The must-avoid list: Fantasy players you don't want to pay for
The pressure is on when you’re on the clock, time is winding down and everyone you wanted to pick is unavailable, leaving you with a tough decision. Sometimes when trying to pick the best option, a good starting point is to eliminate the worst ones. Here are five players who, if they are available when it’s your turn to pick, you’re probably better off picking someone else. They are my five must-avoid players and why they should be avoided.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Once, Peterson was a clear top pick in fantasy drafts, but right now there are better options in the early and middle parts of the first round. First, there is a cap for Peterson’s production, because he’s not an asset in the pass game. Among starting RBs, only Peterson and Justin Forsett had PFF ratings below 55 in both receiving and pass protection a season ago. Because of that, in third- and fourth-down situations, the Vikings only had Peterson on the field for 13.9 percent of snaps.
There is also reason to believe Peterson will decline. He is the fifth-oldest running back currently on a roster, with Frank Gore the only older back projected to start. His yards after contact per attempt was consistently above 3.0 in each year of his career from 2007 to 2013, but in the last two years he’s been closer to average in this category, including a 2.3 average last year. He also declined over the second part of the season; over the last six games, including Minnesota’s playoff game, he averaged 3.2 yards per carry total, not after contact.
It might not have seemed like Peterson was on the decline because his fantasy production remained high, but that was mostly due to volume. Peterson had 39 more carries than any other back. At his age it’s unlikely for him to perform as well as he did four years ago, and if anything, last year’s per-play performance is his ceiling. With a number of young backs ready to take a workhorse role around the league and all of them better receivers, all it takes is Peterson’s number of carries to regress to the mean some for him to fall to the bottom half of the top 10 running backs. He is consistently getting drafted in the middle of the first round, so you’re better off passing on him and either drafting a young running back with more upside or a wide receiver.
Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Jets
In 2015 with the Jets and Ryan Fitzpatrick, Marshall had one of the best years of his career. In 10 of 16 game he managed 100 yards. His 14 touchdowns were tied for the most among wide receivers. This helped lead him to become the fifth-best fantasy receiver last year, and while every indication is Marshall will have another good season, it’s unlikely he can repeat that, or even live up to his current ADP, where he’s around the 16th player drafted.
First, his number of targets should regress. Last year he had 167, which was fifth-most for wide receivers. This was in part because the Jets targeted wide receivers on 70.5 percent of pass attempts, which was the most in the league and much higher than the league average of 55.3 percent. Part of that is because Chris Ivory, who had a career-high 34 targets, was only targeted on 17.5 percent of his routes, which was bottom 10 among backs with at least 175 routes run. With Matt Forte and Bilal Powell taking Ivory’s snaps in the passing game, more of Fitzpatrick’s targets should be going to running backs. And then there’s tight ends. Last year, Kellen Davis led the Jets in routes run at the position, but was targeted on just 6.3 percent of his routes, which was second-worst for tight ends. Jeff Cumberland was also in the bottom third of the league at 12.6 percent. This year, Jace Amaro is back, and he was targeted on 21.3 percent of his routes in 2014. Not only will more of Fitzpatrick’s targets go to backs, but also tight ends, leaving fewer targets for Marshall.
His touchdown rate should also be expected to regress. He had a touchdown on 12.8 percent of his catches in 2015. Over the last decade, only 27.8 percent of wide receivers who had a touchdown rate that high or higher were able to maintain a 12.8-percent-or-better rate the following year. And that doesn’t even account for the chance Marshall regresses due to his age. Only seven receivers are currently on rosters and are 32 and older. What we saw last year is the height of what Marshall can do. He is getting drafted like he will regress slightly as the eighth receiver off the board, but with regressed targets and touchdowns mixed with the returned health of Alshon Jeffery, Dez Bryant and Jordy Nelson as well as young players expected to emerge; Marshall shouldn’t be picked so high. If you have an early second-round pick, you have more options with more upside. Marshall should be picked at best late in the second round of 12-team leagues.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
In 2014, Kelvin Benjamin broke onto the fantasy scene as one of the most-targeted receivers. He had 142 targets, which was fifth-best for receivers that year. In 2015 without Benjamin, Cam Newton had the best year of his career, so some are expecting that combining a healthy Benjamin with a great Newton should lead to huge fantasy results. This is leading Benjamin to be drafted in the mid-third round of drafts, but these expectations are too high. In order for him to match his ADP, he would need to top his 2014 production, but there is reason to believe that won’t happen.
