CAREER YEAR BEWARE 2013
Well, my favorite piece of the year is back once again. It is a personal pet peeve of mine that I do not draft players who are coming off of a fantastic season the next year. In my last Career Year article, I spent time going over historical players that had their career years and what happened to them the following season. In all of these instances these players were unable to continue their dominance into the next season at the level they performed the year before. In this article, I am going to look at the players that were coming off of career years in 2011 and see how they performed in 2012. I am also going to investigate the players that broke out in 2012 that you should be wary of drafting early in 2013.
First list take a look at Matthew Stafford, who totally blew up in 2011 throwing for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. There were many people who drafted Stafford in the first or second round in drafts last season and were completely crushed with the stats that he put up last year, or failed to put up. Stafford has the best wide receiver in the game on his team, in Calvin Johnson, who rewrote the record books for receiving yards by a wide receiver last season, but that did not help Stafford. Stafford still had an impressive year throwing the ball while accumulating 4,967 yards passing; unfortunately he only threw 20 touchdowns on the season, which was a drop of 21 touchdowns from the season before. I don't think I have to explain how many fantasy points those owners lost by losing 21 touchdowns on the season. Needless to say there are going to be many people who owned Matthew Stafford last season who will be staying away this year, but he should be more of a value in 2013 since he should fall past the second round in most drafts.
Another quarterback who had a great season in 2011 was Tom Brady. Brady threw for 5,235 yards while throwing 39 touchdowns in 2011. Brady did not experience the same sharp drop-off that Matthew Stafford did, but he did see a recognizable drop in his stats from 2011 to 2012. Brady threw for 408 less yards in 2012 along with throwing 5 less touchdowns than he did in 2011. Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks in the game and in fantasy football, but those who jumped to get him in the first half of the first round of drafts last season did not get the production they were expecting to make a championship run. Even though Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks of this generation he is not immune to having a drop-off year after a career year.
When you talk about career years and quarterbacks you have to mention Drew Brees with the season that he had in 2011. Brees threw for an astounding 5,476 yards with 46 touchdowns in 2011, which blew away all the previous record for passing yards by a quarterback. I was on the record before last season that there would not be another 5,000-yard passer this year, and Drew Brees proved me wrong by throwing for 5,177 yards in 2012. While that represents an amazing season once again for Brees, he did throw for 299 less yards than he did the previous year, while throwing three more interceptions and three less touchdowns. Those small drops in his stats do make a big difference in fantasy points on the season, and while it was a great year for Brees, it did not compare to his outstanding 2011 campaign.
The final quarterback who had a fantastic 2011 season that had an immense drop-off in 2012 was Eli Manning. Eli threw for 4,933 yards in 2011 while chucking 29 touchdowns and doing most of his damage toward the end of the season. There was good reason to believe that he would carry this over into 2012, but those reasons don't stand up to the scrutiny of the career year. Manning tried to follow up his stellar 2011 season and fell way short in 2012. Manning threw for 985 less yards, but made up for that by throwing 3 less touchdown passes in 2012 than in 2011. Needless to say coming off of his career year Eli Manning had his worst season since 2008. The poor performance by Manning last year will have him slip in drafts this fall, which is going to be a benefit to those who draft him this year at a value.
At the running back position Michael Turner was a player that I had picked as a bust candidate going into last season. Turner was coming off of a 1,340-yard rushing season with 12 touchdowns, and in my opinion I felt he had reached his ceiling as a player, which was why I predicted a bust season for him in 2012. Turner did surprise me with his touchdown production in 2012 with 11 scores which equaled his 2011 production. Where Turner fell short was in his effectiveness as a runner last season. Turner saw his yards per carry average drop from 4.5 in 2011 to 3.8 in 2012. Turner also failed to reach 1,000-yards rushing for the first time since 2009. The major drop off that fantasy owners saw from Turner was his 580 less yards from scrimmage in 2012 as compared to 2011. The Atlanta Falcons decided to move on from Turner this season as proof in the pudding that they don't believe he has anything left in the tank.
