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Joseph Hutchins | Archive | Email
Staff Writer

Top 10 Dropouts
Wide Receivers
Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers

“Past performance does not guarantee future results.” No kidding, right? Football junkies such as myself have long comprehended the wisdom in that little caveat emptor, fastening our fantasy hopes and dreams to NFL players whose performance often fluctuates wildly from one year (or even one game) to the next. Nevertheless, this knowledge never stops us from bravely predicting the unpredictable come every August.

In that spirit, I’ve attempted to handicap the future performance of the game’s elite, fool’s errand though it may be. I’ll examine the reigning top 10 wide receivers and take a stab at determining who is likely to maintain that status, and who is bound to disappoint, in 2011. I’ll use as my guide the lessons we may have learned from the dropout class of 2010. Sound like a plan? Let’s do this.

Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard scoring.

 Top 10 Wide Receivers - 2009
Rank Player
1 Andre Johnson
2 Randy Moss
3 Miles Austin
4 Larry Fitzgerald
5 Reggie Wayne
6 Roddy White
7 Sidney Rice
8 Brandon Marshall
9 DeSean Jackson
10 Vincent Jackson
  Top 10 Wide Receivers - 2010
Rank Player
1 Brandon Lloyd
2 Dwayne Bowe
3 Roddy White
4 Greg Jennings
5 Mike Wallace
6 Calvin Johnson
7 Reggie Wayne
8 Hakeem Nicks
9 Andre Johnson
10 Steve Johnson

Missed the Cut in 2010 (7 of 10): R. Moss, M. Austin, L. Fitzgerald, S. Rice, B. Marshall, D. Jackson, and V. Jackson

Receivers, more than any other fantasy commodity, require stability in order to achieve peak performance. We’re not talking about physical stability so much (see Sidney Rice), but rather continuity of coaching staffs, offensive systems and established connections with the men under center. For those that have them (and their health), year-over-year production should remain fairly constant, fluctuating only slightly within a prescribed bandwidth. For those that don’t, a tumble out of the top 10 can be both expected and precipitous.

Larry Fitzgerald, for instance, lost his battery mate, Kurt Warner, and dropped from 97 receptions and 13 touchdowns in 2009 to 90 and 6, respectively, in 2010. This despite the fact he attracted 20 more targets than he did the year prior. Brandon Marshall, on the other hand, suffered the proverbial double whammy in his move to South Beach, adjusting to a new QB and a new system that had previously featured a multi-faceted rushing attack. The result? Fewer receptions, even fewer TDs, and a freefall from #8 to #27 in the WR rankings.

DeSean Jackson had to adjust to a new quarterback (Kevin Kolb) going into last season, as well. Then, he had to adjust again after Kolb was knocked out in Week 1. Of course, the dream pairing of Jackson’s wheels with Michael Vick’s arm looked like it might spell big trouble for defensive coordinators. Though it often did, Jackson’s numbers were down across the board when all was said and done and he did not, despite lofty expectations, disprove the theory that connections between passers and pass catchers take time to stabilize...

…and almost no time at all to destabilize. This was the case for Miles Austin when his quarterback succumbed to injury in Week 7. Following a torrid start (three nine+ catch, 100-yard games), Austin only cracked the century mark two more times and caught no more than seven balls the rest of the way. This is why, incidentally, I advise never doubling down on a QB and #1 wideout from the same team.

As for Vincent Jackson and Randy Moss? Clearly, even stable situations can’t prevent a player’s mental instability from derailing production. Jackson missed the first three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy and several more because he didn’t feel the Chargers loved him enough. Moss wasn’t feeling the love, either - for football, apparently. There’s simply no other explanation for the future Hall-of-Famer’s stunning fall from grace. Despite no discernable decline in skill level, he went from being the second most valuable receiver in 2009 to a virtual non-entity (#65) in 2010 to, ultimately, retirement in 2011. Now that is a precipitous decline.

