Pyro takes an early look at the potential busts for the 2012 fantasy season.
Pyro’s Early 2012 Potential Busts
· Cam Newton – Cam Newton is an extraordinary athlete—which is putting it lightly—but can the 6’5”, 244-pound freak of nature put together a better fantasy campaign than he had during his rookie season? I highly doubt it. With the Panthers addition of RB/FB Mike Tolbert, it’s obvious they want Newton to cut down on the carries inside the five-yard-line, so his rushing TDs will certainly go down from the 14 he had in 2011. His 21 passing TDs, however, may go up a bit, but considering he didn’t have a single 300-yard passing game after throwing for three 374-yard-plus games in the first four weeks, you can argue that defenses finally figured the rookie out a bit. Newton will still be a fantasy starter in 2012, but don’t expect him to land in the top-3 like he did last year.
· Drew Brees – Let me start off by saying that Drew Brees is still Drew Brees, so any owner who drafts him will be happy regardless of the situation. That being said, the Saints QB set the bar pretty high in 2011 with record-breaking numbers I can’t see being repeated in 2012. WR Robert Meachem taking off for San Diego may not be a big deal, and I’m not so sure losing head coach Sean Payton for the year matters TOO much either (Brees seemed to do fine while Payton coached from the press box last season). But combine those two things with losing the best offensive guard in the game, Carl Nicks, and Brees’ sketchy contract situation and it’s hard to ignore the possible ramifications. I highly doubt Cool Brees ends up outside the top-five fantasy QBs in 2012, but there are too many negatives to shock me if he did.
· Philip Rivers – Rivers is a strange guy to gauge, as the finest year of his career was likely in 2010 when he was without his best wide receiver, Vincent Jackson, for about three-quarters of the season. Rivers will again be without V-Jax in 2012 and though talented, the newly acquired Robert Meachem simply doesn’t make up for the loss. However, as I pointed out, not having V-Jax may not matter in the slightest. What WILL matter is that TE Antonio Gates will be 32 this year and is obviously breaking down. Another potential factor in a Rivers fantasy decline is that the Chargers could be gearing towards a more run-friendly offense this season. The signing of a true fullback like Le’Ron McClain to open holes for Ryan Mathews may knock a good 100 passing attempts off of Rivers 2011 total.
· Adrian Peterson – I have to list Purple Jesus among my possible busts simply because of the unknown. Will he be placed on the PUP and miss the first six weeks of the season? If not, will he split carries over the first month to ensure his health? And even if he IS healthy and taking on a full load, will he still have the same combination of insane athleticism and relentless power that we’ve all become accustomed to? At this point, there are too many unanswered questions for me to take a chance on making him my RB1 in 2012…though I’d LOVE to have him in 2013.
· Beanie Wells – We’ve all seen what Beanie can do when he’s healthy, and listed at 6’2”, 229-pounds (though he’s probably bigger than that), there’s no doubt he has the potential to be one of the more beastly RBs in the league. One of his problems, however, is his inability to stay healthy for an entire year and after yet another off-season knee surgery, I wouldn’t bank on 2012 being any different. The Cardinals 2011 second-round pick, RB Ryan Williams, will also be returning to challenge Wells’ playing time, so you might want to think twice about giving Beanie the outright RB2 job on your fantasy team.
· Darren McFadden – I drafted Run DMC in one of my leagues last year and even though I still won the league, it wasn’t for lack of being burned by McFadden. When the guy is on the field, he’s undoubtedly one of the best fantasy players in the game…when the guy is on the field. In his six full games in 2011, Darren averaged the fourth-most fantasy points per game, so he’s obviously a high-reward type of RB. However, 2012 will be his fifth NFL season now and not once has he played in more than 13 games. When Michael Bush was his backup (signed with Chicago this offseason), you at least had a studly handcuff to ease the pain when McFadden went down. That won’t be the case in 2012, so you have to move him down your charts a bit knowing he’s unlikely going to give you more than three-quarters of a healthy fantasy season.
· Frank Gore – Gore actually went the distance last year giving owners a full 16-game season of usage. However, this is far from the norm as it’s only happened one other time (2006) in his seven-year career. Look for Kendall Hunter to eat into his workload a bit more this season as the 49ers try to keep Gore healthy for the playoffs. Add in the Brandon Jacobs signing and maybe a bit more passing due to the additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham and its possible Frank the Tank only ends up as a mediocre-to-low-end RB2 in 2012.
