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 (4 of 10):
Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson, Julio Jones, Roddy White
A year ago in this spot,
I made the following characterization about elite receivers: “…it
seems we can safely deduce the qualities a wide receiver must have
to be a Top 10 repeater: tremendous size, tremendous speed, tremendous
hands, some combination thereof, or all three.” Aside from
sounding insufferably pretentious (why haven’t you guys ever
called me on that?) I also managed to get it about dead wrong. All
four of the 2013 WR dropouts can safely be described as possessing
tremendous size, top-end speed, and great hands.
So what happened to these studs? Let’s just say it was equal
parts bad quarterback play and bad luck. Vincent Jackson and Andre
Johnson were victimized by suspect signal callers consistently incapable
of maximizing their immense gifts. Jackson, specifically, started
the year playing catch with Josh Freeman, who managed only three
starts before running afoul of Coach Greg Schiano and getting himself
benched. Freeman has since been released and then re-released (Minnesota)
and then re-re-released (NY Giants). Talk about a violent tumble.
Johnson, likewise, began the year with a familiar battery mate (Matt
Schaub), who then suddenly developed a nasty habit of throwing TD
passes to the wrong team and ended up holding a clipboard the rest
of the way. Schaub has at least landed on his feet, but he’s
in Oakland so maybe that’s not such a good thing.
Jones and White, by contrast, can’t blame their quarterback,
Matt Ryan, for subpar 2013 campaigns. The two only managed to make
18 of a possible 32 appearances and White was responsible for almost
all of those, appearing in 13 games. That sounds like more than
it really was because he played hurt most of the season and was
even openly used as a decoy for part of the time. It’s actually
amazing Ryan was able to maintain his top 10 status without much
help from his star wideouts. He deserves better from then this year…and
probably a raise.
The Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the
Top Ten This Year:
Gordon, CLE: If it werenít so downright tragic, it would
almost be laughable. Secondhand smoke? Really? And if that fails,
will the ďI didnít inhaleĒ excuse be used on appeal? Gordonís fate
will be determined very soon, so Iíll let you draw your own conclusions
about how you think heíll fare in 2014. I donít need to wait that
long, however: Heís simply not worth our time. Even if Clevelandís
precociously talented wide receiver does manage to convince NFL
shot callers he deserves a reduced penalty, what are the chances
he makes it through a year without running afoul of the powers-that-be
again? Heís already been kicked out of Baylor for failing a drug
test in 2011. Heís already been suspended for the first two games
of 2013 for failing a drug test. Now, heís just failed his second
NFL drug test and is having to resort to ridiculous excuses to avoid
a season-long ban. Do I need to remind you heís all of 23 years
old? Thatís a heckuva drug-related rap sheet for such a young player.
The top fantasy WR in '13 may not play
a snap in '14.
When and if Josh Gordon gets his head screwed on straight, you can
start reconsidering where he belongs in the wide receiver pecking
order. For now, he simply doesnít and we can only hope he
doesnít turn into another Justin Blackmon.
Decker, NYJ: My boldest prediction in last yearís column
was that neither Demaryius Thomas NOR his former teammate Decker
would be able to maintain top 10 status moving into 2013. My logic
seemed pretty compelling at the time: simply too many good targets
for Peyton Manning to fire pigskins toward. Little did I know at
the time that Manning intended to break the all-time record for
passing yardage in a season. Once again, things that could have
been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!
Decker has since parlayed his Denver success into a rich five-year
deal with the Jets. Heís gonna need all that money, unfortunately,
to pay for therapy if he ever manages to make it to the end of that
contract. Going from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith is like eating
steak and lobster one night at Ruthís Chris and then eating
steak and lobster again the next nightÖat Sizzler. Even if
Smith suddenly turned into a legitimate NFL quarterback (yup, still
dubious), Decker would be unlikely to see as much single coverage
(any single coverage, actually) now that he doesnít have guys
like Thomas and Wes Welker demanding attention in opposing secondaries.
The next best receiver on the Jets roster is arguably Stephen Hill,
whose catch rate percentage (40.7) ranked lower than all but two
regular starters at the receiver position last season. One of those
two was T.J. Graham, who was also paired with a greenhorn signal
caller, EJ Manuel. The other? Hillís teammate, Santonio Holmes.
Smith may not have had much to throw to, but atrocious quarterbacking
seems to be the real common denominator in Gotham. I donít
see Decker as a top 10 option in 2014.
Jackson, WAS: Earlier, I gave Reggie Bush all the credit
for keeping my fantasy fortunes afloat last season, but I have to
admit I was being slightly disingenuous. Truthfully, Jordy Nelson
and DeSean Jackson had a lot to do with that, as well. Nelson came
cheaper than Jackson, of course, but the latter still ended up a
bargain considering all he did in his first season under Chip Kelly
was more than double his 2012 fantasy output (187.4 to 81.3 total
points). If he’d fallen mostly off people’s radars before
last season, he’s certainly back on them after a brilliant
Naturally, the Eagles recognized Jackson’s outstanding efforts
by summarily dismissing him this off-season. Wait, what? They didn’t
trade him, mind you, or refuse to renegotiate with him. They straight-up
released him from the squad in what has to be the most bizarre episode
of this past off-season. Kelly clearly marches to the beat of a
different drummer (as any Duck fan already knows…GO DUCKS!),
and people will treat this as emblematic of his eccentric ways.
Whether wise or unwise, however, the question for today is basically
this: Will Jackson be better off in the nation’s capital?
The short answer to that question is no. Robert Griffin III is a
fine QB and he and Jackson will no doubt team up for some spectacular
plays the next couple years. However, prior to last season, the
diminutive former Eagle never caught more than 63 balls in a season.
He caught almost 33 percent more than that last year, likely because
he benefited from Kelly’s up-tempo ways. He’s not playing
in the same system now and a reversion to his career mean seems
most likely. In the long-term, however, Jackson may indeed have
ended up in a better situation. The reason why is a bit more complicated,
so you’ll have to tune in two weeks hence to find out why.
How’s that for a cliffhanger, huh? Talk soon, folks!