You already conducted your fantasy football draft? Look at you, you overachiever. I bet you flambeed a steak and built a scenic patio out the third-story of your LEED-certified mansion right after. But for the rest of us mere mortals, we're waiting for things like "preseason" and "inevitable injuries" and "how DeSean Jackson will put his foot in his mouth next".
Oh, and preseason mock draft lobbies. Those are important too. I like to do a couple before my actual draft to see the lay of the land, know what people are thinking. Especially because, the majority of the time, what people are thinking is so, so wrong. That's why we're here to help the smart ones like you.
There are always a couple of players who go way too early, especially if you have an early drafting date before consensus picks are truly set. These are those guys. If you're drafting from now until the start of preseason, I'd just wait on these five guys and let your opponents inherit the terrible value instead.
1. Jamaal Charles
Average Draft Position: #4 Overall, #4 RB
numberFire Ranking: #8 Overall, #8 RB
It feels a bit odd having to do an about face; I spent all last preseason defending Jamaal Charles as a top back to anybody who would listen. And now, just one year later, I'm having to tell you why he shouldn't be drafted in the top five? Y'all be crazy.
It may seem off given his 1509 rushing yards, but in terms of efficiency, Charles didn't actually set the world on fire last season. Of the 22 running backs that had at least 200 carries last season, Charles' average 0.01 net expected points (NEP) per rush ranked just 11th. He also didn't bring much in the passing game, with just 35 total receptions (or just over two catches per game). Those aren't top five back numbers to me.
In fact, the only reason Charles had that many rushing yards at all was his 285 rushing attempts, the seventh-most in the entire NFL. This is also the part where we like to throw in that little detail of his injury history and the fact that he hadn't previously topped 230 rushing attempts in a single season in his career. Matching 285 attempts again seems unlikely; we have him projected at 266.6, and even that's assuming a clean slate of health.
I'm not going to tell you pass up Charles if he's sitting there at No. 7 or No. 8. He has value, even first round value. But as the centerpiece of your team when you're not picking again until the latter half of the second round? I'd stay far, far away. LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice are both projected to have at least a dozen more fantasy points in standard leagues this year, both have cleaner bills of health, and both will be available with the fifth or sixth selection.
2. Lamar Miller
Average Draft Position: #28 Overall, #19 RB
numberFire Ranking: #51 Overall, #28 RB
J.J. eloquently wrote all about Lamar Miller's fantasy chances yesterday, so allow me to be a tiny bit less eloquent: AHH IT'S ON FIRE RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!
I want to say, "No, Lamar Miller's ADP isn't really that bad" but yes, yes it is. Ryan Mathews and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are both at least seven positions higher on our overall RB rankings, but they're both going over two full rounds later than Miller. Quite frankly, it's a travesty.
What would make Miller so intriguing is his efficiency: he did average 0.08 net expected points per rush last season, after all. But then take a look at that sample size, and that smile will fall off your face right quick. 51 rushes? 36 of which came against the not-so-murderer's-row of Oakland, Jacksonville, and Buffalo? That's what you're basing the optimism on? That's a quicksand-solid basis for his numbers.
Count me out. Miller's 780 projected rush yards and 5.68 projected rush TDs just doesn't do it for me, even if he does start playing on more third downs than he did last season. Sure, he has the upside, but steady is what I'm looking for with my third round pick, not a boom-or-bust (likely bust) player like Miller.
3. Larry Fitgerald
Average Draft Position: #29 Overall, #7 WR
numberFire Ranking: #53 Overall, #16 WR
This is the one Alex wrote about yesterday, but it certainly bares repeating as well. Yes, Larry Fitzgerald had Larry, Moe, and Curly throwing to him last season. But Carson Palmer shouldn't exactly send Larry Fitzgerald's fantasy prospects into orbit.
Palmer was simply average last season, finishing 17th among starting QBs in net expected points per pass. While he didn't have as solid of a receiving corps to work with in Oakland (what, not a Darius Heyward-Bey fan?), he also didn't have an offensive line that allowed 58 sacks last season. As Alex noted in his article, Palmer has never been sacked more than 36 times in a season. Even with Arizona's reinforcements of the offensive line, can he handle being under pressure?
And then there's this: there is absolutely zero statistical basis that Larry Fitzgerald would return to the same player he was in 2009, even if he had someone like Tom Brady chucking passes to him. We're big fans of regression to the mean; a player is more likely to play closer to his overall average than anything else. And over the last three seasons, Fitz has never caught more than 52 percent of passes thrown his way or gained more than 0.80 net expected points per reception (22 WRs with at least 50 catches topped that last season).
Sure, this could be his re-emergence. But we prefer to go with recent history rather than predicting outliers. It's the safe route to building a successful fantasy team, after all. And Larry Fitz magically having third-round value after seasons of little production would sure be an outlier.
4. Randall Cobb
Average Draft Position: #31 Overall, #8 WR
numberFire Ranking: #48 Overall, #14 WR
Come on, you know better than to trust a Packers receiver, right? Especially one who came out of nowhere like Randall Cobb did? I'm starting to think that "Packers receiver" is becoming the "Shanahan RB" of the new decade.
For every Randall Cobb breakout game, there was an equally poor outing that made you question why exactly he was a star. Of his 15 games played, five saw him with 37 receiving yards or less. He scored one touchdown in the first six games of the season and, after a short burst, one touchdown in the final five games as well. Given that James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Jermichael Finley still exist, Cobb is not even a guaranteed six points every week, which is what I would expect from a receiver going that high.
What scares me most, though, might actually just be his insanely high 77 percent catch rate. Sure, it's great when a receiver catches that many passes his way. You just can't expect it to happen again. Cobb's 2012 was the third-highest catch rate for a receiver since 2000, only behind Austin Collie's 80 percent in 2010 and Wes Welker's 77 percent in 2007. That simply cannot last, and we'd expect a slight regression towards the mean this season. That means less receptions in Cobb's pocket.
Cobb certainly has breakout potential. But so do James Jones and Jordy Nelson. And going into this season, I'm not going to trust a low-sample size, potential one outlier season player with my late third or early fourth round draft selection. I'll take Roddy White or Andre Johnson, both of whom have a lower average draft position, every time.
5. Vernon Davis
Average Draft Position: #62 Overall, #4 TE
numberFire Ranking: #93 Overall, #8 TE
There's the end of the regular season Davis, which saw him wondering through Narnia while everybody else was playing football, and then there's the playoffs Davis, who was a legitimate Super Bowl MVP candidate had the Niners won. So which one will show up this season?
We're tending towards the former. Lost in the shuffle of Kaepernick-mania is that Vernon Davis wasn't too much more efficient catching the ball with the new QB than he was during the Alex Smith era. Even including playoffs, Vernon Davis caught just 28 of the 43 targets thrown his way from Kaepernick, a 65 percent catch rate. That's solid, but with Smith, his catch rate was actually higher at around 69 percent. He also only gained 0.75 expected points per reception last season, a low total for a tight end whose main role is to stretch the field.
While Davis is serviceable, he's certainly not worth a fifth or sixth round selection with his up-and-down stats. Our main man Tony Gonzalez (maybe people will actually listen when we call him our third-best tight end again) and Greg Olsen each projected to score at least 15 more fantasy points in a standard league, but both have a lower ADP. Especially with Anquan Boldin in the fold as well, Davis's upside is limited.