Overvalued players: fantasy football busts

by Bryce McRae on August 29, 2008 @ 14:04:26 PDT

 


Each season fantasy owners lose their bid for championships due to key players not living up to expectations. In this article we detail players to avoid or not draft as highly as you may be tempted to. While we are not suggesting that every player on this list will be a complete bust, some players simply are drafted far too highly, thus earning the "overvalued" label. Every player can be drafted at the right bargain price, but you never want to be caught up in the hype machine that inevitably consumes several owners per league each year.

Editor's note: All average draft position figures are based on standard 12-team leagues.

Quarterbacks

Matt Hasselbeck | Seattle Seahawks

Wideout Deion Branch (knee) is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and may not be ready for Week 1; wideout Bobby Engram (shoulder) may miss the team's first four games. Seattle has several young receivers - Ben Obomanu, Courtney Taylor, Logan Payne and Jordan Kent - who may not be ready to step up. The tight end position could take an early hit with rookie John Carlson as the expected starter. Finally, they have a new and unimposing backfield after cutting former MVP Shaun Alexander, which could lead to instability. Hasselbeck (back) is going on average at about the same time as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb - in the middle of the sixth round. However, there is clear upside with McNabb, while with Hasselbeck, there is clear downside. New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre seems to be a safer selection, yet on average, he goes more than a full round after Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck is still a weak No. 1 quarterback.

Eli Manning | New York Giants

Don't believe the hype surrounding Manning; his numbers don't back up his high draft position. He actually regressed last year with a 3,336-23-20 line. His yardage was the only total to increase but still didn't set a career high. If not for a four-touchdown game in Week 17, he would have failed to eclipse the 20-touchdown mark. As well, Manning had almost quadrupled his fumbles lost, and his completion percentage declined. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress is not happy with his contract, and tight end Jeremy Shockey is now a member of the New Orleans Saints. Manning's Super Bowl win and pedigree could be why some owners are drafting him so early. His average draft position suggests he should land somewhere around the beginning of the eighth round - ahead of potentially more dangerous St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger and high-upside Denver Broncos passer Jay Cutler. That is simply too early for a backup fantasy quarterback.

David Garrard | Jacksonville Jaguars

Head coach Jack Del Rio might be looking for a low-key, game-managing quarterback as his starter, but game-managers are rarely associated with fantasy success. Sure, Garrard is starting, but he did not do much last year to suggest he will be anything more than a solid No. 2 fantasy quarterback. He threw more than two touchdowns just once last season (in 12 games) and surpassed the 250-yard mark just three times. Garrard has not reached 300 yards passing in a game during his career, either. The offense revolves around running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. Despite new options at wide receiver, Jerry Porter (hamstring) and Troy Williamson, don't expect Del Rio to change the offensive philosophy. Garrard, who is injury prone, does not present enough upside to bother considering as anything more than a near last resort as a No. 2. Garrard's average draft position is the ninth round, which places him ahead of more reasonable options at the position, such as the Houston Texans' Matt Schaub and Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers - two quarterbacks that have their own injury questions but play in far more prolific offenses.

Tom Brady | New England Patriots

One year after setting an NFL record with 49 touchdown passes, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning - likely taken as one of the top picks in 2005 fantasy drafts - threw for just 28 touchdowns and 3,747 yards. They're great numbers but not worth a high first-round pick. Brady is coming off a record-breaking season in which he threw for 4,806 yards and 50 touchdowns, which has him going around the middle of the first round in many fantasy drafts. Manning isn't the only passer to follow up a record-setting season with one that is merely very good. Brady never threw for more than 28 touchdowns before last year's effort. The average drop-off for quarterbacks that have thrown 40 or more touchdowns in a season is 37 percent, which suggests Brady is good for approximately 32 or 33 touchdowns. The Patriots offense might not go for broke, running up the score, as they did most of last year. Brady slowed down in the last six games and threw more than two touchdown passes in just two games during that stretch. He is worth a high pick, but don't take him in the first round. Let another owner take a risk on Brady while you secure a stud No. 1 running back.

