentally, Jones and Decker respectively totaled the first- and second-most receiving touchdowns in the league in 2012. Jones is a talented player whose inflated value landed him a nice contract on an offense in shambles.
Wes Welker, Denver Broncos
At the start of last season, it appeared that the Manning-Welker connection was fantasy gold. The duo racked up eight receiving touchdowns in the first six weeks.
But from Week 7 onward, Welker totaled the same number of touchdowns as he did concussions—two. The Broncos took precautionary measures following Welker’s second head injury and held him out for the final three weeks of the season.
Now, Welker could be one hard hit away from early retirement. Also, Denver could again choose to play it safe with his playing time and save Welker for the postseason.
Steve Smith, Baltimore Ravens
Another consummate pro, like Wayne, Steve Smith may unfortunately fade into fantasy irrelevance in the coming year. He’s one of the most fun receivers to watch and root for in professional sports. However, his role as the third or fourth fiddle in a Joe Flacco offense is bleak.
In 2013, he did not break 70 receiving yards in a single game as the Panthers top wideout.
Quarterbacks and Tight Ends: Weighing Reputation vs. Value
Finally, here are a couple quarterbacks and tight ends whose draft position will not reflect their value in 2014.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Tom Brady has earned the mystique that surrounds his on-field play. He’s a magician; a late-game comeback machine.
With that said, he is no longer “caps lock: on” TOM BRADY when it comes to his numbers. He’s trended downward in nearly all statistical categories the past two seasons—passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns and interceptions. His lack of reliable and healthy receiving weapons continues to affect his production.
Still, his upside will find him drafted in the top 10 among quarterbacks this season. There are less risky options out there with similar upside.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson is a phenomenal real-life quarterback. He’s a playmaker and underrated athlete. He also plays for a run-first team with the league’s best defense.
In today’s NFL, where 350-yard, three-touchdown quarterback performances have become the new normal, Wilson does not fit in. He had eight games in 2013 with one or zero touchdowns and only two games with more than 300 yards passing. The Seahawks do not ask him to throw the ball 35-plus times in a game, and there is no reason to change things now.
Wilson’s ability to run and make the big play when necessary keeps him fantasy relevant and a steady starting option. High floor, low ceiling.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
When he plays he is as dangerous as any weapon in fantasy football—when he plays. His upside, even for a half season of starts, will keep him firmly in the top five tight ends drafted.
Anyone who has owned Gronk either of these past two seasons will admit that it is frustrating and nerve-racking. The Patriots rarely reveal the true status of their players’ injuries, so when Gronkowski is hurt it is difficult to know when you might have him back at full strength. Also, when he does play you hold your breathe during every hit and hard fall.
Since college, Gronkowski has suffered injuries to seemingly every part of his body, each one more severe than the one prior. Gronk is the anti-Russell Wilson: extremely low floor, endless ceiling.