By BJ Rudell, Special to SI.com
Determining when a player's perceived value is higher than his actual value is one of the keys to winning fantasy leagues. Right now, owners should take advantage of these overrated players and sell high to bolster lineups for the playoffs. Some are seemingly elite talents who are about to take a step back, while others are more modest talents who cannot be trusted in starting lineups.
But one thing's for sure -- all will underperform in the second half of the season.
QB Alex Smith
While Smith is competent as a game manager, since he's not prone to making many mistakes, he doesn't put up ideal numbers for a fantasy quarterback. Yet, people continue to own and start him in fantasy leagues. For his career, the Chiefs’ franchise quarterback averages less than 1.2 touchdowns per game. That's worse than Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Orton, and Mark Sanchez.
The fantasy world doesn’t care about on-the-field winners; it cares about gaudy numbers. I’ll take a two-touchdown, two-turnover performance over a one-touchdown, zero-turnover performance any week. While he seemingly remains relevant in two-quarterback leagues, pedestrian numbers don’t win titles.
Expect 10-15 point fantasy performances for Smith going forward, especially with some difficult matchups on the horizon. When putting him on the trading block, be sure to remind anyone interested in his lack of blunders.
RB Giovani Bernard
Bernard's value is based on three criteria: his health, scoring ability, yards per carry and competition. The star running back has missed two straight games due to hip and collarbone injuries. If he returns soon to 100 percent health, then it will mitigate some concerns people have about his durability. As for his propensity for finding the end zone, this is a guy who’s scored 13 times in 23 NFL games -- not a bad clip by any standard.
The knock on Bernard is how he faded toward the end of last season, and how his yardage total have been merely good, not great. The second-year tailback is averaging only 3.52 yards per carry in his last 10 regular season games. Additionally, he hasn’t been as active in the passing game this year as in 2013, limiting his appeal as the elite player many thought he would be. Finally, the impact of rookie RB Jeremy Hill (4.7 YPC) should cause many fantasy owners to question whether Bernard will be given the opportunity to rediscover his RB1 form.
I believe Hill will be the more productive fantasy option even when Bernard returns, meaning those carrying Bernard on their bench the past two weeks should try to unload him for a near-elite player. Otherwise, they’ll be stuck with a 7-10 point RB1 for the fantasy playoffs -- generally not enough to win a championship.
RB Frank Gore
Every time the 31-year-old Gore appears to slow down, he puts up solid numbers like he did on Sunday. But don’t let it fool you. Aside from his injury-plagued 2011 season, Gore is on pace for his lowest production since his rookie year in 2005. Take whatever you can get in a trade, and be happy you’ve parted ways with a once great talent who can no longer help you claim a fantasy title.
Last year he slowed down considerably in the second half of the season, tallying only 60 fantasy points -- an average of 7.5 per game. This season he got off to an impressive start with two 100-yard performances in his first five games, averaging 4.74 yards per carry. He has a paltry 3.03 YPC since then, and it’s doubtful he’ll remain above 4.0 the rest of the year. In contrast, RB Carlos Hyde has looked like the better runner in his past few games in limited action.
Expect Hyde to play an increasing role the rest of the way, as Gore is reduced to RB3/4 status, bordering on unstartable in standard fantasy leagues.
WR Anquan Boldin
At the ripe age of 34, Boldin is on pace for 1,129 yards and five touchdowns this season. In fact, in his last 16 regular games, he’s racked up 1,240 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s on pace for his highest reception total since 2005 and his second best season since 2008. Can he be stopped?
Why yes, he can. There will be games later this season where defenses aim to contain the hot-handed Boldin. Rather than try to force it, QB Colin Kaepernick will focus increasingly on the underrated WR Michael Crabtree, the steady Stevie Johnson and the largely forgotten Vernon Davis. The odds are against the aging Boldin producing at this high of a level for the 49ers’ seven remaining games. Now is the time to cash out, bringing in a more reliable WR2 option for the fantasy playoffs.
Expect Boldin’s weekly production to fall to 45-65 yards per game, relegating him to the WR4 conversation most weeks.
WR Golden Tate
In weeks 4 and 5, uber-elite WR Calvin Johnson was used as a decoy to protect his ailing ankle. In weeks 6-8, he was sidelined. During that five-game span, Tate filled the franchise receiver’s shoes heel to toe, posting 599 yards and three scores, averaging 15 fantasy points per game in standard scoring leagues. Those are top-five wide receiver numbers, propelling Tate from a WR3 to a WR1.
Coming off a 10-fantasy-point effort on Sunday with Johnson back in the lineup, Tate appears poised to continue dominating. Not so fast. While Tate remains an intriguing PPR option, his return to WR3 status in standard leagues is imminent. We won’t see any more 150-yard receiving performances with a healthy Johnson, RB Reggie Bush, and RB Joique Bell eating up touches. The rise of RB Theo Riddick and eventual return of TEs Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron will limit Tate’s targets, particularly in the red zone.
Expect 50-70 yards per game for Tate going forward with an occasional yardage bump, while limited scoring opportunities will cap his fantasy appeal.
WR Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald immediately became 'overrated' when QB Carson Palmer tore his ACL Sunday. Unfair? Not exactly. In his last three games with Palmer at the helm, the veteran receiver collected 342 yards, reasserting himself as the Cardinals’ primary receiver. Yet in the three games backup QB Drew Stanton started earlier this year, Fitzgerald netted only 142 yards. In addition, the 30-year-old Stanton simply as not as good of a field general, owning a career 69.2 QB Passer Rating.
Expect Fitzgerald’s weekly yardage totals to drop into the 50-70 range, leaving him with WR3/4 value the rest of the season.