I'm very reluctant to put the word "hate" in the headline above. I don't know any of these chaps personally. I'm sure they're all quite nice and engaging fellows.
But at the fantasy draft table (or better yet, the fantasy auction table), I'm looking for value. I'm trying to exploit a marketplace, looking to take advantage of industry biases, group-think, oversights and over-corrections. I'm not going to click on all of these opinions and that's fine (last year I steered you from Vick — direct hit — and also worried about Stafford — bad miss). You only have to be a little better than the average to make a profit in this make-believe stat chase.
While I never say never, here are eight players I doubt I'll own on any teams in 2012:
-- Andre Johnson, WR, Texans: Everyone knows the flaws with AJ by now. He's played three full seasons out of the last seven. He's never made it to the 10-touchdown mark. His seven-game, 492-yard season killed a lot of fantasy players last year, especially those who faithfully waited for his return while wearing rose colored glasses. He's already 31, into his tenth pro season.
But here's what I really don't understand: even with the obvious downside, why is he so expensive, yet again, into 2012?
Johnson's current expert ADP is No. 5 at the wideout position, and it's the same in Yahoo! drafts. Thank you sir, may I have another? Given the incredible depth at the position, there's no way I'm spending a Top 20-25 pick on this talented-but-frustrating headache. While I can partially understand injuries at the running back spot — it's an attrition position that invites so much contact — we expect our premium wideouts to play most of the season. That's a long-running problem with Johnson.
And even if Johnson does stay on the field, how high is the upside? Maybe Matt Schaub isn't good enough to turn Johnson into the spiking machine we've all been waiting for. Maybe the Texans don't throw enough in the red zone. I know Johnson is an overlord between the 20s, but for his sticker price, I want a shot at 12-15 touchdowns, at least in theory. I'm done waiting for it.
-- Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: It pains me to put Romo on this list because I've always been a fan of his, to the point of almost being an apologist. But look around Romo. His most talented receiver (Dez Bryant) is a walking police blotter. His second-best receiver (Miles Austin) is constantly hurt. His security blanket tight end (Jason Witten) is coming back from a lacerated spleen (just typing that makes me a little queasy). And the offensive line has been a mess all summer.
I can't say the price is silly on Romo: he's currently the ninth QB in Yahoo! ADP, and he's also the No. 9 quarterback in the industry ranks. But with the depth of the quarterback board this year, I'd rather go one of two ways — pay for something safer, or go cheaper and take a stab at upside. I refuse to close my eyes and simply wish for all of Dallas's problems to magically sort themselves out.
-- Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: A few months ago, I envisioned Rivers on many of my teams, maybe most of them. I've changed my mind, decisively. The injuries to Vincent Brown (a super route-runner) and Ryan Mathews (a handy receiver) have me concerned, and the Chargers offense line could be one of the five worst in the league. Sure, Antonio Gates looks terrific right now, but how long can we expect that to last?
I also worry about a slow start in San Diego, because it seems like every Norv Turner club stumbles out of the gate. You only have 13 or 14 weeks in most leagues to qualify for the fake-football playoffs. I want a strong break when the flag drops.
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints: Maybe he'll turn into a special player someday, but I saw no evidence of it as a rookie. A 3.9 YPC on this offense is almost a crime — Darren Sproles was at 6.9 last year and Pierre Thomas managed 5.1. Heck, Chris Ivory — a ham-and-egg runner no one is in love with — went for 4.7 a pop, and even Drew Brees made 4.1 yards on his infrequent runs. And don't tell me about Ingram being held back by a goal-line and short-yardage role: he only collected 10 goal-line carries (and one touchdown there, for what it's worth) and he averaged a pedestrian 3.8 yards on first down.
Platoon backfields are common, so it's no big deal when teams have two runners to split the work. But the Saints will have at least three runners battling for their share of the pie, and that significantly caps Ingram's upside (unless the dominoes really fall his way). Pass catching, you ask? He had just 11 receptions last year. I know Ingram was nicked up for much of his first season and only played 10 games, but hey, that's the NFL. Every back is nicked up to some extent. I'm not chasing this one.
-- Shonn Greene, RB, Jets: He was used plenty in 2011 (12th in the league in carries) and he's a steady runner if the hole is there, but don't look for Greene to run over people on his own. He was just 18th in the league in broken tackles per running backs and 19th in elusiveness rating (both stats from the invaluable Pro Football Focus). And look what Greene did in New York's eight losses: 52.8 yards per game, 3.9 YPC, one crummy rushing touchdown. Do the 2012 Jets look like a winning team to you? Greene needs a path to playing time when things go south.
I realize Tim Tebow might eventually take over the Jets offense and he's the type of mobile quarterback that stretches a defense horizontally and opens rushing lanes. But would Greene, a non-lateral runner, gain much from Tebow's presence? Again, he's a gaping-hole runner, not a cutback monster. Industry consensus slots Greene at 23 right now, while Yahoo's ADP says 25. I won't bother to consider him unless the price gets even cheaper.
-- Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers: Everyone sees the talent here. Mathews has a shiny 4.7 YPC for his pro career, along with 72 receptions. He can run everything in the book, do the dirty work inside and hit some home runs outside. You have a reason to be excited.
But Mathews has also been an injury mess in San Diego (10 games missed through two years) and that comes on the heels of an injury-plagued career at Fresno State. And as everyone knows by now, he busted his collarbone on his first summer carry this year. Even geography plays against Mathews: three-quarters of his 2012 games will be played after 4 pm ET. Do you want to be sweating bullets on his status nearly every week?
There's a price where I might be willing to take the Mathews plunge, but I don't see it on the shelf. His current industry rank is a lofty No. 12, and that's consistent with the wide range of user ADPs I've surveyed. I want my early picks to offer a combination of upside and floor; Mathews makes good on the former but fails with the latter.
(Don't worry if you're a Mathews fan, you're in good company. And one of my esteemed colleagues will have plenty of nice things to say on Mathews soon enough. Stay tuned.)
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants: I hate to ding Bradshaw in any way; pound-for-pound, he might be the toughest player in the league. He's battled through ankle and foot problems for years but gallantly played through them most of the time. But let's not miss the effect it's had on his game: his YPC has dipped in every pro season (down to 3.9 last year), and he's only played one full NFL season.
The Giants see the issue here, which is why they added exciting rookie David Wilson in the first round. New York's also been shifting the offense fully into Eli Manning's hands; Manning's pass attempts have risen for three straight years. Bradshaw is currently the No. 14 running back on expert consensus and a Top 20 ADP back on every major site. I can't pay that sort of price.
-- Jacob Tamme, TE, Broncos: Here's a case of a player who's so underrated, he's quickly become overrated. At current count there are 17 industry experts who consider Tamme a Top 10 fantasy tight end.
With all due respect to those fine fantasy minds, they're wrong. And I'll gladly step to the side and let them chase Tamme all they want.
The case seemed easy enough in the spring: Peyton Manning landed in Denver, Tamme soon followed, and everyone thought back to how that duo clicked in 2010. But Tamme's blocking keeps him off the field a fair amount of the time (and perhaps at the goal line); the Broncos also added a capable TE in Joel Dreessen; and Tamme has been dropping everything this summer. I'm slotting Tamme 19th at tight end, which means I have no realistic chance of getting him. No worries there. Draft Kyle Rudolph instead, and thank me in December.
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