My second major bust candidate at the running back position going into last season was Maurice Jones-Drew, who was coming off of his best season as a professional. MJD had rushed for a career-best 1,606-yards, and nearly had 2,000 total yards from scrimmage in 2011 on 386 touches. The amount of touches that he had was a main reason why I was expecting a major drop off for him heading into 2012. Whenever you see a running back that has that many touches in the previous season, it raises a red flag to me that he could be an injury risk heading into the next year. MJD was only able to make it through six games last season before suffering a Lisfranc injury that ended his 2012 campaign prematurely. While you may look at the injury and say that is the reason why he did not perform up to his 2011 level, it is still important to realize that he only had one 100-yard rushing game in the six games that he did play in 2012. MJD had an average draft position of 13th overall and eight among running backs in 2012, which really put the hurt on those fantasy owners that drafted him that high. MJD has a great chance to bounce back this season, especially since he should fall in most drafts to the RB2 level, which will make him a great value this season.
Another one of the top-flight running backs from 2011 that failed to live up to their expectations in 2012 was Ray Rice. Rice was coming off of his best season as a professional with over 2,000 total yards from scrimmage and an astounding 15 touchdowns in 2011. Because of the production that he had in 2011 Rice's average draft position last season was 3rd overall and 2nd among running backs. When a running back is drafted that high the expectations are that he will be the bell cow point producer for your team, unfortunately Ray Rice failed to live up to those expectations last year. Rice had 444 less yards from scrimmage in 2012 than he did in 2011, and to compound that he scored five less touchdowns as well. Rice also had issues with fumbling at the end of last season which caused him to lose some carries to Bernard Pierce, and that is going to be a continuing trend for him next year. Ray Rice will be a risky high pick this upcoming season.
The final running back that was coming off of a career type season in 2011 was LeSean McCoy, who absolutely broke out with 1,624 yards from scrimmage and a machine like 20 touchdowns scored. Whenever I see a player that has touchdown production at that level, it raises a red flag to me heading into the next season. McCoy especially stood out to me in that regard, as he had never had more than nine total touchdowns in a season before 2011. This rang true for McCoy who really had a poor 2012 campaign with 411 less yards from scrimmage and most importantly saw his touchdown production drop by 15 scores from 2011 to 2012. Just like Ray Rice, McCoy was taken 3rd at the running back position and 4th overall in average draft position last season, which drove his fantasy owners crazy all year. McCoy has a great chance to bounce back this upcoming season under Chip Kelly's offense and should fall in drafts due to his poor 2012 campaign.
At the wide receiver position we saw a major outbreak in 2011 from Victor Cruz who exploded onto the scene with 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and 9 touchdowns. That represented an impressive 18.7 yards per reception, which really helped people out in long touchdown leagues, especially considering he had a 99 yard touchdown catch in 2011. Cruz was able to do this as an undrafted player in 2011, and was the waiver wire pickup that sent many people to the championship that year. As a result of that production, Victor Cruz had an average draft position in 2012 of 31st overall and 8th amongst wide receivers. Unfortunately, Cruz was not able to improve on his 2011 season, and in fact had 444 less yards on 4 more catches than he had in 2011. Cruz saw his yards per catch average drop by 6 yards last season, but he did score one more touchdown in 2012 than in 2011. Victor Cruz is an immense talent, but he did not live up to WR1 status last season, but could be in line for a nice bounce back this season due to a more favorable average draft position heading into 2013.
Jordy Nelson was the other major breakout player at the wide receiver position in 2011. Nelson had career highs in 2011 with 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and an impressive 15 touchdowns scored. Nelson has the benefit of a Pro bowl quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and there were many who believed he would be even more impressive in 2012 than he was in 2011. Unfortunately, Nelson did not live up to the hype. As I had mentioned before when I see a high touchdown production from a player that has not done it previously, and Nelson is a perfect example of that, as he had never had more than 2 touchdown receptions in a season prior to 2011. The other red flag for Nelson was the fact that his yards per catch average jumped by more than 4 yards over his previous career average in 2011. Nelson definitely came back down to earth in 2012 with 518 less yards from scrimmage on 19 less receptions and scored 8 less touchdowns than in 2011. I will grant you that Nelson was dealing with injuries throughout the year, but besides a two-week stretch in weeks 6-7 Nelson was thoroughly unimpressive all season. Nelson is that glaring example of a player that has a breakout year the previous year and gets over drafted the next season, which is shown by his 35th overall average draft position and 12th amongst wide receivers in 2012.
