This post is actually written by Justin Howe, who won our Guest Writer Competition! It is definitely an Apex-worthy article. Keep in mind this was written a few weeks ago, but most of this information still definitely applies. Give him a follow on Twitter: @JustinHoweFF. Without further ado, six guys you should avoid, and who you should target instead:
Rashad Jennings, RB, N.Y. Giants (ADP: 5.04) – Here is a classic case of Mock Draft Season twisting our perceptions of expected volume into fantasy stardom. We see [enter PLAYER NAME here] sitting atop a depth chart, marvel at the statistical achievement of his predecessors, and paste that production into our 2014 expectations. It’s an unstable projection strategy that fools you often. Take this approach with Jennings, and you get high-end RB1 numbers and a “solid” (read: veteran) early-round stud. Examine the peripherals, and you’ll notice that you’ve spent a premium pick and filled a starting role with a RB who will be 30 next March yet has never played a 16-game season, topped 163 rushes, or run for six TDs in a season. Furthermore, the Giants’ public love affair with fourth-rounder Andre Williams suggests the fair probability that they’ll be in a timeshare sooner rather than later. Draft Jennings in the first 4-5 rounds and you’re going all-in on the dream of Fred Jackson II, but you’re not considering that all of the benefit of owning F-Jax over the years has been due to his dirt-cheap price tag. Here, the tag is exceptionally high and the floor is low.
2014 Projections: 218 rushes, 48 targets, 1,249 scrimmage yards, 5 scrimmage TDs.
Outlet Option: The Saints’ backfield will always be a mess, but Khiry Robinson looks like the best talent. Robinson worked his way into a meaningful backfield role late in 2013, and Sean Payton has talked him up this offseason. Mark Ingram, although having flashed this preseason is still unproven. and Pierre Thomas fits best in Darren Sproles’ vacated pass-catcher role. Expect all three to rotate the rock early on, but Robinson appears most likely to take a large share of the running game, and his college proficiency in the passing game bodes well for his NFL future. 700 scrimmage yards and 4-5 TDs look like his baseline, and you can likely snag him in the 9th or 10th.
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco (ADP: 6.03) – At no point during Colin Kaepernick’s tenure has Davis figured heavily into the gameplan for more than a game or two at a time. Prior to the Kaepernick Era, from 2009-12, Davis saw 21.2% of team targets and was a dicey, if explosive, TE1 option. Since Kaepernick took over at QB midway through the 2012 season, Davis has drawn 142 targets, an 18.4% overall clip. That dropoff is all the more abrupt when you factor that Michael Crabtree missed 38% of those games, and that in his absence, Kaepernick turned to newcomer Anquan Boldin as a primary target. In 2012, with Crabtree and Davis on the field together, Kaep overwhelmingly targeted Cratree. It seems that Davis just isn’t a huge part of the Kaeptain’s plans. Davis offsets some of that volume loss with touchdowns a dazzling 15.0% scoring rate since 2009. He certainly has value as an occasional TD-dependent TE1, but owners can’t expect any sort of week-to-week TE1 consistency. Which is what you must invest in by taking Davis in the sixth.
2014 Projection:16 games, 70 targets, 46 catches, 665 yards, 7 TDs.
Outlet Option: Charles Clay is the underrated cog keeping the Dolphins’ messy pass game afloat. He’s a red zone dynamo and has a good rapport with Ryan Tannehill. I’m expecting a 64-733-6 line, besting Davis’ output but at a 12th-round price.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver (ADP: 6.05) – (Author’s Note: This was written before Welker’s suspension) Simply put, Sanders is not a good NFL receiver. Ben Roethlisberger has peppered him with a healthy sample size of targets, but there’s been little development from Sanders. A spindly guy who runs like he’s shot from a cannon, Sanders has yet to add any semblance of physicality or body positioning to his game. As a result, he’s not much of a presence on short, positioning slot routes, nor on deep balls that require him to fight for the ball. Furthermore, he’s been a mental mess, with drops coming in bunches and poorly-timed brainfarts. Yes, Peytron has turned similarly poor receivers into fantasy contributors. But Sanders doesn’t look to have upside beyond any of them – Andre Caldwell comes to mind as a good comparison – and upside is what you’re buying in the sixth round. The presence of NFL-ready rook Cody Latimer makes Sanders untalented AND risky. I’d buy Sanders in the 10th, but not here.
