Fantasy football owners might think they're playing it safe by drafting players ranked in the top 20 at their respective positions heading into this season, but a few of those guys could turn out to be risky propositions.
A great deal of risk-taking is always involved when playing fantasy football. Not life-or-death risks like bungee-jumping out of a helicopter or cooking a holiday dinner with your knife-wielding mother-in-law. More like going all-in during a poker tournament or picking the perfect place to have your bachelor/bachelorette party.
Fantasy football owners take risks only when great rewards can be reaped, and the players in this column could post 1,000-yard years and 10-touchdown seasons. Heck, all three have done one or both at some point in their careers, if not last year.
But the trio below has hazards that could prevent them from being fantasy forces, whether it's bad teammates bringing them down, talented teammates who could take their spots, injury issues or fumble problems.
So here are three players who are risky propositions for fantasy football owners in 2014:
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans (WR)
Say what you want about Matt Schaub. As mediocre as the guy is as a quarterback, he was always able to get Johnson the ball and was instrumental in Johnson topping the 1,400-yard plateau four out of the past six seasons, no matter how much Johnson was double or triple-teamed.
This will be the first season in which Johnson does not have Schaub throwing to him. That would not be such a big deal if it meant there was an upgrade at quarterback. Too bad Houston has downgraded with the boring-at-best Ryan Fitzpatrick starting and unproven youngsters Case Keenum and Tom Savage backing up.
Factor in that second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins could take a gigantic step to the 1,000-yard level—like Arizona’s Michael Floyd and Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery did during their sophomore seasons last year—and Johnson could be targeted a little (or a lot) less.
Johnson is 33 years old, is unhappy in Houston and has been banged up a lot in the past. All this coupled with CFL-caliber quarterbacks throwing to him and a phenom looking to take his targets and Johnson might be lucky to finish with 1,000 yards in 2014, let alone 1,400.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (WR)
Brown had a career year in 2013 when he destroyed his previous personal bests with 110 receptions for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns. He proved that Pittsburgh was genius to give him—not Mike Wallace—the multi-millions last offseason when the Steelers had room under the salary cap to pay only one of their star receivers.
But now that the league knows Brown is the main man, and now that Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery—Pittsburgh’s No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts in 2013—have signed with other organizations, Brown will be keyed on and double-covered even more than last season.
Brown should have a solid season. It is not like he is going to drop off the face of the fantasy football earth and put up Jerome Simpson-like numbers. But will he be as unstoppable as he was during his breakout campaign? Probably not, so him falling between to the 1,000- to 1,100-yard range is a distinct possibility.
Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots (RB)
Ridley and his fumble fingers have somehow ended up atop the Patriots’ depth chart at running back again at this point of the preseason. With LeGarrette Blount in Pittsburgh and Shane Vereen slotted in as the all-purpose Danny Woodhead-like back in the system, Ridley should be the primary ball carrier on rushing downs and near the end zone.
And if you look at his numbers the past two years, why shouldn’t Ridley be? He has rushed for 2,063 yards and 19 touchdowns over that time. With New England’s potent offense getting in the red zone more often than Joe Buck gets into a broadcast booth, Ridley is always set up for scoring opportunities.
But Ridley is one fumble away from heading right back into Bill Belichick’s expansive doghouse—a residence where Ridley has his own wing. Ridley has already fumbled in the preseason, so it is not like he was finally taught in the offseason how to hold onto the ball, unless the person teaching him was Mark Sanchez.
Ridley would really have to blow it to lose out such a prime chance for carries and touches. Rookie James White has not been impressive in his preseason outings, and perennial underachiever Brandon Bolden does not even get mentioned in fantasy conversations anymore.
Only Vereen should be able to damage Ridley’s fantasy worth, and while Vereen is more versatile and dependable in terms of ball security, he is not the between-the-tackles runner Ridley is.
Draft Ridley and you could be the recipient of a 1,200-yard, 12-TD campaign from him. But if Ridley fumbles a few times and find himself as third- or fourth-stringer on the Patriots’ depth chart, then you will have wasted a high draft pick on a reserve running back.