I'm about a third of the way through my fantasy football drafting and auctioning season. Lots more to come, players to select, options to buy. The future is unwritten.
Generally I'm more about the price than the player, so I rarely say "never" on any fantasy commodity. There's usually a ticket where almost anyone makes sense.
That established, here are 10 players I'm just about positive I won't be drafting this year. Call it the Toxic Ten if you want. You'll find talent on the list and maybe some of your pet players as well — it doesn't do anyone any good if I bash backup tight ends. Share your avoid list and agree or disagree with mine in the comments.
You might own these players. You might win because of these players, or in spite of these players. You won't agree with all of these names, and that's good. That's why we have a game.
• Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos: I'm not going to make this a simple "regression!" card, because that's the start of the conversation, not the end of it. Manning can lose a healthy chunk of his 2013 dream season and still be a fantasy overlord. But the depth of the quarterback position, league-wide, pushes me away from Manning's sizable sticker price. I want to load up on the six-point scorers: the wideouts, running backs and (perhaps) tight ends.
• Trent Richardson, RB, Colts: He was an ordinary back during his Cleveland days (3.5 yards a carry) and he dropped down to 2.9 yards per tote last fall with the Colts. Yes, the crummy Indianapolis offensive line has something to do with it, but why did Donald Brown average 5.3 yards a carry behind the same group? I don't buy the playbook excuse for Richardson, either — the NFL running game isn't that complicated.
• Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: I refuse to spend a premium pick on a maybe, a slow-developing stock, someone I can't be confident in for 16 games. I want a quick start from my team; I want to play from a lead, quickly gain leverage. I'm not even sure if Gronkowski will be on the field — and you obviously can't trust the Patriots to be helpful with relative information.
• Arian Foster, RB, Texans: He's had two injury washouts in three years, part of it is the burdens of the position. He's also coming off a major surgery. And a few weeks ago, he sounded like a player who was searching for motivation and purpose. Foster is a deep and sensitive man off the field, admirable — and I get the idea he won't be playing pro football much longer. And I'm not confident in him playing a full schedule.
• Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills: Ah, the shiny new toy, the buzzy new rookie. It's so damn hard to make a profit on this type of player. If you overlook that and sign up for Brandin Cooks, at least you get the Sean Payton/Drew Brees kickback. Can Watkins be a difference maker right out of the box despite what the Bills have? I'm skeptical.
• Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers: In part this is the Watkins argument, but there are some differences. While the Bills will do all they can to feature Watkins right away, Benjamin has competition in the Carolina passing game (Greg Olsen has a nifty rapport with Cam Newton, and Jerricho Cotchery is an underrated pro coming off a strong year). And it's not like we expect Newton to be a kingmaker with his wide receivers; that hasn't happened in the past. Let your opponents reach for Benjamin as their WR3 or WR4. You can do better than that.
If you want to gather young wideouts, I suggest you focus on the second-year guys (that's when the big jump most often occurs). You can have the first-year players. Even with the way the college and pro games are starting to intersect, the NFL passing game is still a heavy mental assignment for anyone.
• Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs: This feels a little bit like low-hanging fruit, but my Bowe ranking (No. 50 at receiver) is 11 slots below the expert consensus rank tracked on Fantasy Pros. Bowe's one-game suspension isn't the biggest issue here —what we really have to worry about is how poorly he meshes with quarterback Alex Smith. Andy Reid is a brilliant offensive mind and yet he couldn't unlock Bowe last year (zero games over 70 yards, a piddly 103 targets). Let's not double down in 2014.
• Montee Ball, RB, Broncos: Maybe he doesn't completely belong on this list, because he might slip to the second round of some drafts and I'd pause before action then. But I don't pay a first-round sticker on someone who's never done it before, and Ball still is mostly an unknown. Can he play on all three downs? Will he be proficient in blitz pickup? I don't want to ask questions about my first-round selection. Every early selection will have an enticing upside. I want floor, too.
• Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon, QB/WR, Browns: While I expect Manziel to be Cleveland's primary QB starter this year, I don't expect him to be a proficient passer right away. He's coming from a simple and reactive system at Texas A&M, and doesn't appear close to ready to handle what the NFL demands from a pocket passer.
Manziel's running ability, and willingness to run, could take him a long way in fantasy, sure. But does he have the type of body that can handle four months of NFL kill shots? And will he have the wisdom to duck away when it's the right play? (Cut and save this take — I'll probably feel the same way when Manziel eventually gets the starting gig later this season).
Some of you might land Gordon at a giveaway price, but I know in the markets I play in, he costs a premium pick — something in the Round 4-7 range. I'm not laying out that sort of ticket for a speculation, a maybe, a might be — even a dynamic playmaker like Gordon. The downside is too significant. (But to those of you who keep landing Gordon at a medium or late-round number, I salute you. Well played. Or maybe I should say well assembled — you invited the right people into your league.)
• Seahawks Defense: This is pretty obvious to most of you, so I'll tuck it at the end of the column. Offense has far more continuity in the NFL than defense does, and there's a reward to anyone who ignores D/ST on draft day — you get to play the streaming market. There's a history of last year's monster defense being a poor return in the previous year, and even if Seattle bucks this trend — and I'd love to see it, they're a blast to watch — you can still get solid value from this position strictly from a weekly yard-sale approach.