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 overvalued players, necessarily, or projected busts. Those can be found in the 2014 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.
The Shy-Away 40 is an annual in-camp column on Rotoworld. For last year's Shy-Away results, bang it here.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $100,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 1's games. It's only $10 to join and first prize is $10,000. Starts Sunday, September 7th at 1pm ET. Here's the link.
1. Peyton Manning
To select Manning at his first-round Average Draft Position is to essentially assume he'll repeat his 2013 outlier campaign. The real question isn't whether Manning will statistically regress, it's to what extent.
38 1/2 years old now, Manning preyed on a bottom-six schedule last year, facing the AFC South and NFC East. In their division, each of the Broncos' two games against the Chiefs came late in the season, when Kansas City was hemorrhaging points due to defensive injuries. The Raiders and Chargers didn't play good defense. The Broncos now face the NFL's second hardest schedule (NFC West, AFC East), while the Chiefs' defense is healthy and both the Chargers and Raiders' defenses have improved on paper. Whether or not you believe Eric Decker is a "No. 1"-caliber receiver, his loss hurts. He has 32 touchdowns over the past three seasons. "Replacement" Emmanuel Sanders has nine.
The 2013 Broncos ran up the score in an attempt to get Manning records. As calculated by @FantasyDouche, over 10 percent of Manning's 659 pass attempts occurred with Denver up by two scores in the second half of games. Are you willing to bet that they'll keep running up the score? I personally believe the 2014 Broncos will skew more heavily toward the run and play ball-control football, a historical staple of John Fox teams. Montee Ball is more of a true volume workhorse than outgoing spread back Knowshon Moreno, while Denver's defense is absolutely loaded. Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, and first-round pick Bradley Roby were added in the offseason. Front-seven difference makers Von Miller and Derek Wolfe are healthy after combining to miss 12 games. This defense is going to be beastly.
My advice? Avoid Manning in the top two rounds and use one of your last two picks on the Broncos' D/ST.
2. Vernon Davis
We pushed Davis hard last year, and people wondered why. We're backing off him big time this year. Here's why.
Touchdown dependent to the extreme, Davis borderline-miraculously turned the 60th-most receptions in football into the third most receiving scores (13) last season. Davis finished 66th in the NFL in targets. I'm not saying he'll stop being a big-time red-zone threat, but Davis could easily still sport that description on a five-touchdown regression. And his target totals with Michael Crabtree back from injury paint a troubling picture. They were 5, 3, 7, 3, 5 in Crabtree's regular season appearances, and 7, 4, 3 in the playoffs. Davis topped five targets just twice in Crabtree's eight games played. And that was with Crabtree at less than 100 percent.
The 49ers traded for Stevie Johnson, re-signed Anquan Boldin, and return Crabtree at full health. Fullback Bruce Miller ranked third on the 49ers in targets a year ago. I think Davis will finish third or possibly fourth this year, behind Crabtree, Boldin, and Johnson. Downfield threat Brandon Lloyd, sophomore Quinton Patton, and quick-twitch rookie Bruce Ellington are also in the mix.
Now 30 years old, Davis has been a frustrating fantasy player for most of his career. He's got great speed and is a high-impact blocker, but he's never been a high-volume checkdown catcher like Jason Witten or even Jordan Cameron. He runs the vertical seam, plays tough in the red zone, and blocks -- a lot. I fully expect Davis to resume frustrating fantasy owners this year. Currently sporting a fifth-round ADP, Davis is on my do-not-draft list.
3. Giovani Bernard
The Bengals have told us how they view Bernard in back-to-back years, and it isn't as a true feature back. They gave BenJarvus Green-Ellis 224 touches despite his ineffectiveness last season, and in the following offseason used a second-round pick on power back Jeremy Hill. Bernard has a reputation as an explosive playmaker, which can certainly be the case in limited doses. But he was an inefficient ball carrier as a rookie, averaging 4.09 YPC and 3.90 if you leave out his Week 9 highlight-reel 35-yard touchdown run against the Dolphins. Number Fire's @LateRoundQB recently suggested on this podcast that because everyone saw it on Thursday Night Football, that particular run has convinced the general public that Gio is better than he really is.
I like Bernard as a borderline RB1 in PPR leagues, but wouldn't draft him at his No. 16 overall Average Draft Position regardless of scoring format. And I'd definitely avoid him in non-PPR. He's going to get fewer carries than people expect, and it's only a matter of time before he begins losing short-yardage and goal-line work to Hill.
It also doesn't help that Bernard wore down as his workload piled up last year. Over his last four games -- playoffs included -- Bernard managed 120 yards on his final 51 rushing attempts (2.35 YPC) and just once broke a run longer than seven yards. Do people think Gio will become more efficient and sturdy on more carries? With Hill on board, I'm not sure the Bengals will even let us find out.
My advice? Avoid Bernard unless he falls deep into the third round, and draft Hill in the eighth or ninth.
