The NFL may be at its midpoint, but we’re already well over halfway through the fantasy season. Disappointing players are running out of time to turn around their seasons, as are owners who hold a losing record after nine weeks.
If you’re on the wrong side of the playoff bubble and your expected studs haven’t been performing as projected, it’s high time to decide whether they still merit a regular lineup spot or if slotting in matchup-based alternatives is the more prudent option.
The following players were all expected to be weekly starters, but have simply been the most egregious underachievers at their respective positions. If you drafted at least two of these players, chances are you’ve been scrambling on the waiver wire to find adequate replacements.
Note: Injuries and suspensions won’t be weighted as heavily as simply failing to live up to expectations. All fantasy draft and availability statistics are taken from ESPN leagues.
Cam Newton (owned in 94 percent of leagues, started in 59.9 percent)
Average draft rank by position: No. 6 QB
Points per week (position rank): 14.8 (16th)
Looking back: Newton was a fantasy stud right out of the gate, as he began his rookie season in 2011 with consecutive 400-yard passing outputs and two rushing touchdowns in two games. He went on to establish the benchmark for rookie fantasy quarterbacks, becoming the first in history to surpass 4,000 passing yards while setting the record for rushing touchdowns (14) by a QB.
In each season since, however, Newton’s fantasy production has decreased. He’s gone from averaging nearly 23 points per game in his rookie year to just 14.8 points per game this season. Both Ryan Tannehill and Eli Manning have been better.
What’s concerning is that both Newton’s passing and rushing results have worsened. Panthers coach Ron Rivera has steadily shied away from using Newton as a goal-line rushing option, as the former Heisman Trophy winner has just two rushing scores this year.
Newton hasn’t thrown more than two touchdowns or topped the 300-yard mark yet, and has averaged just 175.7 passing yards over the last three weeks. Even though Kelvin Benjamin has proven to be a worthy red-zone target, Newton is missing Steve Smith Sr.’s explosive capabilities -- Newton’s touchdown rate (3.1 percent) is at an all-time low after his receivers reached the end zone on 5.1 percent of his tosses last year.
Looking forward: Despite Newton’s struggles, his upcoming matchups are too tasty to ignore. The Eagles have given up the third-most points to QBs (19.1 PPG) this season. Every aspect of Atlanta’s defense has been a mess, and the Falcons have consistently failed to contain dual-threat quarterbacks over the past few seasons. Unless Newton’s owners also have a top-five stud like Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck on their roster, banking on Newton for two more weeks before Carolina’s bye is a pretty safe bet considering his potential.
Honorable mentions: Matthew Stafford, Nick Foles
LeSean McCoy (owned in 99.9 percent of leagues, started in 88.4 percent)
Average draft rank by position: No. 2 RB
Points per week (position rank): 8.6 (18th)
Looking back: There’s a good chance McCoy was the No. 1 overall pick in your league. With the Eagles looking like a safe bet to run over the NFC East, Shady seemed like the surest bet to stack up scores alongside Adrian Peterson.
Well, that narrative hasn’t played out. Though McCoy wasn’t nearly as fatal of a pick as Peterson, he’s only scored once as Chip Kelly has spread out red zone touches to each of Philadelphia’s uber-athletic skill players. The Eagles only have five rushing touchdowns through eight games, with Darren Sproles snatching up three of those and Chris Polk vulturing one last week.
McCoy, meanwhile, hasn’t scored since Week 2 despite averaging 20 carries this season and being on pace for 1,244 rushing yards.
Looking forward: Like Newton, McCoy has favorable matchups in the next couple weeks that will make it increasingly difficult to bench the consensus first-round pick. Carolina’s defense has allowed the sixth-most rushing yards per game this season while allowing the second-most rushing touchdowns. Green Bay (24th-best defense against opposing RBs) and Tennessee (28th) look ripe for McCoy’s taking, too.
Also, Philadelphia’s offensive line is slowly returning to full strength after a litany of injuries and Lane Johnson’s four-game suspension threw the unit into chaos early on.
Even with Mark Sanchez’s encouraging showing on Sunday, one would have to think Kelly would trust his workhorse back over a longtime turnover machine near the goal line.
Zac Stacy (owned in 51.3 percent of leagues, started in 11.8 percent)
Average draft rank by position: No. 11 RB
Points per week (position rank): 4.5 (48th)
Looking back: Last year, this rookie wrestled the Rams’ starting job away from then-second-year back Daryl Richardson. This season, the cycle has continued, as Stacy appears to have been completely phased out of St. Louis’ backfield in favor of rookie Tre Mason and third-down back Benny Cunningham.
Stacy started the season with respectable 11-point outputs in two of St. Louis’ first three games. But after the bye in Week 4, he has totaled 10 points in five games. Stacy played just one offensive snap in Week 7 against Seattle and didn’t have a single touch in Sunday’s game against San Francisco.
Looking forward: None of the Rams backs have much fantasy value at the moment, let alone the third option. Stacy is droppable in all formats.
Honorable mentions: Doug Martin, Reggie Bush, Ben Tate, Chris Johnson
Percy Harvin (owned in 79.1 percent of leagues, started in 23.2 percent)
Average draft rank by position: No. 14 WR
Points per week (position rank): 4.9 (64th)
Looking back: Harvin’s lack of production in Seattle -- among other issues -- caused the Seahawks to trade him and countless fantasy owners to relegate him to the bench. Those who did so were totally justified in doing so.
Just when most had written him off as a top-flight receiver, however, Harvin totaled 11 receptions for 129 yards against Kansas City on Sunday as he was used in a more traditional No. 1 receiver role.
Looking forward: The Jets obviously want to give Harvin a big role in their offense, but the unit hasn’t been productive with either Geno Smith or Mike Vick under center. Harvin’s 5-foot-11 frame also means he likely won’t be a frequent red zone target.
