In recent weeks I’ve been revisiting the work of the fine Seattle band Soundgarden. While listening to their underrated release “Down on the Upside,” it occurred to me that the title of that album reflects my feelings about the three principles of the Atlanta passing game: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Jones’ average draft position has skyrocketed to WR2, according to Fantasy Football Calculator, putting him behind only Calvin Johnson at the position. Jones tantalized fantasy owners by dominating in Atlanta’s first preseason game, catching six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in just the first quarter. His teammate, White, is still widely considered a top-10 receiver, checking in at WR9. Ryan has a current ADP of QB9.
What’s wrong with this picture?
With two of his receivers in the top 10, shouldn’t Ryan come in higher than QB9, even if Jones and White catch an absurdly high percentage of Ryan’s completions? (And, hey, TE Tony Gonzalez is no slouch.) Ryan’s ADP is gaining steam. In 12-team redraft leagues, Ryan was being taken near the middle of the seventh round, on average, as of mid-July; he’s now being taken a full round higher. In a lot of leagues, Ryan will be the sixth, seventh or eighth quarterback to come off the board.
That’s interesting, because the last time Ryan played in a meaningful game, he guided the Falcons to exactly zero points in a humiliating playoff loss to the Giants, who ranked 29th in pass defense last season. Eli Manning produced more points for the Falcons than Ryan did in that game, spotting Atlanta an early deuce by intentionally grounding the ball from his own endzone. Ryan completed 24-of-41 passes for 199 yards — less than five yards per attempt.
It would be easier to overlook Ryan’s postseason hiccup had he not been so badly outplayed by Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in the previous year’s playoffs. In that 48-21 loss at home, Ryan was 20-of-29 for 186 yards, with one TD pass and two interceptions, including a devastating pick-six thrown just before halftime.
So what? Why are you talking about playoff games? Fantasy owners are only concerned with the regular season, and Matty’s regular-season stats were good last year.
Fair enough. But Ryan’s shortcomings are often exposed when he’s asked to duel with truly elite passers like Rodgers, Drew Brees and, yes, Eli Manning. It’s hard to put Ryan in the elite class when it’s so painfully obvious that he doesn’t measure up against those guys head-to-head. The big reason why Ryan pales to his more accomplished peers is that he doesn’t handle the pass rush very well. Put heavy pressure on Ryan and he will show all the composure of a preteen girl at a One Direction concert.
A lack of poise when under duress is a problem for a quarterback whose offensive line is a notch below “meh” and whose left tackle is a sieve. For Falcons fans, the name Sam Baker elicits the sort of terror that children at Camp Crystal Lake feel when they hear the name Jason Voorhees. Baker and his cranky back will be responsible for protecting Ryan’s blind side. Be afraid, Matt Ryan fans. Be very afraid.
Ryan would do well to match last year’s numbers. A drop-off is far more likely than a jump to the elite level. And unless Ryan can make that improbable jump, there’s not an ice cream cone’s chance in hell that Jones and White are both going to finish as top-10 receivers.
Quintorris Lopez Jones — you should know Julio’s real name if you’re committed to reaching for him — does indeed look like a potential monster. Optimists note that his rookie numbers could have been positively sick had he not missed three games with a hamstring problem. (Pessimists owned Andre Johnson last year and know all about bad hamstrings.)
Thing is, if Jones is going to erupt for an epic season, White’s numbers are bound to fall off. White has averaged 100 catches over the past three seasons, with 29 TDs. And if White remains the steady, 100-catch, 1,200-yard guy he has been for so long, there’s no chance Jones is putting up Calvin Johnson-type numbers. There’s enough room in the margins for both to have good seasons, but it’s virtually impossible for both to live up to their current ADPs.
It’s a situation with vast potential for disappointment. There’s basically no chance I’ll end up with any of these three dudes in my drafts.
Here are some other players I won’t be drafting in any of my leagues this year, from highest overall ADP to lowest:
Chris Johnson — He cares about his craft the way I care what happens to any of those cows on the “Real Housewives” shows.
Adrian Peterson — Drafting him in the first round this year is like being T-boned at 40 mph and asking the guy in the body shop if you can get your car back tomorrow.
Ahmad Bradshaw — Four out of five podiatrists recommend not drafting him. (The fifth one doesn’t play fantasy football.)
Michael Vick — We know what he’s capable of. Still, it’s hard to spend a high pick on a quarterback who isn’t a particularly good passer.
Antonio Gates — (See Ahmad Bradshaw comment above.)
Vincent Jackson — After years of playing with Philip Rivers, he now will be trying to catch passes from a QB with accuracy problems. His new head coach really likes the running game. And, of course, he just got a big contract. That’s a toxic mix.
Beanie Wells — Whenever there’s a bet to be made against Beanie, I’m whipping out a Benjamin and buying a stack of chips
Kevin Smith — Oh, so he’s a draft bargain because he’s the only healthy, experienced, non-dope-smoking running back on the Detroit roster? If I gave my 6-year-old daughter and two of her friends a Fabergé egg to play with, the chances of the egg remaining unbroken would still be better than Smith’s chances of remaining unbroken. And, by the way, even though he gained 4.9 yards per carry last season on 72 rushing attempts, he’s still gaining only 3.9 yards per carry for his career.
Mark Ingram – His current ADP is RB33. Maybe he’d be worth it if he was stuck in a committee but had demonstrated legitimate NFL talent — or, conversely, if we weren’t sure about his talent but he had a chance to get a lot of carries. The reality is that he’s stuck in a committee and has failed to show compelling evidence of NFL talent.
Kenny Britt — I don’t mind gambling on injury-prone players, and I don’t mind gambling on trouble-prone players. But Britt, an exquisite combination of the two, is fantasy football’s version of Russian roulette.
Robert Meachem — It’s hard to figure out the perception that the move from New Orleans to San Diego does him a lot of good. It’s essentially a lateral move: He’ll have a somewhat larger role in a somewhat lesser passing attack. Meachem has teased us for so long, and now he’s going to finally deliver the goods while digesting an entirely new offense? And what if it turns out that Vincent Brown is a lot better?
Darius Heyward-Bey — The DHB phenomenon is fascinating. For two years, everyone pointed to him as a walking example of Al Davis’ senility. Then, Davis died, Heyward-Bey had a handful of decent games, and suddenly the DHB bandwagon exceeded maximum occupancy. Thanks, but I’ll just stand here and wait for the next bandwagon.
Randy Moss — Not sure which I’m looking forward to seeing more — the look on Randy’s face the first time Alex Smith underthrows him by 15 yards on a 9-route, or Jim Harbaugh’s reaction the first time Randy half-asses a blocking assignment. (Actually, I admit to having had mild interest in Moss until hearing that Harbaugh planned to put him on a snap count.)
Michael Bush — He’s getting some nice ADP respect after two solid years, but if the starter he’s backing up stays healthy for an entire season, Bush is basically worthless.
Santonio Holmes — It’s not that he’s overvalued at his current ADP, but sometimes one bad experience repels you forever. I’ll never again fly United Airlines. I’ll never again drink Southern Comfort. I’ll never again draft Santonio Holmes.
Josh Freeman — He reads defenses the way high school students read William Faulkner novels for English class: with an utter lack of comprehension.
David Akers — Because it’s never worth taking a kicker early, and because last year’s top kicker is never the next season’s top kicker. But you already knew that.