Every year I make a list of fantasy players that I believe will be overrated or underrated. If you are an expert fantasy football player, there is no such thing as an overrated or underrated player. You have a projection in mind for someone and you take the emotion out of which player you should be selecting with that pick. However, there are new players to fantasy football each year and a lot of them think that big name players are the ticket to winning championships.
While all of these players could contribute to a fantasy team, their name is much bigger than where they should be drafted. They are players that I feel novice fantasy football owners will take too early, due to their big name.
1) QB Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos) – I am not knocking Manning as a player. He is a first ballot Hall of Fame player and one of the premier quarterbacks ever to wear a NFL uniform. In fantasy, you do not care about 1998 to 2010. You care about the year he missed in 2011, the four neck surgeries he has had since then and the new team he is playing with in Denver.
Manning is no longer playing football in a dome and will be playing in more nasty elements this season than any season in his entire career. There also is no Hall of Fame receiver on the roster that he can count on for big numbers. That does not mean one of those young receivers could not step up, but it adds to the uncertainty.
I would never say that he cannot have a great year, but his name recognition is going to cause him to be drafted much higher than he should be by inexperienced fantasy players. He is a borderline QB1, not a slam dunk QB1 that should be taken in the second round. He probably will not be on any of my teams this year, because he will be long gone before I consider the risk worth the reward.
2) WR Randy Moss (San Francisco 49ers) – Same thing as Manning; Hall of Fame player that you are not going to be sure if he is past his prime or has another good year left in the tank. Unlike Manning, you also have to worry if his head is into playing football. The reports out of San Francisco are that he looks amazing, but we will see when he starts playing against NFL competition. All I know is that he does not have a premier quarterback in Alex Smith and the 49ers like to run the ball and play tough defense. They added a slew of skill position players this off-season and still have TE Vernon Davis in the fold.
I just do not envision Moss seeing 8-12 targets per game; they are going to use him as a decoy to open up things for the running game and open up the middle of the field to Davis. They will pick their spots to go long to him with a quarterback whose weakness is the deep throw. Moss has never excelled in the decoy role and tends to lose interest in playing when he is not the featured weapon. Do not expect numbers like he put up in New England from 2007 to 2009; expect the 2010 numbers when he played in New England and Minnesota. Hopefully for fantasy owners, he does not turn in a performance as he did in Tennessee; otherwise, he is not even draft worthy. His name says a mid-round pick; he is more likely going to be a WR4 or WR5.
3) RB Steven Jackson (St. Louis Rams) – I was nervous about putting him on here again this year, because I have been pounding the gavel that he is due for an injury prone campaign for the last 2 years. He finished 14th among running backs in 2010 and 11th among fantasy running backs in 2011. He has managed 2,386 yards rushing and 11 rushing touchdowns in that time. He adds to his fantasy totals with 716 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown over the last two seasons. That was more than I expected from Jackson.
I hate their offense and I hate their win / loss record. They have won three or fewer games four of the last five seasons and their best showing on offense in that time was 26th in points scored back in 2010. He plays on a team that is behind all the time and now he is a 29-year old player with 2,138 career rushes. I would not mind him as a flex option; many owners are going to value him as a RB2. I may be wrong on him again this year, but I would point out that he has eclipsed 1,250 yards rushing once since 2006 and has also eclipsed six touchdowns once since 2006. You are not going to lose your league if you pass on Jackson, but you could handicap yourself if you rely on him to be a starting running back every week.
4) RB Michael Turner (Atlanta Falcons) – This one is also an age concern. He is light on the career rushing attempts with 1,487, but he turned 30-years old in February. Turner has taken a pounding the last four years, leading the league in rushing attempts twice and eclipsing 300 rushing attempts three of his four seasons in Atlanta.
Last year featured a lot of uninspiring performances, especially in the second half of the season. He had a five-week stretch from Week 11 to Week 15 where he scored only one rushing touchdown, did not eclipse 80 yards rushing and did not eclipse 3.7 yards per carry. He had nine games where he failed to reach eclipse 3.8 yards per carry last season and had eight games where he failed to score a touchdown. Combine that with the fact that he has no value as a pass catcher and that the Falcons are talking about limiting his carries this year; you have a recipe for a decline. He is still worthy of a low RB2 to flex option, just not the RB1 label that he has carried for the last four seasons in Atlanta.
5) QB Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles) –
The name of the game with him is that he is one of the most popular players in the league that also has injury proneness. He is a fantastic fantasy player that can put up numbers with both his arm and his feet. The problem is that he runs too much and does not have the frame to withstand the pounding. He has only played 16 games in a season once, back in 2006. At 32-years old, he is going to find it more difficult to stay healthy taking those hits.
For fantasy owners, it is a double-edged sword. What made him appealing in Philadelphia was the 676 yards rushing and nine rushing touchdowns he scored in 2010. What did not make him appealing last year were the three missed starts that slowed him down while he was trying to gain those yards and score those touchdowns. If I am going to take a quarterback in the first or second round, I do not want to have to take another one in the fifth or sixth round as an insurance policy for when he misses two or three games with injury. He will put up two or three amazing games next year and will finish around the Top 10 in fantasy points scored. If you take him, you had better have a good backup, because he will probably miss at least three games with injury. If you do not have a good backup, you will be at a huge disadvantage when he takes a big hit and is sidelined.