The tight end position was perhaps the most dynamic in 2011 with two players that stood head and shoulders above the rest. Jimmy Graham exploded onto the scene with his 2011 season. Graham had the advantage of having Drew Brees as his quarterback and used that to catch 99 passes for 1,310 yards with 8 touchdowns in 2011. Graham gave fantasy owners the production of a top-tier wide receiver at the tight end position, which was a bounty for any team that owned him in 2011. With that amazing production it was no surprise that Graham was going to go early in drafts in 2012, and that he did with an average draft position of 14th overall and the first tight end off the boards last season. Graham was not able to live up to that high draft pick as he accumulated 328 fewer yards on 14 less receptions and 2 less touchdowns in 2012 as compared to 2011. This was not the type of production that owners were looking for with a high second round draft pick. Graham is still going to go early in drafts again this season, but it will be interesting to see if he has the same average draft position as he did last year.
The other breakout player at the tight end position in 2011 was Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski was right there with Jimmy Graham throughout the season at the tight end position and finished with 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and a shocking 17 touchdowns scored. So right away Gronkowski was going to have trouble repeating his 2011 performance, in my opinion, due to that high touchdown production he had. Gronkowski was still able to find the end zone in 2012, although he did score 6 less touchdowns than he did in 2011. Gronkowski was also hit with injuries in 2012, which ended his season prematurely. With that said, Gronkowski was still not as impressive in 2012 as he had been in 2011. He finished the season with 537 fewer yards on 45 less receptions than he had the previous year. Like Jimmy Graham, Gronkowski had an average draft position of 15th overall and the 2nd tight end taken off the boards behind Graham. The fact that Gronkowski went down in week 11 really hurt his fantasy owners as they lost any type of production from him when they needed him most, in the fantasy playoffs. During this off-season Gronkowski has dealt with complications to his recovery of his broken forearm, and may need to have a fourth surgery, which could keep him out of the preseason and potentially the beginning of the regular season in 2013. This injury could cause him to fall in drafts this year and make him a value pick, albeit a risky one in 2013.
That is a good look at what happened last season with the players that broke out in 2011, but now it is time to turn my attention to the players that broke out in 2012 that have raised a red flag in my mind heading into 2013, as these players are going to be drafted much higher than they were in 2012.
The first player that has me concerned will probably be a surprise to most of you, and that is Adrian Peterson. Peterson absolutely blew up last season coming off of a major injury and accumulated 2,314 yards from scrimmage, with 13 touchdowns and 40 receptions. Peterson proved that he is an absolute freak of nature with his 2012 season. Peterson helped his owners most likely make a major playoff run, if not a championship run, especially considering that his average draft position was 18th last season and 9th amongst running backs. Peterson will most likely regain his top status at the running back position, and in all likelihood will be the first player taken in most drafts in 2013. It is not that Adrian Peterson is not worthy of the first overall pick in the draft next season, rather the career year that he had last season is one that is going to be mighty tough to repeat this year. If I am lucky enough to have the first overall draft pick in my leagues next year, I will be looking to trade that pick and get a bounty in return from the owner that will do anything to get Adrian Peterson.
The next player that has me concerned heading into this season is Marshawn Lynch, beast mode himself. Lynch had a great 2012 campaign with 1,786 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns scored. Lynch was extremely productive during the fantasy playoffs last season in which he amassed 352 rushing yards with five touchdowns during weeks 14 – 16. Lynch has a budding star as his quarterback in Russell Wilson, whose development may hinder his performance in 2013. Last season the Seahawks relied heavily on Lynch to carry the load and take the pressure off of their rookie quarterback. The addition of Percy Harvin to the Seahawks this off-season should also have an effect on the total touches that Lynch will have in 2013. Lynch had an average draft position of 19th overall last season and 10th among running backs, which should be higher this season. Lynch is a beast, but I have a hard time seeing him improving on the season he had last year.
