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
I challenged you last year in this space to come up with seven obvious
relegation candidates amongst the stellar cast of 2015 Top 10 receivers.
Iím guessing that wasnít very easy (even with the freebie,
sudden NFL retiree Calvin Johnson), but here we sit a year later
and, sure enough, 6 of those 10 studs ended up tumbling down the
rankings. The task looks no less daunting this summer (Antonio!
Odell! Julio!), but Iíd wager a fairly sizable sum that no
fewer than 5 and probably closer to 6 or 7 of last yearís
Top 10 wideouts will end up on the outside looking in by the time
we chat again in August 2018.
Injuries are usually a consistent underlying factor for dropouts,
but this group stayed relatively healthy, with the exception of
A.J. Green. What ďhurtĒ them, so to speak, more than
anything, was downright agonizing quarterback play. Brandon Marshall
played catch with Fitzmagic most of the year, who had precious little
of that to offer, and then the very un-magical Bryce Petty. DeAndre Hopkins, meanwhile, got stuck with Brock Osweiler as his Texansí
battery mate, a terribly unfortunate, not to mention expensive,
free agent addition. (In fact, if anyone pulled off a magic trick
this past year, it was the Houston brass, who somehow wiggled out
of Osweilerís albatross-like contract.) Allen Robinson spent
all year misconnecting with, and probably privately fuming about,
Blake Bortles, the guy who canít seem to shoot straight in
Jacksonville. Finally, Larry Fitzgerald seemed to cede leading man
status in Arizona to David Johnson at the exact same time his quarterback
was suffering a moderate decline of his own.
Thereís no sure thing in this league, but even less so at
the receiver position, where the calculus involves more than just
health and talent.
Most Likely Candidates to Fall from
the Top 10 This Year:
T.Y. Hilton is coming off his best season
as a pro but has never scored more than 7 TDs in a season.
Hilton, IND: Iím more willing to bet against Andrew
Luck than most, having followed his career since way back when
he was a canít miss prospect down on the The Farm. Thereís no charitable
way to say this, so Iíll just be blunt: I think heís overrated.
His eye-popping physical gifts (great arm, great size, great legs),
donít always translate into eye-popping results on the field and
certainly not enough Ws. I think back to a game I watched him play
in person way back in 2010 against my Ducks. It was, like many in
the Chip Kelly era, a huge game and the Cardinal literally blitzed
the boys in whatever color they were wearing that day right out
of the gate, holding a 21-3 lead almost before weíd settled into
our seats. Three quarters, two Luck interceptions, and zero second
half Stanford points later, Oregon emerged victorious.
OK, so thatís a tiny sample size of his career, but it left
an impression. The stage didnít get much bigger in Luckís
college career than against Chipperís troops and he rarely
rose to the occasion. Not that day and not the other times he faced
them either. Why, itís fair to ask? More importantly, what
does that have to do with T.Y. Hilton?
Iím not being very coherent here, I realize (maybe itís
the altitude), but I guess Iím not convinced an overrated
Luck recovering from injury is going to be able to fashion T.Y.
into a Top 10 target two years in a row. Iím additionally
skeptical because Donte Moncrief is now healthy and will almost
certainly steal plenty of Luckís looks away from the speed
demon, Hilton. He may not drop that far, but Iím bearish on
the Coltsí WR1 heading into 2017. You should be too.
Adams, GB: Iím going against my Packer-loving loving
instincts here, for sure, but I think there are legitimate reasons
to be wary of a regression after Adamsí breakout 2016 season.
Like the previously discussed LeGarrette Blount, an inordinate
percentage of Adamsí fantasy production was attributable
to six-pointers (12 of them, to be exact), a statistic that, year
over year, is quite variable. Actually, make that extremely variable
when Aaron Rodgers is the one dishing out red-zone looks. The
best at the position (Rodgers, Brady, Brees, etc.) are almost
what you could call ďtarget-agnostic,Ē meaning theyíll
throw it to whomever they feel gives them the best chance of scoring
on any given play. Talent, experience, past resultsÖnone
of these things matter to the great ones. All that matters are
getting open and hauling in the pigskin.
That last part had proven difficult for Adams prior to last season
and most QBs, especially the future HOFíer types, have elephantine
memories when it comes to dodgy hands. Will the Fresno State product
continue to be trusted if he reverts to 2015 form and starts routinely
ham-handing A-Rodge lasers again? The only receiver No.12 always
seems to trust is Jordy Nelson, the No.1 overall wide receiver
in 2016, but Nelson has earned that trust by reliably delivering
results for many seasons. Adams hasnít done that yet.
One other reason to be concerned about Adams is that the Packers
wonít be as anemic on the ground this year and, accordingly,
wonít be as explosive via the airwaves. Ted Thompson grabbed
three running backs in Aprilís draft and only needs one
to pan out (psstÖJamaal Williams) for the Pack to have a
more robust and reliable rushing attack. I think that happens,
the offense is a lot more balanced, and Davanteís overall
production ticks downward.
Cooks, NE: Iím sitting in the terminal at Austin-Bergstrom
International Airport as I polish off this first column of the
season and the only thing standing between me and a pre-draft
weekend brewski at Earl Campbellís Sports Bar is a quick bit about
Mr. Cooks. Canít think of too many better ways to inspire a strong
finish, can you? Iím thirsty so letís do it.
Long-time readers know Iíve been bullish on Cooks since
he entered the league in 2014, mostly because I spent many Saturdays
watching him devastate Pac-12 defenses just down the Willamette
Valley a stretch. If only the Saints had been as into him as I
was, huh? Itís hard to tell what spoiled a potentially beautiful
friendship in the Big Easy, but something sure did. Maybe he never
got over that inexplicable zero-target outing in the Week 11 pantsing
of the Rams? Maybe the Saintsí shot callers figured a too-short
QB and a too-short WR would never orchestrate enough beautiful
music in a city famous for it? Or maybe the addition of Michael Thomas simply made the former Beaver expendable? It could have
been a straight-up ďbidnissĒ decision, in other words.
It doesnít really matter because Cooks has moved on to Foxboro,
where Patriots fans have to be giddy at the thought of him joining
an already explosive offense. Therein lies the rub, however: New
England didnít necessarily need Cooks. They just wanted
him and had the wherewithal to make it so. The rich often get
richer in this league and nobodyís richer/savvier with talent
than Bob Kraftís franchise. I love what Cooks can do in
this offense and could eat my words, butÖI just donít
see him earning enough opportunities with so many other options
available to stay a Top 10 performer in 2017.