The Gut Check No.468: 20 Players to Avoid

Matt Waldman begins the 2019 season with a list of 20 players he's crossing off his draft lists.

All players have value. While true that any player can contribute to the success of a team's lineup in any given week, this simple maxim is false. All players have potential value and there are some potential values that aren't worth the investment. These prospects often tantalize fantasy players with their upside, but they often disappoint.

The Ole Gut Check finished his first round of player projections last week—covering over 500 players. Although 200-300 of these players will not find their way into rankings at Footballguys due to their roles as last-tier reserves with little playing time, there are high-profile players included in these rankings that won't be on my personal draft lists this year.

For many, crossing players off a draft list in May seems hasty. Consider it an exercise as opposed to a hard and fast decision. A lot will change between May and September, but maintaining a list of players to avoid will help you in several ways.

An "avoid" list will help you articulate which players you don't feel good about. As much as the fantasy football culture embraces data, the interpretation of information leads to biases—and emotional biases still occur.

Articulating one’s emotional biases can be a good thing. Once you've put it out there, it often creates intellectual room to explore logical arguments that counter them.

You may spot a pattern with the type of players you dislike, which will help you determine if that pattern is healthy. If it is, you may eliminate enough players on your board to draft players that you like while doing so at an optimal sweet spot between your high valuation of them and their average draft position.

Here are 20 players to avoid in 2019 and the reasons you should do so.

Late Picks

20. WR D.J. Chark Jr (Jacksonville)

A free agent in most 2019 drafts because his ADP is outside the top 250 players, there are teams that will select Chark because of his size and speed. This is the same reason the Jaguars targeted him in the second round of the NFL Draft despite the fact that his routes and hands did not meet the standard of an early selection.

Size and speed easily sway fans and analyst, but Chark dropped nearly 16 percent of his passes last year. He must improve his technique at the catch point or he'll tease fantasy players who see him targeted on open vertical routes and hold out hope that he'll begin converting them consistently. They'll even make excuses for him. Avoid getting sucked into that kind of dysfunction.

19. RB Ryquell Armstead (Jacksonville)

As long as Nick Foles remains healthy, there will be excellent fantasy values in Jacksonville this year. Armstead is not one of them, but many will be fooled into thinking he is. An excellent fit with the Jaguars' running scheme that uses a lot of gap blocking, Armstead hits creases hard and has the speed to break away in the open field.

With the ball in his hand, he's the closest thing Jacksonville has to Leonard Fournette on the roster if when Fournette tweaks his ankle. However, there are too many problems with Armstead's game to consider him reliable until he shows proof of development. He struggles behind a zone blocking scheme, which requires the opposite approach to gap blocking when setting up creases. Armstead lacks the patience and footwork for it. This could take him a season or two of development.

The greatest concern is Armstead's work on passing downs. He struggles as a blocker and receiver. While we rarely see backs with this affliction, Armstead is a much worse receiver than he is a blocker. He has difficulty tracking the football—even short targets.

The back to target in behind Fournette will be Alfred Blue. He's not an exciting athlete but he's a smart runner with the skill to hit creases with authority and patience. If Foles and the Jaguars offensive line stays healthy, Blue can deliver fantasy starter production as a volume runner. Don't be surprised if Jacksonville adds a veteran runner to the depth chart in September after it witnesses Armstead's shortcomings.

18. WR Josh Doctson (Washington)

He has the physical prowess of an elite receiver, but he has been in Jay Gruden's doghouse for too long. He's also described as a player who doesn't work at his craft with the intensity and consistency of a starter. When an individual in a competitive environment doesn't work steadily at his craft, that individual has difficulty staying healthy and executing consistently. Rookie Kelvin Harmon may be slower, but he's a better value because he has the desire to play the game at the highest level. Doctson hasn't proven to have that "want to" for three seasons.

17. RB Rex Burkhead (New England)

Burkhead caught the eye of Bill Belichick because he has many of Fred Jackson's traits as an athlete and receiver, and Belichick was an open admirer of Jackson's game. One thing Burkhead lacks is durability, missing 14 games during the past two seasons. He's never earned more than 100 touches during a season. It leads one to wonder if Burkhead can handle a legitimate fantasy workload.