· Fred Jackson - If C.J. Spiller had done poorly with his opportunity last season, I wouldn’t have Freddy on this list. F-Jax may have proven he can be a full-time RB in this league averaging the second-most yards from scrimmage per game in 2011, but the fact is, Spiller was a top-ten overall pick for the Bills in 2010, so he’ll undoubtedly be in the mix as long as he’s healthy. Add in that Jackson just turned 31 and you’re looking at a pretty risky fantasy pick here.
· Jamaal Charles - When healthy, “The Ostrich” is one of the most electric backs in the NFL being one of the few players who could take it to the house on any given play. The question is, how much of that electricity will still be there after tearing his ACL in Week 2 of last season? The Chiefs realize it could take a full year of playing time for Charles to return to normal, so they hedged their bets this offseason by signing Peyton Hillis to a one-year, $3 million contract. At the very least, Hillis will take on the goal-line duties, thus limiting Jamaal’s fantasy prospects from the start. I absolutely love Jamaal’s game, but I’d have a real tough time drafting him as my RB1 and would even do my best to back him up well as my RB2.
· LeSean McCoy – McCoy is a special talent who I don’t really see falling off too much, but the Eagles have already stated they’d like to see his touches tapered back a bit in order to preserve him for the future. That being said, the soon-to-be 24-year-old is in a contract year, so I expect him to demand the ball regardless. Either way, a repeat of his 20 touchdowns in 2011 is a huge stretch, so don’t expect the world with him. He’ll still likely end up a top-5 RB, just maybe not with as many fantasy points as he put up last season.
· Marshawn Lynch – Lynch is as prime of a bust candidate in 2012 as anyone on this list. First of all, he abuses his body more than anyone with his all-out style of play, so injury is always a possibility. Second, the guy just got paid, and though I can’t say I’m sure it will make a difference, I’d be willing to bet it does. Even if it doesn’t, he still only averaged 4.2 yards per carry and now that he has his big contract, will he see grinding for that extra yard every play as being worth it? Third, the Seahawks signed QB Matt Flynn to a three-year deal in the offseason for a reason, and it’s not to hand the ball off every other play. 1,204 rushing yards and 13 total TDs made 2011 an amazing season for “Beast Mode”, but don’t over-draft him expecting the same numbers in 2012.
· Matt Forte – Two reasons I have Matt Forte on this list. First, if the Bears don’t sign him to a long-term contract (which is certainly possible), Matt Forte WILL be holding out…at least until the final six games (a la Vincent Jackson in 2010). Second, even if he does play, the Bears signed Michael Bush not only to give them insurance against a Forte holdout, but also to take on the goal-line carries. Forte is a special talent, no doubt about it, but his best value is in PPR fantasy leagues and/or leagues that aren’t especially touchdown-heavy.
· Maurice Jones-Drew – Yes, MJD just turned 27-years-old and has been a starter for only three years, but would you have guessed that the little fireplug has more career carries (1,484) than fellow 27-year-old Adrian Peterson (1,406) and 30-year-old Michael Turner (1,417)? The 5’7”, 208-pound RB has had 300-plus rushing attempts in each of the last three seasons, the only player in the NFL to do so. Punishment like that will certainly take its toll and though I don’t see him falling outside the top-10 in 2012, either injury or the return of Rashad Jennings should keep him from approaching his top-3 fantasy numbers of 2011.
· Michael Turner – “The Centaur” didn’t have much left in those horse-legs towards the end of last season, and I don’t expect them to suddenly regain their strength now that he’s turned the 30-year-old corner. The Falcons like what they saw out of their jitterbug rookie RB Jacquizz Rodgers last year and should give him a little more playing time come 2012, especially if they turn into more of a passing team as I suspect they will. Honestly, I don’t see Turner as more than a middling RB2 in fantasy next season.
· Reggie Bush - I was thoroughly impressed with Reggie and the numbers he was able to put up last season (260 touches, seven TDs and almost 1,400 yards!!!), especially with it being his first year in Miami and all. However, as I’ve said before, you need to have a short memory if you want to succeed in fantasy sports. It’s certainly possible Bush repeats those lofty numbers from a year ago, but history says otherwise. If the player Miami traded up in the 2011 draft to get, 6’1”, 228-pound Daniel Thomas, comes into training camp with a chip on his shoulder, don’t be surprised to see Bush get knocked down to 200 or less touches come 2012.
