Wide receiver Eric Decker was a fantasy revelation with the Denver Broncos. Most owners were able to get him in the mid rounds last season after teammates Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker came off the board first, and Decker rewarded those shrewd drafters with 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns on 87 receptions.
Decker finished three touchdowns from matching Thomas for the team lead, had only five fewer receptions and wound up with a yardage total that dwarfed Welker’s meager production. So it was hardly surprising when the New York Jets signed Decker to a free agent contact worth $36.25 million over five years with $15 million guaranteed.
This season, because of a seismic shift in surroundings, Decker is at the top of our “Poison Players” list, a do-not-draft list of players to avoid at all costs on draft day. Whether it’s because they present a significant risk (injuries), an overblown reputation or are simply bad values, you’ll want to steer clear of the names below for good reason.
In Decker’s case, he goes from future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning to Geno Smith. The Jets’ second-round pick last year struggled mightily to say the least, amassing 3,043 yards and 12 touchdowns with 21 interceptions in 16 starts.
Smith’s quarterback rating (66.5) was the worst among regular starters, below even the likes of Eli Manning, who threw a league-high 27 interceptions, and Joe Flacco, whose 21 interceptions were most unbecoming of the highest paid player in the NFL.
Expect Decker’s statistics to be more in line with his performances before Manning arrived. In 2011, for instance, Decker had 612 yards and eight touchdowns with passing-challenged Tim Tebow and mediocre Kyle Orton as his quarterbacks. If Decker comes anywhere near eight touchdowns this season, it’ll be a true testament to his ability to make the best of a messy situation.
Other players on the poison/do-not-draft list:
Mike Wallace, WR, Dolphins: When Wallace came off draft boards last season, it wasn’t unrealistic to expect numbers in the range of 1,200 yards and a half dozen or so touchdowns. Those were roughly Wallace’s averages during his two most productive seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and when he signed with Miami last offseason, “60 Minutes” in theory became the undisputed No. 1 with a young, strong-armed quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.
Oh how the best laid plans went south quickly. Wallace produced a meager 940 yards and five touchdowns, the fewest in his five-year career, and his second season in South Florida hasn’t gotten off to a much better start thanks to a sore hamstring. Not good news for a player who leans heavily on speed.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions: At 6-foot-5, 257 pounds, Pettigrew was supposed to be an impact player in Detroit’s vaunted passing game. The 2009 first-round pick instead has posted declining numbers since career highs of 777 yards and five touchdowns three years ago. With rookie Eric Ebron turning heads, Pettigrew’s time as a TE1 is all but over.
Shonn Greene, RB, Titans: After consecutive seasons with at least 1,053 yards and six touchdowns, Greene signed a three-year deal for $10 million with Tennessee. The plan was to use Greene for some goal-line carries, but rookie Bishop Sankey has been so impressive that the Titans appear ready to give the 2014 second-round pick virtually all the work.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders: The No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 draft has been an injury nightmare during his career, never playing more than 13 games in a season and missing 19 games over the last three years. These days it’s not so much a matter of if but when McFadden will be injured, and the Raiders made allowances by signing Maurice Jones-Drew in the offseason.
Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: The former top-five RB1 is coming off his lowest production (660 yards, four touchdowns) since he was a rookie and is suspended for the first two games of the season for a serious off-field transgression. Bernard Pierce is on track to start in place of Rice, and the third-year player has an opportunity to make his case as the featured running back going forward.
Jaguars wide receivers: Justin Blackmon was arrested for marijuana possession after serving a one-year suspension for substance abuse. Ace Sanders has taken a leave of absence to deal with personal issues and is suspended for the first four games of the season. Now Cecil Shorts is out several weeks with a hamstring strain. Also Chad Henne is the starting quarterback. Good times in Jacksonville.
Miles Austin, WR, Browns: Since bursting onto the fantasy scene in 2009 with 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns, Austin has been going in the wrong direction. The Browns signed Austin to a one-year deal worth $2 million, but he’s buried on the depth chart behind Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins in an offense with a rookie potentially starting at quarterback if Johnny Manziel wins the job.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Dolphins: Don’t be mislead by Moreno’s 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. That production came only because he played in an offense with Peyton Manning. Moreno landed in Miami during the offseason via a one-year deal worth $3 million, and he’s already fallen behind Lamar Miller on the depth chart.
David Wilson, New York Giants: The Giants’ first-round pick in 2012 has tantalized at times, but according to published reports, Wilson is unlikely to be back on the field this season, if at all, after a neck stinger Wednesday that followed offseason spinal fusion surgery.
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