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Back to the Future: Brandon Marshall

Digging up comparables from the past to try to predict Brandon Marshall's future.

Without the help of a flux capacitor or Dr. Emmett Brown, this series will attempt to take a look back in time to help us predict the future dynasty results of some of our current fantasy stars. The third receiver in our series is one of last year's biggest stars; Brandon Marshall. After a two year "slump" in Miami, Marshall finished 2012 as the second best receiver in fantasy football.

Marshall found himself in rare company last year, and not just because he produced the 4th most fantasy points of any 7th receiver ever. Just two seasons ago, Marshall was a flex play or WR3 for fantasy purposes. Receivers that have made that kind of leap from year five to year seven are extremely rare. It becomes even more rare if you only consider receivers that had established themself as a WR1 prior to their decline in year five. In fact while I've had to sort through several comps for most of these pieces, in Marshall's case there were really only three that made sense; Don Maynard, James Lofton, and Reggie Wayne.

The first thing that stands out in this graph is that all three of Marshall's comps had a significant drop off in their production in year eight. There's a pretty good reason for that. All of the receivers except for Lofton scored 200+ fantasy points in their seventh year, and that's a number that only the most elite receivers have been able to duplicate year after year. Only fifteen receivers since 1960 have scored 200+ fantasy points after the seventh year of their career. The earliest to do it was Don Maynard, let's start with him.

I've tried to avoid players from as far back as Maynard, because the game was so different back then, but like I mentioned before, it's difficult to find a career that's arced like Marshall's. After one year with the Giants, and another in the CFL, Maynard was a solid, if not spectacular, receiver for the Jets for his first five years. He was a deep threat that didn't catch very many passes, but averaged an outstanding 17.9 YPC. Like Marshall, Maynard got a new quarterback in in his seventh season, a rookie named Joe Namath. Namath and Maynard would become one of the most feared combos in the league for the next 4 years and Maynard would average 1200 yards and 10 touchdowns per season over that span. If you're looking for the most optimistic view of Marshall's arc, you need to go back almost 50 years to find it.

James Lofton's arc mirrors Marshall's drop off from year 4 to 5 almost perfectly, though he didn't quite reach the same heights as Marshall in year seven. If you're like me you probably remember Lofton better as the aging receiver that was a part of the near dynasty in Buffalo in the early 90s. The part his career that we're going to analyze actually took place in Green Bay, on teams that weren't nearly as successful. Lofton's year five drop off is easier to explain, as he missed seven games due to injury. Unlike Maynard and Marshall, Lofton's peak years weren't due to a new quarterback, as he paired up with Lynn Dickey for the first eight years of his career. Dickey's retirement aligns very well with Lofton's spiral from fantasy relevance. The fact that his career was resurrected in Buffalo further illustrates his reliance on quarterback play.

The final comp for Marshall is Reggie Wayne, and at first glance you'd see his career-long tenure with Indianapolis and his stability at quarterback and wonder how relevant it could be to Marshall. Well, something did change for Wayne in his seventh season, he became the number one in Indianapolis. Marvin Harrison missed two games in the first six seasons of Wayne's career, and was clearly Peyton Manning's number one target. In 2007 (Wayne's seventh year) Harrison struggled with injuries and played only five games, leaving the door wide open for Wayne. Still, in year eight, with Harrison a shell of his former self, Wayne saw a significant regression. As talented as Wayne is, he never again came within 10% of that year seven production. They're called career years for a reason.

While none of these players were in exactly the same position as Marshall, I think it's pretty easy to see why I expect at least some regression from in 2013. Receivers don't generally have a career year in their seventh season and repeat the results in year eight. The question remains, how much regression? Take a look at the average fantasy production of these receivers in years 4-6, year 7 and year 8:

  Avg 4-6 Year 7 Year 8
Maynard 139 206 114
Lofton 157 186 141
Wayne 171 211 151
Marshall 152 217 ???

The thing that's really interesting is that these receivers didn't just regress back to their average from years 4-6, they were even worse than that. Of course, for Wayne and Maynard this was an aberration, and they returned to the top in the very next year. What does this all mean for Marshall in 2013 and the future?

OBSERVATIONS AND PROJECTIONS

Projecting Marshall to finish in the top three wide receivers again this year is essentially projecting him to do something no receiver of his pedigree has ever done. Marshall is a very good receiver, he's not Jerry Rice or Calvin Johnson. 2012 was his career year, and while he likely has a few seasons of WR1 production left in him, he's not going to produce the same mind boggling numbers again this year.

In Denver, Marshall was a mid-to-lower tier WR1 and he'll probably regress to something similar. In PPR leagues he's slightly more valuable assuming that Jay Cutler continues to target him an insane number of times. Marshall's current ADP is a little too rich for my blood at WR4 in standard leagues and WR3 in PPR leagues. In dynasty, I would listen to any offer that values Marshall like a top 3 receiver, but I wouldn't let him go for much less than that.


More from Heath Cummings:

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