Running backs

Ronnie Brown | Miami Dolphins

Brown (knee, thumb) was placed on Injured Reserve in Week 7 of 2007 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. It was his third straight season cut short due to injuries. It generally takes 18 months for running backs to return to their pre-injury form after an ACL injury. Early reports were encouraging, but Brown hasn't made them stick - he has been slow to heal and also sustained a minor thumb injury in a preseason contest. Such developments have opened the door for running back Ricky Williams, who has been named the No. 1 runner in Miami. As the season progresses, we could see more of Brown, but it's a gamble, and drafters will have to stash him. Owners are taking Brown early in the fourth round as a No. 2 or No. 3 back, which is way too early. He should be viewed as a No. 4 back with the possibility that he'll contribute more after the midseason mark.

Darren McFadden | Oakland Raiders

McFadden's inclusion on this list comes more as a warning than as an overvalued player. He is going in the late fourth round in most drafts; however, some owners are reaching for him as early as the second round. There is a lot to like about McFadden as a No. 3 back with upside - his speed, his versatility, his playmaking ability - but drafting him as a No. 2 back is not advised. Without a respectable passing game in place, the Raiders could find opponents regularly stacking eight men in the box to stop the run. Sharing time with running back Justin Fargas doesn't help, and you can be sure that the team is at least curious to see what they have in tailback Michael Bush. Look to draft McFadden in the late fourth or early fifth round, but don't reach for him as a No. 2 back.

Laurence Maroney | New England Patriots

Surprisingly, Maroney is not the fantasy stud you might expect in a high-octane offense such as the Patriots'. He has potential, but there are some glaring weaknesses in Maroney's fantasy value. The team's offense uses their passing game almost like a running game. They have multiple targets, which takes away from Maroney's utilizations. Running backs Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and, perhaps, even LaMont Jordan are primed to poach Maroney's touches; it has been speculated that Maroney will see only about a third of the time in the backfield. Last season Maroney finished with just 193 utilizations. As well, Maroney is injury prone, having missed a handful of games combined in his first two seasons. Head coach Bill Belichick tends to pour on his carries toward the end of the season, which will not help you much during the early part of the campaign. Maroney's average draft position puts him at about 21st overall, quite a high price. He may still be a reasonable No. 3 back - especially late in the season - but drafting him in the second round is fantasy suicide, and he may only be a fantasy No. 4 at best early in the year.

Julius Jones | Seattle Seahawks

Jones, the Dallas Cowboys' starter last year in name only, will share the backfield once again, according to head coach Mike Holmgren. However, there are reasons to be wary of Jones, especially at his current draft position of late in the sixth round. The Seahawks have a solid starting offensive line, but they lack depth. They also have two other backs that figure to steal carries from Jones. Running back Maurice Morris is entering his seventh season in Seattle and has been a dependable backup as well as moonlighting starter in the past. Running back T.J. Duckett is expected to be used as a goal line and in short-yardage situations. Jones has not reached the 100-yard mark in a game since Week 14 of the 2006 season. The Seahawks ground game did not have a 100-yard rusher after Week 3 last year, so this could be a match made in heaven - note the sarcasm. Finally, Holmgren loves to throw the ball and has full trust in veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (back). Look for him to try to rely heavily on the passing game, especially if his rush offense takes some time to gel under a new offensive line coach and with the additions. New York Jets running back Thomas Jones' younger bro is still worth drafting, but he has a long way to go to join the same conversation and should only come off the board as a No. 4.

Wide receivers

Randy Moss | New England Patriots

Congratulations if you drafted Moss last year; his 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns likely helped you to your league championship. Moss' record-breaking 2007 season has some fantasy owners taking the mercurial star in the first round. It is tough to expect Moss to put up the astronomical numbers that he did last year. The offense might not go for the jugular as it did last year, and at the very least it doesn't figure to be as prolific base on the sheer odds. He also has a new three-year contract extension, so he won't be playing for his next paycheck as he was last year. The chance of him replicating last year's insane season is microscopic. He is still the top receiver in the league, but fantasy owners should look to take him in the second round instead of his average draft spot at eighth overall. Chances are he will be overdrafted, but make sure you aren't that owner!

