Fitz on Fantasy: Midseason All-Overachiever and Underachiever Teams
Now that we’ve reached the halfway point of the fantasy season, let’s take a look at the most pleasant surprises and the biggest flops to date. (For the flop list, we’ll exempt the players whose underachievement is mostly due to injury.)
MIDSEASON ALL-OVERACHIEVER TEAM
Philip Rivers — His average draft position (ADP) in the preseason was QB21. His expert consensus ranking on FantasyPros.com was QB23. There were just so many things we miscalculated here: the schematic brilliance of first-year head coach Mike McCoy, the resurgence of TE Antonio Gates, the impact of free-agent RB Danny Woodhead and rookie WR Keenan Allen, the unexpected competence of the offensive line. But most of all, we underestimated Rivers himself, a pinpoint passer, quick thinker and intense competitor. The father of seven (!) ranks seventh in fantasy scoring among QBs, eighth among all players, and has already had three 400-yard passing games.
Runner-up: Peyton Manning — Yes, he was highly ranked to begin with, but few people saw this coming.
Honorable mention: Red-hot redhead Andy Dalton is promising to be much more than the pasta-armed game manager many people thought he was. Matthew Stafford ranks third in QB fantasy scoring and has never played better. Terrelle Pryor has been a pleasant surprise who’s made huge strides as a passer after working on his mechanics with former MLB pitcher and pitching coach Tom House.
Knowshon Moreno — Remember what a Gordian knot the Denver RB situation was back in August? Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and rookie Montee Ball were all vying for carries, and it appeared inevitable that Ball, a second-round pick, would play a prominent role. But Moreno, who a year ago seemed on the cusp of being released, has seized the lead role and is flourishing in it. He’s scored nine TDs already and is on pace for nearly 1,500 yards from scrimmage, putting him behind only Jamaal Charles in RB fantasy points. Moreno’s preseason ADP was RB47. If you drafted him and didn’t bother drafting either Ball or Hillman, you’re an evil genius. Feel free to twirl your handlebar mustache and laugh menacingly.
Fred Jackson — So much for 2013 being a coronation year for C.J. Spiller. Jackson has played a larger role than expected from the get-go and currently ranks ninth in fantasy scoring among RBs with 648 yards from scrimmage and six TDs. Spiller’s preseason ADP was RB5; Jackson’s was RB40. F-Jax might be the most perennially underestimated player in fantasy football history.
Runners-up: Andre Ellington and Eddie Lacy — Ellington wasn’t even the first RB taken by the Cardinals in this year’s draft, going in the sixth round after the Cards had taken Stepfan Taylor in the fifth round, 47 picks earlier. Ellington has been a revelation in a part-time role, with three TDs and more than 500 yards from scrimmage, and continues to push for more playing time. Lacy has been an absolute beast, rolling up 446 yards and three TDs. And remember, Lacy has really only played about five games: Lacy sustained a concussion on his first carry in a game against the Redskins, then missed his next game, and the Packers have also had their bye.
Honorable mention: Frank Gore has 618 rushing yards and seven TDs to rank sixth in RB fantasy scoring; his ADB was RB17. Danny Woodhead didn’t even crack the top 40 in preseason ADP but has been terrific in a jack-of-all-trades role for the Chargers. Zac Stacy, a rookie fifth-round draft pick, seemed to be an afterthought for the Rams in the preseason but has ascended to a feature-back role and has looked sharp.
Josh Gordon — Props to the fantasy owners who shrugged off Gordon’s two-game suspension to start the season and got the talented young receiver at a slight discount. Of course, the suspension wasn’t the only potential drawback. The Browns’ dicey QB situation was another concern. But Gordon has produced whether he’s been catching passes from Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell. Gordon ranks 13th in fantasy scoring despite the two games missed. He’s established himself as a weekly must-start. Gordon is a WR1 despite the QB problems and might be a top-10 receiver in fantasy drafts for years to come.
Wes Welker — It’s not as if Welker was lightly regarded heading into the new season. But there was concern that he’d have to share catches with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and no one realized quite how large the Denver passing-game pie was going to be. It’s interesting how fantasy experts whiffed on Welker to a much greater degree than the fantasy-football public. Welker’s ADP was WR16, but his expert consensus rank on FantasyPros.com was WR 22. (And I ranked him WR26, so I struck out like Adam Dunn on this one.) It turns out that Peyton Manning loves throwing to Welker down close to the goal line (not exactly a surprise). And opposing defenses can’t give Welker extra attention in the red zone, since they have to honor all of the Broncos’ other terrific pass catchers. Welker has nine TD catches and 555 receiving yards, putting him fourth in WR fantasy points, one spot ahead of teammate Demaryius Thomas.
