Football is a young man’s game, that much is certain. There
are some, however, who defy Father Time’s arrival a bit and
perform at a level that disregards the creaking knees and slowly
deteriorating skill set. Then there are others, like Shaun Alexander,
who fall off the radar quickly and soon become afterthoughts in
the fantasy world. Alexander won league MVP in 2005 and was out
of the league three years later. His fall was swift and painful
for those fantasy owners who banked on an imminent return to his
The trick is seeing the downturn before others in your league.
Signs of decline vary from player to player, and even from position
to position. Some quarterbacks tend to perform at a high level
well into their 30s, while running backs usually hit the wall
at 30. There are fewer things worse in fantasy football than using
a high draft pick on an aging player whose skills are in decline.
As we enter the 2012 season, here is a list of several “over
the hill” players who you should remain mindful of come
your fantasy draft:
Wayne, WR – IND
Wayne has 100 or more catches in three of his previous five seasons,
and last year he came 40 yards short of reaching the 1000-yard
mark in receiving yards for the eighth consecutive year. That
type of recent track record speaks volumes to his overall ability,
but keep in mind that Wayne will turn 34 in November and doesn’t
have Peyton Manning throwing the ball to him anymore. His inconsistent
play in 2011 had as much to do with the Colts' struggles at quarterback
than his own ability. But only one touchdown through the first
ten games last season? Ouch.
Wayne salvaged an average season by closing out the year with
eight catches in each of his last two games. He remains a quality
WR, but his numbers will continue to drop as Indianapolis infuses
youth throughout the offense in a way that Wayne has never had
to deal with. I don’t see his numbers falling completely
off the table to the extent that his spot on your roster should
be questioned, but whether or not you decide to start him as your
WR3 will definitely be a head-scratcher of a decision on a weekly
basis. Expect mediocre numbers from this one-time fantasy star.
Hasselbeck, QB – TEN
Hasselbeck had a rebirth of sorts during his first season in Tennessee.
He started every game last year—something he hadn't done
since 2007—and posted his most passing yards, his most touchdowns,
and his best completion percentage since 2007 as well. He even
peppered in a few 300-yard passing games. Not bad for a quarterback
who’ll be 37 by the end of September. But let’s not
kid ourselves. Hasselbeck is keeping the seat warm for youngster
Jake Locker, and Locker’s chance may come much sooner than
Back issues plagued Hasselbeck late in his tenure with the Seahawks,
which could be a very plausible explanation for his erratic play
in the Great Northwest. He remained upright for the entire season
in 2011, though, and appeared as healthy as a guy close to 40
can look. But there simply haven’t been many productive starting
quarterbacks in the NFL at 37 years of age. All of this—combined
with the Locker factor, the questions at wide receiver (the idiocy
of Kenny Britt, the youth of Kendall Wright, the inconsistency
of tight end Jared Cook), and the brittleness that usually accompanies
37-year-old quarterbacks—makes Hasselbeck a card-carrying member
of the Over-the-Hill Club.
Anquan Boldin's fantasy production has
declined every year since 2008.
Boldin, WR – BAL
I thought when Boldin signed with Baltimore he was going to be
an absolute force. I felt no other wide receiver fit the styles
and contours of his team better than Boldin with the Ravens. Two
years later, he’s had two of his worst statistical seasons since
his injury-plagued second year in the league. Boldin will turn
32 during the 2012 season and he has definitely lost a step—a
big deal when you came into the league not known for your swiftness.
Most fantasy pundits have receiving mate Torrey Smith rated higher
than Boldin heading into this season, and I agree. Smith’s
presumed ascension to No. 1 receiver status with the Ravens, in
addition to the increased role of tight end Ed Dickson, makes
Boldin’s chances of returning to a starting-quality fantasy
receiver a thing of the past. It’s also not a good sign
that he had two fewer touchdown receptions than Dickson last year.
Boldin is heading for the cliff, no doubt.
Jacobs, RB – SF
Jacobs, who Warren Sapp dubs the Tiptoe Burglar because of his
sometimes less-than-aggressive running style, relocates to San
Francisco from the New York Giants after completing his worst
season since 2006. While his seven rushing touchdowns last year
were respectable, four came during a three-game stretch. Some
may look at the RBBC that he was part of during his entire career
with the Giants and say he’s not as worn down as most 30-year-old
running backs. But at some point, that upright running style is
going to cost him. Those 30-year-old knees are inviting targets
for defenders as well.
What will also potentially expedite Jacobs’ downward production
is the three-headed running back attack he now is part of in ’Frisco.
Incumbent Frank Gore is coming off a solid season, and rookie
LaMichael James is sure to be used as a change-of-pace back. Jacobs
could be used exclusively as a short-yardage and goal-line back,
which could heighten his value a bit in touchdown-only leagues.
But I don’t see Jacobs making much of a splash in San Francisco.
Gates, TE – SD
Gates battled through his foot injury early in 2011 to actually
salvage a solid season. But we’ve seen time and time again
how injuries hasten the demise of even the most gifted players.
Last year marked the second consecutive season that he battled
through injuries, and 32-year-olds tend to find that progressively
more difficult to do with each passing season. If you noticed,
Gates had a hard time getting separation from defenders in 2011.
I had him on my team last year and witnessed even during his best
games how he had defenders literally draped all over him with
every reception. I find it difficult to conclude that defenses
are now equipped with a scheme to cover the former fantasy stud;
rather, I think his inability to create space between himself
and the defender is a direct result of a skill set that’s
eroding right before our eyes.
Vincent Jackson’s exit, some would argue, gives Gates a
chance to become San Diego’s go-to receiver, the way he
was during his time as fantasy’s top TE. Again, his age
and chronic foot issues will prevent that from happening. Plus,
I’m not high on the Chargers’ offense this season.
Don’t be surprised if we see Gates' numbers take a dramatic
dip in 2012.
Moss, WR – WAS
Moss’s receiving yardage total from 2011 was his lowest
since his rookie season with the Jets. In previous seasons, Moss
owners could always count on the occasional big game, but last
year he neither caught more than six passes nor had more than
81 yards receiving in a single game. In fact, it’s been
since Week 10 of the 2010 season that Moss last topped the 100-yard
receiving mark. Sure, fingers can be pointed at the struggling
quarterback play in Washington as the culprit for Moss’s
struggles. I won't argue against that. And, sure, those optimistic
folks could look at Robert Griffin’s arrival as the much-needed
jolt to Moss’s potential. But I think Moss is one of those
players whose production will continue to decline at a rapid pace,
and whose spot on your roster should be scrutinized on a regular
Manning, QB – DEN
OK, it could be sacrilege to have Peyton on this list, but something
has to be said about a 36-year-old quarterback who, when the season
starts, will have not taken a hit since January, 2010. That’s
a long time between live action, even for someone of Manning’s
ilk. And, oh, there’s also this neck injury thing.
Look, I’m not saying Manning will suddenly turn into Colt
McCoy; what I am saying is people need to lower their expectations.
Expecting him to waltz into the Denver offense and pick up where
he left off in Indy is wishful thinking as far as I’m concerned.
Manning is way too good to fall off the map quickly, but I think
there will be some obvious signs of decline in 2012, with 2013
really being a watershed season for the future Hall of Famer.