The 15 Worst Fantasy Values According To The NFL Salary Cap
Creating and managing a championship team in fantasy football usually comes down to getting great value on your investments. Whether it is a snake draft or an auction, grabbing Josh Gordon in Round 11 or for $9 in an auction is an example of getting an incredible return on your investment.
The NFL is constructed with a strict salary cap that teams may not go over in any given season. Much like fantasy football, NFL management teams must assemble a team that consists of contracts constructed in a way that returns overall value for each given player they invest in. With only around $126 million in salary cap to spend on 53 players, this job can become quite difficult.
In the first part, I identified the 15 best values in fantasy football based on their salary cap numbers in 2013.
In this piece, I am going to break down the 15 worst values in fantasy football season based on their salary cap number in 2013—how much of their salary for that year counted against their team’s total salary cap. After, I will take a look into what their 2014 salary cap number is and breakdown how and for what teams these players might compete with going forward.
*This order and list is not based on the overall least valuable players in relation to their salary. If that were the case, players that were never drafted like Josh Morgan and Mercedes Lewis would make the list. Instead, we take a look only at players who were drafted or on a roster in the 2013 season.
All scoring is based on a standard scoring format with an additional 0.5 points awarded per reception.
All salary cap information comes from www.overthecap.com.
1. Ray Rice
2013 Cap Number: $5,750,000
2014 Cap Number: $8,750,000
Ray Rice tops the list not only because he made almost $6 million while averaging just 3.1 ypc, but also because he was drafted in most leagues anywhere from third to thirteenth overall. According to Rice himself, he played through an injury the majority of the season. He looked like a shell of his former self as he displayed significantly less burst, quickness and power than we had seen before.
The offensive line played a role as well. In 2013, the Ravens run blocking as a whole graded out as the sixth-worst in the NFL (-66.2). In the three previous seasons, the Ravens graded out as the 11th-best run-blocking unit twice and the 10th-best in 2010.
Rice finished dead last of all running backs in overall grade (-16.0) and in elusive rating (7.4). These stats rank among the worst for any running back in a single season in PFF’s history.
How He Got Here: In July of 2012, Rice signed a five-year, $35 million contract extension with the Ravens. Formerly, he was a second-round draft pick out of Rutgers.
2014 Outlook: It will be interesting to track Ray Rice in the offseason, as many questions are currently unanswered. The Ravens will not really have any option to cut Rice based on the way his contract is structured. If the Ravens can get him help on the offensive line and if his renewed health leads to his old-form burst, Rice will be a prime bounce back candidate in fantasy football.
2. Michael Vick
2013 Cap Number: $12,200,000
2014 Cap Number: FREE AGENT
Following the third preseason game, Michael Vick looked like he was built for Chip Kelly’s new offense. His ADP shot up and within days of that game he soon became a trendy pick between the seventh and ninth round of the draft. Vick injured his hamstring before the midseason point, Nick Foles took over, and that was it for Vick in 2013.
Trust me, matters were worse for the Eagles. His $12.2 million against the cap could have been spread out and used on impact defensive free agents like Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett or Chris Harris. Those three standout defensive players did not even count against the cap for as much combined as Vick did.
Although he only played 335 total snaps, Vick graded out as our 20th-worst quarterback overall (-0.2). He graded out right around the likes of Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kellen Clemmens—not exactly the most promising group.
How He Got Here: Vick signed a one-year “extension” to remain with the Eagles in Kelly’s inaugural year.
2014 Outlook: Vick is an unrestricted free agent. Over Super Bowl weekend, it was reported that the Jets and Buccaneers are interested in Vick’s services. I would suggest that NFL owners and fantasy owners be very wary of investing in Vick. In his last two seasons he has graded out negatively as a passer individually (-4.3, -9.9) and overall (-14.2). He is no longer an effective player in real life and in fantasy football most of his redeeming traits have left him.
3. Eli Manning
2013 Cap Number: $20,850,000
2014 Cap Number: $20,400,000
Eli Manning did not carry quite the hype that Michael Vick consumed heading into late August drafts, but there were plenty of people, myself included, who believed that he had a strong chance to get back to his 2011-version. Most who drafted Manning viewed him as a high-upside QB2 that could be their QB1. He was supposed to be adding a healthy Hakeem Nicks, a more experienced David Wilson, Reuben Randle and Brandon Myers to his arsenal of weapons. Sure there were concerns on the offensive line, but they didn’t seem much different from their Super Bowl season when the Giants graded out as the worst pass-blocking team in the NFL (-81.0).