· Andre Johnson – Because he was already a bust last season, ‘Dre is on this list for one reason and one reason only—simply as a reminder NOT to take him as the first wide receiver off the board in your 2012 fantasy draft.
· Brandon Marshall – I actually love that Marshall will be back playing with Jay Cutler this season, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t the chance he busts. At this point, Chicago doesn’t have another receiver that defenses need to pay attention to, so don’t be surprised to see him double-teamed on a consistent basis this upcoming season. Also, the Bears are (and probably always will be) a smash-mouth team that prefers a rough-and-tumble, grind-it-out game to a shoot-out, so I would be extremely surprised to see Marshall catch more than the 81 passes he did last season in Miami…which also happened to be his lowest total since his 2006 rookie season.
· Darrius Heyward-Bey – DHB had some seriously troubles getting acclimated to the NFL during his first two years in the league, so I’m a bit skeptical about his “breakout” last season. Regardless, even with his turnaround, Heyward-Bey was still relatively unreliable from a fantasy perspective and with the amount of talent the Raiders have at the position (Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy), there’s no guarantee he keeps his fantasy WR3 status throughout the season.
· Jordy Nelson – He’s big, he’s fast, he has great hands, he’s tough, he runs great routes, and he’s in a high-powered offense that thrives on passing the ball. So what’s not to like? Well, I’ll tell you. First of all, the chance of Nelson catching 15 touchdowns again—a feat that had been accomplished by just 12 different players since the AFL-NFL merger heading into last season—is pretty close to nil. Second, Green Bay has too many options in their offense for any one player to be consistent (besides maybe Greg Jennings). 43 different players were targeted 100 or more times in 2011 and Jordy Nelson was not one of them. Jordy should have a fine season again, and may even be able to put up top-10 numbers, but not top-2 or 3.
· Laurent Robinson – This one is easy to explain and in fact, I’ll do it in two words: Blaine Gabbert. Period.
· Marques Colston – Colston ended up being injured for a couple of games last season, a situation I expected considering the amount of surgeries he’s already had in his short career. Nevertheless, Marques had the second best statistical year of his career, a manifestation I didn’t quite see coming. This year, however, there are just too many negatives floating around New Orleans for me to see Colston repeating his 2011 season. Getting the contract he was after this offseason won’t help in the motivation department, especially if he finds himself double-teamed a bit due to the loss of Robert Meachem. If you draft him expecting better than low-end WR2 numbers, you’ll have another thing coming.
· Mike Wallace – Wallace may have ended up with top-10 overall numbers in 2011, but he pretty much disappeared for the entire second half of the season. From Week 8 on, the Steelers “#1” receiver had only three TDs (two in Week 13 against the Bengals) and not a single game with more than 82 receiving yards. Granted, his first seven weeks were outstanding as we all know the talent is there, but it seems opposing defenses figured out how to stop him at one point and should logically continue to play him the same way in 2012. Add in that Wallace is now complaining about money and says he wants to be paid more than Larry Fitzgerald and you’re looking at a possible season-long headache. Don’t throw all your eggs in one basket with Wallace this season.
· Robert Meachem – It’s possible Robert Meachem has more talent than Marques Colston, especially when you consider he was drafted in the first round back in ‘07 while Colston was taken in the seventh in ‘06. However, we’ve yet to see it come out on the field, save for a little five-game stint Meach put together back in 2009. This year we’ll know for sure just how good Meachem really is as the Chargers signed him to be their WR1 heading into 2012. Can he handle the pressure? Will he and Rivers mesh? Can he beat double-coverage? Too many questions for me to chance him as more than a WR3 at best on my fantasy team.
· Steve Smith (Car) – Is it possible for a 5’9” soon-to-be 33-year-old wide receiver to put up career-year numbers two years in a row? Sure, it’s possible, but do you want to bet your fantasy season on it? Didn’t think so. I’ll admit that Stevie looked as fast and dynamic as ever out there, but the constant double-teaming was starting to wear him down and will again this season, especially at his age. By the way, Smitty was one of only 13 WRs who was born in the 1970’s to make at least one reception in 2011. Yes, folks—the 70’s.
