Everyone loves sleepers. They love breakouts. We all like to sit around in our social media spaces (or even our IRL spaces, for the weirdos who refuse to shun actual human contact) about the player that no one else knows about that is for sure, 100 percent, no doubt about it going to blow up this year.
Then there's that other side. That place that we don't like to talk about at parties. The dark side. The busts. Oh, wait ... I'm not allowed to use that word. ahem The players to avoid.
I know the title of this article is Players to Avoid (because the "B-word" is considered impolite) but let's keep it 100 -- nearly every player has an appropriate value. Any player can be a good pick if you get him at the right spot in the draft. But I've been told by my editors that Players to Avoid Until You Reach An Appropriate Spot In Your Draft is a little too wordy. So here we are and here we go.
Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders:
After spending the previous two seasons hanging around the top 15 among fantasy quarterbacks, Carr sputtered to a No. 19 finish at the position -- the worst of his NFL career. On the one hand, you could look at it and suggest that maybe it was a down year. Head over to Next Gen Stats and it's not a good look for Carr's production. But there's a twist ... 2017 wasn't much of an outlier.
Throughout his four pro seasons, Carr has consistently ranked near the bottom in air yards per attempt and completion among starting quarterbacks. He's made up for it by consistently throwing short of the sticks. Never has efficiency been so inefficient. It was something Carr and the Raiders were (sorta) able to get away with when Michael Crabtree was the team's top target. But now you're replacing Crabtree with an aging Jordy Nelson while hoping Amari Cooper (finally) unlocks the potential we've all been waiting to see -- all within the framework of a Jon Gruden offense that shouldn't inspire a ton of fantasy confidence.
Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks:
Carson was arguably the best running back on the Seahawks roster in 2017, though it only took 208 rushing yards in four games to earn that dubious distinction and was a far cry from Russell Wilson's team-leading 586 rushing yards. So it's not exactly like Carson put a stranglehold on the starting gig. That already tenuous hold got even shakier when Seattle spent a first-round pick on Rashaad Penny.
Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders:
'Memba when I wrote about Derek Carr being a player to avoid in drafts because, in part, Amari Cooper still hadn't blossomed into the elite receiver we all hoped he would become when he was drafted in 2015? I 'memba. Okay, I actually expect Cooper to be better than he was last year, yardage-wise at least. Posting fewer than 700 yards in 14 games seems like a tough feat to duplicate for a player with as much raw talent as Cooper. The touchdown number from last year? Well, touchdowns are a fickle beast so I offer no predictions there.
But there's still the looming question of Gruden's offense and how Cooper will fit into it. The talk about taking things back to 1998 might have been an exaggeration but it's fair to believe that the Raiders could be a run-heavy outfit in 2018. As for the passing game, if Cooper continues as Oakland's field-stretcher, he could find himself battling Nelson for targets much like he did with Michael Crabtree. Cooper could certainly pop this year but I'm not excited about spending a third-round pick on him ahead of guys like Stefon Diggs, Allen Robinson, Alshon Jeffery or Larry Fitzgerald.
Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts:
I'm going to try and make the case against Jack Doyle without using the words Andrew Luck. Crap. I just did. Seriously though, Doyle's production wasn't hindered at all playing with Jacoby Brissett, so the quarterback matters little here. What does matter is that Eric Ebron is threatening to rummage around in Doyle's fridge and eat his food.
Last year, Doyle was a top 10 tight end in both standard and PPR formats with Ebron sitting just outside that range in both formats. Of course, that was when they were playing on different squads and not battling each other for targets. If there's an upside it's that the Colts are still auditioning pass-catchers to support T.Y. Hilton. With Indy able to easily part ways with either (or both) players after the season, there's a chance for a legitimate competition between the two. It just seems highly unlikely that there's room for two top 10 tight ends in this currently nebulous offense.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans:
As someone at the vanguard of the #FreeDerrickHenry movement, this is like watching Han Solo die on-screen all over again. (Oh, uh ... spoiler alert!) After the Titans released DeMarco Murray in March, it was like all of our Derrick Henry dreams would come true. Fantasy managers and analysts alike went to a mental happy place that featured a running back built like a defensive end getting to the edge and causing smaller defensive backs to consider their own mortality.