All of the positives just mentioned quickly turned into negatives for one reason or another. Manning finished with the worst grade of his career (-7.4) and it was the only time since the 2008 season that he did not finish with a grade higher than +10.0. He was a complete bust in almost any game that you started him for fantasy football and the Giants barely clung on to seven wins as Manning engulfed $20,850,000 of their total salary cap.
How He Got Here: Manning signed a seven-year, $109 million contract in the summer of 2009.
2014 Outlook: Unless his contract is extended, Manning will once again count for an over $20 million cap hit. In order for Manning to improve, the team around him needs to get better. The Giants have many holes to fill with just $13 million in cap space and one offseason to work with.
4. Darren McFadden
2013 Cap Number: $9,685,084
2014 Cap Number: FREE AGENT
Most fantasy owners were fed up with McFadden after his 2012 campaign. I featured him on my players to avoid article in early August when his ADP was at 31st overall. McFadden supporters pointed to the Raiders’ switch back to the power run-blocking scheme that made him a fantasy goldmine in 2011 as a reason for his future success. Of course, his season was once again marred by numerous injuries and a lack of effectiveness. Eventually, he lost his starting job to former Jaguars castoff Rashad Jennings.
McFadden finished 54th of 55 qualifying running backs overall (-9.8) who played at least 25% of their team’s snaps. He graded in the “red” in every aspect of his game in 2013. He also finished 45th out of 49 qualifying running backs in elusive rating (19.2). Elusive rating attempts to distill the success of a running back independent of his blocking.
How He Got Here: McFadden signed a rare deal that was only possible under the former collective bargaining agreement. His signed a six-year, $60.1 million contract after being drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
2014 Outlook: McFadden is an unrestricted free agent and a second contract does not seem likely to come from the Raiders. However, a reunion with former running backs coach Hue Jackson, who is now the offensive coordinator with the Bengals, has been rumored to be possible. McFadden enjoyed his best career success under Jackson’s tutelage and the Bengals already have a great offensive line—it would be a great fit. Of course, McFadden has never been short of talent and he will have to find a way to stay healthy.
5. Sam Bradford
2013 Cap Number: $12,595,000
2014 Cap Number: $17,610,000
Sam Bradford makes my top five because much like Vick and Manning before him, expectations were high for some prospective owners who saw Bradford as a high-upside QB2. I never did fully understand the hype surrounding him. I thought that his “improved” passing weapons were overrated and possessed very little past success. Those who follow the NFL closely were clairvoyant to consider the Brian Schottenheimer factor when accessing Bradford.
Schottenheimer had failed before as an offensive coordinator and proved once again to struggle with utilizing the talent around him while at the same time serving up soft serve vanilla offensive schemes that would melt away even in late December. Bradford struggled to put together the consistent production that was needed for a QB1 and eventually his season was cut short to injury.
Bradford finished as the 20th-best quarterback (+0.5) in the NFL out of quarterbacks who played at least 25% of their team’s snaps.
How He Got Here: As one of the last mega-contracts of the old collective bargaining agreement, Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million contract as the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
2014 Outlook: Time is working against Bradford. He needs to recover fast from injury in order to improve the chemistry with his young receiving core. His cap hit rises about $5 million and it seems likely that he won’t prove worthy once again.
6. Danny Amendola
2013 Cap Number: $3,543,750
2014 Cap Number: $4,575,000
As a general subscriber to the theory that the “injury-prone” label is more often than not inaccurate, I was smitten with Danny Amendola before my drafts. I set out to draft him in at least one auction, and luckily for me, the bidding worked out in a way that limited me to drafting him in just one league. Amendola was viewed as a high-upside pick and he was selected as high as the third round in some drafts.
Like clockwork, Amendola proceeded to produce big fantasy numbers in his first game only to get injured and miss several games following Week 1. When he finally made his way back, he was not effective at all and caused fantasy owners more grief in their starting lineup than when he was injured and on their bench. The Patriots hoped to get an upgrade in the slot for Wes Welker, but the Patriots, like fantasy owners alike, were instead severely disappointed.
Amendola was never the replacement in the slot that the Patriots had hoped for. He dropped eight passes when lined up in the slot, which was the second-most of any wide receiver in the slot. For comparison’s sake, Edelman only had six drops in the slot and ran 222 more routes out of the slot than Amendola did.
How He Got Here: Amendola signed a five-year, $28.5 million contract this past offseason.
2014 Outlook: The Boston Globe insists that Amendola’s roster spot could already be in jeopardy as the Patriots may choose to cut him and use the money saved on impending free agent Julian Edelman. If Amendola does return, his fantasy stock will have dropped so far that he might present himself as a bargain on draft day given an extra year to work with Tom Brady and to learn the system.
