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 (7 of 10):
Jordy Nelson, Wes Welker, Victor Cruz, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Smith,
Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace
I use these introductory look-backs to search for clues as to why
certain players failed to meet expectations the previous season,
the hope being that we might be able to project out into the future
and identify those guys at risk of doing the same this season (and
for the same reasons). Did a receiver get hurt, for instance, or
maybe suspended for questionable behavior? Did he get traded? Did
his coach and/or offensive system change? Did he get a new battery
mate or, even worse, a new battery mate who stunk to high heaven?
The problem with the receiver position, in particular, is that the
answers rarely cohere into identifiable trends. There are literally
countless reasons why a guy may fall off the pace from one season
to the next. The only constant, actually, seems to be the simple
fact that most of them do. 2012 was the third consecutive year only
three receivers maintained their Top 10 status from the year prior.
Maybe it would make more sense to turn this exercise on its head
and focus on what the holdovers have in common instead of the exiles.
In other words, what do recent Top 10 survivors have that other
wideouts don’t? Here’s the list of Top 10 repeaters
since 2010: Roddy White (3x), Calvin Johnson (2x), Reggie Wayne,
Andre Johnson, Mike Wallace, and Vincent Jackson. That’s it,
the exhaustive list of players who have strung together consecutive
Top 10 seasons since 2010. From this list, it seems we can safely
deduce the qualities a wide receiver must have to be a Top 10 repeater:
tremendous size, tremendous speed, tremendous hands, some combination
thereof, or all three. That was sure easy, wasn’t it? I guess
it also doesn’t hurt if he’s named Roddy White or Calvin
The Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the
Top Ten This Year:
Thomas AND Eric
Decker, DEN: You have to go back to 2008 (Anquan
Boldin and Larry
Fitzgerald) to find the last time a pair of teammates ended
the season ranked in the Top 10 together at the receiver position.
You have to go back even farther than that, to 2004 (Marvin Harrison/Reggie
Wayne and Javon Walker/Donald
Driver), to find the last time two sets of teammates pulled
it off. Thomas and Decker had to share the spotlight with Julio
Jones and Roddy White in 2012, but that was nothing compared
to what they’re gonna have to share now that Wes
Welker has severed ties with long-time companion Tom
Brady and headed west to the Mile High City. I mean, talk about
an embarrassment of riches in the passing game! On opening day,
the Broncos will be fielding one of the most prolific quarterbacks
of all time and three of the top 12 fantasy point accumulators at
the receiver position last year. Could a trio of teammates actually
end up holding down one-third of the Top 10 list by year’s end?
Decker: The most likely to get squeezed
Don’t bet on it. Thomas is probably the most likely to retain
his position as he possesses a couple of the qualities identified
above (uncommon size and speed) in spades. On the down side, he’s
only a year removed from hauling in just 45.7 percent of his targets
(2011) and isn’t the most natural pass-grabber. Decker, on
the other hand, is slightly smaller in stature, a step slower, and
is most likely to get squeezed by the slot-receiving genius, Welker.
Acting as the de facto possession guy in last year’s Bronco
offense, Decker garnered 122 targets and turned them into 85 receptions.
Now that he’s going to serve as the mid-range option, a more
modest 95-100 targets and 70 receptions sounds realistic. That’s
very good still, but probably not enough to warrant a Top 10 spot.
In sum, the addition of Welker dilutes the Denver receiving corps
just enough to make all three men slightly less valuable than they
were a year ago.
Johnson, HOU: If Denver has a “too much” problem at the
receiver position, Houston has a “too little” problem. This has
benefited Johnson and his owners greatly, of course, almost every
season since the University of Miami standout entered the league
back in 2003. In 2012, he caught a whopping 71 more passes than
his next most productive teammate (Kevin
Walter) and almost double the amount every other receiver (including
Walter) for the Texans caught combined. I’m too lazy to see if that
level of disparity led the league, but I’d be willing to bet a sixer
it did. Moreover, I’d bet a half-rack it’s about the fifth or sixth
time in Johnson’s career he’s outpaced his Texans teammates by a
league-leading margin. Long story short? He is the Houston passing
offense and has been for almost a decade.
Make that “was” if DeAndre Hopkins, the franchise's
first-round draft selection, lives up to his potential out of the
gate, as I think he might. Hopkins isn’t as big as Johnson
or as fast, but he’s no shrimp (6’1”, 214 lbs.)
and he’s certainly advanced in other ways. He’s got
great body control, for instance, and runs very crisp routes. He
also creates a lot of separation and has great hands. Considering
he’s unlikely to face anything but single coverage in his
rookie year, the Texans may have finally filled that enormous void
at the No. 2 receiver position.
That’s good for them, naturally, but trouble if you’re
counting on the reliable Johnson to continue posting Top 10 digits.
Houston has notched more rushing attempts in the past two seasons
than any other team, a fact that didn’t dent Johnson’s
production since he was the only legit option. Now that he may not
be, a slip in production seems almost a fait accompli.