· Victor Cruz – Victor Cruz won’t be sneaking up on anybody in 2012, but that doesn’t mean he won’t succeed either. I have a real tough time believing he’ll repeat a line of 82-1,536-9 and stay in the top-five fantasy receivers, but the kid WAS spectacular last year, wasn’t he. Circus catch after circus catch, he was one of the brightest spots of an awesome 2011 season. Lightning could strike twice with this kid, but Nicks is still The Man there and it’s really, really hard to sustain two top-flight fantasy receivers on one team.
· Vincent Jackson – Josh Freeman will prove to be a little better than he looked last season, but not quite what V-Jax is used to. My thinking is that Vincent Jackson got used to both Rivers’ high rate of accuracy and his being one of the best deep-ball quarterbacks in the game and will have a tough time acclimating himself to Freeman and his erratic (though incredibly strong) arm in their first season together. Wideouts—more so than any other position—usually have the toughest time adjusting during their first season after switching teams, so I’d temper your expectations of V-Jax in 2012.
· Antonio Gates – Even though he’s missed nine games over the past two years and seems to be slowing down with each new injury, Antonio Gates can still dominate with the best of them. That being said, there are a few downward trends from 2011 to be concerned about—such as his lowest TD-output (7) since his 2003 rookie season and his third-lowest yards-per-catch (12.2)—heading into his age-32 season in 2012. Add to this the fact that Gates will likely see more double-teams than ever before due to the loss of Vincent Jackson and Robert Meachem being unproven as a WR1 and you’re looking at a potential bust in the making. This IS Antonio Gates, though, so a “bust” for him may mean a mere slip down to the fourth or fifth best fantasy tight end in the game.
· Fred Davis – Fred Davis rose out of his backup role last season to become one of the better fantasy tight ends in the game. He was targeted on a game-to-game basis as much as any TE in the league, had four or more catches in ten of twelve games and had 80-plus yards in half the weeks he played. I love his talent and athleticism, but with the Redskins likely to employ a rookie QB in 2012 (whether it be RGIII or Andrew Luck), Davis could have a bit of trouble repeating his success from a year ago. The possible return of Chris Cooley shouldn’t make too much of a difference, but it certainly doesn’t help either.
· Jared Cook – Jared Cook is a beast of an athlete who has upside galore as a fantasy tight end. Most of those in fantasy circles already know this bit of information and might consider taking him earlier than normal based on those beliefs. I’m here to warn you against this course of action. Cook displayed the possibility of a breakout late last season when he caught 21 balls on 26 targets for 335 yards and a TD over the final three weeks. However, not only were none of those three teams playing for anything at that time, but Kenny Britt wasn’t in the lineup and Matt Hasselbeck was still the team’s QB. If Tennessee turns to Jake Locker in 2012, Cook and Locker will need some time to get used to one another and regardless of who lines up under center, Britt’s return means the Titans will have one more huge mouth to feed. Where Cook fits in exactly with Chris Johnson, Britt, Nate Washington and Damian Williams is anybody’s guess.
· Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez – In 2011, the Patriots Rob Gronkowski had the most dominating season a tight end has ever experienced in the NFL. His line of 90-1,327-17 was simply disgusting, while New England’s OTHER tight end, Aaron Hernandez, put up a pretty sweet line himself going for 79-910-7. Both Gronk and Hernandez should be great again next season, but things are always changing in the NFL, so I wouldn’t expect to see those same gaudy lines again. First, the Pats love what they have in their backfield with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was nice, but his 3.7 YPC just wasn’t cutting it. Ridley’s 5.0 YPC and Vereen’s versatility could be what they need to get their running game going again. Throw on top of that the addition of stud wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and Gronk/Hernandez could be looking at even less targets. I’m not saying that they won’t be in the top tier of tight ends this season, but they might not give you the numbers a high draft pick would warrant.
· Vernon Davis – After a relatively lackluster regular season, Vernon Davis came on like gangbusters starting in Week 17 grabbing 18 balls for 410 yards and four touchdowns in the 49ers final three contests. Numbers like those will stick in fantasy owners heads going into their drafts, but like I’ve said before, owners need to make sure they have a short memory if they want to win their fantasy leagues. The 49ers are still a running team love to hand the ball off more than not, but it’s the additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham that concern me the most when thinking of Vernon’s fantasy prospects. Davis’ 95 targets ranked 10th among tight ends last season, but I expect that number to take a hit in 2012 due to Crabtree, Moss and Manningham demanding the ball. Davis should be still end up a top-ten TE, but don’t expect the world here.