This past year in Fantasy Football we saw some players score off the charts and also notched either career years or set career bests in the NFL, aka Drew Brees. Whatever the case may be, it is crucial that you temper your expectations for the following season.
Career Year Means Beware
This article was released in our Draft Kit this offseason and has been updated with in season analysis on 3 breakout players from last season)
This past year in Fantasy Football we saw some players score off the charts and also notched either career years or set career bests in the NFL, aka Drew Brees. Whatever the case may be, it is crucial that you temper your expectations for the following season. Emotion gets the better of most Fantasy Football players when they have a chance to grab the player that dominated the NFL and Fantasy the season before and in the end they usually wind up overpaying for the stats that actually receive.
That is why I usually steer clear of the players coming off monster seasons, which had not been their norm leading up to that season. If you want to be successful then you have to be able to separate the emotion from the reality. I have lived by this strategy for the last 10 years of playing Fantasy Football and it works. There are too many times that a player goes off in one year and comes back to earth the next year, and on the flip side there are way too few players that put monster seasons back to back to justify that high pick in Fantasy drafts the following year. In order to prove my case I am going to look at 12 players that had monster years and were drafted at the top of most drafts the following year only to disappoint their owners. I will also look at Calvin Johnson, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham who all had career years in 2011 and see how they are doing through the first 5 weeks of the 2012 season.
As I look at Peyton Manning it is hard to forget the season he had in 2004 where he set the world on fire and threw for 49 TD’s which set an NFL record at the time. All of his other stats that year were in line with his career averages, but the TD total took a huge jump from the 29 TD he posted the previous year. Then you have to consider that leading up to 2004 Peyton had never thrown more than 33 TD’s in any other season. The following year there were owners who jumped on Manning and were expecting close to the same stats or they thought maybe he will fall to 40 TD which is still going to be awesome….well not so fast slick. Peyton followed that year up with the least amount of passing yards 3,747 since his rookie season and fell right back in line with his career statistics for TD’s with 28 that year. The Colts went 14-2 that year, but all the people who paid for Peyton’s stats in 2004 with the early draft pick the next year did not get their return on investment.
When Tom Brady exploded in 2007 there was no one who could have predicted it. Brady threw for 4,806 yards which was well above his previous career high of 4,110 yards in 2005. In the five years leading up to 2007 Brady averaged 3,743 yards per year. The key stat is the TD stat when he broke Peyton Manning’s record and threw for 50 TD’s. Brady had never thrown for more than 28 TD leading up to that point. Brady got injured in the first game the next year so we did not get see the stats, but the following year he threw for good yardage but the tumble in TD’s to 28 showed a return to career averages. The Patriots have since given Brady more weapons and the game has changed but his best season total of 39 TD last season is still a ways off and you can most likely expect that number to drop some this season and be closer to 32 TD’s. Someone is going to grab Brady early, but as I wrote about in my Early Sleepers article, there is good depth at quarterback and there is no need to overpay for Brady especially since history says this season will not be as good as last. I believe the trend.
Jamal Lewis is the classic case of the overreach in drafting. In 2003 Lewis busted out for 2,066 yards along with 14 TD’s. It was his third season in the league and after rushing for 1,300+ yards his first two seasons many believed that Lewis would be here to stay and those numbers of 2003 would keep on coming. Instead, Lewis was only able to play 12 games the next year and was on pace to finish with 1,341 yards and 9 TD’s which is a good year and was right in line with his previous career averages. The other key stat for Lewis in 2003 was his yards per carry average which was a full yard per carry higher than his career average. The yard per carry average is a telling stat for running backs. When you see a jump in yards per carry over a career trend along with a breakout year that should tell you it was other factors that led to that increase. With Lewis, as with all the running backs, that is the stat you need to pay attention to.
Terrell Davis had the steadiest increase in a career that you could ever hope for over his first four seasons. Davis increased his rushing yards by a minimum of 200 yards year over year since his rookie season. The following season Davis got hurt and was never the same, although he did play in 4 games that year but only averaged 53 yards a game and saw his 5.1 yards per carry average from 1998 drop to 3.1 yards per carry. Davis, along with Brady had injuries following career years and they are not the only ones this happens to. Davis was the #1 pick in every league the next year when you should have been thinking Marshall Faulk.