There will be a lot more competition for targets in 2016 than there was in 2014. Greg Olsen had a career year last year with 2.22 yards per route run, which was second-best for tight ends. He only saw a slight increase in target rate with Benjamin out, but the real competition will come at wide receiver. In 2014, the Carolina receivers with the second- and third-most targets were Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, and both failed to reach even 1.2 yards per route run. In 2015, both Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn topped 1.88 yards per route run. With Funchess also primed for a breakout year, Benjamin should see a lower percentage of the targets than he saw as a rookie.
Not only will he see a smaller part of the pie, the pie should also be smaller than it was in 2014. That year, the Panthers were an average team, and Benjamin saw 42 targets in the fourth quarter or overtime, which was fourth-most for wide receivers. In 2015, the Panthers were a winning team and only had 112 fourth-quarter pass attempts; the fewest for any team. Carolina should continue their winning ways into 2016, which means less fourth-quarter passing than Benjamin is used to.
Even if Benjamin improves from his rookie season on a per-target basis, the decrease in targets should hurt him to the point where he might not match his rookie stats. You can expect improvement due to experience, but he might also have a slow start due to injury. There are other wide receivers in more pass-happy offenses who should get better fantasy results. Because of that, when it comes to the third round, you should let someone else take Benjamin.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans
Murray was a top fantasy running back in Dallas, but then in 2015 Murray disappointed in Philadelphia. Now in Tennessee, Murray is expected to see an increase in carries, which some hope will return him to his 2014 glory. This has led him to be an early-fourth-round pick in fantasy drafts, but even if he is a top-25 back in number of carries, he might not be a top-30 running back.
One big reason is the offensive line. In 2014 when Murray was at his best, the Cowboys had the best run-blocking team in the league. In 2015, despite injuries at guard, the Eagles still had a very good offensive line and Murray wasn’t able to capitalize off it. He is going to a Titans team that was 23rd-best in run-blocking in 2015 and isn’t expected to be much better in 2015. The line went through plenty of offensive linemen in 2015, but the backups had more of a problem in pass protection than run-blocking. At center, they added Ben Jones, who is a better pass protector than run-blocker. Even if the Titans’ young offensive linemen exceed expectations, the line won’t be as good as Murray has had in recent years.
Murray’s fantasy value is also limited due to his receiving. In 2015, Murray had a career-high 7.3 yards per catch, but it was also third-worst for backs with at least 40 catches. He’s also in danger of losing carries to Derrick Henry. It’s supposed to be a 1-2 punch, but Henry in his first preseason game was very impressive. In 10 carries, he had five players miss tackles on him, and he averaged 7.4 yards per carry despite his longest carry only going for 16 yards. It’s only a preseason game, but if Murray is splitting carries and isn’t involved much in the passing game, that greatly limits his chances.
Add to all that the fact that Murray has a similar problem to Benjamin, in that he might not be touching the ball much in the fourth quarter. Tennessee only ran the ball 74 times in the fourth quarter last year, which was third-lowest, as the team trailed often. While the Titans should improve in 2016, this is another reason Murray’s carries will be limited.
Behind the Titans offensive line, and with all of the reasons his touches will be limited, Murray should be a RB3 heading into the season. With how many good wide receivers there are in 2016, you likely don’t want to be adding your RB3 early in the fourth round.
Allen Hurns, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
The entire Jaguars offense had a breakout season in 2015, including Hurns, who topped 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, helping lead him to a new contract. This has also led to him getting drafted in the sixth round of drafts, which is about a round too early. When you get to the sixth round, it’s better to pass on him for other wide receivers with slightly lower ADPs, and you should end up better off.
Hurns’ 2015 success was too predicated on a few big plays. Only eight receivers had three or more catches for 55-plus yards, including Hurns. Even if Hurns sees the same number of targets and catches, his yards should decrease because it’s unlikely to consistently make that many huge plays.
His touchdown rate should also decrease. He had a touchdown on 15.6 percent of his catches last year. The only wide receivers to have a touchdown rate that high or higher two years in a row are Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson.
The Jaguars are expected to improve, which could also hurt Hurns’ numbers. No team ran the ball less in the fourth quarter than Jacksonville, which should change if they can start winning more. The addition of Chris Ivory should commit Jacksonville a little more to the run throughout the game. While Hurns can very well keep the same target rate he had last year, there should be fewer targets to go around on the whole. All of this adds up to Hurns’ numbers not being as impressive, even if he’s still playing well. Let someone else overspend for him in the sixth round.
Must-avoid honorable mentions: Eddie Lacy, Demaryius Thomas, Latavius Murray, Jeremy Langford