Every year there are always a few certainties that you can take to the bank when it comes to fantasy football:
1) If you hold your draft around this time, karma will strike it’s cantankerous fist down upon you, and half of your team will be decimated by injury. As it should; a fantasy draft in mid-July? You deserve it!
2) There is a 7/8th chance that the guy you added last minute to the league for the sake of appeasing the numbers game (hosting a nine-man league is a one way guarantee to ensuring that you are the most hated man in the office until the next fantasy season commences, at the very least), and thus has no knowledge of the prestigious and powerful football world whatsoever, will ultimately take home the league’s version (tangible or not) of the Lombardi Trophy. Painstakingly frustrating, I know.
3) No matter what a players track record is, no matter how many highlight reels you’ve watched, no matter how sure you are that your first few picks in the early rounds of your draft are sure bets to become (or repeat) as fantasy beasts in the season to come, there are always a few in the early goings of each draft that will fail to meet expectations, and frankly, disappoint you. These are traditionally known in the fantasy (and sports world in general) as busts. This category is broken down into two subcategories: Those who will keep on busting, on those who will bounce back.
So that’s what I’m going to take a look at in this Top Ten edition; who are the biggest fantasy busts from last season, and will you be able to trust them this year, or will they provide (or, more appropriately, not provide) more of the same? And as each position has it’s share of busts, I will therefore break down each one separately. So, without further ado, we’ll start with the Top Ten fantasy quarterback busts of 2013:
[new page = Brandon Weeden]
10. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Bust Back, or Keep Bustin’?
Weeden is a prime example of one of the central adjectives that the NFL has increasingly become over the years: Impatient. The Cleveland Browns took Weeden with the 22nd overall pick in ’12, and they’ve already given up on him. This Bust back or keep busting decision is fairly easy. In fact, that’s an understatement. The ease of this decision can’t even be fathomed. Mostly because Weeden likely won’t have the chance to redeem his poor career so far, as he is stuck behind perennial Pro Bowler (at least in the first three quarters) Tony Romo in Dallas. A good piece of news came Weeden’s way recently, however, as it was reported that the Cowboys released veteran Kyle Orton, who was presumed to have a hold on the #2 spot behind Romo. Now Weeden has a shot at that gig, if he can beat out former Bears back-up Caleb Hanie. But either way, unless Romo suffers yet another injury (not entirely out of the question, as he has a long histories of dings and bruises) or the ‘Boys decide to anoint Weeden the Fourth Quarter Starter” in an attempt to combat Romo’s woes in that situation, you’d be best to pass on Weeden. Because frankly, no one is really sure just how much he’ll get the chance himself to pass this season.
[new page = Matt Flynn]
9. Matt Flynn, Oakland Raiders/Green Bay Packers
Bust Back, or Keep Bustin’?
A fantasy footballer that is simply looking at the numbers presented above might come away with the opposite notion that this list is promoting: Matt Flynn actually out-performed his 2013 projection. And while it is true that he did have some fantasy-starting worthy games late in the year while filling in for Aaron Rodgers (foreshadowing warning….), it was expected that he would provide that output all season. But here’s the reality of what was supposed to happen, at least in the eyes of the Oakland faithful: Flynn would (and was paid as if he would) seize the starting job, mentor the young Pryor, and cease to look back, delivering the Raiders back to real-world relevancy, and, in turn, Flynn to the fantasy version of therewith. But alas; Pryor spent the season running around opposing defenses when he wasn’t throwing the ball to them (52 yards per game, tops for QBs, to go with one pick per game as well), and Flynn was released just six months after he was signed. He bounced to the Bills a week later, and nearly a month after that he was picked back up by Green Bay, the team he had started and launched his career with. The 7 touchdown stretch (particularly a 4 TD effort against Dallas) was an impressive way to end all the playing time he would garner last season, as Aaron Rodgers returned for the team’s pivotal regular-season finale against the rival Bears.
Seeing as Flynn, just like Weeden, is a backup in Green Bay, this decision didn’t take much thought either. But, as with Romo, we’ve seen now that Aaron Rodgers is mortal, and can succumb to the troubled injury bug if hit properly (or, more appropriately, improperly). If such a déjà vu once again occurs, Flynn wouldn’t be a bad option as a spot starter. But again, lack of opportunity is the biggest thing holding him back right now. If he does see the field, history has shown that, at least with Green Bay (16 career TDs with the team, versus 9 interceptions), he knows how to hold up the fort.
He’ll bust, unless Rodgers goes down again. So I’ll stick a huge “remains to be seen” label here.
