Slipping studs: Which 2012 heroes could drop in '13
Brady is undoubtedly one of the easier players to project having a small drop in production from last season to this one. We all know about the players missing from Brady's arsenal last year, as the Patriots will go into the season without the help of their top 5 receivers from 2012 (unless Gronk make a miraculous comeback). Welker, Lloyd, Gronk, Hernandez and Danny Woodhead have either left in free agency, are injured or in jail. The only one who should be back at some point this season is Gronk and no one is sure when that will be, but in all likelihood not for the first 6 weeks. The only returning receiver is Julian Edelman, who himself is coming off an injury plagued season where he only played in parts of 9 games. The Patriots brought in Danny Amendola to replace Welker, and are hoping that a group of rookie receivers can help Brady keep the offense floating. While I still expect Brady to produce at a high level, I think it's possible he slowly reverts back to the kind of production we saw out of him in the first half of his career. That means instead of 4,500+ yards passing, expect something more like 3,800 to 4,200 yards and instead of 34+ TD passes, look for something closer to 28-32 TD passes. Even if he does take a small step back, he will still be a top level QB (just not top 5, like we have expected him to be).
Last season Russell Wilson took the NFL by surprise and racked up 3,118 yards and 26 passing touchdowns, to go along with another 489 yards and 4 TDs rushing, making him a top fantasy QB. He should still be considered an upper echelon fantasy QB, but it's just possible (due to reasons mostly out of his hands) that he could drop a few spots. Wilson was able to put up those numbers last season despite the lack of weapons, so Seattle went out and traded for Percy Harvin, who has since been injured and will likely be missing at least half the season. Add that to the often injured Sidney Rice, who just last week had some treatment on his knee and is expected back this week at practice, you can never be sure how long he will hold up. With all these question marks at WR and the league on full alert with Wilson, look for his numbers to possibly take a small step back.
Once again, Frank Gore put up another great season in 2012, gaining 1,212 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns, while playing all 16 games. Gore is healthy and playing on a very good team and still young enough so that he should have no problem producing again this season. Despite that, don't be surprised if he takes a small slip down the rankings. While Gore has been healthy the last 2 years, the 49ers are well aware how important Gore is to them, so they will do their best to keep him fresh as it comes down to the end of the season and the playoffs. Behind Gore are some young legs that San Francisco can use to help keep him fresh. Kendall Hunter looks almost back to 100% and together with LeMichael James the 49ers will have plenty of options at their disposal to help keep Gore's touches down. The bigger reason I see Gore's numbers slipping is a full season playing with QB Colin Kaepernick, who has been known to take off and run from time to time. In the first half of the 2012 season with Alex Smith at QB, Gore averaged 81.75 yards per game and with Kaepernick he dropped to 69.75 per game, look for that to continue this season. All in all, Gore should be like his old self this season, with the possibility of a small drop off due to reasons mentioned.
Ridley had a beast of a 2nd season, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. While he still plays for one of the best teams, with one of the best O-Lines in the league, there is reason to believe he will take a small step back this season. On one hand, the Pats might need to rely on the running game a little more due to the loss of all their receivers. On the other hand, there are many capable backs on the roster so that each one of them will likely play a key role. Ridley will remain the main guy on early downs, but he will lose time to some of the other running backs on the roster who bring different looks then he can. The Pats traded for LeGarrette Blount, who could steal some goal line carries. There is Shane Vereen, who will probably take over the Danny Woodhead/Kevin Faulk role, being the all purpose back. There is also another newcomer, Leon Washington who will likely see most of his time in return duties, but can also help out on 3rd down and catching out the backfield. Ridley's biggest issue is that he is basically useless in the passing game, catching only 9 passes over his first 30 games. The fact that the Pats love to throw the ball and he isn't really good at catching passes, means less time on the field. Ridley should still surpass 1,000 yards rushing and score around 9 touchdowns, but the slight drop in numbers bounces him out of being a top 10.
Injury Status: Out - Knee
Since being drafted in the 3rd round by the Denver Broncos in 2010, Eric Decker has continued to improve year after year with the big jump coming last season when he set career highs in all receiving categories, with 85 receptions 1064 yards and 13 touchdown receptions (which was good enough for 2nd in the NFL). While there is nothing wrong with Decker in terms of his health or anything, he could go from a top fantasy scoring receiver to just outside of that due to the addition of Wes Welker.
The Broncos added Welker, who over the last 6 season has averaged 112 receptions for 1039 yards and 6 touchdowns. While Welker might not match those numbers, I suspect with Peyton Manning throwing to him, he will come close. Welker is the premier slot receiver in the NFL and Manning has always fed the slot receiver. Denver will once again rely heavily on the passing game and I suspect that the Broncos' receiving corps will put up good fantasy numbers. I just believe if someone takes a hit, it will be Decker.