Taking a Pass: Fantasy Players to Avoid
by Bill Barnwell and Doug Farrar
Recently, reader Dave Gerczak commented in the Every Play Counts: Michael Turner article that when evaluating fantasy football prospects, "making a list of players to avoid can be as helpful as finding players to target." We certainly agree, and it got a couple of us thinking: Who are our players to avoid, beyond the obvious? As the draft lists round into shape, we thought we'd share the names that have us wondering. Note that these are our choices, and don't necessarily represent the opinions of every FO writer.
David Garrard: Garrard threw only three interceptions in 325 attempts last year, an incredible rate that even Garrard admitted was lucky. Garrard threw a pick in 0.9 percent of his total attempts, a figure tied with Steve DeBerg's 1990 campaign for the lowest interception rate for any quarterback since 1983 (minimum passing attempts: 325).
When Garrard said he was lucky, though, he wasn't lying. DeBerg went from four interceptions in 444 attempts to 14 in 434. Since 1983, seven quarterbacks threw at least 325 attempts with an interception rate of 0.9 percent or lower, and also threw 325 passes for the same team the following year. In the second year, that rate went up to an average of 3.5 percent, higher than the average interception rate of 3.2 percent for all qualifying quarterbacks over that timeframe. There were 38 quarterbacks with a rate under 2.0 percent; in the second season, their rate averaged out at 2.9 percent.
In other words, Garrard has a major correction coming. Now, that doesn't just mean that he's going to lose 16 fantasy points for throwing eight more interceptions. The extra interceptions mean that drives that continued in 2007, with additional passing yards and eventual touchdowns, will instead end in 2008.
Jeff Garcia: Garcia's right up there with Garrard -- his 1.2 percent interception rate is tied for third in the same time period. Furthermore, Garcia had a healthy Joey Galloway and a strangely resurgent Ike Hilliard for the entire season. The effects of a Galloway injury on the team was obvious in the playoff loss to the Giants last year, and when you consider that all three players have had injury troubles in the past (and are a combined 108 years old), there's just too much propensity for this whole offense to blow up.
Brett Favre: We've run the new projections. Not good. Favre is moving to a team with a weaker offensive line, and away from perhaps the deepest receiver corps in the NFL. He relied more on short passes in 2007 than his gunslinger reputation might have you believe; 54 percent of his throws were listed by FO as Short (five yards or less), which was five percent higher than in 2006. Green Bay's receivers led the NFL in yards after catch in 2007, and they're certainly a good bet to do so again with Aaron Rodgers throwing a bunch of three-yard outs.
Of course, you're thinking that New York's receivers, used to compensating for Chad Pennington's "noodle arm," would have a bead on YAC, right? Nope. The Jets ranked 26th in YAC overall, and 15th in YAC by receivers. Oh yeah, there's also Ryan Grant and his 161 DYAR (11th among running backs) versus Thomas Jones and his -36 DYAR (just above Cedric Benson). So, there's your complementary running game down the tubes. Will defenses back off with Favre under center? To a point, but the message is clear. Brett Favre was the engine in an efficiency machine, and he's now in a situation where he'll have to make more things happen. Historically, the more he's "just havin' fun out there" because he has to, the more sacks and interceptions will pile up.
Jay Cutler: Cutler is on a lot of breakout lists. The tools are all there, as is the efficiency, despite a faith in the deep ball that will get him in trouble at times. If anything upends Cutler's stats, it probably won't be his newly diagnosed diabetes â€“ it'll be his receivers.
Brandon Marshall is dealing with a three-game suspension to start the regular season, and preseason reports about his conditioning have been worrisome. The Broncos signed ex-Carolina washout Keary Colbert and the declining Darrell Jackson. They're working rookie Eddie Royal wide and in the slot, but Royal is more a return man than pure receiver (see Bill's comment about Devin Hester). Brandon Stokley is good inside, but Marshall's the one who can get separation and make Cutler's physical gifts transfer into touchdowns for the group. And if he's not on the field, or not optimal when he is, that's a major problem for his quarterback.
Larry Johnson:: Some folks might think that Johnson, coming off a broken foot, would return to his halcyon days of 2005 and 2006. He won't. It's not the Curse of 370 as much as it is the fact that the offensive line Johnson played behind has disappeared. Branden Albert could end up being a stud tackle, but he's not likely to be in his rookie year.
Darren McFadden: As Kevin Lynch talks about in this year's book, the Raiders are in the process of switching to a zone blocking scheme. That's great in theory, but they don't really have much in the way of personnel to do it. Cornell Green is a journeyman at right tackle; on the other side, Kwame Harris is a competent run blocker, but his abortive attempts at pass protection make it incomprehensible that he'll be able to stay on the field. They'll have a new center in John Wade, and McFadden will be splitting time with Justin Fargas and, potentially, Michael Bush. Owners buoyed by the success Adrian Peterson had last year and see the impact rookie in this year's draft doing the same thing. He won't.
