Fitz on Fantasy: The Early Season’s Most Underwhelming Players

We’re just two weeks into a new NFL season, and isn’t it shocking to discover how much we were wrong about? We thought we had our fantasy football world mapped out so well. But you spend the entire month of August pounding the table about the Earth being flat, and then Christopher Columbus shows up.

Stupid Columbus.

The pleasant surprises aren’t that hard to take. Five TDs for Eddie Royal? A month ago you’d have been labeled a royal idiot if you suggested that Fast Eddie was even draftable in a typical 12-team league. Julian Edelman with 20 receptions in two games? Martellus Bennett with three TDs? Don’t bother self-flagellating for not drafting them — no one else saw it coming either.

But the early-season disappointments … oh, how they hurt. It’s excruciating to invest in a player you believe in, only to watch him go belly-up like a trout in a polluted river. Just a couple of these betrayals can dash your playoff hopes before you’ve even bought Halloween candy.

Yes, it’s still early. The season hasn’t even reached adolescence. There’s still hope for some of these guys, right? (No, no, he’s not dead. He’s … he’s resting!)

Well, maybe there’s hope. Let’s sort through some of the early-season disappointments and group them by level of concern. We’ll start slowly, then gradually increase your pulse rate.

Yawning nonchalantly

Frank Gore — His first game wasn’t horrible (65 yards from scrimmage and a TD vs. Green Bay). His second game was an abject disaster (30 yards from scrimmage and no TDs vs. Seattle). Blame it on degree of difficulty. Seattle’s run defense is smothering. Green Bay’s run defense is better than advertised. Gore will be just fine running behind the best offensive line in the league.

Eddie Lacy — The rugged rook had only 41 rushing yards against the 49ers in Week 1, but he scored a TD and had a 31-yard reception (and the San Francisco defense is tough as hell). His one carry against the Redskins in Week 2 produced 10 yards and a concussion. The only problem here is that with the concussion and an early bye, Lacy probably won’t be of any help to his fantasy owners until Week 5. Otherwise, there’s nothing to sweat. 


Shrugging shoulders

Robert Griffin III — You could argue that he hasn’t been a disappointment, since he’s thrown for 649 yards and five TDs in two games. But the reality is that he’s fattened his stats in garbage time. (Washington is the city of big deficits, and the Redskins have dealt with some enormous ones over the first two weeks.) RG3 has shown little of the fancy footwork we saw last year: He has just 25 rushing yards in two games. But remember that the young QB didn’t get to go through a normal minicamp/training camp/preseason routine because of the knee injury he sustained in last season’s playoffs. He’s still getting the bugs out, still fine-tuning the mechanics. He’ll be fine, and the rushing yards should pick up as the season goes on.

Chris Johnson — His rushing total isn’t horrible: 166 yards. But he’s averaging 3.3 yards a pop with a long gain of 16 yards, he hasn’t reached the end zone yet, and he’s had one catch for one yard. But that’s C.J. He runs hot and cold. As soon as you bench him, he’ll run for 240 yards and three TDs. Just keep plugging him in there and wait for the good stuff.

Trent Richardson — So we can blame the slow start on the Browns and the perpetual miasma emanating from that organization? It’s all going to be fine now that T-Rich has been traded to the Colts? OK, let’s stick with that narrative and move on.

Arching eyebrows

Antonio Brown — This hasn’t been the breakout season we were hoping for: 11 catches on 16 targets, 128 yards, zero TDs. He’s still involved in the Pittsburgh passing game, but not to the extent that he’d like, as he made clear to offensive coordinator Todd Haley during a recent sideline squabble. With the Steelers’ offense sputtering, the breakout will have to wait; we’d settle for the status quo at this point.

C.J. Spiller — He certainly hasn’t been bad, but his fantasy owners are expecting a lot more. We’re not worried about Spiller himself, but the continued prominence of backup Fred Jackson is mildly troubling. Remember when Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said Spiller will keep getting the ball “until the throws up”? Spiller had 17 carries in his first game, 16 in his second. If Hackett were a personal trainer, he’d let you eat doughnuts between sets.

Roddy White — Thanks for lying to us, Falcons, about whether White’s injury was a dreaded high-ankle sprain. (Indeed it was.) Roddy will be his old self eventually, but when?

Tugging collar nervously

Kenny Britt — Bad attitude. Bad knee. Bad passing attack. Bad investment.

Fred Davis — It’s hard to find tight ends who qualify as early-season disappointments, but we’ve found one. Now if only RG3 can start finding him.

Stevan Ridley — The tally so far: 25 carries for 86 yards and no TDs, with a lost fumble.  So we have to wonder: Is Bill Belichick the kind of coach who’ll keep feeding the ball to a struggling RB to let him work his way out of a slump? Hmmm.

Ben Roethlisberger — Turns out his fantasy value was a lot more fragile than any of us realized. Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey blew out his knee in Week One, and that was that. Pittsburgh’s best lineman was gone, and so was much of Roethlisberger’s fantasy worth. Big Ben has long been an underrated commodity. But the Steelers now have pedestrian offensive talent around him, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley is no Einstein. The only solace here is that most fantasy owners drafted Roethlisberger as a backup, not as a starter.

David Wilson — I wonder how long Tom Coughlin used to ground his kids for missing curfew. A year? Wilson is the only good back the Giants have, and he could be really good if freed to do his thing without having to worry about getting a Vaudeville-style hook whenever he fumbles. Pops Coughlin just needs to lighten up a little.

Pacing the floor

Montee Ball — Hope you didn’t over-invest here. Ball still has some marginal fantasy value as a goal-line specialist, but we’ve abandoned hope that he’ll be able to seize the lead role in the Denver backfield.

Ray Rice — Things weren’t going that well even before last week’s hip flexor injury. Rice has averaged 2.9 yards on 25 carries and 4.0 yards on 11 catches. Could he already be on the decline at age 26? And with Rice already sustaining an injury, the Ravens aren’t likely to ramp up his workload in the weeks to come, especially when there’s not much of a gap between Rice and fine backup Bernard Pierce.

Steve Smith — The little playmaker is averaging 9.4 yards per catch, with a long gain of 15 yards. And the Panthers still don’t have a competent No. 2 receiver. The last credible running mate Smith had was Muhsin Muhammad, and that seems like a generation ago.

Pounding the panic button

Dwayne Bowe — Alex Smith would rather talk to Jehovah’s Witnesses on his doorstep for three hours than throw downfield to a receiver who isn’t wide open. That’s an insurmountable problem for Bowe and his fantasy owners.

Maurice Jones-Drew — He hasn’t looked like the same old MJD early on, and now he’s dealing with an ankle injury. The incompetence of his supporting cast didn’t matter much when he was at the height of his powers. But now? We don’t like where this is headed.

Cam Newton — I ranked him QB3 before the season, a spot ahead of Peyton Manning. But there are two major problems I’m not sure Newton can overcome: First, Mike Shula might be the most unimaginative offensive coordinator in the league. I’ve seen more play-calling creativity in games of Mattel Electronics Football. (Ask your parents, kids.) Second, the Carolina offensive line has badly eroded. Long a team strength, the Panthers’ offensive line is now a mess. If you drafted Cam over Peyton based on my preseason rankings, I owe you a beer to help drown your sorrows.