This is one of my least favorite columns to write. That's because there's no real way to be right.
We're talking about busts, and if the guys listed in this column pan out as I expect, then they failed. It's disappointing because Fantasy owners are still going to draft them, some as starting options, and we don't want to see players falter.
And if these players succeed, well, then I was wrong. And I'll never hear the end of it.
Unfortunately, players don't always live up to expectations. It all depends on where they are drafted and how they perform throughout the season. The key is value.
If you land the following players in the right round then you'll be fine. But if you reach for some of these players or overvalue them, your Fantasy team could be in trouble.
Here are 10 players heading into training camp who have the chance to disappoint owners this season. We'll be taking another stab at this prior to the start of the season to give you an updated version following preseason action, and you can check out my sleepers and breakouts here.
Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers: Kaepernick was set up to be a star this season. He was coming off a Super Bowl run and looked like a potential Fantasy standout based on how he finished last year in just 10 starts, including the playoffs. But losing Michael Crabtree (Achilles) for the majority of the year is a tremendous blow based on how much Kaepernick relied on his No. 1 receiver. During those 10 starts, Crabtree had 61 catches for 880 yards and eight touchdowns. That accounts for 36.6 percent of Kaepernick's yardage and 57.1 percent of Kaepernick's touchdowns. He also targeted Crabtree 94 times. His next most-targeted receivers were Vernon Davis and Randy Moss, who tied at 39. Now, Kaepernick will adjust without Crabtree. The addition of Anquan Boldin is solid, and Davis will play a bigger role than last year. The 49ers also could get a surprise performance from one of their other receivers like A.J. Jenkins or an injured Mario Manningham. And keep in mind that Kaepernick is a skilled runner, which boosts his Fantasy value. But without Crabtree his passing stats won't look as good, and he could struggle. I don't consider Kaepernick a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback coming into the season.
I'd rather draft: Russell Wilson, Tony Romo, Eli Manning
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars: There's a lot to like about Jones-Drew when healthy. He's only 28 and has at least 1,600 total yards and seven touchdowns in each of his last three full seasons prior to 2012. He doesn't have much competition for carries with only Justin Forsett and maybe Denard Robinson potentially taking him off the field. And he's motivated based on last year's Lisfranc injury, which cost him 10 games, and earning a new contract. Then why is he on this list? I'm leery of his health since he hasn't been able to work out with the team yet this offseason and was reportedly out of shape. If he can return to 100 percent and looks good during training camp then I'll remove him from here and draft him in Round 2. But heading into training camp he's someone I would avoid until Round 3 at the earliest. I fear a setback with his foot problem, and I need proof that he's back to being an elite rusher before I can count on him this year.
I'd rather draft: Chris Johnson, DeMarco Murray, Reggie Bush
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers: Mathews is saying all the right things this offseason, and the new coaching staff in San Diego is also behind him. Coach Mike McCoy told me at the NFL owners meetings in March that Mathews "had some bad luck the past couple of years" with injuries, and "he's going to be a great fit for this system." That's good to hear, but it's clear Mathews will have a limited role. Danny Woodhead was brought in to play on passing downs, and the Chargers still have Ronnie Brown on the roster. That means Mathews is a two-down running back. He's also injury prone along the lines of Darren McFadden, and he suffered two broken clavicles in 2012. There's a lot to like about Mathews in terms of talent, but Fantasy owners are clearly running out of patience. If you can land Mathews in Round 6 or later as your No. 3 running back or even a flex option then that's OK. But if you target him as a weekly starter then your Fantasy team is in trouble. From what we saw last year, Mathews might not have what it takes to be a legitimate contributor.
I'd rather draft: Le'Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Shane Vereen
Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers: Lacy has a tremendous opportunity in front of him to be the starting running back in Green Bay. But don't overestimate his value even if he wins the job. The Packers are still a passing team, and they have plenty of running backs to share the wealth. Lacy showed up to offseason workouts as much as 13 pounds heavier than what he played at in college. For a running back with an injury history, that's a concern. He also has to prove he's better than fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin, and the Packers will also use DuJuan Harris, James Starks and Alex Green. On top of that, the Packers haven't exactly been run dominant in recent years. You have to go back to 2009 with a healthy Ryan Grant when they last gave a running back more than 200 carries. The last two years their leading rusher had 135 (Green) and 134 (Grant) carries. Lacy is a good flex option and should be a key reserve. But he enters this season at least No. 4 on my list for rookie rushers behind Le'Veon Bell, Montee Ball and Giovani Bernard. He could fall further down that list if Franklin beats him out for the starting job, so keep an eye on what happens in training camp.
I'd rather draft: Rashard Mendenhall, Andre Brown, Giovani Bernard
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: Every year we keep waiting for Stewart to be healthy and take over this backfield. And every year we continue to be disappointed. This season looked like a great chance for Stewart to shine. DeAngelo Williams was expected to be gone, and Stewart was expected to be healthy heading into training camp. Neither happened since Williams restructured his contract, and Stewart is coming off ankle surgery, which has kept him out of offseason workouts and could limit him in training camp. He's someone I would try to avoid if possible, and I would only settle for him with a late-round pick. He had just two games last year with double digits in Fantasy points of the nine he was healthy enough to play, and he hasn't been a consistent contributor since 2009 when he had 1,200 total yards and 11 touchdowns. That seems like a long time ago, and Stewart's chances of being a solid Fantasy running back continue to dwindle.
