2018 Players on the Decline (Fantasy Football)
Identifying players on the decline is always a tough task to take on because everybody that comes to mind seems completely obvious. In years past, it would usually be something like, “Carson Palmer is on the decline? Really? Thanks for that.” For this article, I’m going to focus on less obvious guys who I believe will never be as good as they have been previously.
Telling you Frank Gore is on the decline isn’t helpful. He’s been on the decline since 1974. Instead, I’ll be focusing on those who may have substantial trade value in dynasty leagues.
Jared Goff (QB – LAR)
It may be surprising to see a #1 overall pick just two years ago on a list like this, especially since he seemingly erased the “bust” status he attained from his play under Jeff Fisher in his rookie year. Goff displayed why the Rams took him first overall in his first year in Sean McVay’s system with 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. Seemingly on the rise in a dynamic Rams offense, Goff is certainly now a hot commodity in redraft and dynasty leagues alike heading into 2018.
However, I think we’ve seen the best that Goff has to offer. With a full year of Goff under McVay’s new offense on tape, expect NFL defenses to make the adjustments necessary to defend him. Looking at some NFL advanced stats, Goff was among the leaders in time to throw among quarterbacks in 2017 with 2.93 seconds per attempt.
He was truly a product of the best offensive line play in the league as almost all other quarterbacks around him in this stat are mobile and can buy themselves time to throw with their mobility. Despite all this time to throw, Goff posted average rates in average yards per completion in the air and average intended yards per completion in the air.
The Rams’ offensive line is returning intact in 2018 which seems to bode well for Goff. However, it should be noted that the same five players started each game for the Rams on their offensive line in 2017, which is a rather remarkable feat and that all five are either nearing the end of their career or in the final year of their contract. The Rams offense as a whole was a juggernaut, but was also very lucky, and their performance in 2017 will not be sustainable.
Goff hasn’t proven the ability to perform when under defensive pressure, and I would be concerned about how he will fare once he is given less time to throw. If I had Jared Goff in a dynasty league, I’d be looking to trade him at peak value.
Adam Thielen (WR – MIN)
Adam Thielen is a great story because he’s a local kid from small school Minnesota who turned into a bonafide fantasy star last season catching passes from mainly Case Keenum. He burst onto the scene in 2016 with Sam Bradford as his quarterback and was severely undervalued last season in fear that his 2016 may have been a fluke. He proved all doubters wrong with 91 catches, 1,276 yards, and four touchdowns.
With the now highest-paid player in football history, Kirk Cousins, in town, expectations for Thielen and the Vikings will be sky-high. Gone are the days when you could snatch Thielen in the late rounds. I don’t think anybody will argue that Thielen is a transcendent talent, nor is he ever going to be a high touchdown total guy.
I think it’s fair to ask yourself whether Adam Thielen can be any better than he was in 2017. Can Kirk Cousins make him that much better? After all, this was a team that made it to the NFC Championship and was firing on all cylinders offensively with Case Keenum last season.
I feel confident in predicting that Adam Thielen’s 2018 will be the best year of his career, and I wouldn’t hesitate to trade him in a dynasty league at peak value. That isn’t to say that Thielen will become Terrelle Pryor-useless, but I do believe his value is now on the decline. Thielen needed 143 targets to make his 2017 happen, which was ninth in the NFL, and he has also been the beneficiary of extraordinarily high completion percentages from Sam Bradford in 2016 (71.6%) and Case Keenum in 2017 (67.9%).
Cousins profiles as a high completion percentage guy, which seems to bode well for Thielen, and the loss of Jerick McKinnon in the passing game out of the backfield will only increase Thielen’s value in the eyes of most as well. However, Thielen’s middling yards per catch and low touchdown rate means that his sky-high target rate needs to remain consistent, which I just don’t have confidence is sustainable playing with his third different quarterback in three seasons.
Jimmy Graham (TE – GB)
Now 31 years old, Jimmy Graham may seem like a more obvious choice for this article than the previous two, but his arrival in Green Bay may elevate his value. Graham was extremely inefficient last season with only 57 catches on 97 targets, but was carried by his ten touchdowns. Nobody is going to argue that Graham is the player he once was with the Saints, but Aaron Rodgers throwing him the football will make many a believer in Graham for at least the upcoming season.
With Jordy Nelson out of the picture, Graham is one of the few recognizable names among the options that Aaron Rodgers has to throw to. However, Rodgers has always been one to spread the ball around and has never produced great results for tight ends. For five straight seasons, the Packers have featured a different lead tight end in the passing game (Martellus Bennett in 2017, Jared Cook in 2016, Richard Rodgers in 2015, Andrew Quarless in 2014, and Jermichael Finley in 2013).
Only Richard Rogers’ fluky 510-yard, eight touchdown season in 2015 stands out as anywhere even in the ballpark of serviceable. I don’t see much changing with Graham, even with Nelson out of the picture. I’d be willing to let somebody else take a chance on a declining, 31-year-old tight end regardless of who is throwing him the football.