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Last week's post was the answer to the most common question I'm asked by fantasy owners. This week's post is not the second-most common question, but it's high on the list: Who are the players I don't believe in?
Let's get one thing straight before I answer the question: Many of these players will succeed. I might even draft some of these players. It doesn't change that regardless of their spot on the depth chart, scheme, and role, I have lingering doubts.
LeVeon Bell (ADP 1): I believed in Bell when most were saying that the Michigan State star ran too much like a scat back and he was to slow to succeed in the NFL. I continue to combat the notion that Bell succeeded last year because he lost weight while these new believers fail to cite the health of the Steelers' offensive line. Yes, Bell probably gained a little more speed and quickness from the weight loss, but his burst and agility scores at 230 pounds were as good as Ahmad Bradshaw and Jahvid Best.
If I'm so adamant about Bell as a talent, why on earth do I have doubts? I have bad experiences with backs and receivers missing games due to suspension and suffering an injury upon return that lingers for weeks and hurts their performances. Bell is a crazy push-pull for me this year, because I have him as my No.1 option in PPR formats.
LeSean McCoy (ADP 18): I was told that a significant reason the Eagles shipped McCoy to Buffalo is their GPS data that indicated McCoy lost a significant amount of burst last year, but not enough to where his value on the open market would decline. The Eagles decided to sell high on McCoy and I think they made a strong decision to replace the runner with DeMarco Murray and acquire a starter-caliber backup in Ryan Mathews.
I don't doubt that McCoy is still a worthwhile talent, I'm leery of Rex Ryan offenses. There's a destructive history with Ryan-coached teams that includes defenses dominating offenses in practices and those offenses starting slow, if they ever get started at all.
LaDanian Tomlinson's play in New York offers a compelling exception because McCoy certain approaches that tier of talent. It should be noted that Tomlinson was not designated the starter. Rex Ryan gave Shonn Greene the shortest of leashes early in the season against the Ravens and from that point on, Tomlinson was the guy.
The difference between the state of these two offenses during that short-lived Tomlinson era and McCoy's arrival in Buffalo. The Bills were the 9th-worst fantasy scorer on the ground last year, the Jets were the 8th-best fantasy scorer on the ground the year before Tomlinson's arrival from San Diego.
Offensive line performance is a factor. The Eagles have one of the better units and last year, they helped make the Philadelphia ground game the 11th-best fantasy scorer for team running backs. These are direct correlations, but you get a rough idea that McCoy is a back who Philadelphia believes has lost some burst and is now on a team that didn't perform well on the ground last year with a defensive head coach known for playing musical chairs with running back playing time and never having a consistently productive NFL offense under his leadership.
It's hard not to cast a wary eye at McCoy's prospects even if I think he could be a top-15 back for a team like New Orleans, Houston, Baltimore, and several others. The lingering toe injury from last year doesn't help matters, either.
Melvin Gordon (ADP 30): I had initial doubts about Gordon while evaluating him for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. He doesn't break a lot of tackles. I had an analytics professional tell me that he broke down Gordon's sophomore tape and that end around play accounting for a ridiculous percentage of his yardage. I believe the number was 73 percent.
He also noticed that Gordon didn't break many tackles, which he deems important when evaluating certain types of runners that the Wisconsin back is supposed to be for the league. The rookie's junior tape helped me feel better about him. He showed good anticipation of small creases and did a fine job of hitting them for gains that will project well for the professional ranks once Gordon gets up to speed.
It's the adjustment period that leaves me wondering if taking Gordon in the third round is too high. Will he improve fast enough as a pass protector? Will he spot these smaller creases with a new team? Can he break more tackles than I've seen or will he remain a back who falls forward and occasionally pushes a pile?
These questions will get answered his year, but do I really want to entertain them at the expense of a third round pick when Danny Woodhead is healthy and likely handling enough passing-down responsibilities to put a ceiling on Gordon's upside? I haven't been faced with taking Gordon once this summer, but I know I'll be having these thoughts when that time comes.
Latavius Murray (ADP 41): By far, his best game came on four carries against the Chiefs (4-112-2). It took Murray far more touches to even approach 100 total yards, which he only did once more in four starts. A good athlete, what Murray does best is catch the ball. As a bal carrier, has an awkard style and his decision-making between the tackles has lacked maturity as recently as last year.
Many backs mature after a year or two in the league and Murray could be one of them. The addition of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper should also help the offense establish continuity that ultimately improves the ground game--especially with more profitable down and distance situations that comes with better balance.
UDFA Michael Dyer has the most savvy between the tackles of the backs on the depth chart and as impressive as he's been early on, he has an uphill battle to make the team, much less earn meaningful playing time. Roy Helu has never been a great runner between the tackles, but his versatility in the passing game, burst, and strength are good enough to earn playing time if Murray struggles.
I'm concerned the Raiders ground game could be a carousel this year. If I'm using an Upside Down approach, Murray has more appeal to me than targeting him as my RB2.
Todd Gurley (ADP 49): I want to believe that Gurley will be ready this soon after his ACL tear. I can't buy into it until we see him in contact drills. The only way I'm considering the UGA stud this early is if I'm using the Upside Down Strategy and he's part of a block of 5 mid-range backs where I see their values as pretty interchangeable.
