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Campfire Chat: Early-round Bust

Footballguys staff members discuss top players who could bust

No one wants to blow an early round selection. Name a Top 20 player who you are avoiding. Why?

Jason Wood: I wouldn't say anyone in the Top 20 consensus ADP is kryptonite, but I'm absolutely avoiding Amari Cooper in a draft at that price. Cooper is talented, and I project him as a fringe WR1, but against the other players available in the 2nd round he never appeals to me. He hasn't delivered elite WR1 numbers yet and has pretty much been outplayed by Michael Crabtree every season. I still think Cooper has Top 5 upside (Crabtree doesn't) and would take Cooper over Crabtree, but I would rather draft a sure thing in the 2nd. Cooper is not a sure thing.

Chad Parsons: The easiest way to bust is via injury for a top pick, but I personally limit the term to underperforming as it is more indicative of the player's performance. Amari Cooper is a strong submission by Jason Wood to kick things off as Cooper is in the WR7-10 zone of positional ADP. I love Cooper long-term, but with Michael Crabtree still a 1A/B option, Oakland adding Marshawn Lynch, plus Jared Cook being an upgrade over the non-existent tight end position in 2016, Cooper will need a volume jump (tough to project) or a big leap in touchdowns (possible) from his 11 scores over 154 receptions in his first two seasons. Cooper is a good bet to finish in the top-18 receivers or so, but profiting off a top-8 (ish) preseason rank is a tall order.

My vote is Devonta Freeman around RB6 ADP. In general, I am fading the entire Atlanta offense considering their 2017 prices following a historically efficient 2016 in their run to the Super Bowl. Freeman is coming off a by-far career year in yards-per-carry (4.8) and 13 total touchdowns. Freeman has also missed only one game in three seasons. At a sub-optimal size, I am skeptical of the durability, touchdowns, and Atlanta fueling as many scoring cracks as last season. The departure of Kyle Shanahan is a critical element. Atlanta was in the 7-16 zone of offensive ranks in previous seasons before their value to No. 1 in points and No. 2 in yards in 2016. While No.12 in rushing attempts, Atlanta was No. 5 in yards and No. 3 in touchdowns. Freeman is one of the prime regression candidates for the Falcons considering his cost this season.

Stephen Holloway: My drafting tendency leans heavily toward the Zero RB style, but this season my preference is to draft one of the big three running backs (David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell & Ezekiel Elliott). Obviously, you need to draw a top four or five draft slot to have a chance at one of them. After those three, my focus is solidly on the wide receivers. One of the reasons is that I am not buying RB4, Melvin Gordon III. Gordon drastically underperformed as a rookie in 2015, rushing for only 641 yards, with a total of 833 yards from scrimmage and zero touchdowns. One 217 touches in his rookie season, he failed to score a touchdown. He finished as RB51 in non-PPR scoring and had an ADP of RB16. Gordon improved drastically scoring touchdowns (12) in year two, but still only rushed for 997 yards with a 3.9 YPC average, finishing as RB8. For his two year career, he has averaged 3.7 YPC and has missed five total games. The only reason for Gordon to be considered as RB4 is a guaranteed heavy work load. Among last year's top 15 fantasy running backs, only three fell short of 4.0 YPC averages, Gordon 3.92, Frank Gore 3.90 and LeGarrette Blount 3.88. To achieve a high fantasy ranking with that low a per carry average demands a lot of opportunity and scoring touchdowns often. Gordon scored twelve in year two, but none in his rookie season. Those numbers do not sound like RB4 scoring.

Ryan Hester: First of all, I have to say that I love working with this staff. It's such a great cross-section of opinions, as evidenced by my disagreeing with Jason on multiple published occasions (Jeremy Maclin Faceoff and Pierre Garcon Faceoff) but agreeing with him on Cooper (I did the Low Side of that Faceoff). [Full disclosure: I didn't know I'd be matching up with Jason until after I wrote up my end.]

But on to the question at hand. It's odd to say (and I feel that this year is unique in this regard), but I see multiple bust candidates in the top-20. As Stephen mentioned, Gordon is an opportunity-only selection, and Chad laid out a case to avoid Freeman as well. I see "warts" with a couple others players as well.

It's entirely possible that fantasy owners are assuming too high a target share for Michael Thomas. Willie Snead IV will still be a factor; Ted Ginn Jr will get some deep shots; even Coby Fleener could improve and figure into some game plans. Aside from Thomas, T.Y. Hilton could fail to return value if Andrew Luck misses multiple games. And Dez Bryant could do the same if his touchdown percentage dips this year.

