NFL Predictions: 10 Pass-Catchers Who Will Struggle to Find the End Zone
Everyone remembers 2011 as the year of the quarterback, but somebody had to catch all of those extra passes. Last year was about receivers and tight ends as much as it was about quarterbacks.
Last year was a complete statistical anomaly. There is no way we see such ridiculous passing stats twice in a row. Defenses are going to catch up, referees are going to be stricter on offenses and some guys are just going to slow down.
But who will be affected most of all? Here are 10 guys who will either see big statistical drop-offs from last year or will struggle to find the end zone entirely.
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Has anyone ever used the words "Calvin Johnson" and "struggle" in the same sentence? Probably not, so let me clarify. I don't think Calvin Johnson will "struggle" in 2012, I think he will just be less super human.
He caught an absurd 16 touchdown passes last year, and based on nearly every piece of statistical data we have, that is a completely unsustainable number.
There have been 11 seasons in which a player caught 16 or more touchdown passes in NFL history: Randy Moss has three (1998, 2003, 2007), Jerry Rice has two (1987, 1989), and the others are Mark Clayton (1984), Sterling Sharpe (1994), Carl Pickens (1995), Cris Carter (1995), Terrell Owens (2001), Muhsin Muhammed (2004) and Braylon Edwards (2007).
Every one of those guys regressed the following season, often significantly. Edwards fell to just three touchdowns, Clayton fell to four, and on average Moss dropped to 11.67.
There are way too many things that can go wrong for someone to catch 16 touchdown passes twice in a row. What if Matthew Stafford gets hurt? Or the Lions have nothing to play for in the final few weeks?
That doesn't even account for defenses adjusting to Johnson (who was significantly better in the first half of the year than the second) or Detroit's harder schedule as a playoff team.
Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in football, but his stats are going to drop. Expect him to catch somewhere between 10 and 12 touchdowns this year.
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Remember all of that stuff I just said about 16 touchdown catches being completely unsustainable? Well, Rob Gronkowski didn't have 16 touchdown catches. He had 17.
Putting aside everything I wrote in the Calvin Johnson slide, Gronkowski just had the best single season for a tight end ever. How is it at all fair to expect him to do it again?
Not only does he have to share time at his own position with Aaron Hernandez, but New England also brought in star receiver Brandon Lloyd. That's only going to limit Gronk's touches even more.
New England's defense is also going to be much better, meaning the Patriots won't have to throw the ball as much just to stay in games.
Finally, there's the fact that Tom Brady probably won't throw for 39 touchdowns again. That's not a knock on Brady, it's just nearly impossible to do that twice in a row. For example, Peyton Manning fell from 49 touchdowns in 2004 to 28 in 2005 despite throwing only 44 less passes. It's just a typical statistical regression.
Like Johnson, Gronkowski is going to have a big year, just nowhere near as big as he had in 2011.
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Brandon Lloyd spent years mired in mediocrity before becoming a star under Josh McDaniels. Not wanting to fall back into mediocrity, Lloyd followed McDaniels to New England.
Unfortunately for Lloyd's fantasy owners, playing for the Patriots is very different than playing for the Rams or Broncos.
Lloyd is going to fall from the undisputed No. 1 receiver in St. Louis to potentially the No. 5 target for Tom Brady.
Brady is going to look for Wes Welker and Gronkowski first and foremost, then Aaron Hernandez and perhaps even Deion Branch before Lloyd.
Lloyd was brought in to do one thing: stretch the field. That might lead to a long touchdown or two, but it won't lead to big season-long numbers. His biggest responsibility will be making things easier for New England's other targets.
In other words, he's more of a decoy than a target. He'll definitely catch a decent number of passes, but he won't be the Pro Bowler he was in the past.
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If team's were ranked based on the number of polarizing players on their roster, the Jets would win the Super Bowl every year.
As much as I'd love to talk about the two headed disaster at quarterback or Darrelle Revis' upcoming contract extension, we're going to focus here on my least favorite Jet (and that's a big deal considering Eric Smith is still on the roster), Santonio Holmes.
Holmes caught eight touchdowns last year for a Jets team that passed the ball way more than this year's team will. He also did it in the good graces of quarterback Mark Sanchez. Suffice it to say that won't happen again.
This year's team will be based on the run. Many of the goal-line opportunities Holmes had in the past will be stolen by Tim Tebow runs.
