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Fantasy football 2014 draft preview: Beware of potential NFC busts

Fantasy Draft Primer: Three players to avoid

Sports Illustrated's lead fantasy writer Michael Beller unveils three players to stay away from this year.

Just as every fantasy owner needs a list of players to target in a draft or auction, he or she also needs to know where the potential landmines lie. The following players may seem like fantasy gold in the coming weeks, but they’re more likely to result in a season full of disappointment. Watch out for these NFC players who could bust your fantasy roster this year.

FANTASY FOOTBALL BREAKOUTS: AFC | NFC
FANTASY FOOTBALL BUSTS: AFC | NFC

Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams

I’ve made the case against Stacy so many times this summer that it’s almost becoming boring to do so. It all starts with his lack of explosion. Stacy averaged just 3.9 yards per carry last year, and had only five carries of at least 20 yards despite getting 250 totes. Only Chris Johnson matched those uninspiring numbers in as many carries.

Second, he’s a total non-factor in the passing game. Last year he had 26 receptions on 35 targets for 141 yards and one touchdown. There are a lot of unimpressive numbers in there, but the one that stands out is his 5.4 yards per catch, the lowest for any running back with at least 20 receptions. Don’t expect him to do much more through the air this season.

Finally, Stacy essentially maxed out his red-zone production last year. He had 39 carries inside the 20, more than Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy. That represented 83.3 percent of the Rams’ total carries in the red zone, second in the league behind only Matt Forte’s 91.3 percent. He scored on nearly 16 percent of those carries, which is in line with league average. When a player isn’t going to give his owners a ton of explosive plays, like Stacy, his most likely place for growth from season to season is in the red zone.

However, it would be unrealistic for Stacy to greatly outperform what he did near the goal line last year, both in terms of overall volume and success rate. As such, we can reliably call his 2013 numbers his ceiling. Even if Sam Bradford stays healthy all year, something he has done just twice in his four years in the league, the Rams' passing offense isn’t exactly teeming with playmakers. Expect Stacy to see a lot of loaded fronts this year. All the red flags surrounding Stacy make him a prime bust candidate.

Fantasy Draft Primer: Top three picks

Sports Illustrated's lead fantasy writer Michael Beller reveals his top three picks headed into the 2014 fantasy football season.

Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks

Avoiding Harvin is all about minimizing risk. Might Harvin stay healthy, play 13 or 14 games and put up monster numbers this season? Yeah, he might. He also might miss half the season and end up being one of the biggest busts this season. Of course, every player who steps on an NFL field is at risk of getting injured, but some players are bigger gambles than others.

​Harvin is one of the riskiest fantasy players on the board. In the last two seasons, he has played a total of 10 games. Hip surgery is never a good thing for a wide receiver, and even worse for one who is heavily dependent upon his speed and cutting ability. Harvin is just 5-foot-11, 184 pounds and he doesn’t have the greatest hands. His athleticism is his best asset. If that is at all compromised, he will come nowhere near his fantasy ceiling.

It’s not just the inherent risk that makes Harvin a dicey proposition for fantasy owners. The price you’ll have to pay to get him is steep, and there will still be plenty of good -- not to mention, safer -- receivers available at the same time. Harvin’s current average draft position is 53.8 according to Fantasy Football Calculator. That’s higher than Michael Floyd, T.Y. Hilton, Jeremy Maclin and Emmanuel Sanders. Even a guy like Maclin, who’s coming off a torn ACL, doesn’t have as checkered an injury history as does Harvin. Both the risk and the opportunity cost of taking Harvin are high. That’s a toxic formula. Fantasy owners would be wise to look in another direction on draft day.

Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings

It’s true that if you wait for a player to make the leap, you will likely have missed your chance to get him. More often than not, you have to be ahead of the curve to cash in on a breakout player. Such is the case with Patterson, who has quickly become a darling of the fantasy community. He put up modest numbers as a rookie in 2013, catching 45 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns.

​However, he was on the field for fewer than 40 percent of Minnesota’s snaps in each of the team’s first nine games. In Weeks 11 through 17, when he played at least 53.1 percent of the snaps every game, he amassed a total of 27 receptions, 301 receiving yards, three touchdowns, 156 rushing yards and three more scores on the ground. With a strong finish like that and a significant role in the Vikings offense right from the start of the season, it’s easy to see why Patterson is so popular in fantasy leagues this year.

