It is always more fun to talk about the players that we like for the upcoming season, but it is equally valuable to talk about players who will not live up to their draft status. The following is a look at some players who will not be on many of my teams given their current ADP because I think that their downside vastly outweighs their potential upside.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Believe it or not, Big Ben has been a Top 12 Fantasy quarterback just once in the last four years, when he ranked ninth in 2009. For his career, Big Ben has been a Top 12 quarterback just twice in his eight seasons, with a personal best ranking of fourth in 2007. That year was also Roethlisberger's only year with 30 touchdown passes, as he tossed 32 in that season. Since 2007, Big Ben is averaging just 20.25 touchdowns per season, which doesn't cut it in today's pass-happy league.
In 2011, Roethlisberger was tied for 12th with a 50 percent consistency rate, but among the 15 quarterbacks at 50 percent or better, he ranked dead last with only five multiple touchdown games. To score more, you need to be a bigger factor in the red zone. Big Ben tied for 16th last year with 70 red zone opportunities and was tied for 15th with 15 red zone touchdowns. The real issue in the red zone is that Ben's red zone chances represented just 13.6 percent of his overall attempts. Elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers received 16.3 (Brees) to 20 percent (Rodgers) of their chances inside of the opponent's 20 yard line.
If Ben gets up to those levels he will easily pick up another five touchdowns yearly, which could help him get back into the Top 12. That is a big if, however, as Ben will no doubt be dealing with injuries (ankle and rotator cuff already), a holdout (Mike Wallace), the retirement of his best red zone weapon (Hines Ward) and a new offensive coordinator (Todd Haley). I'll take my shot with Robert Griffin III if I end up with the 12th quarterback on Draft Day, because his upside is much greater than Ben's headed into 2012.
My projection: 4,167 yards, 27 TDs, 14 INTs; 98 rush yards, one TD
Early-August ADP: 12th QB
I'd take him: 13th QB
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Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals: I know that Dalton is not a Top 12 quarterback on anybody's draft board, but he is a popular sleeper pick as a backup after finishing 14th as a rookie in 2011. A closer look at his numbers shows that he lacks the explosiveness you want in today's Fantasy quarterback. Of the 15 quarterbacks who posted at least a 50 percent consistency rate in 2011, Dalton ranked last or tied for last in big games (two), 250 yard passing games (five), 300 yard passing games (two) and had the second lowest total of games with multiple touchdowns with six. Dalton averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt last year, 24th among qualifying quarterbacks, so clearly he still has plenty of room for improvement.
Even with improvement, I am not optimistic about Dalton's stats because the Bengals are still a run-first team (20th in pass attempts, 10th in rushing attempts). I am going to pass on Dalton this year altogether because I don't think he has a chance to finish in the Top 12 and there are at least 10 other backup quarterbacks I'd rather have.
My projection: 3,699 yards, 24 TDs, 12 INTs; 90 rush yards
Early-August ADP: 20th QB
I'd take him: 23rd QB
Michael Turner, RB, Falcons: Turner has slowed down in the second half of each of the last two years and I think the Falcons are moving to more of a passing attack. In 2010, Turner was held under 4.0 yards per carry in six of his final nine games and posted a 3.7 yards per carry average during that span. Last year, Turner averaged just 3.7 yards per carry again from Week 9 to Week 16 until he blew up against a Tampa Bay team that had quit on its coach in a meaningless Week 17 game. In those eight games from Week 9 to Week 16, Turner had only one game of 100 yards rushing (he had five in his first seven games) and was held under 65 yards rushing four times. He scored just three touchdowns in those games and was the 19th-ranked Fantasy running back at a time when the Falcons' offense was playing better than ever thanks to Matt Ryan and the passing game.
To put it into a full-season perspective, Turner ran for 547 yards (68.3 per game) and was on pace for a season with basically 1,100 yards rushing and six touchdowns. The scariest part about his 19th-place ranking is that Turner was sixth among all runners with 146 carries during that span, so the decline did not come from a lack of opportunities. At 30 years of age, it is no surprise Turner is slowing down since he has 300-plus carries in three of the last four seasons. I am not expecting another 1,300-yard rushing season from Turner this year and there is more talk than usual about limiting his touches, including an outright declaration from his coaches that he will not have 300 carries this year. The one area where Turner should continue to produce is in the touchdown department, but we are seeing red flags there too. Only Turner and Adrian Peterson have at least 10 touchdowns in each of the last four years and he remains a top goal line option in terms of opportunities.
Turner led the league with 28 goal line chances in 2011, but his 32.1 percent scoring rate (ranked 15th among the 25 busiest backs inside the five yard line) left a lot to be desired. After scoring on a league high 62 percent of his goal line chances in 2008 and 2009, Turner has been under 38 percent in each of the last two seasons with last year's 32.1 percent representing the worst of his career. I strongly prefer him as a second running back for your teams and I don't think he will end up on many of my squads because all of the warning signs point to a decline. Turner does not have a ton of upside given his current ADP and I'd be sure to throw his backup Jacquizz Rodgers on your sleeper list this year.
