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Fantasy football busts and risky players for 2014

By Tim Heaney

There's always risk in any fantasy football draft, regardless of what round. Naturally, some potential fantasy football busts remain more dangerous than others.

Bust factors

RB Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks

RB Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Fantasy Lynchpin? Be careful

Initial reports of Christine Michael's rise hint that if Lynch is ineffective, he won't be given as much leash as in recent years. Lynch's workload has piled up since 2011. He depends on 300-plus totes for value, especially after his rushing average dipped to 4.1 last year. Now he's holding out. It's worrisome to pick someone in the top five with that much erosion potential, a rising heir apparent and a possibly long layoff from getting back in shape. He'd hurt less in Round 2 as long as he reports to camp.

WR Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

Jones' recovery from re-fracturing his right foot last year is supposedly going smoothly, but how effectively will he start the season? Plus, with Tony Gonzalez retired (we think), even more defensive attention will shift Jones' way. He's a fine buy-low candidate if he stumbles out of the gate, but he shouldn't sit on your list as a top-10 WR. A measured selection would come in Round 3.

RB Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams

This offensive line could be one of the best in the game, and Stacy is competent enough to take advantage. But Tre Mason can do many things Stacy can while also providing more shiftiness and an alternative on passing downs. Hints of Isaiah Pead and Benny Cunningham also competing shouldn't be written off. Stacy may never get the advantage in touches most will pay for, likely in the first two or three rounds.

Warning signs

RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

It's hard to justify letting Peterson fall outside the top five in any format, yet don't you feel like you're always testing faith considering what he did coming off his robot-like knee recovery? At age 29, he may start losing a tick of surgically repaired burst. Will he hold up playing his home games outdoors? Can he still escape stacked boxes between Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater's presence at QB?

RB Matt Forte, Chicago Bears

Forte is a top PPR asset who showed no signs of slowing down late last year. He's fit for a Marc Trestman gameplan. However, it's prudent to wonder whether those 289 carries, his highest total since his rookie year, will take a toll. Chicago brought about Ka'Deem Carey, a Forte clone, in the final year of the 28-year-old incumbent's contract. Just be careful.

RB Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Martin has allure as a bounce-back candidate after an inconsistent six-game 2013, ended by shoulder surgery. The knock on him coming into that year was his erratic production, and now on top of him proving he's 100 percent, Tampa Bay wants to run a rotation with Charles Sims, Mike James and Bobby Rainey also involved. Martin is the first choice, but be careful not to assume he'll return to cumulative RB1 glory. He's more of an RB2 most of the time with potential to disappoint.

WR Andre Johnson, Houston Texans

Can Johnson survive another year of quarterback turmoil? An Arian Foster-Andre Brown duo will tilt the run-pass split further to the former. DeAndre Hopkins may syphon more looks. A trade would improve Johnson's outlook, but as he turns 33, he may need a premier offense to carry him. In PPRs, A.J. is still worth a grab in the first four rounds, but it's a rougher go in non-PPRs.

RB Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals

Bernard oozes talent, but can we believe Hue Jackson's vow that they'll have plenty of room for Bernard, rookie second-rounder Jeremy Hill and TD vulture BenJarvus Green-Ellis? Bernard's style of play and collegiate injury history make a sophomore slump a legit possibility, especially if he loses work. He's a more passable second-rounder in PPRs, but his appeal last year was his value. No more.

Is the price right?

TE Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

TE Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Gronk not a lock

Just because he's cutting, planting, etc. in June OTAs doesn't mean he'll be at full strength in pads for Week 1 or avoid another injury-plagued season. Plus, Tom Brady is dropping off ever so slightly. Taking this sideline frequent-flyer complicates your draft-long strategy, especially with an early selection. Ask yourself where reward trumps risk in your league.

RB Ben Tate, Cleveland Browns

On paper, Tate is set to rise above the middle RB tiers. Kyle Shanahan's installation of Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking methods was what Tate enjoyed in Houston. But he hasn't proven he can be a lead back yet. Injuries have cost him 24 games, including his entire rookie year. Backup Terrance West stands out as one of fantasy's most intriguing rookies. Many will tout Tate as the next big thing. There's a small return waiting for strong buyers.

QB Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

The decrepit 2013 wideout situation isn't much different than this one. Greg Olsen is still around. Unfortunately, Newton also lost retired Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin will need at least a year to show standout ability in this run-first offense. Jerricho Cotchery succeeded mainly because of Todd Haley. Jason Avant? Come on. Newton can't be a surefire QB1.

RB Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

Rice's drop in carries during 2013 may actually become a blessing in disguise to keep him fresh for at least one more solid year. But for his domestic issues, he may be suspended for four-plus contests, and Bernard Pierce was already itching to steal work. In the middle rounds, Rice remains more easily replaceable, but either way, he's looking like he'll be dead weight for at least one-quarter of the year.

RB Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers

Gore has defied naysayers. It's becoming riskier to count on the 31-year-old doing so again, especially with the arrival of Carlos Hyde, the most complete successor candidate San Fran has. Don't forget Marcus Lattimore (knee) also inching closer to contributing. Gore's 4.1 yards per carry last year marked a career low. More than ever, cons are piling up to jeopardize an RB2 ceiling.

WR Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

This is a format warning. Counting on another 100-catch season is foolish, but he'll remain a fantasy-worthy PPR starter essentially each week. If Gronkowski returns, however, that should cut into Edelman's targets enough that he's not worth a pick in the first four or five rounds. In non-PPR, Edelman remains risky as your No. 2 -- not when he only averaged 10.1 yards per grab in 2013. He's Wes Welker without the track record.

TE Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns

Some argue a full-season Josh Gordon suspension will create more targets for Cameron. TE guru Norv Turner is gone, though, which deals a significant fantasy blow. An offense without Gordon makes Cameron the defensive focal point, and the Johnny Manziel-Brian Hoyer battle should stall Cleveland receivers. Don't pay for Cameron's 2013 stats; they're not happening again.

QB Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

The case for Cutler succeeding in a full, healthy season with Marc Trestman's offense has merit; he has the arm strength to make the most of the Brandon Marshall-Alshon Jeffery pair a la Josh McCown's doing. But Cutler's injury history, which reared its ugly head last year, must remind you to secure a backup soon after locking him up.

WR Eric Decker, New York Jets

Some facets of Decker's game, including plays inside the 20, say he's a top dog in any situation, but he'll wish he was back in Denver with Peyton Manning. A combo of Geno Smith, Michael Vick and even Tajh Boyd under center limits even the best wide receivers. If the room lets him sink into WR4 territory, take a chance, but there's a craterous downside if you're relying on him to start.

San Francisco 49ers D-ST

It's hard to quibble about where you take a defense featuring Patrick Willis. But the 49ers aren't looking like they'll justify their owner's annual reach this season. NaVorro Bowman (knee) is due to miss half a season, and Aldon Smith's future awaits Roger Goodell's iron fist. There's potential in Tank Carradine to carry their pass rush, but that's a giant hole to fill -- one that could make them less than an elite DT.


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