Sammy Watkins (ADP 54): Watkins recently told the media that former New York Jet and Arizona Cardinals receiver Rob Moore, Watkins' receiver coach in Buffalo last year, discouraged the receivers from using specific release and route techniques at the line of scrimmage that didn't fit into Moore's approach to the game. This kind of explanation makes sense to me, because as much as Clemson used Watkins on short, packaged plays, there is tape of Watkins displaying stronger route skills than what Matt Harmon was able to track in his excellent Reception Perception Series.
Get a player thinking about what "not to do" after spending enough time learning how to perform those specific techniques and it can make a player less effective because he's thinking more and responding in a less timely manner to the game unfolding before him. Injury and quarterback play, as Harmon also noted, also played a significant role for Watkins' overall performance.
Doesn't it sound like I'm writing about a receiver who had far fewer than 65 catches 982 yards and 6 touchdowns for a bad team during his first season? You'd think he was a fantasy disappointment. We're either going to look back on this data analysis as over-thinking or spot-on.
What concerns me this year is the unanswered questions at quarterback and Rex Ryan's history of having a bad influence on the performance of his offenses. At the same time, is Ryan's offense going to be worse than what we saw with the Bills under Doug Marrone? I have a sneaky feeling the answer is "yes," because many of the same players are still part of the team.
I hope the Bills can figure out a passing game, because I don't want to charge Buffalo with crimes against fantasy with Watkins as compelling evidence. At this point in time, they are a major suspect in my ongoing investigation.
Giovani Bernard (ADP 62): The Bengals are positioning Jeremy Hill as the lead back and are talking him up as if he'll be a huge force for the offense. I love Bernard's skills, but are his opportunities dwindling? The sixth round seems awfully steep for a player whose opportunities might not be enough for top-25 production at his position.
Cam Newton (ADP 65): Did the offensive line get better this year? I have serious doubts and Newton is an awfully big target to hit. Big quarterbacks may shake off tacklers, but the cumulative effects of punishment can be a career-long factor. Steve McNair is a good example.
Was the reason Devin Funchess looked like an overrated prospect last year have something to do with a toe injury? I think so, but it doesn't explain away some of the things I didn't like about his ball tracking and vertical game as a sophomore. Will Kelvin Benjamin take the next step as a route runner so he's not leaving Newton hanging at key moments? We'll see.
I've seen Newton fall to the eighth and ninth rounds often enough that I'm more comfortable waiting on the Carolina quarterback than making him a priority in the sixth.
Joique Bell (ADP 67): His recovery from knee and Achilles' injuries has been slow. Although he might be fine with the season starts and faithful Bell believers will be rewarded, Ameer Abdullah has continued to excite in training camp. The big question for Abdullah is pass protection, which is the reason where Bell is most likely to hold onto his job if he gets soon. Logic tells me Bell is worth taking here, but I'd feel better if he drops another 2-3 rounds.
Tevin Coleman (ADP 71): I've detailed my take on Coleman several times, but here's the short version.
- He runs too much with his head down into contact which inhibits balance to earn significant yards after contact between the tackles if he doesn't have a significant down hill start.
- His gait lacks the natural knee and hip bend necessary for Coleman to transfer his natural power into on-field power as a runner.
- His stiff gait also inhibits a balanced variation of step width to make consistently strong changes of direction in a wide variety of situations required of top running backs.
- Although the outside zone was his scheme at Indiana, he was a boom-bust producer on a carry-to-carry basis and he'll need to demonstrate the three skills above that he lacks to become a more consistent runner in this scheme at the NFL level against more athletic, savvy defenses.
Add Devonta Freeman to the mix and I believe Coleman remains a boom-bust prospect going too early in re-drafts.
Zach Ertz (ADP 76): I value receivers who make plays in tight, physical coverage--especially tight ends. Ertz did not demonstrate this skill consistently at Stanford and I haven't seen evidence of significant improvement from him in Philadelphia. He has been a projection player since his rookie year. What I mean is that fantasy owners and writers project their dreams of what they want Ertz to be based on his size, some nice plays where he's running wide open, and the scheme. It's not enough for me to pin my hopes on Ertz when hasn't reached the top-12 at his position and what I believe holds him back are the quality of targets he has not shown the ability to convert.
Julius Thomas (ADP 78): Part of the Seahawks' winning game plan in Super Bowl XLVIII was to force Peyton Manning to check down and play physical football against Thomas, who has an reputation for not responding well to punishment. Once they forced Thomas into making errors or repeated check-downs, they bet on Manning getting impatient with the short game. This is the book on Thomas now and I'm curious to see how he responds on a team where he lacks the caliber of surrounding talent to usually take that kind of pressure off him. I'd prefer Thomas to Ertz as a talent, but there are still growing pains to go through in Jacksonville that makes me wary of both this early in re-drafts.
Darren McFadden (ADP 95): Read my thoughts on Tevin Coleman and add McFadden's woes with showing patience as a runner and a history of minor injuries that cost him time and you have my thoughts on Dallas' second-string back.
