The annual turnover that comes with free agency, coaching changes, scheme updates, rookie classes and veteran player ability fluctuations from year to year guarantees that nothing in the NFL is static or certain. As we all know from angrily yelling at or privately stewing over fantasy players that have been consistently productive only to completely crap the bed the one year you finally get to draft them - I’m looking at you, Drew Brees of 2013 - we all know very well that it’s extremely difficult to predict what players will be productive from one year to the next. However, by looking at exactly those changes that take place from one year to the next - whether they be in the front office or down to, say, a running back passing a certain benchmark age - we can analyze some of the possibilities for player performance in 2015.
Sometimes this has to do with a player getting a big money contract and moving to a sexy new city where the distractions are numerous and difficult to navigate around. Other times it takes the form of a player that directly impacted another player’s performance leaving via free agency. Many times it’s just that a player was able to stay healthy and functioned well in a particular scheme that was suited to his talents.
There’s a myriad of ways in which a player’s productivity can be affected from one season to the next. Here’s a list of players we feel will drop off in production from 2014 for the upcoming season:
15 Colin Kaepernick
The Rams look better, the Cardinals look better, heck the Seahawks somehow look even better than they did last year. The 49ers are the only team in the NFC West that looks worse, given the numerous retirements to some star players, departures in free agency and of course the loss of Jim Harbaugh to Michigan. This will all fall downhill on Colin Kaepernick who will be in tough without Harbaugh, a guy who always firmly stood behind Kaep. After all, it was Harbaugh's call to go to him in the first place.
14 Tony Romo
What Tony Romo did in 2014 was remarkable in Dallas. Battling a bad back, Romo set many Cowboys passing records and many were even lobbying for him to be MVP. However, losing DeMarco Murray, combined with the hard miles on Romo's body and it all points to a down year. This won't be any fault of Romo's, as all the events of the Cowboys' offseason points to a down year.
13 Jeremy Maclin
Jeremy Maclin may be going to familiar territory as he's now reuniting with coach Andy Reid in Kansas City, but he's also going to a team whose wide receivers didn't record a single touchdown in 2014. While that's unlikely to happen again, it's going to be hard for Maclin to replicate the 85 catches, 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns he had last year. Coming in on a five year deal worth $55 million, and the expectations will just be too high for Maclin in KC. While he is familiar with Reid, Maclin enjoyed his best statistical seasons in Chip Kelly's scheme.
12 Golden Tate
Golden Tate was just what the doctor ordered for the Detroit Lions last year. He was the answer to their need of someone to be a threat on the opposite side of Calvin Johnson. With the arrival of another running back via the draft in Ameer Abdullah and Eric Ebron expected to play a bigger role this year, Tate's production will dip. Assuming Megatron stays healthy this year, that will also eat into Tate's touches.
11 Justin Forsett
When a running back enjoys a breakout year of sorts at 29 years old, odds are it's an anomaly rather than the norm. While nobody would root against a guy like Justin Forsett, the odds are stacked against him repeating what he did in 2014. Add to that, Marc Trestman is now running the offense rather than Gary Kubiak. Trestman is expected to deploy an offense heavy on the passing game, rather than Kubiak's which is friendlier to running backs.
10 DeAndre Levy
Levy was 2nd in the league in tackles last season but that will be a harder task now without the benefit of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley clogging up inside running lanes and bringing pressure right up into the faces of panicking quarterbacks throughout the league. Levy was recently graced with the honor of being ranked #66 out of the top 100 as judged by his peers but this was actually seven spots down from his ranking last year. Levy will still be great out in coverage against opposing TEs but his impressive tackle totals will surely drop this season.
9 Lamar Miller
Last season, Miller had something of a ‘breakout’ year for him where he was considered more of a featured back after Knowshon Moreno went down early for the Dolphins. Miller posted some decent numbers in 2014: 1,099 yards on 216 carries (a 5.1 ypc average) with eight rushing TDs and one receiving TD. However, the Dolphins picked up a steal in Jay Ajayi from Boise State with their 5th round selection after it was revealed that Ajayi has no cartilage left in his right knee and it is a bone-on-bone situation. Ajayi may not be a long-term prospect for the Dolphins but he will most certainly cut into Lamar Miller’s short term carries and 3rd down role considering the rookie’s prodigious talent.
8 Julius Thomas
Ah, Jacksonville. Along with Oakland, it is where all NFL careers go to die. Unfortunately for Julius Thomas, this will be no exception. Last season, Thomas was a force in the red zone with Peyton Manning as his QB, tying with Gronkowski and Gates for the league lead in touchdowns by tight ends. Then this offseason, the Jags made Thomas the highest paid tight end in the NFL after signing him to a 5-year, $46 million dollar deal. Only one small problem: Peyton Manning’s arm and brain appear to have stayed in Denver, soooooo unless Peyton suddenly Quantum Leaps into Blake Bortles’ interception-prone body, Thomas is likely to not post anywhere near his Broncos receiving numbers.
