Offseason Extra: Early busts for 2014
What I looked for in compiling this list were players who finished 2013 in the Top 24 at their respective positions, which made them starting options in 12-team leagues. These are players who I expect to falter this year, whether due to changing teams, a coaching change or a change in personnel around them.
Last year, some of the biggest busts based on their draft value were Colin Kaepernick , Robert Griffin III , C.J. Spiller , Ray Rice , Trent Richardson , Stevan Ridley , Victor Cruz , Dwayne Bowe , Marques Colston , Antonio Gates and Jared Cook . Arian Foster , Doug Martin , Julio Jones , Randall Cobb and Rob Gronkowski were also disappointments, but injuries played a significant role in their struggles.
The NFL Draft will change what happens with some of these players, but these are guys I would avoid in most leagues this season based on where they will likely be drafted.
, QB, Bengals
Dalton finished as the No. 3 Fantasy quarterback last year in standard leagues with 4,296 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and 20 interceptions and 183 rushing yards and two touchdowns. But I'm expecting him to regress this season and not finish among the Top 12 quarterbacks. For starters, Dalton is wildly inconsistent. He had just seven games with more than 20 Fantasy points, and he didn't reach that mark until Week 6. While he closed the season with a flurry with at least 23 Fantasy points in his final four games, the change in offensive coordinator from Jay Gruden to Hue Jackson will impact Dalton's outlook. The Bengals official team website reports that Jackson will likely limit Dalton's pass attempts, which were at 37 a game last season, to possibly closer to 25. We don't know if that's possible, but clearly fewer attempts mean lesser production, even with a quality receiving corps led by A.J. Green . Dalton should still be viewed as a high-end No. 2 Fantasy passer, but don't expect him to repeat his 2013 success and finish as a Top 5 quarterback. He's only worth drafting with a late-round pick in the majority of leagues.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 150-155 overall
I'd rather have: Jay Cutler , Ben Roethlisberger , Robert Griffin III
, QB, Chargers
Like Dalton, Rivers was a surprise in 2013, finishing as a Top 5 quarterback. He came in at No. 4 with 4,478 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and 72 rushing yards. Like Dalton, I don't expect Rivers to have a repeat performance. Along with several other quarterbacks pushing Rivers out of the Top 12 next season, he was too inconsistent to trust last year. He had eight games with 20-plus Fantasy points but just four in his final 11 games. The better San Diego was running the ball, the worse it was for Rivers, who attempted more than 30 passes only five times in his final 10 games. He should continue to be a solid No. 2 Fantasy quarterback and a great spot starter, but it's highly unlikely he'll repeat his success from last year. I would only take Rivers with a late-round pick in the majority of leagues, and if you start him just hope it's one of the better games compared to the way he closed last season, which was more on the quiet side.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 145-150 overall
I'd rather have: Andrew Luck , Tony Romo , Jay Cutler
, QB, Panthers
Newton has been a Top 7 Fantasy quarterback every year of his career, but that's about to change. The Panthers have torn apart his receiving corps with Steve Smith , Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell gone, and their replacements are Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood to go with tight end Greg Olsen . Once you stop laughing, also realize that Newton will enter training camp coming off ankle surgery in March, and he has a new offensive line with Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton gone. We saw Newton struggle to close the season last year with just one 20-point Fantasy outing in his final four games, and he ran less in 2013 with a career low in attempts (111), yards (585) and touchdowns (six). Coach Ron Rivera said at the NFL owners meeting in March that the Panthers will remain run-heavy -- what other choice do they have? -- and Newton could struggle. He might turn into a tremendous value on Draft Day, but go into the season with Newton as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback worth a late-round pick. He has too many red flags to consider a starting option as of now.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 120-125 overall
I'd rather have: Jay Cutler , Robert Griffin III , Russell Wilson
, QB, Eagles
Foles was amazing last year. He catapulted himself to the No. 11 Fantasy quarterback despite making just 10 starts, and from Week 9 to the end of the season he had at least 21 Fantasy points in eight consecutive games. But the loss of DeSean Jackson will hurt since Foles targeted him more than any other receiver (70 times), and he completed 71.4 percent of those passes to Jackson. The Eagles will try to replace Jackson with the return of Jeremy Maclin (ACL), and they added Darren Sproles via trade from New Orleans. Riley Cooper is back, and Zach Ertz should take on a bigger role, along with LeSean McCoy out of the backfield. But keep in mind Foles had just two interceptions last season, and that number should rise significantly. With Jackson gone, the Eagles have no true deep threat to open the offense, and that could hurt Foles. He's still a Top 12 Fantasy quarterback coming into the season, but he won't be a Top 10 option and could significantly regress without Jackson. If you plan to draft Foles as your starter, you might want to pair him with a high-end backup like Rivers, Dalton or Newton.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 95-100 overall
