Every season, we do our best to predict who the big sleepers and breakout candidates are going to be. Every season, we get a few of them wrong -- very wrong. But just because a certain player goes bust one year doesn't mean they'll be a bust forever. Welcome to "Bust-a-Move", where we're breaking down some of 2014's biggest fantasy football disappointments to determine if you can expect some stat sheet salvation in 2015.
After spending the first four seasons of his career as a secondary option in the Indianapolis Colts passing game, Pierre Garçon came into his own in 2013. In his second season in Washington, the veteran receiver had a career year, catching 113 passes for 1,346 yards and five touchdowns -- far outpacing any of his teammates and landing among the top 15 fantasy wideouts for the first time in his career. Garçon was on his way to being a legitimate fantasy WR1 ... or so we thought.
The addition of DeSean Jackson to Washington's pass-catching corps in 2014 was predicted to be a drag on Garçon's fantasy production, but few would have expected the dropoff that actually occured. The Mount Union product regressed to the type of numbers he posted during his seasons with Indy, tallying a stat line of 68/752/3 and finishing outside of the top 50 at his position.
So much like Slim Shady, I'd like the real Pierre Garçon to please stand up. Is Garçon really a player who could again approach 100 receptions in a season, or was that 2013 campaign an outlier? Is he really nothing more than a speedy accessory to a team's passing game who will offer adequate, but never great, fantasy football production? As always, I turned to Game Rewind for a little bit of help in trying to define exactly who Pierre Garçon is.
What went wrong
To start with, Washington had quarterback problems. Then to follow up, the team had more issues with the signal-caller. But beyond that, they were really dealing with problems under center. Did I mention that Washington had spotty quarterback play?
That's not completely fair. Washington's trio of quarterbacks in 2014 -- Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy -- were in the middle of the pack for quarterback rating while throwing the same number of touchdowns as interceptions (18). So while the QB position wasn't the only reason for Washington's 4-12 record in 2014, that group certainly didn't do much to help the team or the players around them. Count Garçon among that group of players.
However that doesn't absolve Garçon of blame for his lackluster 2014 campaign. Watching his game film was a reminder that it takes more than just being fast to get open. After peeping some early games from last season, I had a question for my colleague Alex Gelhar.
Me: "I thought Pierre Garçon was fast. Why is he stuck running so many underneath routes?"
Alex: "He's ... shifty?"
Turns out we were both right. As I continued watching tape, I realized that Garçon is indeed fast. The receiver was at his best when he could use his speed to his advantage. Generally, that was on the few occasions where he could beat press coverage off the line or (more frequently) use his speed to drive defensive backs before turning around on comebacks.
He was also pretty shifty. Garçon forced 11 missed tackles according to Pro Football Focus -- that tied him for 15th among all wide receivers. Presumably, it's why offensive coordinator Sean McVay tried so many bubble screens with Garçon in an effort to allow him to burn defenders with that speed and shiftiness. The problem is that not many of those missed tackles came on those short throws, as evidenced in part by a mediocre 349 yards after the catch.
But the biggest difference between Garçon's breakout 2013 season and every other year of his career? Volume. He's never been a very efficient wide receiver, catching 58.7 percent of the balls thrown his way during his seven NFL seasons. When he snagged 113 passes in 2013, he did it on 181 targets -- by far the most he had seen in any one season. That was also on a roster with a receiving corps of 34-year-old Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson and Josh Morgan. In other words ... where else were you going to go with the football? Add in more viable pass-catchers like DeSean Jackson and Garçon's targets (and receptions) were bound to decrease.
What must improve
The biggest help would be to have improved play at quarterback. But considering Washington will enter the season with the same three-headed monster under center, it would be the dictionary definition of insanity to expect anything much better than what we've seen from this group over the past few years.
The next biggest help would be the make sure Garçon sees ALL OF THE TARGETS in 2015. If he's not going to be more efficient at catching passes thrown his way (and we have seven seasons of history to suggest that it won't happen), then the next best thing is hoping that one out of every three pass attempts is tossed in the direction of No. 88. Alas, that seems impractical unless you're Lane Kiffin coaching the 2013 USC Trojans.
So since the first two suggestions seem implausible, we can only hope that Garçon is asked to run routes more suited to his strength. Because of his speed, he will almost inevitably see plenty of cushion from most opposing defensive backs. As long has he can drive them off the line to create space, he should be open for plenty of intermediate routes along the sideline. That's great for a move-the-chains type of receiver ... not so much for a big play guy.
What we expect
It's looking more and more like the big year we saw from Garçon in 2013 was an anomaly. In reality, he's the type of player who will land somewhere around 70/800/5 in a season. Those aren't terrible numbers, but they're certainly not approaching the type of production you'd expect from even a low-end WR2. Having better quarterback play could help, but more than likely, Garçon is just Popeye. But not in a good, spinach-eating way.
Verdict: There is value in drafting a player like Pierre Garçon, but only if you have him pegged as a fourth or fifth option on your fantasy roster.