My projection: 260 carries, 1,136 yards, 10 TDs; 14 catches, 103 yards
Early-August ADP: 12th RB
I'd take him: 15th RB
Frank Gore, RB, 49ers: This offseason, the 49ers added Brandon Jacobs via free agency and drafted LaMichael James in the third round of the NFL Draft with the intention of limiting Gore's workload so he can be fresh for the team's playoff run. After a close examination of Gore's 2011 season you can see why the Niners made that decision. In his first seven games last year, Gore ran for 675 yards with five touchdowns on 4.8 yards per carry. He posted four games of 100 yards rushing and averaged a very healthy 96.4 yards per game. In the last nine games of the year, Gore ran for only 536 yards and three touchdowns on a paltry 3.7 yards per carry. He had no 100 yard rushing games and picked up just 59.6 yards per game. Clearly Gore started to wear down as the year went on and the 49ers have gone to great lengths to ensure that it does not happen again.
Last year, Gore averaged a combined 11 yards per rush and catch (4.3 and 6.7 respectively), which is a full two yards under his previous career low of 13. So clearly, the surgically repaired man is slowing down. Finally, Gore is losing looks in the passing game under the Jim Harbaugh regime. Prior to Harbaugh's arrival, Gore averaged 51 catches for 430 yards and two scores per season. Last year, Gore caught just 17 passes for 114 yards and did not score a single touchdown. In fact, Gore saw 20 fewer targets (31) in 2011 than he averaged catches (51) from 2006 to 2010. On a per game basis, Gore went from averaging 5.3 targets, 3.6 receptions and 30.7 yards receiving each week to just 1.9 targets, 1.06 receptions and 7.1 yards per game in 2011. That is a massive dropoff in one year and when you consider that the team is likely to reduce Gore's time on the field, you have to wonder just how potent he can be.
Let's say Gore touches the ball 240 times (15 per game) this year, I would think that a best case scenario in terms of total yardage would be the 1,300 total yards that he produced on 249 touches in 2010. Even that could be a stretch though because over 450 of those yards came via the passing game and last year he touched the ball 299 times but produced only 1,325 total yards. Gore will have to pay his bills at the goal line and it will be very important to see if he keeps that job or if the team turns it over to either LaMichael James or Brandon Jacobs. Gore would have 8-10 touchdown potential as the goal line back in 2012, but even his scoring metrics were troubling in 2011. Last year, he was third in the NFL in both red zone chances with 61 and goal line chances with 22, but Gore was bottom five in both red zone (11.5 percent) and goal line (27.3 percent) touchdown rates.
Decreasing opportunities combining with declining efficiency is never a good recipe for production. The 49ers are hoping that by reducing Gore's workload he will be more efficient over the course of the full 2012 season, but that will not help Fantasy owners. Keep in mind that Gore has just one Top 10 season in his last four and he has missed nine games during that span, so his durability is a question mark as well. Gore's upside is a Top 15 finish at the running back spot, but he has plenty of downside and is much more likely to fall out of the Top 20.
My projection: 210 carries, 985 yards, seven TDs; 25 catches, 183 yards, one TD
Early-August ADP: 18th RB
I'd take him: 21st RB
Interesting Mike Shanahan facts, RBs, Redskins: I do like Evan Royster this year and will take the chance on him given his current ADP (or even Roy Helu if his ADP starts to fall into the 40s at running back), but you should be aware that Mike Shanahan has not been great for Fantasy running backs in his last five seasons. Believe it or not, Shanahan has not had a single running back exceed 750 yards rushing or five rushing touchdowns in four straight seasons. In fact, you would have to go back to Tatum Bell in 2006 to find the last 1,000-yard rusher for a Shanahan team.
Perhaps even more shocking is that Shanahan has not coached a top 24 running back since 2005, when Mike Anderson ranked 10th and Tatum Bell was 22nd. That means in his last five seasons, there has not been a Shanahan coached running back who has delivered the goods over the course of a full season, which is definitely something to think about on Draft Day.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs: Bowe has been a Top 20 Fantasy receiver in each of his last three full seasons, with his best season coming in 2010, when he caught 72 passes for 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns to finish as the second-ranked receiver. I was skeptical about his touchdown production being repeatable and was not too surprised to see Bowe fall to five touchdowns in 2011. After all, if you take away the 2010 season (which was also an anomaly for Matt Cassel), Bowe has totaled just 21 touchdowns in his other 59 NFL games. Bowe had a career-low 17.3 percent red zone scoring rate in 2011 after posting three straight years at 30 percent or better.
