Like any good season, 2013 featured no shortage of breakout stars and late bloomers. But for every Alshon Jeffery and Jordan Cameron, there was a Trent Richardson or Danny Amendola. Players who, for whatever reason, couldn’t meet the hype or expectations. The reasons for disappointment ranged from age to injury to plain-old ineffectiveness. We’ll delve deeper into the how and why for some of these inglorious 25 in this year’s What Went Wrong? series. This is not an all-encompassing list, while players aren’t necessarily ranked in order of “most disappointing.” There were more than 25 disappointing players in 2013, and "disappointment" is a nebulous concept that means different things to different people. I also thought it would be a bit mean to include David Wilson and his career-threatening neck injury. With all that said, here are 25 players who didn’t answer the bell in 2013.
1. Trent Richardson
Richardson’s failure was so staggering, so comprehensive, that it’s hard to know where to begin. There isn’t a fantasy owner alive who doesn’t know the gory details, so instead of an avalanche of ugly numbers, we’ll begin with a comparison. Richardson is a first-round pick twice over. Andre Ellington was the No. 187 selection of last April’s draft. Ellington led the league with 5.52 yards per carry. That was nearly double what T-Rich averaged as a Colt, 2.91. Now you could consider this an arbitrary observation. T-Rich and Ellington are two very different players. But if that’s arbitrary, T-Rich’s numbers are capricious. He averaged 25.5 rushing yards per game over Indy’s final nine contests. He rushed for more than 40 yards four times in 14 games. His season high was 64. He averaged 4.0 yards per carry exactly once. In the playoffs? Richardson had as many lost fumbles (one) as yards (one). We’ll explore the “why” of Richardson’s 2013 in a future What Went Wrong?, but the “where” is unambiguously clear: In a gutter all by itself.
2. Ray Rice
One of the few players who feared to tread in Richardson’s slum of ineptitude? Rice. But therein lies the first difference between two extremely disappointing seasons: Tread. As in, a lot of it had already been peeled off of Rice’s tires coming into 2013. Whether it’s wear and tear, advancing age, Baltimore’s shockingly poor line play or Rice’s hip injury that’s to blame for his subterranean campaign, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it happened, and that amongst qualified rushers, Rice’s 3.08 yards per carry bettered only three players (yes, Richardson was one of them). Logical explanations or not, that’s an impossibly-bad number for a player who was the No. 7 pick by ADP. Rice has given fantasy owners many good years, but it’s possible he’s tapped out after taking the ball 1,527 times before his 26th birthday. Here’s hoping he’s not.
3. Robert Griffin III
Early in the season, Griffin didn’t “disappoint” so much as fail to meet unreasonably high expectations. This, after all, was a player rushing back from the second torn right ACL of his football-playing career. But then instead of rallying for a strong finish, RGIII snowballed, playing genuinely bad football over his final four starts. His reward was an unceremonious — and misguided — benching for Kirk Cousins. Cousins’ stark failure has spared RGIII the indignity of a talk-radio quarterback “controversy,” but he’s on the spot instead of on the rise.
4. Eli Manning
A much worse — and much harder to explain — implosion took place 225 miles up the northeast megalopolis from RGIII. Manning’s 27 interceptions were the most by any player since Brett Favre tossed 29 in 2005. Manning has now thrown 42 picks over his past 32 games, and posted a 4:10 TD:INT ratio over five December starts. Adding to Eli’s figurative limp into the offseason was a literal one, as he suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 17. Forgetting the inane debate over Manning’s “eliteness,” it’s impossible to argue that his Giants tenure has been an unsuccessful one. But if Peyton’s little brother doesn’t find more success in 2014, succession planning will begin in earnest for one of the league’s most intelligent franchises.
5. Roddy White
White entered 2013 as a model of consistency who had never missed a game. He exited it a 32 year old with sudden injury issues. White suffered a high-ankle sprain in training camp and never recovered, missing the first three games of his career while being held below 1,000 yards for the first time since 2006. Along the way were hamstring and shoulder issues. Finally healthy in December, White closed on a 43/502/2 tear. But that was without Julio Jones to siphon targets, and after White entered the season’s final month with just 20 grabs for 209 yards. White’s finish hints that perhaps his year was an Andre Johnson 2011-style aberration. But gambling on a soon-to-be 33 year old’s resurgence in 2014 will be risky business. Once players get to the cliff, they typically fall of it instead of pulling back.
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.
