Arguably the hardest decision fantasy owners have to make each season is how long to keep playing a struggling superstar.
If you're lucky, you won't run into this scenario. But given the volatility this season, there's a good chance you'll be faced with the dilemma of whether to bench an underperforming star for a breakout youngster.
The players below fit into the former category, with some players' futures looking brighter than others.
The numbers: Roethlisberger is averaging 13.7 fantasy points (23rd in the NFL) and has just eight touchdown passes through six games. He’s only recorded more than 16 points once, against Tampa Bay’s horrific pass defense. Even that output (22 points) looks tame compared to the beatings that Matt Ryan (23 points in three quarters) and Joe Flacco (five touchdowns in roughly five minutes) have unleashed against the hapless Bucs.
The context: The Steelers have struggled mightily with punching the ball in the end zone this year, which has substantially affected Roethlisberger’s fantasy value. Even though Big Ben is on pace to match the career-high in pass attempts he racked up last season (584), his percentage of throws that result in touchdowns (3.7 percent) is the lowest it’s been since 2008.
After years of reliable deep threats in Pittsburgh, Antonio Brown is the only speedster Roethlisberger has left. On Sunday, Lance Moore became the first Steeler wide receiver besides Brown to catch a touchdown this year -- and that was in garbage time against the Browns. That ended a streak of 10 quarters without a score by Pittsburgh wideouts.
It’ll only get tougher from here -- in the next three weeks, the Steelers play the Texans, Colts and Ravens, who all give up less fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than Pittsburgh’s three previous opponents.
The verdict: Roethlisberger isn’t a bad play in two-QB formats, but there’s no reason to own him in standard leagues. Drop him for a waiver wire pickup such as Brian Hoyer, Andre Holmes (Oakland’s new No. 1 receiver), or even a fill-in defense if your current unit has a poor upcoming matchup.
The numbers: Stafford has ranked 24th among QBs in fantasy points (by non-decimal scoring) in the past two weeks while Calvin Johnson has been hampered with an ankle injury. Even with Johnson, Stafford laid a three-point stinker against Green Bay in Week 3 and has failed to top 15 fantasy points in four of six games this season.
The context: There really aren’t too many quarterbacks who have performed well below expectations this season -- despite Drew Brees’ relative struggles, he’s been a top-10 option on a per-game basis, logging at least 15 points every week.
It seems fairly easy to attribute Stafford’s recent slump to Johnson’s absence. The Lions’ depth at wide receiver and tight end is shockingly thin, with Ryan Broyles and Brandon Pettigrew officially looking like busts.
One would think Stafford’s woes will largely be cured when Johnson returns. Still, it must be concerning for Lions fans to watch the former No. 1 overall pick lead their offense to just 31 points combined against the Bills and Vikings.
The verdict: Stafford is facing the Saints and Falcons in the next two weeks before Detroit’s bye, and he should get Calvin Johnson back by then, if not earlier. Not only should Stafford stay on your roster, he should probably start the next two weeks with Detroit hosting New Orleans’ decimated defense before traveling to London to face Atlanta’s young secondary.
The numbers: Lacy has been the No. 24 RB by average fantasy points (8.2) this season, behind such luminaries as Matt Asiata, Pierre Thomas and Isaiah Crowell. He’s failed to surpass 50 yards or 3.5 yards per carry in five of six games, with only an encouraging Week 5 outing against Minnesota (13 carries, 105 yards, two touchdowns) buoying his overall stat line.
The context: This consensus first-round pick has basically been this year’s Trent Richardson (Alabama running backs are just as disappointing as USC quarterbacks, apparently), confirming early concerns.
The Packers had hoped to install a more balanced offensive scheme this year, but an injury-ridden offensive line has hamstrung Lacy and forced Green Bay to rely on Aaron Rodgers’ arm once again. Rodgers threw 42 passes for the second time this season in Sunday’s win over Miami, while Lacy rushed just 14 times and only gained 40 yards.
There does appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Six of the Packers’ next seven games are against run defenses that rank in the bottom half of fantasy points allowed, and Green Bay’s upcoming fixture against Carolina is especially promising for Lacy.
The Panthers’ run defense is a shell of its former self, ranking dead last in opponents yards per carry (5.5) and 27th in opponents rushing yards per game (140.2). Lacy has at least reached the end zone in his two most favorable matchups thus far against Chicago and Minnesota, and should do so again this Sunday.