Chris Johnson exploded in his second season and went off for 2,006 yards and became known as CJ2K. The next season I had the #1 pick in my draft (it’s a lottery but it happened a lot) and I was dead set that Chris Johnson was not the right pick for me after his career year for the same reason I ran away from LT. I was able to get the same person to trade me for the #1 and was able to jump draft positions in 3 different rounds for sacrificing the first overall pick. I ended up with the best record in the league and my trading partner did not make the playoffs. Johnson did not have a horrible season; in fact it looked just like his rookie season. In Johnson’s career season his yards per carry average and yards per reception were significantly higher and were astounding at 5.6 yards per carry and 10.1 yards per catch. Those are not numbers that are easily duplicated. CJ2K had so much pressure to do it again and he thought he could, but the reality is that was a once in a career season.
Before Marvin Harrison there was Herman Moore. In 1995 Herman Moore had the definition of a breakout season with 123 receptions, 1,686 yards and 14 TD’s. That season represented a 500 yard increase on his previous career best yardage, 3 more TD’s not to mention 51 more receptions than his previous best. That got everyone drooling over Moore and he went early in Fantasy the next year. As I have been proving, those numbers were not going to be reproduced again. Moore had definitely improved as a player and had over 100 catches the next two seasons and nearly 1,300 yards in each but saw a large drop in his TD production from his 1995 season. Don’t pay for the previous year.
Jimmy Smith was another receiver who had been a very consistent player averaging around 80 catches and 1,200+ yards before he blew up in 1999. That year he went off for 116 receptions, 1,636 yards and 6 TD. He was the big play receiver, but now he was getting the targets and he became a big target at drafts the following season. In 2000 Smith came back down to his career averages with 91 receptions and 1,213 yards. That season he did not pay off for his owners and then fell the next year where once again he became a must have with his 112 receptions and again disappointed the next year when he fell off the table.
Brees had the best season passing that the NFL and Fantasy leagues had ever seen. If you drafted him this year expecting 5,475 yards and 46 TD’s again you are going to be very disappointed. In his previous 3 seasons he averaged 4,692 yards and 34 TD’s. I am telling you that he is going to end up a lot closer to those numbers this year than what he did last year. Those are not bad numbers, but they will not give you the fantasy points he did last year. Then consider all the turmoil surrounding the Saints with the bounties and the resulting suspensions and I would not be surprised to see the numbers dip lower than the last 3 year average.
The main point here is that you should not be paying for last year’s stats in this year’s draft. Seeing how all the players that have career years fall short it is better to focus on the players that are ready to take the next step. This is not to say that the stats they put up will be horrible, but rather that when you see a major spike in yardage or TD’s most likely that player will have a harder time repeating those numbers. This is a major factor as to why there are some owners that are always good in your league and some that are perennial bottom feeders. Don’t fall into this trap this year, instead look for players in their 3rd-5th years that have been putting up consistent numbers and that have an improved fantasy situation around them this year instead of paying for the performance of last year. You CAN find the next breakout player this year and Pyromaniac is here to help you find them and win your league.
From 2001-2004 Shaun Alexander had been one of the best young backs in the game and became a truly justified #1 fantasy pick in 2005 when he had his career year: 1,880 yards, 27 TD’s and a 5.1 yards per carry average, all which were career highs. That was a great year and had every magazine (yes people were still big on magazines back then) had Alexander as the #1 running back going in mock drafts. So when the draft came around the person with the #1 pick thought they were making the safe pick, but they were wrong. Alexander did get hurt and only played in 10 games but he only had 7 TD and a very unimpressive 3.6 yards per carry. Not what you were expecting with the #1 pick.
