Sophomore Jinx Candidates
Fantasy football owners love to throw around the term “sophomore slump” like it’s an old, tried-and-true reality. However, I believe that the sophomore slump is a myth created by our unrealistic expectations of a player from one year to the next.
People say a player “slumps” for a variety of reasons, but two stand out above the others:
1.) Once we know what a player can do, we expect even more of him the next year, no matter how good the first was.
2.) When a player demonstrates he can handle the NFL, his coaches ask more of him the next season giving him more opportunities to succeed or fail.
In fantasy, though, we ultimately care about the numbers. We don’t care if “Player A” isn’t really slumping if his coach just put him in more challenging situations. If he doesn’t give us as many points as he did the year before, he’s a disappointment. Harsh as it might sound, if you’re trying to win a championship and have dreams of hoisting your leagues Fantasy Trophy, it’s a valid viewpoint. More points beats fewer points every day of the week (and twice on Sundays).
With that said, let’s take a look at five players who are prime candidates to slump from their 2014 numbers – and the players you should draft for better value instead.
Odell Beckham Jr.
2014 Stats: Rec: 91 | Yards: 1,305 | TD’s: 12
Why He Could Slump: He’s either the greatest thing since Randy Moss, or there’s no way he can keep up with his production from last year. If he did keep up, we’d be looking at 121 catches for 1,740 yards and 16 touchdowns. That would be phenomenal, but it’s an unrealistic expectation for anyone, especially a rookie who missed the first four games of last season. No one is arguing against Beckham’s talent, but there’s too little data to draft him as the first overall receiver unless you just love taking big risks early in the draft.
Better Value: Just look across the division at Jordan Matthews. Currently going three rounds later than Beckham, he’s in a great situation with Maclin gone. Yes, the Eagles drafted Nelson Agholor, so the situation merits watching in training camp, but whichever receiver emerges as the top target on the Eagles will give you better value than Beckham at his current first-round price.
2014 Stats: Rec: 67 | Yards: 862 | TD’s: 5
Why He Could Slump: I’ll go on the record saying I think Travis Kelce is tremendously talented. However, I will also go on the record saying that Alex Smith, whatever his NFL ability, is a terrible fantasy quarterback, and that affects his pass-catchers. Don’t forget that the Chiefs live and die by Jamaal Charles, too. I do like Kelce, but not in the fifth round as the fourth TE taken.
Better Value: Is there some secret everyone knows about Delanie Walker that I don’t? He scored three fewer points than Kelce last year and just got a shiny new quarterback in Marcus Mariota. Oh, and he’s going six rounds later than Kelce right now. Expect that to climb as the season approaches, but Walker is my top TE sleeper at this point in the offseason.
2014 Stats: Rec: 73 | Yards: 1,008 | TD’s: 9
Why He Could Slump: Most people expect nothing but progress from Benjamin after his impressive rookie season, but pump the brakes a little. Yes, he outperformed expectations given his “raw” label, but the third round is much too high for a receiver with such a short resume and what remains a shaky offensive situation in Carolina. I don’t expect him to get worse – if anything, he should be a better player this season – but I expect his numbers to dip a little as teams focus on him more.
Better Draft Value: After his admirable performance on the Lions last season, the fifth round is straight-up disrespectful for Golden Tate. Sure, he got a good chunk of those 1,331 yards filling in for an injured Calvin Johnson, but it seems like a safe bet that Johnson will miss some time for the third year in a row. Even if he doesn’t, Stafford developed enough of a rapport with Tate last season to trust him when teams put the traditional 4 defenders on Megatron.
2014 Stats: Rush Yards: 607 | TD’s: 8 | Rec: 9
Why He Could Slump: Despite separating himself from 2014 fantasy preseason darling Terrence West last season, he’s still not far enough ahead of West on the depth chart for comfort. Combine that with Duke Johnson, the Browns’ third-round pick out of Miami, and I smell a RBBC brewing in Cleveland. Yes, he has talent, and yes, the offensive line is one of the best in the league with a healthy Alex Mack, but Crowell’s situation isn’t worthy of a fifth round pick right now.
Better Draft Value: Did you know Doug Martin is still the top running back on the Bucs’ depth chart? Crazy, I know, but in the late seventh round, I’m willing to give the Muscle Hamster one more shot. He has talent, and if Jameis Winston can build a rapport with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans quickly, defenses could start worrying more about the passing game in Tampa Bay and leave some running lanes open for Martin.
2014 Stats: Rec: 65 | Yards: 982 | TD’s: 6
Why He Could Slump: I have nothing but respect for Watkins, and firmly believe he will have a long and fruitful career in the NFL. It’s just not going to be with E.J. Manuel (who might not even make the 53-man roster this season) or Matt Cassel throwing him the ball. Kyle Orton had an underrated season in 2014 and vanished with the night shortly thereafter, leaving Watkins with a giant question mark at quarterback. Like Benjamin, Watkins should be a better player this year than he was last year, but it might not translate on the stat sheet. Right now, that fourth rounder is just too steep.
Better Draft Value: It might seem hypocritical of me to bash Watkins’ quarterback situation and recommend DeSean Jackson instead, given the mess the Redskins have become, but give it some thought. Cassel and Manuel have never shown anything remotely close to the talent that RG3 displayed in his rookie season, and many experts (myself included) predict a rebound for Griffin this season. The Redskins’ defense is still bad enough that they will need to score a lot to win any games. He might be an egomaniac and a diva, but Jackson has talent, and he did manage to finish last season as the 16th best WR. At a mid-fifth round price, he’s worth the risk.