7. Maurice Jones-Drew
2013 Cap Number: $6,800,000
2014 Cap Number: FREE AGENT
Maurice Jones-Drew is a somewhat controversial selection at first glance, when you consider that he finished 2013 as the 21st-best running back. Back-end RB2 production, however, is not what owners were hoping for when they drafted Jones-Drew in the late second round. For the Jaguars, $6.8 million is a lot of cap to allocate to just one running back
Jones-Drew finished pretty average for the season, coming in as our 27th-best running back overall (+3.9). This was not what fantasy owners or the Jaguars had hoped for.
How He Got Here: Jones-Drew signed a five-year, $31 million contract in 2009. He is now an unrestricted free agent.
2014 Outlook: Jones-Drew hits the market as an unrestricted free agent. The Jaguars have already all but said that they will let him walk. At this stage of his career, he will likely take a deal averaging between two and three million each season. If he latches on with a team like the Giants, Cardinals, or Browns there could be some value here for Jones-Drew in 2014.
8. Hakeem Nicks
2013 Cap Number: $3,705,000
2014 CapNumber: FREE AGENT
Nicks was a major disappointment in 2013. Fantasy owners were hoping to get an elite and explosive talent for a discounted value and began picking him off in the third and fourth round of drafts. Nicks never managed to regain his trademark explosion, and he finished his campaign with zero touchdowns.
He also finished 41st out of 43 qualifying receivers in wide receiver rating (58.0). He was no longer a factor in the deep passing game. He secured just seven passes 20+ yards downfield out of 20 attempts and also added a drop.
How He Got Here: Nicks signed a five-year contract after being selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. First round rookies may no longer sign for more than four years.
2014 Outlook: Even to the most avid Giants fan, Nicks is very much an enigma. How much of his last two seasons can be blamed on injuries? Have those injuries negatively impacted his skill set going forward? These questions are difficult to answer. What we do know is that Nicks is still young and if he signs with the right team in the right situation, he may be able to regain his previous form.
9. Darren Sproles
2013 Cap Number: $3,750,000
2014 Cap Number: $4,250,000
The return of Sean Payton as head coach was supposed to make Darren Sproles a back-end RB1 again in PPR formats. The improvements on defense for the Saints led to an even smaller role for Sproles. Aside from one 20+ fantasy point game early in the season, Sproles was a major disappointment.
Sproles finished with just a 29.0 elusive rating—much worse than the league average. Sproles played just 364 snaps in 2013 compared to 578 for Pierre Thomas. Just 70 of those snaps were designed run plays.
How He Got Here: Sproles signed a four-year, $14 million in 2011 as a free agent coming from the Chargers. He becomes a free agent again in 2015.
2014 Outlook: It will be difficult to expect much from Sproles in 2014. His role in the offense has not returned to where it was in 2011. I expect the Saints to add more weapons for Brees at receiver and tight end through the draft, which should also cut more into whatever is left of Sproles’ role.
10. Stevie Johnson
2013 Cap Number: $5,650,000
2014 CapNumber: $8,500,000
Those who drafted Johnson, as their WR3 or WR4 were expecting consistent production and a lot of receptions. Chemistry issues with the coaches and quarterback led to Johnson becoming bench fodder before eventually being dropped to your waiver wire.
Johnson finished as the 41st-overall (+3.0) wide receiver out of the 75 qualifiers who played at least 50% of their team’s snaps. He finished 36th out of 43 qualifiers in wide receiver rating (71.3). Bills quarterbacks only had a 71.3 quarterback rating when targeting Johnson.
How He Got Here: Johnson signed a five-year, $36.25 million contract in March of 2012. He is not set to become a free agent until 2017.
2014 Outlook: Johnson is due a $1.75 million roster bonus in March. Some beat writers for the Bills have suspected they might cut him, but doing so would only save them $250,000 against the salary cap. Johnson will have to revive his value on the Bills in 2014.
11. Miles Austin
2013 Cap Number: $3,408,027
2014 Cap Number: $8,249,400
Much like Stevie Johnson, Miles Austin was expected to be a nice mid-to-late round WR3/WR4 with upside. What’s that they say about fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me? Austin was injured again in 2013. When he finally got “healthy”, he displayed very little burst and was ineffective from a fantasy football standpoint as well as in real life.
Austin finished 91st in overall grade (-3.0) of 111 qualifying wide receivers who played at least 25% of their team’s snaps.
How He Got Here: Austin signed a seven-year, $57.168 million contract in 2010. He doesn’t become a free agent until 2017.
