by Greg Talcott
Fantasy football, for all of its many layers of endless analysis, is really just a game of chance. There is no level of research someone can do to identify players who will be lost due to injury or legal issues. Can you predict Geno Smith will get injured in 2015? Sure, and you may end up being right. But you wouldn’t predict it was a broken jaw resulting from a sucker-punch thrown by a teammate. This is different from avoiding Arian Foster in the draft because he is injury prone; that is just doing your homework and understanding risk. How many fantasy owners dominated their leagues last year with Andrew Luck as their QB1? And how many of those same owners lost the title because Luck played the worst game of his career in the fantasy championship (Week 16 vs DAL)? Fantasy football, no matter how much time and/or money you spend on research comes down to chance.
In order to minimize that huge variable, you need to avoid drafting busts! At the same time, making a great sleeper pick in the draft could make all the difference in your season. I realize some of the names below in both lists may come back to haunt me in the end, but in relative terms I only want to be right more often than I am wrong to be successful with the list. With that in mind, let’s look at my Top 5 Fantasy Busts for 2015:
- Jameis Winston– I think it is only a matter of time before Winston ends up getting into trouble off the field, but that would only impact my draft decision in a keeper league. The problem I have with Winston for his rookie season is with his decision making and turnovers. The Bucs have some decent talent on that offense, but I think the first year will prove to be a rough transition in terms of reading defenses and adjusting to the speed of the game. If I were drafting a rookie QB for the long term in a keeper league, I would take Marcus Mariota over Winston.
- Jamaal Charles– He is the “good looking” blonde girl you thought was a real catch the night before at the bar, only to wake up with Sven; a not so good looking guy from Sweden here on holiday. His production numbers have slipped in each of his last two seasons (Charles, not Sven). Last year he registered a whopping 1-game over 100 yards rushing while posting 6 games under 60 yards. Charles also has durability questions and constantly seems to playing with this ailment or that. Add that to the increased competition in the backfield from Knile Davis and De’Anthony Thomas and I think Jamaal Charles is overvalued on most draft boards. Further, I am willing to wager he is not ranked as a top 5 running back at the end of the year much less in the top 3 overall (note: Matthew Berry of ESPN as well as staff ratings here at SkullKing Football have Charles ranked top 3 overall, so I am well outside the pack with this call).
- Julius Thomas– Thomas could have all the talent in the world; Blake Bortles is not going to get the same kind of production as Peyton Manning did the last two years. He may well produce the same 40+ receptions and 400 yards receiving, but the 12 touchdowns he caught each of the last two years will be coming down into the single digits. Jacksonville is not anywhere close to being a good football team, and as a result they will not produce the same amount of opportunities for Thomas in the redzone.
- Peyton Manning– I really don’t believe I am going out on a limb here in saying Manning is in the final games of his career. From a bust standpoint, my baseline expectation is that IF Manning plays the whole season he will produce sub-4000 yards, 28-32 TD’s, and 15-20 INT’s. Those aren’t awful numbers, but they probably aren’t much better than Jay Cutler will produce. The days of Peyton Manning destroying opposing defenses at will are over. His arm looked tired at the end of last season and with fewer offensive weapons around him this season’s production is bound to decline. The question is whether he finishes the season and I think there are two things that could impact that besides injury. The first is whether or not the Broncos look like legitimate contenders and are bound for the playoffs. If they take a step back and look like they will miss the playoffs, I believe Brock Osweiler will get on the field. The Broncos like what they have seen in Osweiler, but they need to see him in action besides camp and preseason games. The other way Manning doesn’t finish is with a phantom injury in the event his skills erode significantly. I don’t think John Elway and Gary Kubiak will allow Manning to tarnish his reputation in this process so benching him is clearly out. Some sort of “ailment” that forces Manning to miss time and ushers in Osweiler quietly would be a much more favorable transition. I know full well Manning can prove me wrong, and the same can be said about my next pick…
- Dez Bryant– Hear me out on this one as I am talking in relative terms. Bryant is coming off three monster seasons in a row and now has a big fat contract to show for it. Setting aside any cynical argument that can be made about player production following big contracts, there is a huge component missing from the recipe for Bryant’s past success; a running game. The Cowboys’ current roster doesn’t have three running backs combined that equal DeMarco Murray. There is not a legit RB1 in the bunch and that will allow defenses to key more on the pass and lead to lower production for Bryant. Two other areas of concern that can impact Bryant’s fantasy production are his alleged off the field issues and the health of Tony Romo. There had been speculation involving Bryant involved in an incident with a woman that was captured on a video from a Walmart security camera that has never turned up. If there is something out there, it could surface anytime and that would have ramifications on far more than just fantasy football stats. He still may produce 80 receptions and 1100 yards, but I think the TD numbers are dropping from 16 last year to 11 or fewer in 2015. Is that a total bust? Not at all, I had him as the 4th best WR in the league; but I think you can do just as well with Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Calvin Johnson which means he may really be no better than 7th on the list.
Now for the Top 5 Fantasy Sleepers list, which in some cases really represents great value more so than predicting a breakout year for a player. My Top 5 Sleeper Picks for 2015 are:
- Eli Manning– Another year with Odell Beckham Jr, a healthy Victor Cruz, and a host of other weapons on offense have the younger Manning poised for a career year. Manning may well produce Top 12 numbers among QB’s by season’s end.
- Carson Palmer– Whether or not Palmer can produce a career year remains to be seen, but he represents incredible value for fantasy owners in 2015. He is assured to be available in late rounds and like Manning, he is capable of producing Top 12 QB numbers.
- Frank Gore– Gore has never had the opportunity to play with an offense as talented as Indy or a QB like Andrew Luck. The result should be bigger holes and less of a beating for Gore over the course of the season leading to strong production. Gore should eclipse 1000 yards and may score 10 or more TD’s this year.
- Sam Bradford– Now this is what you call a longshot! There are rare vases from the Ming Dynasty that are more durable than Bradford’s knees. Nevertheless, if there ever was a time for him to have a breakthrough season this is it. Chip Kelley has made middle of the road or worse quarterbacks look good in his system. On the off chance Bradford remains healthy, he may produce surprising results.
- The Chicago Bears’ Defense- They were ranked nearly dead last in the league in 2014, but 2015 will see the Bears return to a Top 10 defense. Vic Fangio’s 3-4 style is a good fit for Chicago’s defensive personnel. Expect much better play from the linebacker and safety positions than the last two years. Better tackling and fewer big plays should lead to a meaningful drop in points allowed.