With drafting season upon us, it’s time, in true cynical Shot
Caller fashion, to start throwing out caution flags. Repeatable
stellar performance seems to elude even the best and the brightest
the league has to offer and this year, if history holds, will be
no exception to that role. It will. It always does. Put another
way, the guys everyone’s talking about this August will be
the same guys we’ll be talking about next August in this column
as we autopsy what went wrong. Let’s just save a step and
future grief by talking about them now, shall we?
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard
This class of dropouts is more notable for the “who”
than the “how many” as four of the top five QBs from
2015 failed to scale their previous heights in 2016. Even excepting
Tom Brady’s predictable freefall ? the result of a hotly debated
suspension ? it’s shocking to see the sport’s most prolific
producers tumble so far so quickly. Perhaps even more shockingly,
the only one of those five to retain Top 10 status was none other
than Blake “Keep That Sh*t Inbounds” Bortles, the oft-criticized
scattershot/turnover machine who isn’t even guaranteed a future
in Jacksonville (or anywhere else).
I didn’t predict Newton’s struggles but, in hindsight,
they probably surprised me the least. Prior to his magical 2015
campaign, the Panthers’ franchise man had never thrown for
even 25 touchdowns, let alone 35. Now he’s coming off shoulder
surgery and a career-low 4.0 yards per rush average. When Cam doesn’t
run well, he’s a lot less interesting. The same could probably
be said of Russell Wilson, though he almost managed to overcome
career-worst rushing numbers (259 total and 3.6 per) to reclaim
his Top 10 status last season, thanks primarily to a career-best
4,219 passing yards.
There was nothing career-best about Carson Palmer’s 2016 campaign,
but it wasn’t as bad as most people think. 4,000+ yards and
26 TD strikes? We’d have been happy with that if only he hadn’t
notched almost 4,700 yards and 35 touchdowns the year prior. Eli Manning’s 2016 regression was eerily similar to Palmer’s
(also down to 26 scores after 35 in 2016), strange considering how
good his receivers were and how punchless New York’s running
game was. Speaking of running, neither Palmer nor Manning do that.
Like, ever. Just something to bear in mind as QBs get more and more
versatile every year.
Most Likely Candidates to Fall from
the Top 10 This Year:
Numerous changes on offense on and off
the field could lead Cousins to drop from the fantasy top
Cousins, WAS: Remember when Cousins’ contract status
and Washington’s racially insensitive mascot passed for moderately
topical and controversial subjects inside the Beltway? SMH. It’s
hard to say how much longer the Sparty product will ply his trade
in our nation’s capital, but he sure is being paid handsomely to
do so again this season, at least (just over $23 million). Of course,
he’s traded longer-term security for that upfront cash and many
still wonder if he’s truly worth locking down for years to come.
Consider me one of those wonderers, though I seem to be on increasingly
shaky statistical footing.
Simply put, Cousins has played really well the last year and change
and the numbers seem to support the Washington brass’ decision
to fully commit to him, should they finally end up doing that next
summer. Since Week 14 of the 2015 season, he’s averaged precisely
25 fantasy points per regular season game, placing him solidly in
the Top 5 at the position during that stretch. Top 5, not Top 10.
There are things about him that make me uneasy. For starters, he
scores an inordinate number of rushing touchdowns for a guy averaging
fewer than three yards per career tote. Would you believe Tyrod
Taylor has only scored once more with his legs the last two seasons
despite logging exactly a THOUSAND more rushing yards? Sustainability
alert! I’m also worried Washington subtracted two players
who accounted for 216 of Cousins’ 2016 targets and almost
half his passing yards (DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon).
Can a recovering Jordan Reed and the newly acquired Terrelle Pryor
fill that breach? Finally, Cousins also lost his offensive coordinator,
Sean McVay, the wunderkind who will attempt to reverse the Rams’
flagging fortunes. Lots of change in not much time. Be wary.
Rivers, LAC: I’m literally shaking my head as I’m typing
this. Rivers is, without a doubt, one of my favorite fantasy players.
Actually, he’s one of my favorite NFL players, period. He doesn’t
miss games. He wins more than he loses despite often dubious talent
around him. He plays with a zest for the game others lack. He does
all this, moreover, while supporting a wife and eight kids at home.
Though he’ll walk away as one of the game’s most consistent
producers of fantasy points (and children), it’s fair to suggest
the tailing-off period is beginning. For one, Rivers is possibly
the least mobile quarterback in the league, meaning he gives you
nothing in the way of rushing production. He also faces two of the
NFL’s most dangerous defensive ends, Von Miller and Khalil
Mack, twice each. Immobile QB + below-average offensive line + lethal
edge rushers = possible end to an 11-season stretch of consecutive
starts. I’m not saying it will happen, just that it could.
Even if he delivers another 16 starts, there are questions about
the guys Rivers will be playing catch with. “Talented but
untrustworthy” would be the charitable way of describing them.
Keenan Allen, when healthy, is a Top 10 target. Unfortunately, he’s
been as unreliable health-wise as Rivers has been reliable, having
played in 9 of a possible 32 games since the start of the 2015 season.
Not to be outdone, Mike Williams, a top 10 pick in April’s
draft, will miss at least the first month of his rookie season.
After those two, there’s raw talent (Tyrell Williams), raw
speed (Travis Benjamin), and a ready-made replacement for the venerable
Antonio Gates (Hunter Henry). In other words, Rivers has everything
he needs to prove me wrong. I hope he does.
Bortles, JAX: The question doesn’t seem to be if the
Jaguars will move on from Bortles any longer, but when. Tom Coughlin
now has complete control in Jacksonville and the former Giants’
head man is famously intolerant of mistakes, something Bortles seems
to specialize in. Coughlin’s old-fashioned approach may seem anachronistic
in today’s millennial-heavy NFL, but it’s hard to argue with what’s
on the dude’s resume: two Vince Lombardi trophies. He knows he’s
not adding another one by indulging the wild inaccuracy and killer
picks of a QB he didn’t draft.
And yet, this causes some measure of consternation in the fantasy
community because…Bortles is a straight-up erner in our world!
I doubt there’s a player since I’ve been playing fantasy
football, in fact, whose real football value is so drastically different
than his pretend football value. I’ve already told you he
was the only Top 5 QB to remain in the Top 10 rankings in 2016,
but think about what that really means. It means Blake Bortles,
despite being terrible and standing a pretty good chance of losing
his job before Week 1, has been a Top 10 fantasy quarterback two
There’s always an outside chance the lightbulb could come
on for the Jags’ embattled signal caller this season and he
could keep this job. I’m not convinced that would be enough
to prevent a Top 10 tumble, however, and here’s why: Tom Coughlin
is going to reinvent Jacksonville football and he’s going
to do with a promising young defense and a promising young feature
back, Leonard Fournette. It may not translate to more wins immediately,
but I’m guessing it will at least translate to tighter games
and way fewer pass attempts for Bortles or Henne. He topped 600
the past two seasons. Not happening.