4. Pierre Garcon
One of the reasons we loved Garcon last year was his role in Washington's offense. "X" receivers in the Shanahan scheme are target monsters, dating back to Rod Smith, Javon Walker, Brandon Marshall, and Andre Johnson. Garcon went on to lead the NFL in targets, seeing 182. Santana Moss finished second on the Redskins with 79.
Out are the Shanahans. In is Jay Gruden, who historically features "Z" receivers in his offense. A.J. Green (178 targets) played Z in Cincinnati. Marvin Jones (80 targets) played X. There's also the matter of more mouths to feed in D.C. The Gruden regime signed Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson, the latter of whom will play Z. Jordan Reed is healthy after missing seven games last year. Garcon is a good player and Gruden knows that, but he's also a holdover from the Shanahan regime. I don't think Gruden will be nearly as willing to force feed Garcon footballs, particularly after the Roberts and D-Jax signings. I do think Garcon's efficiency will rise this year. His yards-per-reception average should go up, and he's a solid bet to score another touchdown or two. But there is a very realistic scenario where he loses 50-75 targets.
My advice? Avoid Garcon at his early-fourth-round ADP. If you really want a Redskins wideout, Jackson is a better value in the fifth. With Robert Griffin III struggling as Gruden attempts to turn him into more of a pocket passer, however, I wouldn't argue against avoiding both Washington receivers this year.
5. Arian Foster
After leading the NFL in all-purpose touches from 2010-2012, Foster suffered a right calf strain at OTAs last May. Then-Texans coach Gary Kubiak conceded at the start of 2013 training camp he was a "little bit surprised" Foster was forced to open camp on active/PUP. Foster experienced back soreness while on the shelf. He resumed practicing in late August, ultimately needing three months of recovery. He suffered a hamstring injury last Week 7 and returned in Week 9, only to leave the game with an opening-drive back injury. In November, it was determined that Foster needed surgery to repair a disc problem in his back. The operation was called a "microscopic lumbar discectomy."
Foster participated in practices all this offseason. He suffered a hamstring injury at the beginning of 2014 training camp, however, and missed two weeks of practice. During his latest layoff, Foster revealed in an ESPN interview that he considered retiring after last season. "Any time an athlete goes through an injury like that -- a back, a neck, even knees or hips, something that puts you out for the entire season -- you kind of re-evaluate your life," said Foster, who turns 28 later this week. "You see what's really important. Is getting paralyzed more important than playing with your grandkids when you’re 50, 60 years old?"
Foster's hamstring problems actually date back to his rookie season, when he missed much of August. He also underwent knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in February of 2011. Foster suffered multiple hamstring injuries in 2011 training camp, costing him Week 1.
Foster was the No. 1 player on last year's Shy-Away 40 -- the column headliner. I had high hopes for him as a bounce-back candidate early this offseason. I'm now avoiding him in 2014 drafts. I plan to use a late-round flier on Jonathan Grimes instead.
6. Sammy Watkins
Long term, I think Watkins projects as a combination of Pierre Garcon and Torrey Smith's strengths. In the short term, I think there's every reason to believe his production will fail to align with his mid-seventh-round Average Draft Position. Reggie Wayne, Terrance Williams, Golden Tate, Kendall Wright, and Eric Decker are the five receivers being drafted directly behind him.
Although Watkins has been the subject of endless hype, he is limited from a size standpoint and will likely struggle to win contested catches as an NFL rookie. Amid overwhelming media praise, Watkins has three catches for 21 yards on seven preseason targets. There's also the matter of being a rookie wide receiver in and of itself, where expectations can be unreasonably high. Throw in Buffalo's glaring quarterback concerns and the NFL's run-heaviest offense, and Watkins would do well to match college teammate DeAndre Hopkins' first-year stats (52-802-2). I wouldn't want any part of Watkins at his ADP. Fellow Bills starter Mike Williams, a proven touchdown scorer in the pros, can be had seven-plus rounds later.
7. Percy Harvin
Harvin has the reputation of being a great football player, and I think it's deserved. There aren't five more dangerous players in the league with the ball in their hands. Now entering his first full season in the NFL's most wide receiver-unfriendly offense, it's fair to wonder just how often the ball will be in Harvin's hands.
The only exposures to Harvin in Seattle we have so far are three games (one regular season, two playoffs) where he failed to play 50% of the offensive snaps in each, and totaled five catches on seven targets. We're not sure yet whether a healthy Harvin will be an every-down player, though his usage in Seattle's kickoff-return game suggests he probably won't. Coach Pete Carroll made it very clear last year the Seahawks wouldn't scheme specifically to feed Harvin. Beat writers were even skeptical Harvin would clear 1,000 receiving yards. (The Seahawks haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Bobby Engram in 2007.)
"He's here to be one of the fellas," Carroll said last May, just after trading for Harvin. "He's gonna complement a terrific receiving crew. Everybody's gonna contribute in their ways, and they're not going to worry about who's getting it but just how many points we can score and how many games we can win, and hopefully everybody will understand that it will be how we fit these guys together that will make this happen. Not just one guy showing up."
