NFL fantasy roundtable: Best, worst of first half, predictions
Each week of the NFL season, a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will huddle together and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players. With the fantasy season hitting its midpoint, it's time to hand out some hardware and offer a few predictions for the home stretch.
1. Fantasy MVP of the first half?
Mike Beacom: Aaron Rodgers' QB Rating is more than 20 points higher than No. 2-ranked Tom Brady. He's missed the 300-yard mark just once (297 against Chicago) and has given fantasy owners three or more touchdown passes in five of seven starts. No player at any position has been that dominant.
Will Carroll: Rodgers. He's done everything asked of him, both fantasy and real, and is one of few consistent players out there. He's the top scorer in standard formats going away, making me very happy that I advocated him as a first round consideration. I think next year, more people have to think about going QB-RB as early as four. I also have to tip my cap to Fred Jackson. I'm not as surprised as everyone that he's a Top 10 back, but I am surprised he's the top back.
Eric Mack: You can go with an obvious option in Rodgers, the highest-scoring player, but the MVP is about which player has given the most value relative to draft position. That would be Jackson, who has been an elite back, despite being drafted as a fantasy backup. No one is looking at him as a backup anymore. He is a fantasy star now. Cam Newton gets an honorable mention because he wasn't drafted in many leagues, but the running back position is just more scarce.
David Sabino: Hands down it's Rodgers. The guy has been unbelievable, racking up huge fantasy points consistently. His low for the year is 297 yards and he has at least two touchdown passes in each game, good for a minimum of 25 fantasy points per contest. With Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver, Randall Cobb, James Starks, et al at his disposal, he has plenty of options. And when he's on, the Packers look unbeatable.
2. Who has been the biggest disappointment of the first half?
Beacom: Chris Johnson has averaged 2.9 yards per carry, and has gained 75 or more yards from scrimmage in just two of six games. Even worse -- he has scored just one touchdown. Unlucky owners everywhere are cursing Johnson's name.
Carroll: Johnson. It can't be just the holdout. He has 40 points off of a second or third overall pick, putting him behind an injury fill-in (Ben Tate) and barely above pure timeshare guys like James Starks and Mark Ingram. So few of the first-round RBs have hit that I could name a couple others here, but Johnson is the purest problem. That said, the talent isn't gone and there's no injury, so there's more of a chance for bounce back with Johnson than many other backs.
Mack: Throwing out the injuries to Peyton Manning, Jamaal Charles and, to a much lesser extent because he is a monster again, Arian Foster, it is obviously Chris Johnson. Save for the holdout and getting paid, there was just nothing to suggest the Titans wouldn't know how to block for him. There are even reports CJ2K's conditioning is coming into question. With the Colts on the schedule this Sunday, it is go time for the first-half's biggest non-injury-related bust.
Sabino: Consider this: DeMarco Murray, who most people hadn't heard of before Sunday's game in St. Louis, has out-rushed Johnson for the season by 56 yards. And the supposedly washed-up, non-fantasy factor Willis McGahee has more fantasy points than Johnson, who has been staggeringly bad following his long holdout. In half of his starts the former 2,000-yard man has failed to reach 25 yards. And the worst part is he is perfectly healthy, so no injury can be blamed. He's just out of sync. A universal Top-4 pick, CJ2K has bust of the 21st century written all over him.
3. What rookie has made the biggest impact?
Beacom: Few had Cam Newton in the lineup when he was red hot in Weeks 1 and 2, so he doesn't fit here. Instead, the nod goes to Cincinnati's A.J. Green. The No. 4 overall selection in April has produced three games of 90 or more yards and four touchdowns -- and he's a big reason Cincinnati is 4-2.
Carroll: Easy -- Newton. I didn't expect this at all, but he had enough raw skill and opportunity that there was upside if you made him a late pick, backing up an every-week QB. He's gone from having some Michael Vick upside to outplaying Vick in every phase of the game.
Mack: There is no contest here: Newton. Heck, this writer was dead wrong about what this talent could put together for fantasy owners right away. His is one of the greatest fantasy rookie seasons ever. Newton is an elite fantasy quarterback and not just because of his rushing touchdowns. Even Vick owners are wishing they had Newton-like productive to date.
Sabino: It's Newton going away. He's already the best quarterback in Panthers history, rewriting not only Carolina's record book but the NFL's with back-to-back 400-yard passing games to start his career. He's also a monster with the ball in his hands, placing second in the league to Adrian Peterson in rushing touchdowns (7), while gaining just two fewer yards on the ground than Chris Johnson. Honorable mention goes to the Bengals pairing of Green and Andy Dalton, both of whom will be fantasy stars, perhaps as soon as next season.
4. Who has been the biggest surprise thus far?
Beacom: I'm not sure anyone expected Fred Jackson to perform the way he has. Jackson is one of two ball carriers averaging 100 or more yards (Adrian Peterson is the other), and he ranks seventh among backs in receiving yards per game (46.5). Not bad for a guy most viewed as a fringe No. 2 starter only a few months ago.
