Fantasy Football: Career Year, Beware – 2013 Edition

Jeremy Alpert@@pyroman1acSenior Analyst IIApril 23, 2013

This piece is one of my favorites of the year to write because it focuses on one of the biggest mistakes fantasy football owners make every single year; over-drafting a player coming off a statistical career year.

In my last article on this subject, I spent a lot of time combing through players throughout history that turned in one of the best years of their career and what happened to them the following season. In nearly every single instance, each player was unable to continue their dominance the following season at the level they performed the year before.

In this study, not only will I look at the players who came off career years in 2011 to see/show how they performed in 2012, but I will also investigate the players that broke out in 2012 that you might want to be wary about drafting too early in 2013.


2011 Breakout Players

Matthew Stafford

First, let’s take a look at Matthew Stafford, who totally blew up in 2011 throwing for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns.

Because of his breakout, many owners drafted Stafford in either the first or second round last season, who were then completely crushed by his failure to repeat those gaudy numbers from the year before. Even though the best wide receiver in the game, Calvin Johnson, rewrote the record books for receiving yards last season, it still could not help Stafford.

He did have an impressive year by normal standards, however, throwing the ball for 4,967 yards; unfortunately, he only threw for 20 touchdowns on the season, which was a drop-off of 21 touchdowns from the year before. I don't think I have to explain how many fantasy points were missed out on by owners losing those 21 extra touchdowns on the season.

Needless to say, there should be plenty of Matthew Stafford owners from 2012 who will end up staying away this year, so “Second-Half Staff” should hold much better value in 2013 with the likelihood he falls past the second round in most drafts.


Tom Brady

Another quarterback who had a great season in 2011 was Tom Brady, who threw for a whopping 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns on the year.

Brady did not experience the same sharp drop-off that Matthew Stafford did, but there was a recognizable drop in his stats from 2011 to 2012, as he threw for 408 less yards and five fewer touchdowns than he did in 2011.

The Stetson Man is still one of the best real-life and fantasy quarterbacks in the game, but for those who jumped to draft him in the first half of the first round last season, they did not get the expected production necessary to make a championship run.

Even though he is one of the greatest quarterbacks of this generation, Brady is far from being immune to the dreaded drop-off year after a season of putting up career numbers.


Drew Brees

Speaking of quarterbacks and career years, you simply cannot have a conversation like this without mentioning Drew Brees and the season he had in 2011.

The Saints undersized QB threw for an astounding 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns on the season, with the yardage number blowing away the previous record by almost 400 yards (was held by Dan Marino at the time).

Before last season began, I went on record stating that there would not be another 5,000-yard passer in 2012 after three QBs went over the mark in 2011, but Cool Brees proved me wrong by throwing for 5,177 yards this past year.

Still, while those 2012 numbers represent yet another amazing season for Brees, he did throw for 299 less yards and three less touchdowns while tossing up five more interceptions in the process. In real like, these numbers could be considered minor declines in production, but the difference in fantasy points is bigger than you think and while overall it was a great year for Brees, it did not compare to his outstanding 2011 campaign.


Eli Manning

Another quarterback who experienced an immense drop-off in 2012 after having a fantastic 2011 season was Eli Manning.

Eli threw for 4,933 yards while hurling 29 touchdowns in 2011 and in the process, became just the third quarterback in NFL history to put up three or more 400-yard games in a single season (Dan Marino, twice and Tony Romo).

There was very good reason to believe his ascension would carry over into 2012, but as this article is proving, "reason" rarely stands up to the scrutiny of the career year.

Manning would end up falling way short in his efforts to follow up a stellar 2011 season, as he threw for 985 less yards and three fewer touchdowns in 2012 en route to his worst statistical season since 2008.

The poor performance, however, should impel Manning to slip in drafts this fall, which will surely be a benefit to those who draft him at a value this year.


Michael Turner

At the running back position, Michael Turner was one of the players I had tabbed as a bust candidate going into last year. He had just come off of a 1,340-yard, 11-touchdown season in 2011 and in my opinion, his ceiling had undoubtedly been met.

To my surprise, Turner came up with some nice scoring production in 2012 with 11 more total touchdowns, but fell short in his effectiveness as a runner putting up just 800 rushing yards on 3.6 yards per carry (4.5 YPC in 2011).

Obviously, the major drop-off fantasy owners saw in 2012 as compared to 2011 was in his 580 fewer yards from scrimmage.

