With the great majority of fantasy drafts taking place in the next 10 days, consider this a public service. Here is my 10-Foot-Pole Team — eight players, in reverse order of rankings, I wouldn't (and you shouldn't) touch:
• Michael Vick, Eagles: But this is the year he finally puts it all together! Chip Kelly! Offensive innovation! Running quarterback! Perfect fit! Blah, blah, blah. Spare me. This is Vick's career in a nutshell: ESPN highlight. Overthrown pass. Turnover. Turnover. Underthrown pass. ESPN highlight. $100 million contract. Turnover. Turnover. Prison. ESPN highlight. $100 million contract. Turnover. Turnover. Turnover. I have as much chance of winning "Celebrity Apprentice" as Vick does of having a breakout season at 33. And even if he does, I'm not going to be the one to carry him on my roster and on my conscience.
• Ryan Mathews, Chargers: It's probably just a coincidence that the Chargers falling apart amid injury and underachieving the past two years coincides with Mathews arriving in San Diego.
• Hakeem Nicks, Giants: The only thing worse than drafting a player who gets injured all the time and doesn't play is drafting a player who gets injured all the time and does play. Nicks played in 13 games last year, but he had one good one. And that was in Week 2. In his final 11 starts, he caught more than 5 passes once, never reached 80 yards and scored only twice. He was bothered by foot and knee injuries all last season, and a groin injury kept him out the first two weeks of preseason. I'm not writing him off forever (foreshadowing my Darren McFadden copy), but I am avoiding him until he goes more than a week or two without without landing on the injury report as questionable.
• DeMarco Murray, Cowboys: Murray's ability to bounce back from injury is impressive, but you have to be really injury prone to impress people in such a way. He sustained multiple serious injuries in college, and injuries have prematurely ended his first two years in the NFL. He's a tough guy, but the risk is not worth the reward, especially because I'm not convinced a new playcaller will prevent Dallas from abandoning the running game every time it finds itself trailing midway through the third quarter — which should be almost every game.
• Darren Sproles, Saints: Sproles is a primary weapon in one of the league's best offenses, but when I look at my lineup, I want to see running backs who run the ball. In the last two seasons (29 games), Sproles has averaged less than six carries per game. Yes, he has caught 14 TDs over that span, but even with Drew Brees throwing to him, those numbers are always tenuous. I'll pass.
• Darren McFadden, Raiders: Nothing makes me shake my head more when I am mock drafting than seeing McFadden come off the board. After missing nine games in 2011, he managed to play in 12 last year. But he averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and had as many rushing TDs as fumbles (2). Even if you think McFadden's reputation as injury prone is unfair, he plays on a Raiders team that is bad even by recent Raiders standards. There is no value in drafting him.
• Frank Gore, 49ers: I was driving the Gore bandwagon years ago. But he was a value back then. This year, though, with running backs flying off the draft board early and often, you're likely going to have to use a second-round pick to get him. That's too steep a price to pay for an aging player who will lose regular carries not only to other backs but also his QB. Gore circa 2013 is a steadier version of DeAngelo Williams. I'd rather have the value of Williams — whose NFL-leading 20 TDs in 2008 are 7 more than Gore has ever scored in a single season — six rounds later.
• Arian Foster, Texans: Two years ago, when Foster was dealing with nagging hamstring issues, I said he was done as an elite back. I was wrong. However, much like my sense of style, I am always years ahead of emerging trends. While the TDs have been there, Foster's yards per carry and yards per catch are down significantly since my prediction. And now, after a calf injury sidelined him for much of the offseason, he's got a bad back. Bad as in requiring injections. In his back. That's not good. Maybe he'll be fine, but he's trending in all the wrong directions. I'm going to keep my distance this year and see where his fantasy status is headed.
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