It’s a “what have you done for me lately?” kind
of league and we’re the legion of optimistic amnesiacs who
eat, drink, and sleep it. One would think we’d be better at
forgetting the immediate past and focusing instead on what lies
ahead. As I document every summer, though, many of the guys we were
raving about last December are the same guys we’re buzzing
about now are the same guys we’ll ultimately bemoan come this
December. Did I say many? I meant most. In the seven years I’ve
been writing this article, 57% of Top 10 performers have failed
to retain Top 10 status the following season. Let’s take a
look at who disappointed last year, why, and who we should maybe
be wary of in 2018.
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s standard league
Who Missed the Cut in 2016 (6/10): Aaron
Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Blake Bortles, &
Think it’s rare for the top-rated fantasy quarterback to fall
all the way out of the Top 10 the very next season? It isn’t.
Aaron Rodgers is one of NINE #1 QBs to take that steep rankings
plunge since the turn of the century—not to mention the fourth
who’s either enshrined in Canton (Kurt Warner) or soon will
be (Brady and Manning). That’s half. If the #1 QB has only
a 50-50 shot to be a QB #1 the following year, what hope do we have
come draft day?
The Head Cheese played only seven games in 2017 thanks to a broken
collarbone, the fewest he’s appeared in since 2007 when he
was still holding a clipboard for Brett Favre. Ironically, and unfortunately,
the guy holding Rodgers’ clipboard was also named Brett (Hundley).
Newsflash: It didn’t go well. Speaking of clipboards, that’s
the only thing Andrew Luck held last season. The Colts’ franchise
man didn’t take a single snap under center as he convalesced
from offseason shoulder surgery.
Drew Brees, Blake Bortles, and Matt Ryan can’t blame injuries
for their respective ratings dips as all three started every 2017
game. Brees and Bortles seem to have been the victims of seismic
schematic shifts as both attempted 120+ fewer passes than they had
in 2016. Ryan, on the other hand, seems only to have been the victim
of a wicked Super Bowl hangover (849 fewer yards and 18 fewer TD
passes on a similar number of attempts). Jameis Winston, who missed
three games and large portions of two others, definitely could point
to health as the reason he didn’t repeat as a Top 10 performer.
He won’t be able to use that excuse next year, however, as
his recent #MeToo moment means he’ll miss at least three more
and likely any opportunity of making a triumphant Top 10 return.
Most Likely Candidates to Fall from
the Top 10 This Year:
Washington to Minnesota: Cousins' shift
to a more well-rounded team may reduce his fantasy output.
Cousins, WAS: Kirk Cousins, MIN: Patience paid off for
the former Washington field general this spring when Minnesota rescued
him from franchise tag limbo and made him the highest paid player
in NFL history ($84 million over three years). Cousins held that
title only until Matt Ryan broke Atlanta’s bank two months
later, but he’s guaranteed every last bit of that 84 large,
joins a legit Super Bowl contender, and has arguably the league’s
most productive WR tandem, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, to play
catch with. Simply put, it’s good to be Kirk Cousins right
now. That doesn’t mean we can expect continued Top 10 fantasy
In his three seasons as Washington’s full-time starter, Cousins
averaged 563 passing attempts per season and 22.8 fantasy points/game,
heady numbers for a guy drafted BEHIND supposed franchise QB Robert Griffin III in 2012. Moreover, he did this with unreliable and ever-changing
battery mates (three different leading receivers), a below-average
running game, and a way-below-average defense. In many ways, Cousins
was the ONLY stable thing about a Washington squad that regularly
hovered around the .500 mark. He was great because he pretty much
had to be.
The Vikings, in stark contrast, are the very portrait of stable
right now. Built for Super Bowl success around a conservative-ish
offense (521 passing attempts per season over that same stretch),
a dynamic sophomore RB (Dalvin Cook), and the league’s stingiest
defense, Coach Zimmer doesn’t need his new quarterback to
be great. He needs him to take care of the ball, score a few points,
and let the next gen Purple People Eaters handle the rest. I pegged
Cousins for a Top 10 dropout one year early, it seems. Unless he
continues scoring rushing TDs at an unsustainable rate, he’s
a prime candidate for regression in 2018.
Smith, WAS: Mr. Smith goes to Washington to fill those
cleats Cousins left behind and how he’ll fare on his third NFL tour
stop is pretty much anybody’s guess. The former Niner/Chief is coming
off by far his best statistical season (4,042 yards, 26 TD passes,
and his first Top 10 fantasy performance), but Kansas City didn’t
spend precious draft capital on Patrick
Mahomes so they could park him behind a career journeyman for
“Career journeyman” sounds disparaging, I realize, and especially
when used to describe a former #1 overall draft pick. It’s actually
kind of a compliment, though. Smith has been toiling away under
center for 13 years now, most of them as a starter. It’s compliment
enough, I’d say, that three different franchises have thought highly
enough of him to hand the keys over and say “win us some games.”
Winning, by the way, is something the former Ute does pretty well
(88-62-1 career record), though typically in a way that doesn’t
excite fantasy GMs. He’s all about quick, safe throws, low risk
decision-making, and good legs, traits Andy Reid crafted an entire
offense around. Jay Gruden is certainly capable of doing the same
thing in Washington to best leverage Smith’s talents, but…well,
remember what I said about Cousins’ unreliable cast mates?
Outside of Jordan Reed, who struggles to stay on the field, and
maybe Jamison Crowder or Chris Thompson, Washington will be painfully
unproven at the meat and potatoes skill positions (rookie RB Derrius Guice and wideouts Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson). ESPN recently
ranked all teams 1-32 based on skill position talent alone and Washington
came in at 18th. I think they were being charitable. Regardless,
the team Smith left behind in KC was ranked 1st. Consider 2017 a
likely one-hit wonder.
Prescott, DAL: By most statistical measures, Prescott
suffered a sophomore slump in 2017 after his outta-nowhere 2016
rookie season. His completion rate dropped five percentage points,
his passing yardage dipped several hundred yards, and his interceptions
climbed sharply from 4 to 13. Most importantly for Cowboys fans,
this seeming statistical decline had major ramifications in the
W-L column as Dallas won four games fewer than it had the year prior,
costing itself a playoff berth in the process.
I say “seeming” because, from a fantasy perspective,
Prescott was barely discernable from the rookie sensation he starred
as in 2016 (merely 13.6 fewer fantasy points). So, chalk it up to
constant distractions (Zeke Elliott’s on again-off again suspension,
Dez Bryant’s pouting) and move on, shall we? Well, the ‘Boys
won’t be moving on with #88 at all this season, actually.
Bryant was summarily released in mid-April. Just three weeks later,
Prescott’s other security blanket, Jason Witten, traded his
#82 jersey in for a MNF microphone, calling it quits after 15 years.
Before Memorial Day, in other words, 45% of Prescott’s 2017
targets and 50% of his TD receptions had walked right out of AT&T
There’s no question a fully committed and fully eligible Elliott
will take lots of heat off Dallas’ developing triggerman.
It’s even possible not feeling pressured to get Dez the ball
all the time will make Prescott a more well-rounded player. Nevertheless,
that’s a lot of firepower the Cowboys will need to replace
and, to date, it doesn’t really look like they’ve done
that. If I’m Jason Garrett and Co., I’m scaling back
the game plan in 2018, getting Dak back in his comfort zone, and
giving the ball to Zeke early and often. Expect a better overall
performance but slightly worse fantasy numbers this season.