The downward slide following his career year made the Atlanta Falcons’ decision to move on from Turner much easier this past offseason, as it had become transparent that their former workhorse had nothing left in the tank.


Maurice Jones-Drew

My second major bust candidate at running back going into last season was Maurice Jones-Drew, who had just coming off of his best season as a professional.

MJD rushed for a career-best 1,606 yards and was just 20 yards shy of 2,000 total yards from scrimmage in 2011, but it came on a hefty 386 touches. Whenever you see a running back have that many touches in a season, it raises a red flag that he could be an injury risk heading into the next year and was the main reason why I expected a major drop-off for him heading into 2012.

As predicted, MJD was only able to make it through six games last season before suffering a Lisfranc injury that would end his 2012 campaign prematurely. While some may look at the injury and think it was the reason why he did not perform up to his 2011 level, it is still important to realize that he only had one 100-yard rushing game in the six games he played in before suffering the injury.

His average draft position last season was 13th overall—eighth among running backs—which really put the hurt on fantasy owners who drafted him that high. That being said, Jones-Drew has a great chance to bounce back this coming season and coupled with an expected fall in most drafts to the RB2 level, he should end up a great value pick this year. 


Ray Rice

Another one of the top-flight running backs from 2011 that failed to live up to their expectations in 2012 was Ray Rice.

Rice was coming off his best season as a professional in 2011, putting up more than 2,000 total yards from scrimmage and an astounding 15 total touchdowns. Because of this immense production, Rice's average draft position last year was third overall and second among running backs.

When a running back is drafted that high, the expectation is that he will be the bell-cow point producer for your team. Unfortunately, Ray Rice failed to live up to the expectancy.

Rice put up 447 less yards from scrimmage in 2012 than he did in 2011, which was only compounded by his scoring five less touchdowns as well. In addition, Rice came down with a fumbling issue at the end of last season which caused him to lose playing time to Bernard Pierce.

If the trend continues into this next season, which I suspect it will, then selecting Ray Rice with a higher pick in upcoming drafts will certainly be a risky proposition. 


LeSean McCoy

The last running back coming off a career-year type of season in 2011 was LeSean McCoy, who absolutely exploded with 1,624 yards from scrimmage and a machine-like 20 touchdowns scored.

Touchdown production at that level always raises a red flag to me heading into the next season, but McCoy especially stood out in that regard as he had never had more than nine total touchdowns in a season beforehand.

It seems the red flag rang true for McCoy, who really had a poor 2012 campaign with 411 less yards from scrimmage and more importantly, saw his touchdown production drop by 15 scores from 20 all the way down to five.

Similar to Ray Rice, McCoy was the third running back off the board in fantasy drafts and fourth overall in average draft position last season.

However, playing in Chip Kelly's offense this upcoming season, McCoy will have a real good chance to bounce back strong, yet should fall in drafts due to his poor 2012 campaign. 


Victor Cruz

At the wide receiver position in 2011, we saw Victor Cruz explode onto the scene with 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. His 18.7 yards per reception was also very impressive, as it certainly helped out owners who play in long-touchdown leagues.

Cruz was mostly an undrafted across fantasy leagues in 2011, which pretty much made him the waiver wire pickup of the year. As a result of his insane production, Cruz ended up with an average draft position of 31st overall and eighth amongst wide receivers in 2012.

Unfortunately, Cruz was not able to improve on his 2011 season, as he put up 444 less yards on four more catches than he had in 2011. The six-yard drop in his yards per catch was obviously alarming, but he did score one more touchdown in 2012 than in 2011.

The young Giants receiver is an immense talent, so after failing to live up to his WR1 status last season, he could be in line for a nice return season due to a more favorable average draft position heading into 2013. 


Jordy Nelson 

Jordy Nelson was the other major breakout player at the wide receiver position in 2011, as he put up career highs with 68 receptions, 1,263 yards and an impressive 15 touchdowns scored.

With the benefit of a Pro Bowl quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, there were many who believed he would be even more impressive in 2012 than he was the year before. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

As I mentioned before, when I see a high touchdown count from a player that had never done it before (his previous high was two TDs), the guy gets a big red flag in my book.

The other red flag for Nelson was that his yards per catch jumped by more than four yards in 2011 over his previous career average.