Most Likely to Fall in 2011:

Brandon Lloyd, DEN: If you predicted Lloyd to top the WR rankings in 2009, you’re either clairvoyant or clinically insane…or maybe both. There was simply nothing in this guy’s NFL résumé to suggest he was capable of such astounding numbers. Even more astounding, Lloyd did it despite starting just 11 games. How? He averaged 18.8 yards/reception and caught 11 touchdowns for a team that, thanks to a bottom-dwelling defense, was almost always playing catch-up. Atrocious defense + bombs away offense = fantasy goldmine.

The Broncos have since severed ties with former wunderkind, Josh McDaniels, and handed the reigns over to John Fox. Here’s where the Fox-led Panthers ranked the past four seasons in total pass attempts: 24th, 32nd, 29th, and 26th. Gulp. Bear in mind Carolina wasn’t exactly nursing big leads during this time frame. They were running the ball because that’s what John Fox likes to do, control the ball and play defense.

Additionally, Lloyd managed to average 18.8 yards/catch despite a pedestrian 2.9 YAC average. Very pedestrian, in fact, but right on his career average. Lloyd is basically a home run hitter who doesn’t have enough wiggle to do much with the football after the catch. This is all well and good when the headman’s looking for homers. I simply doubt John Fox will be this season as he looks to shorten games and keep his still outmanned Broncos defenders off the field for long stretches. Mark it down: Lloyd comes back to earth in 2011.

Dwayne Bowe

The KC schedule is a fantasy killer.

Dwayne Bowe, KC: If the top guy is susceptible to a fall, why not #2? Bowe got off to a really slow start in 2010, switched to afterburners during the middle portion of the season, and then sputtered to the finish line with several uneven performances. When the smoke had cleared, he had tallied just over 70 catches, well over 1,000 yards, and a league-best 15 touchdown receptions. That middle portion of the season, a seven-game span during which he laid waste to NFL secondaries (five multi-TD performances), was what put him over the top. Doing it again in 2011 may prove difficult, however.

For starters, there’s the issue of Kansas City’s creampuff 2010 schedule. You thought Tampa’s schedule was easy? The Chiefs faced precisely two playoff teams last year and one of them was Seattle, arguably the worst playoff team in several decades. The 2011 slate is considerably more challenging and, making matters worse, Bowe will face a murderer’s row during Weeks 11 through 15, presumably your playoffs: New England, Pittsburgh, Chicago, NY Jets, and Green Bay. Ouch!

Bowe was also targeted a whopping 88 more times than the #2 receiver in the KC offense last year, an offense that, by the way, ranked 31st in passing yards/game. It isn’t difficult to see why the Chiefs’ brass went out and made the position a priority in free agency (Steve Breaston) and in the draft (#1 pick, Jonathan Baldwin). Add to all of this the possibility last year’s high second-rounder, Dexter McCluster, may be more involved in the game plan and it doesn’t appear there will be as many balls flying Bowe’s way come 2011.

Steve Johnson, BUF: Thought I was gonna say Roddy White, didn’t you? No, White is firmly ensconced in the top 10 until further notice. This rising star, however, a surprise newcomer to the ranks of the elite, has some more proving to do before he’s consistently recognized as a top-tier threat.

Johnson came out of virtually nowhere during the 2010 season, his third in the league, to post huge numbers in a bad Buffalo offense (82 catches, 1,073 yards, and ten touchdowns). There’s just one problem: that bad Buffalo offense is getting worse. First, the Bills jettisoned arguably their most valuable offensive player, Marshawn Lynch. Then, just as training camp got underway this summer, they parted ways with the venerable (by current Buffalo standards) Lee Evans, the only receiver capable of preventing the type of blanket coverage Johnson is likely to see this season. That task now falls on the shoulders of Donald Jones, he of the 18 total career receptions. 18! (Full disclosure: I’d never heard of Donald Jones before writing this article and I watch a lot of football.)

Johnson may also have a bit too much “diva” in him, for lack of a better term. When you’re sparring with Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco (Google “Stevie Johnson joker”), blaming God for dropped touchdown passes via Twitter, and posing for GQ, I’m thinking you may be headed down a precarious path. Yes, the receiver position has long attracted outsized personalities but outsized personalities tend to wear out their welcome awfully fast in the NFL. Here’s hoping Johnson spends more time getting better (read: not dropping sure touchdowns in overtime) and less time cultivating his quirky persona.

Next: Quarterbacks