It’s over 100 air conditioner-less degrees in Rip City as
I type this column up and the New Yorker recently warned we stand
a pretty decent chance of suffering a region-devastating earthquake
in my lifetime. In other words, I’m a little bit cranky. On
the bright side, NFL training camps are opening up for business
and that means real, live football is only a month or so away. What
better way to ignore biting real world realities and improve one’s
attitude than by contemplating the upcoming football season? I’ll
admit this year sneaked up on me a bit, but that won’t stop
me from carrying on an annual tradition, identifying the top 10
quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers I think might drop from
the ranks of the elite this coming season.
Ready or not, let’s take a look at last year’s leaders,
along with those 2013 stars who fell by the wayside, and see if
we can pinpoint potential underachievers for this upcoming season.
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard
Steeee-rike three! For the first time since I started writing this
column back in 2011, I managed to identify exactly none of the Top
10 QB dropouts in 2014. My money was on Philip Rivers (close), Russell
Wilson (not so close), and Ben Roethlisberger (getting colder).
On the bright side, I was much more accurate with the running backs
and receivers so if you’re already questioning my shot-calling
credentials, please keep reading.
Andy Dalton and Matthew Stafford slumped for similar reasons last
year. They both started over with new offensive coordinators, a
tough transition in today’s ultra-sophisticated game. Then,
they lost their respective security blankets – A.J. Green
and Megatron – for significant stretches. When the smoke had
finally cleared, they’d combined to tally 1298 fewer yards
and a whopping 21 fewer touchdown tosses than the year prior. Guess
that explains why they dropped from top 5 status to the mid-teens,
huh? At least Stafford merely looked like a less productive version
of himself most of the way. Dalton looked like a completely different
(and completely terrible) quarterback. He scored more points in
his best performance (31.3) than he did in his four worst performances
COMBINED (26.4), bottoming out with a 10-for-33, 86-yard, three-pick
fiasco against archrival Cleveland.
Newton didn’t dip into single digits even one time in 2014,
preserving a three-years-and-change streak of double-digit or better
performances. Moreover, his 22.3 FPts/G, though a career low, was
plenty robust enough to keep him in the Top 10. Just one problem,
though: He missed two starts. Newton’s greatest assets, his
huge frame and powerful legs, are also what continually put him
in harm’s way. Nevertheless, the Panthers rewarded him with
a lucrative new contract this summer. Let’s hope for his sake
and theirs he delivers more punishment than he receives in 2015.
Most Likely Candidates to Fall from
the Top 10 This Year:
A run-first approach may push No.18 out
of the top 10.
Manning, DEN: I took the collar last year so, naturally,
Iím coming out swinging for the fences this season. I couldnít be
any less accurate, could I? It basically came down to Manning or
Drew Brees for this first dropout spot as Iím convinced someone
major is going to fall hard in 2015. And, by the slightest of margins,
I went with Manning as the most likely candidate to suffer a big
tumble. Yeah, THAT Manning, not his chronically wobblier younger
brother. Though Brees is also likely to descend now that New Orleans
has parted ways with Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, Iím not buying
speculation heíll be commanding a run-oriented, ball-control outfit.
Thatís just not how that other Payton (Sean) rolls.
It is, however, how Gary Kubiak, rolls and he just so happens to
be the new head man in the Mile High City. The long-time Broncos
backup-turned-ball coach is pretty much the premiere purveyor of
the zone-blocking scheme. What does that mean for Peytonís prospects
in 2015? Letís just say Iíd be a more excited to draft C.J. Anderson
than the surefire Hall of Famer who will be handing him pigskins
this fall. During Kubiakís Houston heyday from 2010 through 2012,
the Texans finished no worse than seventh in rushing yards and fourth
in rushing TDs. You canít do that if youíre not committed to the
Itís also hard to ignore how feeble Manning looked during
the back half of 2014. He was really banged up, sure, but heís
also one year shy of the over-40 club. To borrow a famous Groucho
Marx zinger, he shouldnít want to belong to any club that
would accept him as one of its members. Hereís how many 39-year
olds, let alone 40-year olds, have played in Super Bowls: zero.
Wilson, SEA: Yes, I realize how vindictive this looks.
In just three short years, Wilson has somehow managed to orchestrate
two of the most soul-pummeling defeats in this Packer fanís 30-plus
years of support, the most recent one despite laughably long odds.
I have no axes to grind, however, because the football gods already
administered his comeuppance (the last 45 seconds of Super Bowl
XLIX). What makes me question Wilsonís ability to hang in the top
10 is, rather, his uncanny knack for being a difference-maker, both
good and bad. Even in those aforementioned victories against the
Pack, he was brutal only up until he wasnít, saving days that wouldnít
have needed saving had he just played better to begin with.
Wilsonís unevenness as a passer is often concealed because
the Seahawks run the ball really well (himself included) and play
spectacular defense. For instance, in a Week 10 win over the G-Men,
he managed to score 25.3 points despite completing just 10-of-17
passes for 172 yards, no scores, and two picks. Howíd he do
it? Try 14 rushing attempts for 107 yards and a TD. Heck, he somehow
tallied 23 points in that NFC Championship/debacle despite completing
fewer than 50 percentof his passes and tossing four INTs. Again,
a rushing score had plenty to do with that.
Can Wilson continue to merit Top 10 status with his legs alone?
It looks like he might have to if he continues to throw such a paltry
amount of passes. His 452 attempts were, by far, the fewest of any
Top 10 signal caller. The next closest was Aaron Rodgers with 520.
Iíd add that Rodgers parlayed those attempts into almost twice as
many touchdowns (38 to 20) and two fewer picks, butÖOK, now I really
am just being vindictive.
Tannehill, MIA: We’d like Russell Wilson to become
more of a balanced threat (especially if he intends to earn that
top four ADP rating). The same can be said of Tannehill, only in
reverse. If Wilson runs too much and throws too little, Tannehill
runs too little and throws too much. This is baffling when you consider
he played receiver most of his career at Texas A&M and that
his 40-yard dash time at the combine was only .03 slower than…Russell
Wilson’s. He’s more of a straight-line speed guy, I’m
aware, and probably isn’t as shifty as the Seahawks’
dual threat, but we’re not talking apples and oranges here.
Speed is speed, no matter how you package it up, and it still kills.
Even if Tannehill comes into his own as a legit running threat,
there are reasons to be skeptical of his so-called breakout season
in 2014. For starters, he only threw for about 100 more yards than
he did in 2013 despite completing almost 40 more passes. That would
explain why his yards-per-attempt average was a disappointing 28th
out of 33 qualified QBs. The guys right above him and right below
him were Geno Smith and Jay Cutler for a little perspective. Unsurprisingly,
his longest completion of the season went for just 50 yards, the
shortest home run of any regular starter last season.
This last fact should alarm you, especially when you consider the
Fish employed probably the game’s most dangerous home-run
hitter at wide receiver, Mike Wallace, who’s now playing in
Minneapolis. Tannehill never developed chemistry with Wallace because
he physically couldn’t get his star wideout the ball downfield.
So what did Miami do? They went out and got Kenny Stills, a less
talented carbon copy. If you’re bullish on Tannehill or Stills
this year, beware.