It’s not always a given in the NFL that with age comes declining productivity. Indeed, there are countless players each year that defy Father Time and remain viable options in the fantasy world well into their thirties. But there are some—and dare I say, quite a few—that fall completely off the map every season due to the physical attrition of getting older. In fact, production declines with relative quickness for some players and it has nothing to do with getting older.
This list highlights several players whose best days are in the rearview mirror. Either through their getting older, fighting injuries, or production falling off for no apparent reason, these players—although still roster-worthy—should not be counted on for much heading into the 2013 season.
WR Anquan Boldin – Boldin’s stellar playoff run from the 2012 season increased his value, leading the Baltimore Ravens to send him to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick. In the short term, perhaps the Niners got the better end of that bargain. But Boldin has clearly seen better days, and if San Francisco is counting on him to be their No. 1 wide receiver option, with Michael Crabtree most likely done for the year, they may be disappointed. In spite of missing only four games over the last four years, Boldin has tallied only 18 receiving touchdowns across that span.
The Niners are hungry for an outside threat in the wake of Crabtree’s Achilles injury. Some may look at Crabtree’s absence and say, “well, somebody’s gotta catch the ball,” giving Boldin increased value by default. I’m not buying that. While Boldin’s a superb route runner, his lack of quickness and speed, coupled with the offense’s apparent plan to feature more tight end sets—evidenced by the Niner’s selection of tight end Vance McDonald as their second pick in this year’s draft—should give owners pause about expecting Boldin to pick up where he left off during last year’s Super Bowl.
RB Fred Jackson – Jackson turned 32 in February. That alone should prompt you to remain cautious about Jackson heading into this season—C.J. Spiller’s exploits notwithstanding. Jackson has had a really nice late-career emergence, surprising many fantasy owners in the process. But sharing carries and—you guessed it—injuries have hampered his ability to put up the kind of numbers he put up during the 2011 season. Now throw in the prospect of playing behind a rookie quarterback and it’s a mere certainty that Jackson’s fantasy-relevant days are over.
With his nasty-looking injury last season, many thought Jackson’s season was done. It’s a testament to his work ethic that he was able battle back; he even had a 25-carry, 109-yard effort against Jacksonville late in the season. That performance aside, Jackson is no doubt heading to the conclusion of his career, and his production in 2013 should make that painfully obvious.
TE Antonio Gates – I, for one, believe the San Diego Chargers will be a dumpster fire in 2013. New offensive approach, new coach, questionable running game (I’ll touch on that shortly) and a passing game that is devoid of any top-notch options all spell doom for the Lighting Bolts. Sure, Gates hasn’t scored fewer than seven touchdowns since his rookie season in 2003, but a simple eyeball test will provide you with all the proof you need to evaluate whether or not he has lost a step (or three).
Gates will be in the crosshairs of defensive secondaries all season long, what with the likes of Vincent Brown, Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander lining up alongside him. Yeah, I know. Gates has had to battle being the defense’s focus his entire career. But he’s now 33 years old with a history of lower leg issues. Some publications still list him as a top 10 TE. I don’t see it. Keep your expectations in check with him.
RB Ryan Mathews – Mathews is only 26 years old. Far from “over the hill,” right? Sure. But take a look at this guy’s production over his first three seasons in the league. He was fairly productive in 2011, reaching 100 yards rushing in four of the 14 games in which he played. But last year’s performance was abysmal, as he didn’t gain more than 95 yards in a single game and scored only one touchdown all year. And keep in mind that was with running back-friendly head coach Norv Turner roaming the sideline. It’s anybody’s guess how new head coach Mike McCoy will use him.
Keep in mind, too, that the Chargers signed running back Danny Woodhead. He should be just enough of a nuisance to Mathews’ owners as Mathews’ lack of production will be in 2013. So while Mathews can’t be considered a old timer by age standards, his struggles so far in his NFL career should make fantasy owners temper their expectations of the four-year veteran.
QB Michael Vick – The bloom disappeared from this rose pretty quickly. After a jaw-dropping re-entry into the league once he replaced Kevin Kolb early in 2010, Vick’s production has been anything but spectacular. His turnovers have come by the truckload the last two years, and his once-feared running ability seems to be no more. Vick has only scored two rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Further, not only will Vick have to learn a fast-break type of offense with new head coach Chip Kelly, he’ll have to fight off competition from Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley. Some have pointed to Vick’s superior running ability over Foles’ and Barkley’s when trying to decipher who’s better equipped to run the new Philly offense. But over the past two seasons Vick has shown nothing that gives me optimism about his ability to recapture the magic he unearthed in 2010. Only those with a serious man-crush on Vick will rely on him in 2013.
QB Carson Palmer – There are some who may point to Palmer’s 4000-yard passing season last year in Oakland—his highest yardage total since 2007. Others may look at teaming with Larry Fitzgerald as an optimistic component for Palmer. Both of those observations are duly noted. But excluding his breakout seasons of 2005 and 2006, Palmer has been one of those players that does very little for me. Sure, he’ll have big games throughout the year (6 games of over 300 passing yards in 2012), but those big games are almost always accompanied by a ton of turnovers, which, depending on your league’s scoring system, negates most of his productivity. In my estimation he’s not a trustworthy QB—the most trustworthy-necessary position in fantasy football. Look at the Fitzgerald factor if you must; I’m looking elsewhere for QB depth this year.