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Joseph Hutchins | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Top 10 Dropouts - Wide Receivers
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 Wide Receivers - 2012
Rank Player
1 Calvin Johnson
2 Brandon Marshall
3 Dez Bryant
4 A.J. Green
5 Demaryius Thomas
6 Vincent Jackson
7 Eric Decker
8 Andre Johnson
9 Julio Jones
10 Roddy White
  Top 10 Wide Receivers - 2013
Rank Player
1 Josh Gordon
2 Demaryius Thomas
3 Calvin Johnson
4 A.J. Green
5 Dez Bryant
6 Brandon Marshall
7 Antonio Brown
8 Eric Decker
9 Alshon Jeffery
10 DeSean Jackson

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:

Josh Gordon

The top fantasy WR in '13 may not play a snap in '14.

Josh Gordon, CLE: If it weren’t so downright tragic, it would almost be laughable. Secondhand smoke? Really? And if that fails, will the “I didn’t inhale” excuse be used on appeal? Gordon’s fate will be determined very soon, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about how you think he’ll fare in 2014. I don’t need to wait that long, however: He’s simply not worth our time. Even if Cleveland’s 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? He’s already been kicked out of Baylor for failing a drug test in 2011. He’s already been suspended for the first two games of 2013 for failing a drug test. Now, he’s 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 he’s all of 23 years old? That’s a heckuva drug-related rap sheet for such a young player.

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 doesn’t and we can only hope he doesn’t turn into another Justin Blackmon.

Eric Decker, NYJ: My boldest prediction in last year’s 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. He’s 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 Ruth’s Chris and then eating steak and lobster again the next night…at 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 doesn’t 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? Hill’s 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 don’t see Decker as a top 10 option in 2014.

DeSean 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 2013 slate.

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!

Next: Quarterbacks