Breshad Perriman (ADP 106): Consistency issues catching the football and running sharp routes are keeping Perriman from nailing down the starting job in camp. I thought Perriman would need a year or two before arriving in Baltimore. Nothing has changed for me.
Bishop Sankey (ADP 107): Maybe Sankey improves his decision-making this year. Until he doesn't I have doubts. David Cobb may not look as pretty in shorts and a t-shirt running against air, but I'll take the rookie in pads and a helmet over Sankey. Thus far, Cobb has impressed Ken Whisenhunt in training camp. Sankey might have the starting job to begin the preseason, but I have doubts he'll have it to end the year.
Charles Sims (ADP 113): Mentioning Sims on this list is a little like cheating, because the ADP is a reflection of Sims' value before Lovie Smith told the press that Doug Martin has been named the lead back. I only say a little like cheating because I've liked Martin's chances since he reported to camp in great shape after new offensive coordinator stood on the table to keep the former Boise State star. Expect Sims' value to drop a few rounds.
Josh Hill (ADP 118): There was lots of praise from Sean Payton about Hill this spring, but we're now hearing that Ben Watson will be part of a committee. I think its safe to presume that Hill will get the high-impact targets down the intermediate seam or deep corner as well as red zone looks. Still, I think I'd prefer to take my chances with a full-time starter at this point of the draft. Kyle Rudolph comes to mind.
Reggie Bush (ADP 126): Can he stay healthy? Will the 49ers use him enough to become a relevant option? These are the two questions echoing through my head when I read his name on a draft list. To be honest, there isn't really an 11th round player that I have true doubts about relative to their draft spot. Bush is closest.
Jay Ajayi (ADP 141): He's an immature runner who bounces a lot of runs outside, carries the ball a bit wildly, and I wonder if there is cartilage in that knee that dropped him to the fifth round. Ajayi is capable of exciting moments, but so was Laurence Maroney, Isaiah Pead, Darren McFadden, and a bunch of athletic talents lacking conceptual knowledge of interior running. Ajayi isn't doomed for failure, but I'm concerned this year might be a learning experience for him like it was for C.J. Spiller, Jamaal Charles, and McCoy. There's enough depth in Miami that Ajayi might not maintain a hold on the No.2 role, if he truly ever had it.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ADP 147): For the past two seasons I read from someone in Tampa Bay that this young tight end has been uncoverable in practice. This week I read that the former Washington star still needs work with his hands. I'm skeptical about the uncoverable part. I like Seferian-Jenkin's fluid athleticism around the ball and his height and build-up speed could get put to good use with Jameis Winston at the controls. It's the hands part that leaves me wondering, especially when Doug Martin and Kenny Bell could earn Winston's trust faster if reliability remains a problem for the tight end.
Andre Williams (ADP 165): I don't see a lot of upside for Williams beyond red zone carries. His vision isn't great, he lacks versatility, and he had issues executing blocks when he was at Boston College. Give me a player like Fred Jackson who may have a decade more wear and tear, but at least has proven he can produce at the position. I suppose for a 14th-round pick, Williams as a goal line back could have upside. It's too limited for me to consider.
James White (ADP 175): I don't see the athletic similarities between White and Shane Vereen, but I'm told a lot that White is just like Vereen. I get the potetial for their roles, but I think Vereen's burst and skill with the ball in the air are much better. White can offer a little more between the tackles, but I have doubts that his intelligence for the game will serve as a game-changing compensation for the rest of his skills.
Jordan Reed (ADP 186): I'd still probably take Reed here, but the leg issues concern me. I was surprised when Reed looked so much better between his final year at Florida and his first year at Washington. I stil wonder about that transformation and whether it was good for him long-term.
Cordarrelle Patterson (ADP 198): The knock on Patterson was his ability to learn. There were draft analysts who were told that Patterson was not a book smart student of the game. So far, it appears they were given correct information. It's difficult to believe Patterson ever helps out the Vikings as anything more than a return specialist.
Terrance West (ADP 213): I admit, one of the reasons West is on this list is wishful thinking on behalf of claiming Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr in recent drafts. But my wishful thinking is rooted in the idea that West had real conceptual issues running between the tackles or maintaining an aggressive line to finish plays. He danced too much at times where he should have been more decisive. He also was the recipient of multiple sideline critiques from coaches and teammates. The current temperature on West is that he's immature and on thin ice in Cleveland. It's enough for me to avoid him where I can.
Jermaine Kearse (ADP 221): Kearse's targets nearly doubled last year and he still only had 16 more receptions (38) than he did in 2013 (22). His touchdowns dropped for 4 to 1 and I wonder if his job is safe while competing with the likes of Tyler Lockett, Ricardo Lockette, Chris Matthews, and Paul Richardson Jr. Even if Kearse remains a starter, I don't see a lot of upside for him.
Richard Rodgers (ADP 241): I think the talent is there for Rodgers to produce top-12 fantasy numbers at his position, but only if the Packers lose interest in feeding Davante Adams. I may have doubts about picking Rodgers, but I'd still consider it here.
Next Week: Upside Down Draft Strategy