Four Players To Avoid Trading For: The Rocky V Rule July 2, 2014  |  Rich Hribar

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One of the most popular series in cinema history is the Rocky franchise. From amazing montages, stellar cameos, Bill Conti soundtracks and of course some outlandish in-ring action, it’s won an Oscar for Best Picture, earned $1.2 billion worldwide and still runs in succession on TBS every other weekend. You know the synopsis from the first four films; it’s a story more about boxing, but rather a guy who just wants to get by in the world without being a nobody. He achieves that and by the conclusion of the fourth movie, he single handedly ends the Cold War. Those first four films were amazing, but then Rocky V happened. If you’ve seen the fifth installment, you may not even remember what happened because it’s the Batman & Robin of the franchise. In short, Rocky has lost his fortune, becomes a trainer for Tommy Gunn who wins the title after ditching Balboa for a phantom Don King. No one appreciates him; he fights Rocky in the street. That’s pretty much it. One of my favorite fantasy musings is saying “Father Time is Undefeated”. When something is so good, it’s hard to fathom it ever being bad. Dynasty owners are more cognizant and accountable for performance deterioration, but it’s still really hard for most to come to terms with an excellent performer for so long, finally reaching the end. I’m going to give you four players that are all beyond the recent positional age of decline that I would be hesitant in adding to my roster. These are guys that have been strong fantasy assets, but are finally going to succumb to what I refer to as, “The Rocky V Rule”. These are all players a good portion of the dynasty community is already selling overall, but if you happen to be a contender and are looking to buy immediate assets to help secure a 2014 title, you may want to pause.

Vincent Jackson

Did you know that Jackson has the fifth most fantasy points at wide receiver over the past three seasons? It’s true. He’s been a Top 15 overall receiver in each of the past three seasons despite never catching 80 passes in a season and never scoring double digit touchdowns in a season. He’s one of the best vertical receivers in the league, having 26 receptions of 30-yards or more since 2011, tied for the sixth most over that stretch. Over the past two seasons, he’s posted back to back 70 plus catch seasons, the only two on his career resume. While he appears to be getting better with age, his 2013 season was really inflated by the obscene surplus of targets he received. Not just the overall total of targets, but percentage of the entire team’s targets (market share)  he received.

Year Targets MS Tgt%
2013 160 31.1%
2012 147 22.0%
2011 115 19.8%
2009 108 20.9%
*Played in only 5 games in 2010

  With the loss of Doug Martin and Mike Williams for over half of the season each, Jackson was spoon fed opportunities from Mike Glennon by default. No other Buccaneer accounted for even 15 percent of the team targets. Jackson was targeted on nearly one third of all pass plays (most in the NFL) last season and still was only the WR16 in PPR leagues and had only six weeks of Top 24 production. With the addition of the best receiving prospect in this class in Mike Evans, a touchdown machine in Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Robert Herron, an elite pass catching back in Charles Sims as well as the return of Martin, we can anticipate his slice of the pie to return to the normalcy of prior seasons. Before we assume that all of those options help him a great deal, Jackson has posted a catch rate of over 60 percent just once in his career and has been under 50 percent both of his seasons in Tampa. A player whose overall numbers disguise his weekly contributions, the end is nigh for Jackson’s fantasy value.

Tony Romo

This one hurts a little bit, because I’m a big supporter of Romo and just how underrated his career has been despite all of the narratives that have surrounded his career. He’s also playing really good football still coming into this season. In 2013, Romo finished ninth in fantasy passing points per aimed attempt out of all quarterbacks. My immediate concern isn’t really the play of Romo, but the play of his teammates that affects his fantasy output. I’m a firm believer that quarterbacks who play consistently in favorable game situations make the best fantasy quarterbacks, whether that’s on a weekly or season scale. Romo’s play never waivers in poor situations, but he’s hampered by his defensive unit instead of inflated by it. Last season the Cowboys ran the absolute fewest plays in the league at an average of 59.8 per game. While many believe that number will shoot up exponentially under Scott Linehan, I do not due to their porous defense. Romo had just six Top 12 fantasy weeks in 2013 because of limited possessions and had only one week scoring higher than QB9. Romo is also coming off of back surgery for the 2014 season. I’m not trying to make that out to be more than it really is, because it wouldn’t go much further than speculation at this point. But courtesy of Pro Football Focus, he has gradually been throwing downfield less and less over the past three seasons.   Pass Attempts 20+ Yards Downfield

Year  Att. Comp Yards TDs Att. %
2013 56 21 695 8 10.5
2012 70 22 823 9 10.8
2011 61 32 1166 13 11.7

There could be more factors to the slight decline, but connecting the dots doesn’t paint a great sign for a quarterback coming into the season at the age of 34. Since 2009, the only quarterbacks to post a Top 10 fantasy season at the age of 34 or older have been Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Somewhat controversial but shouldn’t be, I believe Romo is nearly as good of a fantasy and real quarterback as the mentioned names on that list, but all of these quarterbacks were attached to teams that won 11 games or more in those seasons.