He definitely came back down to earth in 2012 with 518 less yards from scrimmage on 19 less receptions while scoring eight less touchdowns than in 2011. I will grant you that Nelson was dealing with injuries throughout the year, but besides a two-week stretch in Weeks 6-7, he was thoroughly unimpressive all season.

Nelson turned out to be a glaring example of a player that has a breakout season one year, then gets over-drafted the following season and under-produces, which was shown by his being the 12th wide receiver off the boards in 2012 and 35th overall.


Jimmy Graham

The tight end position was perhaps the most dynamic in 2011, with two players that stood head and shoulders above the rest. Jimmy Graham was one of them.

Graham used the advantage of having Drew Brees as his quarterback well, as he caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. Basically, Graham gave fantasy owners the production of a top-tier wide receiver out of the tight end position, which was a bounty for any team that owned him in 2011.

With such amazing production at the tight end position, it was no surprise when he went early in 2012 fantasy drafts, as he ended up with an average draft position of 14th overall while being the first tight end off the boards.

As could be expected, Graham was unable to live up to his high draft status as he accumulated 328 fewer yards on 14 less receptions with two less touchdowns in 2012 as compared to 2011. Obviously, this was not the type of production owners were looking for out of a high second-round draft pick.

Graham will still go pretty early in drafts again this season, but it will be interesting to see if he has the same average draft position as he did last year. 


Rob Gronkowski

The other breakout player at the tight end position in 2011 was Rob Gronkowski.

Gronkowski was right there with Graham throughout the season, finishing with 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and a shocking 17 touchdowns scored. Right off the bat, you had to know Gronk was going to have trouble repeating his 2011 performance, especially with that insane touchdown production he had.

That being said, the big guy was still able to find the end zone in 2012, though he did score six less touchdowns than he did in 2011.

Despite his season being ended prematurely due to injuries, Gronk was still not as impressive in 2012 as he had been in 2011, as he finished the season with 537 fewer yards on 45 less receptions than he had the previous year.

Like Graham, Gronkowski had a high average draft position of 15th overall due to his 2011 numbers and was the second tight end taken off the boards behind Graham. However, injuries killed his owners, as Gronk was a no-show for the most important time of the season; the fantasy playoffs.

The punky Patriots tight end has recently dealt with complications in his recovery from his broken forearm and may need to have a fourth surgery—a procedure which could keep him out of the preseason and potentially the beginning of the regular season as well in 2013.

This injury could cause him to fall in drafts this year and make him a value pick, albeit a risky one.


So there's a look at what happened last season with the players that broke out in 2011, but now it's time to focus on the players that broke out in 2012. All of these players I am about to mention have my red flag raised heading into 2013, as each of them will undoubtedly be drafted much higher than they were in 2012.


2012 Breakout Players

Adrian Peterson

The first player that has me concerned will probably be a surprise to most of you; Adrian Peterson.

Coming off of a major knee injury, Peterson absolutely blew up last season accumulating 2,314 yards from scrimmage, 13 total touchdowns and 40 receptions. Obviously, Purple Jesus proved to be an absolute freak of nature with what he accomplished in the 2012 season.

Peterson likely helped his owners in making a major playoff run, if not a championship run last season, especially considering that his average draft position was 18th while falling to ninth amongst running backs.

It will be shocking if AP doesn't regain his top status at the running back position, as he will in all likelihood be the first player taken in most drafts this season. And it's not that he isn't worthy of being the first overall pick in 2013 drafts, but rather that the career year he had in 2012 will be a mighty tough one to repeat.

If I am lucky enough to get the first overall draft pick in my leagues this year, I'll be looking to trade the pick and get a bounty in return from that one owner in nearly every single league who will do anything to get Adrian Peterson.


Marshawn Lynch

The next player I'm concerned about heading into this season is Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch had a top-notch 2012 campaign with 1,786 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns scored. He was also extremely productive during the fantasy playoffs last season as he amassed 352 rushing yards and five touchdowns during Weeks 14-16.

However, Seattle has a budding star in quarterback Russell Wilson, whose development I believe may hinder Lynch's performance in 2013.

Last season, the Seahawks relied heavily on Beast Mode to carry the load and take the pressure off of their rookie quarterback. I'm not so sure that happens again. The addition of Percy Harvin this offseason should also have an effect on the total touches Lynch will have in 2013.

He ended up as the 10th running back drafted in 2012 and had an average draft position of 19th overall, which should be higher this season. The guy may be a beast, but I have a hard time seeing him improving on the numbers he put up last year.


