Draft Around the Red Flags
A common mistake owners make is disregarding the red flags and hesitating to skip over a big name with injury concerns. FFToolbox.com suggests staying away from Running Backs who are over the age of 30. Along with age, you should be cautious when drafting Running Backs with large workloads over the past few seasons. Identify the red flags early on, because even Feature Backs who historically have been workhorses will eventually falter.
Common red flags:
Failed Drug Tests – Both allegations of performance enhancing or recreational drug use are not conducive to production on the football field. When players are busted for PEDs, it’s an indication that the player may never play at that level again when he returns from suspension. Illicit recreational drug use is a telltale sign of character flaws. Regardless of how tremendous the talent is, suspended players cannot help you win games. Avoid players who seem to gravitate toward drug charges, scandals, and other off-the-field issues. Let the Justin Blackmons and Josh Gordons of the National Football League take up space on someone else’s roster; save yourself the headache.
Holdouts – During a contract dispute, players will hold out from Mini Camps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs). Although players receive harsh financial penalties for holding out, this does not deter them from remaining absent for mandatory team activities. The writing is on the wall, as less practice and less offseason preparation will spill over into the regular season. It’s not uncommon to see a player who holds out to seem to be out of sync with his team upon his return. One step slower off the line, unrefined route running and a lack of team chemistry is the recipe for a declining fantasy performance.
Pay close attention to players who are added to the Physically Unable to Perform List (PUP) and who miss out on Training Camp and Preseason. Players who return to action who are not completely healthy at the start of the season are more vulnerable to future injury, whether it be due to re-aggravating a healing limb or subconsciously favoring another body part to compensate for a weak muscle.
A 10-year veteran who skips OTAs is less of a concern than when a younger player does because veterans generally stay in game shape even while holding out. Players like Marshall Faulk, Emmitt Smith and Shawn Alexander were all able to return to the field when their contract disputes were settled and they continued to dominate the league. However, for a young player entering the prime of his career, the results of a holdout can be catastrophic. Holdouts rarely yield exceptional results, so keep these players off your draft board. At a minimum, knock these holdout players down to the later rounds on your draft boards.Let another owner fret when they return to action in a reduced role or in poor physical condition.
Players who have experienced significant declines in performance or who have uncharacteristically gotten injured due to holding out include the following seven examples:
“Holdouts never go well.”
– Antonio Brown, Steelers Wide Receiver
Midseason Trades – Midseason trades are becoming increasingly rare in the 21st century of the National Football League because of salary cap constraints. When they do happen, it’s usually a salary wash with two or more misfits changing hands in the hopes that they may benefit from a change of scenery. With the change of scenery, the biggest challenge these players face is learning the playbook on the fly and building team chemistry. See the Percy Harvin trade between the New York Jets and the Seattle Seahawks in 2014. Seattle traded away a quality playmaker in Percy Harvin, albeit a talent with some significant baggage.
Seattle received a late-round draft pick in return for Harvin, and executed the trade seemingly overnight. You shouldn’t be surprised that Harvin didn’t proceed to set the world on fire when he put on a green and white uniform. While his performance was not terrible, it was subpar in comparison to his previous years with Seattle and Minnesota. Surprise dominance for Harvin in Gang Green’s lackluster receiving core was a longshot at best. To be fair, developing second year Quarterback Geno Smith didn’t do Harvin any favors. In eight games with the New York Jets, Harvin amassed an unspectacular 29 catches for 350 yards and one receiving touchdown. This was quite a disappointing performance from the 2009 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. The combination of a midseason trade and having played for a mediocre team alone should have raised a few red flags to stay far away.
If you are still considering acquiring players who were traded midseason, let’s take a look at how well Trent Richardson played when he arrived in Indianapolis in early 2013. Replacing the injured Vick Ballard, Richardson played in 14 games and carried the ball 157 times for 458 yards, with only one rushing touchdown. The Running Back’s performance was strikingly poor, especially for a player coming off a strong rookie campaign in Cleveland. These are classic examples of a team cutting ties with a player and taking the best offer available. For a franchise to part ways with a young star on the cheap, it’s an indication that there must be a red flag that they’ve discovered but that isn’t yet available to the public. It wouldn’t take long for the Colts to realize that the highly touted Running Back for whom they traded was far less spectacular on the field than they had hoped. Another man’s trash still will probably be trash regardless of the flashy name attached.
Honorable mentions: Randy Moss, Carson Palmer, Roy Williams and Deion Branch
Player Cuts – When a player is released from his team, it’s often an indication that his best performances are behind him. Rarely will a player with high production and future potential be released from an NFL roster without justification. Lifestyle choices, locker room presence, disputes with ownership and poor conditioning are taken into account when determining the value a player has to his team. However, not all players who are cut from their teams are damaged goods. Some players are cut for salary cap considerations; they excel in new environments and continue to contribute to their new teams. Don’t chase lightning in a bottle with an injury-prone player entering the twilight of his career; allow another fool to make that mistake.