That means Holmes will have to make up his production on deep passes. Considering he's going to enter the season with a rib injury and and he's only 5'11'', I don't really see that happening.
Chemistry is everything with quarterbacks and wide receivers, and right now Holmes and Sanchez just don't have it. He'll get the ball, but his production won't be elite. Expect only a few touchdowns from Holmes this year.
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Through no fault of his own, Dwayne Bowe is going from a running game built around Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle to one featuring Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis. That's likely going to cost him some opportunities.
Tight end Tony Moeaki will also be back in the fold this year, cutting even deeper into Bowe's touchdown opportunties.
Here's where the astute observer chimes in and says "but Sam, in 2010 Dwayne Bowe had to deal with all of those guys (excluding Hillis) on his team and still caught 15 touchdowns." Well, you know what I have to say about that? Anomaly!
Bowe averaged 5.33 touchdowns per year before 2010 and caught five in 2011. Considering the quality of quarterback hasn't changed much for Kansas City over that time frame, it's safe to say Bowe is approximately a five-touchdown-per-year type of receiver.
So why did he catch so many in 2010? Because the Chiefs had nobody else to throw to. The next best wide receiver on the team was Chris Chambers, who caught a meager 22 passes.
Last year's Chiefs featured high priced free agent Steve Breaston and first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin to go along with Bowe. Considering the other receivers around him his regression makes sense.
When you factor in those receivers along with the reappearances of Moeaki and Charles you should expect Bowe's numbers to fall even further. He has firmly established himself as someone who can catch 70 or more passes in a season; he'll just never have another ridiculous 15 touchdown season.
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As much as I love Mario Manningham as a player, San Francisco is just not a very good place for him statistically.
Manningham's ridiculous 2010 campaign that saw him catch nine touchdowns fell back to earth last year when Victor Cruz broke out and he dropped to four. Now that he's a 49er I'm expecting him to catch no more than two.
How did I reach that number? Well, Eli Manning attempted 589 passes last year to Smith's 445. Considering that drop is essentially 25 percent, we can take away one of Manningham's four touchdowns, leaving him with three.
Manningham was also the undisputed third receiver on the Giants, a pass-happy team. Manningham is fighting for playing time with as many as five other wide receivers: Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn Jr. and AJ Jenkins, and that doesn't even include star tight end Vernon Davis. For all we know, Manningham could end up buried on a the depth chart of a run-first team, a far cry from Eli Manning's third favorite target.
Manningham is a solid player, but he's not going to have as much opportunity in 2012 as he's had in the past. His stats are going to fall significantly because of it.
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I had to do a double-take when I saw that Jordy Nelson caught 15 touchdown passes last year. Are you freaking kidding me? Guys like Reggie Wayne, Hines Ward and Torry Holt never topped 12, but this guy caught 15?
Sorry fans of complete and utter chaos, it isn't happening again. Don't get me wrong, Nelson is a very good No. 2 receiver, but he's not catching 15 touchdown passes twice in a row.
I direct your attention once again to the Calvin Johnson slide, where the "16 touchdowns in a year is unsustainable" argument can be applied here. Adding to that, Johnson is a once in a generation talent. Nelson is an above average No. 2 receiver. If Johnson can't do it then Nelson won't either.
While Nelson is a huge beneficiary of playing with Aaron Rodgers, that will actually be the major cause of his statistical decline this year. The nature of Green Bay's offense is throwing to whomever's open. Last year that just happened to be Nelson, but who's to say that this year it won't be Randall Cobb? Or Jermichael Finley?
There's also the irrefutable evidence that Rodgers will drop off significantly this year as well. The only quarterback who has even come close to Rodgers' 122.5 passer rating was Peyton Manning in 2004 with a rating of 121.1, which immediately regressed back to 104.1 the following year.
We continuously see this with passer ratings above 105. Kurt Warner had one of 109.2 in 1999, then fell back to 98.3 in 2000. The same goes for Brett Favre from 2009 to 2010, Daunte Culpepper from 2004 to 2005, Tom Brady from 2007 to 2009 (since he missed all of 2008) and Dan Marino from 1984 to 1985.
It's simply impossible for a quarterback to play at that level for two seasons in a row. Injuries catch up with you, the league figures you out, the bottom line is we just don't see that happen. Rodgers is going to be worse, and his targets are going to suffer statistically because of it.
