Every season, a fresh batch of veterans on track to continue productive careers suddenly underachieve, as last year’s owners of Vernon Davis and Wes Welker can attest to. It’s not always a permanent downturn—Steve Smith Sr. rebounded from an unusually quiet season in 2013 with a resurgence on the Ravens last year—but the bounceback often comes too late for fantasy owners. In Welker's case, the arrival of Emmanuel Sanders coupled with the improvement of Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas led to his near fantasy irrelevancy last year.
Spotting some of these sneaky red-flag candidates early can help you avoid disastrous early-round picks.
As part of the endless quest for fantasy draft tips, I’ll use some PointAfter visualizations to shed light on seven players ranked in the top 100 of average draft position who could be primed for down years in 2015.
An important distinction to make before we dive in: I think most of these players will still be decent contributors to whoever owns them. I just don’t think their production will live up to their reputations, and they’ll likely be drafted before they should be by someone in your league.
Note: All 2014 position ranks and 2015 ADPs are according to standard 2015 ESPN drafts.
2014 position rank: No. 3 TE
2015 ADP: 28th (No. 2 TE)
Graham is going to bolster the Seahawks' aerial attack, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the former Saint's numbers will get a boost in Seattle. In fact, expect the opposite.
Graham’s 2014 campaign (889 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) was considered a down year for the three-time Pro Bowler. And yet, that’s better than any output by Wilson’s receivers during his three years in the NFL. Golden Tate's 898 receiving yards in 2013 represents the only Seahawks receiver to surpass those numbers from Graham since Wilson entered the league.
Even though Russell Wilson has matured greatly since entering the NFL three seasons ago, he’s still not the asset to the fantasy value of his targets that Drew Brees has been for his receivers.
2014 position rank: No. 6 QB
2015 ADP: 34th (No. 5 QB)
While Brees is still a force at the helm of the Saints' offense, he is poised to disappoint those who draft him in the first three rounds.
Saints GM Mickey Loomis engineered the stunning Jimmy Graham-Max Unger trade for a reason. The franchise wants to emphasize the running game at the expense of its box score-stuffing passing attack, which had waned in efficiency in recent years. That shift in strategy was underscored when Kenny Stills was dealt to the Dolphins.
It seems Sean Payton will be putting more trust in Mark Ingram (and new acquisition C.J. Spiller) while conversely taking responsibility off the aging shoulders of Brees.
2014 position rank: No. 17 RB
2015 ADP: 39th (No. 17 RB)
Even the best tailbacks yield to Father Time at some point. And at 32, Gore is getting to that age when a long career catches up with almost every ballcarrier.
Even if Gore’s per-carry numbers don’t suffer, he likely won’t get as many touches he did in San Francisco. With Andrew Luck under center, the Colts threw more passes than any other NFL team last year, and that was before the team bulked up its receiving corps.
Additionally, Boom Herron and Vick Ballard (who is finally healthy after missing the last two years with a torn ACL and a torn Achilles) seem more likely to fill the receiving back role that Ahmad Bradshaw thrived in last year. Gore hasn’t been a threat in the passing game for years.
2014 position rank: No. 42 WR
2015 ADP: 52nd (No. 22 WR)
Yep, another Colt. Johnson is coming off a down year in 2014, but considering the expectations surrounding him in pass-happy Indianapolis, the ex-Texan could easily disappoint relative to his ADP.
Sure, upgrading from Houston’s uninspiring quarterback situation to Andrew Luck is like trading in a worn minivan for a Ferrari, but don’t expect Johnson to reach 1,000 yards for the eighth time in his career.
Johnson will have to share targets with the newly extended T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Donte Moncrief, first-round pick Phillip Dorsett and Duron Carter. Once you include Gore and Herron, that’s a lot of mouths to feed on this offense. He won’t come close to receiving the same amount of attention he did during his final season in Houston.
2014 position rank: No. 30 WR
2015 ADP (position rank): 60th (No. 25 WR)
People love to joke about turnover-ridden Jay Cutler, but you’d much rather have him throwing to your fantasy WRs than whoever the Jets QB will be this year.
Marshall’s seven-year streak of 1,000-yard campaigns ended last season, as he battled injuries and finished with 721 yards in 13 games. With matchups looming against the likes of Brent Grimes and Corey Graham (one of the game’s most underrated corners) twice in 2015, it’s unlikely the 31-year-old will bounce back with Gang Green.
2014 position rank: No. 18 WR
2015 ADP: 69th (No. 28 WR)
Wallace made a name for himself as a flanker for Ben Roethlisberger, a master of long bombs who was a perfect match for Wallace’s strengths in the vertical passing game. Wallace wasn’t nearly as successful in Miami alongside Ryan Tannehill, and he could be even more grossly underutilized with the Vikings, who are grooming a quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater whose greatest weakness is deep balls.
If you’re looking for the Vikings receiver who will fill the vacuum left by Greg Jennings and his team-leading 93 targets, set your sights on Charles Johnson (No. 42 WR in ADP), who emerged as Minnesota’s No. 1 wideout roughly midway through last season.
2014 position rank: No. 55 WR
2015 ADP: 94th (No. 36 WR)
Fitzgerald is clearly on the downside of his career and has more competition in the Cardinals' receiving corps (Michael Floyd, John Brown, J.J. Nelson) than he’s ever had before. Floyd surpassed him in terms of receiving yards and touchdowns last year and is unquestionably the more dangerous deep threat at this point.
However, the off-season signing of Fitzgerald to a two-year, $22 million contract raises some questions. Do the Cardinals envision the best receiver in franchise history channeling his old self with the return of a healthy Carson Palmer? Or did they retain Fitzgerald to save face with their fan base? No matter the reasoning, it seems ambitious to peg Fitzgerald as anything more than a plug-and-play WR3 or a flex option given his No. 55 WR rank in standard leagues last year.
More from Will Laws:
PointAfter is part of the Graphiq network, a data aggregation and visualization website that’s collected all the information about Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it.