by Dan Trader (@RotoNostra)
“Jack King said, ‘Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.’ It seems true to me, because walking in here, I can hardly remember how I built my bankroll, but I can’t stop thinking of how I lost it.” – Mike McDermott
From my perspective, the general gambling public is historically more inaccurate than not when forecasting sports. If you don’t agree, please take a moment to set your sights westward to a little city in the desert that happens to be literally built on the backs of countless unfortunate souls and continues to thrive off inevitable failure.
I mentioned earlier in the off-season that the first two rounds of your fantasy draft are the most important because of their potential to completely implode your team and destroy your season. In my opinion, the best rosters have a strong balance of calculated risk and security, and personally, my first two selections are likely to be meticulously considered and as risk-averse as possible.
For the record, I’m not stating that you can avoid acts of the gods or the following players won’t be productive, nor am I suggesting avoiding them outright. But based on the balance of risk and value, here are some players, in no particular order, that most likely will not end up on my fantasy teams.
Cam Newton, Panthers: I pointed out in an earlier article how reactionary the fantasy community is to players’ most recent performances and how irrationally that logic applies to quarterbacks. At the end of every season, a new quarterback is crowned the top fantasy scorer who was also most likely not the first selected at his position, and the following season, that player’s value is usually inflated and is drafted way too early. There was Peyton Manning from 2013-14, Andrew Luck from 2014-15, and now the man who was drafted on average in the 10th round in 12-team standard leagues last season will ultimately get selected too early in 2016 as well. Even if he finishes with the same exact numbers again this season, there is no value gained by picking him earlier than the late-third or fourth round, in my opinion. I could technically include Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck in this list as well, because any QB who generally gets drafted before the sixth round has no chance at my starting lineup.
Le’Veon Bell, Steelers: The fantasy community, being comfortably familiar with his talent, will surely value the Steeler as an unquestionable first-rounder. While a healthy Bell will most likely out-perform that price over the course of a full-season, the injury history has slowly boiled to a point of concern for me. Starting in 2013, Bell missed the pre-season after pulling his lisfranc in his left foot; in 2014, he didn’t miss any fantasy relevant time, but wasn’t healthy enough to play in the Wild Card and Pro-Bowl after hyperextending his left knee during week 17; and more recently sustained a multi-ligament injury to the same knee in 2015 during week 9 when he tore both his MCL and PCL. With such a dynamic player requiring surgery on two of the four major knee ligaments, RGIII is the first initial (and scariest) comparable scenario that comes to my mind just based on the lack of data on players who recover from similar injuries. Rehab is reportedly going well, but even Pittsburgh’s staff has stated recently that he isn’t a lock to be available when the season commences. Even when he’s ready to hit the field, I’m additionally concerned that the time away will make him more vulnerable to additional injuries. I’m sure you’ve seen his recent workout video, but I’m paying attention to that footage about as much as I’m considering the articles highlighting Trent Richardson’s six-pack meaningful.
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys: I’m not saying the rookie back isn’t the best in his class, or isn’t in the best position for success, or not NFL ready, or even won’t be the lead fantasy scoring running back. In fact, as far as dynasty leagues are concerned, there’s no reason to not grab him if you have the first pick, or trade up for him. My main reason for not pursuing Zeek in a re-draft league is the price tag, as mock drafts already have him trending towards the late-first round. Despite his collegiate production, drafting any rookie with a first round pick is way too much of a risk for my blood. It could absolutely pay off in astronomic fashion, but I’m not willing to gamble that early in the draft purely based on what literally everyone else is proclaiming. I stated earlier, the only thing that scares me about Elliott isn’t just that every analyst is on the same page, but it’s almost like they’re all just reading along out loud together. Everyone’s analysis is exactly the same with no deviation from the apparently obvious. I’ve watched his tape and the talent is, well, obviously apparent, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen similar scenarios backfire in fantasy, which is enough to make me reluctant. Like I said, in dynasty, go for it, but unless he falls outside the first round, I personally won’t be able to pull the trigger in many re-draft leagues, and maybe to my own detriment. But while I will absolutely not be avoiding him completely, I try to think of it this way: if everyone is on the hype train, I’d rather resort to another route of transportation than be onboard if it derails.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys: There’s no questioning Bryant’s toughness or talent, as it’s widely known that the star wide-out has played through injuries. Dez ended his 2010 season early after fracturing his left ankle and undergoing successful surgery, but he didn’t miss any relevant fantasy time until 2015. In the pre-season of last year, he pulled a hamstring after missing much of the off-season due to a contract dispute. Not long after, he then fractured his left foot and missed some time after requiring surgery. Then, after returning from that injury later in the season, he re-fractured his left foot and needed surgery this off-season. Typically a late-first to mid-second rounder, I’m not sure I’m willing to pay that price coming off an extended period away from the game. I also mentioned earlier how evident it was last season how heavily the success of Dallas’ offense relied on Romo’s health. I do believe that based on his performance last year, however, there is a possibility that he falls in some drafts, in which case I’ll accept with open arms.
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks: Baldwin is poised for production this season in my opinion, but due to finishing the top wide-out over the latter-half of 2015, mock drafts have him going as early as the fourth round in PPR formats. While that might be a worthy price by the end of the season, Baldwin had one less touchdown last year in half of a season (14) than he’s had over the course of the previous four years combined, which means nearly 50% of his scores came in only a singular season of the prior five. There was some evidence that suggested Baldwin was trending towards a breakout year last season though, since his targets had increased, along with touchdowns for the most part, as his career had progressed, but his production in 2015 really started when Seattle’s injuries began to stockpile and the game plan adjusted. Obviously every pick you make is a gamble, but I think picking him in the fourth round and expecting a continuance of last season’s production is setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s not my intention to suggest avoiding him at all cost, rather to encourage targeting him at a better value.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots: It pains me to place the one man Mardi Gras in this section because he was my first pick in one of my championship teams last year, but besides his chances of not playing a full season, if Brady’s suspension is upheld in its’ current state, the earliest Tommy Boy can return is week six due to their bye on week four. With Gronk’s potential not capable of being fully maximized (in my mind) for almost half the fantasy regular season, the first two rounds are too early for the weight of that wager. I’m sure he will produce, but will it be at the same level we’re accustomed to in the absence of 12? The arrival of Martellus Bennett certainly adds murkiness to the situation, but if Brady’s suspension is lifted, this conversation quickly changes course for me. However, if everything I’ve said already isn’t enough to tip the scales in favor of avoiding him in the first or second round, I only have two words for you: Madden Curse.
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