What’s *Not* In My Wallet: Avoiding Arian Foster (and others)

Today we trot out a useful column or an unpopular column, take your pick. I know how the public perception game works. The quickest way to get a fantasy uproar started is to throw red ink on big names. No one wants to hear a negative word about their favorite player.

I'm not going to take the low-hanging fruit in this column, pick on the easy targets. No one needs help avoiding Kevin Kolb or Ronnie Hillman. The goal in this piece is to discuss big names.

The names in my wallet, that's still in production, catch me on the weekend. For now, let's discuss what's *not* in my wallet this season, the players I'm intentionally avoiding.

Arian Foster, RB, Houston: I've been discussing this angle all week on the social media side, Twitter and Instagram, and there's been a fair amount of resistance. I recognize how dominant Foster has been over the past three years, ranking first, fourth and third at his position. Dominant fantasy backs don't grow on a tree somewhere.

Nonetheless, there are some worrisome trends on the stat page. Foster's average per rush has dropped the last two years, from 4.9 to 4.4 to 4.1. His pass-catching efficiency is also in a fall: it moved from 11.6 in 2011 to 5.4 last year. The Texans gave Foster a league-high 351 carries last year, a number we have to take seriously. And Foster hasn't been completely healthy this summer, either.

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There's one other annoying thing about a Foster pick: it might force your hand with a Ben Tate handcuff, and that's seldom cheap. You want to throw upside out the window with two hands? Draft a pair of running backs from the same team in the first half (or third) of your dance. Not recommended, amigos.

When the first round comes calling, I'm driven by floor over upside. I don't need a home-run, I just want to get on base. I want safety as much as I can find it (I know, in tackle football, anyone can get hurt at any time). Foster's red flags push me off the case.

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans: This is really a position holder for any elite quarterback. Put Aaron Rodgers in here, or Peyton Manning, or Cam Newton, or whomever. You probably won't find them on my roster.

I'm not the first person to make the observation - the fantasy quarterback class is extremely deep this year. And if you're playing in a league that requires just one starter, it shouldn't be difficult to land someone you really like. Heck, I grabbed Yahoo pitchman Colin Kaepernick with the 9.01 pick in Thursday night's FLEX industry draft (12 owners). It often pays to be prudent.

Tony Romo in the middle rounds? Sure, I'll sign off. Dez Bryant is ready to play some pinball. Matt Stafford? Last I checked, the Lions pass to set up the pass. Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Bob Griffin, maybe a Brady or Ryan slips . . . you have so many choices. No need to force the issue at the position.

I'm not denying a Brees or a Rodgers has a much better chance to pace the position in scoring than the middle-round options, but you have to remember the trade off in play. Are you better off with Rodgers and some spotty running back in Round 8, say, or a running back you like with your second pick along with a Romo or a Stafford? There's no definitive answer to this, but I'm taking the value route at this position.

Also remember you're playing with a backboard if you go QB on the cheap. The teams that take elite signal callers probably won't bother with any hot free-agent pickups in the early weeks - why should he or she bother, they're already sitting with Drew Brees. There's a knife fight over any good running back or wide receiver that emerges on the wire, but you won't run into a lot of gridlock when a quarterback is at play.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England: I know all about the angle here, all about how Gronkowski dominates when he's on the field. But I also know Gronkowski has surgeries about as often as you change socks, and the Patriots are the league's worst information-sharing club when it comes to injury status. Given the depth of the tight end position these days and the possible status headache tied to Gronkowski, I'll go a different route. (Also keep in mind all signs point to Gronkowski missing a few games in September, even if he comes off the PUP list).

To be fair, there's a time where a Gronkowski lottery ticket would make sense to me - if he stands in the Green Room through the seventh round, I get a little curious, too. But in my early pools, he's been taken aggressively. A lot of owners want to play for the future and that's fine - but on my clipboard, it's more important to play for today, focus on what's ahead of you. I'll worry about October and November when it gets here. I don't want to take a stash player while Week 1 starting spots aren't filled yet. No way I spend a premium selection in that manner.

If you select Gronkowski, you'll be playing a man short in your league for a while. Losing flexibility hurts, gamers. Beware the opportunity cost. And don't forget the Patriots have seven games that kick off after the 1 pm wave on a Sunday this year - those are always the trickiest slots when it comes to injury collection and roster decision. Unless a tremendous price falls into my lap, I'll sit this one out.

Mike Wallace, WR, Miami: It's funny to be panning Wallace because I actually like Ryan Tannehill a lot, and I could see Miami pushing for a possible playoff spot if a few things click. But free agent receivers who change teams are generally a bad play, and Wallace has never shown a level of comfort running the full route tree. Framed a different way, he's an unpolished target in a new scheme. He didn't have a wonderful work-ethic reputation with the Steelers, either.

The current ADP sticker isn't silly on Wallace - he's going about pick 60 in Yahoo! leagues right now. But given the depth of the receiver board, I'll be sure to spend my middle-round selection elsewhere.

Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England: I grew up in New England and I've rooted for them all my life, so I assure you this isn't some anti-NE vendetta at play. I'd love to see them roll the AFC East again. But Thompkins has accelerated from unknown player to overhyped sleeper in rapid fashion, and that means I gotta sit this one out - I'm all about value.

Go look at the top of the wide receiver fantasy board and acknowledge how most of the primary players are pedigree freaks, big-ticket items that usually go in the first round of the NFL draft. Megatron, Dez, A.J., Demaryius, Julio, Fitzy, Roddy, the other A.J. - these are all first round picks from the April assembly, many of them Top 10 picks. This isn't a coincidence, friends. Useful receivers do emerge out of nowhere from time to time (Marques Colston and Victor Cruz send a wave), but it's a rare and notable exception, nothing close to a rule.

Thompkins played two years of college ball at Cincinnati, wasn't drafted. He caught 78 passes with the Bearcats over two seasons, caught four touchdowns in all. He's 6-foot-1, a modest 195 pounds. You had a chance to land him with a late-round pick a month ago, but the cat's out of the bag after his handy preseason (really, just one big game), and I'm not someone who pays for a buzz upgrade. The rookie curve will eventually bite back here. I won't consider Thompkins as anything past a WR5 to start the year, and that means I probably won't get him.

If you can land Thompkins for next-to-nothing (or off the waiver wire), bully for you. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. But in leagues where everyone is paying attention, you probably can't acquire this type of player on the cheap. Often it turns into a battle to out-smart the other guy, a race to find the shiny new toy first, and that's when I go looking for a better value.

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