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Joseph Hutchins | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Top 10 Dropouts - Running Backs
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 Running Backs- 2012
Rank Player
1 Adrian Peterson
2 Arian Foster
3 Doug Martin
4 Marshawn Lynch
5 Alfred Morris
6 Ray Rice
7 C.J. Spiller
8 Jamaal Charles
9 Trent Richardson
10 Stevan Ridley
  Top 10 Running Backs- 2013
Rank Player
1 Jamaal Charles
2 LeSean McCoy
3 Matt Forte
4 Marshawn Lynch
5 Knowshon Moreno
6 Adrian Peterson
7 Eddie Lacy
8 DeMarco Murray
9 Chris Johnson
10 Reggie Bush

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’ roster completely.

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:

Marshawn Lynch

Lynch's current ADP is near the bottom of Round 1.

Marshawn 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.

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.

Chris 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 called shot?

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).

Reggie 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