Be wary of Vick, Hillis
Caution is an imperative virtue to practice, as scam and swindles are commonplace in our culture. Auction sites like eBay guarantee buyer protection, as the idea of dealing with a mysterious merchant can certainly present its pitfalls. The idea of spam and junk mail was installed to ensure our hard-earned money wasn't sent to an exiled Nigerian king. Consumer reports on the nightly news warn us about rip-offs on the market to protect the customer.
With the conclusion of the NFL's labor issues hopefully on the horizon, fantasy owners are returning to their big boards and mock drafts, preparing for the glorious arrival of football. This restoration coincides with the avalanche of advice and protocol regarding the groundwork for one's league draft. While player/position rankings and sleeper guidance is essential, one piece of wisdom that is often overlooked is which players should be selected with a grain of salt.
Granted, it's hard to play Nostradamus when free-agency hasn't occurred. Or that little tidbit about the league, you know, still in the midst of a lockout. But using our best judgment on possible player upheaval, here are the players to be wary of in your upcoming draft:
The long-awaited fruition of the prodigal Vick served as a central storyline for the NFL in 2010. Despite starting just 11 games, the Eagles quarterback tossed for 3,018 yards and amassed another 676 on the ground. The avidity surrounding Vick has correlated in a paramount projection for the former Hokie, ranking ahead of Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers and Peyton Manning on most draft boards. Vick's 2010 campaign may have warranted the praise bestowed upon him by fantasy experts, and it's not irrational to envision further growth under the tutelage of Andy Reid. Yet Vick possesses a startling number of red flags for a supposed first-round fantasy pick. Owners can't disregard the conspicuous drop-off in December and January suffered by Vick, with many attributing the regression to fatigue and exhaustion. A quick breakdown of Vick's numbers (including playoff game):
First nine games: 171/268 (63.8%), 2,243 yards, 15 TDs, 2 INTs
Last four games: 82/140 (58.5%), 1,067 yards, 7 TDs, 5 INTs
It remains to be seen if Vick's defiant and dashing style of play can last the perils of an entire season, making the Philly signal caller a considerable gamble. Obviously one can't foresee injuries (unless we are discussing Anthony Gonzalez), but Vick's audaciousness in taking hits could equate to missed games. Moreover, it remains to be seen if Vick can maintain his maturity or if the rediscovered fame will capture his conscious once more. Your first pick should function as the foundation for your fantasy team. In Vick, the footing has yet to be established.
The former No. 1 overall pick is gaining classification as a top-12 pick at his position, perplexing since Stafford has played a meager 13 games in his two-year career. The Lions have given Stafford ample artillery in Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew and Jahvid Best, and the Detroit signal caller has impressed in his abbreviated appearances. But due to his durability and healthy concerns, Stafford falls into the "flyer" category rather than a projected producer. Stafford's potential can certainly correlate to a successful 2011 season, but his vulnerability is not conducive for assured attainment.
Freeman was perhaps the NFL's most improved performer last season, throwing for 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns, and surrendering just six interceptions in leading the Bucs to an unexpected 10-6 record. His jump in completion percentage (54.5 percent in '09 to 61.4 percent in '10) and QB rating (59.8 in '09, 95.9 in '10) seems to signify Freeman has an up-and-comer, and Tampa Bay has a less than arduous schedule for the upcoming campaign (non-divisional foes had a .469 winning percentage in 2010). But while his ceiling remains high, pump the breaks in regards to Freeman as a preeminent passer. Although he has some weapons at his disposal in LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow, Freeman lacks an explosive, viable threat at the skill positions. And don't let his inflated touchdown figure fool you: aside from a five touchdown performance against the lowly Seattle secondary, Freeman failed to surpass two aerial scores in a game.
Along with Vick and Brandon Lloyd, Hillis was one of the fantasy free agent All-Stars last season, as few expected the former Razorback to total 1,177 yards with the Brownies. Hillis will still be a focal point in the Cleveland offensive attack, but the arrival of Montario Hardesty, who missed all of 2010 with an ACL tear, will surely reduce Hillis' playing time. Additionally, the bruising Browns back hit somewhat of a wall at the end of the year, compiling a pedestrian 272 yards with zero touchdowns in the last five games of the season.
The "Free Jamaal Charles!" fervor from fantasy owners was palpable last year, as Charles racked up 1,467 yards (second in the NFL behind Arian Foster) despite splitting the workload with Thomas Jones. With a higher estimated allotment of carries in 2011, Charles has fantasy owners drooling over the prospects of a 1,800-yard campaign. However, one of the reasons Charles was able to achieve success last season stemmed from his lack of fatigue. No one is expecting Charles to maintain his absurd 6.4 yards per carry figure from '10, but an increased rationing of touches will correlate to less efficiency out of the All-Pro running back. By no means is this condemnation on Charles or his fantasy forecast; rather, simply as a reminder to keep Charles' aspirations realistic.