What can you say about the season that rookie Doug Martin had last year except that it was flat out amazing. Martin did not even start the season as the starting running back for the Buccaneers, but still amassed 1,926 yards from scrimmage with 49 receptions and 12 touchdowns. Martin showed just how dynamic he could be in a week 9 game against the Oakland Raiders, where he amassed 272 yards from scrimmage and scored 4 touchdowns. Martin has the potential to be one of the best running backs this coming season, but I still have some concerns. Martin is not going to sneak up on any teams this year, and more likely defenses will be preparing to try to stop him first when they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Martin was such a value last year, as his average draft position was 40th overall and 17th among running backs. I think I can fairly say without a hesitation or doubt in my mind that Martin will be a first round pick in just about every draft this season. With that high of a draft pick comes expectations that he will improve on last season, and while I love the talent that he has and have him as a highly rated running back next year, I still have doubts that he will be able to improve on what he did last year, especially since he is coming off of a season where he had 368 total touches.
There was another rookie running back that also jumped onto the scene last year, and he may have been the most surprising, considering that he was coming out of Mike Shanahan's crowded backfield, Alfred Morris. Morris had to vault himself over Roy Helu and Evan Royster in order to become the main man in Washington. Morris was able to do just that and finished his 2012 rookie season with 1,690 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns scored. Morris was the definition of a draft steal, with an average draft position of 184th last season and 60th amongst running backs. Morris should find himself going within the first 20 picks of drafts this season, and with that higher pick comes higher expectations. Like Doug Martin, Morris is not going to sneak up on anybody this season and the fact that he had 346 touches last year will put a strain on his durability this season. With Morris and Martin both being rookies last season there is still the chance that they could outperform their initial campaigns. These players have yet to hit their ceiling of potential, but both of these players have set the bar very high for themselves heading into 2013.
Then there is the case of Brandon Marshall who showed that he was extremely happy to be reunited with Jay Cutler in 2012. Cutler was looking for Marshall at just about every opportunity and Marshall did not disappoint. Marshall finished the season with 118 receptions for 1,508 yards and a career-best for himself with 11 touchdowns. Marshall had an average draft position last year of 32nd overall and 9th amongst wide receivers, which provided his owners with a draft day bargain. Brandon Marshall will most likely be taken amongst the first four receivers off the board this year. I still think that Brandon Marshall is an amazing talent, but the fact that the Bears have added more weapons to their offense leads me to believe that his role in 2013 will not be as large as it was last season. The Bears have beefed up their offense of line with the addition of Jermone Bushrod, as well as the addition of Martellus Bennett at tight end. The new coaching staff will also be looking to get Matt Forte more involved in the offense this season. The other red flag for me is that Marshall did score 11 touchdowns last season, but with the addition of Bennett I expect him to vulture at least four touchdowns from Marshall this year. Add to that the improvement of second year wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey and I expect Marshall to see a stat decrease in 2013.
Now you need to hear me out because I am going to mention Calvin Johnson next. Johnson had the greatest receiving season ever by a wide receiver with 1,964 yards on 122 receptions. The only thing that Megatron was not able to do last season was find the end zone with much consistency, as he finished the season with only 5 touchdowns. The fact that Megatron only had 5 touchdowns last year leads me to believe that he could end up scoring close to the amount of fantasy points that he did in 2012. I have a hard time expecting that Johnson will have the same amount of yardage in 2013 as he did in 2012, but I could see his touchdown total going back 12 to 15 range this year. With all that said Johnson is still going to be a first-round draft pick this year, and in order for him to truly pay off for his owners he is going to need to take his game to another level, which may not be possible. Johnson will still most likely finish as the number one wide receiver at the end of the season, but I am just cautioning you that he may not put up the same stats as far as yardage and receptions that he did in 2012.
