Bust is a relative term. Those unfortunate souls about to be listed here don't have to sign up to get their real estate license quite yet. The majority of these players won't fall off the cliff, or even be fantasy dead weight necessarily. It's all about value. And draft day cost.
So this is basically my roster of guys, who won't be on any of my rosters of guys. The investment required to retain their services simply prices out their value.
Some of those listed I will have less-than-optimistic expectations for. I will attempt to make note of that, and give some reasoning as to why I feel that way.
I did this column last year as well. There were some I got wrong; Steven Jackson, Pierre Garcon, some I got very wrong; Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Marques Colston, Tony Gonzalez, but a whole lot I got right; Josh Freeman, Donovan McNabb, Jamaal Charles, Ryan Grant, Mike Williams, Chad Johnson, Danny Amendola, Dallas Clark, and a bunch more.
Hopefully, I'll find similar success here, and we can each avoid some fantasy disasters that no doubt would ruin plenty of otherwise beautiful Sundays.
Michael Vick - Philadelphia Eagles
As I'm writing this it's making me seriously reconsider the player I have planned on targeting with my seventh overall pick in my East Coast 12-team PPR league, Darren McFadden. How many times do we have to go down this road? It's like when Homer Simpson can't resist the electrified donut, and he gets shocked over, and over, and over again. Mmmm...donuts. So Sweet. Fool me once...fool me eight out of nine seasons? Vick has one complete, 16-game season on his resume. He will not play in every game. So why is he still going off the board in the fourth round? He won't be on my team, and I think I just wrote myself out of McFadden.
Philip Rivers - San Diego Chargers
This may be similar to my call on Brees last year, so I guess you should keep that in mind. And yes, Rivers can make productive receivers out of guys like Seyi Ajirotutu. But I live in San Diego, and I just don't like the vibe around this team. They may succeed amid lowered expectations, but an awful lot is riding on the balky, 32-year-old lower half of Antonio Gates. It's been three years since he's played a full season. Vincent Jackson left town, Vincent Brown is out for an undetermined, but definitely long time, the offensive line is in shambles, Ryan Mathews is hurt, and Rivers inclination to throw picks of late is a real problem. He threw a career-high 20 in 2011 and tossed four to the wrong jersey in limited action this preseason. I'd rather take my chances with Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, or Eli Manning, who have similar price tags.
Joe Flacco - Baltimore Ravens
There is no arguing the fact Flacco has a cannon for an arm. But in the last three seasons, he's thrown for almost exactly 3,600 yards and right around 22 touchdowns. Why expect any different in 2012? They didn't add any new weapons, unless you want to count Jacoby Jones. I've said it in this space before, and I'll say it again. As long as Ray Lewis is still in that locker room, people will be too terrified of him to take the chance of letting Flacco air it out. I'd rather have Ryan Fitzpatrick two rounds later.
Chris Johnson - Tennessee Titans
Is it possible last year was a fluke, and he was just out of shape? Sure. Keep in mind though, running backs don't last that long in the NFL. The Titans ranked 31st in rushing last season, and this preseason Johnson averaged 2.3 yards-per-carry. There was a change at the top of the coaching staff prior to 2011, but Mike Munchak was promoted from offensive line coach, so you would think that would be the last place the team would suffer. Perhaps they just don't have the talent anymore. I'm staying away, too much evidence.
Michael Turner - Atlanta Falcons
I mentioned this in my sleeper RBs section while discussing Jacquizz Rodgers, but I'll post it again. Turner hit the foreboding age of 30 this year, has logged 300-plus carries in three of the last four years, and I think we've seen the start of his decline. Omitting his monster game against the AAA Buccaneers who were totally checked out in Week 17, he averaged 3.2 yards-per-carry and scored just one touchdown his last six games of 2011. Plus, I think they pass it more inside the 20 this year, and even those TDs you've been able to count on dwindle.
Frank Gore - San Francisco 49ers
It's no coincidence I like the guys behind my nominees as running back busts as sleepers this year. This is what I wrote in my section on Kendall Hunter. Gore, who stands in his (Hunter's) way, is getting up there in age (29), and mileage (1,654 career carries). He also tailed off in the second half last year, has annual injury issues that cost him games, and toted the rock in 2011 more times than he had in five seasons. The organization also brought in Brandon Jacobs, and drafted LaMichael James. If they're preparing for the worst, shouldn't we?
Beanie Wells - Arizona Cardinals
This is another spot where I think we can take a cue from the actions of management. If the team felt comfortable with Wells as their bell cow, why would they use a high second-round pick on Ryan Williams? Wells posted his first 1,000-yard season and also added 10 touchdowns in 2011, so those drafting on last year's numbers will be excited. I'd rather have Williams, who is a more dynamic and well-rounded player, and is being drafted 45 picks later.
Jonathan Stewart - Carolina Panthers
Stewart found paydirt on the ground 10 times in each of his first two seasons. Over the last two, he's combined for six. Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert are on the Panthers. In those same two seasons, they combined for 33 rushing scores (and Cam only played one year). Stewart salvaged his value in 2011 by reeling in a seriously outlying 47 passes (he averaged just over 11 his first three years!). Tolbert also has very underrated pass-catching skills (54 receptions last year), and DeAngelo Williams is on the roster and is no slouch himself. The cherry on top, Stewart is hurt heading into the season. Other than all this, and the fact he just got fat and happy with a big boy check, I love him.
Demaryius Thomas - Denver Broncos
Thomas has all the potential in the world. From a physical standpoint, he's on par with Calvin Johnson. And the two are actually both former Yellow Jackets and worked out together this offseason. I think that's where the similarities should end, however. Peyton Manning looked a little shaky to me this preseason, and threw some very un-Manning-like ducks. Thomas' forte is the deep ball where he runs the straight go-route, and I'm not sure Peyton has the arm after four neck surgeries to get it there. Take Eric Decker who's going 14 spots later, and will only require Peyton to get it about 10 yards downfield to be effective.
