6 Fantasy Players That Won’t Get 1,000 Yards in 2014
Last summer we wrote an article picking 6 running backs or wide receivers the fantasy football community thought would reach 1,000 yards but for various reasons we disagreed, and now it’s time to give it another go as the 2014 Fantasy Football season in just around the corner.
In our article last season, we nailed 5 out of 6 players that we thought wouldn’t quite reach 1,000 yards, and the sole player on that list that did do so, DeSean Jackson, was somewhat of a special case as the article was written prior to Jeremy Maclin’s ACL injury before the season. Would Jackson have reached 1,000 with Maclin? Perhaps so, but we still did a hell of a job picking’em!
Considering we did so well the first time around, let’s press lady luck one more time and try it all again for 2014, shall we?
#6 Julian Edelman
After the departure of Wes Welker in free agency last year, many expected Danny Amendola to be the biggest Patriots beneficiary in fantasy drafts. As it turns out, Amendola proved just as unreliable as ever and the window of opportunity presented saw Julian Edelman thrusted into that void. Now that Edelman churned out 105 catches and 1,056 yards in 2013, fantasy players are expecting either the same production or more. We think Edelman may take a turn toward the other direction and fail to hit 1,000 receiving yards.
Ever since Edelman’s rookie season, he has drawn Welker comparisons, so the “Welker clone” sliding into Welker’s old spot and putting up big numbers wasn’t a total shock. But the reality is Edelman isn’t as good as Welker. Injuries played a part in Edelman’s slow development, as did the fact that he’s a converted quarterback, but Edelman could hardly sniff the field when Welker was on the team. He caught just 69 passes in his first 4 seasons combined. Even when Welker was gone, it wasn’t until Amendola went down that the team figured it was worthwhile to go to Edelman. New England Patriots brass does not think that highly of him. They specifically signed Amendola for that reason.
On that same topic, the circumstances it took for Edelman to just barely hit 1,000 yards were the fantasy football equivalent of the stars aligning for him. The player in his immediate path for targets, Amendola, went down and was never 100% when he came back. Tom Brady’s best target, Rob Gronkowski, also only appeared in 7 games due to injury. The two rookie receivers on the outside were inexperienced and missed time with injuries of their own, never developing chemistry with the QB. All of this led to Brady forcing the ball to Edelman at a rate that’s unlikely to happen again in 2014. I like the player, but 850-900 yards is a more realistic goal this year.
#5 Eric Decker
After back-to-back highly successful seasons in Denver, the latest of which had him finishing as the #9 receiver in fantasy football (non-PPR), Eric Decker chased the money to New York in free agency. In doing so, he’s now a mere lock to take a statistical hit, to the point where we don’t believe he will reach 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since the Tim Tebow experiment.
The most obvious reason is that Decker will have perhaps the biggest quarterback downgrade a player can currently experience in the NFL: from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith. Unless he just outright falls on his face and cedes the job to Michael Vick, I expect Geno Smith to take steps forward now that he is not tasked with throwing the ball to what was arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL last year. However, I don’t think that will be enough for Eric Decker to hit the 1,000 yard receiving mark that he has reached the previous two seasons, and he almost certainly will not come close to the 1,288 yards he put up in 2013.
Decker is by nature not a high yardage, volume player in the first place. He is an underrated intermediate and deep target with great red zone ability, as evidenced by his 32 touchdowns over the past 3 seasons. Even with Peyton Manning throwing the ball over 650 times Decker was never going to put up a 100 catch, 1,400 yard season. Speaking of pass attempts, Smith only threw the ball 443 times as a rookie, and there are rumblings that the New York Jets want to run the ball even more in 2014 now that they have paired Chris Ivory with Chris Johnson. The efficiency and the volume are going to be way down for Decker, bringing his yardage down with it. Expect his ceiling to be in the 900 yard area.
#4 Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson had 6 very productive seasons in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, all of which he cleared 1,000 yards rushing and finished at least a top 16 RB in fantasy football. Like the previously mentioned Decker, CJ2K’s fantasy stock will take a plunge as he leaves to join the Jets in free agency. Forget 2,000 yards, he won’t be reaching 1,000 yards this time around.
Johnson will turn 29 years old in the early going of the upcoming season, and for a player that has made his bread by being maybe the fastest player in the NFL and not the most skilled, that’s not good news for his prospects. During his 28-year-old campaign he just barely topped 1,000 yards at 1,077, and had the lowest YPC of his career at 3.9. A player known for breaking off 90 yard touchdowns if the defense makes the slightest mistake, Johnson’s longest run of the season was only 30 yards. All of these are troubling signs Johnson’s athleticism is dwindling.
More damning for Johnson is that for the first time since his rookie season he will be splitting carries with a larger and more powerful RB in Chris Ivory. Ivory isn’t the most durable guy in the world but he is unquestionably talented and is a better fit for the Jets’ scheme and mentality. Ivory rushed 182 times for 833 yards (4.6). His long run of 69 was more than double Johnson’s. Bilal Powell is also still in the mix for carries after getting 176 himself a year ago. Unless he averages 5.6 YPC like he did his 2,000 yard season, Johnson simply won’t have the work to run for 1,000 yards. He’ll have to earn fantasy points by becoming more involved as a receiver.
#3 Frank Gore
Every year it seems fantasy owners count out Frank Gore due to his advanced RB age only to watch him put up 1,000+ yards for another squad at a great value. In 9 seasons Gore has eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing a remarkable 7 times. One of the years he did not make it he was a rookie, and the other he only played in 11 games. But just when it seems Gore will never go away, we think 2014 will be the year he starts fading out and that 2013 will go down as the last of his 1,000 yard seasons.