2014 Outlook: Austin is turning 30 very soon and counts for over $8 million against the 2014 salary cap. Given the Cowboys’ salary cap situation, it seems certain that Austin will be released. Austin’s lack of success working across from Dez Bryant and with Tony Romo does not bode well for his chances of regaining past form.
12. Matt Schaub
2013 Cap Number: $10,750,000
2014 CapNumber: $14,125,000
Schaub was never the most trendy pick in 2013 drafts, but several owners felt that they could get a steady QB2 when they drafted Schaub. The Texans, of course, felt like they had a quarterback who can lead them one step further in the playoff. Instead, the wheels finally came off for Schaub after a career of ups and downs.
The Texans’ offensive line (-32.4) graded out as the fifth-worst in the league and that certainly didn’t help Schaub. Previously, they had graded out in the top 15 and top 10 in 2012 and 2011. Schaub hurt fantasy owners more than he helped them and eventually he was benched for Case Keenum, only to be mysteriously reinserted into the lineup again for one game before being benched again for good.
Schaub graded out as the fifth-worst quarterback overall (-15.9).
How He Got Here: In 2012, Schaub signed a five-year, $66.15 million contract extension. He becomes a free agent in 2017.
2014 Outlook: Cutting Schaub at this point has become a formality for the Texans. They will save close to $4 million against the salary cap by releasing him. Schaub can hope to latch on to a quarterback-needy team like the Jets, Raiders or Browns. At this stage of his career, he seems unlikely to rebound no matter where he signs.
13. Santonio Holmes
2013 Cap Number: $9,000,000
2014 Cap Number: $10,750,000
Just a couple short months into 2013, Santonio Holmes and the Jets got off on the wrong foot—no pun intended. Holmes’ recovery from his foot injury was taking longer than excpected. By the time training camp rolled around, the Jets deemed him healthy and ready to play, but Holmes had other ideas. When Holmes finally did make it on to the field of play, he was more ineffective than we had ever seen before.
He finished 2013 in the middle of the pack at wide receiver (-1.0). Even worse, he finished 93rd of 94 qualifying receivers in WR rating. This statistic shows what each receiver’s quarterback rating was when targeting that receiver alone.
How He Got Here: Holmes signed a five-year, $45.25 million contract extension in 2011. He is set to become a free agent in 2016.
2014 Outlook: It is a foregone conclusion that the Jets will release Holmes. Releasing him will save the team $8.25 million against the salary cap. Holmes will look to latch on to a team where he can prove that he still has some magic left from his days with the Steelers. In fact, the Steelers might be his best option if they do indeed let Emanuel Sanders walk in free agency.
14. Zach Miller
2013 Cap Number: $11,000,000
2014 Cap Number: $7,000,000
Zack Miller barely makes the list. He made “sleeper lists” from those managers who thought he could emerge as a top target following the Percy Harvin injury in Seattle. That never happened. It is amazing that the Seahawks could dominate a Super Bowl the way they did while spending $11 million against the cap on Miller. I guess that is what happens when you employ Russell Wilson for under $1 million.
Miller was never a factor in fantasy leagues at the tight end spot. However, Miller’s performance in real life was respectable. He finished as the 10th-best tight end in the NFL (+7.4). He also registered the third-best drop rate (2.94), dropping just one total pass 34 catchable passes.
How He Got Here: Before the Seahawks were the Super Bowl champion roster you know them as today, they invested heavily in players like Zack Miller and Sidney Rice. Miller signed a five-year $34 million contract in 2011. He is set to become a free agent in 2016.
2014 Outlook: Reports have already surfaced that the Seahawks will likely ask Miller to take a pay cut. At that point it will be up to Milller to decide if he wants to stay with the Seahawks or join a team that might feature him more in the passing game.
15. Brent Celek
2013 Cap Number: $4,531,000
2014 CapNumber: $4,075,000
Chip Kelly’s new system made Brent Celek appear to be a sneaky tight end with upside to some prognosticators in 2013. . Celek for the most part was a bust. Although he was able to rack up six total touchdowns, two of those came in the final two weeks.
Celek’s contribution was much better in real life than in fantasy. He finished as the sixth-best tight end overall (+9.2), largely because of his contributions in run blocking (+5.2) and his lack of penalties (+3.1). He did not finish in the top 20 in our tight end rankings in his pass grade alone.
How He Got Here: In 2009, Celek signed an eight-year $34.01 million deal. He is set to become a free agent in 2017.
2014 Outlook: With the late season emergence of Zack Ertz, Celek might be on the hot seat in Philadelphia. He is owed a lot of money for a player who excels in the run game but offers little in the pass game. It seems very unlikely that he will regain relevance in fantasy football.