Stock Down for 2018 (Fantasy Football)
There’s never a shortage of players to pick from for an article like this. However, I aimed to highlight the players who fell from the highest perch. A pair of players who are notably absent below are Jordy Nelson and Jordan Reed.
Nelson’s play took a clear nosedive when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, and he played quite well before that. Reed played in just six games, and injuries are always an issue for him, so there just isn’t much to analyze in regards to his stock being down. Having gotten the housekeeping out of the way, let’s move on to the players whose stock is down relative to where it was entering the 2017 season.
Matt Ryan (ATL)
Fresh off of an MVP campaign in 2016, a slight step back for Matty Ice with a new offensive coordinator wouldn’t have been a shocker. Ryan completely faceplanted from a fantasy standpoint, though. The offense as a whole cratered after a 2016 season in which they comfortably led the league in scoring offense at 33.8 points per game, according to Pro-Football-Reference.
Kyle Shanahan took the reigns in San Francisco, and Steve Sarkisian couldn’t keep Atlanta’s offensive machine running on all cylinders. The Falcons slipped to tied for 14th in scoring offense at just 22.1 points per game, a massive 11.7 point slippage from 2016.
Ryan’s numbers this season not only paled in comparison to his MVP 2016 season, they fell short of his career marks, too. The 32-year-old signal caller’s 20 touchdown passes were his lowest total since his 2008 rookie season, and his 255.9 passing yards per game were his lowest total since averaging 231.6 passing yards per game in 2010.
Perhaps another year becoming familiar with Sarkisian’s offense will result in a bounce-back 2018 season, but Ryan isn’t a top-10 quarterback entering next year. Furthermore, 2016 is the outlier in Ryan’s career, and a bounce-back season is more likely to resemble his work from 2012-2014 than his jaw-dropping 2016 season.
Lamar Miller (HOU)
Houston’s offense was electric when Deshaun Watson was healthy, and it’s one that fantasy gamers will invest in next year. Miller bested 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the second time in two years with the Texans, but the volume-driven RB2 is unlikely to match his 17.2 touches per game from this season. Rookie D’Onta Foreman appeared poised to turn Houston’s backfield into a committee situation before he ruptured his Achilles in his best game of the year in Week 10 (10-65-2 on the ground and 3-15-0 receiving).
Foreman’s injury granted Miller some leash on lead-back duties, but it didn’t last. Veteran plodder Alfred Blue matched Miller’s offensive snap count in Week 15, and Blue out snapped Miller 69 to 37 over the last two weeks of the season. Even if Foreman is unable to recapture his pre-injury explosion, Miller appears destined for a change-of-pace/committee gig at best.
DeMarco Murray (TEN)
Mike Mularkey’s head-scratching decision to use Murray as the club’s primary back for most of the year while Derrick Henry significantly outplayed him has been scrutinized all season. A torn MCL suffered by in Murray Week 16 saved Mularkey from himself, and it brightened the spotlight on how incompetent his decision to limit Henry’s touches most of the year was.
The second-year back amassed just 51 yards on 28 carries in Week 17 against the Jaguars, but he also scored a 66-yard touchdown on a reception. In the Wild Card Round, the Alabama product pummeled the Chiefs for 156 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, and he added 35 yards on two receptions. The Patriots did a good job of limiting him to just 28 yards rushing on 12 attempts in the Divisional Round, but he added three more grabs for 21 yards receiving.
For the second time in the last three years, Murray fell short of 4.0 yards per carry (he averaged 3.6 yards per carry this year). Also, while he was considered the better receiving back, his 6.8 yards per reception were well short of Henry’s 12.4 yards per reception in the regular season. Yes, Henry caught only 11 passes this season compared to Murray’s 39 grabs, but there’s no excuse for Mularkey’s mismanagement of the backfield.
Murray looked washed when he was on the field, and his season was ended prematurely due to a knee injury. After entering 2017 as an RB2, Murray exits the season as a handcuff — at best — in 2018.
Dez Bryant (DAL)
The days of Bryant as a stud are done. He hasn’t surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in a season since prior to his foot-injury-shortened 2015 season. Since 2015, his catch percentage has cratered to exactly 50%. In that three-year stretch, he’s averaged 3.95 receptions and 53.55 receiving yards per game.
Bryant’s 17 receiving touchdowns since 2015 ranks respectably at tied for 18th among receivers, but his per-game pace of one touchdown per 2.24 games played in that time frame is a far cry from his pre-2015 pace of a touchdown grab per 1.34 games played. Michael Salfino took a deep statistical dive for FiveThirtyEight.com back in late November that’s worth a read, and it paints the same bleak picture that I’ve briefly laid out. He’s no longer a WR1, and he’s in the WR3 mix with significant downside if his volume slides.
Amari Cooper (OAK)
Cooper set a new single-season high with seven touchdown receptions this year, but that’s where the positives end. He set new lows in receptions per game (3.4), receiving yards per game (48.6), and catch percentage (50.0%). The overall stats don’t tell the whole story of Cooper’s dreadful 2017.
He exploded for 11-210-2 on 19 targets in Week 7. That game’s production represented 19.7% of his targets, 22.9% of his receptions, 30.9% of his receiving yards, and 28.6% of his touchdown total this year. He bested 100 yards receiving just one other time in 2017, his final game played in Week 17 in which he hauled in three receptions for 115 yards and a score.
Cooper did catch a touchdown in four of his last five games. He did best 65 yards with a score in each of his last two games. Those are positives, obviously. The team has also overhauled its coaching staff coaxing Jon Gruden out of retirement.
Is there potentially untapped upside in Cooper that a new coaching staff can tap into? Sure.
Is a head coach who hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2008 the guy to do it? Jury’s out.
Furthermore, according to Pro-Football-Reference, Gruden’s offenses were outside the top 10 in passing yards and touchdown passes his last five years as the head coach of the Buccaneers. In 11 years as a head coach, Gruden’s offenses cracked the top 10 in passing yards just two times, and they ranked in the top 10 in passing touchdowns four times. Be careful of buying into Gruden the quarterback whisperer narratives.
Cooper isn’t undraftable by any stretch. However, after going the wrong direction in year three in the NFL, he’s a bit of a boom-or-bust pick after entering this year as a receiver whose stock was on a steady ascension upward.
Martellus Bennett (NE)
Bennett looked good complementing Rob Gronkowski and filling in for an injured Gronk in 2016. He parlayed his play that season into a lucrative three-year deal with the Packers. To say the Packers ended up with buyer’s remorse would be putting it mildly.
They cut him after seven games played for them with the designation of failure to disclose a medical condition, and the breakup was about as messy as it gets. The Patriots claimed Bennett, and he played in two games for them before hitting IR.
Back in October, Bennett indicated this season could be his last. Even if he opts to return next year and end his career on a higher note, Bennett is completely undraftable.