If another team is daring enough to sign a recently released player, it’s usually to add roster depth rather than to insert the player into the starting cast. Teams will kick the tires before signing these players, discovering whether they can physically perform at the NFL level. The players with gunshot wounds don’t fare as well as the able-bodied Free Agents. History shows that most players who were cut no longer warrant a spot on any NFL roster. Both NFL and Fantasy owners alike fall victim to nostalgia, holding onto a big name or a Super Bowl hero until their play becomes an obvious liability. Some player cuts are, in essence, addition by subtraction for their former teams. Players who upset the harmony of a locker room or are in constant trouble with the law wear out their welcome quickly.
There is a surplus of hungry young players fighting for roster spots and playing time, and it’s essential to focus your attention on learning who will benefit from the additional playing time in the offense. Instead, it’s easier to remain focused on the released player, watching closely for where they will land next as you waste time consuming media speculations. Can you name a player who resurrected his career after being released? A rare handful of players may continue to prove useful and even return to being Pro Bowl-caliber athletes. Learn to identify the difference between a young, talented player (like Desean Jackson) and a player who has had a modicum of success in a starting role and is searching for his next paycheck. You haven’t seen the last of these players; they will linger around the league as overpriced backups and may even resort to appearing at the Veteran’s Combine.
Below is a list of players who preserved their NFL relevancy post-exile.
Here is a list of players who were cut and who may never deserve a fantasy roster spot again.
Legal Issues – In fantasy football, talent and production overtake morality every time the ball is dropped in an off-the-field altercation. Just because a player is involved in a flame war on Twitter and sends controversial, ill-advised messages doesn’t mean you should run the other way. In contrast, when NFL players become involved in bigger scandals and legal issues, it’s time to dump their stock like it’s ENRON. It should not be a monumental surprise that NFL players find themselves in a heap of legal trouble. An epidemic is developing among young players with bright futures to selfishly compromise both their football careers and your fantasy season.
It’s time to part ways with players accused and/or convicted of the following.
Dog Fighting/Animal Abuse
To a lesser extent, it’s also advisable to avoid players accused of the following obscenities, regardless of talent and fantasy output.
Illegal Gambling Rings
Unsolicited Dick Pics
Age, Wear and Tear – Due to the physical nature of football, the number of years a player can produce at a high level is limited. While the concept of wear and tear pertains more so to Running Backs than to Quarterbacks, many stars don’t ride off into the sunset until it’s too late. Fantasy owners draft older players every season even after they no longer warrant roster spots; this includes the likes of Isaac Bruce, Randy Moss, Brett Favre and LaDainian Tomlinson. Even Hall of Fame Wide Receiver Jerry Rice remained on rosters through his last NFL season with the Seattle Seahawks as the third Wide Receiver. Rice hauled in a whopping 30 catches and three touchdowns in his final season, far from a fantasy-worthy option. No matter how talented the player is, playing through a career filled with concussions and multiple surgeries surely takes a toll on the final product. All good things come to an end, and both players and fans are guilty of holding on too long while praying for a sudden resurgence. The correlation between a player’s age and performance is not rocket science, it is rather a fundamental of biology.
Huge Contracts – Players who have recently received excessively large contracts raise a red flag. The overwhelming pressure to perform and live up to the contract they received can often have negative effects on both their physical and mental preparation for game day. More money, more problems; huge contracts often lead to players taking their feet off the gas. Players train a large portion of their lives in hopes of achieving that big payday. Achieving a lifelong endeavor can lead to complacency both in the weight room and on the football field. While most NFL players chase immortality with single-season and career accolades, not every star will continue to produce at the same level he did prior to signing a huge contract. Satisfaction is the death of desire.
Same Name, Different Game – Keep an eye out for NFL players who share the same exact name. Ensure that you are drafting Adrian Peterson the Vikings Running Back and not the Cardinals Cornerback. Watching an owner celebrate his selection of Ricky Williams in the 10th round of the draft, only to realize that there is an impostor fourth-string Running Back on the Saints with the same name can be very entertaining. Are you drafting Cameron Jordan the Defensive End or Jordan Cameron the Tight End? In an IDP league this same-name risk is heightened, and you should double check that you are drafting Brandon Marshall the Wide Receiver and not the Linebacker. The difference between Steve Smith and Steve Smith Sr. can have dramatic season-altering effects that aren't in your favor.
The draft is based on craft, guile and a little bit of luck. Counting yourself out or declaring victory on draft night is a mistake. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare. Stay focused and sober and avoid drafting the wrong player with the right name or captivating moniker. Be patient and strike when the time is right; don’t let other owners derail your draft strategy. Longtime Charger and Panther Mike Tolbert was an superb touchdown vulture throughout his career. Follow his lead and snatch up the value that others have repeatedly overlooked. The off season is too long to live with the regret of missing out on the sleepers you should have pounced on.