Then Dion Lewis happened. Lewis' arrival in Nashville effectively killed any dreams of Henry becoming a workhorse back. Though the narrative initially was that Lewis will be the third-down, pass-catching back, that might only be half true. Last season in New England, nearly 93 percent of Lewis' offensive snaps came on first and second down. Combine that with the aforementioned pass-catching acumen and this has the makings of a full-blown committee.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Cleveland Browns:
There are so many shiny new pieces to ogle in the Browns offense. Baker Mayfield. Jarvis Landry. Nick Chubb. Carlos Hyde. That last one might be a problem. Hyde was fantastic last season for the 49ers. This year, however, he's in the middle seat fighting for the armrests alongside Chubb and Duke Johnson. If there's a silver lining, it's that Johnson has the potential to spend some time as a slot receiver. Although we heard that same story from Hue Jackson last season.
The downside is that the Browns could easily move on from Hyde after one season -- something that seems more likely after the team spent a high second-round pick on one of the top runners in the draft. If Hyde falters or if the Browns fall out of contention, there could be a call to de-emphasize Hyde's role in the offense in favor of getting Chubb more work. This seemed like a better move for Hyde before the draft.
Jarvis Landry, WR, Cleveland Browns:
Hyde might not be the only fantasy mistake by the lake. Landry had a great run (fantasy-wise) during his four-year tenure in Miami. As a player who averaged 142 targets and 100 catches per year with the Dolphins, he was a PPR darling. His fantasy production could mirror his change in local climates -- from hot to cold. Okay, that's an exaggeration. I just wanted to make a horribly lame weather joke. It was worth it.
Nonetheless, it's hard to see Landry getting the same kind of attention in Cleveland that he did in Miami. Josh Gordon is going to occupy a large space in the passing game and while Landry could certainly battle to be the top target, there's still the matter of integrating Johnson (last year's target leader), Corey Coleman, and David Njoku into the mix. It wouldn't be a surprise if Landry finished the year with fewer than 90 catches. He won't be a
player to avoid in the traditional sense but he could disappoint if you're setting your sights too high.
Ty Montgomery, WR, Green Bay Packers:
That's created an ultra-cloudy situation heading into 2018. Montgomery is back but will have to contend with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams for opportunities. With Jones having been the most explosive of the group last season, he would seem to have a leg up on the starting gig. In the best case scenario, Montgomery is part of a three-headed attack that does no one any favors. In the worst case, he's persona non grata in the Green Bay offense.
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys:
Welp, Zeke's back for (hopefully) a full 16 games. Plus, Prescott gets to throw to ... um, well, there's ... and ... wait, don't tell me. Are you seeing the problem here? Dallas' pass-catching corps leaves a lot to be desired. Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Michael Gallup aren't keeping defensive coordinators awake at night. Dak's fantasy production in 2018 could cause quite a few sleepless nights.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Kansas City Chiefs:
Is it okay now to admit that Watkins just isn't the player we wanted him to be? This has nothing to do with his talent but a combination of injury and less-than-optimal offensive situations has squashed a lot of his potential production. How else can you explain the No. 4 overall pick from 2014 having just one 1,000-yard season to his name?
A move to Kansas City pairs him with the strong-armed and freewheeling Patrick Mahomes, which would seem to be a good thing for a deep threat like Watkins. But with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce already claiming a large number of targets (and Kareem Hunt not far behind), how much will be left for Watkins? Also, the part about Watkins being on his fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons doesn't feel all that great in the pit of your stomach, does it? No. No, it does not.
Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man who really just wants to spend his afternoons drinking beer on his balcony and staring at his plants. Send him your beer recommendations or gardening tips via Twitter @MarcasG. If you read all of that, congrats. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat (marcasg9).