Doug Martin

What can you say about the season rookie Doug Martin had last year, except that it was flat-out amazing.

Martin began the season in a platoon role for the Buccaneers before edging Legarrette Blount as the team's No. 1, but still amassed 1,926 yards from scrimmage with 49 receptions and 12 touchdowns.

The youngster showed just how dynamic he could be in a Week 9 game against the Oakland Raiders, when he amassed a sinful 272 yards from scrimmage while scoring four touchdowns for his fantasy owners.

The Muscle Hamster definitely has the potential to be one of the best running backs this coming season, but I still have some concerns.

Martin won't be sneaking up on anybody this year, and it's very likely that defenses will be preparing to stop him first when they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The kid was such a value last year, as his average draft position was 40th overall and 17th among running backs, but I can say without a doubt in my mind that Martin will be a first round pick in just about every draft this season.

Draft picks that high come with expectations of improvement on the previous season and while I love the talent that Martin has (I do have him ranked highly this season), I still have doubts he will be able to improve on his 2012 stats... especially coming off of a season where he had 368 total touches.


Alfred Morris

There was another, more surprising rookie running back that  jumped onto the scene last year, especially considering he was coming out of Mike Shanahan's crowded backfield; Alfred Morris.

Morris had to vault over two teammates, Roy Helu and Evan Royster, in order to become the main man in Washington...and vault over them he did as he finished his 2012 rookie campaign with 1,690 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns scored.

Morris was the definition of a draft steal, with an average draft position of 184th last season while coming in at 60th amongst running backs. This season he should find himself going within the first 20 picks of most drafts and as I mentioned before, higher draft picks come with higher expectations.

Like Doug Martin, Morris won't sneak up on anybody this season and the fact that he had 346 touches last year will put a strain on his durability.

With Morris and Martin both being rookies last year, there is still the chance they could outperform their initial campaigns. Both of them have yet to hit their ceiling of potential, but they've also set the bar very high for themselves heading into 2013.


Brandon Marshall

Then there is the case of Brandon Marshall, who clearly showed an extreme happiness to be reunited with Jay Cutler in 2012.

Cutler looked to Marshall in just about every instance possible, and Marshall did not disappoint finishing the season with 118 receptions for 1,508 yards and a career-best 11 touchdowns.

The Beast had an average draft position of 32nd overall last year while landing at ninth amongst wide receivers, which proved to be a draft day bargain for his owners.

My guess is he will most likely be amongst the first four receivers off the board this year and while I still think that Brandon Marshall is an amazing talent, the fact is, Chicago has added more weapons to their offense and Marshall might not have as big of a role as last season.

The Bears beefed up their offensive line with the addition of Jermon Bushrod, as well as the addition of Martellus Bennett at tight end, and it looks like the new coaching staff will be looking to get Matt Forte more involved in the offense this season.

Another red flag for me is my expectation that Bennett will vulture at least three to four of Marshall's 11 touchdowns from last season, so when added to the expected improvement of second year wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, it's very likely Marshall will see a stat decrease in 2013.


Calvin Johnson

Now I know this looks crazy, but please, hear me out here.

Calvin Johnson had one of the greatest receiving seasons ever in 2012 with 1,964 yards on 122 receptions. The only thing Megatron was unable to do last season was find the end zone with much consistency, as he finished the year with just five touchdowns.

Now the fact that Johnson had only five touchdowns leads me to believe he could end up scoring close to the amount of fantasy points that he did in 2012. However, I have a hard time seeing Johnson end up with the same amount of yardage in 2013 as he did in 2012, but I can somewhat see his touchdown total going back up into the 12 to 15 range this year.

With all that said, Johnson is still going to be a first-round draft pick this year, but in order for him to truly pay off for his owners, he is going to need to take his game to another level, which may not be possible.

Calvin will still likely finish as the No. 1 wide receiver at the end of the season, but I have to caution that he may not put up the same stats as far as yardage and receptions that he did in 2012.


Vincent Jackson

One of the biggest surprises last season was the play of Vincent Jackson after signing a big contract to move from the San Diego Chargers to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Most of us who were predicting what that move would mean figured that Jackson would see a decrease in his production from years past. This allowed Jackson to drop to 64th overall in average draft position while coming in at 24th amongst wide receivers.

However, V-Jax proved to be an elite wide receiver as the stats he put up in 2012 showed that he probably did more for Philip Rivers than Philip Rivers did for him in San Diego.