Runners-up: Terrance Williams and Jordy Nelson — You could make a strong case that Williams deserves to be a first-teamer, but he didn’t do anything for the first three weeks of the season, and he didn’t start showing up regularly in fantasy lineups until Week 6. But these last five weeks for Williams … wow. He’s caught 21 passes for 384 yards and four TDs. The rookie from Baylor is quickly rendering Miles Austin irrelevant in Dallas — and Austin, for all his injury woes, doesn’t suck. Nelson’s preseason ADP was WR18, and he currently ranks third in WR fantasy scoring. Nelson’s hands are flypaper. I think he’s the best Caucasian wide receiver since Steve Largent.
Honorable mention: — Rookie Keenan Allen has become Philip Rivers’ top outside threat and looks like he’ll be a top fantasy receiver for years to come. DeSean Jackson got off to a great start and is on pace for the finest season of his career, but we’ll see if he can overcome the Eagles’ QB trauma. Alshon Jeffery has emerged from the shadow of Brandon Marshall to put up some nice numbers; it will be interesting to see if he can stay productive while Jay Cutler is out. Marvin Jones is on a TD binge that now has him ranked 12th among WRs in fantasy scoring.
Julius Thomas — Thomas didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. He’s been with the Broncos for three years, and ever since the Broncos drafted him out of Portland State in the fourth round of the 2011, there’s been some buzz about his talent. In 2013, he’s finally become a full-fledged Orange Julius franchisee, with 451 receiving yards and eight TDs. His preseason ADP was TE23, and he ranks fourth in fantasy scoring at the position. Congratulations if you actually drafted him. In the leagues in which he went undrafted, the race to pick him up after Week 1 resembled the early days of the California Gold Rush.
Runner-up: Jordan Cameron — It’s rare for popular preseason sleepers to actually pan out, but here’s one who did. Cameron’s preseason ADP was TE 12, and he currently ranks second in TE scoring with 596 yards and six TDs.
Honorable mention: Jordan Reed is a rookie stud who’s starting to make a major impact for the Redskins and will be a hot commodity in 2014 fantasy drafts. A season-ending injury to Dustin Keller in the preseason opened the door for Charles Clay to become a consistent week-to-week performer.
MIDESEASON ALL-UNDERACHIEVER TEAM
Tom Brady — What the hell is going on with Brady? OK, I’ll admit that I’m a Brady owner (in only one league, thankfully). I planned to be patient at the QB position in all of my drafts, but I’ve won championships with Brady twice before, and when I perceived disrespect for Brady in one of my drafts, I changed plans and grabbed him. Big mistake. I’m getting my teeth kicked in, and Brady is a big reason why. He currently ranks 19th in QB fantasy scoring, one spot behind Jets rookie Geno Smith. And of course, his fantasy owners keep starting him week after week, rationalizing to themselves that “it’s Tom Freaking Brady!” Yeah, how’s that working out? Brady has had some problems adjusting to the post-Welker period. He’s just getting TE Rob Gronkowski back, WR Danny Amendola has banged up, and some of his young WRs have had their butterfingered moments. But make no mistake: Brady has been off on a lot of throws this year. The loss of tackle Sebastian Vollmer will make it hard for Brady to turn a bad season around.
Runner-up: Josh Freeman — There was no point taking sides in the Greg Schiano/Josh Freeman flap: Schiano is a putz and Freeman is a train wreck.
Dishonorable mention: Matt Schaub set a record for consecutive games with an interception returned for a TD, and the Texans are reluctant to give him his starting job back even though he’s ready to return from injury. The marriage between Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is clearly headed for divorce, with Roethlisberger currently ranking 22nd in QB fantasy scoring.
