bust², n., 1. A failure; a flop.
Failures and flops, don't you just hate 'em? When that player you selected in the first round winds up performing more like a fourth rounder, you've got good reason to be upset. If only you had advance warning that the player you so dearly covet today is due for a down year tomorrow, you just might have the edge that takes you to the top of your league. Well, you've come to the right place. We here at RotoExperts specialize in advance warnings.
In forecasting busts, it's not always about projecting complete failures. After all, what kind of benefit would we be providing by placing a "Buyer Beware" sign around John David Booty's neck? No, we're talking about the players who are most likely to fail to live up to their preseason hype and/or expectations.
Rest assured, we're not just picking these names out of a hat; there's usually a significant reason for us to believe a player is bound for a drop-off. Sometimes it's an injury, sometimes it's age, and sometimes it's due to factors beyond that player's control -- it's never just a hunch. Some of the names below may come as a surprise, and others may have the hardcore fantasy footballer screaming, "blasphemy!" But hey, if we were going to tell you something you already knew, this wouldn't be as fun.
Let's dig in.
Philip Rivers, Chargers
If you've read Matt Greber's piece on sleepers (or "slippers" as he likes to call them), you already know that he's thinking big things for Rivers in 2008. I'll admit, he raises some valid points, but I'll have to respectfully disagree with him (and put some money on it). You see, one thing about Rivers has always stood out for me -- he rarely makes big plays. Rather, the superstars are the ones on his team who usually make the big plays for him. With Rivers' success directly tied to the playmaking ability of a few superstars, let's eliminate the hype, forget about names, and concentrate on the following:
1. The main weapon in the Chargers offense is a 29-year-old running back coming off a torn MCL. He's also averaged 400-plus touches per season in his seven-year career (we saw small signs of the wear-and-tear taking its toll on him last season).
2. The No. 1 passing option in San Diego's offense had toe surgery this offseason, and isn't yet able to run. There's no telling if he'll be ready for the opener.
3. The team's Pro Bowl center underwent ankle surgery less than two months ago, and he isn't set to return until October, at the earliest.
Still not sold? Let's tack on Rivers' own off season surgery to repair a torn ACL, and then take a look at his regression as a QB last season: 10 games under 200 passing yards, five games with at least two interceptions and nine games with a passer rating under 75. Folks, the writing is on the wall. I'm not saying he shouldn't be drafted, but he's looking more and more like a QB3 to me.
Jake Delhomme, Panthers
In baseball, they say it takes about 18 months to fully recover from Tommy John surgery. I'm not sure how long it takes for an NFL quarterback to make it back, but I'm betting it's not less than a year (Delhomme had the surgery around Week 4 last season). Some will point to the addition of Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett as positives for Delhomme's production this year, and it's a fair argument. But I'm not buying it. This team is going to focus on the run, and there's no better proof of that plan of attack than the Panthers' decision to select running back Jonathan Stewart in the first round of this year's draft. The Panthers also lost a couple of key offensive lineman this off-season, rendering the '08 version a patchwork unit that will struggle to protect the quarterback. A lot of folks will grab Delhomme thinking they've got themselves a steal; don't allow yourself to fall into that same trap (unless he's available as a backup really, really late).
Carson Palmer, Bengals
Maybe last season wasn't an aberration? Sure, Palmer was still a very good fantasy QB in '07, but his play (20 INT) was never able to justify his draft position. And despite some of the best pass protection in the league (only 17 sacks) and one of the best wide-receiving corps in the entire NFL (Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry), he still struggled mightily down the stretch (2 TD/4 INT with three sub-200 yard games in weeks 13-16). Sure, the running game was mediocre, but that actually helped Palmer establish career highs in attempts, completions, and yards. Assuming the ground game improves with a healthy Rudi Johnson and Kenny Watson, it will only subtract from those same totals. It gets worse too. When you replace Henry with Antonio Chatman and Johnson with a very angry Ocho Cinco (who's damaged any and all relationships he had with anybody on the team), things aren't exactly looking up. Caveat Emptor.
Frank Gore, 49ers
There are a lot of "experts" out there predicting a huge season for Gore in '08, and with good reason -- new offensive coordinator Mike Martz plans to get him 20-25 touches per game, putting him on pace to surpass the number of touches any running back had in '07. What they're ignoring, however, is that Gore's body isn't cut out for that type of workload. Gore hasn't missed a ton of games over the years due to injury, but he always seems to be playing a little banged up.