I'd rather have: Jay Cutler , Robert Griffin III , Tony Romo
, RB, Seahawks
Lynch could be headed for a down season based on his workload from 2013. We did a full breakdown for the Super Bowl, but the theory is running backs who have over 400 touches in a season tend to fall off the following year. Lynch had 403 total touches (366 carries and 37 catches) -- including the Super Bowl -- and that might catch up with him, whether due to injury or fatigue. In the past 10 years, there were 27 times where a running back had at least 400 touches, and only five times did those running backs see an increase in Fantasy points the following season. The 22 other examples where a running back hit 400 touches had two retire and nine suffer injuries. Of the 20 times a running back played the year after getting 400 touches and saw a decline in production, 15 had their Fantasy points drop by at least 30 percent and 10 by at least 40 percent. Some will still consider Lynch a Top 5 pick, but I wouldn't draft him until Round 2. And I'm keeping a close eye on the battle for the No. 2 job in Seattle with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael , because whoever wins that role could be a sleeper next season -- and I anticipate Michael to have that job.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 5-10 overall
I'd rather have: Le'Veon Bell , Doug Martin , Montee Ball
, RB, Jets
The Jets decided to gamble on Johnson after the Titans released him in April, and his days as a featured running back are over. He will share playing time with Chris Ivory , and whether he remains the starter is irrelevant because he's not a workhorse anymore. Keep in mind, we're talking about a running back with a career-low 3.9 yards-per-carry in 2013. He still managed to finish as the No. 9 Fantasy running back last season, but that was his first Top 10 finish since 2010. He has gone three years in a row with six rushing touchdowns or less, and the only reason he was in the Top 10 last season was a career-high four receiving touchdowns (his previous high was two in 2009). He'll be 29 in September and hasn't been the same running back since his 2,000-yard season in 2009. Right now he's outside of my Top 24 running backs for 2014, and I don't plan on moving him up. I'll likely end up considering him just a flex option worth a pick in Round 5 at the earliest, but someone else can draft him. If I want the better Jets running back I'll wait another round or two later and settle for Ivory, who has more upside.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 40-45 overall
I'd rather have: C.J. Spiller , Shane Vereen , Andre Ellington
, RB, Broncos
Moreno was a good running back before the Broncos signed Peyton Manning , but he became great as the full-time starter with Manning under center. He set career highs in rushing yards (1,038), rushing touchdowns (10), catches (60) and receiving yards (548) in 2013. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and had 13 total touchdowns to finish as the No. 5 Fantasy running back in standard leagues. Moreno was also solid to close 2012, but he spent part of that season on the scout team and had trouble staying healthy early in his career. Well, Moreno has left Manning for a slight downgrade in Ryan Tannehill with the Dolphins. Miami struggled to run the ball last season (the Dolphins were No. 26 in rushing yards), but that's misleading given the offensive line issues and a new offensive coordinator this year with Bill Lazor, who is more run oriented. That said, Moreno will not finish as a Top 10 or likely even Top 20 Fantasy running back. Lamar Miller should still be a factor, and Moreno will face plenty of defenders at the line of scrimmage compared to his time in Denver. I would only draft Moreno as a flex option in Round 6.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 65-70 overall
I'd rather have: Stevan Ridley , Joique Bell , Shane Vereen
, RB, Raiders
For as bad as it seemed Jones-Drew was in 2013 -- he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry -- he still finished as the No. 20 Fantasy running back in standard leagues. He managed seven games with double digits in Fantasy points despite one game with 100 rushing yards, and this is now seven times in his eight-year career he was a Top 20 Fantasy rusher. But the move to Oakland should end that run, since Jones-Drew isn't guaranteed to be the bell-cow running back he was with the Jaguars. Darren McFadden , when healthy, should be a significant factor. And we'll find out if the Raiders plan to use promising sophomore Latavius Murray . Rashad Jennings proved the Raiders can still get plenty of production from their backfield when he started for the injured McFadden last season, but Jones-Drew is 29 and his yards per carry last year reflects his inability to dominate as in years past. I'm barely comfortable with him as a flex option, and I'd rather not draft Jones-Drew in most formats. His best days are behind him.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 60-65 overall
