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I will not be breaking any new ground when I say that there is often a great deal of fluctuation between a players’ pre-draft ranking and what his ultimate value for the season ends up being. Anyone who has played one season of fantasy football understands this.
Season-ending injuries, lingering injuries, complacency, a change in role, a change in coaching staff, the emergence of a younger player, the effects of Father Time…all of these reasons and more can end up turning a top draft pick into something far less than you were expecting.
Just glancing through the 2008 draft results from one of my leagues, take a look at some of the names drafted in the first four rounds who ended up producing far less than their draft position would have suggested: LT (#2 overall), Joseph Addai (#4), Tom Brady (#5), Marion Barber (#6), Braylon Edwards (#15), Carson Palmer (#17), Larry Johnson (#18), Derek Anderson (#20), Jamal Lewis (#29), Reggie Bush (#31), Laurence Maroney (#32), David Garrard (#34), Matt Hasselbeck (#35), Marques Colston (#36), Torry Holt (#38), Kellen Winslow (#40).
[Note: It was a draft with a lot of Browns fans, hence why Braylon, DA, and Kellen were all picked high; but remember, all three of those guys were pretty highly rated too, so those selections are not too far from what the norm was.]
That’s a lot of high draft picks that turned out to be duds. On the flip side, look at some of the mid- to later-round picks that turned out to be absolute studs: Michael Turner (#58), Roddy White (#98), Matt Forte (#100), Dwayne Bowe (#106), Chris Johnson (#129), DeAngelo Williams (#130), Steve Slaton (#169).
The key, of course, is to identify which highly players are going to perform below expectations and which low rated players are going to outperform expectations…before the draft.
This is not always easy, and certainly even the most well thought out methodology will have plenty of misses; you just want to try to have more hits than misses over the course of time.
So, based on Yahoo’s current O-Rankings, I will try to identify three highly rated players that you should be wary of using your valuable first-round pick on, as there are warning signs I see that could lead to you only getting second- or third-round production out of the selection.
Then, later today or this weekend, I will highlight three players currently below the Top 50 that could produce first- or second-round value.
Three Highly Rated Players to Be Wary Of Drafting in the First Round:
Before I get into analyzing specific players, let me just say right off the bat that I am wary of LT (preseason #7) and Brian Westbrook (#5). Both will be 30 by September, both saw their values decline rather sharply from their usual greatness last year, and Westbrook is already dealing with injuries in the preseason and has an impressive rookie (LeSean McCoy) nipping at his heels.
I’m not saying don’t draft them, but if you do not do so with at least a little bit of trepidation, you are either a first time fantasy football player or just a casual one.
Anyway, it’s cliched at this point to discuss the questions surrounding LT and Westbrook this year, so I’m going to try and identify some other highly rated players that the conventional wisdom is telling you to draft highly.
I would imagine that at least one of these guys will probably have another great season, but at a minimum I think there are legitimate questions about all three.
Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons (Current O-Rank: #2)
He was an absolute monster last year in his first season as a featured back. And assuming he stays healthy all year, he will probably be very good again this year. I just do not think he will be nearly good enough to warrant the second pick.
The cliched reasoning for many who are anti-Turner near the top of the draft is that he went over 370 carries last year. While such a single season workload is always concerning, using 370 as some sort of magic number appears to be a bit overdone.
So I don’t think Turner will experience a dropoff simply because he passed some arbitrary amount of carries, especially since it was his first season as a full-time starter and theoretically he still has “fresh” legs.
Rather, I think the perfect confluence of events that led to his incredible season probably will not be in place this year:
- He was healthy all year last year, and two straight seasons of perfect health for a RB is rare.
- The Falcons played a last-place schedule in 2008, while the opponents (including all of the NFC East teams) are tougher this year.
- 17 TDs is a lot, and TDs are a number that can fluctuate from year to year even for the best running backs. Even a small but reasonable drop to 12 TDs, which would still be an excellent number, would decrease Turner’s value.
- Turner does not catch the ball out of the backfield (6 receptions in 2008), meaning he does not have non-rushing touches to add to his stats against teams that are stiff against the run, or if his TDs do in fact decrease.
Additionally, if you want to discuss the Peterson-Turner debate atop the draft, Turner is a little bit too much of a boom-or-bust type player for my tastes. Look at his game log from 2008. He had six games where he rushed for 70 yards or less. In those six games he totaled 2 touchdowns.
That means there were six weeks out of the year where your top pick is not contributing significantly to your efforts to win. Sure, his other 10 games were stellar, but I like a little less variance from my top dog on a week-to-week basis.
Adrian Peterson, on the other hand, had only one game in which he ran for 75 yards or less and had 15 more receptions than Turner. I expect their TDs (17-10 advantage for Turner in ‘08) to at least even out this season, negating the main advantage Turner had over Peterson last year.
I would probably still take Michael Turner in the late first round or early second round (not that he’d be there) if push came to shove, but I am just not sold on him as a legit competitor to Adrian Peterson for the top spot.
I also like my first pick to have more than one great season under their belt. Minimizing risk while still getting a great player is important.