Rank Player Year Age Tm TmRecord FantPt Cmp Att Yds TD Int
1 Peyton Manning 2013 37 DEN 13-3 410 450 659 5477 55 10
2 Drew Brees 2013 34 NOR 11-5 357.7 446 650 5162 39 12
3 Brett Favre 2009 40 MIN 12-4 284.6 363 531 4202 33 7
3 Tom Brady 2012 35 NWE 13-3 340.3 401 637 4827 34 8
4 Tom Brady 2011 34 NWE 13-3 364.3 401 611 5235 39 12
6 Peyton Manning 2012 36 DEN 13-3 311 400 583 4659 37 11

The Cowboys just simply aren’t going to be good enough to support a Top 10 season from him, aside from the injury concerns, but I believe you can sell him as such to a contending team that is thin at quarterback. With the addition of Linehan still generating plenty of positive buzz; turning Romo into future picks or skill players whose exterior isn’t as glowing on a team with solid enough depth is a plan I can endorse, even if he does play well above from a real perspective.

Jason Witten

The other reason I’m not terribly high on Romo maintaining a ton of fantasy equity is that his supporting cast outside of Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray is hardly anything to be excited about. There’s a good reason to believe we’ve already seen the best from Witten.

Year Tgt  Rec Catch % TD TD %
2013 111 73 65.8% 8 11.0%
2012 149 110 73.8% 3 2.7%
2011 117 79 67.5% 5 6.3%
2010 128 94 73.4% 9 9.6%
2009 124 94 75.8% 2 2.1%
2008 121 81 66.9% 4 4.9%
2007 141 96 68.1% 7 7.3%
2006 91 64 70.3% 1 1.6%
2005 89 66 74.2% 6 9.1%
2004 122 87 71.3% 6 6.9%
2003 54 35 64.8% 1 2.9%

Last season, Witten saw the fewest targets in his career since 2006, converted the lowest amount of targets into catches since his rookie season, yet posted his highest touchdown rate. Regression is a popular word in fantasy circles, but that’s a clear example of how you spot fantasy gravity. He had a 12 catch, 135 yard game in Week 17 last season that a minimal portion of the community was able to use. Before that game, the previous four weeks in which you needed him for your fantasy home stretch, he totaled 12 catches for 147 yards and two scores. After week five last season, he had only three top 12 tight end PPR scoring weeks. Witten has never carried the touchdown potential that Tony Gonzalez has had over his career, so it’s unfair to label him as the next version of TG himself. If an owner is still buying him as being such and thinks he can help them win this season, look for a second rounder or more from him.

Marques Colston

The original Saints receiver who counted as a tight end for fantasy, Colston just turned 31 earlier this month and is coming off of his fifth consecutive season with at least 70 receptions. Obtaining any piece of an offense helmed by Drew Brees is alluring, but Colston was already slowly fading away from the Saints main offensive plans a year ago.

Year Age G Rec Tgt MS Tgt % Yds Y/R TD R/G Y/G
2012 29 16 83 130 19.4 1154 13.9 10 5.2 72.1
2013 30 15 75 111 17.1 943 12.6 5 5.0 62.9

As you’ve noticed throughout this post, I’m a stickler for looking a big picture results and fragmenting them into usable weekly ones. Colston had only five Top 24 weeks in 2013, only two more than running mate Kenny Stills had. His targets took a solid decline and his slice of passing game pie did as well. His receptions per game hung around his 2012 total, and he did deal with a lingering knee injury, but what he did with those receptions in terms of producing yardage and touchdowns dropped off. Even the 10 touchdowns he had in 2012 are slightly misleading since he had two in Week 17 of that season, which we don’t really care about, and had another three in a Week 6 game versus the Chargers. In the other 13 relevant fantasy weeks, he scored only five times. This is an offense that still runs through Jimmy Graham and the organization just invested trading up to acquire Brandin Cooks to play a Sprolesian mash up of slot receiver, offensive weapon as well as continuing the growth of Stills himself. They also have hinted at incorporating both Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson into the fold, which could reduce the passing pie as a whole.   There are certainly more guys to name than this when we’re talking about declining dynasty assets, but some declining assets can still help you make a title push. These are four guys that could be in the latter part of the discussion, but there’s too many peripheral red flags surrounding either their own play or their situation. Even when things are going well, remember  the Rocky V Rule. One too many trips to the well can nearly ruin your franchise.

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