The tandem of Sony Michel and Damien Harris will render Burkhead useless for fantasy players unless James White gets hurt. Even so, Michel and Harris are good enough receivers that Burkhead may not earn enough work to deliver fantasy production. Despite his flashes of talent and versatility, he's not worth a roster spot.

16. WR Demaryius Thomas (New England)

The 31-year-old Thomas is coming off his second Achilles' tear and his contract is an incentive-laden deal. Even prior to the injury, Thomas was dealing with leg issues that led to steady declines in production between 2015 and 2018. It's doubtful that he'll return to even the reduced production of his later years. There are far more promising players with contributing opportunities that fantasy owners can acquire in the same range of the draft, including Diontae Johnson, Andy Isabella, Demarcus Robinson, Antonio Callaway, and a dozen running backs with starter upside.

15. WR DeVante Parker (Miami)

Parker is the negative testament that God-given athletic talent only gets a player so far in a professional career. He hasn't stayed healthy and he hasn't developed consistency as a technician. This is the final year of his contract, which means he could cobble together a strong enough season to earn a second chance elsewhere. You could win the lottery, too. UDFA Preston Williams is available cheaper at this time and he would have been a second-day draft pick if not for off-field issues. He could push Parker out of town.

14. WR Marqise Lee (Jacksonville)

Lee is returning from ACL and PCL surgery and he has only finished a 16-game season once during a 4-year career. He's not a technician and he's still more careless as an open field runner than he should be at this point of his career. He's a player that has a lot to prove, and he'll likely be trying to prove it with another team in 2020.

13. WR Donte Moncrief (Pittsburgh)

When a player joins his third team in as many years after a four-year stint with the original organization that drafted him, it's a sign that player lacks the consistency to match the contract awarded him. Moncrief has never been a fantasy starter at his position in a 12-team league. He's not a great route runner and he fails to earn significant separation against his opponents. Adam Humphries and Albert Wilson have more upside at a similar price.

Middle Rounds

12. QB Derek Carr (Oakland)

The Raiders upgraded the athletic ability of its receiving corps with the additions of Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, which bodes well for Carr, who set career-bests in passing yards (4,049) and completion percentage (68.9 percent) despite injuries and inconsistent play from his surrounding talent. Carr has been a top-15 fantasy quarterback as recently as 2015 and 2016 and he's not an interception machine The addition of Brown and Williams should make Carr draftable, right?

While the short answer is "yes," Carr takes a lot of sacks, fumbled the ball seven times last year, and exhibits rash decision-making when he feels the pressure. Trent Brown will upgrade the right tackle spot while Jon Gruden bets on Kolton Miller, who struggled last year, at left tackle. Brown can play either side, so there's some flexibility for the line.

However, Gruden is set on keeping Miller on Carr's blindside—and Miller was responsible for 16 sacks last year while playing through a knee sprain, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Gruden praised Miller this spring for adding muscle while maintaining his flexibility.

If the offensive line improves, Carr is once again capable of top-15 production—numbers he earned with Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper as his primary receivers. Brown remains one of the best receivers in the league, but it's debatable that Brown and Williams are a massive upgrade to Carr's former stable, or that Gruden's offense will make a massive difference.

In this respect, Carr might be the Sterling Shepard of fantasy quarterbacks. Read on to learn more.

11. RB Duke Johnson Jr (Cleveland)

Johnson recently asked for a trade now that Kareem Hunt is a part of the Browns' roster. Nick Chubb proved that he can catch the ball well enough that it's unlikely that we'll see a significant split in workload that benefits Johnson—especially when Hunt returns from his eight-game suspension. Although few people know about Dontrel Hilliard, he's a quick back with good hands who could do passing-down work when the Browns eventually trade Johnson.

There's no doubt that Johnson has skills. However, as USA Football analyst and Browns Breakdown contributor Brandon Leister puts it, Johnson has a penchant for leaving the field with injuries that don't show up on the following week's injury report. Hillard, Chubb, and Hunt don't. Perhaps Johnson displays more grit elsewhere but his current track record indicates otherwise.

10. RB Jaylen Samuels (Pittsburgh)

James Conner proved that he can replace Le'Veon Bell as an every-down back. Samuels delivered late in the year as a receiver and had a strong performance on the ground against New England in Week 15. Despite the moments of production, Pittsburgh's decision to draft Benny Snell indicates that it isn't sold on Samuels as a lead option.

