Hot & Cold: Players Who Have Fluctuated From Good and Bad Fantasy Years
Similar to the weather, players in fantasy football often endure hot and cold seasons in terms of overall production. Multiple factors can contribute to both positive and negative fluctuations in statistical output for an NFL player, including the implementation of a new offensive scheme, injuries, or even increased competition relative to their specific position on a team. Below, I have highlighted four players from each major skill position who have recently experienced hot and cold seasons over the course of the past few years. In particular, I have elected to examine each player’s 2014 and 2015 campaigns, as I find the time frame provides a sound sample size to project their value heading into 2016.
As a rookie out of the University of Central Florida, Blake Bortles was viewed as a quarterback who could make an immediate impact at the NFL level. Accordingly, he was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first-round of the 2014 NFL Draft as the third overall pick. Clearly, Bortles entered the league with very high expectations. Unfortunately, he was unable to live up to those standards in his first season as a professional. After taking over as the Jacksonville Jaguars starting quarterback in Week 3 of the 2014 season, Bortles went on to pass for 2,908 yards with a 58.9 completion percentage rate, which ranked 28th in the NFL. Perhaps the most uninspiring aspect of Bortles’ rookie campaign was his 11:17 touchdown-interception ratio, which negatively impacted his league-worst 69.5 passer rating among qualifying quarterbacks. After such a disappointing rookie season, Bortles was viewed as an uncertain fantasy commodity heading into 2015.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Blake Bortles managed to emerge as one the NFL’s best young quarterbacks in 2015. More importantly, with a full offseason under his belt, Bortles was able to transcend into a reliable fantasy option last season. In fact, he finished as a top-five quarterback in virtually all scoring formats. Bortles improved on his rookie campaign by passing for 4,428 yards in his sophomore season. Despite his completion percentage remaining rather stagnant at 58.6% last year, Bortles posted a respectable 35:18 touchdown-interception ratio. In addition to tripling his touchdown total from 2014, Bortles also increased his passer rating to 88.2, which ranked 23rd in the NFL. Obviously, the presence of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns contributed to Bortles’ success, but his transformation over the span of one offseason categorizes him as a hot and cold player for the sake of this article.
Entering 2016, the Jacksonville Jaguars are widely expected to enforce a more balanced attack on offense. This is especially true after the team signed Chris Ivory to a five-year $32.5 million contract to complement T.J. Yeldon in the backfield. Although Bortles may see a decrease in passing volume, his supporting cast remains extremely talented. As a result, I am on board with his current ADP of 7.05, in hopes that he is in store for another strong campaign.
Whether it is a coincidence or simply an improvement in performance, ever since Doug Martin dismissed “The Muscle Hamster” nickname, he has looked like an entirely different running back. All jokes aside, Martin currently stands as one of the most polarizing players in all of fantasy football. In short, Martin’s career totals support the exact premise of this article, as he has endured numerous hot and cold seasons since entering the NFL in 2012. For a closer look into Martin’s volatile production, consider the following table to visualize how his rushing and receiving totals have fluctuated over his four-year career:
|Year||Rush||Rush Yards||Rush TDs||Rec||Rec Yards||Rec TDs|
After exploding onto the scene as a rookie in 2012, Doug Martin appeared to be the second coming of Adrian Peterson. However, this was not the case. In 2013 and 2014, Martin failed to produce at a level even remotely close to that of his rookie campaign. Over both seasons, he battled an array of injuries, but ultimately appeared to lose the explosiveness that allowed him to finish as the RB2 in PPR scoring in 2012. Martin also posted underwhelming yard per carry totals in 2013 (3.6 average) and 2014 (3.7 average), respectively. This time last season, all hope of Martin returning to old form seemed to be a lost cause.
Fortunately, Martin rediscovered his elusiveness in 2015, as he finished as the RB4 in full-point PPR scoring. According to Pro Football Focus, Martin also led all running backs with 67 total missed tackles, further demonstrating that his rookie year was no fluke. Even more, Martin was able to remain healthy for the entire season, which is a feat he has now only accomplished twice in his career thus far. It was also reassuring to see Martin post a 4.9 yard per carry average in 2015, which happened to beat his previous benchmark set as a rookie of 4.6 yards per carry.
The lone area of concern surrounding Martin as the 2016 regular season approaches is the presence of Charles Sims. Clearly the better passing-down back on both paper and film, Sims hauled in 51 receptions last season. It is also important to note that Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter has stated that he believes Charles Sims can be a featured back. Although it is advised to take coach speak with a grain of salt, Koetter’s comments should not be ignored. If for any reason Martin struggles or becomes injured in 2016, Charles Sims could pose to be an imminent threat to his workload. As a result, I find Martin to be a risky investment at his current ADP of 3.04 provided his hot and cold fluctuation in production over his career.