Carroll: Did any of us think "I need to get some Bills on my fantasy team!" No, we didn't. Jackson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Stevie Johnson were nice second or third-tier guys we picked when we missed on our real targets. Instead, they're all Top 10 at their respective positions and show no real drop-off potential on a team that's really outperformed expectations.
Mack: Any of my above answers can qualify. Few could have seen Jackson doing this much damage. Anyone who says they knew Johnson would be this worthless, non-injury-wise, would be lying. Newton, though, is the biggest surprise here. Not only is he a rare rookie passer worth starting, much less owning, but he is an elite fantasy option to start regardless of the matchup. It should take a young quarterback three years to reach that status, not opening week.
Sabino: There are a number (Steve Smith, Fred Jackson and Matt Forte immediately come to mind) to choose from, but I'll go with Darren Sproles, the best free-agent signing of the offseason. The former Charger has been a force for the Saints, providing Sean Payton with a player with the skills he had always hoped he would get from Reggie Bush. He leads all running backs with 45 catches and has scored five touchdowns, two via the run, two via the pass and one on a punt return.
5. Best waiver wire pickup over the first seven weeks?
Beacom: Willis McGahee's fantasy career was dead two months ago. But after exploding against Cincinnati in Week 2 (28 carries, 101 yards), he found new life. McGahee has three 100-yard games -- the most he's had in a season since 2008 -- and has already eclipsed his 2010 rushing total.
Carroll: Eric Decker has gone from a guy with an ADP that barely calculates to the de facto WR1 in Denver. He's not a fantasy star, but he's a legitimate start most weeks and isn't hurt as much as most by the shift to Tim Tebow. Cam Newton probably worked out for whoever got him in Week 1.
Mack: This midseason fantasy awards roundtable is still all a Newton show. He shouldn't have been drafted in most leagues on draft day and really wasn't. After what he did out of the gate in Week 1 -- and there was little to suggest this was coming out of the preseason -- Newton has carried fantasy teams that opened with a loss. Heck, he saved seasons for anyone that was counting on Peyton Manning and scored with the pickup before Week 2 of Newton.
Sabino: After his performance on Sunday you have to think that DeMarco Murray is going to be a monster and the best waiver wire guy of the first half. However, you have to love how Victor Cruz burst onto the fantasy scene, doing the salsa all the way to fantasy pay dirt.
6. Who do you think will be the MVP of the second half?
Beacom: Rodgers. Of Green Bay's remaining nine games, four are against teams that presently rank among the bottom eight in pass defense. That's just not fair.
Carroll: Maybe I'm still shell-shocked from Monday night's massacre, but Drew Brees looks as on as any QB I've seen. He's got a lot of weapons, a running game that's coming around, and Jimmy Graham has quickly become a cross between Calvin Johnson and Antonio Gates, causing everyone massive matchup issues. I'll take Brees slightly over Rodgers, but only slightly.
Mack: This is the time to go out on a limb and pick one of the most disappointing players of the first half that was expected to be a star this season. Some of your Eagles are good picks, like Vick, DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin, but let's go with out on an even weaker limb. Rashard Mendenhall's Steelers have a soft schedule the rest of the way and the weather is going to get a lot more inclement in Pittsburgh. Mendenhall is going to pay his disappointed fantasy owners back.
Sabino: I can't see Rodgers slowing down, but for someone different how about Arian Foster? Back to full strength following a hamstring pull, Foster is a double-threat for the Texans and will find himself at the top of the league again in fantasy scoring by the time the season concludes.
7. Whose production will decline most sharply down the stretch?
Beacom: The Falcons have fed Michael Turner 25 or more carries in three of the past four weeks. Eventually, the big back will wear down, much like last year, when he averaged 4.0 yards or less in each of Atlanta's final five regular season games. Plus, Turner still must face three teams that rank among the Top 10 in run defense.
Carroll: This one's usually a result of players hitting a wall, either in usage or workload. Darren McFadden's foot and Matthew Stafford's knees make those guys too easy to pick -- injury-prone but talented, we had to bake in this kind of risk in any sort of projection, but then you see them producing and it's easy to forget about that risk. I worry about guys like Ryan Mathews, but the one I'll name is Maurice Jones-Drew. He's got no help in the Jaguars offense, a QB who's not threatening to defenses, and he's carrying the ball a lot, but short, which means he's taking a lot of hits.
Mack: If you asked this question a week ago, it would be a lot more meaningful to say Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Johnson had a solid game in Week 7, but Stafford wasn't fantasy-starter-quality against the Falcons. After getting the lowly Broncos in Week 8, the Lions have a bye and a tough final stretch that includes two games against the Packers, one each against the Bears and Saints (teams chasing them for a wild-card spot, perhaps) and a game against the Raiders, who are eventually going to be better than they showed this past Sunday. It is a good time to sell high on the Lions, mostly Stafford. Johnson is impossible to trade because he is the best at his position and your return can't possibly be comparable via trade.
Sabino: Matt Forte has been incredible both rushing and receiving, but as the Bears lone reliable offensive weapon I can't see how he can keep up this pace. He's a fine player looking for a new contract, but defenses are going to start game-planning exclusively to stop him.
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