The utter randomness of the Green Bay offense combined with an expected decline from Rodgers is going to keep Jordy Nelson out of the end zone next year. His performance could be exactly the same yet he might still catch only three or four touchdowns. That just goes to show how many other factors matter for wide receivers.
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Fun fact: The Giants have had a different leading receiver every year since 2007. Here's the list: Plaxico Burress (2007), Domenik Hixon (2008), Steve Smith (2009), Hakeem Nicks (2010) and Victor Cruz (2011).
Well, two of those guys tore their ACLs and a third shot himself, so it's pretty safe to say at this point that being the Giants' leading receiver isn't exactly a lucky position, but there's more than that.
The underlying theme is that Eli Manning doesn't play favorites with receivers. Lost in all of those different leading receivers are strong years from Mario Manningham, Amani Toomer and Kevin Boss. Like Aaron Rodgers, Manning throws to who's open.
Cruz won't be open nearly as often in 2012 as he was in 2011. He spent most of 2011 in the slot, covered by nickelbacks because teams needed their top corners for established veterans Nicks and Manningham.
With Manningham in San Francisco, Cruz might have to play outside with better corners, and no matter what will likely be covered by the opposing team's best man-to-man defender.
The Giants also play a brutal schedule. Assuming Cruz gets covered by the opponent's best cover corner, he'll have to play a ridiculous slate that includes two matchups with Nnamdi Asomugha, two with Brandon Carr, and single matchups with Joe Haden, Ike Taylor, Ladarius Webb, Brent Grimes, Jabari Greer, Charles Woodson and Carlos Rogers.
Asking Cruz to go from nickel corners to those guys and still put up the same stats is too much to ask. He's going to see a big statistical drop-off. Expect Nicks and rookie Rueben Randle to be the main beneficiaries of that drop-off.
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If you only take one thing from this article let it be this: Laurent Robinson was a complete fluke in 2011.
One out of every 4.9 catches he made was a touchdown. That's a ridiculous ratio, topped only by Denver's Eric Decker (one out of ever 5.5), who missed a lot of time last year with injuries.
Robinson was to Tony Romo last year what Cruz was to Eli Manning: a great slot receiver who had big numbers mainly because defenses were more occupied with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Unlike Cruz though, Robinson doesn't have the skills to go back outside and contribute.
Before 2011 he had never caught more than 37 passes in a season. He had four touchdowns total, and then completely eclipsed that number by scoring 11 last year.
Now instead of being covered by nickelbacks he's going to be targeted by his opponent's top corners, and instead of catching passes from Tony Romo, he'll be catching passes (and I use that word loosely) from Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert wasn't just bad last year; he was historically bad. Were the media not so focused on Tim Tebow's historically bad accuracy they would have blasted Gabbert's 50.8 completion percentage.
He loses his composure at the first sign of pressure from the defense. He might be the worst starting quarterback in the NFL.
Why should we expect Robinson, someone with four career touchdowns before last year, to match his absurd 2011 total after switching from Romo and nickelbacks to Gabbert and No. 1 corners?
We shouldn't. It's not gonna happen. Period.
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You'd think losing Vincent Jackson would help a secondary receiver like Malcolm Floyd, but the moves San Diego has made in the offseason really put him in a tough spot.
Rather than splurge on Jackson, the Chargers brought in former Saint Robert Meachem to replace him. Many thought Floyd was going to take on that role, but not only did the Chargers sign Meachem, they also brought in Eddie Royal from the Broncos.
Signing two veteran free agents at his position shows that the Chargers aren't exactly confident in Floyd's ability to replace Jackson.
While he has produced as a red-zone target, Floyd simply hasn't been able to stay on the field. He's never played more than nine games in a season. The Chargers seem to be building their passing game around Meachem and Royal and just squeezing anything they can get out of Floyd.
The biggest threat to Floyd's production isn't either of those guys though, it's emerging running back Ryan Mathews.
He averaged 4.9 yards per carry last year and seems poised to break out in 2012 as a star if he can stay healthy. He was drafted to replace Ladainian Tomlinson, and if how they used LT was any indication, Mathews should be a major part of San Diego's offense.
The increased presence of the running game and the new receivers AJ Smith brought in point to a reduced role for Michael Floyd. You can't score if you don't have the ball, so expect Michael Floyd to drop off significantly this year.