For most of his career, Dez Bryant has been valued as an elite wide receiver in fantasy football. Looking back at his recent accomplishments, it is difficult to fall under the belief that Dez is a diminishing talent. Dating back to 2012, he has finished as the WR3, WR7 and WR4 in PPR scoring before falling short of such totals last season. Given his consistent production, how is it then possible for Dez to fit under a hot and cold designation? That’s a fair question. Ultimately, it boils down to his uncharacteristic 2015 season, in which he suffered a Jones’ fracture. For a deeper glance at his 2015 season, please reference the table below:
|Player||2015 Receiving Line||2015 Targets|
As pictured above, Dez Bryant’s 2015 statistics are rather alarming. Due to the combination of multiple lower body injuries and poor quarterback play, Dez turned in his worst campaign as a professional last season. Sure, he was only active for nine games. However, when on the field, Dez failed to accumulate more than five receptions in any game. Consider that in 2014 alone, he exceeded that amount on nine different occasions. Perhaps the most worrisome fluctuation in Dez’s overall numbers from 2015 can be credited to his lack of volume, as he only saw double-digit targets in one of his nine active games. Tony Romo’s absence due to injury in 2015 surely contributed to Dez’s lack of involvement, but his dip in production is hard to ignore. Still, it is promising to see that Julio Jones recovered from a Jones’ fracture after his 2013 season, as he finished as the WR6 in 2014 and WR2 in 2015 overall in PPR formats since then. At 27-years-old, it is entirely possible that Dez Bryant will be able to recover similar to that of Julio Jones given the time frame he has now had to properly heal.
As training camp approaches, it appears that Dez Bryant will be eased into action as he recovers from various offseason surgeries. Regardless of his proven track record, Dez’s value has fallen subject to recency bias. His current ADP stands at 1.11 in 12-team PPR leagues, which is well below his normal draft position over the past few years. Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are both fully expected to be ready for the regular season, so I am willing to invest in Dez much earlier in the 1st Round of drafts than his current ADP indicates. It is also important to remember that the Dallas Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. Elliott’s presence will undoubtedly require defenses to allocate attention off of Dez at times. In turn, this could provide Dez the opportunity to once again prove that he belongs in the conversation as one of the most dependable players in all of fantasy, and that his 2015 season was indeed an anomaly in comparison to his career accolades.
Due to his concussion history, it should come as no surprise that Jordan Reed is included in the conversation of players who have encountered a fluctuation in fantasy production over the past few years. Health concerns aside, the Washington Redskins recently signed Reed to a five-year $46.5 million extension through 2021. When active, Reed is arguably the best athlete at his position outside of Rob Gronkowski. However, Reed has failed to play a full season in his first three seasons in the NFL. In 2013, he only played in nine games. One year later in 2014, Reed only managed to suit up for eleven games, further proving that his availability is a serious concern for fantasy owners.
After changing his eating habits and workout regime this past offseason, Reed miraculously only missed two regular season games in 2015. In the process, he posted a career-best receiving line of 87-952-11 on 114 targets, which placed him as the TE2 overall in PPR scoring. According to Pro Football Focus, Reed also forced 16 missed tackles last season, which tied for the best total at his position. Even more impressive, Reed turned in double-digit scoring performances in PPR formats ten times last year. To put that into perspective, consider that Rob Gronkowski accomplished the same feat twelve times in 2015. In other words, Reed was nearly as productive and efficient as Rob Gronkowski from a fantasy perspective in 2015. Now an elite option in the fantasy realm, Reed will have to prove that he can remain on the field to silence those who believe he is a regression candidate heading into 2016.
At his current ADP of 4.02, Jordan Reed needs to replicate or improve on his 2015 season in order to return market value given his current price. As Kirk Cousins’ primary target, Reed figures to lead the team in volume barring health concerns. The Washington Redskins devoted the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft to select Josh Doctson out of TCU, who could eventually pose a threat to Reed’s workload. As a rookie, Doctson projects to be used primarily in the red zone, but he possesses the talent to be the team’s premier weapon long-term. Overall, if Jordan Reed can remain healthy in 2016, he will likely establish himself as the unquestioned best tight end in fantasy football next to Rob Gronkowski. Nevertheless, Reed is one concussion away from a potential career-ending injury, which has to be factored into his evaluation come draft day.