“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
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
The KC schedule is a fantasy killer.
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.
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.