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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
2014 Fantasy Football Sleepers
Knile Davis - RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Davis is about as important a handcuff as you’ll find in the league. Davis would impact fantasy standings if Jamaal Charles goes down at any point. Davis picked up 81 yards and two TDs on 27 carries when Charles was resting Week 17 last season.
Terrance West - RB, Cleveland Browns
The rookie will need to beat out veteran Ben Tate for touches, but his upside is enormous. Browns running back coach Wilbert Montgomery recently told reporters, ''He has that Ricky Watters, Walter Payton, lure-you-to-sleep-on-the-sideline move that I can accelerate or play like I’m going to accelerate and come back inside. Those are traits I haven’t seen in a while.''
Dri Archer - RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s possible that the undersized third-round pick is restricted to kick return duty in his rookie year. It’s also possible that Archer emerges as a dynamic RB/WR who could score anytime he touches the ball.
Lache Seastrunk - RB, Washington Redskins
The Baylor product is behind Alfred Morris and Roy Helu on the depth chart and has developed a reputation for having awful hands. He actually dropped 10 balls and only caught nine during his two years in college. That said, Seastrunk’s running ability would make him a fantasy asset if Morris goes down with an injury.
Ka’Deem Carey - RB, Chicago Bears
Carey is an all-around running back who is capable of stepping in and producing for fantasy owners if Matt Forte gets hurt. He’s the type of rookie who would be a hot commodity if he were drafted by a team without an elite running back.
Devonta Freeman - RB, Atlanta Falcons
There is a legitimate chance that Freeman will eventually start over Steven Jackson; the rookie's average draft position will skyrocket with a dominant preseason. The former FSU back should see the field a lot if he can handle pass protection.
Christine Michael - RB, Seattle Seahawks
Michael is an instant stud if Marshawn Lynch goes down. Either way, the Seahawks have hinted at a committee approach and Lynch’s brief holdout may not have helped matters for the veteran running back. Michael has the skill set to provide RB1 numbers if he receives enough carries.
Carlos Hyde - RB, San Francisco 49ers
Anyone who saw Carlos Hyde at Ohio State knew he wouldn’t get buried in San Francisco, even with a crowded backfield. He’s arguably the most talented rookie RB and is one Frank Gore injury away from fantasy stardom.
Tre Mason - RB, St. Louis Rams
Many fantasy owners are high on Zac Stacy entering the season. But ask anyone who drafted Daryl Richardson in 2013 if Jeff Fisher is afraid to make a change at running back. The dynamic rookie Tre Mason is too talented to ride the pine forever and he’d turn into a nice fantasy option if given carries.
Chris Polk - RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Even with Darren Sproles in town, Polk would hold a ton of fantasy value if LeSean McCoy were to miss time at any point. Chip Kelly’s offense turns RBs into fantasy stars and Polk is the clear-cut backup to McCoy.
Charles Sims - RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The rookie from West Virginia is expected to be an immediate handcuff to Doug Martin for fantasy purposes. Smith should contribute in passing situations early, but could steal carries from Martin as the season progresses.
Markus Wheaton - WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Wheaton is expected to inherit a starting gig with Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders gone. The sophomore from Oregon State has big-play ability and could easily emerge as a must-start fantasy option on a weekly basis.
Marqise Lee - WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lee is a candidate to lead the Jaguars in receptions as a rookie, but his competition isn’t exactly elite. He should be able to rack up catches and yards with Jacksonville expected to be playing from behind more often than not.
Kenny Stills - WR, New Orleans Saints
Stills has a ton of breakout potential coming off a rookie season in which he posted 641 yards on 32 catches with five TDs. He’s a big-play threat on ever possession and should easily surpass the 46 targets he received last season. He might only need 50 catches to score double-digit TDs.
Kelvin Benjamin - WR, Carolina Panthers
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound, No. 28 overall pick is a perfect red-zone target and he could help the Panthers win games immediately. For fantasy purposes, he’s merely a WR3 or a WR4 until he proves he can be more than just a TD-dependent gamble on a weekly basis.
Tavon Austin - WR, St. Louis Rams
As a rookie in 2013, Austin only caught 40 passes for 418 yards and never really found a true role. He’s admitted that the adjustment from college to the NFL took a toll on him and he continuously dropped passes early in the season. If things click in his second year, Austin has the skillset to be a star.
Justin Hunter - WR, Tennessee Titans
The second-year receiver showed signs of his high ceiling last season with a few big games down the stretch. Hunter has the tools to develop into a WR1 in his prime and should play a prominent role on young Titans’ offense.
Jordan Matthews - WR, Philadelphia Eagles
DeSean Jackson’s departure opens the door for Matthews to step up. The 2014 season could turn into a perfect storm for Matthews to succeed with Jeremy Maclin coming off a torn ACL and Riley Cooper coming off a career season.
Eric Ebron - TE, Detroit Lions
The Lions turned heads when they selected Ebron No. 10 overall in May’s Draft. It might take a season or two for the UNC product to reach his potential, but Ebron is an elite fantasy TE in the making. He’s been compared to Jimmy Graham and has the skillset to live up to his lofty expectations.
Ladarius Green - TE, San Diego Chargers
The 6-6, 237-pound Green is an obvious red-zone target and has the tools to be an impact fantasy option if he receives ample targets. Antonio Gates, the incumbent TE in San Diego, is 34 and slowed significantly down the stretch in 2013. Green caught 17 passes for 376 yards and three TDs last season, highlighted by a three-game stretch in which he caught nine balls for 206 yards and two scores.