[new page = Christian Ponder]
8. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Despite reports out of Minnesota that try in vain to give legitimacy to the team’s supposed 3-way quarterback competition, the fact that the team drafted stand-out Louisville product Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first round of last year’s draft is about as much writing on the wall as one could imagine. This competition is really between Bridgewater and game manager Matt Cassel, and the only real question is that of which is begged of each rookie quarterback situation each year: How long will Cassel warm the seat for Bridgewater, as it is clear that the latter now holds the quarterback of the future stature that Ponder was once in possession of not too terribly long ago. So what does all of this mean from a fantasy standpoint? Forget starting and garnering playing time; conventional wisdom as it stands now would suggest that the most likely scenario is that Ponder will go into the season as the third quarterback in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, and signal callers in such situations consider themselves lucky to produce any fantasy production at all. One wouldn’t be crazy to assert the notion that Ponder might not even be on the team’s roster come their season opener in St. Louis, as it is not unheard of for a team to only keep two passers on their roster during the season. So, much like Weeden, Ponder will only be given the opportunity to produce if both quarterbacks on the roster are injured, which isn’t too much of a possibility, as Cassel has only suffered one major injury in his career, while Bridgewater hasn’t thus far. And even if injuries to both quarterbacks happen, it’s a complete wild card as to whether Ponder will contribute any helpful production.
Bustin’ all the way.
[new page = Robert Griffin III]
7. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Out of the quarterbacks we’ve mentioned so far, Griffin obviously has the best chance to “bounce back”, as, above all, he is the only one to have kept his starting job from the start of last season to the upcoming one. He also has the best track record of any of them, as boasting a 20 TD, 5 INT, and 800 yard rushing campaign is something they simply can’t hang their hats on. The bigger issue is whether he can replicate that, or will he be reduced to the player that he was last season? Or will he even regress? I’m inclined to lean toward somewhere in the middle of replication and the 2013 season. I am of the belief (a popular one at that) that Griffin is a very cerebral player, and thus will become a better NFL QB over time. The question is, will his body hold up against his reckless playing style? Over time, I don’t think so. He’ll have to become more of a pocket passer if he is to stick around long term. Otherwise, he’ll follow a similar injury path as that of Micheal Vick, who I believe would have been physically to unable to play in this league by the time he reached his early thirties had he his career not had a dog-fighting interruption. But this article is not about analyzing a player’s long-term projection; in the great land of Fantasy, here we live year to year. So as far as that goes, I’ll predict that a full off-season of rest and relatively drama-free times will do Griffin a ton of favors.
He’ll bust back, but don’t draft him with the expectation that he’ll add numbers that resemble his rookie year to your squad.
[new page = Geno Smith]
6. Geno Smith, New York Jets
First off, let’s get one thing straight: The projected numbers are skewed compared to the ones he actually put up last year, as while NFL.com didn’t predict how many games Smith would start, they certainly didn’t predict he would play in all of them. So, solely due to sheer volume, Smith was bound to beat that projection regardless of whether his play was exceptional, deplorable, or somewhere in between. But despite the negatives of Smith’s season, it was just his first year, and the New York Jets didn’t exactly have all of the talent in the world to work with, so there is hope. Starting every game for the 8-8 Jets has it’s merits, however, as that’s a whole lot of experience under his belt. I am cautious to predict that Smith will make leaps and bounds of progress in the coming season, as Rex Ryan hasn’t exactly had a great track record when it comes to the quarterback position (the whole Mark Sanchez debacle will undoubtedly stick with him for the rest of his career), so what proof is there that he’ll do wonders with Geno? That means it’s probably all up to Smith to right himself. And with maturity questions still abound regarding the youngster, that’s far from guaranteed. No one is denying that he has the physical gifts to put it all together. But being a successful NFL quarterback takes a lot more than a perfect spiral on a 65-yard bomb. That’s why my reservations are still out there, and I’m telling you not to rely on Smith for better numbers than he produced last year. With all of that being said, there is a certain Hall-of-Fame bound quarterback named quarterback by the name of Peyton Manning that hurled seven more picks than Geno did his rookie season, and proceeded to cut that nearly in half his sophomore year…. en route to one of the most prolific careers ever. So am I going to sit here and say that Geno could follow the same route, or at the very least cut his total in half as well, merely based on some historical coincidence? This is not the setting for a full discussion on that, but allow me to give you a peek into what that argument might hold, in the form of just one single word: Hardly.
As long as he’s under Rex Ryan and on the Jets, he’ll Bust more than he’ll Bounce.
