Welcome to the third annual Top 10 series, a two-part prognostication
wherein we attempt to identify those players who will fall from
the ranks of the elite this coming season and (in about two weeks)
those who will fill the resultant vacuum at the top. I say “attempt”
as if the first two years of predictions demanded some measure of
humility. To the contrary, I’ve now correctly identified 25
of the 36 Top 10 dropouts/risers these past two seasons, a pretty
spiffy 70% clip.
OK, so you should probably hold the applause. How hard can it be,
after all, to predict a few Top 10 dropouts per position when more
than half the RBs and WRs fail to repeat every year? The only thing
more difficult than reaching the NFL stratosphere, it would seem,
is actually staying there. Make that danged near impossible if your
name isn’t Brees, Peterson, or Megatron.
You won’t find any of those fine fellows on the following
list, but after two years of heavy turnover at the top, I’m
dubious of almost everyone else. You should be too since they most
likely top your cheatsheets as we head toward draft day.
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard
Missed the Cut in 2012 (6 of 10):
LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, Ryan Mathews,
Michael Bush, Darren Sproles
He wasn’t describing the life of an NFL running back when
he described the natural state of mankind (“solitary, poor,
nasty, brutish, and short”), but Thomas Hobbes very well could
have been…minus that part about being poor. Running backs
are at least well-compensated for the drubbings they endure. Good
thing, too, because the more punishment they absorb, the more likely
they are to be injured, which in turn makes them less productive
and, in the cruelest twist of all, ultimately less valuable. Heck,
maybe Hobbes was talking about NFL rock-toters when he penned that
Of the six backs to drop out of the Top 10 in 2012, only Michael
Turner survived the full 16-game schedule intact, though it could
be argued that years of overuse (300+ carries in three of the previous
four years) may have contributed to his lackluster production. The
other five dropouts combined to miss a total of 24 ballgames. Maurice
Jones-Drew missed the most significant chunk of time, the final
10 games, with the exotic-sounding Lisfranc injury. (It means mid-foot,
essentially, and Iíve absolutely added it to my list of prospective
band names if I ever learn to play an instrument.) LeSean McCoy
and Ryan Mathews missed four games apiece with, respectively, a
concussion and broken clavicles (yes, both of them; no, not at the
same time). Finally, Darren Sproles and Michael Bush also missed
three games, the former due to a fractured hand and the latter due
to bad ribs.
In case you’re scoring at home, that’s one balky Lisfranc,
one fuzzy brain, two broken collarbones, a broken hand, and some
jacked-up ribs. It’s times like these I’m glad I merely
write about professional football.
The Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the
Top Ten This Year:
Lynch, SEA: If I ever get seriously jammed up, Iím calling Lynchís
attorney. Beast Mode was busted for DUI last July and almost a year
later, a trial date still hasnít been set. What that means for our
purposes is that heís unlikely to face league discipline in 2013.
Potential fantasy crisis averted! Thatís not to say the specter
of an NFL suspension doesnít theoretically affect the way Seattle
will use Lynch this coming season. If I were Pete Carroll, Iíd deem
it prudent to at least prepare for the eventuality of a suspensionósay,
by giving guys like Christine
Michael and Robert
Turbin a few more repsóknowing full well my championship window
is wide open but wonít stay open forever. Yeah, Iím speculating,
but NFL coaches donít get paid the big bucks to be caught off guard
and miss legitimate shots at NFL titles.
Marshawn Lynch could see fewer touches
Even if you disregard the crackpot theory I just laid out, you should
probably consider that the rookie Michael turned some heads in mini-camp
and isnít just some late-round flier. Seattle spent a second
round selection on him, a significant investment in a league where
draft picks are treated like gold (outside of Oakland and Washington,
D.C.). Itís also worth noting that Lynchís competition
for carries wonít always come from his fellow running backs.
Once Carroll and Co. turned prized rook Russell Wilson loose last
season, the young field general found his sea legs and really started
to come into his own as a read-option administrator. He averaged
fewer than 19 rushing yards per game through the first 10 weeks,
but nearly 50 per in his final seven tilts. Seattle wonít
quash the former Badgersí natural instincts, I donít
think, and that could mean fewer overall touches for Lynch in 2013.
Rice, BAL: Wanna know how fast things change in this
crazy league? Two years ago, in the companion piece to this column,
I pegged Rice as the potential No. 1 option in PPR leagues at the
running back position despite his not being a Top 10 back the year
prior. Turns out I was only half right: He ended up leading all
leagues, not just PPR leagues (dang, Iím good!). Yet, here we are
only two years later and Iím predicting the exact opposite outcome
for the former Rutgers star. Explain yourself, Shot Caller?
For one thing, Rice has company. Bernard Pierce was an unexpected
force as his backup in 2012, earning a startling 108 carries over
the course of the regular season and 11 more targets in the passing
game. Thatísí way more than anyone expected the rookie
to receive, and now thereís talk of more since he parlayed
those reps into a 4.9 yards-per-touch average. The Ravens would
also be wise to start lightening Riceís workloadówhich
Pierce gives them the luxury to doósince heís averaged
about 347 total touches the past four years. For comparisonís
sake, thatís slightly more touches than Michael Turner averaged
in 2008, 2010, and 2011 when people were questioning how much abuse
he could handle.
The last reason Iím guessing we may see a dip in Riceís
totals has more to do with his teamís recent success than
anything heís done. Call it the Super Bowl hangover effect.
He has now, like the rest of his Ravens teammates, reached the top
of the mountain and itís exceedingly difficult to be as driven
the year after a title. Itís why so few teams repeat as champions
unless they have overwhelming talent. Ray Rice might, but his Baltimore
team really doesnít. Expect a medium-sized drop-off for both
him and the Ravens this coming season.
Ridley, NE: Iíve already put his HOF-bound quarterback
on watch and now the Patsí meal ticket gets the business? Youíd
think Iím pretty bearish on their offense, but thatís not at all
true. I just think New England will beÖdifferent, shall we say.
I already showed some love for the LSU product this preseason, actually,
in one of our Writers Roundtable quick hitters, championing him
Murray as the more valuable RB commodity this year. I still
believe heís the safer option; nevertheless, I donít think heíll
outscore the 10 guys Iíve identified as the likely league leaders
The primary reason Ridley will end up in the teens come January
is that he, like Rice, has plenty of company in the Patriots backfield,
a fact I alluded to when discussing Brady earlier. Thereís
LeGarrette Blount, a super-sized potential poacher of goal-line
totes. Thereís Brandon Bolden, a surprise success in spot
duty last season. Thereís Shane Vereen, a talented but under-utilized
(to date) Danny Woodhead replacement. Finally, thereís Leon
Washington, the explosive special teams ace who could also see plenty
of looks in third-down situations. The Pats probably donít
have room for all five guys on the roster, granted, but I think
you get the picture.
The other reason to be leery of Ridley has more to do with his specific
abilities, or the lack thereof. To wit, heís almost a non-threat
in the passing game. A diversified skill set, as weíve already
learned, is one of the surest ways to remain viable in the big leagues.
Ridley caught precisely six passes in 2012, the only back in the
top 30 to post a single-digit reception total. If you still consider
him a Top 10 talent at RB, just remember youíre relying almost
exclusively on what he can get done on the ground. Thatís
all he brings to the table.
Next: Wide Receivers