Mark Ingram/Daniel Thomas
Ingram and Thomas have been receiving buzz as rookies who can make an immediate impact. Anyone contemplating drafting Ingram or Thomas with an early pick needs to be wary of the case of Ryan Mathews, who murdered many a fantasy team in 2010. With the exodus of LaDainian Tomlinson and no discernible backfield competition, the first-rounder out of Fresno State was selected in the early going in most drafts last season. Mathews repaid this investment by submitting one of the more underwhelming seasons in recent fantasy history, accumulating a mundane 678 yards and just 145 yards receiving. And this was with Mathews as the primary back in San Diego, whereas Ingram and Thomas face stiff competition at their respective franchises for carry distribution. Both rookies may prove to be beneficial, but don't gamble on making either a chief component of your fantasy lineup.
New England RBs
Bill Belichick has always been a different cat. So it figures that, with a young and productive backfield for the first time in the Tom Brady Era in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, the Hoodie drafts two running backs in the draft, selecting Cal's Shane Vereen and LSU's Stevan Ridley. Assuming Green-Ellis returns, the Patriots would deploy a carry-by-committee attack that would make Mike Shanahan weep. The Law Firm is the only one who preserves any value, as Green-Ellis is the most likely to get touches around the goal-line.
Poor Fitzgerald. I imagine the Arizona wideout randomly calls Kurt Warner in the middle of the night like a distraught man calling an ex-girlfriend. Amazingly, Fitzgerald was able to post 90 receptions for 1,137 yards last season despite having the triple-headed QB fantasy monster of Derek Anderson, John Skelton and Max Hall throwing balls in his direction. Word on the street is Arizona is actively searching for a gunslinger through free-agency and/or trade, giving hope that Fitzgerald may become an elite fantasy contributor once more. But until that new quarterback is identified, Fitzgerald's worth remains in limbo.
"He has to fade at some point." That was the collective mindset in regards to Wayne's prospects last season, as the emergence of Pierre Garcon and Wayne's waning second-half numbers in 2009 seemed to signal the end of the road for the perennial All-Pro. Yet Wayne answered with vigor in 2010, leading the AFC in receptions with 111 catches and accruing 1,355 yards, earning another Pro Bowl invite in the process. But Wayne still gave skeptics reason to question his longevity, racking up a modest 142 yards in his last three games, followed by a pitiful playoff performance against the Jets, finishing with just one catch for one yard. Personally, I still think Wayne has a little gas left in the tank. But the shelf-life for wideouts in the NFL is fleeting, and Wayne will be starting his 11th season with Indianapolis. Throw in the uncertainty surrounding Peyton Manning's neck injury and it's easy to see why Wayne has owners suspicious. Hey, he has to fade at some point, right?
If the Super Bowl XLIII MVP returns to the Jets, he has the chance to revert to his 2009 season of 79 receptions and 1,248 yards. However, the much-maligned Holmes possesses the constant threat of suspension, as witnessed by his four-game league-imposed exile in 2010. Holmes also faces stiff competition for catches in New York, with Braylon Edwards (presuming he's brought back), Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith, Dustin Keller and rookie Jeremy Kerley. It's also worth noting that the Jets had the second-most rushing attempts in the league in 2010. And although his numbers vastly improved, Mark Sanchez still lies in the bottom half of quarterbacks in the league. Holmes may be an excellent second or third fantasy receiver, but don't build your corps around his expected production.
With the departure of Brandon Marshall, Lloyd was given a platform to finally realize his potential and delivered, leading the league with 1,448 yards and adding 11 touchdowns. Although Tim Tebow at the helm won't affect Lloyd's standing, a healthy Demaryius Thomas and the expanded implementation of Eric Decker should put a dent into Lloyd's output. Additionally, Lloyd's productivity over the last eight games, while still solid, declined:
First eight games: 42 receptions, 878 yards, four touchdowns
Last eight games: 35 receptions, 570 yards, seven touchdowns
Keeping in mind that Lloyd has been a career disappointment, there are too many question marks to waste a high pick on the Bronco receiver.
As a fantasy sleeper? Love me some Daniels. But the Texans tight end has been a health concern the last two seasons, allegedly returning too early from an ACL injury in 2010 that deterred Daniels from reaching his first-half feats of 2009 (39 receptions, 497 yards and five scores in Houston's first seven games). The Texans do feature one of the higher-flying aerial attacks in the NFL, but with an excess of options at tight end this season, don't snag Daniels until eight or nine players at the position come off the board.
Lewis' 10 touchdowns were quite the surprise to owners in 2010, as the UCLA product had just seven scores in his previous four seasons. While Lewis may have turned a corner, don't' base your evaluation on the Jaguar tight end strictly on statistics. Six of the 10 touchdowns came in three games, and Lewis found the endzone just three times in the last eight weeks. Lewis may have tied for the league-lead in touchdowns, but he ranked ninth in receptions and eighth in yards. These figures are impressive, but certainly don't correlate to the top-five positional ranking Lewis has received by some outlets. The vagueness concerning the Jacksonville quarterback situation isn't making matters easier for Lewis, who may have to deal with a rookie signal caller at some juncture this season.
Don't let the Pro Bowl invite mislead you. Gonzalez's numbers dropped for the third-straight season, and his 656 yards were his lowest total since 1998. The arrival of Julio Jones should eat into Gonzalez's looks, and a tougher Atlanta schedule won't make it easier for the 35-year-old Gonzalez to go over the middle. Only draft Gonzalez in deeper leagues as a backup.
Joel Beall is a writer for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.