Harvin’s untapped potential makes him an intriguing stash for teams that feel secure in their playoff position, but if you’re in the thick of a postseason race, there’s really no time to give Harvin a chance to acclimate to New York’s offense. The Jets face a hot Steelers team before a bye week, an away game at Buffalo and a brutal Week 13 matchup against Miami (6th-toughest defense against WRs) in what is the final regular-season week in most fantasy leagues.
Vincent Jackson (owned in 88.7 percent of leagues, started in 48.4 percent)
Average draft rank by position: No. 13 WR
Points per week (position rank): 6.6 (T-36th)
Looking back: Jackson and Mike Evans were supposed to combine for a powerful one-two punch alongside Josh McCown in Tampa Bay. But while Evans has mostly lived up to expectations, Jackson has regressed and is on pace to snap his three-year streak of 1,000-yard campaigns.
Jackson and his massive 6-5 frame are still getting the most targets (77) in the Bucs offense -- 23 more than Evans. But the pair has the same amount of receptions (32), and Evans has two more touchdowns and 17 more yards.
Jackson has always been a boom-or-bust threat. But this year, his busts have been more frequent and his booms have been less effective. He’s hauled in just 41.6 percent of the balls thrown his way and is averaging 13.8 yards per reception, both the worst marks of his 10-year career.
Looking forward: Luckily for Jackson, Tampa Bay faces Atlanta on Sunday. Jackson has terrorized the sophomore cornerback tandem of Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in their three meetings over the past two seasons, with 22 receptions on a whopping 42 targets and three touchdowns.
After that clash between NFC South cellar-dwellers, the Bucs travel to Washington (second-worst, 18 passing touchdowns allowed) and Chicago (second-worst, 8.2 yards allowed per pass attempt).
Honorable mentions: Andre Johnson, Marques Colston, Calvin Johnson, Hakeem Nicks
Vernon Davis (owned in 80 percent of leagues, started in 28.9 percent)
Average draft rank by position: No. 4 TE
Points per week (position rank): 4.2 (18th)
Looking back: Davis actually ranks 28th among tight ends in points per week (3.1), but we’re not counting the two games he missed because of injuries. And besides, his adjusted rank of 18th still makes him the biggest bust among tight ends.
Davis has just 16 receptions and two touchdowns in six games, and hasn’t topped three fantasy points since Week 1. Once considered Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target, Davis has fallen out of favor and has been targeted less often than the 49ers’ top three receivers. Brandon Lloyd, the No. 4 receiver in San Fran, has nearly equaled Davis’ targets, too.
Looking forward: At first glance, San Francisco’s upcoming matchup against New Orleans’ decimated secondary on Sunday would seem like a perfect opportunity for Davis to get back in his groove. But the Saints have actually been the second-toughest defense against tight ends this season, allowing just one touchdown and an average of 3.9 points per week.
The Niners travel to the Meadowlands in Week 11 to face the Giants, who have given up two touchdowns to opposing tight ends in each of their past three games. That seemingly portends well for Davis, but the longtime 49er has admittedly been mentally affected by his nagging injuries this season. It might be time to let Davis work out his issues on the waiver wire.
Honorable mentions: Eric Ebron, Jordan Cameron
Mike Nugent (owned in 25.4 percent of leagues, started in 22.8 percent)
Average draft rank by position: No. 5 K
Points per week (position rank): 7.5 (20th)
Looking back: Given that kickers rely so heavily on the entire offense for production, it makes it hard to blame them too much for poor showings.
But Nugent’s pedigree (a second-round pick in 2005) makes his propensity for missed kicks difficult to swallow. He’s just 14-for-20 this year, has averaged 6.3 points since Week 1 and has only had one game where he’s made multiple kicks and not missed one.
Matt Prater certainly merited consideration here as the No. 6 kicker in terms of ADP. He was suspended for four games and cut by the Broncos before being picked up by the Lions and promptly missing two kicks in his first game with Detroit. But at least his early suspension gave fantasy owners time to find a suitable replacement. People have been slotting in Nugent for weeks with few positives to show for it.
Looking forward: It’s a fool’s errand to project a kicker’s performance, but Nugent has at least made all three of his field goal attempts in the last three weeks while Cincinnati’s offense has lulled. He’ll also play in two domes (at New Orleans and Houston) in the next three weeks, which should make long-distance tries easier.
Pardoneds: Prater, Steven Hauschka, Robbie Gould
Seattle Seahawks (owned in 97.6 percent of leagues, started in 90.5 percent)
Average draft rank by position: No. 1 D/ST
Points per week (position rank): 6.6 (11th)
Looking back: After Seattle fielded one of the best defenses in NFL history last season, fantasy owners raised their expectations for the unit this year and drafted the Seahawks at the 40th pick in ESPN drafts – far higher than defense/special teams usually go and 33 picks higher than the next closest unit (Carolina).
The Panthers have actually been even worse as the 23rd-ranked fantasy defense. But the high hopes levied on Seattle, which has performed like an average unit in terms of fantasy, makes this the most disappointing defense/special teams at the season’s midpoint.
Looking forward: As a “reward” for their Super Bowl, the Seahawks were saddled with the NFL’s toughest schedule this year. That included contests against Green Bay, San Diego, Denver, Dallas and Carolina in the first half.
The docket gets immediately easier with a matchup against the short-rested Giants on Sunday, but streaming a defense for Weeks 13 through 15 (when Seattle plays San Francisco, Philadelphia then the Niners again) might not be a bad idea. After all, the lowly Raiders did manage to put up 24 points against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field just a few days ago.
Honorable Mentions: Panthers, Bengals, Rams, Buccaneers
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