By Joe Kilroy
Over the course of an NFL season there are always going to be a number of players who fail to meet expectations, and are therefore labeled as disappointments. For example, Reggie Bush, coming off the first 1000-yard campaign of his career, hasn’t been as well rounded a performer as many of his fantasy owners may have expected in 2012 (especially in PPR formats).
Bush has performed well in enough games this year to avoid being looked upon as a complete waste of a pick, but there are others who have performed so poorly that they fall into a much more dreaded category of disappoint. And that category is one I have come to label “Dynasty Disasters.”
There is still three games of the 2012 NFL regular season left to play, which means some of the players I’m about to mention could finish with enough of an uptick to redeem some of their value heading into 2013. With more than three-fourths of the regular season in the books, however, the following are dynasty options that have seen their value decline drastically since the start of the year.
Michael Vick, PHI: Despite a lackluster outing in 2011, Vick came into this season with enough “upside” placed upon him that he still figured to be one of the better fantasy options at quarterback. Even if he didn’t rank amongst the Top 6, he was still viewed as a player whose legs could make up for any lack of production he might of failed to produce in terms of touchdowns. The fact that he played in Andy Reid’s pass first offense made it a safe assumption his overall yardage wouldn’t be an issue.
Well, as it turns out, Vick’s season was about as dubious as any of his naysayers may have foreseen. In terms of fantasy production Vick delivered with solid-to-good performances more often than not. In terms of his on-field production, however, his performances were so troubling (largely due to his number of turnovers) that his future as a starter in the NFL is now in doubt.
Vick has always been a threat under center primarily due to his ability to escape the pocket. He does have a strong arm, but it’s what he’s been capable of with his legs that have always piqued the interest of NFL owners, head coaches, and offensive coordinators throughout the league.
At the age of 33 come late June of 2013, one has to wonder how much longer Vick’s God given athleticism will carry him in the NFL. Also complicating matters is the fact Vick’s abilities as a scrambler have made him very prone to injury throughout his career. The concussion he suffered in Week 10, which cost him his job as the Eagles starter to rookie Nick Foles, is simply the latest example.
Vick is currently under contract with the Eagles at a base salary of $15.5 million for 2013. Philadelphia, however, can release Vick after the season and get out of his long term contract by taking roughly just a $3 million hit against next year’s salary cap. In all likelihood that is a move the Eagles will make.
What it means for Vick’s future is certainly debatable, but given his age, his proneness to injury and his unknown situation for 2013 there is no denying Vick’s value is currently about as low as it could’ve possibly dropped since the start of 2012.
Ryan Mathews, SD: Of all the players to make this list, when it comes to what was expected from a player heading into their 2012 campaign in comparison to how they have actually performed, Ryan Mathews might just be the biggest disaster of them all.
Having rushed for nearly 1100-yards while averaging 4.9 yards per carry, scoring 6 touchdowns, and catching 50 passes for an additional 455-yards in just fourteen games last season many expected Mathews to ascend to the highest tier of rankings at the running back position. Instead, the third-year back out of Fresno State suffered a broken collarbone in the preseason which forced him to miss the first two games of the year and his production since then has been incredibly lackluster.
Since returning to action in Week 3 Mathews has had eleven games to establish himself as one of the premier backs in the league. During that span, however, the third-year pro has failed to rush for 100-yards in any game. He’s also managed just one touchdown while averaging a sub-par 3.8 yard per carry.
The only saving grace for Mathews’ fantasy owners has been his 36 receptions for 244-yards. For those who don’t play in PPR leagues though those totals mean little. And even in PPR formats those receptions have still translated into just one truly noteworthy outing (Week 5 against the Saints) from the former first round pick.
Mathews is young enough that his dynasty owners should refrain from overreacting and letting him go too cheaply, but there is no doubt his value has taken a serious nosedive up to this point of the year. His 2013 campaign will go a long way in determining what people come to expect from Mathews in the future. This is especially true due to the fact San Diego is expected to have a new head coach and general manager next season.
If Mathews fails to perform and doesn’t fit into the long term plans of the new regime he may be looking for work with a new team by 2014.
Rashard Mendenhall, PIT: While many had already written Mendenhall off for any chance at a productive year in 2012 due to a torn ACL he suffered at the end of last season there was some reason for hope when it was reported the Steelers removed their starting tailback from the PUP-list back in mid-August.
There was even further reason for elation when the fifth-year back out of Illinois returned to action in a Week 5 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles by rushing 13 times for 68-yards while catching 3 passes for 33-yards and a touchdown. The thought that Mendenhall may be inline for a productive season after all was short lived, however.
Following his successful return against the Eagles Mendenhall started the following week against the Tennessee Titans, but he carried the ball just 6 times for 6-yards before an Achilles injury forced him to the sidelines. Mendenhall missed the Steelers next four games as a result of the injury. When he returned to action in Week 11 he finished with 11 carries for just 33-yards. He then had a poor showing the following week against the Cleveland Browns and has been a healthy scratch in the two games since.
The most recent bit of poor news surrounding Mendenhall is that the Steelers have slapped a one-game ban against him for conduct detrimental to the team (Mendenhall didn’t show up for last week’s game against the Chargers after learning he would not dress for a second straight week).
In the final year of his rookie contract it is all but a foregone conclusion Mendenhall will not be back with the Steelers in 2013. That may be a good thing considering his current place amongst the team’s depth chart, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Mendenhall will be a valued commodity this offseason. His fantasy owners can’t be feeling too good about his future prospects at the moment.
