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Fantasy football roundtable: Best, worst of first half; future surprises

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As we're just past the halfway point of the season, let's get to some midseason business ...

1. Who's been the biggest surprise of the first half?

Mike Beacom: Many expected Robert Griffin III would do well, but I'm not sure anyone anticipated he would be a dominant fantasy quarterback. Through Week 7 he leads the league in completion percentage and yards per attempt, and trails only Arian Foster in rushing scores. Other worthy candidates: Tony Gonzalez, Alfred Morris and Stevan Ridley.

Will Carroll: I imagine someone will say Peyton Manning, but I was not surprised at all. Better, he's getting more comfortable with his team, the offense, the coaches and his own limitations. He's going to be scary in the second half. Christian Ponder has made a leap, but I have to go with the No. 1 scoring player in the game, RGIII. He's been better than advertised and hasn't done as much with his legs as some expected. The sky is the limit for him.

Eric Mack: Peyton Manning has been surprisingly close to his elite form. Griffin is out-Cam Newton-ing the famed "greatest rookie quarterback ever," and late-round rookie Alfred Morris is rolling with the big boys, producing near the level of Arian Foster and Ray Rice. You likely can find a lot of people now that claim they knew Manning and RGIII were going to be fantasy MVPs, but even Morris owners have to admit they feel like they are playing with the house's money on their rookie running back. The production we are seeing out of Morris should have been going to another rookie back like Doug Martin, if not Trent Richardson.

David Sabino: My biggest surprise has been Mike Shanahan, who committed to a rookie backfield that has allowed two of fantasy football's brightest stars, Griffin III and his unheralded-yet-equally valuable running back, Morris, to thrive. Given improvements and better health at wide receiver over the offseason Griffin and Morris will find themselves among the fantasy elite for years to come. And they may even put to rest Shanahan's anti-fantasy owner reputation. I did not expect to write about the Redskins as much as I have and that's a good thing for them.

The other major surprise has been Adrian Peterson's comeback. Around now is when we all thought we'd start seeing the "real" Peterson starting to round into shape. Instead, he's been valuable from Day 1,ranking as the league's third-best back this year so far. A miracle of modern sports medicine and training is what Peterson has been.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Legatron, Greg Zuerlein, as a major surprise. Along with fellow rookies Blair Walsh and Justin Tucker this new wave of kickers is revolutionizing the game.

2. Who's been the biggest bust of the first half?

Beacom: LeSean McCoy was a top-3 pick in most fantasy drafts this summer, but he hasn't lived up to that billing. He has averaged just 4.1 yards per carry, just 4.5 yards per reception, and has reached 100 yards from scrimmage just once in his last five outings (he reached that mark in 10 of 15 games last year). Throw Darren McFadden, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford into the debate, as well.

Carroll: Newton. He's done nothing, but all the talent is still there. I think a lot of the problem is the team -- they've abandoned the run, leaving Newton to do it all and he just can't. I think this could end up being good for him in the long run, but he doesn't seem to be learning and that worries me a bit. The plus is that he's healthy, but that makes it even more confounding that he could vanish like this. Then again, notice that Ponder is a positive surprise and Newton is a bust -- but they're four points apart on the season. The difference is value and clearly Newton was drafted much higher and weighted with unrealistic expectations.

Mack: After Monday night, you're going to hear a lot of audible complaints from Stafford and Calvin Johnson owners. Megatron, specifically, came into the season as the most dominant player at his position in fantasy, a lone wolf, but he has barely performed like a starter in a standard 12-team, two-receiver league. A number of second-tier backs can make a case, including one assumed first-tier one in McCoy, and Jimmy Graham certainly qualifies as a bust relative to draft position. But, in the end, those guys should pay their owners back. It's hard to be as certain with the Panthers' Newton. He looks like a beaten man and his fantasy owners are, too.

Sabino: If someone would've told me that Stafford would have fallen so far down the quarterback totem pole that he'd find himself behind the likes of Christian Ponder, Mark Sanchez, Brandon Weeden and Alex Smith, I would've said you were crazy, but Detroit is unraveling and Stafford's less-than-inspired play is a major cause. Also getting dishonorable mention is Darren McFadden (Who would've believed that he'd remain healthy yet still be a bust?).

3. What preseason prediction do you most regret at this point?

Beacom: Besides picking Philadelphia to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl? I believed Jermichael Finley would finally join the elite list of fantasy tight ends. I guess I looked too closely at Finley's talent and forgot to take into consideration all of the baggage. Tom Crabtree has caught more touchdown passes for Green Bay this season.

Carroll: I tried to tamp down my enthusiasm for Griffin and missed him in too many leagues. I didn't think Victor Cruz could handle a true WR2 role. Instead, he's stepped into the WR1 with Hakeem Nicks hurting and done even more. I put way too much faith in the Eagles offense, though I still don't see what has gone wrong there aside from the turnovers. Is it that simple?