That, however, conveniently overlooks the quarterback situation in Minnesota. Matt Cassel is currently penciled in as the starter, and even the most aggressive timetable doesn’t have Teddy Bridgewater taking over until a few weeks into the regular season. Like with Harvin, there’s a significant opportunity cost associated with Patterson. His 46.4 ADP is higher than that of Michael Crabtree and DeSean Jackson, and just slightly behind Wes Welker and Andre Johnson. Is Patterson’s ceiling really that much higher than Crabtree’s, Jackson’s, Welker’s or Johnson’s that you’d be willing to tie yourself to Cassel for a large chunk of the season?

POSITION PRIMERS:
QB | RB | WR | TE | K | DST

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Stafford is not a bust in the purest sense of the word. He’s worthy of being considered the fourth-best quarterback in fantasy leagues, and has the league’s best receiver at his disposal. However, with all the depth at the quarterback position, Stafford is in danger of being a major value bust in 2014.

We’ve been comparing Stafford to Tony Romo a lot this summer, most recently in our first ADP Watch column a week ago. The comparison is especially instructive because Stafford is the No. 4 quarterback by ADP, while Romo is the 12th making him the last starter selected in a typical draft for 12-team leagues. At the risk of repeating myself, check out the statistical comparisons of these two quarterbacks over the last three seasons.

Stafford:

YEAR YARDS YPA TDs INTs
2011 5,038 7.6 41 16
2012 4,967 6.83 20 17
2013 4,650 7.33 29 19

Romo:

YEAR YARDS YPA TDs INTs
2011 4,184 8.02 31 10
2012 4,903 7.57 28 19
2013 3,828 7.16 31 10

That’s a difference of 0.81 fantasy points per game, yet Stafford is rubbing elbows with Welker, Johnson, Bishop Sankey and Shane Vereen in ADP, while Romo is slumming it with Kyle Rudolph, Devonta Freeman and Rueben Randle. Unless the fourth quarterback taken in your league comes at a major discount, it will likely be one of the worst value picks in your draft. Do not fall into this trap.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

This one hurts a bit, as Fitzgerald has long been one of the most fun players in the league. There are multiple reasons to believe, though, that he will not live up to his draft-day price.

After never coming up short of 1,000 receiving yards in a season in which he played at least 15 games, Fitzgerald has fallen shy of the mark in each of the last two years. He gets a pass for 2012 when the Cardinals trotted out John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer as their starting quarterbacks (seriously, all four of those guys got at least one start), but not last year. Even though Carson Palmer didn’t revitalize the Arizona passing game in the way many expected, it was a marked improvement over the previous season. Fitzgerald’s teammate Michael Floyd caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards. In fact, Floyd’s presence is likely the greatest inhibitor of Fitzgerald’s ceiling.

The Notre Dame product has already become the 1a. to Fitzgerald’s No. 1 status on the Cardinals, and this could be the season Floyd overtakes the veteran. Last year, Fitz got 24 red-zone targets to Floyd’s 14. Expect that to even out, or perhaps even swing in Floyd’s favor, this season.

Fitzgerald has also lost a step in terms of big plays over the last few seasons. He had just eight catches of at least 20 yards last year, a career-low. Even in the terrible Skelton/Kolb/Lindley/Hoyer season he had nine receptions of 20-plus yards. The year before that, he had 25. Before the 2012 season, he never had a year in which he failed to record double-digit catches for at least 20 yards. He has now done so in back-to-back seasons.

Like Stafford, Fitzgerald is unlikely to be a pure bust. He may, however, end up costing more on draft day than his production warrants by the end of the season.

FANTASY FOOTBALL POSITION RANKINGS AND PROJECTIONS:

Honorable Mention

Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers -- If the 49ers are going to take the final step in the playoffs that has eluded them the last few seasons, they’ll need Gore to be healthy in December and January. That could lead to him getting more rest than usual in September, October and November. Carlos Hyde looks sprightly, as well.

DeAngelo Williams, Caroline Panthers -- Even with the backfield largely to himself all season, Williams barely eclipsed 1,000 yards from scrimmage and had just four touchdowns in 2013. Jonathan Stewart will be much more involved this year.

Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers -- Much like the fourth quarterback selected can be a terrible value pick, the fourth tight end off the board will likely expose a fantasy owner with a terrible understanding of draft-day value. As the most likely tight end to be selected first when Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas have all had their names called, Davis earns the ignominy of being a bust candidate.

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks -- Don’t pay the Super Bowl tax that is likely to be attached to Wilson this year. He may be a very good real-life quarterback, but he’s no more than a backup in standard fantasy leagues.

Riley Cooper, Philadelphia Eagles -- Cooper became relevant largely thanks to a role in the Philadelphia offense he fell into after Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL last year. With Maclin healthy and rookie Jordan Matthews turning heads in training camp, Cooper will end up the third receiver in Philadelphia before long.

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