Risk. Ask a group of people to define what the word means, and you’ll
probably get very similar answers. Change the question to ask how
risky something specific is, however, and you’ll likely receive
as many different responses as the number of people you talk to.
The world of fantasy football is no different. As a result, before
I provide my thoughts on the “riskiest” picks for the
upcoming season at each offensive skill position, it’s worth
taking a moment to discuss my approach.
My analysis starts with a look at the average draft position (ADP
)of players at each position based on early pre-season mock drafts.
I then narrow my choices to those players regularly being drafted
as fantasy starters in twelve to fourteen team leagues. While certain
reserves can be “risky” picks, the down-side to their
flaming-out over the course of the season is simply not as great
as the result of severe underperformance by a player you expected
to plug into your line-up all year long. Finally, for each player
I look at the chances that he will put up the numbers that an owner
could expect from a player drafted in his ADP spot. This can take
into account injury history, teammates, offense, coach, attitude
– anything that I think could adversely affect his chances
to rack up the numbers owners thus far seem to be expecting.
The end results of the above analysis are the following lists by
position. Remember, I am not predicting these players will fail
to post good numbers, but rather list of players who, for one reason
or another are more of a gamble than others which will likely be
available. If you are anything like me, that’s still enough
to justify discounting them to some extent come draft day.
Donovan McNabb (PHI) Ė There is no question that McNabb, when
on the top of his game, is one of the best and most productive QBís
in the league. That being said, there are a lot of reasons to think
he wonít be there all that much this year. First, of course,
there is the injury history. He has played in all 16 games only
three times in his eight year career and has missed at least a quarter
of his teamís games in half of those seasons (including missing
at least six games i each of the last two years.) This season, even
if he manages to play all 16 games, will it be at 100%? Not likely.
As he is recovering from a serious ACL injury, itís legitimate
to question how his mobility will be affected. This goes beyond
asking how many fewer rushing yards heíll rack up, as it also
impacts how effective he is at avoiding the rush. Add to the above
rumors that he is growing discontent in Philly and indications that
the Philly fans are growing disenchanted with him and you have the
makings of a potentially bad situation.
Vince Young (TEN) Ė In early mock drafts, the talented Titan
has been going off the boards as the eighth to twelfth QB selected
in most leagues, with his name being called as early as the fifth
round and as late as the ninth. Even the low end of that range constitutes
a high risk. Say what you will about Youngís obvious gifts,
they donít change the fact that football is a team sport.
He canít rack up passing yards if he has no targets that can
get open, and he canít let his legs do the running if he doesnít
have blockers opening lanes or other offensive threats spreading
the defense. This year Youngís supporting cast is even worse
than last year, and last seasonís stats (high-light reel plays
notwithstanding) were far from spectacular. Itís hard to see
Young taking a significant step forward in his productions this
season, and to the extent he can pad those stats with the occasional
long TD run, that may be great for a week, but what about all the
other games when he doesnít? In the end, a team with Young
as its QB1 is a team thatís beatable.
(DEN) Ė Another member of last seasonís talented rookie class, Cutler
is going a bit later in mock drafts than Young, and is regularly
one of the last, if not the last, starting fantasy QB taken in twelve
or fourteen team leagues. There is little chance he will justify
his selection in front of such names as Brett Favre, Jake Delhomme,
or Ben Roethlisberger, yet that is exactly whatís happening. This
is a young man who has completed a total of 81 passes in his NFL
career, and almost a third of those (including five of his nine
TDís) were to receivers (WR Rod Smith and TE Tony Scheffler) who
may not be starting the season with him due to injury. Cutlerís
lack of game experience and lack of an established rapport with
his receivers will give Coach Shanahan more reasons than he needs
to build his offense around Travis Henry and the running game. All
of these elements put together do not an effective starting fantasy
Matt Leinart (AZ) Ė Another overvalued sophomore, Leinartís
downside is not as worrisome as Youngís or Cutlerís.
Leinartís fantastic array of targets will help him get out
of the trouble he will regularly get himself into.
(DAL) -- Terrell Owens is his #1 receiver. Need I say more?
(KC) Ė In many leagues this season, the number two overall selection
will be Larry Johnson. Those owners are leaving themselves open
to a disastrous fantasy season. There are so many reasons to be
skeptical of a huge year from LJ Ė and that was even before the
rumblings of a potential contract holdout. On that topic, it seems
increasingly clear that this is not an idle threat. Remember that
LJís relationship with the Chiefs has been rocky from almost the
day he was drafted, and this contract dispute only feeds his feeling
that the team disrespects him. Moreover, he has leverage and he
knows it. He is this offense. On the flip-side, however, the Chiefs
are historically unwilling to pay out big bucks for any player,
and may be ready to play chicken with LJ right up to the start
of the season. Even missing training camp, however, could lead
to big problems. RBs (and, indeed, almost all players) who miss
training camp tend to be more likely to suffer injury during the
year. Since LJ also carried the ball over 400 times last season
Ė another factor that has historically resulted in increased injuries
Ė his owners should get ready for a long season of checking the
Chiefís injury report. Of course, even if LJ stays healthy, he
is not in an ideal situation for huge numbers. His offensive line
has been shedding pro-bowl caliber linemen in recent years and
with first year starter Brodie Croyle likely to be under center
throwing to unimpressive receivers on the flanks, defenses will
be stacking the line to shut LJ down.
