Fitz on Fantasy: Fantasy Love for the Unlovable

I hate Darren McFadden.

OK, perhaps that’s a little harsh. But my moth-to-a-flame attraction to McFadden in recent years has been costly.  It’s cost me money.  It’s cost me self-esteem.  It’s cost me credibility as — big air quotes here — a fantasy expert.

Come to think of it, I really do hate McFadden.  In fact, I hate McFadden so much that I’m going to start setting my alarm 10 minutes earlier, just so I can hate him a little bit more.

And yet I’ll probably end up drafting Limp DMC in multiple leagues this year.  Some people just never learn.

McFadden’s current ADP is RB42, according to   He’ll probably be available in the ninth round of a lot of 12-team leagues, maybe later.  If I’m in a draft where I grab a couple of early-round RBs and back them up with a steady Pierre Thomas type, it’ll be tempting to take a flyer on McFadden as my RB4, hoping for a big payoff from a guy who in 2010 rolled up 10 TDs and more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage in only 13 games.

Does the McFadden of 2010 still exist?  That’s the big question. McFadden has never played more than 13 games in a season.  But he’ll have just turned 27 when the season begins, and with all those missed games, he’s logged fewer than 900 carries over his career. I’m more apt to bet on McFadden than on his primary competitor for carries, Maurice Jones-Drew, who’s amassed 1,804 career carries and averaged 3.4 yards a pop last year (which, admittedly, is still better than the 3.3 yards McFadden averaged).  I love Jones-Drew, but the MJD of old is gone.

Veteran Raiders beat writer Steve Corkran said in an online chat earlier this month that he expects McFadden to be the starter for Oakland and to lead the team in yards from scrimmage.  McFadden is still among the faster RBs in the league, and after signing a small but incentive-laden one-year contract in the offseason, he should be motivated.  Yes, he breaks as easily as a Happy Meal toy, but that’s why the buy-in is so low.  As much as it makes me want to punch myself, I find D-Mac’s risk/reward profile attractive.

Can McFadden finally avoid his usual place on the injury report?

McFadden isn’t the only player with whom I have a morbid fascination. I’m intrigued by a few other guys whose ADPs suggest that they arouse bona fide contempt from fantasy owners.  These aren’t just underrated players, but scorn magnets who’ve lost the trust of many fantasy owners.  There seems to be genuine animus toward the guys on this list, but I kind of like ’em.

Let’s round up the suspects:

Geno Smith, QB, Jets

So Geno’s rookie year was hot garbage juice, right?

Well, maybe not.

As noted by Rotoviz, fantasy football’s premier think tank, Smith averaged a robust 23.9 fantasy points in the Jets’ eight wins last season, but only 6.4 fantasy points in their eight losses. That’s half a season as a viable QB1. The Jets’ pass catchers were abysmal in 2013; the signing of WR Eric Decker and the drafting of TE Jace Amaro should help remedy that. It’s also reasonable to think that Geno will be better as a second-year player than he was as a wet-behind-the-ears rookie.

I’m not a slave to statistics, but the aforementioned number-crunchers at Rotoviz have my full attention, and Justin Winn of Rotoviz makes a compelling two-part case for Geno here and here.

Trent Richardson, RB, Colts

No need to rehash Richardson’s miserable 2013 campaign since his failings were documented ad nauseam.  T-Rich, the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and a guy who banged in 12 TDs as a rookie, currently has an ADP of RB27.

After the blockbuster trade that sent Richardson to the Colts for a first-round draft pick and led to the hoisting of Colts GM Ryan Grigson’s pants up a flagpole outside Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium, Richardson averaged 2.9 yards per carry in 14 regular-season games with Indy.  It would be silly to conjure excuses, because T-Rich looked every bit as bad as that number suggests.

Is T-Rich an irredeemable dud, or did he temporarily lose his way?  I’m not smart enough to answer that.  Nor can I tell you whether Richardson’s 2,017 yards from scrimmage and 24 TDs in his final college season at Alabama were akin to Meadowlark Lemon dropping 38 points and 14 assists on the Washington Generals.  But I do know that T-Rich is a 23-year-old, 225-pound running back with 4.45 speed who has scored 16 TDs in 31 regular-season games (despite playing hurt for much of his rookie year), and has averaged 7.9 yards on 86 NFL receptions.  All of that appeals to me.

Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs

The Chiefs went 9-0 to begin the 2013 season, finished 11-5 and won eight games by more than a touchdown. Favorable game scripts exacerbated QB Alex Smith’s pathological aversion to risk.  Smith is the buddy who goes along on the guys-only trip to Las Vegas but has no interest in hitting the tables.  Smith rarely took chances with downfield throws into tight coverage last year because he rarely was forced to do so.  Bowe put up the worst per-game numbers of his seven-year career and finished the regular season with 57 catches for 673 yards and five TDs.

Kansas City faces a tougher schedule this year and is highly unlikely to have as many favorable game scripts.  Sorry, Alex, but you might have to buy some chips this year.  Also, the Chiefs still have very little talent at wide receiver other than Bowe.

In the Chiefs’ wild-card game, Bowe offered a reminder of how productive he can be, hauling in eight passes for 150 yards and a TD. That reminder didn’t last, apparently, as Bowe’s current ADP is WR41.

I don’t love the idea of owning a receiver who has to rely on a quarterback more conservative than the John Birch Society.  But this is still a guy who authored a 15-TD season not that long ago and has several 1,000-yard seasons on his résumé.  A WR4 price tag on Bowe?  Gimme some.