Building your team is about eliminating risk. That’s what “experts” said after they suggested taking Maurice Jones-Drew over Adrian Peterson last year. It’s a wise piece of advice. Others use the “go big or go home “strategy. It works both ways. One team gets Andrew Luck and the other gets Robert Griffin III. You get Arian Foster, I get Peterson. Drafting that way is a popular strategy, and if I could borrow a line from The Facts of Life: “What may be right for you, may not be right for some.”
That said, there might be a bigger crop of unknown dynasty commodities this year than ever before. Depending on your draft philosophy, some of you will jump on venturesome players early, and others will avoid them altogether. When dealing with the following players, you’re dealing with the unknown:
Wes Welker, WR NE
No dynasty value is tied to his quarterback more than Welker’s is tied to Tom Brady. If the four-time All-Pro wants to go down of the best possession receiver of all-time, he has to return to New England by any means necessary. Not only does he have a Hall of Fame quarterback, but he operates in an offensive system that knows exactly how to maximize his skill set.
Observers say Welker has lost a step, and is not the player he once was. That’s not true, and frankly impossible considering he didn’t have a step to begin with. The emergence of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez is why Welker’s production has fallen off. The Patriots simply have more options than they did when Welker was posting 1,500-yard seasons. He’s still just as talented, but New England’s system made him elite. If he leaves that system, he leaves the top 20 at his position. At that point he becomes an enormous gamble and isn’t someone I would use a high draft pick on.
Best-Case Scenario: Welker returns to Foxborough, returning himself to a low-end WR1.
Worst-Case Scenario: Welker signs with a team lacking a proven starting quarterback and drops to a flex play at best.
Reggie Bush, RB FA
Bush had the dynasty equivalent of a one-night stand with fantasy owners during the 2011 second half. In that eight game span, Bush ran for close to 800 yards while scoring six touchdowns. After that season, the Dolphins fired Tony Sparano and Bush’s 2012 production dropped as a result, averaging just 60 yards per game.
For having a lengthy injury history, Bush has stayed surprisingly healthy throughout the last two seasons, missing just one game over that span while touching the football more than ten times per game. There will be multiple teams interested in the 27-year old, but is he willing to find the best fit? Will he either go to a team that can use his talents to their fullest (possibly Detroit?), or will he take the biggest contract he can find à la Michael Bush to Chicago?
Free agency is scary.A big reason experts never seem to accurately predict where free agents will sign is because they spend too much time thinking about the best fit for the player, rather than who can offer the most money. Last season, few thought Vincent Jackson would wind up in Tampa Bay, but usually a willing buyer like the Buccaneers pop up every year. We saw how important money was to him at USC, so what makes you think he won’t go after it again, right?
Mike Vick, QB PHI
Has any NFL career yo-yoed more than this one? Over the course of a decade, Mr. Vapor Rub himself has gone from an elite franchise quarterback, to universally loathed, back to elite, booed off the field in Philadelphia, and now could surge back to the top thanks to Chip Kelly. It’s possible the former Virginia Tech Hokie is not as fast as he was two years ago, but he’s certainly not slow. Rather than RG3-speed, the 32-year old has wheels closer to Cam Newton and Russell Wilson.
There is simply no in-between with Vick; either he’s great or terrible – that’s what makes him as risky heading into 2013. After restructuring his contract to secure a one-year deal, he gets one chance to run Kelly’s offense. At Oregon, Kelly masterminded the Ducks to perennial top-5 offensive production without an NFL-caliber quarterback. Vick’s mobility enables him to fit the profile of a successful QB in Kelly’s system.
Best-Case Scenario: The roller coaster of Vick swings up, using Kelly to elevate his game back to top-three status. In the process, he makes others like DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek high-end options as well.
Worst-Case Scenario: Vick continues struggling with ball security, resulting in his benching. Extended looks to Nick Foles and Dennis Dixon, a former Oregon signal-caller under Kelly, takes place resulting in Vick getting cozy with a visor and clipboard by October.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR ARI
Many used to think Fitzgerald was quarterback proof. It didn’t matter who threw him the football; he was going to produce. In the end, his rare talent always trumped the lack of an NFL-caliber quarterback, making them look better than they actually were. Great pass catchers have that effect. Calvin Johnson does it with Matt Stafford, and Antonio Gates certainly did it for years with Philip Rivers.
Last winter, few owners pushed hard to get Reggie Wayne. One year later, that’s exactly where we are with Fitzgerald – “Bad Reggie” status. Between Wayne’s situation and watching Fitzgerald with Kurt Warner years ago, we know the difference a good quarterback can make. Fitzgerald’s skill set is light-years ahead of Wayne, so the former Pitt Panther doesn’t need the next Andrew Luck, but someone who simply doesn’t suck.
This season, someone who knows all about what happened to Wayne takes over as Arizona’s Head Coach. Former Indianapolis Colts Offensive Coordinator (and stand-in Head Coach) Bruce Arians takes over an offense that ranked dead last in the league last season. Arians has seen first-hand the effect a great passer can make on an offense. Based on Arian’s past year, you have to figure we won’t be seeing the Hall of Fame class of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer under center in the desert next season.
Best-Case Scenario: The Cardinals find a quarterback as the Colts did last season, propelling Fitzgerald back into the top three at his position.
Worst-Case Scenario: Nothing changes, and Kevin Kolb continues to ruin your birthday party.
Robert Griffin III, QB WAS
It’s far too easy to look at Peterson’s recovery and think the same will happen with Griffin. Peterson’s a freak, and based on the eyeball test, Griffin’s as strong as crêpe paper. He’s still talented, but his running ability sets him apart from the rest at his position. If healthy and without restrictions, he’ll run for 1,000 yards, but even if healthy, it’s unlikely he will. After what happened last season, Washington would be wise to make every effort to protect their franchise signal caller. Don’t forget how serious his injury was. If Dan Snyder riding shotgun for Griffin’s trip to the doctor didn’t to convince you it was a big deal then, it should now.
In terms of dynasty value, this directly affects play-calling. Mike Shanahan will likely be hesitant to run Griffin upon his return, which changes the whole way we look at his overall value. The real question is whether the ‘Skins will be hesitant to use RG3 the way they did last season in future years. Injuries like his change the mindset of a franchise. Currently, that’s what makes him a risk.
Best-Case Scenario: see Peterson, Adrian.
Worst-Case Scenario: A) Griffin comes back before a full recovery, becoming more of a pocket-passer. B) Shanahan reverts back to his running back system, leaning on Alfred Morris to keep Griffin healthy; a classic case of fantasy success versus real-life success.
In August, these are the players you’ll be talking about. Assessing their draft value will be like playing pin the tail on the donkey. Picking up any of these players requires you to be bold.
So, you feeling lucky?
Follow Dan Hasty on Twitter @DanHasty34
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