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Joseph Hutchins | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Top 10 Dropouts - Quarterbacks
Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers

July is about to become August as I type this up and that means most of you are busy poring over cheatsheets and firming up strategies for upcoming drafts. If said strategies include targeting 2013’s best and brightest, I’d urge you to consider the following fact: Since 2010, 55 percent of the top 10 quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers have failed to maintain that status the following season. Thus, while last year’s heroes may seem like the safest bets come draft day, recent data suggests at least half those folks will regress in 2014, significantly so in some cases. Who fits the bill for most likely to recede?

Let’s take a look at last year’s leaders, along with those 2012 stars who fell by the wayside, and see if we can’t identify some potential underachievers for this upcoming season.

Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard scoring.

  Top 10 Quarterbacks - 2012
Rank Player
1 Drew Brees
2 Aaron Rodgers
3 Tom Brady
4 Cam Newton
5 Matt Ryan
6 Peyton Manning
7 Tony Romo
8 Andrew Luck
9 Robert Griffin III
10 Matthew Stafford
  Top 10 Quarterbacks - 2013
Rank Player
1 Peyton Manning
2 Drew Brees
3 Andy Dalton
4 Matthew Stafford
5 Cam Newton
6 Philip Rivers
7 Andrew Luck
8 Ben Roethlisberger
9 Matt Ryan
10 Russell Wilson

Who Missed the Cut in 2013? (4 of 10): Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III

Packer backers were obviously chagrined to see Mr. Rodgers headlining the 2013 class of quarterback dropouts, but at least Green Bay’s headcheese had a pretty convenient excuse for slipping. Slammed to the Lambeau turf by Chicago’s Shea McClellin early in Week 9, Rodgers missed almost two months of action, returning just in time to dramatically salvage the Pack’s playoff lives against those same Bears in Week 17. If we factor out that abbreviated November performance, he would have averaged 25.6 fantasy points per game in 2013. Only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees averaged more.

Eighteen men were better on a per-game basis than Tom Terrific last season, a surprisingly precipitous fall to mediocrity for one of the game’s best. Surprising, I should clarify, if you didn’t watch the Pats play or read last year’s version of this column. Simply put, Brady didn’t have a consistent group of pass-grabbers to work with and it really showed. He’d averaged almost 0.7 fantasy points per pass attempt in his previous five full seasons (not including an injury-shortened 2008), but averaged just 0.5 per attempt last year. Welcome back, Rob Gronkowski. You’ve been sorely missed.

I’m not a doctor, of course, but I occasionally play one on this site. I managed to correctly predict RGIII’s sophomore step-back, for instance, because I didn’t fully trust his surgically repaired right knee. It turns out the ‘Skins shouldn’t have either. Just this past Tuesday, GM Bruce Allen admitted as much, saying the team rushed Griffin back into service before he was ready. A year and change removed from surgery and sans the bulky knee brace he dragged around last season, Washington’s franchise flinger should be primed for a return to the top 10.

So should the guy who commands archrival Dallas’ attack, Tony Romo. The Cowboys’ main man was pretty much right at his career average of 21 fantasy points/game in 2013, but missed one contest and it essentially cost him a spot in the top 10 (he finished 13th). With Scott Linehan and his volume passing game on hand this year (see Stafford, Matt), Romo should easily crack the elite ranks once again.

Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the Top Ten This Year:

Philip Rivers

No Whisenhunt could bring Rivers back down to earth.

Philip Rivers, SD: Rivers’ resurgence was one of the more surprising fantasy storylines in 2013, especially when you consider that, like Tom Brady, he didn’t have an overabundance of WR talent with which to work. Until rookie Keenan Allen exploded onto the scene around Week 5, Rivers’ main wide receiver target was Denver castoff Eddie Royal, a glorified punt returner. Undaunted, Rivers somehow managed to connect with the former Bronco on FIVE scoring plays in the season’s first two weeks, coax another solid season out of the aging Antonio Gates, and form fast connections with newly acquired RB/WR hybrid Danny Woodhead and then with Allen, his rookie sensation. When all was said and done, Rivers narrowly missed posting the best statistical season of his entire career.