Ask yourself this question: Could be a limited-snap player on a run-committed team that isn't funneling offense through him pay off at a fifth-round ADP?
Oh, and we didn't even get to Harvin's injury history. He's missed 22 of his teams' last 25 games.
8. C.J. Spiller
I love C.J. Spiller. But it wasn't until I saw how Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett treated him that I realized how much I miss Chan Gailey. Drafted specifically to be a spread back in Gailey's five-wide offense, Spiller took the league by storm as a third-year player in 2012, with Gailey scheming him the football in space against defenses that were spread out by Gailey's Texas Tech-style receiver splits and shotgun Pistol formations. Gailey knew Spiller was best utilized as a "satellite" back, where he didn't have to make complicated decisions behind the line of scrimmage. Gailey gave him opportunities to run to daylight and Spiller did, averaging an absurd 6.01 YPC on 207 attempts en route to a No. 7 overall fantasy back finish.
Let's give the Bills' current coaching staff a momentary pass for allowing Spiller to play on a high ankle sprain last year, when it was clear to even the most amateurish observer that he didn't belong on the field. Marrone and Hackett believe in the run game, but they've shown no interest in adjusting theirs to highlight their most talented player. Whereas Gailey consistently ran Spiller out of four- and five-wide spread packages, Marrone and Hackett are committed to a power approach requiring its tailback to exercise patience and run with vision. The power game can work for some runners -- like Fred Jackson -- but not for Spiller, whose strengths are improvisation and lateral explosiveness. In space, he is capable of making the best defenders in the league miss.
Spiller's preseason usage suggests nothing has changed. He's still being slammed into the line while coming off the field in all third-down and red-zone situations. I fully expect Spiller to have a few monster games this season, when he busts long runs because the blocking has sprung him into space. The coaches don't seem concerned with actively scheming to do that, however, which will lead to maddening week-to-week inconsistency.
Spiller's Average Draft Slot is late in the third round. In 12-team re-drafts, I'd rather select Jackson at his mid-eighth-round ADP.
9. Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson is the inverse of Percy Harvin. Harvin is a great football player, albeit too violent for his own good. All CJ?K cares about is his own good. He rarely runs hard but avoids injury, stays on the field, and compiles numbers. Nevermind that he torpedoes fantasy weeks and hurts his own team.
Potential CJ?K drafters who look at year-ending stats might perceive a value opportunity. After all, Johnson has finished the last three seasons a respectable-looking 16th, 13th, and ninth in fantasy running back points. Shoot, maybe he's trending upward based on those numbers. He isn't, of course, and fantasy leaguers who've owned him know best. As @LateRoundQB has noted, Johnson had as many top-24 PPR weeks as DeAngelo Williams last season. Although Johnson still intermittently (read: rarely) flashes game-breaking ability, his on-field effort has been inconsistent to be kind, and his 2013 YPC average of 3.86 was the worst of his career. Johnson turns 29 next month and is coming off of offseason knee surgery.
Johnson's fantasy value is volume dependent to the extreme, and in New York he will lose a ton of volume. Jets beat writers have pegged him for around 200 carries, 79 fewer than last year. He's also likely to lose goal-line work to Chris Ivory, and some passing-down duties to superior pass protector Bilal Powell.
For years, Johnson complained loudly about the Titans' offensive line. Pro Football Focus graded Tennessee as the NFL's No. 4 run-blocking offense last year. The Jets were second worst before losing top run blocker RT Austin Howard in free agency. As Dynasty League Football's @KarlSafchick has stated, Johnson managed one solitary run of 25-plus yards in 2013. Ivory had five on 97 fewer carries.
Ivory is the Jets' best runner, and I expect OC Marty Mornhinweg's backfield usage to ultimately reflect that. Johnson is a bust at his fifth-round ADP.
10. Trent Richardson
I'm not ready to throw in the towel on T-Rich's career. He just turned 23, can catch the football, and breaks tackles when blocking gives him room. His blocking dependency is a glaring and obvious limitation, however, and Indianapolis' offensive line is showing no signs of improvement. The Colts lost LG Donald Thomas to a year-ending quadriceps tear early in camp, and C Khaled Holmes to a high left ankle sprain. Rookie LG Jack Mewhort has missed time with a knee injury. RG Hugh Thornton finished 69th among 81 qualifying guards in Pro Football Focus' 2013 ratings. Until GM Ryan Grigson shores up his interior line, I think Richardson will struggle to generate positive gains. With T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, and impressive rookie Donte Moncrief at wideout, and Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener at tight end, the Colts' best offensive option is to play spread football.
I think Ahmad Bradshaw is the Colts' best spread back and will become this year's Donald Brown. Bradshaw is a superior pass protector to T-Rich and is also better at creating his own running room with more explosive lateral moves and first-step quickness. Indianapolis seems to know it needs Bradshaw, holding him out of preseason action even when he's at 100 percent health. Teams typically give this treatment to core players.
With Richardson's ADP sitting in the middle of round five, I'd much rather draft Bradshaw in the 11th round.