I'd rather have: Toby Gerhart , Rashad Jennings , Pierre Thomas
, WR, Redskins
Jackson's move to the Redskins certainly improves their receiving corps and gives Griffin a much-needed weapon to go with Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed . But Jackson is coming off a career year in catches (82) and yards (1,332), and he tied his career high in touchdowns (nine). He did this with Maclin out, and Jackson struggled the previous three seasons when he wasn't the clear-cut No. 1 option. Garcon has that role with the Redskins, and Jackson won't finish as a Top 10 Fantasy receiver like he was in 2013. I still expect Jackson to be a solid Fantasy option, but a more realistic stat line is 65 catches, 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. That puts Jackson on the cusp of a Top 24 Fantasy receiver, but it also puts him in the mix with receivers like Roddy White , Percy Harvin , Golden Tate and Emmanuel Sanders . Since Jackson's name and history will push up his draft stock, I'd rather pass on him and wait for any of these other options a round or two later. There's more upside with them over Jackson heading into the year.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 50-55 overall
I'd rather have: Roddy White , Percy Harvin , Golden Tate
, WR, Eagles
Cooper had a career season in 2013 and was rewarded with a five-year, $25 million extension. But if you look at Cooper's stats from a year ago -- 47 catches for 835 yards and eight touchdowns, all career highs -- he was only dominant for a few outings. Cooper had just four games with double digits in Fantasy points and seven games with at least eight points. He also had nine games with four Fantasy points or less. Now, without Jackson, Cooper will have to win more battles with potential No. 1 cornerbacks, especially if Maclin is not back at 100 percent. He should get more than the 84 targets he saw in 2013, which was the second-lowest among the Top 24 Fantasy receivers (Marvin Jones had 80), but he has to be more consistent with his production. Cooper is certainly capable of replicating his stats from last season, but this entire passing game makes me nervous sans Jackson. I'd settle for Cooper as a No. 4 Fantasy receiver, but you'll probably have to draft him as your third option. And I'd rather gamble on Maclin over Cooper since Maclin should benefit the most with Jackson gone.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 85-90 overall
I'd rather have: Kendall Wright , Terrance Williams , Jeremy Maclin
, WR, Jets
If you own Decker in a keeper or dynasty league then you're rooting for Michael Vick to beat out Geno Smith for the starting quarterback job. That could be the saving grace for Decker to maintain Fantasy success. For the past two seasons with Manning at quarterback, Decker averaged 86 catches for 1,176 yards and 12 touchdowns. But if you look at Decker in 2011 when he was catching passes from Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow , he had 44 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. You'd take the touchdown total, but that's likely a stretch since the Jets' leading receiver in touchdowns last year was Jeremy Kerley with three and the receiving corps as a whole combined for 13 touchdowns. That will obviously improve, but Decker's Fantasy value will take a steep decline, especially in a division with Darrelle Revis and Brent Grimes . Decker is my No. 33 receiver coming into the season, and I don't want to rely on him as a starter in any league. He's worth the gamble as a No. 3 receiver but nothing more with this move to New York.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 75-80 overall
I'd rather have: Emmanuel Sanders , Michael Floyd , T.Y. Hilton
, WR, 49ers
Boldin was tremendous from the start last year with 13 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 against Green Bay. He would finish with a surprising 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. The catches were his best total since his last season in Arizona in 2009, his yards were his best since 2006 and he last scored seven touchdowns in 2010. Now, he did most of that with Michael Crabtree out for the first 11 games of the season with an Achilles injury, but Boldin actually played well when Crabtree returned with 35 catches for 455 yards and two touchdowns in the final five games, with at least nine Fantasy points in four of those outings. Still, with Crabtree healthy, it's hard to expect Boldin to return as a Top 15 Fantasy receiver again. The good news about Boldin is you can draft him with a late-round pick, but just don't expect him to be a weekly starter now that Crabtree is back at 100 percent. If you consider him a No. 4 Fantasy receiver with the chance to be a bye-week or injury replacement, then you're in great shape.
Will likely be drafted ... Pick No. 115-120 overall
I'd rather have: Jeremy Maclin , Justin Blackmon , Terrance Williams