Given that the Chiefs do not average 200 yards passing per game with Cassel under center, touchdowns are critical to Bowe's value. He does not have a single 1,200-yard season under his belt and that is not likely to change, so he needs to snag eight touchdowns to be a Top 20 receiver. I am also worried about his contract dispute and the impact that missed time could have on his chemistry with Cassel, who is returning from an injury himself. Outside of a freakish year like 2010 when Bowe caught an unsustainable 55 percent of his team's touchdowns, how much upside is there for a receiver on a team who wants to run it 550 times this year and has a quarterback averaging 199 yards and one touchdown passing per game? That lack of upside is why I rank Bowe as a steady but lower-tier second receiver or even a third receiver for your teams.
My projection: 74 catches, 1,096 yards, six TDs
Early-August ADP: 22nd WR
I'd take him: 27th WR
Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers: I love what Jackson's move to Tampa Bay will do for quarterback Josh Freeman, but I am not as excited about what it means for V Jax's individual prospects. Jackson has topped 60 catches only once in his career and does not yet have a 1,200-yard season under his belt. If you were to take Jackson's career catch rate and adjust his yards per target average for the expected decrease with Freeman under center, he will need to set a career high in targets just to produce 1,000 yards this year. In San Diego, Philip Rivers completed 65 percent of his passes over the last four years and Jackson caught 58 percent of his targets. Rivers also averaged an NFL best 8.4 yards per target during that span, so Jackson's 10.5 was still a significant jump, but it was a net 2.1 yards per play gain. When you consider that Josh Freeman averaged 6.5 yards per attempt last year, Jackson would have to be 3.5 yards per attempt better than his quarterback to get back to 10 yards per target. I don't see that happening because Freeman's strength has been in the short to intermediate passing game, whereas Jackson is primarily a vertical receiver.
Receivers that switch teams and sign big deals have had very disappointing first seasons in the past and I think Jackson will fall into that trap. This will be a run first team, so getting to 130 targets will be very tough for Jackson. In the Josh Freeman era, no receiver has had 130 targets or 1,000 yards in a season for the Bucs and they have not even had a single season with two receivers over 70 targets. That's why I expect Jackson to barely reach 1,000 yards, if he does so at all. In Tampa, Jackson will also be hard pressed to match the 8.67 touchdowns per season that he averaged with the Chargers, which is why Jackson is a third receiver, not a Top 20 option -- in my mind -- on Draft Day.
My projection: 62 catches, 1,005 yards, seven TDs;
Early-August ADP: 22nd WR
I'd take him: 30th WR
Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers: In addition to his contract squabble, which is costing Wallace valuable time learning Todd Haley's offense, I have some concerns about the speedy receiver headed into 2012. The biggest of those concerns is that when teams took away his deep ball over the second half of 2011, it completely crushed his Fantasy value. In his first eight games last year, Wallace topped 100 yards four times, was never below 70 yards, caught five touchdowns and was the fourth ranked Fantasy receiver. He totaled 43 catches for 800 yards (18.6 yards per catch) and five scores in those games. In his final eight games, Wallace did not have a 100 yard game, was held below 70 yards seven times, scored three touchdowns and was the 32nd ranked Fantasy receiver. He totaled just 29 catches for 393 yards (13.5 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. To drop for 800 yards in eight games to 393 yards in eight games in the same calendar year is a definite red flag to me.
Wallace will really need to improve his short and intermediate route running to overcome this and while it is entirely possible, we have seen other home run based receivers like DeSean Jackson have wild fluctuations in their yearly value. Todd Haley knows how to get the ball down the field to his receivers, so I think Wallace will find a happy medium between those two half-seasons. But it is pretty clear that without the deep ball he is a pedestrian producer. The hold out is doing Wallace no favors at all and I strongly prefer him as a second receiver for your teams due to the up and down nature of a receiver who relies on the long bomb for the bulk of his production.
My projection: 62 catches, 1,150 yards, seven TDs
Early-August ADP: 13th WR
I'd take him: 20th WR
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Falcons: At some point, Father Time has to catch up to this ageless wonder, and 2012 very well could be that time. When Julio Jones and Roddy White were on fire to end the 2012 season, Gonzo was limping home with just seven catches for 73 yards in his last three games combined. He did not score a touchdown in his last seven games including the playoffs after scoring seven times in his first 11 games last year. Gonzo averages just 10.3 yards per catch as a Falcon, the second lowest among the tight ends with 100 catches during that span, so he needs a high volume of catches to succeed. I think his 2010 totals of 70 catches for 656 yards and six touchdowns are much more likely than another season of nearly 900 yards and seven scores.
With Julio Jones playing a bigger role this year, especially in the red zone, look for Gonzo to see a decrease in his targets (116, sixth at tight end) and red zone targets (21, fifth at tight end). He will be solid, but unspectacular, and I think he will find a middle between his two games of 60 yards in 2010 and his explosion to nine games of 60 yards in 2011, which was third at the position. I don't personally see a lot of upside in him and I'd rather be out a year early than in a year too late given that there are many younger tight ends in good offenses that have more potential to me. For example, he is being drafted right around Fred Davis this year and I'd take Davis 100 times out of 100.
My projection: 65 catches, 712 yards, six TDs
Early-August ADP: 9th TE
I'd take him: 11th TE