- Circumstances change from season to season, and these players are likely to feel the negative effects of that reality this year.
The axiom that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction has plenty of application outside the world of physics. Sure, it’s more figurative elsewhere, but the fundamental notion still applies. In the fantasy football world, for every bounceback player there is one who regresses. If you’re looking for the positive side of this equation, check out Michael Beller’s story on bouncebacks. Here, we’re concerned with the equal and opposite reaction. Which 2017 standouts will regress in 2018?
Alex Smith, QB, Redskins
Smith had a perfect fantasy situation in Kansas City last season, with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt helping him all become the No. 4 quarterback in standard-scoring leagues. However, his supporting cast in Washington that includes Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson and tight end Jordan Reed, when healthy, isn’t as impressive as what he worked with last year. Plus, Smith broke out of his mold as a check down quarterback last season with 12.3% of his passes traveling 20 or more yards downfield, a significant increase from 9.4% the previous year. Smith set new career-highs in passing yards and touchdowns last year, and it’s a pretty safe bet that he won’t repeat that statistical output as he adjusts to a new system.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Browns
Hyde had a terrific season as a member of the 49ers in 2017, racking up 1,288 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns to finish as the No. 11 running back in standard-scoring leagues. He now finds himself in a crowded backfield in Cleveland that includes Duke Johnson and rookie Nick Chubb, whom the Browns drafted 35th overall in April. Hyde’s 299 touches were tied for seventh in the NFL a year ago, and it seems unlikely that he’ll have that kind of workload with the Browns. Also, a significant part of Hyde’s fantasy production last season was a career-high 350 receiving yards, to go along with career-highs in targets (88) and receptions (59). The odds of Hyde repeating those kinds of receiving numbers are slim now that he shares a backfield with Johnson, and wide receiver Jarvis Landry’s usage as a short-area specialist will take away from Hyde’s opportunities in the passing game, as well.
Lamar Miller, RB, Texans
There are only four players in the NFL with active streaks of four-plus seasons with 1,200 or more scrimmage yards: Frank Gore, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown and Miller. That’s pretty good company, but over the last two seasons, it's been more about volume than efficiency for the Houston running back. Miller averaged 3.7 yards per carry last season and has lost most of his elusiveness that he possessed as a member of the Dolphins earlier in his career. Last season, Miller forced 21 missed tackles on 238 carries, an 8.8% rate, which is nearly half his 14.6% rate from his final two seasons in Miami. Furthermore, Miller started to lose carries to talented second-year running back D’Onta Foreman before the rookie tore his Achilles last season, and even though he’s still working his way back from the injury, he should have a role in the offense when he returns. Miller has accumulated fantasy points as the Texans’ only option in a depleted backfield over the last two seasons, but eventually, Houston will have to try to find a more efficient option.
Frank Gore, RB, Dolphins
Gore’s streak of 12-straight seasons with 1,200-plus scrimmage yards is an NFL record, but that streak for the 35-year-old running back will come to an end this season. Gore returned to his hometown of Miami to wrap up his possible Hall of Fame career. He won’t be the feature back, though, with the Dolphins leaning on third-year running back Kenyan Drake. Gore finished as the No. 18 back in standard-scoring leagues with the Colts last season, keeping his scrimmage yards streak alive but scoring just four touchdowns, his fewest since his rookie season. Gore won’t come close to the 290 touches he racked up a year ago, and he has been a volume fantasy play for the last three seasons.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Rams
Cooks put up his third-straight 1,000-yard season as a member of the Patriots last season, but is now on his third team in three years after a pre-draft trade to the Rams. The speedy wideout finished as the No. 7 receiver in standard-scoring leagues a year ago, seeing a team-leading 114 targets. With the Rams, Cooks will replace Sammy Watkins as the “X” receiver in Sean McVay’s offense, a role that saw Watkins’ production take a major hit, as he was often taking coverage away from the middle of the field while getting many of his targets on low-percentage throws that weren’t a strength of Jared Goff. Cooks is going from one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league in Tom Brady to one of the least accurate, at least on the deep ball, in Goff. He’ll also have plenty of competition for looks from Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.
Jarvis Landry, WR, Browns
Touchdowns are the most volatile stat in football, and a one-year spike can result in a career season in fantasy terms. Last year, Landry hauled in a career-high nine touchdowns, which helped him climb the No. 7 receiver in standard-scoring leagues, despite falling short of the 1,000-yard mark. It seems unlikely that Landry, who hadn’t eclipsed five touchdowns in a season prior to 2017, will repeat his gaudy touchdown total as a member of the Browns. Plus, Landry’s target share, 27.4%, was seventh-best in the NFL last season, a rate he’s unlikely to match this year. The Browns signed Duke Johnson, one of the league’s best pass-catching backs, to a large contract, and will feature holdovers Josh Gordon and David Njoku, too. Expected regression plus increased competition is a bad formula for any player.
Robby Anderson, WR, Jets
Anderson had an eventful offseason away from the field, but there are on-field concerns that likely mean regression from a breakout season in 2017. Anderson finished as fantasy’s No. 16 receiver operating mostly as a deep-ball specialist in the Jets’ passing attack last season. However, the Jets have a new offensive coordinator, and a new quarterback room, which means Anderson’s role could change in 2018. Anderson was a classic boom-or-bust receiver a year ago, hauling in just 55.3% of his targets, but he made up for that by leading the team with a 23% target share. With wide receiver Quincy Enunwa back in the mix and the acquisition of Terrelle Pryor, Anderson has more competition for targets and will need to prove he isn’t solely reliant on the deep ball to put up stats.