Fantasy football busts: Avoid McCoy, Jennings, Gonzalez
Nothing derails a season like having one of your first selections go bust. Fantasy football is a game of stars, and owners can't afford to have a player who is supposed to be a key piece of a team fall way short of expectations. Four months from now take a look at the two teams in the championship game in your league. Chances are they won't have any busts on their rosters.
Avoiding busts is just a crucial component of any successful draft, and will help you home in on the players who can truly benefit a fantasy roster. I suggest you start by staying away from the following players.
• LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles: Entering last year, McCoy looked like a safe bet to cement his status as a top-tier fantasy running back for the foreseeable future. Instead, he was done in by the ineptitude of the entire Philadelphia offense, and missed time due to concussion symptoms. He finished the season with just 840 rushing yards, 373 receiving yards and five total touchdowns. What's more, Bryce Brown stepped into the void when McCoy was out and proved to be capable of handling a large role. Given the uncertainty surrounding the Eagles' offense and Brown's continued presence, I'm staying away from McCoy early in drafts.
• Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons: In another season of one of the most impressive, overlooked careers in recent NFL memory, Jackson ran for 1,042 yards on 257 carries, topping the 1,000-yard plateau for the eighth-consecutive season. The Rams' poor offense held him to just four touchdowns, but he delivered yet again for his fantasy owners. While he's in a much better environment in Atlanta, this run is going to have to end at some point. Jackson turned 30 in July and is approaching 3,000 career touches. The Falcons rely much more on the pass than did the Rams, and Jacquizz Rodgers will get a ton of carries between the 20s. Jackson is going to have a tough time justifying his draft-day price.
• Greg Jennings, Minnesota Vikings: It's curious that Jennings had seemingly negative things to say about Aaron Rodgers, given that he's going to wish he still played with his old quarterback about halfway through the season. It goes without saying that Christian Ponder represents a huge downgrade for Jennings in the quarterback department. In addition, the Minnesota offense as a whole is nowhere near as potent as Green Bay's. Jennings will get plenty of opportunities in the passing game -- Percy Harvin had 85 targets in nine games last year, but that won't make up for what he left behind in Wisconsin. Add to that his injury history, and it makes far too risky a player for my tastes.
• Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons: I expect Gonzalez to have a fine season, but I think his monster 2012 created unrealistic expectations for this year. The now 37-year-old caught 93 balls on 124 targets last year for 930 yards and eight touchdowns. I'm just not convinced there are enough passes to go around for Gonzalez to match those numbers this year. We know Julio Jones and Roddy White are going to get theirs. While I believe Jackson will be a bust, the Falcons brought him in to put a greater emphasis on the run game. And as I stated earlier, Rodgers is going to see his role increased this season. Gonzalez isn't going to sink any fantasy teams this year, but he's not going to be the top-five tight end fantasy owners are drafting him to be.
• Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: No matter how you look at it, Luck had a banner rookie year, helping lead the Colts to an 11-5 record and an unlikely playoff berth. While many will stress the win-loss record as a No. 1 overall pick proving himself, that doesn't do us any good in fantasy leagues. For all the team success the Colts had, Luck had an underwhelming statistical season. He completed just 54.1 percent of his passes, and 23 touchdowns against 18 interceptions, and got only 6.98 yards per attempt, ranking 17th in the league. The Colts added Darrius Heyward-Bey and Ahmad Bradshaw to go along with Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, but I think Luck will end up being a glorified fantasy backup this season.
• David Wilson, New York Giants: Wilson has become a darling of the fantasy community this year, thanks to his lethal combination of speed and athleticism in what should be a strong Giants' offense. However, I'm not totally sold he's going to be worth a top-50 pick, which is what it will likely cost you to get the second-year player out of Virginia Tech. The Giants coaching staff listed Wilson and Andre Brown as co-starters on the team's first depth chart, and one thing we know for sure is that Brown will handle goal-line duties. Wilson is perfectly capable of scoring from distance, but any player is going to have his opportunities limited when he has to do his scoring from outside the 10-yard-line. He's still largely unproven, and never asserted himself as a receiver in college. There are too many question marks here for me to trust Wilson as my second back.
• Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers: The Packers made Lacy the fourth back selected in last April's draft, taking him with the 61st overall pick, late in the second round. He appeared to have a strong hold of the starting role for all of a day before the Packers drafted UCLA's Johnathan Franklin. The two of them will compete to top the depth chart, to say nothing of holdovers James Starks and DuJuan Harris. Lacy had a huge year with Alabama in 2012, running for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he was never much of a pass catcher, and that's a necessity if you're going to play for the Packers. Franklin, meanwhile, caught 33 passes for 323 yards as a senior. Lacy's current average draft position is 77.56 according to Mock Draft Central. I wouldn't feel good about him being any higher than fourth on my depth chart in a 12-team league.
• Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers: Most people would agree that Gates' days as a top-tier fantasy tight end are long gone. I'm willing to say that he's not even a starter in leagues with 12 or fewer teams. Gates managed to play 15 games last year, but caught just 49 passes for 538 yards. He had seven touchdowns, but we have a lot of evidence that suggests receiving touchdowns are random and past results are no guarantee of future success. The Chargers offense is nowhere near what it was back in the middle of last decade when Gates was redefining what a tight end can be. He's 33 years old and a constant injury risk. There is plenty of other options in the deep tight end pool.
• BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnnati Bengals: If you take a cursory look at Green-Ellis' stats from last year, you'd conclude he had a strong season, running for 1,094 yards and six touchdowns. However, he once again subsisted completely on volume, getting fewer than four yards per carry while toting the ball 278 times. I am not convinced he'll get that volume again this year after the Bengals added Giovani Bernard with the 37th pick in last April's draft. The North Carolina product certainly will have a large role in the offense, and he excels in one area in which Green-Ellis has proven to be a non-factor. In two years in Chapel Hill, Bernard caught 92 passes for 852 yards and six touchdowns. Green-Ellis, on the other hand, set a career high with 22 receptions last year. He'll disappoint this season.
• Eric Decker, Denver Broncos: I fully believe Peyton Manning and the Broncos' offense can give the fantasy community three startable receivers. I'm just wary that Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker can all be top-15 or top-20 guys. Thomas is one of the five best receivers in the league and the Welker-Manning pairing just feels too good to fall short. That's why I think Decker might fall off a bit. He'll still be a good player and someone who his owner should start week in, week out. I just think he might fall short of the 85-reception, 1,064-yard, 13-touchdown season he had last year.
• Seattle Defense: This is less a knock against the Seahawks, who do have one of the best defenses in the league, and more a commentary on the defense position in fantasy football. Fantasy owners tend to overrate the top defenses from the previous season, even if they have good reason to believe they'll be one of the best again. The bottom line is a lot of what makes a fantasy defense successful is based on matchups. Spinning the defense roulette week to week is a better strategy than counting on one team all year, and it doesn't force you to use a semi-high pick on a defense.