Hines Ward | Pittsburgh Steelers

Ward has been declining over the last three years, though you won't be able to tell from the ever-present smile on his face. He has not topped 1,000 yards in the past three seasons and managed just seven touchdowns last year. Emerging third-year wide receive Santonio Holmes looms and should steal targets from Ward. The team drafted wide receiver Limas Sweed, whose height should help in the red zone. Even if Holmes doesn't emerge, Ward is entering his 11th season and has failed to complete a season injury free since 2004. Ward's average draft position - late in the fifth round - has him going ahead of wide receivers that have more potential or don't look primed for a decline. Ward should be seen as a No. 3 receiver with minimal upside.

Calvin Johnson | Detroit Lions

There is a lot to like about Johnson, but he might still be a year or two away from living up to his potential. Johnson put together a respectable rookie campaign - 48 receptions, 756 yards, four touchdowns - despite suffering a back injury and dealing with offensive turmoil surrounding him. There are a few things to note about him. He works in a run-first offense that does not possess a strong quarterback or offensive line. Even then, he is the team's second receiver, so targets might be tough to come by. Another strike against him is that receivers generally don't make the jump until their third or fourth year. In fact, not only has he been overvalued, but his draft stock has been inexplicably on the rise. There is no denying his talent, but experience, opportunity and surroundings have to be considered. It's smarter to draft Johnson as a No. 3 receiver rather than as a No. 2. Many fantasy owners seem to be ignoring the signs, though, taking him, on average, late in the fourth round - a steep price to pay for someone with such risk. Other intriguing receivers, including his teammate, Roy Williams, often go after him.

Dwayne Bowe | Kansas City Chiefs

Bowe surprised many by putting solid numbers during his rookie season, finishing with 995 yards and five touchdowns on 70 receptions. The bulky receiver showed his potential as a possession receiver by posting four games with seven-plus receptions. However, fantasy owners are overvaluing him this year based on his No. 1 status. Don't be too quick to forget about the extenuating circumstances in Kansas City. Herman Edwards is still the head coach and favors a run-first offense. The team lacks a solid quarterback - our apologies to Brodie Croyle - which should also hurt Bowe's chances. The receiver likely lining up opposite him - Devard Darling - shouldn't draw a lot of coverage away from Bowe. There is also not much reason to expect him to improve by leaps and bounds this year - at least, no reason to view him as a No. 2 receiver. Consider him grossly overvalued at his typical draft position of the late fifth or early sixth rounds.

Vincent Jackson | San Diego Chargers

Jackson presents quarterback Philip Rivers with a huge target in the receiving game. However, Jackson doesn't sit high enough in the pecking order to justify his average draft position. The Chargers have tight end Antonio Gates (toe) as their top receiving target, and the offense is still built around All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who catches his share of balls, too. The Chargers also picked up another wide receiver, Chris Chambers, last year; he almost passed Jackson's reception totals last year in just 10 games with the team. Fantasy owners are generally looking at Jackson around the middle of the seventh round. One more proven option owners are passing up is Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss, who has a lower ADP than Jackson. Hold off on taking Jackson at this spot in fantasy drafts; he makes a mildly intriguing No. 3 and has some upside. Unfortunately, his ceiling, due to the situation around him, is lower than most people want to acknowledge.

Tight ends

Dallas Clark | Indianapolis Colts

Clark was a beast for the Colts last year, especially in the red zone. He hit paydirt 11 times and caught 58 passes for 616 yards - all career highs. However, quarterback Peyton Manning's once favorite target - wide receiver Marvin Harrison (knee) - played in just five games. Harrison appears to be returning to form, so he should eat into Clark's targets fairly heavily. Wide receivers Anthony Gonzalez and Reggie Wayne, as well as running back Joseph Addai, will get their touches, too. Clark did little before last year's breakout campaign to suggest he is a top fantasy tight end, although owners are taking him as one - in the middle of sixth round, on average. If you draft him, make sure to secure a strong backup.