I'd rather draft: Chris Ivory, Ahmad Bradshaw, Shane Vereen
Wes Welker, WR, Broncos: Welker is still a No. 2 Fantasy receiver, but his stats are going to take a hit going to Denver. He averaged 112 catches, 1,243 yards and six touchdowns a year in New England over six years, but that's going to dwindle. The Denver Post predicts Welker to catch 75 passes, and Welker also said if he's catching too many passes "that probably means we're in trouble." If you give Welker his yards per catch last season, which was 11.5, he'll have 863 yards with 75 receptions. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker remain vital cogs in the passing game, and even though Peyton Manning loves using his slot receiver, Brandon Stokley only had 58 targets last season for 45 catches, 544 yards and five touchdowns. Welker is clearly an upgrade over Stokley, but Thomas had 141 targets and Decker had 122. You should still draft Welker to be a potential starter, but don't get overexcited with him going to Denver to play with Manning. This move is a downgrade, and his production will decrease.
I'd rather draft: Marques Colston, Hakeem Nicks, Eric Decker
James Jones, WR, Packers: You never want to chase touchdowns when trying to gauge the value of players, and expecting Jones to be a Top 20 Fantasy receiver again this year (he was No. 15 in standard leagues in 2012) is a mistake. The rest of his stats don't match his scoring prowess. Jones led the NFL with 14 receiving touchdowns, but he had just 64 catches for 784 yards. This came despite starting 16 games, playing on 92 percent of the snaps and getting the benefit of Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings battling injuries. He had 98 targets, which was second on the team, but placed him at No. 40 among receivers in the NFL. He only had three games with more than seven targets, and he benefitted from four games with multiple touchdowns. His best asset was converting in the red zone with 11 touchdowns in 19 attempts, but Nelson back at 100 percent and a motivated Jermichael Finley will cut into that production, along with an improved running game and the continued development of Randall Cobb. I would expect Jones to get more catches and yards this season with Jennings gone, but his touchdowns could get cut in half. He's a solid No. 3 Fantasy receiver, but don't value him as a starter or you will be disappointed.
I'd rather draft: Steve Smith, Danny Amendola, Torrey Smith
Mike Wallace, WR, Dolphins: The Dolphins added a much-needed weapon in Wallace as a big free-agent signee from the Steelers, but it's hard to count on him as a must-start Fantasy option. He's still too boom or bust, and he gets a downgrade in quarterback from Ben Roethlisberger to Ryan Tannehill. Last year, Wallace had a down year with 64 catches for 836 yards and eight touchdowns. He had just one game with a touchdown in his final six outings and two games with 100 receiving yards on the year. The same thing happened to him in 2011 when he had one game with a touchdown in his final seven outings and four games with 100 receiving yards. There's a pattern here, and maybe he changes that with a change of scenery, but you're going to get frustrated with Wallace. Some weeks he'll be awesome and other games he'll disappear. If you consider him a No. 3 Fantasy receiver then you're in good shape, but if you think going from Pittsburgh to Miami will help his value then you're mistaken. He's just not consistent enough to start on a weekly basis.
I'd rather draft: Torrey Smith, Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin
Danario Alexander, WR, Chargers: Alexander was reborn in San Diego last season with a stellar nine-game stretch to close the season. He had 37 catches for 658 yards and seven touchdowns over that span and looked like a bona-fide star. But it will be hard to count on Alexander to replicate that production again. He's had trouble staying healthy in his career with five knee surgeries, and he was able to play at a high level in a short run, which likely saved his body from overwork. San Diego also gets reinforcements in the passing game with Vincent Brown healthy and rookie Keenan Allen, and they will take away targets from Alexander. I love his upside, but it's hard to count on him playing at that level for 16 games (he also had two multi-touchdown games in that stretch). If you can get him as your No. 3 or even 4 receiver then that's a solid move, but don't consider Alexander a weekly starter going into the season.
I'd rather draft: Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, Tavon Austin
Greg Jennings, WR, Vikings: If the Vikings get the Jennings we saw to close the season last year then this posting is a mistake. In his final four games last season, including the playoffs, Jennings had 25 catches for 280 yards and four touchdowns. He looked like the Jennings of old and not the receiver who has battled injuries the past two years. Jennings has missed 11 games the past two seasons with knee and groin problems, and he already dealt with an ankle injury this offseason. He also gets a significant downgrade in quarterback from Aaron Rodgers to Christian Ponder, and the Vikings are run dominant compared to the pass-happy Packers. Jennings is going to be expected to replace the departed Percy Harvin, but they don't have the same skill set. Jennings can still serve as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver, but if you can get him as your No. 4 option then that's the better move on Draft Day.
I'd rather draft: Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Jeremy Maclin
|Frank Gore, RB, 49ers||He's getting to that point in his career where a breakdown is coming.|
|BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Bengals||The addition of Bernard is only going to slow down BGE even more.|
|Isaiah Pead, RB, Rams||I'd gamble on Zac Stacy or Daryl Richardson, but I have no faith in Pead.|
|Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts||He tailed off last year, which could be a sign of things to come at 34.|
|Cecil Shorts, WR, Jaguars||Bad quarterback play plus concussion history makes me leery.|
|Steve Johnson, WR, Bills||There are finally other receivers to help, but QB play is still an issue.|
|DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles||Hard to trust him after his performance the past two years.|
|Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys||Injuries have taken their toll, and the Cowboys are ready to move on.|
|Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Vikings||He's at least a year away from being a significant contributor.|
|Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers||If he can't produce when healthy then it's hard to consider him elite.|