Buyer Beware: Fantasy Football Players You Need to Avoid in Drafts

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2019

Buyer Beware: Fantasy Football Players You Need to Avoid in Drafts

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    With the annual Hall of Fame Game now in the rearview, the 2019 NFL preseason is officially underway. Over the next month, teams will engage in exhibition contests, hold positional battles and otherwise prepare their rosters for the meaningful games to come in September.

    Meanwhile, fantasy football enthusiasts will also prepare their rosters for the coming season. While there are now several enjoyable formats for selecting rosters in season-long leagues, drafting remains the standard.

    What goes into a successful draft strategy? Well, you want to pick players who are going to produce points, obviously. But perhaps more importantly, you want to avoid players who will leave you wanting on a weekly basis. Wasting a high draft pick on a player who cannot reliably be placed in the starting lineup can quickly derail a fantasy season.

    Here, you'll find a look at some past fantasy producers who, due to their potential role, health or contract status, may not be reliable starters for the 2019 fantasy season. We'll examine each player, his average draft position (ADP) from Yahoo and why he could be a bust candidate.


Melvin Gordon III, RB, Los Angeles Chargers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    ADP: 9.7

    Is Melvin Gordon III worth a first-round selection in your fantasy draft? If he's actually in a training camp by the time your draft rolls around, then perhaps. However, the situation is complicated in several ways.

    First of all, there's no guarantee Gordon will be in camp before the start of the regular season.

    He's currently holding out for a new deal from the Los Angeles Chargers and remains away from the team. Unlike Ezekiel Elliott—who has his own holdout situation with the Dallas Cowboys—Gordon simply doesn't have a lot of leverage. The Chargers relied on the tandem of Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson when Gordon missed time at the end of last season, and they can do so again if he continues to stay away.

    The flip side of the situation is a possible trade.

    According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, Gordon's agent, Damarius Bilbo, has requested a trade but has not been permitted to seek trade partners. If a deal does get done, it could put the running back into another starting position. But this too could be problematic.

    If Gordon were to land with a new team, he would have to learn an entirely new offense and adjust to new personnel in a matter of weeks. There's also no guarantee he would be used in the same manner.

    Gordon's status as an elite fantasy option stems from his receiving ability; he's caught at least 40 passes each of the last three seasons. However, he has never been an elite runner. He has a career average of 4.0 yards per carry and has topped 1,000 yards rushing just once in his career. If he lands in an offense that doesn't heavily feature running backs in the passing game, he'll be an average fantasy back at best.

Antonio Brown, WR, Oakland Raiders

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    ADP: 21.1

    Let's go ahead and get this out of the way: It would be disingenuous to say that Oakland Raiders wideout Antonio Brown should be completely avoided in fantasy drafts. He's coming off a 1,297-yard, 15-touchdown campaign and remains one of the top receivers in football.

    However, you should be wary of selecting Brown in the first couple of rounds due to a few different factors.

    For one, Brown is no longer playing with future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's playing for the Oakland Raiders and with Derek Carr, who has been a mid-tier starter over the past two seasons. How much has Brown's past production been a product of Roethlisberger and the Steelers system? That's a complete unknown.

    What's known is that Brown doesn't have the same established chemistry with Carr he enjoyed with Roethlisberger.

    There's also the fact that Brown is a 31-year-old receiver dealing with a foot injury. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, he's day-to-day with the injury. However, there's no telling how quickly he will be able to bounce back or when he'll be at 100 percent.

    If Brown misses most or all of the preseason, he's going to miss out on valuable reps with his new quarterback. That would further complicate the fantasy outlook for his first Raiders season.

    If you can grab Brown in Round 3 or 4, go ahead. However, there are too many unknowns to justify taking him ahead of guys like Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton and Tyreek Hill.

Damien Williams, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    ADP: 26.0

    As is the case with Antonio Brown, it wouldn't be fair to suggest completely passing on Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams. The Chiefs have arguably the most explosive offense in the entire league, and Williams is expected to be the starter. 

    However, it would also be unfair to expect Williams to produce the kind of numbers Kareem Hunt put up in the Chiefs offense. Williams made just three starts in 2018 and logged 50 carries for 256 yards and four touchdowns on the season. He also had 23 receptions for 160 yards and two more scores.

    While Williams did show promise last year, he has yet to prove he can be a reliable starting back over the course of a full season. Further complicating matters is the fact that Kansas City has other capable options at tailback, including Darrel Williams, Carlos Hyde and rookie sixth-round pick Darwin Thompson.

    Williams has been sidelined in camp with a hamstring injury, which has allowed Hyde to impress the coaching staff.

    "Carlos has done a nice job," head coach Andy Reid said, per Jeremy Bergman of "He's getting a lot of reps, and he's taking advantage of them."

    There is no guarantee Williams will be an every-down back for the Chiefs. In all likelihood, he'll be part of a committee. And even if Williams is the lead back in that committee going into Week 1, there's no telling if he'll be able to hold that role for 17 weeks. 

    Devonta Freeman and Josh Jacobs are both closer to surefire starters than Williams, and both currently have lower ADPs.

A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    ADP: 36.0

    Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green recently underwent ankle surgery and is expected to miss a few regular-season games, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. This, in and of itself, makes it hard to justify targeting Green within the first three or four rounds.

    Drafting and stashing Green could pay dividends later in the season, but it also means you're tying up a valuable roster spot for the first few weeks of the season. Players selected in the first four rounds are expected to be reliable weekly starters, and passing on one in order to stash Green could cost you early-season games and put you in a hole out of which it's difficult to climb.