The landmines are everywhere. If there were any year where a mentality of "forget ADP; grab your guy" were in play, it's 2017.

Devin Knotts: I'm avoiding Dez Bryant in every league I draft this season. Bryant has not been the same receiver the last two years as he has only played 24 games over the course of the last two seasons and the Cowboys have designed their offense around a run first mentality throwing the ball the third fewest amongst any team in the NFL. Bryant is the perfect boom/bust receiver as he finished in the top 12 of wide receivers in five of his thirteen games but he finished outside the top 30 of receivers in seven of his thirteen games.

Danny Tuccitto: I'll echo the Amari Cooper consensus thus far. According to my "true" stats, he has the lowest aggregate positional ranking of any player in the Top 20 of ADP currently (No. 39 among 77 fantasy-viable wide receivers returning to the same team in 2017): Cooper's True Average Depth of Target ranks 54th, his True Receptions per Route Run ranks 31st, his True Yards per Route Run ranks 22nd, and his True Touchdowns per Route Run ranks 49th. For context, the next-lowest Top 20 ADP wide receiver per my aggregate "true" stat rankings, Michael Thomas, ranks 27 spots above Cooper (i.e., 22nd).

Even his own teammate, Michael Crabtree, ranks 29 spots above him (20th)!

There's also the dirty secret that Derek Carr isn't as good as is popularly perceived: 21st in aggregated "true" stat rankings among 32 returning fantasy-viable quarterbacks. And then, there's also the introduction of Marshawn Lynch into an offense with a run-first philosophy.

As a backup choice, I'll also echo Stephen's mention of Melvin Gordon III. He's the lowest-ranked of 9 running backs in the Top 20 ADP according to my aggregated "true" stats.

Andy Hicks: The only player that stands out to me among the top 20 overall is a player Stephen mentioned in Melvin Gordon III. As he mentioned the yards per carry is warning flag number 1, while the touchdown numbers are warning number 2. Warning number 3 is the Chargers move to Los Angeles. It doesn't mean that Gordon is going to perform like Todd Gurley did last year, but there is a lot of upheaval in a franchise move and if I'm on the borderline with a player this is as good as anything for a tie breaker.

Warning number 4 is that the Chargers can't seem to catch a break. Last season was heavily influenced by injuries and they look like losing 1st round pick Mike Williams for the season, as well as 2nd round Forrest Lamp who will definitely be out for the year. Last year Gordon was pretty good value at his ADP, this year he is not.

The fact that a lot of the other guys here are worried about Amari Cooper only makes me like him more. This situation reminds me of the Julio Jones/Roddy White debate a few years ago. When Julio entered the league it was White that was the better performed, until year 4. Now Crabtree has statistically done better than Cooper, but he will be 30 this year and Cooper is an ascendant talent. He is almost certainly a top 6 receiver of the future and I think he makes that leap this year. His ADP is probably as high as it should be, but it is unlikely he drops too far below it all things being equal. Just like Julio was, Amari Cooper is not the finished product. By the end of this year, I think we'll all be seeing Cooper as a stud.

Justin Howe: Barring injury, it's going to be really hard for Melvin Gordon III to bust on 325 touches. Especially when his offense lacks a passing game specialist and feeds him relentlessly on the goal line.

If I knew he'd only run for 3.5 yards per carry, I'd still take him top-10 without thinking twice. No RB behind the top 3 can even sniff his volume. Besides, let's take a moment on projecting his YPC and note that, behind an atrocious offensive line, he still churned out more 15+ yard runs than David Johnson while breaking tackles at a higher rate than Ezekiel Elliott. And I don't see his 2016 touchdowns as fluky. The Chargers turned to him almost exclusively near the goal line - and when he got hurt in Week 13, they immediately abandoned the run on the goal line. That tells me Gordon IS their plan inside the 5; the team's short-yardage opportunity may dip, but I doubt his share will.

If I'm looking for a first-round bust, I'm thinking Julio Jones. He's perpetually dinged up, he's allergic to catching touchdowns, and his QB is about to regress wildly from an absurdly prolific season. I'm targeting him behind Mike Evans and A.J. Green.

Chris Feery: I’m passing on Rob Gronkowski. He’s an unquestioned stud that’s in line to have a monster year if fully healthy - but there’s the rub. Can anyone say with confidence that Gronkowski won’t miss any time this year? Perhaps multiple games? You can’t. Granted, a Gronkowski with 12-14 games under his belt can still offer up an excellent return, but his current ADP makes him too expensive in my book. Injuries are part of the game and there’s no avoiding that, but Gronkowski’s lofty draft spot seems like too much of a risk for me.