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
Who Missed the Cut in 2013? (7 of 10):
Arian Foster, Doug Martin, Alfred Morris, Ray Rice, C.J. Spiller,
Trent Richardson, Stevan Ridley
All you need to know about the seven running back dropouts of 2013
is the following number: 33. That’s their average overall
ranking last season after basically owning the top 10 in 2012. These
guys didn’t just tumble out of the ranks of the elite. They
welded the doors shut, tied a brick to the accelerator, and hurtled
off the cliff a la Thelma and Louise.
As is always the case, some of the running back dropouts can point
to broken-down bodies as the cause for their fantasy free fall.
Arian Foster and Doug Martin, the second and third-ranked 2012 backs
(respectively), couldn’t even manage to get through a 16-game
slate combined in 2013. Martin succumbed to a torn labrum in Week
7 while Foster lasted until Week 9, albeit barely, before landing
on injured reserve due to a balky back. Both should return and be
in line for major work in 2014.
Alfred Morris and Stevan Ridley stayed mostly active throughout
2013 but still managed to frustrate expectations. The former garnered
almost 60 fewer carries than he had the year prior, likely because
Washington played from behind all season. That led to a lot fewer
yards and about half as many TDs. Ridley, on the other hand, ended
up so deep in Coach Belichick’s doghouse that he became a
healthy scratch once in early December. If he doesn’t solve
that fumbling problem soon, he may just get scratched from the Pats’
Some probably wish Baltimore would completely scratch Ray
Rice from its roster after his reprehensible behavior this off-season.
I’m not sure it matters, though, as he pretty much disappeared
all on his own last year, averaging a ridiculous 3.1 yards/carry,
a yard and a half off his previous career average. Only three qualifying
backs averaged fewer yards per carry last season…and Trent
Richardson was one of them. While we attempt to solve the mystery
of what happened to a once-promising franchise back in Indy, maybe
somebody could explain why C.J. Spiller can’t even beat out
Fred Jackson for the lion’s share of carries in Buffalo? You
either have a high ankle sprain and you sit or you play through
that injury and produce some numbers. There, I said it. It’s
probably a good thing for Spiller I’m not his coach, huh?
The Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the
Top Ten This Year:
Lynch, SEA: I swung and missed big time on Seattle’s backfield
beast last year, reasoning
off-season legal troubles might give the Seahawks’ brain trust
pause enough to at least go looking for alternatives at the position.
Though they seemingly found one during the 2012 preseason, Christine
Michael, the intriguing rookie from Texas A&M barely saw the
field once the games started counting, carrying the rock a grand
total of 18 times for the Super Bowl champs.
Lynch's current ADP is near the bottom
of Round 1.
It’s a year later, the players are mostly the same, and yet
I’m doubling down on my prediction that Lynch is due for a
top 10 topple. Why, you ask? Well, it’s been unseasonably
warm up here in the Pacific Northwest and I’m quite possibly
suffering from mild heatstroke. OK, so there’s also this little
matter of Beast Mode’s training camp holdout. These contract
showdowns tend not to last into the regular season, and this one
didn't either, but they always seem to have a subtle, lasting effect.
Lynch has, at minimum, given Seattle’s shot callers a reason
to ask the question: Should we tie our long-term future to a disgruntled
28-year old running back averaging about 300 carries per season
for three years running? Historically speaking, the answer would
be a resounding no. Seattle fans should be painfully aware of that,
as the last RB the team grossly overpaid rewarded them with just
two more seasons of soul-crushing mediocrity (Shaun Alexander) and
countless nagging injuries.
Lynch probably has a couple good years left in him, but he’s
likely already played his best football for Seattle and may let
success/money get in the way of a chance to add to his already rich
legacy up north. Be very, very cautious with him in 2014.
Johnson, NYJ: I’ve gone out on a limb a couple times
already so it’s about time for a fairly risk-free prediction, wouldn’t
you say? Here goes: Chris Johnson has no chance in hell of returning
to the top 10 playing for Rex Ryan. How’s that for a confidently
To be fair, there’s more to the story than just Johnson’s
maddening inconsistency, which I’ve documented numerous times
the past several years. Ryan’s New York offense, for instance,
might charitably be called “stagnant” and is, statistically
speaking, much worse than the Tennessee offense Johnson operated
in last season. Only three squads scored fewer points than the Jets
last season and one of them was the underachieving Texans, who turned
the ball over 19 more times than their opponents, easily a league-worst
mark. The other two were Florida’s floundering franchises,
Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. What did the Bucs, Jags, and Jets all
have in common? Let’s just say they had quarterback “issues.”
New York still does unless Geno Smith’s made tremendous strides
this past off-season (I’m highly dubious).
Even if the Jets have solved their problems under center, there’s
no guarantee Johnson’s going to shoulder the same type of
load he’d grown used to in Nashville. Despite a steadily declining
per-carry average, the former Offensive Player of the Year still
carried the ball 279 times last season. That’s the same number
of times Adrian Peterson carried it, for comparison’s sake.
A more realistic expectation for Johnson in 2014, however, is 175-200
carries as New York is committed to continuing with its RBBC approach.
You take 75-100 carries away from Johnson and he basically becomes
DeAngelo Williams, a guy whose career his may ultimately mirror.
Neither back has been terribly relevant, by the way, since they
led the league in back-to-back years (2008 and 2009).
Bush, DET: Is this any way to treat a guy who almost
single-handedly kept me relevant in our big money PPR league last
season? I spent over half my inaugural auction budget on two running
backs, the aforementioned Spiller and the Lions’ shiny new
toy. One of those guys didn’t really pan out. The other one,
the guy we’re talking about here, meant the difference between
bringing up my league’s rear and almost crashing the playoff
party. How good was Bush in 2013? He carried the ball fewer times
than all but one top 10 back, scored fewer rushing TDs than every
top 10 back, and even had to share carries almost evenly with a
guy who finished up the season ranked 17th at the position, Joique
Bell. Yet, he still managed to crack the top 10, primarily by reassuming
that dual-threat role (part rock-toter, part pass-snagger) he played
so well in New Orleans.
Oddly, it’s Bush’s reliance on pass receptions that
makes me skeptical of his 2014 prospects. The Lions may finally
(and they mean it this time) have found a WR complement to the otherworldly
Calvin Johnson. Golden Tate comes over from the Super Bowl champion
Seahawks and looks to be a guy that can legitimately suck up some
of those receptions that typically end up on Johnson’s stat
line or as dump-downs to guys like Bush. The former Heisman winner,
therefore, may not have to be the second-best receiving option in
Detroit any longer. Moreover, he may only end up being the second-best
RUSHING option. The Lions re-upped for two years with Bell, something
they didn’t have to do, and even the casual observer can see
his thickish body is better suited for the NFL’s brand of
punishment than Bush’s relatively lithe frame. The bottom
line is this: I’d be reluctant to spend a quarter of my auction
budget on Detroit’s marquee guy this season, regardless what
he did for me last season.
Next: Wide Receivers