16. Ben Tate
Tate’s contract year wasn’t so much a failure as more of the same. A powerful, downhill runner, Tate managed a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, but again found himself plagued by injury. With Arian Foster going down in Week 9, Tate was gifted half a year to prove he could carry the mail. Instead, he played through a ribs issue for the better part of two months before being shut down for Weeks 16 and 17. If Tate’s power is his trademark, it’s also his Achilles’ heel, as he’s simply never at 100 percent. Tate may very well be someone’s starter for 2014, but it will almost certainly be on a one-year contract, and not the multi-year deal that was once within his grasp.
17. Dwayne Bowe
You can blame Alex Smith all you want, but the fact is, it wasn’t just his quarterback holding Bowe back in 2013. Admittedly sluggish — translation: out of shape — Bowe struggled more than he should have against man coverage, and managed just 3.4 yards after every catch. Bowe has never been a YAC dynamo, but that was a half yard off his 2012 mark, a year in which the Chiefs received far worse quarterback play. Bowe has vowed to get into better shape for 2014, and to improve his endurance while getting more “explosive and faster.” That’s easier said than done for a player going on 30.
18. Coby Fleener
Fleener was supposed to strike up an immediate bond with college teammate Andrew Luck when the Colts made him the No. 34 pick of the 2012 draft. Instead, he’s shown a disconcerting knack for doing all the little things wrong. Never known for his blocking, Fleener remains behind schedule as a pass catcher. There’s the drops, his struggle to create separation and a remarkable habit of never knowing where the chains are. There’s no overarching flaw with Fleener’s game, but five small problems are just as bad as one big one. With Dwayne Allen back in the picture for 2014, 2013 could go down as Fleener’s disappointing peak.
19. Stevan Ridley
Before 2013, you could make the case that Bill Belichick was too harsh on Ridley. Four lost fumbles later, it appears The Hoodie was right. Ridley is too loose with the ball, and it not only cost him a shot at a true breakout season, but burned legions of fantasy owners who made him a second-round pick. Ridley is a one-dimensional player. He’s still barely trusted as a blocker, and has only 19 career receptions. Now that he’s compromised his one dimension — chain-moving power running — by continuing to put the ball on the ground, he may never escape the ranks of “complementary back.”
20. Vincent Brown
A one-time draftnik favorite, Brown entered 2013 as a certifiable sleeper. He exits it as a certified bust, having caught just 41 passes for a team that lost its No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. Leapfrogged by Keenan Allen and out-produced by Eddie Royal, Brown’s promise appears to have gone down with the fractured ankle that cost him all of 2012. He’s a tight end stuck in a 5-foot-11, 184-pound body.
21. Brandon Myers
Myers made his name racking up cheap catches for an overmatched Raiders team in 2012. He parlayed it into a one-year deal for a club and quarterback who have never hesitated to dump the ball off to the tight end. But instead of easy money over the middle, the Giants got a player whose receiving production fell by nearly a third. Throw that on top of utterly incompetent blocking, and you have a player who won’t be invited back to the TE1 ranks, either in “real life” or fantasy.
22. Ryan Broyles
An NCAA record setter, Broyles is on pace to suffer a record amount of serious injuries at the NFL level. Even before a torn right Achilles’ tendon ended Broyles’ 2013 in late October, he clearly wasn’t beyond the twin ACL tears he suffered in 2011 and 2012, managing only eight catches as he played sparse snaps for an offense that was direly thin at receiver. At one time, Broyles’ upside was immense. Now it’s kaput.
23. Chris Johnson
CJ2K became CJ55MillionK in 2011. Since, he’s seen his production steadily decline along with his effort. Unwilling or unable to break through contact, Johnson managed only 3.9 yards per carry in 2013, while turning in a “long” rush of just 30 yards. He averaged 1.8 yards after first contact, good for No. 48 in Pro Football Focus’ ratings. They’re startlingly pedestrian numbers for a player who still has super-human speed. Now on the outs in Tennessee, CJwhateverK’s days as an every-down runner are likely through.
24. Isaiah Pead
Still less than two years removed from being the No. 50 overall pick of the 2012 draft, Pead will enter his third NFL campaign with all of 31 career touches — and perhaps without a roster spot. Pead threw away a golden opportunity to replace Steven Jackson by getting himself suspended for Week 1 and failing to show signs of progress anywhere on the field. He averaged 3.3 yards per carry in the preseason. “Miserable” by his own admission as a rookie, Pead now has two miserably ineffective seasons to his name as a pro. There’s no guarantee he’ll get a chance to make it three.
25. Miles Austin
Austin entered the season at (supposedly) 100 percent health. Three weeks and one hamstring “tweak” later, it was off to the disappointing races yet again. Extremely ineffective when he was on the field, the rapidly declining 29 year old caught just 24 passes in 11 games. A shooting star Jerry Jones paid $57 million in 2010, Austin has barely been a No. 3 receiver since. The Cowboys are expected to give up the ghost this offseason.