6. Steven Jackson
Off the cliff is where Jackson ended up. Tasked with erasing the memory of Michael Turner’s 2012, S-Jax instead filmed a shot-for-shot remake, actually averaging less than the 3.6 yards per carry Turner managed in 2012. Part of Jackson’s struggles were undoubtedly due to the Falcons’ porous line play and out-of-sync passing attack. But Father Time’s imprint was all over his down year, and what Father Time takes, he never gives back. In Jackson’s case, age has robbed him of all semblance of burst or lateral agility. Disappointment was a previously-unknown concept for one of the 21st century’s best runners, but it will likely be all he knows going forward.
7. Percy Harvin
Harvin was tagged as an injury-prone player long before he actually proved prone to injury. Frequently debilitating migraine headaches will (unfairly) do that. Nevertheless, Harvin missed just three games through his first three NFL seasons. Then came 2012, where a severe ankle injury cut short an MVP-level campaign after only nine games. Fast forward to 2013, where Harvin got a new team, a fat new contract and … appeared in exactly one regular-season contest. Now the 5-foot-11, 184-pound missile’s durability is in question. Harvin is still only 25, and as the Super Bowl showed, still one of the game’s most lethal playmakers. Few are harder on their body, however. Harvin’s disregard for his bones and brain led to early NFL success, but could also mean an early retirement.
8. Tavon Austin
Austin busted enough big plays to avoid “total bust” status, but the Rams didn’t invest the No. 8 overall pick in the 5-foot-8, 174-pound Swiss Army Knife so he could average 10.5 yards per catch. That’s a number befitting of a lumbering tight end, not an open-field dynamo who once rushed for 344 yards against the Oklahoma Sooners. Austin has to prove he can emerge from piles with extra yards in 2014. Otherwise, he’ll be just one of the McCluster crowd.
9. Doug Martin
There were many layers to Martin’s disappointing sophomore campaign. Most obviously, his numbers just weren’t that good before he went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 7. Martin surpassed 100 yards on the ground only once in six games, while his 3.6 YPC was off an entire yard from his 2012 mark. Then there’s the fact that the guys who took the rock after Martin went down — Mike James and Bobby Rainey — were arguably as effective. That is not to say that James and Rainey are on Martin’s level. They’re not. But Martin has used up the benefit of the doubt he earned with his stellar rookie campaign, especially considering there’s now a new coach and general manager in Tampa. Running back is the ultimate “what have you done for me lately?” position, and if Martin gets off to a slow start in OC Jeff Tedford’s two-back system, he could fall further than fantasy owners ever thought possible.
10. Danny Amendola
Forever known as a “Wes Welker type,” Amendola got the chance to be Wes Welker. He failed the audition, hopefully rendering the “Welker is a system player” narrative moot in the process. Amendola came to New England with two defining characteristics: His toughness and his fragility. While the former flashed itself in spurts, the latter reared its ugly head from practically the day Amendola signed his contract. It’s hard to criticize a player who lays it all on the line every single play. But it’s even harder to praise someone who’s never healthy enough to make an impact.
11. Lamar Miller
As far as résumé bullet points go, “Couldn’t distance self from Daniel Thomas” is somewhere between “Works better drunk” and “Has persistent, excessive flatulence.” Yes, Miller was underused by his clueless offensive coordinator — a clueless offensive coordinator who has since been fired — but even someone as dense as Mike Sherman would have rode Miller had he forced the issue. He didn’t, and missed his best — and perhaps only — chance to establish himself as an NFL feature back.
12. Jared Cook
Admit it, you thought you were a genius. You know, after Week 1, where Cook tore through the Arizona Cardinals for seven catches, 141 yards and two touchdowns in his first game in a Rams uniform. I certainly did. As it turns out, neither Cook nor the Cardinals’ tight-end defense ever got any better. Cook only got worse. Cook came within 100 yards of his Week 1 total just six more times, topping 50 once in 15 games. It was an epic comedown that made the Titans look smart for letting Cook walk in free agency. Cook is not a useless player, but he is a one-dimensional one. He prefers streak routes, and likes to be wide open when he catches passes. One day, that could make him a useful cog in a competent offense. But his fantasy window has come and gone.
13. Stephen Hill
Hill hasn’t lacked for excuses during his thus far underwhelming two-year career. He’s had the ignominy of catching passes from Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith, while his health hasn’t cooperated. His rookie offense was coordinated by Tony Sparano. Whatever the excuses, however, Hill hasn’t produced. He caught 11 passes after Week 3. 11. As in a 1 followed by a 1. Hill was viewed as a project coming out of run-focused Georgia Tech, but this is beginning to look like a renovation that will never be completed.
14. C.J. Spiller
You can look at Spiller’s 2013 one of two ways. 1. He only struggled because he was never fully healthy. 2. He’s never fully healthy. Officially, Spiller missed only one game. Unofficially, he checked himself out more times than a winded 45-year-old dad at the Y. Spiller has proven he can play banged up, but he’s yet to prove he can operate at peak effectiveness when doing so. It’s probably time to give up the RB1 ghost.
15. Joe Flacco
It was a season of firsts for Flacco. For example, 2013 was the first time Flacco made more than Elvis, Justin Bieber and Barack Obama combined. It was also the first time he threw more than 20 interceptions. Mr. Mighty Wings got paid like an elite quarterback, but produced like a fringe one. Flacco checked in near the bottom of the league in all manner of categories, including yards per attempt (6.37) and touchdown percentage (3.1). Ryan Fitzpatrick had a higher QBR. Flacco may have lacked for weapons, but he also lacked for any tangible sign of growth. Flacco is not a bad quarterback. But the only thing he’s elite at is barely exceeding the status quo.