Samuels is a competent runner with enough athletic ability to play in the NFL, but he's not on par with Snell as a ball carrier. Unless the Steelers radically change its offense, Samuels will not see a workload that's similar to Austin Ekeler, James White, or recent seasons of Duke Johnson Jr, Theo Riddick, and Danny Woodhead. The only way Samuels earns these kinds of reps is if the Steelers suffer a rash of injuries to the offensive line and need to go to the short passing game as a base strategy. Until then, Conner and Snell are the best picks among Pittsburgh's backfield.

9. RB Nyheim Hines (Indianapolis)

Hines accumulated nearly 750 yards from scrimmage as a rookie—including 63 receptions. He earned nearly half of those catches (28) when Marlon Mack missed four games. Half of Hines' four touchdowns also came in one of those contests.

Fast, quick, and sure-handed Hines appears poised to build on that production as the Colts' primary receiving back. Enter Spencer Ware a bigger back with an excellent track record as a receiver and pass protector. Ware drew interest from multiple teams after his contract ended in Kansas City, ultimately choosing the Colts.

During his final two games with the Chiefs, Ware 181 yards from scrimmage, including 6 receptions for 59 yards. He provides the Colts a short-yardage and closeout runner who also thrives in the five-minute situations at the end of halves.

As long as he's sufficiently recovered from 2017's knee injury, Ware should usurp playing time every option on the Colts' depth chart—robbing Mack of his top-10 upside as well as reducing Hines' role as the primary receiving back. Hines is in danger of becoming a gadget in Indianapolis.

8. RB Austin Ekeler (Los Angeles Chargers)

Footballguys' player page summary of Ekler describes him as "a no-brainer RB1/2 whenever [Melvin Gordon III] is out or limited. With his locked-in role, Ekeler is a fine draft target once the top 25-30 backs are off the draft board."

Not so fast, says Justin Jackson. Last year's rookie held his own with Ekeler from Weeks 12-17.

Rush Yards
Rec Yards

Although Ekeler missed two games with groin, head, and neck injuries, Jackson performed well enough in Ekeler's stead that presuming Ekeler is "locked-in" to his role is premature. Jackson has the talent to push Ekeler in training camp and even if he doesn't out-play Ekeler for the No.2 job by September, teams are prone to keeping players who play well on the field. It will only take an injury to Gordon or Ekeler for Jackson to earn playing time that might not be so easily taken away—especially if Ekeler is the one in the training room.

7. WR Sterling Shepard (New York Giants)

A better football player than fantasy option, Shepard thrives in the short and intermediate zones of the defense. He's a good route runner whose skill after the catch has not translated to the NFL. Last year, Shepard earned fantasy WR3 production for the first time in his three-year career thanks to his best per-catch average (13.2) as a pro.

Shepard is a low-ceiling player who had 7 games last year with less than 40 yards receiving. The two games where he excelled as a yardage gainer came against banged-up defenses, including his 167-yard outburst against the wounded Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football.

Neither a vertical threat or a YAC option, Shepard offers nothing but the hope of volume in an offense where the volume options will likely be Golden Tate, Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram—three options that can run after the catch and earn deep separation.

Early Rounds

6. WR Will Fuller V (Houston)

Fuller has become an excellent route runner in addition to a big-play vertical threat. Unfortunately, Fuller has missed 19 of 48 possible games during his three-year career and he's recovering from an ACL surgery in October.

A young player, Fuller could regain his speed faster than more grizzled veterans, but he'll still have to overcome the psychological hurdle of trusting his knee to plant and cut. Already a candidate for soft tissue injuries due to his tightly-wound frame, players coming off major surgery tend to suffer cascade injuries due to overcompensation of non-injured body parts.

I'd rather add Fuller from the waiver wire after he has a slow start and a team drops him rather than drafting him as an early-round option.

5. RB Lamar Miller (Houston)

While not optimistic about D'Onta Foreman returning to form after suffering an Achilles' tear, Miller is a low-ceiling, high-floor fantasy runner. He can help a team as a second or third back in a three-back fantasy lineup, but he's always valued during part of the draft where there are players with higher floors and greater upside at various positions. When a fantasy player can get an option of greater value at quarterback, tight end, wide receiver, and even running back, Miller is only a good choice when you've taken a lot of risks and need to balance out your roster. Even then, it feels like a "playing not to lose" choice.

