Anyone who has played fantasy football knows landing the correct sleepers and avoiding the big-name busts are just as important as your first-round pick.
It doesn't take an expert to know Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson will be productive. The real fantasy winners have to succeed in the later rounds of the draft.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few marquee players to avoid when your draft day rolls around.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Oakland Raiders
There was a time when Maurice Jones-Drew was seen as one of the best running backs in the league and the beacon of hope for an otherwise dreadful Jacksonville Jaguars offense. In fact, he won the rushing title in 2011 and was a legitimate first-round pick for fantasy players.
Then he suffered a Lisfranc fracture and has not been the same.
Even the most optimistic Jones-Drew fans shouldn’t expect much from him in 2014 in Oakland. Yes, Darren McFadden is as big of an injury risk as there is in the NFL, so the opportunity for carries will be there. However, the 29-year-old Jones-Drew is nowhere near as fast as he was in his prime and just doesn’t have the burst to consume large chunks of yardage.
What’s more, Oakland’s offensive line probably isn’t going to open up many gaping holes this season, so fans could see Jones-Drew running into a proverbial brick wall far too often.
WR Eric Decker, New York Jets
Eric Decker is too talented to simply be seen as a product of Manning’s brilliance, but it is almost impossible to envision a repeat performance of his 1,288 yard and 11 touchdowns from 2013 this year.
Even the best receivers in the league are going to have a downturn in production if their quarterback goes from No. 18 to Geno Smith or Michael Vick. Neil Greenberg of The Washington Post broke down why Decker’s fantasy value will take a turn for the worse in impressive detail:
With Manning at quarterback, the Denver Broncos passed on 1,305 of their 2,247 snaps (58.1 percent) last season. Of those, Decker was targeted 258 times, or 11.4 percent of all plays from scrimmage. The Jets, over that same time frame, would pass just 51.9 percent of the time, and none of the Jets’ receivers would come close to being targeted on even 10 percent of the plays from scrimmage.
If we scale Decker’s 2013 performance to the Jets’ passing environment, we get the following: 60 receptions, 634 yards and two touchdowns. And that’s assuming he would be targeted on 11 percent of the Jets’ passing plays. If we go with 9 percent, which would still be the highest of the Jets’ receiving corps, that drops to 47 catches for 501 yards.
Interestingly enough, an NFL scout seemed to agree with this assessment, via Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News:
"He’s going to run good routes and catch every ball. That’s what you know for sure. He’ll be good for Geno (Smith) in the sense that he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be. Geno can always count on that… but Eric Decker as a legitimate No. 1? Not so much for me. No."
This is less of an indictment on Decker as it is praise for Manning. After all, even Jerry Rice in his prime would put up better numbers in that Denver Broncos offense than if he were on this year’s version of the New York Jets.
WR Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints
Decker isn’t the only wide receiver who is a risk because of his offense.
Marques Colston is a dominant wide receiver who has always been one of Drew Brees’ most dangerous weapons in New Orleans. From 2006 to 2012, Colston topped 1,000 yards in six separate seasons and scored at least eight touchdowns five times.
However, in 2013 he failed to reach 1,000 yards and only caught five touchdown passes. He is on the wrong side of 30 years old and doesn’t have the burst to beat the league’s top cornerbacks deep on a consistent basis like he could in his prime. That means fantasy owners will need him to produce in the red zone, but that is Jimmy Graham territory for the Saints.
What’s more, Brees has Nick Toon, Kenny Stills, Robert Meachem and rookie Brandin Cooks at his disposal at wide receiver. For an offense that likes to spread the ball around, that’s a lot of different options.
Colston will have the occasional big game, but it may be too much to expect a 1,000-yard season with so much talent surrounding him.
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