5 Fantasy Football Stars That Could Burn You in 2013
Fantasy Football is the ultimate game of talent and situation evaluation, but no evaluation is complete without a proper understanding of the risks involved. For at least five fantasy stars next season, that risk may convince more cautious owners to stay away, and try a different direction.
This past season was a terrific year for fantasy fans, as new talents established their dominance, old ones finally affirmed their real-life draft slots and plenty of records were smashed in the process. Yeah, it was a pretty good year to have sure-fire studs like Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson or Drew Brees, but looking forward to next season, who isn’t nearly the lock they should be to validate their upcoming draft hype?
Bring your own votes with you as we explore five players that we think stand to be the biggest risks based on where you’ll have to draft them next year. Will you be buying into the hype anyway? Or will you be ducking out. For the sake of this discussion, we will be assuming non-PPR.
#5 Draft Risk: Dez Bryant
Dez Bryant is undeniably a monster talent, and finally put together a season worthy of that talent in 2012 when he finished as the #3 receiver in many standard fantasy leagues. Even still, is he worthy of being picked as a top 5 receiver next season?
There were reports early in the season that Dez Bryant was finally starting to “put it together” in practice, and the results actually followed as Bryant averaged 18 points a game over his final 8. The problem is, we just don’t know for sure that Bryant’s head can stay on straight over a long period of time yet. Bryant has such a documented history of screwing up (sometimes even making its way on the field), that it only seems like a matter of time that he’ll stray off course again and hurt his fantasy stock in the process.
As unfair as that might sound, Bryant being a knucklehead is enough of a concern to me to be a negative tie-breaker early on in drafts. I’ll take similar talents and fantasy producers like A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, and Julio Jones over him if I can help it. There’s even guys like Randall Cobb you can get much later and save that high draft pick for something else. In time, Bryant can earn my full trust, but it will take more than half a season to do it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t swing for the fences and take Bryant as your first receiver if you want him, just keep in mind that he carries with him considerably more burn-you risk than some of the aforementioned names.
#4 Draft Risk: Chris Johnson
It’s true, when compared to 2011, Chris Johnson had somewhat of a bounce-back year on the stat sheet. It’s also true that there is an element of safety to a player who’s never missed a game due to injury and has never had less than 1400 scrimmage yards in a season. However, CJ2K carries considerable risk for 2013 due to what owners will have to pay to select him.
Despite two disappointing seasons in a row, CJ2K will in all likelihood be hyped as a very high draft pick yet again because many people are still infatuated with his upside (or misled by his 4.5 YPC this past season). It’s been four seasons since Johnson hit the 2000 yard mark, and it’s clear at least some of his talents or motivations have waned, but in the eyes of many he still presents the ultimate homerun draft pick.
One overlooked thing that makes Chris Johnson even more risky than preseason draft inflation is his hit-or-miss performances. In 2012, there were 7 games (44%) where CJ had 6 points or fewer. These are the type of games that can kill your season if you ponied up to rely on him as your top back. I’m not saying avoid CJ at all costs, but be very wary if you are picking high in drafts. There are much safer options out there with upside of their own.
#3 Draft Risk: Andre Johnson
Thanks to a late-season surge, Andre Johnson quietly posted the third 1500 yard season of his career, but everything that made him a risk going into 2012 didn’t just vanish into thin air. Heading into next year, Andre is a player I’m just not comfortable rolling the dice on again.
First and foremost with Andre Johnson, the injuries are always the most scary detractor. Andre did manage a full 16 game slate in 2012 (and 2 postseason games), but in the previous two years he had missed 12 games due to injury, and missed another 10 games from 2005-2007. Leg injuries have been a recurring theme in Andre’s career, and they could crop up again at any time.
The other concern to be aware of is Andre’s age. At the wide receiver position, typically it’s the early or mid-thirties where elite players start fading away. There are some notable exceptions, but that’s the track record. By the start of the 2013 season, Andre will be 32. Combine that with the injury history and the fact that he continues to play in a run-heavy offense where he will disappear here and there, and fantasy owners will have to decide whether they’d rather be a year too early or a year too late on avoiding Andre Johnson. If you wanted to be drafted highly as a 32-year-old receiver, I think you need to show you can play all 16 games year in and year out, like Roddy White.
#2 Draft Risk: Trent Richardson
Trent Richardson was a highly-touted and highly-drafted rookie coming out of Alabama, and while few believed he was the next Adrian Peterson, many called him the best running back prospect since. Richardson finished as a top 10 fantasy back as a rookie in 15 games, so he should be a no-brainer top 10 player in 2013 drafts, right? That’s where I’m not so sure.
When you look closer at Trent Richardson’s performance last year, it’s painfully obvious that his value was heavily lifted by his 12 touchdowns. Richardson did not impress as a runner (although he didn’t get much help), averaging just 3.6 YPC for the season. His longest run of the season was just 32 yards, and while many will point to the injuries as why Richardson ran poorly, it should be noted that he consistently averaged under 4 YPC every month, even when he wasn’t known to be hurt. In order to maintain that level of touchdown production again, he has to become more explosive in the running game.
It’s entirely possible Richardson gets better as a runner in his second season, but what if he doesn’t? And how likely is it that a RB scores 12 touchdowns again on an offense as poor as the Browns? If Richardson’s yardage output stays the same, and his touchdowns drop to a more reasonable 7-8, his fantasy points per game are cut by about 15%. Richardson’s workload alone will keep him valuable, but for where he is projected to go in drafts, I’d explore other options. There’s definitely a lot of upside here if Richardson can turn his rushing efficiency around, especially with his obvious skillset in the receiving game, but if you’re drafting him high next year thinking he’ll be a better alternative to, say, Marshawn Lynch or Doug Martin, don’t think it comes without significant risk.
#1 Draft Risk: Robert Griffin III
Aside from the obvious risk that Robert Griffin III may not make it back in time to start the 2013 season coming off major knee reconstruction, or that he will always be innately at more risk for injury than pure pocket passers, there are other factors that will make RG3 a huge gamble in upcoming drafts.
Washington invested heavily in RG3 to be their franchise QB, and after his latest gruesome injury and the lashing the team took from the media for allowing him to play while severely limping, it’s quite likely the Redskins take a cautious approach and limit RG3’s scrambling. And of course, the scrambling RG3 will be allowed to do on occasion may not be nearly as deadly as it was prior to the injury, at least not right away. No, Adrian Peterson’s recovery is not the norm.
Any decline in rushing is bad, bad news for RG3’s fantasy prospects. While he proved to be an efficient passer in moderate volumes, finishing with a 102.4 QB rating, this past year there wasn’t any quarterback more reliant on rushing stats for his fantasy value. About 39% of RG3’s fantasy points came from rushing, and if those numbers do come down in 2013 as I expect, RG3 won’t be rewarding his draft day selection this time around. If he falls late in drafts, maybe this becomes a not-so-sleepy-sleeper pick, but even with the injury you can probably expect to pay a lot for him if you want him on your team next year, and that’s what makes him our top draft risk for the 2013 fantasy football season.