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Have you ever seen a young kid trying to fit a wooden peg into one of those circular puzzles? You probably thought to yourself, Child...you can't stick a square peg in a round hole. Let's apply this concept to fantasy football for a second. Sometimes, a team's offensive philosophy isn't a perfect match with every single one of its players. Knowing this goes a long way in determining who is a 'bust' and who is a 'sleeper' candidate. The following list takes a look at a few players who just aren't a good fit with their offensive schemes, and should be handled carefully come draft day.
Eli Manning, Giants
Maybe the reason Manning always looks like he's about to cry is because he's never truly had an elite receiving core. Sure, Mario Manningham and Steve Smith emerged last season to put up nice numbers, but is that due to their own talents, or the guy throwing them the ball? I think there are arguments for both sides.
When it comes to the Giants, we know they are going to run teams to death. When you have Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, that tends to be your strategy. Ultimately, Manning isn't asked to win games, just told not to lose them.
Yet things are beginning to change in New York. Manning set personal bests with 27 touchdowns, 4,021 yards and a 93.1 quarterback rating last season, but it wasn't because of more opportunities. His 509 passing attempts were the second-fewest of his career, even though his completions and completion percentage set career highs. If Manningham, Smith, Hakeem Nicks and the rest of the receivers continue to progress, the Giants might be forced to shift their offensive philosophy. That would make Manning a much more valuable fntasy commodity. Until then, expect Manning to be the consummate game manager, and thus, mediocre fantasy option.
David Garrard, Jaguars
With the right tools to work with, we've seen that Garrard can be a successful fantasy quarterback. Just three seasons ago he threw 18 touchdowns to only three picks, while also rushing for 185 yards. His rushing yards have picked up since, mainly due to a lack of offensive protection, forcing him to run for his dear life.
Garrard seems to have a nice rapport with Mike Sims-Walker, but that about ends the wide receiver discussion. Mike Thomas had an average rookie season, and Troy Williamson still hasn't managed to shed his butter hands reputation. The result has been that Garrard tries too hard to make something out of nothing. Since his three-interception season, Garrard has thrown 23 picks to 30 touchdowns in 32 games; not much good to fantasy owners. Unless there are some serious breakout receivers, Garrard's talents are likely to once again be underutilized.
Steven Jackson, Rams
Nothing is more frustrating than being a S-Jax owner. We are talking about one of the most talented running backs in all the land, who unfortunately has absolutely ZERO help around him. When you are surrounded by a horrendous offensive line, a washed up Marc Bulger, and a receiving corps that would have trouble matching up with college football's best, defenses tend to focus on you. Thus, it comes as a miracle of epic proportions that Jackson managed 1,738 total yards last season. Not surprisingly, the Rams were allergic to the red zone, allowing S-Jax to only cross the end zone four times.
A new year brings optimism in 2010. The Rams bolstered their offensive line in the draft and used their No. 1 overall pick on Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. Keep in mind that Jackson did have offseason back surgery, which will either cure his nagging injury or result in some missed time. Typically taken near the end of the first round, Jackson is your typical risk-reward type of player this season. The offense should be slightly better, but opposing defenses still know that their one goal is to stop S-Jax.
Darren McFadden, Raiders
Not many players come into the league with the amount of hype that McFadden did. Even though he was entering a black hole commonly referred to as Oakland, DMC20's speed, quickness and pass-catching abilities were a considered a lock to help him perform as successfully as he did at Arkansas.
Fast forward two years and McFadden is on the wrong side of a platoon, has five career touchdowns, and hasn't even surpassed 900 rushing yards in two seasons. Part of the problem has been his inability to stay healthy (seven missed games in two years), and the other part is lining up behind quite possibly the worst quarterback to ever suit up in the NFL.
The Raiders aren't known to make great decisions, but allowing JaMarcus Russell to be terrible for as long as they did was a complete joke. With the lack of legitimate wide receivers adding to the misery, Oakland used a three-headed monster of McFadden, Michael Bush and Justin Fargas in 2009. McFadden never found a rhythm, and he's been inconsistent because of it.