6) Pittsburgh Steelers Defense – When you think of the Steelers, you think of intimidating defense. Fortunately, for fantasy owners, the Steelers usually have also been an elite fantasy defense, so you usually do not have to differentiate between the two. That did not materialize last year. The Steelers did allow the fewest yards in the NFL (271.8 per game) and the fewest points per game (14.2). They only had 35 sacks (tied for 17th) and only 11 interceptions (24th). The result was that the Steelers had the 28th ranked fantasy-scoring defense.
It may surprise some people that the Minnesota Vikings (allowed 28.1 points per game and 358.2 yards per game) finished 16th in fantasy scoring defense, but that is what an extra 15 sacks will do for a fantasy defense. Fantasy defenses are not rewarded for low point and yardage totals, fantasy points are scored on sacks and turnovers. The Steelers used the draft to improve their offensive line in the early rounds and they lost several veterans on defense to move under the salary cap. Until they force more sacks and turnovers, they are not an elite fantasy defense, something that may be hard to identify for the casual fantasy player who takes them as one of the first defenses off the board.
7) RB Frank Gore (San Francisco 49ers) – This is not pick on the 49ers hour; I love their team and think they have a good chance to make a deep playoff run this year. Teams do not add two running backs in the off-season, unless they are thinking of limiting the starter’s carries. The 49ers already had RB Kendall Hunter and RB Anthony Dixon to spell Gore. They went and added RB Brandon Jacobs in free agency and drafted Oregon RB LaMichael James in the second round.
Gore has typically been a featured running back that can be relied upon for 220 to 250 rushing attempts and 50 receptions. The 49ers relaxed his role in the passing game last year, as he had only 17 receptions, his lowest since his rookie season (15) when he started only one game. The backfield is becoming very crowded and Gore turned 29-years old. Expect him to be a weak RB2 to strong flex play this year. I doubt he will see enough touches to be the RB1 that he has been for the majority of his career.
8) RB Trent Richardson (Cleveland Browns) – I have seen rankings that have him listed as a Top 12 running back. There are a few problems with that ranking. First, he plays in the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens were second in rushing yards allowed, the Pittsburgh Steelers eighth and the Cincinnati Bengals 10th. Second, the Browns are likely to start rookie QB Brandon Weeden this year. Third, the Browns leading receiver last year was Greg Little, who had 61 receptions for 709 yards and two touchdowns.
Richardson is a great talent. He also has no established quarterback or other skill position players on his offense. Teams are going to put eight men in the box and force the Browns to beat them with the pass. It is possible that Richardson could duplicate RB Peyton Hillis and his 2010 campaign, where he had 1,177 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. The difference with Hillis is I could pick him up off waivers after Week 1, I did not need to use a first or second round pick to acquire him. There are too many questions around the offense for me to use that high of a pick on Richardson. In dynasty leagues, Richardson is a must own first round pick. In seasonal leagues, I would wait a year before I took him in the first or second round. There are more sure bets than Richardson playing in that offense.
9) QB Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins) – There is a lot of Cam Newton fever going on this year with RGIII. Because Newton had a dominant rookie season in fantasy, many people are trying to find the next big rookie sensation at quarterback. RGIII looks the part, because he can throw, but also create big plays with his feet. I have seen him ranked in the Top 15 in preseason rankings.
There are a couple differences with the Panthers and the Redskins; mainly the Redskins do not have Steve Smith. Smith became a non-factor in Carolina once the quarterback situation imploded, but Smith’s talent was as good as ever. When this guy is healthy and has a competent NFL quarterback, he is a difference maker. RGIII has some nice tools, but WR Pierre Garcon and WR Santana Moss are not on the same level as Smith. In addition, Newton outweighs RGIII by about 25 pounds, so I would not expect Griffin to have 14 rushing touchdowns this year. Newton is a very special player that had an amazing rookie campaign. I expect RGIII to be a very special player, but I also think it will take him a year or two to become fantasy relevant. Do not let the high jersey sales and hype cause you to overdraft a prospect that is probably not ready to be dominant in his rookie season.
10) WR Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- Jackson was tailor made for the San Diego Chargers vertical passing offense. He was a big body that could run down the field and make plays with his big frame. He also had TE Antonio Gates next to him, which prevented teams from doubling him with safety help. It also helps to have QB Philip Rivers, who until last year was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a different situation. Their best tight end is newly acquired Dallas Clark, who was a great tight end in his prime, but has been injured and is no longer an elite talent. The Buccaneers want to be a team committed to the run that mixes in the passing game. I do not expect them to be as aggressive in the vertical passing game as San Diego has been in recent years. Expect numbers similar to Anquan Boldin when he changed from the pass heavy Arizona system to the more run oriented Baltimore system. I could see 800-900 yards receiving and 5-6 touchdown receptions this year, which is not worth a high fantasy selection. Jackson is no longer the WR1 prospect that he was the past couple seasons.