7 Drew Brees
We don’t know why it happened and it continues to perplex us even to this day. Trade Jimmy Graham - one of the most dynamic, dominating red zone threats of the last decade - to the Super Bowl runner-ups and a team that has beaten you silly in the playoffs a couple of times for a 1st round pick because of cash? You just made Russell Wilson unstoppable in the red zone because you didn’t want to find a way to pay Jimmy Graham? So now you’re leaving a future Hall of Famer to play with Nick Toon, Brandin Cooks and Josh Hill? Who are they, you say? Yeah, no idea either. Best of luck to 36-year old Drew Brees in the coming season with that kind of arsenal.
6 Rolando McClain
McClain was a revelation for Cowboys fans after their starting ILB Sean Lee went down with a torn left ACL during OTAs last May. McClain, often troubled during his brief NFL career to the point of retiring at the age of 23 after the 2013 season, was picked up by the Cowboys in a trade with the Ravens for a 6th round pick (as well as a 7th round pick compensation in return). McClain proved to be a wise investment as he notched 81 total tackles, two INT and one forced fumble in 13 games for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys wisely re-signed McClain to a 1-year deal but the return of Sean Lee will likely cut into McClain’s productivity for the upcoming season and there are already concerns about McClain showing up for voluntary offseason programs. Furthering issues, McClain was just suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
5 Darrelle Revis
Revis has been somewhat declining from his previously unquestioned autonomy as the NFL’s premier shutdown corner for a few seasons now. However, he is still a force to be reckoned with and was an instrumental part in the Patriots’ latest Mr Burns-like-diabolical-cheating-fiasco Super Bowl win. However, where the Patriots seem to always find a way to maximize the talent of ridiculously talented free agent acquisitions that just fall into their lap (see: Moss, Blount), the Jets are quite the opposite and basically killed Eric Decker’s will to live las season by forcing him to play with Geno Smith. This will be no exception. Despite the Jets’ formidable D-line, Revis Island will more likely resemble Long Beach Island this season - especially if Antonio Cromartie does not perform the way he did for new Jets head coach, Todd Bowles, during his stint with Arizona in 2014.
4 DeMarco Murray
Let’s face it: the Eagles looks like a total madhouse right now. Former players are accusing ex-coaches of racism, practices are being questioned, everyone seems to be expendable and a quarterback depth chart that includes Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow is not very exciting. Adding to this is that the Eagles have just released Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis (who fit perfectly with their zone blocking scheme) and Murray had the benefit of playing behind an insanely good line in Dallas. While the Eagles also feature a very good O-line, it will be hard to envision Murray having as good a 2015 as he had a 2014 season.
Above all else, it has been historically difficult for ANY running back that has over 370 rushing attempts in a season to come back the next year and be as good or better than that magical previous season. Names like Larry Johnson, Jamal Anderson and even the great Eric Dickerson all had ‘off’ years compared to a previous season where they had 370+ rushing attempts . It will be difficult for Murray to buck this trend.
3 Tom Brady
Brady’s often perplexing pushback against Father Time has frustrated some NFL fans for over a decade now as the guy is seemingly not human and incapable of showing even the slightest drop off from one season to the next. This season will be different, however, if only for the numbers game involved in Brady’s 4-game suspension for the ‘Deflate-Gate’ scandal. Unless Brady throws up about four to six games with five TDs where he also throws for 500 yards, this will mercifully be a down year for the infuriatingly handsome quarterback with the perfect life. Ugh, he’s the worst.
2 Ndamukong Suh
The Dolphins made what is likely the biggest splash of the 2015 free agency period by signing Suh to a whopping 6-year, $114 million dollar contract that made him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. While Suh is no doubt a dominant force up the middle in both the run game and with his pass rush, the rest of the Dolphins defense run by Kevin Coyle has issues at linebacker and has some untested corners (aside from Pro Bowler, Brent Grimes) that will put more pressure on Suh to get to the quarterback along with Cam Wake and Olivier Vernon, an up and coming player in his own right.
Furthermore, Suh will have to avoid the temptations of South Beach (which has felled many a player in the past) and fall in line with head coach Joe Philbin’s boy scout environment that didn’t exactly jibe well with other talented and outspoken players like Vontae Davis, Mike Wallace and Randy Starks. If the Dolphins struggle out of the gate with a difficult schedule, it could get ugly in Miami.
1 Randall Cobb
Randall Cobb exploded for a career year las season with 91 catches for 1,287 yards and 12 TDs. It will be difficult for Cobb to eclipse those numbers with the continuing emergence of Davante Adams, whose 6-foot-1, 215 pound frame allows him to post up in red zone situations as a better target for Aaron Rodgers. This will likely cut into Cobb’s TD numbers for 2015 season despite what, barring injury, will be a still very dangerous Packers receiving corps.