Fantasy Football Preview: Déjà vu
History repeats itself. No matter how much we learn or change, patterns will develop and give us a minor advantage when it comes to predicting the future. Finding such patterns can be the difference in forecasting a full blown breakout season versus a nice season or, on the other hand, a dreadful year instead of a mildly disappointing campaign. Of course, using the past to forecast the future is not an exact science, but here are a couple of examples where we have seen similar circumstances surrounding a player in the past and what their production looked like the following season.
Tom Brady version 2014 reminds me of … Kurt Warner version 2008
Remember when Warner left “The Greatest Show on Turf” and was reasonably productive but not the fantasy asset we fell in love with years prior? Well, at the tender age of 37, he proved all of us wrong and provided his owners with the best statistical season in seven years by throwing for 4,583 yards and 30 touchdowns as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Don’t look now, but Brady just turned 37 and is now seven years removed from his then-historic 50-touchdown campaign. Much like Warner, Brady has seen his production dip a bit in years past (back-to-back seasons where his touchdown total, completion percentage, and QB Rating have all dipped) and is facing questions as to how long he can play at the level we’ve been so accustomed to seeing. In his age 37 season, Warner completed a career best 401 passes, the exact number of Brady’s career high. Given the Patriots’ roster construction of crafty possession receivers, a play-making tight end, and an elite pass-catching back, would it surprise anybody if Brady also completed 400-plus passes this season? Warner took a team that had one big-time receiving weapon to the Super Bowl that year and finished fifth among quarterbacks in total fantasy points. I’m not sayin’ … I’m just sayin’ this feels oddly similar.
Giovani Bernard version 2014 reminds me of … LeSean McCoy version 2010
As a rookie, Bernard looked very much like McCoy did in his first season, only better. Shady was given 195 touches as the Eagles were looking to move on from an aging Brian Westbrook, and he impressed by totaling 945 yards and four scores. With the Bengals looking to move on from a decade of one dimensional backs (from Rudi Johnson to Cedric Benson to BenJarvus Green-Ellis), they gave Bernard 226 touches and were handsomely rewarded with 1,209 yards and eight endzone dances. The Eagles wasted no time in handing the lead role to their promising youngster the following season and McCoy established himself as an elite fantasy option by racking up 1,672 total yards and nine touchdowns on 285 touches. I’m not suggesting Bernard improves at the same rate (but just for fun, if he made the same percentage gains from year one to year two that McCoy did, he’d finish 2014 with 2,285 yards and 16 touchdowns on 353 touches), but is it possible that as the focus of the offense Bernard puts up very similar sophomore numbers as the Eagles versatile back did? Those totals would have been good enough to be the sixth highest scoring running back in 2013, upside that Bernard owners hope he can realize in 2014 as a result of an expanded role.
Michael Crabtree version 2014 reminds me of … Larry Fitzgerald version 2008
At a quick glance, these two big receivers are awfully similar. Both came into the NFL as much-hyped game-breaking pass-catchers and were selected with a Top 10 pick. Physically, they are of similar build, as Crabtree stands 6’1” and weighs 214 pounds while Fitzgerald comes in at 6’3”, 218. Both have had their moments with Richard Sherman in the past (Fitzgerald getting physical and Crabtree … well, you know). Heck, they even share a horoscope (Virgo).
But dig a bit deeper than that and you’ll find some underlying similarities that suggest Crabtree could be ready to breakout in 2014. Fitzgerald’s most productive fantasy season of his career came in 2008 (96-1,431-12), after he had 60 regular season games under his belt and was entering his second full season with Kurt Warner under center. Due to injury, it has taken Crabtree one more season, but he has played in 63 regular season contests and has a quarterback in Colin Kaepernick ready to start a full season for the second time of his career. Fitzgerald was the lead play-maker for an offense that also featured an aging running back. Sound familiar?
Riley Cooper version 2014 reminds me of … Jordy Nelson version 2011
Neither of these receivers is viewed as tremendously gifted athletically, but their combination of underrated size (average 6’3.5” tall and 224 pounds) and speed (average 40-yard dash time of 4.52 seconds) make them tough covers in elite offenses. If I was comparing Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald (average 6’3” tall and 222 pounds with an average 40-yard dash time of 4.52 seconds), odds are that you immediately think of dynamic receivers with tremendous physical tools, but they are actually a tad less impressive than the Nelson/Cooper combination. So yes, clear your head of the thought that Cooper is not capable of being a big-time play-maker in this league, especially when you consider he is a member of an elite offense.
Nelson had a nice 2010, 45 catches for 582 yards and two scores, before breaking out for 68 catches, 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns as he gained continuity with Aaron Rodgers in 2011. Cooper finished 2013 with fringe WR2 numbers, 47 catches for 835 yards and eight touchdowns, but he thrived once Nick Foles took over, catching 39 balls for 742 yards and seven over the final 11 weeks of the season, ranking as the 15th most productive fantasy receiver. The primary difference between Nelson’s situation in 2011 and Cooper’s in 2014 is that the Eagles will be adjusting to life without their primary deep threat while Nelson was a member of a crowded receiving core. Nelson is a bit more athletic than Cooper and the Packers pass-happy offense certainly played a role in his 2011 breakout, but the pieces are in place for Cooper, much like Nelson three seasons ago, to be a tremendous fantasy asset this year at a very reasonable price.
Jordan Cameron version 2014 reminds me of … Kellen Winslow version 2007
For the record, I believe Cameron is going to be far better from a fantasy perspective than Winslow ever was, but the career path lines up nicely for this season. In 2007, Winslow was entering his fourth season as a member of the Browns and was coming off what felt like a breakout season in 2006, as he totaled 89 catches for 875 yards and three touchdowns. Cleveland then made a quarterback change for 2007, from Charlie Frye to an inexperienced Derek Anderson who had made just three prior NFL starts, and Winslow increased his production by 231 yards and two scores.
Jordan Cameron also had a strong third season (80-917-7) and will enter year number four with an inexperienced signal caller under center (Brian Hoyer, four career starts, or rookie Johnny Manziel). Both Winslow, 4.62 seconds, and Cameron, 4.59, posted strong 40-yard dash times to go with the innate ability to make plays down the field and big frames (6’4” 240 and 6’5” 249 respectively). The only significant difference in situations is that while Cameron had an elite receiver and no longer does, Winslow had a developing star (or so we thought) in Braylon Edwards who was just as much a part of the offense as the tight end. Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins are nice pieces, but make no mistake about it, Cameron is the number one option in an offense that led the league in pass attempts in 2013.