Jackson quickly established a good rapport with quarterback Josh Freeman and finished 2012 with a career-best 72 receptions for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns scored. That being said, the fact that he had such a breakout performance will also mean that his draft position will be much higher this year.

The problem I have with Vincent at this point is that I believe 2012 was probably his ceiling with a mediocre Josh Freeman as his quarterback.

Jackson will probably go off the board as a top-10 wide receiver in most drafts, but will likely have a hard time living up to those expectations.


Eric Decker

When Peyton Manning moved to the Denver Broncos, he immediately improved the stock of all the wide receivers on that team. The receiver that took the most advantage of this based on his average draft position last season was Eric Decker.

Decker wasn't taken until the 66th overall pick in drafts and 26th amongst wide receivers, but put up numbers that far outperformed his draft slot as he finished 2012 with 85 receptions for 1,064 yards and an impressive 13 touchdowns scored.

Once again, the high touchdown total is the glaring red flag when I start to look at Eric Decker.

On top of that, the addition of Wes Welker to the Broncos offense will undoubtedly eat into Decker's opportunities in 2013. However, I do feel that with the addition of Wes Welker, Decker will have the potential to fall in drafts the season.

If Decker falls to the same average draft position that he had last season, then he'll definitely be a good pick.

On the other hand, there will be plenty of owners out there who haven't paid attention to all the transactions this past offseason and will end up drafting Decker based on his 2012 numbers.

Don't be that owner.


Reggie Wayne

A player who experienced a renaissance last season was Reggie Wayne.

Wayne must have known something when he decided to stay in Indianapolis after a horrible 2011 season, because he immediately became the main target of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and returned himself to the stats that he was putting up with Peyton Manning.

With Old Man Reggie finishing the 2012 season with 106 receptions for 1,355 yards and five touchdowns, there will be many owners looking to grab him in their drafts expecting the same type of numbers this year.

One reason why I am not as high on Wayne this season is due to the fact that the team was filled with rookie players last year who all made huge strides toward the end of last season. The improvement of T.Y. Hilton, Vick Ballard, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen will definitely play a role in Wayne not seeing as many targets this season as he did in 2012.

Another reason is that Wayne held an average draft position of 80th last season, 30th amongst wide receivers, which was actually more of a true value for him. This year, however, I'm guessing that Wayne will closely approach the top 10 to 15 wide receivers on most people's draft boards, which I just don't feel he will provide the same bang for your buck if he's drafted that early.


James Jones

The final wide receiver that broke out in 2012 was James Jones of the Green Bay Packers, though he didn't really blow anybody away with his meager 784 yards and 64 receptions on the season.

Jones made his bones scoring 14 touchdowns last year and in many ways, I look at him in the same way that I looked at Jordy Nelson from 2011 to 2012 when he had 15 touchdowns.

In terms of fantasy, I can definitely see the guy having an increase in his number of receptions and yardage with the departure of Greg Jennings, but I have a hard time seeing him repeat his touchdown total of 14 this year.

As we all know, the most important factor to scoring a ton of fantasy points is touchdown production, but as I have shown, it is very difficult for wide receivers to be consistent year-over-year putting up close to a touchdown per game average.

Jones will most definitely be drafted higher than he was last season, where he had an average draft position of 212th and 76th amongst wide receivers. I can easily see him being drafted as a late WR2 or WR3, but I feel that that may be the ceiling of his potential as a fantasy player.

The fact that he has Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback could end up proving me wrong, but knowing what I know in doing the research for this article, I'm not going to be the guy taking that chance.


So that brings us to the conclusion of players I have on my 'career year, beware' watch list for 2013.


In order to be successful in fantasy football, it's more important to be proactive in working to find the guys who are going to break out, as opposed to being reactive and simply taking the guys who had their best season the year before.

What this article should do for you is prove that there are always values that can be found deeper in the draft and that those picks are the ones that will make the difference between a poor and a championship season.

I am not saying that the players mentioned in this article are not good, but rather that they will be drafted higher than the production they will yield this season, in my opinion.

In the end, when it comes time to draft your team, please try to remember that 'career year means beware'.


Click here for my Pre-NFL Draft Top 40 Quarterbacks

Click here for my Pre-NFL Draft Top 70 Running Backs

Click here for my Pre-NFL Draft Top 100 Wide Receivers


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