Hence, I would feel more comfortable taking guys such as Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, and Clinton Portis over Turner in 2009. I much prefer picking a little bit safer and going after consistent production in the early rounds and then trying to hit home runs later on. That’s how I ended up with Drew Brees and Larry Fitzgerald last year to anchor my team, with late round picks Steve Slaton, Chris Johnson, and Kurt Warner (2 QB league) putting me over the top for a title.
At the end of the day, you will most likely still get a very productive #1 back in Turner, just be wary of how high you select him and the more proven production you may be passing up.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (#3)
Marion Barber alert! Marion Barber alert!
Remember last year how Marion Barber was going to set the world on fire once Julius Jones was jettisoned from town and Barber would get all of the carries?
Yeah, not so much.
After excelling as “the closer” in Dallas in 2006 and 2007 with a 4.8 yard average and 24 combined TDs, Barber regressed to a 3.7 yard average and only 7 TDs in 2008.
He also battled injuries as his carries rose to 15.9 per game, up from 10.6 per game over his first two seasons. Thus, Barber was a decent #2 back, but certainly not worth a 1st round pick.
This year, the fantasy world is again aflutter about a running back who has excelled in a part-time role now getting the chance to be “the man.” With Fred Taylor now in New England, MJD is the main man in the Jaguars’ backfield.
I think it is a mistake to expect that he will immediately become a guy who should be picked in the top 5 of the first round. Last year, his best season (almost 1,400 total yards and 14 TDs), MJD was the 17th best player in Yahoo!.
Yet, MJD has never carried the ball more than the 197 times he did last year. If his carries go up 4-5 game, as Barber’s did, Jones-Drew could experience a drop in production to similar to what Barber experienced last year.
I still think MJD is worthy of a second-round pick, but just make sure you remember the lesson of Marion Barber before jumping on Maurice Jones-Drew with your third or fourth pick.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers (#6)
Williams was the Panthers' first-round draft pick in 2006. Through his first two seasons in the league he scored only 5 TDs and barely eclipsed 1200 yards combined.
The blame for this is not entirely on Williams. He got only 144 carries in 2007 despite having a 5.0 yard per carry average.
For whatever reason, Carolina felt compelled to continue feeding DeShaun Foster and his 3.5 yard per carry average the ball. Still, great running backs are usually great from the get-go. It is WRs who usually wait until their third years to break out.
Well, Williams broke out, and in a big way, in 2008. He ran for 1515 yards and 18 TDs, and finished the year as the #1 rated player in Yahoo!.
Eleven of those TDs came in Week 13 or later, meaning he probably won more than a few people a title last year. My advice? Let those people take Williams in the first round, because I don’t think he will be worth it this year.
First of all, replicating his 18 rushing touchdowns is going to be mighty difficult, especially with Jonathan Stewart there to continue pilfering carries. By themselves, I think either of these guys could have first-round potential.
In a time-share, however, and coming off of a ridiculous 28 combined rushing touchdowns, I think you’re crazy if you base this year’s value solely off of last year’s numbers.
Also, scheduling and happenstance contributed mightily to Williams’ value last year. Look at some of the teams he racked up his huge numbers against after the Panthers’ Week 8 bye: Oakland, Detroit, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Denver, New Orleans.
Not exactly a murderer’s row of run defenses, plus he went against a Giants’ team in Week 16 that was scuffling a bit.
Again, as with Turner and MJD, Williams is not devoid of early round value by any means. I just think you should be careful if you draft him expecting anything more than 70-80% of his value from last year.
Never pay too high a premium for a career year after the career year. I’m convinced we’ve seen Williams’ high water mark, and will draft accordingly.
So now that you have read my reasoning for why I would be extremely nervous drafting Michael Turner, Maurice Jones-Drew, and DeAngelo Williams in the first round, I want to remind you of the key foundational point that inspired this article: LaDainian Tomlinson, Joseph Addai, and Marion Barber were all slam-dunk first round picks going into last season, just as Turner, MJD, and Williams are this year.
Yet, none of the three (LT, Addai, Barber) contributed first round value last year, and owners who drafted them faced an uphill battle all season trying to compensate for the lack of production out of their first round pick.
It happens every year and it will happen this year: two or three guys that every magazine and fantasy prognosticator have in the top 10 will fail to produce top 10 stats.
So before you immediately criticize the selections above, make sure you have some alternatives ready.
The question is not if there will be first-round flameouts, it’s who they will be. Whether you agree or disagree with my choices, make sure you know whose first-round bandwagon you’re on and whose you’re off heading into your draft.
It’s not impossible, but it is decidedly harder to win over the long haul of the season when you don’t get 1st round value out of your 1st round pick.
Note: To discuss this topic and more, be sure to check out the new MSF Fantasy Sports Discussion Forum, where you can receive quick answers to your questions and discuss whatever fantasy sports topics are on your mind.
* – Maurice Jones-Drew photo credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images North America via Indianapolis+Colts+v+Jacksonville+Jaguars/LMeQ9NxX7fv/Maurice+Jones-Drew" target="_blank">Zimbio