[new page = Matt Schaub]
5. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
Schaub is honestly lucky to have a starting gig, Considering last year was a complete meltdown for an 11-year veteran who has never played that poorly for that long. One can only credit his strong career resume (and the continued insistence by the Raiders of making boneheaded moves and questionable decisions) to the fact that he is one of the ever limited passers who will most likely start the season offering owners the elusive fantasy football essential that is playing time. Last year could have been an aberration, but I honestly don’t think so; when was the last time that a quarterback not named Rich Gannon had any success whatsoever for Oakland? The team (much like the Cleveland Browns) is where careers go to die. And I honestly can’t find much plausible explanation (or excuse rather) that would adequately shed light on Schaub’s season. Believe me, I’ve scoured the evidence, and I couldn’t, in good conscience, find the heart to mention it here, because, put simply, nothing is valid enough to be worthy of doing so. So if any of you have any ideas, please, let me know. Because without them, I’m willing to bet we’re much more likely to see the 2013 version of Schaub than the 2009.
He should be thanking his lucky stars that he is still an NFL starter. You shouldn’t be if he ends up being your fantasy starter. Keep Bustin’.
[new page = Josh Freeman]
4. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Minnesota Vikings
To be quite frank, the majority of the opinion that I’m about to jot down in this section must simply be predicated upon one simple fact: Freeman is team-less. Hard to make an impact (impossible, actually) on a fantasy team when you don’t even have an NFL team. And with it being this late in the off-season, and Freeman already being cut from consideration as Eli Manning’s back-up in New York, it’s highly doubtful that he will get another shot until the annual rash of QB injuries inevitably grabs hold of the league and squeezes it’s cruel vices ever so tightly. And even then, considering Freeman’s unraveling (he went from starter in Tampa Bay to a permanent bench fixture with the Vikings), will anyone even glance his way when they are holding a roster spot in their hands? Examples of potential such as Freeman’s 25 TD, 6 INT campaign a few years back could lead some teams to do so. And if they do, then this section could sing a totally different song. But even if it does, that song would still ring true with massive doubts about Freeman’s long delivery, questionable work ethic, and porous inaccuracy. Sorry, Josh, the road ended at the Meadowlands last fall.
A sure bust, more than anyone else on this list.
[new page = Eli Manning]
3. Eli Manning, New York Giants
There is no plausible explanation for Manning’s debacle except the claim that he is streaky, and prone to inexplicably forget his mechanics and lose poise from time to time. The term of streaky generally means that if a player is on the downside of that streakiness, he’s eventually got to come back from it, and spend some time on the other side of that term. So I’m actually going to bet that Manning will bounce back and have a campaign that will resemble his previous two campaigns, where he threw a combined 55 scores against 31 picks. Take this prediction with a grain of salt, as you should any time with a streaky player, but some light has to be shed, one way or another. So here goes nothing:
Bust back, albeit tentatively.
[new page = Tom Brady]
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
While no one is by all means counting the future Hall-of-Famer as down and out, this could very easily be a sign that the prolific nature that was once a staple of this highly successful quarterback may be waning. I’m inclined to believe this notion, but I still think that Brady has at least one or two more elite fantasy seasons up his sleeve. Will it be this season? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m not willing to bet against the majestic Tom Brady. If you have a need at the position and and he’s on the board, don’t hesitate. Pull the trigger. As far as busting back or just simply busting goes, I’m going to have to say….
[new page = Aaron Rodgers]
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
This number one player on this list also happens to be the easiest one to write; the answer to this question is insanely obvious. If I had a substantial amount of money were in my hands, I would bet most of it that it would end up being a wise decision to draft Rodgers as you would have pre-injury. He seemed to have recovered well enough from the broken collarbone he suffered in week 9 against the Bears last season, as he also turned in a solid showing against the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs. Although Rodgers has missed a game here and there in his career (the only other major injury was a broken foot that ended his season as the backup for the Packers back in 2006), it’s wouldn’t be accurate to categorize him as injury prone, so I’d say you can sleep safely at night rolling the dice on his health going forward. Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks not only in the league, but he’ll end up as one of the greatest all-time if he keeps this up; he was on an 84-14 interception ratio the last two seasons, so if you pick off Rodgers, you had best safeguard the ball in your trophy case. Because I think that collar bone will be just fine when Rodgers decides to pull out the old championship belt celebration next season. See below for a little bit of what I’m talking about.
Rodgers is too great to count out. Don’t overthink it and just draft him. Bust way back.