Greg Jennings, GB: Some may feel it’s debatable as to whether or not Jennings should be on this list, but personally, I don’t see how there is any way around it. The 29-year old wide receiver (who will be 30 come the third week of next September) has primarily made his living in the NFL as a deep threat on a high octane offense throughout the majority of his career.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and Jennings has certainly made the most of his talent and situation prior to this season. But his age, injury plagued year, and uncertain future leave plenty of reasons to question how the remainder of his career is likely to play out.
Jennings is in the final year of his contract, and with the Packers depth at wide receiver it seems unlikely the team will make much of an effort to retain his services. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones have proven to be a very capable trio during Jennings’ absence.
What that means for Jennings is that his days as a Green Bay Packer are likely numbered. In terms of his fantasy value, the team he lands with in the offseason will play a significant role in how owners should value him. Even should the seventh-year veteran land in a promising situation, however, there is still fair reason to question whether or not he’ll ever perform again at the level we’ve become accustomed to.
Jennings has averaged more than 16.2 yard per catch in four of his seven NFL seasons. The years in which he hasn’t were as a rookie in 2006, last year, and his current season in which he has played in just five games while catching 17 passes for 151-yards (8.9 yards per catch).
Some may wonder why yards per catch is a statistic worth mentioning, but when it comes to a player like Jennings – given his current age and uncertain future – it’s definitely worth making note of. It’s only natural that as an athlete ages they begin losing some of their abilities. If you’re a player that possesses enough strength across a wide range of attributes you can afford to lose a little bit here and there while still performing at a high level.
When your primary attributes are speed and quickness, however, once those skills begin to erode its likely your production will take a significant dip as well. With that being the case, chances are Jennings won’t be averaging 16-yards or more per reception at any point again in his career. In fact, it might even be ill-thought to believe he’ll average 14-yards or better per catch ever again.
The truth is averaging anywhere from 12.5-13.5 yards per reception is pretty solid for an NFL receiver. There really aren’t too many out there that go well beyond that range on a yearly basis. The reason I mention this is to call special attention to just how impressive it is that Jennings managed to average better than 16-yards per catch over a four-year span from 2007 through 2010. But again, it also highlights how unlikely it is Jennings will remain such a significant deep threat as he enters his thirties in the NFL.
If Jennings were known as a receiver that reels in a bunch of receptions on a regular basis then a two-to-three yard drop in his yards per catch wouldn’t be so troublesome. The facts are, however, he has never caught more than 80 balls in a season. And he has only gone over 68 receptions two times during his career.
When you add all these factors up, in my opinion, it strongly stands to reason that Jennings’ best days are clearly behind him. And I wouldn’t sell myself too highly on the fact that he has had nine or more touchdowns four times in his career either. One must remember he accomplished those feats within a high scoring offense that lacked a dynamic running back.
Titus Young, DET: How does a 2011 second round pick go from producing 48 receptions for 607 yards and 6 touchdowns as a rookie to becoming a dynasty disaster the following year? Well, barring injury, it’s not the simplest thing to do, but Titus Young pulled it off splendidly.
Aside from producing mediocre results in the 10 games he played this year (before being placed on IR due to a knee injury) Young did just about everything he possibly could to disenfranchise himself from coaches and teammates alike.
The second-year wide out first created a disturbance back in May, before the season even began, when he was sent home from voluntary workouts for punching teammate Louis Delmas. More troublesome, however, were reports following the Lions Week 11 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
During that game Young was seen arguing with wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson because he felt he wasn’t getting enough passes thrown his way. It also came out that in attempt to sabotage the Lions passing attack Young had purposely line-up in the wrong spot on at least one occasion.
The most recent sign of estrangement towards Young from the Lions franchise came when head coach Jim Schwartz confirmed the second-year receiver was scheduled for knee surgery while stating “unless he doesn’t show up for it.”
As of now the consensus is Young won’t be welcomed back with the Lions in 2013. He’ll likely get a second chance elsewhere, but if he doesn’t mature quickly chances are he’ll have ruined any shot he may have had at a productive NFL career.
Antonio Gates, SD: It’s unfortunate whenever one of the elite at their position seem to lose their luster, but it appears that is the case with Antonio Gates as he drudges his way through the final three games of a disappointing season.
Despite his age (32) heading into the 2012 campaign there were quite a few of us fantasy owners that had high expectations for the 10th-year veteran. Gates was said to be in the best health he had been in heading into the start of a season over the past few years, and as such some were thinking he might regain the form that ranked him amongst the Top 3 at his position on a yearly basis without cause for concern.
Instead, a rib injury during the season opener forced Gates to the sideline for a Week 2 contest against the Tennessee Titans. And even though he’s played in every game since then his production has been incredibly disappointing.
Gates is currently averaging 10.9 yards per catch, which would be the fewest he has had at any time in his career. He is also on pace to finish with the fewest receptions he has had since his rookie season (aside from the 50 he achieved in just 10 games played during his injury shortened 2010 campaign). The same is true regarding his yardage and touchdown production.
While all of this is alarming enough, it is especially disappointing given the fact Gates was easily the most accomplished receiving target Philip Rivers had this year following the offseason departure of Vincent Jackson. I suppose it could be argued that Jackson’s absence may have hurt Gates’ production, but even with the emergence of Danario Alexander these past few weeks Gates has still been struggling.
Gates may bounce back with a solid season in 2013, but given his age and disappointing performance this year dynasty owners will be hard pressed to get something significant in return the once prized possession.