Fantasy Football 2011: Four Players to Red-Flag on Draft-Day Cheat Sheets

John ZaktanskyCorrespondent IJune 19, 2011

Michael Vick's scrambling ability and desire to run the football means increased fantasy stats -- and increased hits from guys like Clay Matthews.
Michael Vick's scrambling ability and desire to run the football means increased fantasy stats -- and increased hits from guys like Clay Matthews.Al Bello/Getty Images

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

These days, I’m feeling pretty shameful when it comes to fantasy football options that are uber-talented in super great situations, yet continue to flounder around due to nagging health issues. At some point, you have to wonder if certain guys will ever fully shake the injury tag.

As we start to think about fantasy football 2011, if it ever happens, I find myself having serious concerns about certain players. Here are few red flags I just can’t will away no matter how hard I try. 

Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay

There is a lot to love about Finley. He’s a very good receiver trapped in a tight end’s body. He is nearly impossible to defend and automatically makes the Packers better when he’s on the field.

His situation couldn’t be better, either. Aaron Rodgers has developed into an elite passing option. The Packers aren’t afraid to air things out. Rodgers has shown an affinity for throwing to Finley. The tight end is also entering a contract year on a team hungry to defend its Super Bowl title. Not to mention that the Packers are my favorite professional team in any major sport and have been for decades.

I struggle to get amped up about the prospects of Finley in fantasy drafts this late summer/fall. For one, he’s being touted as the top tight end option by numerous fantasy outlets—at the very least in the top three by most.

In mock drafts I’ve participated in already this early summer, Finley is being drafted accordingly. He was the top tight end taken in two of the five drafts I participated in, second tight end taken in two others and third highest in the last.

I have no doubt Finley could match those expectations and even exceed them by a landslide. However, for a guy coming off a major knee injury and subsequent staph infection, I get a little nervous.

The icing on the cake for me is that this isn’t Finley’s first bout with knee injuries at the pro level. He missed games in 2009 due to a balky knee and has yet to register a fully healthy season in the NFL.

Of course, this mini-trend can mean nothing at all. Guys like Matt Schaub have been able to shake injury tags over the course of their careers. Like I said, Finley is more than talented enough to be a major force at the tight end position for years to come. Then again, why did the Packers draft D.J. Williams this spring? Impending contract concerns, or are they also wondering if Finley can stay healthy for a full season?

ou just won’t find me drafting him before the seventh round in most redraft league formats this summer, and because of that, I probably won’t be seeing him on any of my 2011 rosters.

If I find the urge to take a tight end earlier, I’d much rather have Antonio Gates or Dallas Clark. Yes, I’m well aware that they are each coming off injuries of their own, but they also have a more substantial track record at the NFL level. I’d even possibly consider Vernon Davis ahead of Finley. While his QB situation is much more up in the air, he also has shown he can be productive and fairly reliable regardless of the circumstances.

Probably more often on my teams, you’ll see guys like Jimmy Graham, who can be had much later and have the potential to put up potentially elite stats in their own rights.

Matthew Stafford, QB, DET

Like Finley, Stafford has all the necessary tools and the situation to become an elite performer at his position.

Also like Finley, Stafford just can’t seem to stay healthy. He has yet to turn in a full season at the NFL level. A separated shoulder sidelined him in December of 2009—his rookie season. He re-injured the throwing shoulder in November of last season, leading to an AC joint repair and clavicle shaving, and was lost for the season.

Recently, scouts have suggested that part of Stafford’s issues stem from his inability to properly read defenses and step into the pocket enough when pressured. These unnamed scouts suggest that this has played a part in Stafford’s shoulder woes. Luckily, this is a fixable offense.

There is little doubt Stafford can make some fantasy noise in Detroit. The Lions have been drafting well the past couple years, quietly making a very under the radar defense and adding offense firepower to surround the already super talented Calvin Johnson.

Again, like Finley, Stafford seems to fall short of achieving his full potential in what could be a stacked offense.

Unlike Finley, Stafford is not getting drafted in the top third (or even half) of fantasy drafts. In fact, Stafford falls into QB2 territory in most mocks I’ve seen so far, and he could actually provide a good value in this role.

However, I still wonder about Stafford’s ability to be a dependable force year in and year out at the NFL level. I need to see him put together at least one full season—and preferably a couple more—before I crown him the next elite signal caller, as some still want to do. 

Michael Vick, QB, PHI

As with the prior two mentions, Vick is ultra-talented and finds himself in a great situation. He showed last year that he can be a true fantasy force, providing numbers on the ground that most QBs could only dream of and adding some decent aerial support.

The problem for me with Vick, as it is with the previous two, are injuries. Vick’s style of play opens himself up for more wear and tear than other QBs. His slash tendencies mean he takes more of beating than more traditional pocket passers.

There is a reason that more traditional elite QBs have a longer NFL lifespan than elite running back options. There is a reason that QBs like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and even Tom Brady (who was lost for one whole season due to injury) play in a higher percentage of games on average each season than the slash-and-burn options like Vick.

To be fair, I did see a different Vick in 2010 than what we were accustomed to during his Falcons days. In the season opener that I was fortunate enough to see in person, Vick had several opportunities to tuck the pigskin and run into oncoming traffic. In fact, I saw one play where he probably would have scored a TD if he ran the ball vs. chucking down to a receiver.

However, when it was all said and done, he did have more rushing yards than any other QB by a decent amount, over Aaron Rodgers and Josh Freeman, among others.

He also missed games due to injuries, something that hampered him in the past during his Atlanta days.

I am not saying that Vick won’t again post some amazingly good numbers on a week-to-week basis. If I’m taking a QB in the first or second round, I want it to be a signal caller who has a good shot of playing all season and who won’t leave me high and dry during stretches. I can’t fathom how people are seeing Vick as the top overall fantasy QB based on that angle alone. Sure, any given Sunday he can produce a ton of points, but he can just as easily sustain an injury that will sideline him for a game or two or more.

I don’t know if there are enough Tums in the Chinstrap Ninjas world headquarters medicine cabinet for me to take that risk—at least at the price he’s going for in current mocks.

Instead, give me much more dependable options like Manning, Rivers and Brees, who I can get a round or two (or even three in some cases) later. I’d be fine with waiting several rounds later for a Matt Ryan-type option. 

Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR

I could easily echo all the same trends listed above. Uber-talented player who could be one of the best at his position with one significant issue: health.

Stewart has been able to blow through the competition when healthy and on the field. Of course, he’s been sharing carries with DeAngelo Williams for quite some time now in Carolina, and last year’s struggles had a lot to do with overall offensive ineptitude more than a downtick for either Stewart or Williams.

The one consistency for Stewart: He missed more time last year due to injuries. He has yet to clock a fully healthy season and that was with Williams spelling him regularly throughout his career. You better believe I’ll be stashing away Mike Goodson as a late-round flier in many leagues this summer.

Now faced with possibly carrying the full load on his shoulders (if Williams signs elsewhere before the season), one has to wonder how long Stewart can last before he snaps again.

Yet, people continue to draft Stewart in the second round as if he’ll be a bona fide starter all year—something he hasn’t been able to do yet, and something I’ll be skeptical he can do until I see it on the field.

Did you see: One letter every NFL owner and player should read during the lockout

Check out our composite rookie rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | K

Want a way to show the NFL your frustrations over the lockout, how about this idea?

Also, one chinstrap ninja debates why he thinks Christian Ponder is a bad dynasty pick.


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