With a few NFL preseason games already in the books, it's time to get serious about the 2014 fantasy football season.
There is a litany of articles detailing which players you should try to snag in the later rounds to surprise your friends, the best possible draft order and which players will be surefire fantasy studs.
However, a good fantasy draft isn't all about unearthing those hidden gems; you have to make sure you avoid potential landmines so that your roster isn't a mess during the regular season.
Reaching for a player can be just as damaging to a draft as getting pedestrian production from the later rounds. It will affect your whole draft strategy and can throw your positional balance out of whack later in the season when you need to make that crucial trade.
This is not a comprehensive list of potential busts, but here are three players whom you might want to avoid and let your friends/coworkers/enemies take in the early rounds of the draft while you go with a solid, safer choice.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin is a fantasy legend thanks to his 272-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders as a rookie, which may be why some fantasy owners are so willing to give him the benefit of the doubt these days. He put up over 1,400 rushing yards as a rookie, only to follow it up with just over 500 yards from scrimmage in six games as a sophomore.
However, Martin is healthy after coming off that injury-marred 2013 campaign and set to play as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' featured back.
"It was a tough time (being injured),” Martin said via Chadd Cripe of The Idaho Statesman, “but now it’s time to go. I’m just happy to be back out on the field. You can’t take this job for granted because that’s how the game goes. You have to take every rep like it’s your last."
Then again, some feel that Martin's injuries weren't the sole cause of his disappointing sophomore campaign. ESPN Insider Eric Karabell (subscription required) gave his take on Martin's woes last year:
Most people probably think that his only issue last year was the torn labrum in his shoulder that shut him down before Week 8, and that now, by all indications, he's healthy. The truth is Martin was having an underwhelming season, especially in relation to his lofty top-five status from draft day (ahead of Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy!). Through seven weeks, Martin was 21st among running backs in standard fantasy points.
Martin isn't getting drafted that high again this year, but he may still be overvalued as fantasy owners hope that a return to form will translate into numbers identical to his rookie season. Martin may indeed play with the same level of verve and talent, but the improved offense (Josh McCown, rookie wideout Mike Evans) likely won't be relying on him quite as much this year.
Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams
Zac Stacy came out of nowhere last season to become one of the darlings of fantasy football, piling up 1,114 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns in just 14 games (12 starts).
He showed a strong burst at the line of scrimmage and a penchant for breaking tough tackles, but his athletic limitations and an improving St. Louis offense might make him a bit of an underachiever for those drafting him around the 18th overall pick.
The Rams drafted running back Tre Mason to add some bounce and breakaway speed to their backfield. Stacy is more of a north-south runner, and if Mason plays well in the preseason cit ould convince offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to utilize a committee approach in the backfield.
Stacy's 3.9 yards per carry from last season doesn't bode well for his ability to keep his numbers up if the Rams continue to tinker with the offense.
The St. Louis Rams could also be expecting to move the ball through the air a bit more with a healthy Sam Bradford and the addition of lanky wideout Kenny Britt.
Tavon Austin should also improve upon his first year of work in the NFL, often a trying time for wide receivers. In fact, Austin has taken snaps in the backfield during training camp, according to Rotoworld's Nick Mensio:
Benny Cunningham running with #Rams first-team O behind Stacy. Haven't seen Tre Mason work with the ones. Tavon Austin getting carries @ RB.— Nick Mensio (@NickMensio) July 27, 2014
If all these factors conspire to take snaps away from the downhill dynamo that is Stacy, he could end up being a fantasy disappointment just one year removed from his role as a beloved waiver-wire savior.
Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos
Julius Thomas' monstrous 2013 season is difficult to argue with. The athletic marvel posted 788 yards and 12 touchdowns in the Denver Broncos' superb offensive campaign. However, his draft position suggests that he is getting quite a bit of love for a tight end in a league with plenty of valuable wide receivers hovering around the 30th overall pick.
Teams should be wary of the Broncos repeating that level of offensive mastery, as the team was such an egregious statistical outlier that it seems all but certain the skills players statistics will have to regress to the mean as a whole.
The Broncos also have a capable stable of running backs with Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson in the fold. If they rely more on the run in the red zone, it could take away touchdown opportunities for Thomas. Also, it's not often tight ends, even the great ones, string together multiple double-digit touchdown seasons—just ask Antonio Gates.
Which one of these players is most likely to disappoint fantasy owners in 2014?
Jacob Tamme has also impressed in camp this offseason, while Thomas has been hurt, although Manning has made it clear his team sticks to a system no matter who is in the lineup.
"Julius was down today. We don't change our offense, we don't change plays. We call the same plays and heck of a catch on his touchdown, almost another heck of a catch on the fade to the end zone," said the legendary signal-caller, via The Associated Press (h/t FoxNews.com).
In that case, the Broncos would likely have to start using more two-tight end sets in order for Tamme to take away catches from Thomas, although it is still a possibility.
Average Draft Positions (ADPs) courtesy of ESPN.com.