One of the biggest surprises last season was the play of Vincent Jackson after signing a big contract to move from the San Diego Chargers to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Most of us who were predicting what that move would mean figured that Jackson would see a decrease in his production in 2012. That allowed Jackson to drop to 64th overall in average draft position and 24th amongst wide receivers. Vincent Jackson showed that he is an elite wide receiver and with the stats that he put up in 2012 showed that he may have done more for Philip Rivers than Philip Rivers did for him when he was in San Diego. Jackson finished 2012 with a career-best 72 receptions for 1,384 yards and 8 touchdowns scored. Jackson was able to establish a good rapport with quarterback Josh Freeman, and proved that he is a playmaker. The fact that he had such a breakout performance will mean that his draft position will be much higher this year. The problem that I have with Vincent Jackson is that the season that he had last year I believe was his ceiling. I might be able to predict a better season for Jackson if he had a better quarterback than Josh Freeman. Jackson will most likely go off the board as a top-10 wide receiver in most drafts, but will have a hard time living up to those expectations.
A player that had a renaissance season last year was Reggie Wayne. Wayne decided to stay in Indianapolis after the team had a horrible 2011 season. Wayne must have known something, because he became the main target of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, and returned himself to the stats that he was putting up with Peyton Manning. Wayne finished the 2012 season with 106 receptions for 1,355 yards and 5 touchdowns. There are going to be many owners this season who are going to be looking to grab Wayne and expecting the same season this year. The reason why I am not as high on Wayne this season, is due to the fact that the team was filled with rookie players last year who all made huge strides toward the end of last season. The improvement of T.Y. Hilton, Vick Ballard, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen will definitely play a role in Wayne not seeing as many targets this season as he did in 2012. The other fact is that Reggie Wayne was not taken last year until an average draft position of 80th, and 30th amongst wide receivers, which was a true value. Reggie Wayne is going to be closely approaching the top 10 to 15 wide receivers in most people's draft boards going into this year, and I just don't feel that he will provide the bang for your buck at that position.
When Peyton Manning moved to the Denver Broncos he immediately improved the stock of all the wide receivers on that team. The receiver that took the best advantage of that based on his average draft position last season was Eric Decker. Decker was not taken until 66th overall in drafts and 26th amongst wide receivers, but put up numbers that outperformed his draft pick. Decker finished last season with 85 receptions for 1,064 yards and an impressive 13 touchdowns scored. Once again the high touchdown totals is the red flag that comes up when I start looking at Eric Decker. On top of that, you have the addition of Wes Welker to the Broncos this off-season. That addition will definitely eat into the opportunities that Decker has in 2013. I do feel that with the addition of Welker that Decker will have the potential to fall in drafts the season. If Decker falls to the same average draft position that he had last season then he will be a good pick. Although, there are going to be many owners who have not paid attention to what happened in this off-season and will strictly look at the production that Decker had last season and draft him higher based on those numbers. Don't be that owner.
The final wide receiver that broke out in 2012 was James Jones of the Green Bay Packers. Jones did not blow anybody away with his yardage and receptions last season in which he had 64 for 784 yards. James Jones made his bones when he scored 14 touchdowns last season. In many ways I look at James Jones in the same way that I looked at Jordy Nelson from 2011 to 2012 when he had 15 touchdowns. In terms of fantasy I can definitely see James Jones having an increase in his number of receptions and yardage with the departure of Greg Jennings, but I have a hard time seeing him repeating his touchdown total of 14 this year. As we all know the most important factor to scoring a ton of fantasy points is touchdown production, but as I have shown it is very difficult for wide receivers to be consistent year-over-year scoring close to a touchdown a game average. James Jones will most definitely be drafted higher than he was last season where he had an average draft position of 212th and 76th amongst wide receivers. I can easily see Jones being drafted as a late WR2 or WR3, but I feel that that may be the ceiling of his potential as a fantasy player. The fact that he has Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback could end up proving me wrong, but I'm not going to be the guy that is to take a chance on James Jones this year.
So that brings to a conclusion the players that I have on the career year watch list for 2013. In order to be successful in fantasy football is more important to be proactive in trying to find the guys are going to break out, than it is to be reactive and take the guys who had their best season the year before. What this article should do is prove to you that there are always values that you can find deeper in the draft, and those are the picks that will make the difference between a poor season and a championship season. I am not saying that the players that I have mentioned in this article are not good, rather that they are going to be drafted higher than the production that they will yield this season, in my opinion. So until next year remember, career year means beware.
By Houdini (email me)
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