So what does he do for an encore? I love a surprise success story as much as the next guy, but it’s my job to keep things real and Rivers’ 2014 reality is probably going to look more like 2012 than 2013. For starters, San Diego barely attempted to upgrade that still wafer-thin receiving corps, unless you consider drafting Tevin Reese in the 7th round an upgrade (you shouldn’t). Additionally, the Bolts became victims of their own success, losing offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt – who’d transformed the league’s 31st-ranked offense in 2012 into its 5th best last year – to the Tennessee Titans.

Finally, and most importantly, San Diego won’t be able to feast on the NFL’s most defenseless division this season. Four of Rivers’ seven best performances (including his best two) came against the hapless NFC East. Replacing those defensive doormats on the 2014 slate are Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Arizona. Only the New York’s Giants were in that defensive class last year. We should never count the scrappy San Diego signal caller out, but it’s probably best to think of him as top 15 rather than top 5 material this year.

Ben Roethlisberger, PIT: The Steelers have suffered through two consecutive un-Pittsburgh-like 8-8 seasons, but you wouldn’t know it by studying Big Ben’s bottom line. To the contrary, Roethlisberger is coming off his most productive fantasy campaign ever, a 341-point effort that landed him safely in the quarterbacking top 10. It took him a career-high 584 passing attempts to get there, sure, but no-huddle offenses have taken the league by storm and the seemingly stodgy Steelers are no exception. In fact, OC Todd Haley has promised even more up-tempo action in 2014. Good for Big Ben’s owners, right?

Two things make me hesitate. First, Pittsburgh ranked just 27th in rushing offense last season, failing to notch a single 100-yard rushing effort until rookie Le’Veon Bell turned the trick in Week 16 at Lambeau. That’s something else Haley promised to change this coming year. If Bell is able to start the season healthy (unlike last year) and stay healthy, there’s no reason to think his coach shouldn’t be able to make good on that promise, cutting into Roethlisberger’s passing totals.

Second, the Steelers seem content to go with a youth movement at the wide receiver position, letting 113 receptions – in the form of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery – walk right out the door this past spring. That means Antonio Brown accounts for 110 of the remaining 118 balls Pittsburgh receivers hauled in last season. I like Markus Wheaton a lot but that’s quite a vote of confidence. If free agent acquisitions Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey don’t pan out, opposing defenses won’t have to get much trickier than blanketing the dangerous Brown all season. Be careful with Big Ben because he may not have the right pieces in place to duplicate his hugely successful 2013.

Russell Wilson, SEA: A healthy Aaron Rodgers is a lock to reclaim top 10 status and Messrs. Brady, Griffin, and Romo look like pretty good bets to do so, as well. That means fringe guys like Wilson are definitely on watch as we head toward the 2014 season. This kid embodies everything good about the NFL right now (successful leader, multi-talented athlete, great human being) and it almost pains me to suggest he’ll take a step back this fall. Heck, he was even tapped as the first ever CFO (“Chief Football Officer”) of the very company that employs me. Nevertheless, there are reasons to pump the brakes.

First, thanks to insanely efficient play and some of the best get-out-of-jail feet in the league, Wilson managed to convert 407 pass attempts into almost 332 fantasy points (0.82 points per attempt, well north of anything guys like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady have ever accomplished). However, those 407 passes were also the fewest attempted by any QB who started 16 games last year. That means Wilson will need to continue being his insanely efficient self just to stay in the top 10 picture. Moreover, he’ll need to do that against teams gunning for him every week. If he has any questions about how that might turn out, he can ask Joe Flacco, the 2012 Super Bowl MVP who tossed an un-MVP-like 22 picks last season.

Oh, and he’ll also have to do it all minus his most productive receiver from last season as Golden Tate has since partnered up with Calvin Johnson in the Motor City. The Hawks get Percy Harvin back this fall, yes, but the former Viking hasn’t played meaningful minutes since November of 2012. And If Marshawn Lynch continues to sulk (more on him in a bit), it’s very possible the Hawks’ young field general could suffer through a forgettable third season attempting to defend Seattle’s first title.

Next: Running Backs