News & Analysis

One-hit wonders: 2017 fantasy breakouts not to believe in

By Walton Spurlin
Feb 16, 2018

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Jan 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum (7) and running back Latavius Murray (25) against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Playoff football game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There are different types of “one-hit wonders.” There are the previously unknown players who put up huge fantasy production in a given season and fail to reach those heights again. Take for example Peyton Hillis back in 2010. He finished as the No. 2 fantasy running back, racking up over 1,600 total yards and 13 touchdowns for the Browns. Hillis would score just six touchdowns over the remaining four years of his career.

There are also the big-name players who live up to the hype early only to see the wheels fall off due to their inefficiencies becoming exposed. In 2012, Robert Griffin III was the seventh-highest-scoring fantasy quarterback. He threw for over 3,000 yards and rushed for over 800, posting 27 total touchdowns. Due to a combination injuries and his inefficiencies being exposed, Griffin III is currently out of the league.

Finally, there are the one-hit wonders who may have had some limited success in their careers and then have breakout seasons due to circumstances coming together in a perfect storm for that one year. Think Derek Anderson, who was the fifth-best fantasy quarterback in 2007, with 3,787 passing yards and 32 total touchdowns for Cleveland. Anderson has become a career backup in the league and hasn’t finished higher than 30th in the last decade.

Fantasy owners who counted on the aforementioned players in the season after their big successes and beyond were severely disappointed. That in mind, here’s a look at some 2017 breakouts who might be those one-hit wonders and shouldn’t be trusted moving forward.

Alex Collins, RB, Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens backfield was hit hard by injuries early in 2017. Kenneth Dixon was lost to a torn meniscus suffered in the summer, and that was followed by a Danny Woodhead hamstring injury suffered in the season opener that would keep him out until Week 12. Terrance West would not be up to the task as the lead back, battling a calf issue as well as overall ineffectiveness.

This opened the door for Collins, who was activated from the Ravens practice squad in mid-September after a preseason release from Seattle. Collins took full advantage of his opportunity, racking up 973 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Add in 187 receiving yards on 23 receptions, and Collins produced solid RB2 totals last season.

While Collins will compete for the starting role, there are a lot of obstacles standing in his way for a repeat performance. Dixon is on track to be ready for training camp and will battle for the starting gig. Both Woodhead and Javorius Allen remain under contract in what is a crowded Baltimore backfield. Chances are good that even if Collins emerges as the starter he’ll mainly be two-down option with Woodhead assuming passing-down duties. There is also the possibility that the Ravens select a RB in a draft class deep at the position. Too many questions surround the Collins situation to expect a repeat of his 2017 success.

Latavius Murray, RB, Minnesota Vikings

It’s not as if 2017 was a true breakout season for Murray, as he’d finished inside the top-15 in standard fantasy scoring in each of the previous two seasons for Oakland. In his first season with Minnesota Murray finished just outside the top-20 with 944 total yards and eight touchdowns. Murray makes an appearance in this piece because he may actually be undraftable in 2018, and it’s all about Dalvin Cook.

The rookie running back was putting up top-10 fantasy totals and averaging 21 touches per game over the first four games before he tore his ACL. In those first four games Murray played a total of 36 offensive snaps, with 19 of those coming in the game Cook was injured. Murray had a total of 16 touches for 46 yards in the first four weeks and just seven carries for 17 yards in the three full games Cook played. You get the picture. Once Cook returns Murray will drop back into that same role player position and lose most if not all of his fantasy relevance.

Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets

This one is not based on Anderson’s performance on the field, as he continued his ascension as a player in his second season in the league. Anderson put up solid WR2 totals in standard scoring with 63 receptions for 941 yards and seven touchdowns. All of those numbers were improvements on his rookie campaign, and he led the team in targets with 114.

However, it’s off the field where Anderson has run into problems. For the second consecutive offseason, Anderson has been arrested. He is currently charged with harm to a public servant/family, reckless driving, eluding police, and resisting arrest. While the legal process has to play out there is a good chance Anderson will face some sort of league discipline. The youngster is likely to remain with the Jets but is on thin ice and could be running out of chances.

It’s tough to see Anderson posting the same time of numbers he did last season if he misses time due to suspension. There are also the questions at quarterback the Jets have, with only Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg, and Joel Stave under contract.

Dion Lewis, RB, New England Patriots

For the first time in his career, Lewis played a full 16 games, and he made the most of his opportunity. Lewis put up top-15 fantasy numbers, with over 1,100 total yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns. It capped a remarkable comeback for Lewis after he missed the 2013 season with a fractured fibula that required surgery and sat out all of 2014 after being released by both the Browns and Colts. Lewis also missed the last nine games of 2015 as well as the first nine of 2016 while recovering from an ACL injury.

It’s hard to see Lewis repeating his production from last season as he enters free agency. Should Lewis re-sign with the Patriots, he’ll continue to be in a rotational role. He led the backfield in snaps played at 406 but James White also played 382. New England could decide to let Lewis walk and bring back Rex Burkhead with a cheaper price tag. Due to his size (5-foot-9, 195 pounds) and injury history, it’s unlikely Lewis will sign with a team looking for him to be a three-down back. Lewis benefited from playing on a high-powered Patriots offense and could struggle in a different scheme with a lesser supporting cast. The 2017 season was a high-water mark for Lewis and not something fantasy owners should count on in 2018.

Case Keenum, QB, Minnesota Vikings

It qualifies as a breakout season when a career backup finally gets the chance to lead an offense and puts up top-15 fantasy totals. Keenum was one of the feel-good stories of 2017, stepping in as the starting quarterback for the Vikings after Sam Bradford’s knee injury flared up (again). The fifth-year QB was second in the league in completion percentage and set career highs across the board. Keenum also cut down on the turnover bug that has plagued him in previous starting tenures, as he threw just seven interceptions and lost one fumble. By comparison Keenum turned the ball over 12 times in 10 games with the Rams last season.

There are plenty of reasons to doubt that the soon-to-be 30-year-old Keenum can repeat or build on his 2017 success. There is no guarantee Keenum will be back with the team where he enjoyed his most productive season — he, Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater are all unrestricted free agents, and Minnesota has made no indications as to which if any they’ll re-sign. In his first four seasons playing with the Texans and Rams, Keenum accounted for 26 total touchdowns with 26 turnovers. It’s more likely that last season was an outlier for Keenum rather than a glimpse of things to come. He’s unlikely to be a top-24 fantasy QB in drafts heading into the 2018 season regardless of where he plays.

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