Maroney (NE) -- In virtually every mock draft this season,
Maroney is going in the middle to late first round as a teamís
RB1. This despite the fact that even though he was splitting carries
with Corey Dillon in New England last year, Maroney still managed
to get himself dinged up on a regular basis, missing three games
entirely. By yearís end he needed shoulder surgery, and even now
there is still some question whether he will be ready for training
camp. This does not paint the image of the most durable back in
the league. Also, while itís now true that Dillon is out of the
picture, any expected increase in Maroneyís production may be
offset to a certain extent by the teamís increased reliance on
the passing game. A team generally doesnít go out and get receivers
the likes of Randy Moss and Dante Stallworth just to turn around
and pound the ball on the ground.
(CHI) Ė While none of the running backs going as RB2s for their
fantasy squads are absent some questions, Benson has done the
least to show that he is worthy of such a spot. His first two
seasons have been marred by injury and his yards per carry failed
to improve in his sophomore year. Add to this that he is simply
not a threat to provide much yardage through the passing game
and you have a rather unattractive package. Fantasy owners are
apparently willing to take the risk that his increased workload
with the departure of Thomas Jones will catapult him to solid
RB2 status. When there are other proven #2 fantasy backs like
Jones, Edgerrin James or even Clinton Portis available around
the time Benson is being selected, however, why would you take
a chance on a guy who only might be a good RB2?
(NO) Ė As Reggie Bush gets more and more touches, the sometimes
brittle McAllister may find his opportunities to excel disappearing.
Jacobs (NYG) Ė There is a lot of upside here, but also some
risk. If Jacobs fails to produce early, Coach Coughlin may work
Reuben Droughns into the line-up for more carries.
Tomlinson (SD) Ė OK, OK, there really isnít much risk here,
but I would point out that itís rare that the consensus pre-season
#1 fantasy pick actually ends the season as the best fantasy player.
Owens (DAL) Ė Any list of the riskiest fantasy selections
simply has to include T.O. He is one of those special players
with a seemingly endless capacity for finding new ways to frustrate
his owners. Can he put up astounding numbers? Yes. Can he win
you games single-handedly? Certainly. Can he be a huge part of
a fantasy championship run? Absolutely. Can he have an off-game
that leads to a tirade directed at coaches, fans, other players
and the team mascot, followed by pouting to the media, disappearances
from practices and a suspension for action detrimental to the
team? You bet.
(DEN) Ė After having successfully bounced back from a torn ACL
with 1084 yards and eight TDís in his first season with the Broncos,
Walker is regularly going as the ninth or tenth WR selected in
early mock drafts. Obviously these owners expect him to step up
over last yearís numbers and deliver the 1200+ yards and double-digit
TDís that you need out of your WR1. Is that a reasonable expectation?
I wouldnít bet on it. Before Jay Cutler took over signal calling
in Denver last season, Walker averaged 4.7 receptions, 77.9 yards
and .6 TDís per game. After Cutlerís promotion, his numbers dropped
to 3.6 receptions, 46 yards and .2 TDís per game. Thatís worrisome,
to say the least. Add to this the expectation that Coach Shanahan
will be relying on Travis Henry and the running game to drive
the offense, and it seems safer to expect Walker to turn in a
fair WR2 season.
Jackson (SF) Ė Regularly being selected as a fantasy WR2,
Jackson is benefitting from the expectation that he will be the
number one target for the still-developing Alex Smith in San Francisco.
That may be the case early in the season, but itís unlikely to
stay that way. Not only is Jackson apparently still feeling the
effects of last seasonís turf toe injury, but there is also the
fact he suffers from a chronic case of the dropsies. It wonít
take long for Smith to lose trust in Jackson if, even when he
is on the field, he canít hang on to the ball. There are clear
reasons why Seattle was willing to let him go for only a fourth
rounder. They are the same reasons you should consider other wide-outs
on your draft day.
Colston (NO) Ė This sophomore receiver had an incredible rookie
campaign, and has all the skills. Still, his lack of experience
could result in a sophomore slump that has him falling short of
WR1 numbers, yet that is where he is currently being drafted.
(NYG) Ė While certainly not as coveted as Antonio gates, Shockey
is clearly slotted at or near the top of the second tier of fantasy
TEs. As such, while you may not have to use one of your first
four picks to snag him, you will almost certainly have to use
a fifth rounder. Thatís awfully high given the real question marks
about the Giantsí offense coming into this season. While the G-men
express outward confidence that they will be able to compensate
for Tiki Barberís retirement and that Eli Manning will continue
to mature as a QB, neither is guaranteed. If either of those two
scenarios fails to come about, the Giantsí offense could see dramatic
changes. While that could mean better things for Shockey, it could
also mean worse.
(STL) Ė A solid, if unspectacular player in Miami, McMichael is
receiving a lot of attention in mock drafts as a starting fantasy
TE. While his numbers in Miami may have justified making him the
eighth to twelfth TE selected in the draft, itís not a very safe
assumption that he will post similar numbers in St. Louis, let
alone exceed them. Last season, despite the Rams finishing third
in league in passing yards with 4,328, a paltry 333 of them were
from completions to the TE. While the Rams will undoubtedly try
to use the position more now that they have a player of McMichaelís
caliber on the roster, if they donít change things up enough,
a pick used on McMichael is in serious danger of being a pick
(ATL) Ė While Michael Vickís legal troubles and inconsistency
have had him falling in mock drafts, Crumplerís value seems to
have stayed level. While he is clearly the top weapon in the Falconsí
air attack, itís still unclear just who will be throwing him the
ball this season and how the team as a whole will react to the
media circus that will surround them as long as Vick continues
to face federal charges. If this doesnít make Crumpler a risky
pick, I donít know what does.
(CLE) Ė Though he played all 16 games last season, injury risk
for Winslow still seems higher than other tight-ends. Add to that
the uncertainty at the Brownís QB position and Winslow is a high-reward,
but higher-than-average risk player.