7 NFL Players whose Stats Don't Tell the Whole Story
Statistics rarely convey context. In any team sport, a great individual stat line doesn't necessarily translate into a great individual performance. For example, a quarterback might throw a ton of screen passes which a running back or wide receiver might take 80 yards for a touchdown and 79 of those yards came after the catch. Those yards all count the same for the QB. Another example could be based upon your scoring system. For example, Pierre Garcon led the league with 113 receptions. He finished as the No. 14 fantasy WR in one of my standard leagues and No. 10 in a PPR league. The standard-to-PPR difference is even larger for RBs. Pierre Thomas topped the league with 77 receptions. He finished 16th in PPR and 23rd in standard (these rankings come from a couple leagues I'm in so they aren't exact).
Instead of living and dying by positional tiers or fantasy codewords like ceiling and floor, try to take a closer look at the full fabric of a player's situation. That's the intention here as I cover seven players who finished 2013 with slightly deceiving stats.
Luck's sophomore season with the Colts saw him finish as roughly the No. 5 overall fantasy QB. The former Stanford Cardinal QB is well on his way to fulfilling a lot of the hype which followed him into the NFL. Consider for a second that the Colts lacked a consistent run game and no Colts RB topped 100 yards during the 2013 season. Luck also did not have his best receiver, Reggie Wayne, nor did he have his best TE from 2012, Dwayne Allen. Yet Luck still managed to compile a formidable fantasy campaign and dominated the incompetent AFC South. With an improved offense in 2014, another offseason behind him for development and a lukewarm division with no obvious competition, Luck can likely be drafted a round or two later than where his actual value projects. The fantasy community greatly underappreciates his talent.
The sharp decline Atlanta experienced came as a surprise initially. After a huge 2012 campaign which saw them on the doorstep of a Super Bowl appearance, offensive injuries and a porous defense dashed the team's 2013 season. The drought was also quite obvious to those fantasy owners who drafted Ryan a year after what had been a career-year statistically in '12. Ryan's numbers dropped across the board. The loss of Julio Jones for the final 11 games and Roddy White's slow recovery from a high ankle sprain permanently derailed what could have been another big year. What's promising looking ahead for Ryan is the return of Jones. You can argue where he ranks among today's receivers, but he certainly must in the conversation for one of the best at his position aged 25 and under. Losing Tony Gonzalez won't be easy to recover from, but the Falcons already added Levine Toilolo, a 6'8" red zone target with the wingspan of a pterodactyl. Expect Ryan to rebound and the Falcons to add a piece or two this offseason to make their offense even better.
Gore has played 16 games in each of his last three seasons. He's played in 14 games in all but one of his nine NFL seasons. Every year the prognosticators say "y'know, this is probably the year that the wheels fall off." It feels inevitable, yet Gore proves his detractors wrong time and time again. Looking ahead to 2014, there may be something to that notion. The 49ers drafted Marcus Lattimore for a reason and he'll surely get his opportunity to prove his worth. Kendall Hunter may not ever become a featured back; however he has played reliably when called upon and more importantly, he is young and has a dirt cheap contract. Gore finished '13 with just two of his nine rushing TDs coming in the team's final eight games. In those contests, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry. That's a relatively solid average, but let's not forget the 49ers have one of the most elite run-blocking lines in the NFL. A young man could easily improve upon what Gore accomplished. If Lattimore breaks out, Gore's role and workload will undoubtedly be challenged and eventually diminished. Be mindful of this possible transition before making any firm decisions for your team's future.
For those fantasy owners who hold athleticism, youth and upside in high esteem, they certainly have at some point been burned by the promise of Spiller. If you recall, the former Clemson running back was a popular first round pick. The 2013 season was supposed to be a changing of the guard. Fred Jackson was wearing down, they said. Spiller was going to blossom into a heavy workload back, they said. Well they were wrong. Spiller finished outside the Top 25 of his position and while he continued to show flashes of promises, he failed to string together the consistency necessary to earn our collective trust. For example, Spiller rushed for at least 100 yards four times, not even Marshawn Lynch did that and few backs accomplished such a feat. Unfortunately, as long as Jackson is on this team, the backfield will never be Spiller's alone. Once again this offseason, the hype will rebuild in Spiller's favor. The fantasy analysts will point out his elite speed, PPR value, continued improvement and development as a runner and everything in between. Don't believe the hype. We all know he is good, maybe even great at times; however, Spiller just isn't worth reaching for given the injuries, volatility and constant depth chart changes which allow new players to emerge every year at the position.
In his four '13 games, Blackmon caught 29 passes for 415 yards and one TD. If you extrapolate those numbers into a full season, he would have had 116 catches, 1660 yards and four TDs. There's really no denying Blackmon's talent because he has posted insane numbers when out of trouble and healthy, all while playing for a team that has been comically bad offensively. On any other team, Blackmon could be that much more dominant. Unfortunately, those circumstances have been fleeting as Blackmon continues to get in trouble. Can he get his act together? I guess there's no way of knowing and there is no reasons to speculate on the man's moral compass or capacity for change. What we can speculate on is simple. If Blackmon played a full 16-game season, especially with a promising new quarterback which Jacksonville may add during the upcoming draft, how great could he be? When we really let it sink into our minds that Blackmon succeeded on the field with Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert as his quarterback, it should be obvious that he is at least worth a late-round flier, if not more. He has high WR1 potential if he can simply overcome his off-the-field problems.