Vernon Davis | San Francisco 49ers

Davis was a workout monster at the 2006 NFL Scouting Combine. His efforts earned him the sixth overall spot in that draft and many expected him to hook up with quarterback Alex D. Smith as a solid passing combination for years to come. Since his first-round selection, Davis has done little to impress the 49ers. He has missed time in both seasons, averaged 387 yards and 3.5 touchdowns per season. This year could be no different. You have to go back to tight end Ernie Conwell in the early part of this decade to find a tight end that put up decent numbers in a Mike Martz offense. Although J.T. O'Sullivan has been named the starting quarterback, consistent play at this position isn't a certainty. Davis is typically drafted as a second-tier No. 1 end in the ninth round, even though his history suggests he is overvalued. Look at him as a reasonable No. 2 tight end.

Benjamin Watson | New England Patriots

Watson has the look of a sexy pick - decent numbers and a spot in a high-octane offense. However, the offense does not boost Watson's value as some might imagine. Wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker are the primary targets. The tight end position as a whole has done well in the Patriots offense, but not a specific individual, at least from a fantasy perspective, since the days of Ben Coates. New England spreads it around a lot. Watson's touchdowns were up last year, but it's hard to imagine the offense repeating its record-setting 2007 season. His best numbers came in 2006, when he caught 49 passes for 643 yards and three touchdowns. That's weak No. 1 tight end material, not a midrange No. 1 tight end owners are drafting him as. Watson had 107 yards in a game last year, but he averaged less than 26 yards per game in every other contest, hardly befitting a dependable No. 1 tight end. Finally, Watson has missed eight games in three seasons, not including his rookie year, most of which he lost to a knee injury. The Patriots' secrecy with injuries makes following his situation even more frustrating. Fantasy owners are drafting Watson around the turn between the 10th and 11th rounds. There should be better players at other positions available at this spot and comparable tight ends available later, so hold off on Watson until later in the draft.

Place kickers

Nate Kaeding | San Diego Chargers

Since coming into the league in 2004, Kaeding has not put together the kind of resume you might expect from a top-flight place kicker. The Iowa native has averaged 26 field goal attempts per season. He connects at a high percentage (86.7 percent) but does not attempt enough to be considered an elite kicker. Fantasy owners are not following the numbers, however. Kaeding is going at the end of the 13th round in most drafts and is the second kicker off the board, on average. The Chargers offense could be good, but it has not helped Kaeding enough to warrant such a high pick. He typically does not receive enough attempts to be drafted with the elite kickers.

Adam Vinatieri | Indianapolis Colts

Perhaps the most well-known kicker in the league, Vinatieri is no longer one of the elite fantasy kickers. He suffered through his worst season last year since 2003, connecting on just 23 of his 29 attempts. He no longer has the leg strength he exhibited in his early days. Last year, he did not make any field goals longer than 39 yards, failing in his three attempts over 40 yards. A big chunk of his value comes from the 51 extra points he kicked last year. The Colts offense is dangerous, but you have to go back to former kicker Mike Vanderjagt's 37-attempt season in 2003 for the last time a Colts kicker attempted more than 30 field goals. Fantasy owners have been looking his way around the middle of the 14th round, which is a bit high considering the comparable talent likely available later.

Defensive teams

Baltimore Ravens

Linebacker Ray Lewis is another year older, as are starting cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister. With the retirements of quarterback Steve McNair and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, coupled with a new offensive philosophy, the team's offense could struggle again this year. This could leave the defense on the field longer and see them tire earlier. As well, they do not contribute as much on special teams, if you are in those types of leagues. Don't take this to mean you shouldn't draft them, but you can't expect the same defense that has been dominant in past years. View their disastrous 2007 effort as a harbinger of things to come in '08, especially considering that age is hardly on their side. Consider taking them in the final few rounds of your draft, instead of at the time of their ADP, which is around the 12th round on average.

Chicago Bears

The Bears suffer from the same problem as the Baltimore Ravens; they are a name defense that is generally overvalued in fantasy drafts. Injuries played a part in their regression last year, but the defense still finished in the bottom five in yards allowed per game and 17th in points per game. Sure, they get a boost in leagues that reward special-teams scores; return man Devin Hester continues to hurt the teams that actually kick the ball to him. However, they are no longer one of the elite defenses in the league, and you shouldn't look to them at their average draft position of midway through the 10th round. Some owners even reach for this unit in the seventh or eighth round, which is absurd given the talent available at other positions.

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About Bryce McRae

Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.

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