Lost in the unexpected continued success of Gore is that this past season he averaged only 4.1 yards per carry. This is a fine number that many younger featured backs failed to reach, but the the difference is the San Francisco 49ers have what is regarded as the best run blocking unit in football. This 4.1 YPC is also the lowest mark of Gore’s career and a 0.6 YPC drop from 2012. Over his last 10 regular season games he only averaged 3.76 YPC. At 31, perhaps this is finally the sign that Gore is on the downswing.
Even worse, it appears the 49ers may be noticing signs of decline in Gore because they have spent a number of resources lately at the running back position. Ignoring the 4th and 2nd round picks the team respectively spent on change-of-pace backs Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James, the 49ers look like they’ve been drafting potential Gore replacements the past couple of years. In the 2013 draft they spent another 4th round pick on Marcus Lattimore, a highly talented big back that would have undoubtedly been a 1st round pick if not for a pair of devastating knee injuries. Even more telling than the Lattimore pick, the 49ers came back in the 2014 draft by spending a 2nd round pick on 230 pound Carlos Hyde, who many pegged as the best RB in the class.
When you consider that Frank Gore is possibly showing signs of decline, the team that knows him best is spending high draft capital on possible replacements that will likely take away some carries immediately, and that Gore’s contract is up after the season, it appears the writing is on the wall for a great career. Gore will still be plenty involved in the offense, but his role and effectiveness should take a step back and not allow him to reach 1,000 yards rushing.
#2 DeSean Jackson
Yes, for the second consecutive year we are going to place Jackson on this list, and this time we plan on getting it right. Jackson shattered his career highs for catches (82) and yards (1,332) last year as the focal point in Chip Kelly’s aggressive offense. However, DJax will no longer be playing in the offense that unlocked his potential and instead he moves to the Washington Redskins where he will have to compete for targets. If he does hit 1,000 yards it’s going to be close, but we’ll say no.
Like we said last year, Jackson is primarily a one-trick deep threat that isn’t big enough, strong enough, or well-rounded enough to have a ton of catches or yardage every year. Prior to 2013, Jackson had averaged 55 catches for 957 yards per season. Prior to 2013 he had also only played a full 16 game season once. The question is, is Jackson the player he was for 5 seasons, or the player he was for 1 season?
Not only is history and a new offense working against Jackson, he is going to be working against his new teammates. Pierre Garcon established himself as a reliable target — hot on his way to an NFL-lead 113 catches. The second-leading receiver on the Eagles last year after Jackson was LeSean McCoy with only 52 catches. Also in the mix for a significant number of targets, assuming he is over his concussion problems, is second-year TE Jordan Reed who racked up 44 catches over his first 8 games. It’s conceivable Jackson will be the third receiver in this offense and would have to convert his deep shots at a pretty high rate to reach 1,000 yards. Again, it’ll probably be a tight race, but we don’t think he gets there.
#1 Ryan Mathews
I very much liked Mathews as a prospect coming into the NFL and thought he had a bright future, so it was a surprise for me to see him struggle to put his career together in the early going. Over his first 3 years with the San Diego Chargers, he had put up a 1,000 yard rushing season only once (1,091 in 2011) and he had missed 10 games to a variety of minor injuries. At first glimpse, he finally seemed to put the talent and situation together in 2013 when he ran for 1,255 yards and helped the Chargers to the playoffs. It would be easy for me to say I was right all along and Mathews has finally arrived, but I don’t think that’s the case and don’t predict 1,000 yards for him in 2014.
For the purpose of this article, receiving yards don’t matter much for Mathews but it’s still worth noting that the addition of Danny Woodhead last year stripped him of a large part of his fantasy appeal. So in order to make return on a high draft pick, Mathews is going to have to excel as a runner. It’s concerning then that even though Mathews had his best rushing totals, he was still as ordinary as he had ever been and owed a lot of this supposedly new-found success to increased volume.
Mathews’ 4.4 YPC was solid but average, more or less equal to the average for his career to that point. The difference in production this time was that Mathews played 16 games for the first time ever and accordingly received the most carries of his career at 285. Really, Mathews was not better, he just stayed healthy… for the most part. Mathews has good speed but has had a mighty difficult time making big plays when they are there for the taking. He had the longest run of his career last year at 51 yards, and his previous long run was only 39 yards. Unless this suddenly changes, he’s always going to be grinding around the same YPC and his rushing numbers will be a function of how many games he plays and how many carries he gets.
If we expect his individual performance to stay mediocre as it has been, why would his numbers drop? Because I’m not convinced 2013 proved he’s over his injury bug and neither are the Chargers, apparently. Although Mathews played 16 games for fantasy owners, he was nicked up a few times and for a Chargers team that won by controlling the clock, this was especially hurtful in the playoffs when Mathews was hobbled and limited to 18 hand-offs in 2 games after averaging 18 per 1 game over the regular season.
Watching their season go down the drain in part because their oft-injured running back got hurt again, the Chargers went out and paid decent money for Donald Brown in free agency. Brown himself has had a disappointing career as a former 1st round pick, but played well for the Colts last year, outperforming Trent Richardson. My inference from this is that the Chargers realize they can’t rely on Mathews to stay healthy as a feature back and signed Brown to split the load with him while providing insurance if Mathews were to go down. If Mathews is either ceding carries or getting injured again, he’s not going to clear 1,000 yards, especially not if both of those things happen.