By Derek Lofland. We have already indicated our '08 fantasy breakout players, now we present you our Top 10 Players to watch for a fantasy decline in 2008. Staying away from a declining player on draft day is as important as picking up a sleeper, therefore let's mention names.
1) MLB Ray Lewis – Ravens: He will be turning 33 years old this May. He hasn’t played a full season since 2003. He has started 14 and 13 games the past 2 seasons and has posted over 100 tackles. Entering his 13th season I expect him to slow down a little as father time catches on. I don’t think he is at the point where he is not a viable starting option. However, I’m not sure he will stay healthy enough and the team will be good enough for him to post 100 tackles this season.
2) RB Fred Taylor – Jaguars: Taylor is ancient by running back’s standards and has a player behind him that is looking to blow up in MJD. Taylor made his first Pro Bowl appearance last year thanks to a 1,202-rushing yards campaign. Those were his most since 2004. I think Taylor will still be a big part of the Jaguars’ offense in 2008, but I expect his and Jones-Drew’s numbers to flip-flop a little bit with him being in the 1,200-yard plus range and Taylor being in the 700-900 yard range. Jones-Drew surged late last season to prove his dominance in the running game. Expect injuries and age to hamper Taylor’s efforts this season and Jones-Drew to rise out of his back-up role.
3) WR Torry Holt – Rams: I don’t like the condition of his knee. There is talk that this is going to be a chronic condition that will bother him for the rest of his career. I think that in his prime he may have been the best receiver in the NFL. Because of his history of knee injuries, expect more of the same this year. Last year he slowed to 93 catches for 1,189 yards and seven touchdowns with his quarterback being hurt for stretches last season. Most receivers would kill to have an “Off year” like that. I think that with him turning 32-years old and the absence of long-time opposite starter Isaac Bruce (who signed as a free agent with the 49ers this off-season) he is going to continue to slide in production. He will still probably register over 1,000 yards in 2008, but less catches and the same to fewer touchdown receptions as opposing defenses will have an easier time double covering him next season.
4) LB Jason Taylor – Dolphins: The Dolphins are in full rebuilding mode. Zach Thomas is gone and Parcells is rebuilding a defense that ranked in the bottom three last year in total defense. He maintains Taylor will continue with the team. However, I don’t expect him to have the same big years he has had the last 2 season. Jason Taylor has had no fewer than 8.5 sacks since 2000 and has been under 10.0 sacks only twice in that span. His turning 34-years old on a rebuilding defense does not bode well for this traditionally strong performer.
5) RB Jamal Lewis – Browns: I just wasn’t as impressed with him last year as most people were. He had 4 of his 9 touchdowns in one game. He had 759 of his 1,304 rushing yards in 5 games. There were just too many games where he had 15 carries and 50 yards. While bringing back QB Derek Anderson, the rest of the offense and a few key acquisitions (notably journeyman Donte Stallworth) will help matters, Jamal Lewis isn’t getting any younger. I would expect more of the ups and downs in the running game next year.
6) RB Edgerrin James – Cardinals: 30-years old is a dangerous time for running backs and James turns 30 this season. He has not had more than 128 yards rushing in a game since joining Arizona and has no games with multiple touchdowns. In 2006, he was cursed by an offense that did not commit to the running game. Last season he had 10 games with 20-plus carries, but was not able to explode for a lot of yards. The Cardinals drafted RB Tim Hightower to cope with James’s decline. I would not be surprised if he had less than 1,000 yards rushing in 2008 splitting time with Hightower or with 4th year runner J.J. Arrington.
7) OLB Mike Vrabel – Patriots: Vrabel had a career-year last season with 12.5 sacks. It was his most sacks since the 9.5 he had in 2003. The Patriots have had significant losses in the secondary and have not upgraded the middle linebacker as of yet. I still expect Vrabel to be a productive player, but not being able to match his career-high 13 sacks of a year ago.
8) WR Donald Driver – Packers: This is partially a reflection of the retirement of Brett Favre and partially a reflection of the emergence of Greg Jennings. I had Driver on this list even before Favre retired. Now it seems like a slam-dunk. I still expect 60-70 catches for Driver, but I expect his yardage to drop right around the 1,000 mark and I expect more of the same with his touchdown catches. He only had two last year. I expect RB Ryan Grant and Jennings to dominate the endzone for the Packers in 2008.
9) WR Hines Ward – Steelers: Very similar position to Driver. Ward is still a solid player. He is a veteran guy that is watching a blossoming star come alive opposite of him. After posting 975 yards in 2005 and 2006, Ward hit a decline last season with 71 catches for 731 yards and 7 touchdowns. His starting only 13 games due to nagging injuries caused part of that. However, he only started 14 games in 2006. A lot of it had to do with the emergence of Holmes. I would expect similar numbers to 2007 even if he plays all 16 games. I think Parker, Miller, and Holmes will continue to steal some of the spotlight from him. He definitely will not have the value he had in 2001-2004.
10) QB/WR Tom Brady/Randy Moss: These two are still going to be one of the most dynamic duos in the NFL. Let’s consider recent follow-ups to record breaking performances:
Peyton Manning after 2004:
2004: 4,557 yards and 49 touchdown passes
2005: 3,747 passing yards and 28 touchdown passes;
or LaDainian Tomlinson after 2006:
2006: 348 rushes, 1,815 yards, and 28 rushing touchdowns
2007: 315 rushes, 1,474 yards, and 15 rushing Touchdowns;
or Jerry Rice after 1987:
1987: 65 receptions, 1078 yards, and 22 receiving Touchdowns
1988: 64 receptions, 1,306 yards, and 9 receiving Touchdowns.
I still look for Tom Brady and Randy Moss to make a ton of exciting plays and be part of the All-Pro Team next season. However, I expect Brady to drop back to 3,800-4,000 yards passing, 28-32 touchdown passes, and I look for Moss to have 85-95 catches for 1,200-1,300 yards and 10-14 touchdowns. Great numbers, just not the record-numbers we saw in 2007. In light of my calling the declining numbers for L.T. correctly last season, I took heat from Charger fans. Not to take anything away from L.T. or the Chargers; they still have a good team. Time will tell if I am right about my previous predictions.
Derek Lofland is the NFL senior director of Fantasy Football Maniaxs.com