2014 Projection: 16 games, 107 targets, 67 catches, 876 yards, 7 TDs.
Outlet Option: Much is being made of the Giants’ shift to a Packer-style West Coast offense, and it looks like good fantasy news for all of their receivers. The three starters – Victor Cruz (slot), Rueben Randle (X), and some platoon of Odell Beckham/Jerrel Jernigan (Z) – will absolutely dominate Eli Manning’s targets, and Randle is the best playmaker of all of them. On just 60 career catches, he’s caught 20 of 20+ yards and has an awesome 15.0% touchdown rate. Take him in the 8th and top Sanders’ overall numbers – I expect 68-1,006-8 from Randle.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia (ADP: 5.11) – Always be very careful when projecting the new occupant of a role, however specific, into last year’s numbers. Were the Eagles swapping out, say, Riley Cooper – a tall, moderately talented guy who grows on trees – for Maclin, it would be wise to expect similar usage and production. But DeSean Jackson is a different animal; Maclin is no slouch, but he doesn’t possess the world-class speed and playmaking ability that made D-Jax a high-end WR2. Maclin has no chance at the 1,332 yards that Jackson compiled as the primary cog in Chip Kelly’s passing game. Maclin is a career 13.4 YPC guy who won’t terrify secondaries or make dazzling open-field plays. I can’t imagine real WR2 production even without risk; throw in his slim frame and ACL recovery, and he’s too chancey for me as more than a mid-range WR3. But he’s being drafted ahead of several #1 WRs with much better body types and track records.
2014 Projection: 15 games, 93 targets, 56 catches, 802 yards, 6 TDs.
Outlet Option: DeAndre Hopkins is a Rotoviz favorite, and I agree – he’s a big, dominating target with a great catch radius. He posted a very solid rookie season despite a muddled QB situation in Houston and looks poised to cut further into 33-year-old Andre Johnson’s target domination. He has real WR2 potential as soon as this season – I’m conservatively expecting a line of 73-1,089-6 – and he’s going in the 10th round of drafts.
Darren Sproles, RB, Philadelphia (ADP: 6.11) – I’ve always had a strong Sproles bias. He’s the greatest K-State Wildcat in history, and quite possibly the greatest NFL player shorter than me. But his days as a startable fantasy RB are probably over. He’s been a great PPR producer as the chief underneath target in New Orleans, but that role simply doesn’t exist in Philadelphia. Sproles saw 6.9 targets/game in three years as a Saint, which explains his high fantasy price tag; I expect that tally to fall by nearly 60%. As a runner, Sproles’ usage tumbled in New Orleans, and it’s unrealistic to expect a resuscitation at 31 on a new team. Especially with versatile youngster Chris Polk on board. In other words, Sproles is likely now a 31-year-old change-of-pace back in both phases of the offense. And he’s being picked way ahead of some very talented young backs.
2014 Projection: 15 games, 79 rushes, 33 catches, 637 scrimmage yards, 5 scrimmage TDs.
Outlet Option: Jeremy Hill is a change-of-pace back in his own right, but like Katt Williams’ hair, his role is much more voluminous and clearly defined. Considering the run-based offense the Bengals will implement under Hue Jackson, Hill looks like a mortal lock for the historical volume of inside/goal-line predecessor Law Firm Ellis. That gives him a baseline 168-706-5 rushing projection, as well as RB1 potential in the event of a Gio Bernard injury. He’s a no-brainer as the 43rd RB off the board.
Christine Michael, RB, Seattle (ADP: 9.11) – Please don’t get me wrong on Michael. I think he’s a gifted runner in a phenomenal situation, bright future, looks like Marcus Allen, etc. But in many of my drafts, a mid-round run on young handfcuffs bullies me into deciding on Michael in the 7th or 8th round, a steep price for a guy who still appears locked firmly into a reserve role for 2014. It’s doubtful the Seahawks turn over more than 15-17% of Marshawn Lynch’s run game dominance to Michael, so barring a Lynch injury, I have to expect backup numbers all year. Michael is a fair target in the 8-10 range for keeper purposes, but has far less redraft value; don’t pay top dollar for a strict handcuff, especially one who’s not even clear-cut yet.
2014 Projection: 71 rushes, 6 catches, 389 scrimmage yards, 3 scrimmage TDs.
Outlet Option: Division rival Carlos Hyde’s ADP is still in ultra-affordable territory (10.07) as too many owners continue to expect business as usual for Frank Gore. At some point, Gore’s effectiveness will break down, and the team made an enormous investment in Hyde; clearly, he’s their future Gore. But what many don’t appreciate is Hyde’s opportunity to hold RB3 value even while Gore is starting. Kendall Hunter is on IR, LaMichael James is not an NFL RB, and Marcus Lattimore is probably a year (if ever) away from contributing. My 74-326-5 projection is extremely conservative.