Michael Turner: You've heard that new Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will split carries between Turner and Jerious Norwood. Turner's a possible 300-carry threat, but LaDainian Tomlinson's former backup has never performed well behind a below-average offensive line even in limited action, and the Falcons are far away from respectability in that department. Ovie Mughelli's blocking will help, and Turner will no doubt get a lot of red zone carries, but proceed with extreme caution from a yardage standpoint.
Earnest Graham: Graham's extremely positive KUBIAK projection is based on a few factors: His surprise starring role in 2007 after years as a backup; his ability to fall forward and create positive situations after first contact; the expected improvement of Tampa Bay's young offensive line; and Jon Gruden's "Pound That Rock!" philosophy. The questions revolve around the carries allotted for Michael Bennett and Warrick Dunn, and who will do what in the offense this year. There's also the possibility of Cadillac Williams's healthy return off the PUP list late in the season, but we're not holding our breath on that one. Graham's a good touchdown pick regardless of how things shake out.
Devin Hester: If your league gives Hester points for his returns, then this situation changes. If you're drafting him strictly as a receiver, well, you're asking to be disappointed. If Hester couldn't cut it as a wideout at The U, why would he be able to do it on the pro level?
The skillset needed to be a successful wideout isn't the same as what's needed to be a successful returner. Returners are much more like running backs: you need vision and the physical assets to separate out of trash. As a top wide receiver, you have a cornerback's hands on you with the first step you take. Instead of accelerating away from defenders, you need to find the right place to settle amongst them. Does that sound like something Hester's a good fit for? As the slot guy with two excellent underneath receivers, Hester could be a worthwhile part, but as the lead wide receiver? Seriously?
Derrick Mason: Mason's yards per catch have dropped in three consecutive years and four out of the last five, a sign that his ability to separate from corners is fading. He had 164 passes thrown to him in 2007, largely due to injuries to Todd Heap and Mark Clayton; with the pair returning this year, Mason's numbers should experience a precipitous drop.
Roddy White: White was one of the few bright spots in Atlanta's nightmare season last year, putting up career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns in 2007. But with a new "power offense" in place, the financial push to play rookie quarterback Matt Ryan sooner than later, the redefinition of the team's running game, and some major question marks along the offensive line, White's a player to approach with caution.
Roy Williams: Put Calvin Johnson on your watch list as well. New Lions offensive coordinator Jim Colletto has a back-to-basics style that will make Matt Millen happier than he's been since he unwrapped the cymbal-crashing monkey last Christmas, but the wild swing from Mike Martz's shotgun-heavy multiple receiver sets won't do Jon Kitna or his receivers any favors from a statistical standpoint (though a few more max protect sets will help Kitna stay alive). Neither Williams nor Johnson were top-20 YAC threats last year, though Williams was close. Doesn't mean they can't be, but major offensive changes in a conservative direction are generally danger signs for fantasy players.
Kevin Boss: Boss is overvalued because of the prominent role he had at the end of the year and during the playoffs. Unfortunately, he doesn't get to play against the Patriots and their decrepit linebacking corps every week. Boss is also competing for touches against a now-healthy Steve Smith, who shares a similar skillset.
Dallas Clark: Clark's hype has always outstripped his production; last year was his first season with more than 37 receptions, and it had a good amount to do with Marvin Harrison being injured. If Harrison's back for the entire season, Clark's role in the offense will diminish, and the likelihood of him scoring 11 touchdowns again (after 14 in the previous four seasons) is slim.
Vernon Davis: It looks like a dream combination. Davis has always been a square peg in the traditional tight end role, and between Mike Martz taking the reigns of a long-pathetic offense and general manager Scot McCloughan's Combine comments that Davis would be used as a receiver in Martz's frequent four-wide packages, you'd be forgiven for thinking Davis will be a fantasy steal. Balance that out with Davis's tendency to forget the little things â€“- route progressions, ball security, the snap count -â€“ and you're left wondering if this high-flying scenario will pan out.
John Carlson: The Seahawks gave up their 2008 third-round draft pick to move up and grab Carlson in the second round, and he is the most NFL-ready in a big class of high-potential tight ends on a team that hasn't had a true threat at the position in the Holmgren era. But Seattle also signed Jeb Putzier in the offseason as insurance, and Will Heller can always be counted on to block and make the occasional big play. Someone will catch the 50 balls foolishly projected for Marcus Pollard last year, but it's just as likely to be a committee. Take care when thinking that one tight end will supplant any dropoff in Seattle's depleted receiver corps.