C.J. Spiller — There have been so many major disappointments at the RB position this year, but none bigger than Spiller, who came into the season with an ADP of RB5 and currently ranks 38th in RB fantasy scoring. You could make a case for exempting Spiller due to my aforementioned injury policy, but Spiller hasn’t really missed much time because of his ankle injury (though it’s obviously affected him). Spiller has 398 yards from scrimmage and one TD. Fantasy owners who drafted Spiller and failed to secure Fred Jackson as a handcuff are about 80% likely to be sub-.500.
Trent Richardson — What a bizarre year this guy is having. The two concerns about Richardson entering this season were his injury history and his supporting cast in Cleveland. T-Rich has been healthy and was traded to a team with much better offensive balance, the Colts. But Richardson hasn’t run for more than 60 yards in any game this season and has only two TDs after scoring 12 last season. Can he turn things around? Honestly, I have no idea. Richardson still runs hard and breaks tackles, but the elusiveness and breakaway ability seem to have disappeared from his game. In any case, I suspect that Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi and the other member of the Browns’ front office are still cackling over the trade they pulled off, and I suspect that Colts general manager Ryan Grigson is having regrets.
Runners-up: David Wilson — Wilson is nearly exempt from mention due to his injury, but he was a colossal disappointment before getting hurt. Many of the fantasy owners who spent a second- or third-round pick on Wilson have had difficulty recovering. Doug Martin was a high first-round draft pick in most leagues and is now injured, but he had one TD before going down. He ranks 27th in RB fantasy scoring.
Dishonorable mention: Most people (including yours truly) assumed that Montee Ball would eventually rise to the top of the Broncos’ RB heap, but the rookie from Wisconsin is still trying to gain a foothold. Chris Johnson’s numbers don’t look that bad when compared with some of the other big disappointments at the position, but CJ continues to fax it in most games. (He’s not ambitious enough to go to the trouble of mailing it in.) Ray Rice has been banged up for much of the year but hasn’t looked like himself.
Marques Coltson —Good lord, if you can’t count on Marques Colston to check in with 1,000 yards and eight TDs, what can you count on in this world? Colston has been less lively than a “Walking Dead” extra this season, with 342 receiving yards and one TD, making him the 64th-ranked wide receiver in fantasy football.
Dwayne Bowe — Can we give Alex Smith a co-credit here? Chiefs fans obviously aren’t complaining about Bowe’s disappearance, since their team is 8-0, but fantasy owners who wagered that Andy Reid’s passing-game wizardry would perk up Bowe’s fantasy stats have been bitterly disappointed. Bowe ranks 63rd in fantasy scoring among WRs, just one spot ahead of Colston. He’s a threat to turn in a zero for you in any given week, since Smith apparently wears a shock collar that gives him an electrical jolt if he looks at any receiver who runs more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Runners-up: Mike Wallace is turning into one of the NFL’s premier divas, perpetually unhappy with his contact, workload, etc., and yet he doesn’t even rate as a WR4 at the moment, ranking 49th in WR fantasy scoring. Speaking of divas, Hakeem Nicks, who’s supposed to be on a contract drive, hasn’t scored a TD this season and is a threat to disappear like a magician’s handkerchief in any given week.
Dishonorable mention: The Rams look silly for trading up to draft Tavon Austin and not having any plan to insert him into their passing game. (Or they did have a plan, but Austin just isn’t any good.) Speaking of the Rams, Chris Givens’ alleged big-play ability has been a mere rumor. Greg Jennings is regretting his lack of fealty to Aaron Rodgers. Has anyone heard from Kenny Britt?
Jared Cook — How long have we been waiting for the Cook breakthrough? Hopes for a Cook breakthrough were rekindled when he joined the Rams in the offseason, and he exploded for 141 yards and two TDs in Week 2, but it was all just a big tease. Cook hasn’t had more than 45 yards in a game since and has gone seven games without a TD. I’d rather have Jared from Subway as my starting tight end.
Runner-up: Fred Davis — It looked like there was a major opportunity for a tight end to step u[p in the Washington offense, and indeed there was. It just wasn’t Davis. While Davis was snoozing through team meetings, rookie TE Jordan Reed was apparently plotting a positional takeover. Reed is now a top-10 fantasy tight end, and Davis has no fantasy value whatsoever.
Dishonorable mention: Zach Sudfeld was a human bear trap, making a big splash in the preseason right around the time when fantasy drafts were starting up, only to be unceremoniously cut by the Patriots. Brandon Myers walked into a favorable situation with the Giants but didn’t have the talent to take advantage.