The verdict: It might be starting to feel masochistic to keep sliding in Lacy into one of your top two RB slots, but it’s still the smart play at this point, especially since the position has been more of a crapshoot than usual this season. Justin Forsett is fifth in the league in rushing yards, for crying out loud.
The numbers: Martin hasn’t eclipsed the 50-yard mark in any game this season, and is touching the ball 13.8 times per game under new Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith after he averaged 23 touches in his first two seasons. Of course, Martin has done his best to validate the reduced playing time, recording a putrid 2.9 yards per carry and just 34.8 rushing yards per game in four contests this year, which places him as the No. 52-ranked back in standard leagues.
The context: Tampa Bay has been blown out twice this season, which prevented it from establishing the ground game against the Falcons in Week 3 and the Ravens on Sunday.
Still, that doesn’t completely explain Martin’s precipitous fall from a 1,400-yard rookie rusher in 2012 to a player on pace for less than 400 yards this year. The former first-round pick was thrown to 4.4 times per game in his rookie season and now receives just 2.8 targets per game
For the time being, he’s getting more touches than Bobby Rainey. But Rainey has just as good of a shot at getting into the endzone (two touchdowns to Martin’s one), and averaged 6.0 yards per carry last week against the Ravens. Martin has matched that pace only once in his career -- against the Raiders back in Week 9 of 2012.
The verdict: If you feel like giving Martin one more shot after the Buccaneers’ bye in Week 8 against Minnesota, it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. But he hasn’t shown anything to merit that trust, and it seems as though Tampa will be playing from behind a lot this year. Martin’s trade value is zilch at the moment, so if he’s the weak link on a roster that needs an upgrade elsewhere, it might be time to let this former Boise State Bronco run free.
The numbers: Harvin’s production has declined each week after a promising debut against Green Bay. On Sunday, Harvin put up a goose egg against Dallas -- netting -1 yards on six touches -- one week after he had three touchdowns brutally erased due to Seattle penalties against Washington.
Harvin now ranks 62nd among wide receivers with just 4.6 points per game, below the likes of Andre Roberts, Andrew Hawkins and Jordan Matthews.
The context: After missing most of last season, Harvin came into this year with considerable hype as many theorized he could be a dangerous jackknife for the Seahawks offense. Defenses are always aware of Harvin’s presence on the field, but that hasn’t translated to fantasy success thus far.
Harvin is on pace for just 720 yards from scrimmage and three total touchdowns, both of which would be career-lows, even including his nine-game injury-shortened campaign in 2012. Those are the numbers of a fringy flex player, at best.
Those three touchdowns-that-weren’t hint that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wants to give Harvin the opportunity to make big plays, but they’re entirely dependent on screens breaking free since Russell Wilson rarely throws downfield to Harvin.
The verdict: Harvin is simply too inconsistent to merit a starting spot in standard formats, though he’s also too valuable to drop. Someone in your league should be willing to trade a useful piece for him, especially if you kindly inform him or her of those near-scores against Washington.
If no intriguing swaps emerge, wait until Harvin inevitably has a big game sometime in the next few weeks while he’s wasting away on your bench, then utilize his temporarily heightened trade value. Players like Devin Hester and John Brown should provide just as much upside with more week-to-week stability.
The numbers: Allen has put up more than five points just once this year, and that came against Jacksonville’s stunningly awful pass defense. After gaining 14.7 yards per reception in his rookie campaign, he’s averaging 10.6 yards per reception this season and hasn’t reached pay dirt yet.
The context: The 6-foot-2 Allen proved he could get in the endzone last year with eight touchdowns. He’s actually on track to post more receptions and targets than last season, but his fantasy value has suffered as a result of Antonio Gates’ touchdown revival (six TDs in six games).
Allen could be primed to break out of his sophomore scoring slump this Sunday against Kansas City, who give up 21 points per week to opposing wideouts. In his two games against the Chiefs last year, Allen caught 14 passes for 213 yards – and that was with Brandon Flowers playing for Kansas City, not sitting on San Diego’s sideline.
The verdict: Allen has received more targets (42) than Malcom Floyd (25) or Eddie Royal (34). Touchdowns will even out, especially with a possible shootout versus Denver looming in Week 8. Keep on plugging him in there.