Now Fargas and Russell are gone, Jason Campbell is in for his final chance, and McFadden finds himself with increasing pressure to perform. The receiving corps isn't any better, but the O-line is healthier than it was a year ago. McFadden isn't anybody that should be reached for, but there is some upside. Consider Bush the most fantasy friendly Raiders running back while McFadden is nothing more than a late-round gamble.
Pierre Thomas, Saints
It's tough to complain about a guy who scores eight touchdowns and gains nearly 1,100 total yards, but with his talent and skill set, you'd think you were looking at a fantasy superstar. Problem is, the Saints offense utilizes every player almost equally, making it difficult for Thomas to be the center of attention. In fact, Thomas was given 15 or more carries only twice the entire 2009-10 season. In his three-year career he has only two 20-carry games. For a guy averaging 5.1 yards per carry on 328 rushing attempts, you can only imagine what he could do with 250 carries in a season. Even so, Mike Bell is gone and this finally might be the year that Thomas becomes the focal point of the Saints offense. Key word: might.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks
It's a bit perplexing when Houshmandzadeh goes from three consecutive 90-catch seasons in Cincinnati to 79 in his first year in Seattle. While many consider his debut with the Seahawks to be a bust, he actually gained 911 yards, seven more than in his final season with Cincinnati. Still, Housh went from a 7-10 touchdown guy to three in the Pacific Northwest. Better utilized as a secondary option due to his precise route-running skills, Seattle was banking on him being their No. 1 receiver. With an aging Matt Hasselbeck (who was injured most of the season) and a group of backups, it's no wonder that Houshmandzadeh put up such poor numbers. The running game doesn't scare anybody, and John Carlson has become the bailout option on broken plays. Unfortunately, Houshmandzadeh is out of his element in Seattle, and the 32-year-old wide receiver will have trouble topping 900 yards and four touchdowns. Think WR3 at best.
Eddie Royal, Broncos
It's no surprise that Royal went from 91 receptions and 980 yards with Jay Cutler at the helm to 37 and 345 with Kyle Orton slinging him the rock. Royal even managed to finish 2009-10 with a goose egg in the touchdown department. Now, with the quarterback situation even more unsettled and Brandon Marshall jettisoned to Miami, Royal must be the man. While this might seem good news for fantasy owners, it also means that his speed becomes something defenses will game plan against. It will be near impossible for him to put up a season as dismal as last year, but that still doesn't mean he will have much value. Denver is simply a locale he won't be able to find himself open until he gets some offensive help.
Lee Evans, Bills
Evans is fast. Really fast. When a receiver is really fast, it typically means that he needs a quarterback that has both a laser, rocket arm and a bit of accuracy. In the case of Trent Edwards, he has the strength, but not the control. Evans is routinely overthrown, and his stats have reflected that. Prior to last season, Evans had an 80-plus yard catch in three-straight seasons, and averaged at least 15.0 yards per catch in each of his five seasons. Last year, with Terrell Owens roaming opposite, Evans' long reception was 50 yards and his average yards per catch was 13.9.
As a deep-ball threat, Evans needs another receiver to roam the middle of the field and take some attention away from him. Unfortunately, the Bills have no such option. Opposing secondaries need look no further than shutting down Evans when coming up with schemes. As the only red zone receiving option, Evans has WR2 upside, but matching his 1,292-yard, eight-touchdown 2006-07 season seems like a longshot.
Greg Olsen, Bears
Olsen set career highs with 60 receptions, 612 yards and eight touchdowns last season, but that was with Ron Turner as offensive coordinator. Now Mike Martz has assumed control and it's no surprise that he prefers a tight end that can block. Olsen can't. While both Martz and Olsen have said the politically correct things this offseason, the Bears' signing of Brandon Manumaleuna shows just how much Martz thinks of Olsen's blocking abilities. At quick glance, owners may notice his improvement in three-straight seasons, but Olsen is in line for a serious decline in playing time this year. He's a solid red zone target, but he won't come close to the 80-reception season that many thought would occur a year ago.
Brad Rysz writes fantasy baseball, basketball and football for RotoExperts.com. E-mail him your questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Brad on Twitter @bradrysz.