The Loop Fantasy Football Preview: The Overrated

Picking the following players from your 2019 fantasy team will not necessarily ruin your chances for a championship. But taking them too early in your draft might shatter your faith in mankind.

Reader advisory. We do know something about winning fantasy football titles. We won two of them back to back in the early days of the 21st century.

Now the bad news. In about a quarter century of fantasy play, those are our only two championships, which means we’ve fallen short of paydirt, oh, about two dozen times.

This track record, if nothing else, indicates a great familiarity with disappointment.

Failure, though, has been a great educator. We’ve learned that, while it’s nice to pick the surprise superstars who blossom out of nowhere, the most important key to success is to AVOID the land mines that are littered throughout your draft list.

What do we mean by land mines? Four words: Le’Veon Bell last year.

The following players are all respectable football players and, in most cases, fine human beings. But you have to make sure you don’t race to the front of the line to draft them.

OVERRATED RECEIVERS
Antonio Brown, Raiders — As every fantasy maven can tell you, Rule No. 1 of drafting is to avoid star players whose feet have been cryogenically damaged. That’s especially true of receivers moving cross-country to play with an unfamiliar quarterback. Brown came into the “Hard Knocks” camp in a hot-air balloon, and he’s been descending ever since. While the former Steelers great is still a possible hall of famer, we would keep far away from his frostbitten paws, at least until they stop peeling (feel free to check Instagram from AB’s blister updates). Still a consensus top-10 receiver, but only because most rankers haven’t seen the shape of Brown’s toes.

FILE – In this June 11, 2019, file photo, Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown is shown during an NFL football minicamp in Alameda, Calif. The Raiders and their big personalities like Antonio Brown and Richie Incognito are ready to be stars on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Odell Beckham Jr., Browns — When selecting the perfect No. 1 receiver, we focus on players who celebrate touchdowns in ways other than pretending to be a canine using a fire hydrant. We also like our No. 1’s to have more than nine TDs over the past two seasons. OBJ will make the occasional highlight-reel catch, which is why some novice in your draft will spend a first-round pick on Cleveland’s newest toy. Do not be that novice!

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. returns the punt against Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill during the second half of the NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Philadelphia. The Eagles won 25-22. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Tyreek Hill, Chiefs — We also like No. 1 pass catchers who appear to be in NO danger of getting arrested anytime soon. Hill may be the fastest player in the NFL. He also has at least two strikes against him, legally, since his days at Oklahoma State. The consensus has him at a top 5 receiver, and he might prove to be that again. But you’ll be better off avoiding the embarrassment of saying the words “Tyreek Hill” on draft day and takng a safer option instead.

FILE – In this Jan. 12, 2019, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) gestures as he runs past Indianapolis Colts safety Clayton Geathers (26) and linebacker Anthony Walker during the second half of an NFL divisional football playoff game in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs, who play the New England Patriots on Sunday in the AFC championship game, have the pass-catching trio of speedy Hill, Sammy Watkins and sure-handed Travis Kelce. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga, File)

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers — The former USC Trojan enjoyed a breakout season in 2018 with a startling 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven TDs. That has given him a consensus second-round ranking. But he will have a hard time matching those numbers, and living up to that billing, without all-world Antonio Brown drawing double coverage on the other side of the field. Everyone on the depleted Pittsburgh offense may be in for a rude awakening.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) runs past Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) after making a catch during an NFL football game , Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Adam Thielen, Vikings — Both Thielen and Vikings running mate Stefon Diggs are ranked as third-rounders, and that might be a little high for Mr. Detroit Lakes. While he was arguably the NFL’s best receiver in the first half of 2018, he sort of disappeared down the stretch. Only two TD catches over the final seven games, averaging a mere 60 yards per game. Diggs hit paydirt five times in that stretch, and we’re betting he regains his No. 1 status this season.

Chicago Bears defensive back Deon Bush (26) grabs the face mask of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Minneapolis. Bush was called for a penalty on the play. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Julian Edelman, Patriots — Tom Brady’s favorite target, whose 2018 season began with a PED suspension and ended with a Super Bowl MVP trophy, has rocketed into top-20 receiver status according to the consensus. That’s an overreaction to the Rob Gronkowski retirement. Edelman has been a Patriot for nine seasons and yet has only 30 touchdowns. Bill Belichick is certain to unearth at least a couple offensive gems this season, so Edelman’s numbers won’t explode.

