When several star players began the year with a whimper rather than on a rampage, some fantasy owners panicked and others gave a disgusted shrug. Either reaction was fine at the outset. The season was a clean slate and the sky the limit. Now the atmosphere is more defined. Though a small sampling of star players (such as LaDainian Tomlinson) have picked up the pace, there are more than a few still floundering. What was okay for a laugh before is not so funny now.
With approximately a third of the season finished, it’s time for owners who have been suffering with sub-par stars to make necessary changes to their weekly lineups or face the prospect of missing the playoffs entirely. Below are eight players with problems particular to their circumstances. These are guys you may want to consider benching or trying to trade away. Though any of them is capable of an enormous day, it is becoming clear that they will not meet, let alone exceed, the expectations placed upon them before the season started. Best to deal with that reality now.
Larry Johnson a Chief Player No More
Key retirements and some injuries along the offensive line have finally done in that fine Kansas City unit. Anyone who selected Johnson high in a draft this year is sorry. After five weeks of NFL action Johnson sits behind 21 other players on the list of rushing yards. He follows players no one could have predicted would be given even a chance to do well. Sammy Morris has 95 more yards rushing and Derrick Ward has 134 more yards. Then there is the touchdown issue, the season-long goose egg in that department. A scary fact for fantasy owners.
Last week the team did face a normally tough Jacksonville defense, but fantasy owners can’t expect much from their player if Herm Edwards is only going to give Johnson nine carries. You can practically fall forward for the 1.2 yards per carry that Johnson gained with those nine attempts. Kansas City is forsaking the anemic rushing attack in favor of a passing game that is at least somewhat lively under Damon Huard with Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe. Try finding another player to start until/unless Johnson starts to score again.
Drew Brees the Bust
Watching the Saints offense right now is like seeing your dreams slowly die. The offensive line hasn’t helped, but there is no getting over the fact that quarterback Drew Brees has simply failed to get it done. He has one, ONE! touchdown in four games this year, and has thrown nine interceptions on the other side of the ledger. Brees currently ranks 18th in the league in passing yards, after finishing first in 2006. He is behind such luminary passers as Joey Harrington and Derek Anderson.
Without Deuce McAllister for the rest of the season, New Orleans is going to have to figure out other ways to stay competitive in games this year. It will be a challenge since the Saints must face the reality that their team was a frontrunner to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this season. Clearly Brees is going to improve on his touchdown-to-interception ratio, but I think it is also clear he cannot help carry your fantasy team.
Frank Gore Faltering
Gore is getting pushed to the substrate under a wave of injuries to teammates. He hasn’t broken 100 yards rushing this season, nor scored since a two-touchdown outburst in week two. His last three games have provided 39, 79 and 52 yards rushing, respectively. Until this team can field some kind of passing game, opposing defenses are going to tee off on Gore. He’s just not going to be able to get it done while Alex Smith and Vernon Davis are out.
Cedric Benson the Un-Funny Entertainer
It’s funny watching management continue to push this guy into the starting role. It’s been quite clear to me for some time that the team would be better off giving the majority of the carries to Adrian Peterson for a change. The Bears did beat the Packers last week but really got lucky to do so. The defense is still an injury mess, and the offense is not potent enough to put Benson in position to score often. He does have 303 yards rushing and two touchdowns this year, but his average per rush is only three yards on the dot. In two of his five games so far this season he has gained an average of below 2.4 yards per carry. I don’t see Benson doing much more than he has this year, even if the team’s quarterbacking should improve.
Alge Crumpler Underused in Atlanta
The sudden disarray at quarterback is bad for Crumpler. Although he wasn’t getting a lot of end zone opportunities (1 score this year) at least he was gaining somewhat respectable yardage. Now that is out of the equation too. Last week he had two receptions for a measly four yards. This is going to get worse before it gets better.
Thomas Jones not Keeping Up
The Jets are simply not getting it done on offense as a team. For whatever reason they cannot find any consistency. The squad can make a big play (Laveranues Coles or Jerricho Cotchery do amazing things on their own fairly often) but has not gotten Jones involved. Jones does not have a single touchdown, and four of his five games have produced 42, 67, 35 and 36 yards rushing. Not exactly a recipe for success. I think fantasy owners will have to accept that Jones hurt the Bears by being forced from Chicago but has not helped fantasy owners this season at all.
Terrell Owens as a Dallas Decoy
Owens started off the year with a bang, but has begun to fizzle like a weak firework in a drizzle. Because the Cowboys are cruising along it is not okay to write off Owens. But, it seems like the Cowboys are now winning while using Owens as a decoy down the field. Opposing teams put extra pressure on Owens to try taking him out of the game, and Dallas counters by dumping off to Marion Barber, Julius Jones or Jason Witten underneath. Witten has more touchdowns than Owens this year. When the team goes for longer gains it is Patrick Crayton who is open.
In fact Crayton’s emergence has neatly coincided with a downward trend for Owens. In week four of the NFL season Owens had three catches for 33 yards while Crayton caught seven passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Last Monday night Owens gained a paltry 25 yards on two receptions while Crayton gained 73 yards and another score on six catches. It’s awfully hard to sit a talent like Owens, but owners should at least consider that option at this time.
Shaun Alexander the Not So Great
Two 100-yard games in five contests are not bad, but Alexander comes off a very bad showing versus Pittsburgh. He has only scored twice this year, and not at all in the last three weeks. In game four he rushed for only 3.1 yards per carry. Last week was even worse, when he totaled 25 yards on 11 carries for a 2.3 average. He does have some easy games coming up – against New Orleans, San Francisco and the Rams twice. Still, the sudden drop in trips to the end zone is troubling.
Donald Driver Driven Down
Driver has been very mediocre this season despite a scorching start by his quarterback. Brett Favre leads the league with 1,527 passing yards and has nine touchdowns. The difference this year is that the team has some healthy players at the position who warrant their own looks in the offense. Driver is not the only option anymore. Last week Driver was only the third-best fantasy wide receiver on his own team:
Driver does have 31 receptions for 374 yards and two touchdowns, but that is not that much more impressive than what James Jones has been able to accomplish: 23 receptions for 293 yards and a touchdown. And now Greg Jennings is healthy. He already has more touchdowns (3) than Driver does and has 11 receptions for 208 yards on his own. I expect Driver to get less of the pie the rest of the season. Start him if you want to with that in mind.