Ricky Williams had huge expectations as soon as he was traded for an entire teams draft picks. His first three seasons showed a good running back, but not the special back that Ditka promised. He had 3.9 yards per carry average in his career leading up to 2002 when he broke out and had his career year finishing with 1,853 yards and 16 TD’s along with 4.8 yards per carry average. He had doubled his best ever TD output and increased his best ever yardage by 600 yards. Again that major jump in yards per carry is the giveaway. The following year owners paid up for Ricky and smoked out as he dropped back to 3.5 yards per carry and saw his all of his stats start to fall.
LT was the darling of the league for his first 5 seasons leading to his career year in 2006 when he posted 1,815 yards, 28 TD;s and a 5.2 yards per carry average, all which were career highs. The following year I also had the #1 pick in my draft and this was the first time I traded out of the pick for fear of the follow up to the career year. I was able to gain draft spots in 4 different rounds for LT and ended up with the most points scored on the season. The owner who got LT got a good year, just not a year worth paying what he paid in the trade to me. LT had a year like 2005 the year before the breakout, but as it turned out that was also going to be his best year as his yards per carry fell below 4 the following year.
This trend is not limited to quarterbacks and running backs. Marvin Harrison had been one of the best receivers in Fantasy Football for 3 years leading up to 2002. Harrison had been that consistent receiver before and then blew up for 143 receptions, 1,722 yards and 11 TD. The big stat is the 143 receptions which was an increase of 34 receptions from the year before. If you were in a PPR league Harrison dominated the league that year. Again, the next year when it is time for a WR to come off the board people are itching to get Marvin Harrison. That next year his catches dropped by 49 receptions and his yardage by 500 yards. He never again topped 100 receptions and was a disappointment to his owner the next year.
Remember Ahman Green? Ahman Green was a solid running back for the Green Bay Packers. His first three seasons in Green Bay were very good averaging 1,267 yards per season along with 9 TD’s per year and over that time was steady at 4.5 yards per carry. Then 2003 happened and Green blew up for 1,883 yards, 15 TD’s and an impressive increase to 5.3 yards per carry. Once again the draft comes up the next season and there are the owners picking Green super high and expecting another career year. They don’t call them career years because they have happen every year, and Green went right back to the player he had been the previous three seasons, but it was a stark drop back to reality for Green and his owners in 2004.
Calvin Johnson, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham in 2011
There are many of you who drafted Calvin Johnson, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham in the first 2 rounds of drafts this season. We saw Calvin Johnson going higher than any receiver had ever been taken in drafts since Jerry Rice going regularly in the top 5 of drafts. Graham was being drafted in early in the 2nd round and Gronk was going late in the same round. So all of these players had career years last year, but they are all still young, so it was possible that they could repeat…right??? Wrong, at least to this point.
Johnson was all-world last season and scored 16 TD on the year as well as averaging over 105 yards per game. This season Johnson is on pace to finish with just about the same yardage as last season with even more receptions, but the TD production is lacking and Megatron owners are well aware of it. Johnson is proving that the hardest thing to repeat year after year is the TD production and that is what makes the biggest separation in Fantasy points. Megatron is still a beast and is going to go off for a huge game or two this season, but repeating a season like he had last year is going to be tough.
Graham and Gronkowski both lit Fantasy up last season and had everyone reaching high to get them this season. So far, the owners that decided to spend an early pick on these two Tight Ends are not feeling to smart at this point. Both of these players have seen a drastic drop in their production at this point. Each of them is averaging 14 yards less receiving per game than they were last season. Graham is on track for about the same TD total as last season, but Gronk is falling short compared to the TD maven he was last year. As with Johnson I expected this to happen to Gronk as well. It is hard to repeat that many TD catches back to back seasons, as every defense is now keying on him in the redzone. The real tough fact for both of these tight ends is the fact that the yardage has dropped off so drastically. That also has to do with defenses having a full season of tape on these guys and they are seeing different coverage schemes as compared to last season.
This is why it is important to understand the rule, yes I believe it is a rule and the proof is in the pudding. So when this season is over and you are beginning your draft strategy for the next year, be sure to calculate career years into your formula. Career Year Means Beware!!!
BY HOUDINI (email me)