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We've seen each team play at least two preseason games and closely monitored camp reports on every skill-position player in the NFL. The recommendations in this column are inherently negative (see title), but based on the facts we've gleaned, represent an informed and reasoned projection.
This isn't a list of undervalued players, necessarily, or projected busts. Those can be found in the 2013 Fantasy Football Draft Guide. This is a list of players I think you should consider scratching off your cheatsheets altogether. Guys you should draft around.
1. Texans RB Arian Foster -- It's not just the injuries. Back and calf woes have shelved Foster since May OTAs, but there are additional signs of breakdown in his performance. His yards-per-carry average has experienced significant dips in each of the past two seasons, and last year Foster set a career low in yards per reception. The tape shows Foster's big-play ability is fading. This all isn't surprising, as the Texans have given him the most all-purpose touches in the league over the past three seasons, and in 2012 let Foster lead the NFL in rushing attempts. In the first round, I’d just draft someone else.
2. Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew -- I'd like Jones-Drew a lot better as a bounce-back candidate if his price wasn't so high. MJD will be 28 1/2 when the season starts, is coming off a severe foot injury, has 1,862 career touches on his tires, and plays in a bottom-five offense. And people are taking him in the top 20. I wouldn't even consider MJD before the late third round.
3. Raiders RB Darren McFadden -- If the Jags have a bottom-five offense, the Raiders make them look like the 2007 Patriots. Starting Alex Barron, Andre Gurode, and Khalif Barnes up front, Oakland's line resembles a UFL team's. The Raiders' switch back to power blocking is supposed to rejuvenate McFadden's career, but it's all irrelevant if the linemen can't block anyone without drawing a holding call. Not only will McFadden's team play from behind all year, he'll lack running lanes in rare competitive instances. And we never even got to his injury history.
4. Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe -- New Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is an inside-the-numbers passer who has a limiting effect on perimeter receivers. Bowe plays "X" in Kansas City's offense, running sideline routes while Jamaal Charles, Anthony Fasano, and Dexter McCluster operate underneath. Just like Michael Crabtree in San Francisco, Bowe will struggle for consistent weekly targets due to Smith's unwillingness to pull the trigger on tight-window downfield throws. Through two preseason games, Smith has 14 completions. 12 have been good to tight ends and running backs, and McCluster has the two receiver receptions. Bowe's lone target fell incomplete.
5. Chargers RB Ryan Mathews -- Mathews has looked sharp in August (5.33 YPC), but running talent has never been his defect. In addition to poor durability, Mathews must contend with league-worst line play on one of the NFL's worst teams. The Chargers will play from behind often this season -- that means they'll be passing -- and the coaching staff has stripped Mathews of passing-down duties. Don't be surprised if Danny Woodhead leads this backfield in snaps.
6. Giants WR Hakeem Nicks -- Since entering the NFL, Nicks has missed time with two hyperextended knees, a concussion, bruised ribs, groin tightness, a left foot sprain, a hip flexor, a broken big toe on his right foot, and six hamstring strains. He's undergone surgeries on his toe, right wrist, the metatarsal on his right foot, and his left knee. In 2010, he was diagnosed with compartment syndrome in his right leg. Nicks looked sluggish and as if he'd lost a step in last week's preseason debut. Let someone else gamble an early-round pick that Nicks stays healthy.
7. Dolphins WR Mike Wallace -- I don't mind Wallace at his sixth-round ADP, and believe he has a chance to benefit from Dustin Keller's year-ending knee injury. But I expect Wallace to struggle for consistency in OC Mike Sherman's conservative West Coast offense, where Wallace will have to become a precise route runner after excelling as a freelancer his first few years in Pittsburgh. Miami's pass protection woes also won't help Ryan Tannehill's chances of delivering balls downfield with regularity. Wallace projects as a boom-or-bust week-to-week fantasy scorer.
8. Cardinals RB Rashard Mendenhall -- Bruce Arians essentially got tossed out of Pittsburgh for throwing the ball too often, and his 2012 Colts ranked sixth in the NFL in pass attempts. Arians is a pass-first thinker, which fits in Arizona because the Cards' best talent is in the pass game. Behind a bottom-five offensive line, look for Arizona to rank near the league's basement in both rushing attempts and yards per carry. With Mendenhall, Stepfan Taylor, Andre Ellington, and perhaps Ryan Williams all vying for work, this backfield will be a fantasy quagmire.
9. Bills WR Stevie Johnson -- Johnson is a good football player and I like his fit as the Bills' new slot receiver, but he's not going to be the featured piece of Buffalo's offense anymore. Under run-heavy rookie coach Doug Marrone, that distinction will go to C.J. Spiller. The Bills will pass less and call fewer plays for Johnson, limiting his targets. He's a pedestrian fantasy WR3.
10. Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph -- Rudolph is a fine player, and might be an annual top-five tight end if he played on another team. But Christian Ponder is a huge drain on Rudolph's ceiling and weekly consistency. Although Rudolph finished as a top-ten fantasy tight end in 2012, his scoring was extremely touchdown dependent and he caught three or fewer passes in 10-of-17 games, including the playoffs. Rudolph's eighth-round Average Draft Position is a reach when you can get Greg Olsen or Jordan Cameron a round later. Both could easily outscore Rudolph.