Mack: If not for Sunday, this would have clearly been the prediction -- Chris Johnson was going to pay back his loyal fantasy owners by making good on being a mid-first-round pick. CJNoK had been performing no better than a poor middle-round pick. But he went off Sunday at Buffalo and projects to have another great game in Week 8 vs. the suspect Colts run defense. Ah, who are we kidding. Saying RGIII will be the third-best fantasy quarterback among rookies was downright blasphemy. It is embarrassing to even have to remind anyone of it.

Sabino: Since I touted them both as first-round talents, I'd say it has either been Cam Newton or Stafford would repeat their tremendous 2011 seasons. Both have tailed off so dramatically that they're ending up on the waiver wire. Amazingly, Calvin Johnson hasn't been destroyed by Stafford's demise, but Steve Smith has become an afterthought with Newton falling short of the mark.

4. Of the players not already named, whose potential most excites you for the second half? Whose worries you most?

Beacom: Kenny Britt could have a big second half. He is finally healthy and the Titans' remaining schedule includes two games against both Indianapolis and Jacksonville. C.J. Spiller, on the other hand, could be in for some trouble. Not only is Fred Jackson starting to produce, but the Bills have a brutal schedule ahead; seven of Buffalo's next nine games are against top-10 run defenses.

Carroll: I think Andrew Luck is getting better and better, and has a favorable schedule. Alfred Morris has emerged as the RB1 that fantasy players hoped Mike Shanahan would find. I think Rashard Mendenhall could be the running back the Steelers need, though the Achilles issue worries me. I still love the entire Falcons offense and think they could put up ridiculous numbers.

Mack: I think we are going to see some monster numbers out of Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are close to being the best 1-2 wide receiver-teammate combo in fantasy and the Steelers' running game is a bit sketchy. They are also chasing the Ravens, and this once-proud defensive division looks like it will loosen up this year more than ever. Expect your Steelers to have some monster performances to come. Buy low on them now. As for the worrisome players, always look toward those who are banged up or just plain injured. Among those who aren't, surprisingly, is Darren McFadden. He just isn't producing consistent numbers, despite finally displaying consistent health.

Sabino: I love what the Falcons have done, and Julio Jones, while good, has underperformed expectations in the first half. I can't wait to see he and Matt Ryan take off in the second half and chase an undefeated season. The same goes for Rob Gronkowski, who showed signs of what's to come with his two-touchdown day against the Jets. And I'm also curious to see how many yards Chris Johnson ends up with after weeks of groaning about his performances. If he challenges for the league lead, and he's head and shoulders above everyone else the past four weeks, it will be one of the biggest stories of the season. And rookie Doug Martin has been great the past two games and I look forward to seeing what he can do with regular work in a run-first offense.

On the opposite side, LeSean McCoy is one of the best players in the league but underperforming for his fantasy supporters due largely to the Eagles' inability to control their turnovers, which has led to a lack of touchdowns. The problem has persisted, and I don't see it going away anytime soon for him, Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, et al.

5. How in the world do you ever predict output for Patriots players? They have the most inconsistent offense in NFL.-- Vic @Slickvic621

Beacom:It all comes down to a finely-crafted system. Take running backs, for example. I fold pictures of New England players in half and have my kids pick them out of a paper bag. The first running back pulled from the bag is my pick to be that week's leading rusher; I then count the number of cars that pass by my house each Tuesday morning to come up with a yardage projection for that player. I find this method works as well as any other.

Mack: Well, they have played two very good defenses in back-to-back weeks. The Seahawks and Jets will frustrate fantasy owners to no end. The Week 8 opponent, St. Louis, has been frustrating to their opposing fantasy owners in some respects, too. But it is still Tom Brady in his prime. It is still Wes Welker playing for a contract. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are finally getting healthy. And perhaps most important, Stevan Ridley is arriving as a fantasy workhorse back. Things are going to go nowhere but up with your Pats fantasy options.

Carroll: Simple answer: you don't. You know Tom Brady is going to be good, but that's about it. Same sort of thing in New Orleans, where Drew Brees spreads it around. Similar with Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. Offenses spread the touches and targets like never before, so you go where the predictability is. It's actually one of the biggest problems I see for fantasy, where this separation between fantasy and reality is getting bigger and bigger. We first saw it with the abandoning of the true feature back across most of the NFL and now the five and six-deep receiver corps figures to make it again. There's an opportunity for some fantasy provider to make a better game if they can build in formation flexibility and in-game substitutions.

Sabino: You'll give yourself a headache if you try to figure out Bill Belichick's strategy, but lack of a pattern is exactly what he wants. I've come to realize that he's trying to give his opponents what they least expect, so whenever deciding how to use the Patriots, go against the grain. Facing a great pass defense? Use Pats running backs because he'll find a way to create mismatches and let his players succeed. Haven't seen a player in two or three weeks? Be sure that he'll be a big part of the game plan. It's a crazy way to operate, but for the most part it has been successful.

Say that they're phasing out Wes Welker, he goes for a dozen catches. Stevan Ridley has the best game for a Pats running back in years, cue Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden. It's just the way it goes. Safely use Brady and Gronkowski every week, and if you have the rest, figure out what you would do and then choose the opposite.