Julian Edelman (11) de los Patriots de Nueva Inglaterra avanza con el balón ante Rory Littleton (58) de los Rams de Los Ángeles durante el segundo tiempo del Super Bowl, el domingo 3 de febrero de 2019, en Atlanta. (AP Foto/Jeff Roberson)

George Kittle, 49ers — The tight end from Iowa came out of nowhere last season to become a fantasy star. But a closer look at his stats show they were a bit inflated by five long-distance plays totalling more than 320 yards. He won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around in the Niners’ talent-lean offense. Still a nice player, but Kittle will have a hard time keeping up with the numbers of the two better tight ends on the board, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz.

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle celebrates after scoring during the second half in an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Eric Ebron, Colts — If you look up the word “overrated” in the latest Webster’s, it might include a mugshot of this veteran tight end. After four disappointing seasons in Detroit, Ebron more than doubled his career total by scoring 13 touchdowns for the ‘18 Colts. That’s in large part because the Colts’ more reliable tight end, Jack Doyle, was injured. He’s back now, so Ebron’s numbers will be heading south. The only question is how sharply. Find a better TE who has the job to himself.

Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron (85) catches a 9-yard touchdown pass as he is defended by Tennessee Titans free safety Kevin Byard (31) in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

OVERRATED RUNNING BACKS
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers — Calling the former Stanford star overrated would be unfair unless you were comparing him to the other members of the consensus Top Four Picks. From here, it looks like Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara are more likely to replicate their gaudy numbers than the back who was, at least last season, the Panthers’ lone star. A healthier Cam Newton will hog some of the goal-line opportunities, and Carolina is likely to find better receiving options than they were able to dredge up in ‘17. But on the bright side, he’s STILL the fourth-best player available.

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) warms up before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Le’Veon Bell, Jets — He’s well rested after one of the more boneheaded holdouts in history, and his pockets are certainly lighter since he’s not carrying any salary from 2017. But Bell’s biggest problem upon his return is that he will no longer be running behind one of the league’s best offensive lines in Pittsburgh. The J-E-T-S line is W-E-A-K. Bell will not approach his stats as a Steeler and should be considered a late second-round pick at best.

FILE – In this Oct. 22, 2017, file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) carries the ball during an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Pittsburgh. A person with direct knowledge of the negotiations says the New York Jets and Bell have agreed to a deal early Wednesday morning, Mach 13, 2019, a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press. The deal gives new coach Adam Gase and second-year quarterback Sam Darnold a big-time playmaker, arguably the best player at his position before Bell opted to sit out all of last season rather than sign a franchise tender with Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Dalvin Cook, Vikings — This is the third year when Minnesota fans have been counting on the former Florida State star to resurrect the Vikings’ running game. The first two didn’t go well thanks to a blown-out knee (2017) and hamstring injuries (2018). And the offensive line is still, as they say, a work in progress. The consensus has him as the No. 10 running back, which seems VERY high for someone with only six career NFL touchdowns. Put homerism aside, and only consider taking Cook if he falls into the third round.

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) is tackled by Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks (96) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Todd Gurley, Rams — He was the No. 3 player in fantasy last season, which is pretty good considering he sat out the last two regular season games. What’s pretty bad is that he mostly sat the NFC championship game and the Super Bowl. And the Rams admit that there’s an “arthritic component” to their star’s left knee that he previously blew out in 2014. Sean McVay and the Rams coaches will strictly limit Gurley’s workload with plenty of helpings of Malcolm Brown and rookie Darrell Henderson. So any early draft pick of Gurley is a risk not worth taking.

FILE – In this Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, file photo, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley celebrates after scoring against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half in an NFL divisional football playoff game in Los Angeles. Gurley loved to attend the Super Bowl as a fan the past few years. Now that he finally gets to play in it with the Rams, the star running back doesn’t even care if he’s sharing carries with C.J. Anderson. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

Damien Williams, Chiefs — Some see the new starting running back in Kansas City as a second-round fantasy pick. They’re focusing on his last six games in that role, when he scored 10 touchdowns. We’re focusing on the previous 68 games of his career, when he managed only nine TDs in spot duty. Will the real Damien Williams please stand up? Coach Andy Reid says he’s planning on a “running back by committee deal.” That’s reason enough to let some other owner grab Williams way too early.

Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams (26) celebrates a touchdown during the second half of the AFC Championship NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Melvin Gordon, Chargers — The holdout running back has plummeted out of first-round consideration because of the risk that the Chargers are willing to get by with the Austin Ekeler-Justin Jackson tandem rather than paying through the nose for their star back. Will Gordon become the next Le’Veon Bell to watch an entire season from his couch? It’s too early to say. Our best guess is drafting Gordon in the first two rounds would be a risky business.

FILE – In this Jan. 13, 2019 file photo Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. Gordon is officially a holdout as the Chargers get ready to begin training camp. The team placed their running back on the reserve/did not report list Wednesday, July 24, 2019 as players went through physicals and meetings. Gordon is going into the final year of a rookie contract and will earn $5.6 million this season. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Derrick Henry, Titans — The former Heisman Trophy winner was mostly a disappointment in Nashville until he broke for his NFL-record 99 yard TD jaunt against Jacksonville in Week 14. He wound up scoring seven TDs over the final month of the season. He’s seen as the No. 17 running back, and that seems high for a guy who has no role in the Titans’ passing attack. Dion Lewis gets that duty. We’re also betting that Lewis gets a bigger share of the Tennessee scores.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) flips over Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) as inside linebacker Mason Foster (54) closes in during the second half of an NFL football game Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Sony Michel, Patriots — We’re told he’s the No. 23 running back, which seems pretty high for a guy who had HALF as many touchdowns last season as fellow New England RB James White. Michel just does not get a full load of red-zone opportunities in the Patriots’ prolific offense. There’s also a chance a third option, rookie Damien Harris, further cuts in Michel’s share of the pie.

New England Patriots’ Sony Michel (26) is tackled by Los Angeles Rams’ Lamarcus Joyner (20) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 53 football game Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

OVERRATED QUARTERBACKS
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs — We’re not saying the former Twin’s son was not the Most Valuable Player last season, Or that he was not the best QB. But with the nearly 20 quarterbacks expected to post strong fantasy numbers this season, it would be FOOLISH to spend an early-round pick on Mahomes. Avoid the temptation to take the Madden 20 Cover Guy in the first three rounds and instead wait about four or five rounds to get a suitable facsimile. Spend your early picks on runners and receivers, as God intended …

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) is sacked by New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers (98) during the first half of the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Baker Mayfield, Browns — At least Mahomes has earned all of his hype. The Cleveland sophomore can, indeed, shotgun a beer with the best of them, but he is most certainly not the fifth best QB in the NFL, which is his current consensus draft position. Mayfield was only 17th in the league in passing yardage last season, and 11th in TD passes. The addition of Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns offense does not make Mayfield the next Pat Mahomes. But at least Cleveland fans won’t be watching the next Johnny Manziel.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, right, throws a pass as he is pressured by Baltimore Ravens free safety Eric Weddle in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Jameis Winston, Buccaneers –New Tampa Bay coach Bruce Ariens is considered quite the quarterback guru, and he will have to be to turn the infamous crab-leg shoplifter into a strong fantasy option. Winston was the No. 22 fantasy QB last season, which he spent part of sitting on the bench watching all the Ryan “Fitz-magic.” Buccaneers fans are used to mediocre quarterbacking, and so, too, should any fantasy owners counting on Winston to be their No. 1.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) stiff arms Atlanta Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley (44) on a run during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers — You can count on 2018 being the last 5,000-yard season being posted by the Pittsburgh veteran who’s leading an offense that’s significantly short on star power. Losing Antonio Brown will hurt Big Ben a lot more than it will help Jon Gruden in Oakland. You’re better off drafting a quarterback who’s not within earshot of his 40th birthday, especially if you’re in a dynasty league.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) plays against the Cincinnati Bengals in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

UP NEXT: The spirit of Nipsey Russell will be with us all on Sept. 1 when we present the “Match Game” legend’s NFL preview. There’ll be plenty of rhyme and reason for all.

(File photo)

You can hear Kevin Cusick on Wednesdays on Bob Sansevere’s “BS Show” podcast on iTunes. You can follow Kevin on Twitter — @theloopnow. He can be reached at kcusick@pioneerpress.com.


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