Brandon Lloyd - New England Patriots
I hope I'm wrong on this one. As a Pats fan, there is nothing I would love more than to see Lloyd beating single-coverage for 40-plus yard TDs on a weekly basis. It's an element that has been missing since Moss was run out of town. However, this is what I wrote in my reasoning for "busting" Chad Johnson last season:
"Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, Taylor Price. Too many options in Patriot-land for Ocho to post big numbers, and he won't be able to "Keyshawn Johnson" his quarterback into throwing him the damn ball, like he used to in Cincinnati."
The only thing that is different, is Price is now Matthew Slater, and Lloyd will have a better attitude. Of course he's way better than Ocho, but his price is way higher also.
Jeremy Maclin - Philadelphia Eagles
Would you be surprised if I told you Maclin has never had a 1,000-yard season? Or that he's never caught more than 70 passes? Both true. Yet he's drafted just outside the top-20 at the position. Doesn't seem to add up to me. DeSean Jackson is by far the more physically gifted player, and I think 2012 is his year to go off. Maclin is a nice enough player, but he's overrated, and there's no value where he gets selected.
Vincent Jackson - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Josh Freeman could develop into a nice player. He has some rare athletic gifts. But, while I'm not the biggest Rivers fan, he's leaps and bounds ahead of Freeman as a passer at this point. Jackson's numbers will suffer as a result of his move to the sunshine state. The Bucs should lean heavier on the ground game than the Chargers did during Jackson's tenure as well. His draft cost is down this year, but I'm still not buying.
Robert Meachem - San Diego Chargers
And now, Jackson's replacement. Apparently nobody won in this deal. Well, I guess Jackson's $50 million probably make him feel like a winner. It seems fantasy owners are just sliding the numbers Jackson put up into Meachem's lap. That doesn't seem like a wise move. Before he broke his ankle this preseason, it seemed like Vincent Brown was well on his way to unseating Meachem for the starting gig for the Chargers. I think this passing attack dips across the board, and Meachem disappoints.
Denarius Moore - Oakland Raiders
Moore had some big outputs in his rookie campaign (5-146-1 Week 2 @ BUF, 5-123-2 Week 10 @ SD, 4-94-1 Week 16 @ KC, and 3-101-0 Week 17 vs. SD). Outside of that, however, it was a bunch of duds and missed games due to injury. Lost among Moore's flash, was the fact that his teammate Darrius Heyward-Bey made giant strides toward becoming a well-rounded receiver and posted consistent production. I'd rather have the later of the two being selected back-to-back.
Santonio Holmes - New York Jets
Holmes is another guy who has seen his draft cost plummet from year's past. But that doesn't mean I think he's a value. I still wouldn't take him no matter how far he falls. In his two years in Gotham, he's failed to pull in more than 52 catches, pile up more than 746 yards, or cross the goalline more than eight times. To his credit, he did have 14 scores over those two years, but this season he should see double, and possibly triple-coverage at times in response to New York's serious dearth of weapons on the outside. His QBs aren't exactly Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers either.
Michael Crabtree - San Francisco 49ers
Much like my assessment of Gore, I'll point to the player personnel moves the front office executed this offseason. They signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and drafted A.J. Jenkins in the first round. Does it sound like they're set, or confident in Crabtree being the guy? I didn't think so either. Don't be fooled by his respectable numbers the last two years. They're going down in 2012. Staying 100|PERCENT| healthy has been a real problem for Crabtree as well.
Jason Witten - Dallas Cowboys
You would think a lacerated spleen would kind of take care of this on its own. In an "expert" mock draft I saw just yesterday, Witten still went off the board before Tony Gonzalez, and some other nice names like Greg Olsen, Jacob Tamme, and Jared Cook. I understand he's a very talented player, and has put up some serious numbers in the past, but is this really the season you want to own Witten? Even at a discounted rate? I don't.
Dustin Keller - New York Jets
see Santonio Holmes above. Keller posted a career-high 815 yards in 2011 and scored a respectable five times, but I'm all out on the Jets passing attack this year. Like Holmes, he'll command extra attention from defenses and his QBs are better suited (quite literally) for GQ Magazine than a quarterback skills competition. No thanks.
Coby Fleener - Indianapolis Colts
I think this kid is going to be good, very good. But for whatever reason, rookie tight ends just don't get numbers in volume. Maybe it's the complexities of the playbook and professional route tree, or NFL coverages and blocking schemes. Maybe it's a respect thing where QBs feel the need to make them "earn" their targets, or feel pressured to feed the veteran, diva-ish receivers. Whatever the reason, it just doesn't work in Year 1. And he's got a rookie QB to boot. I know, they played together in college. Big whoop. He wasn't targeted much in the preseason, and if he was going to "go off", I think we would've seen some hint to that fact. I like his a lot in keeper formats, but I'll pass this time around in yearly leagues.
Heath Miller - Pittsburgh Steelers
There aren't too many owners climbing over each other to secure the rights to Miller this year, but he's still being drafted ahead of upside guys like Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Cameron, Lance Kendricks, and Dennis Pitta, all of whom I'd rather own. Especially when you consider Miller is going to be your backup anyway. The emergence of Antonio Brown means more passes heading out wide, and the continued deficiency on the offensive line means more blocking for Heath.
Check out my evaluation of the big guys up front on Rotowire's Offensive Line Grid
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Please comment and list your favorite busts! That concludes my pre-draft player evaluation. I may post a short strategy column and an overall rankings list for those of you drafting Monday or Tuesday, so check back for that. Happy drafting!!! and have a fun and safe Labor Day!