4. RB Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville)

Fournette's ankle ligaments are loose and will only get looser as his career progresses. He missed seven games during the first half of the season and he's prone to missing swaths of time that are short enough to feel compelled to keep him on a roster, but long enough that he's costing you a valuable roster spot.

While everyone is playing nice as the preseason begins, Fournette lost the guaranteed money in his contract. While the cited reason for stripping Fournette's money had to do with his unprofessional behavior last year, his dwindling health could be a quieter and more compelling reason for this opportunistic money grab by the front office.

There's every reason to be a fan of Fournette's skill but ankle and foot injuries are worrisome for running back play. Especially when that player is a punishing and explosive option. Although the fuse may be long enough for him to last a season or two without another problem, he's an injury time bomb that's ticking.

3. RB Phillip Lindsay (Denver)

Lindsay surprised most with his rookie performance, but he finished the year with wrist surgery that has limited his training and preparation for the 2019 season. This time between the first and second season is crucial for most young players, especially a player who will be seeing a change in quarterback and blocking scheme.

Denver ran a gap-heavy, rushing attack last year. The Broncos leaned on toss plays, counters, power, and trap plays. Runners are expected to hit creases hard and do so without a lot of manipulation of the defense. This played well into Lindsay's game as a small speedster who is willing to get low at the end of runs and a maximize what his speed could get him.

This year, Denver is opting for an outside zone scheme. Lindsay has the speed to run this scheme well, but can he spot and set up cutbacks with patience? This is the opposite approach to gap schemes and could trip up Lindsay if he's unable to work on the strategy, rhythm, and footwork of these new plays.

Royce Freeman is experienced running zone plays and has excellent feet. He's nowhere near as sudden as Lindsay, but he has excellent short-area quickness for his size and the balance and strength to earn yards after contact that Lindsay won't.

Lindsay could still earn a significant part of the Broncos' workload, but there's a good chance he loses the lead role and it makes him too expensive to have on a draft list until he falls close to the middle rounds.

2. RB Damien Williams (Kansas City)

A strong performer down the stretch for the Chiefs, Williams benefited from a great offense that includes top options at quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end. He also worked with a cohesive and talented offensive line.

A lot has changed in recent months. The line is no longer as talented or as cohesive. Tyreek Hill's career is in limbo after serious off-field concerns. And if we're being honest, Williams is little more than a competent NFL running back who found himself in a starting role because the team cut Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware wasn't healthy.

Williams is a straight-linish speedster who doesn't play completely up to his athletic ability. He can handle physical play and he's a skilled passing-down option. However, a healthy Carlos Hyde is a superior talent, and rookie Darwin Thompson offers exciting upside as a playmaker who fits this offense the way Brian Westbrook meshed with Andy Reid's Eagles.

Hyde lacks Williams' speed, but he's more patient and plays with better balance. Last year, Hyde's production suffered because he played in a Cleveland offense where two coaches were fighting each other and then got shipped to Jacksonville team with a mangled offensive line and a backup quarterback. As long as Hyde remains healthy, he will push Williams for significant playing time, if not the starting role.

Thompson has already earned a rep as a playmaker during minicamp. He too could push Williams into a smaller role. Considering that the Chiefs' line isn't as strong as it was, Kansas City could value more creative backs who can turn potential losses into gains. Hyde and Thompson are better at this than Williams.

1. RB Todd Gurley (Los Angeles Rams)

Read Jene Bramel's NFL Injury Rounds segment on Gurley earlier this month and you can understand the risk of investing in Gurley from this point forward. Any time a team moves up to the second day of the draft to take a talent like Darrell Henderson, it's an ominous sign that the lead back is not healthy and may never regain his health long-term.

The fact that Gurley's workload and practice sessions will also be limited isn't a good look for him, either. While possible for him to return to elite production this year and maybe for 2-3 seasons, fantasy owners need to see proof of Gurley's ability to manage pain and inflammation before investing in him as an early-round pick.

It would make more sense to trade for him than draft him. However, it will also be more difficult to negotiate a fair trade. As a believer that the first pick doesn't need to be bull's eye, Gurley looks like an investment that's a bit too boom-bust at the top of the draft.

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