Toughness is all fine and dandy in the real game, but as we saw last season, playing hurt pretty much killed his fantasy value (or at least the value you expected as a first round pick). A healthy Vernon Davis and the addition of Isaac Bruce should help take some pressure off of the running game, but with the team's offensive line in worse shape than it was last season, Gore's chances of reaching paydirt don't look any better (only 6 TDs in '07). There are plenty of people willing to reach for Gore in the first round, but unless you're in a PPR league, doing so would be a huge mistake.
Fred Taylor, Jaguars
Last season was a nice story and all, but if you're expecting Taylor to run for 1,200 yards and 5 TDs again, I've got a bridge to sell you. Taylor is 32 years old and is once again sharing carries with the younger, more explosive Maurice Jones-Drew. It's been hard enough trying to guess who would be the better RB each week over the past two seasons, so don't make it harder on yourself and gamble for a third (although my money's on MJD to get the bigger workload this year). He's certainly viable as a handcuff to Jones-Drew, but he'll be hard pressed to reach 1,000 yards in '08.
Reggie Bush, Saints
Poor Reggie. He's been a bust since he stepped foot on an NFL field. It's not really his fault, as the expectations for him out of college were unrealistic. And I like Bush; I really do. However, he is what he is -- an undersized running back who might be better off as a third down back and kick returner. I know, it sounds harsh, but is there anything about his game that says otherwise? Sure, he's a great receiver out of the backfield, and yes, he's explosive enough to break a few big ones. As an NFL-caliber north-south running back though? Below average. He'll score his share of TDs because of his big-play ability, but with Deuce McAllister, Pierre Thomas and Aaron Stecker still in the mix, a dip in workload and production is on the horizon.
Steve Smith, Panthers
A perennial top-five receiver, Smith will finish outside of the top 10 in '08. Why, you ask? For the very same reasons Delhomme's production will suffer: shaky pass protection, more options at WR to share the wealth/TDs (or lack thereof) and an offense predicated on the run. He won't be a complete bust, but he's sure to get drafted much higher than his numbers will merit.
Greg Jennings/Donald Driver, Packers
Lets see, the team's Hall of Fame quarterback, and one of the all-time gunslingers, retires (or maybe not); an extremely inexperienced QB takes over and Green Bay now has, for the first time in a long time, a workhorse running back who they can count on. Does that sound like a team that wants to air it out in '08? You can talk all you want about how much Aaron Rodgers has learned under Brett Favre the past three seasons (as if Favre's ability could ever be taught/learned), or how great he looked in the only extended playing time of his career last year (a few quarters against Dallas), but I can't be sold on a guy who's thrown a total of 59 passes in his NFL career. If I'm going to draft a Packer, it's either Ryan Grant or Donald Lee. Otherwise, I'm staying far, far away.
Marvin Harrison, Colts
Everybody's predicting this one, so I might as well jump on the bandwagon. Here are the facts: Harrison is going to be 36 years old, he's got two bad knees (one he had surgery on this off season, the other which limited him to only five games last season), and he's under investigation for a shooting that took place this past April. Oh, and he hasn't worked out with the team at all this offseason. Even the team owner says he's, "keeping his fingers crossed". I'm not going out on a limb here to say that this is not a good sign. Don't cross your fingers at the draft table, go with wide receivers who you know will play for you.
Jeremy Shockey, Giants
Shockey's relationship with the team can only get uglier, and the emergence of TE Kevin Boss will significantly eat into his numbers. If he's eventually traded or released, he could have a fine season. But he's been overrated for so long, he'll probably still get drafted higher than he should.
Dustin Keller, Jets
Whenever a tight end gets drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, fantasy football enthusiasts tend to draft him, too. In some cases, it's been worth the gamble (see Jeremy Shockey); in this case, it's not. Why not? First, the QB situation in New Jersey is still undetermined. Second, Keller can't block, which will reduce the amount of snaps he'll actually be on the field. He's certainly got the speed, hands and talent to be an above average tight end in the NFL, perhaps even a star. But it's not going to happen this season. If you're into carrying backup tigh ends on your roster, sure, take a flyer on him. Otherwise, go with the sure thing.