    Also, there's no guarantee Green will be back to 100 percent once he returns. As a receiver who often wins with his ability to separate deep, an ankle injury could be problematic. Plus, there's the added issue of Green missing valuable preseason time while the rest of the team is absorbing head coach Zac Taylor's new offense.

    The other issue with drafting Green so high is the reality that even when healthy, he may no longer be the elite fantasy receiver he once was. In 2017, he played in all 16 games but produced 75 receptions, 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns. Those are respectable numbers, but they do not warrant an ADP of 36.

    Rams receiver Robert Woods caught 86 passes for 1,219 yards and six touchdowns last season, and his current ADP (39.6) is lower than Green's. So is Tyreek Hill's (36.3) for that matter, and Hill had 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

    There are simply too many risks and unknowns to justify targeting Green higher than the middle rounds of your fantasy draft.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    ADP: 40.7

    Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is one of the league's ascending stars, and he should be a viable fantasy starter if he remains healthy for all of 2019. Last season, he passed for 4,165 yards, rushed for 551 yards and scored 31 total touchdowns.

    However, you should be wary of drafting Watson as high as he is currently trending. It will be difficult for him to replicate his 2018 success, especially if the Texans do not get improved play from their offensive line. He was sacked 62 times last season, and similar line performance will regularly put him at risk for injury.

    Plus, Watson is heavily dependent on No. 1 wideout DeAndre Hopkins, who racked up 115 receptions in 2018. Will Fuller V, who was lost due to injury after just seven games, was second on the team with 32 catches. If opposing defenses figure out a way to slow Hopkins—admittedly a tall order—or the wideout suffers an injury, Watson could struggle.

    Houston may also find it difficult to supplement Watson with a strong ground game. Starting back Lamar Miller is only 28 years old, but he also has endured 1,354 carries at the NFL level. Can he be a reliable every-down back this season? That's a big question, particularly after the Texans parted with backup D'Onta Foreman.

    If the ground game isn't at least respectable, opponents are going to focus all their efforts on containing Watson, which could have a significant impact on his fantasy value.

Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    ADP: 60.0

    New York Giants tight end Evan Engram had a strong fantasy season as a rookie in 2017. He racked up 64 catches, 722 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games. However, his production took a notable dip in 2018 as he missed five games and produced just 45 receptions for 577 yards and three scores.

    Engram's 2019 numbers could be closer to last season's than those from 2017.

    The problem is that Engram is now the top receiving option other than running back Saquon Barkley. Odell Beckham Jr. is with the Cleveland Browns, Sterling Shepard is dealing with a broken thumb, Corey Coleman is out with a torn ACL and Golden Tate is set to serve a four-game suspension to start the season.

    This should mean more targets for Engram. But it also means opposing defenses will be able to focus on taking him out of the game. With wide receiver threats lacking, opponents will often stack the box against Barkley, double the tight end and dare New York to beat them with other players.

    If Engram had a mobile quarterback who could buy time in the pocket and allow him to shake double coverage, this may not be as much of an issue. However, the Giants have statuesque Eli Manning, who is another year older (38) and likely nearing the end of his tenure in New York.

    Engram's current ADP is higher than those of Hunter Henry, Jared Cook and Eric Ebron, all of whom have more favorable quarterback and support situations. Pass on Engram and target one of these three if at all possible.

Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    ADP: 62.0

    For eight weeks in 2018, Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp was a premier fantasy producer. Through Week 10—he missed Weeks 7 and 8 with a knee injury—he amassed 40 receptions, 566 yards and six touchdowns.

    Then Kupp suffered a torn ACL.

    That injury, a tricky one because of the running, cutting, stopping and starting the position demands, makes him a fantasy risk. While he has returned to practice, there's no telling what kind of form he'll be in come Week 1.

    "He's not a guy you're gonna see in the preseason," head coach Sean McVay said of Kupp, per Gilbert Manzano of the Orange County Register.

    Had the injury occurred earlier last season, Kupp might be closer to 100 percent when the 2019 campaign opens. However, he'll be roughly nine months removed from the injury in Week 1.

    It's not like the Rams will have to rely heavily on Kupp early in the season, either. They have two other top-tier receivers in Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks, plus a reliable No. 3 in Josh Reynolds, who had 402 yards and five scores in 2018.

    Kupp is a player you can draft and stash for later in the season, but don't expect him to be a weekly starter early on. He should not be targeted ahead of guys like Mike Williams and Jarvis Landry, as his current ADP might suggest.

David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    ADP: 64.9

    The Chicago Bears clearly like the potential of former Iowa State running back David Montgomery, which is why they selected him in the third round of April's draft. He is expected to be the early-down replacement for Jordan Howard, and he has done nothing in camp to prompt the Bears to second-guess his selection.

    "Cautiously very, very optimistic," offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said, per Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic. "I like him a lot. Unbelievable guy, great mentality."

    There's nothing wrong with targeting Montgomery as a rookie back with upside, but be wary of drafting him too high, especially in PPR leagues. The reason? Chicago still has Tarik Cohen on its roster.

    Cohen is only entering his third NFL season, and he's already one of the league's premier receiving backs. He caught 71 passes for 725 yards and five touchdowns last season while adding 444 yards and three scores on the ground.

    Going into the season, Cohen should be viewed as Chicago's No. 1 back, yet his ADP (70.1) is actually lower than Montgomery's. Plus, Chicago also signed Mike Davis, who had 514 yards rushing, 214 yards receiving and five total touchdowns for the Seattle Seahawks in 2018.

    Montgomery will be splitting time with two quality running backs and could struggle to produce the kind of consistent numbers needed to justify a starting roster slot.