“I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” –Bruce Lee
Long ago, at the behest of my hometown friends, I joined them for exactly one of their weekly karate lessons. So considering I still can’t tell you the difference between an axe kick and Axe body spray (apart from the obnoxious commercials), you can rest assured the above Bruce Lee quote is a reference to a more universal theme.
There are undoubtedly a few NFL players who we hold to a higher standard than the rest. We drafted (or traded for) them accordingly, and hoped to reap the fantasy benefits. No, they weren’t put here on this planet to fulfill our expectations, but we sure expected a bit more output in the weekly box scores!
Now that we’re a quarter of the way through the season, it’s fair to make an educated guess as to whether these early returns are aberrational, or developing trends. The first part of the following analysis will highlight a few of these players who have been underperforming, and delve into why that might be the case. Additionally, the possible reasoning behind their slow starts will be probed, and opinions will be presented as to what owners of these players should consider doing. Let’s get started!
Matt Stafford, QB DET
Prior Synopsis: In 2011, Stafford finally shed his “Mr. Glass” label, busting out to the tune of over 5,000 passing yards and 41 touchdowns. Afforded the luxury of throwing to the game’s best receiver in Calvin Johnson, as well as tight end Brandon Pettigrew and emerging threat Titus Young, Stafford was expected to cement his ascendance into the elite tier of quarterbacks.
Possible Explanation: Early-season opponents St. Louis, San Francisco and Minnesota all rank in the top 14 in the league in terms of pass defense. In his lone game against a subpar defense (Tennessee), Stafford exited the contest early with an injury to his hip, but only after throwing for 278 yards.
Prognosis: The schedule doesn’t get any easier, with games remaining against Philadelphia, Chicago (twice), Seattle, Houston and Atlanta. However, Stafford is still averaging nearly 300 passing yards per game and the touchdowns will likely follow. While he’s behind his 2011 pace, Stafford is a guy who needs to be in your lineup if you own him.
Recommendation: Despite a rocky start, Stafford remains a top-five dynasty quarterback. Now is not the time to panic, but prospective buyers can attempt to leverage his mediocre performance and week five bye into a potentially (if only slightly) reduced rate.
DeMarco Murray, RB DAL
Prior Synopsis: Last year, following an injury to starter Felix Jones, Murray catapulted onto the fantasy scene with a beastly 253-yard rushing performance in week six against the Rams. However, his fantasy prominence was short lived, as he suffered a broken ankle seven weeks later in a divisional tilt with the Giants. Back to 100% health in the off-season, it was presumed Murray would resume torturing opponents in the same manner the Cowboys have tortured their fan-base for years.
Possible Explanation: Like Stafford, Murray has faced a string of elite defenses, as Seattle, Chicago and Tampa Bay rank second, third and fourth respectively in opposing rush yards per game. In his only matchup against a sub-par run defense, Murray shredded the defending Super Bowl champion Giants for 140 total yards.
Prognosis: Overreacting on Murray’s 2012 production is akin to going to the hospital for a paper cut. Just lick your wounds, put the last four weeks in the rearview mirror, and know that Murray still has games remaining against Carolina, the New York Giants, Washington (twice), and a juicy Fantasy Championship Weekend shootout-in-the-making with New Orleans.
Recommendation: A healthy Murray is still a surefire top ten dynasty running back. While he has a history of injuries dating back to college, his tantalizing talent alone should lock him into your starting lineup on a weekly basis. Don’t overthink this one.
Greg Jennings, WR GB
Prior Synopsis: A favorite target of both Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre, Jennings has eclipsed 900 receiving yards each year dating back to 2007; numbers which could have been even better had he not missed three games apiece in both 2007 and 2011. Playing on one of the most dynamic offenses in the league, Jennings has been plug-and-play nearly his entire career.
Possible Explanation: A hard-luck Jennings has had both the misfortunes of competing against stellar secondaries (Seattle and San Francisco) as well as attempting to play through a groin injury. When healthy, there’s enough upside in Green Bay’s aerial attack to believe Jennings can finish the season on a high note.
Prognosis: Unfortunately, right now Jennings has roughly as many receiving yards as he has terrible commercials. It’s tough to say how long his injury will keep him on the shelf and how the rest of his 2012 season will unfold.
Recommendation: Not only are Jennings’ 2012 numbers suffering, there are no guarantees as to where he’ll be playing in 2013 and beyond. That uncertainty alone is enough to torpedo his dynasty value. Contenders might want to buy low in the hopes that Jennings can push their teams over the top in the latter stages of 2012, but rebuilding teams should sell high after his next big game.
Jermichael Finley, TE GB
Prior Synopsis: Hailed as the “next big thing” at tight end due to a 2009 late-season surge, expectations for Finley were higher than a midflight 747. Unfortunately for Jermichael, it appears he got stuck on the runway, with back-to-back forgettable performances in 2010 and 2011. Though he’s still young, the patience of Finley owners is wearing thinner than a Victoria’s Secret supermodel.
Possible Explanation: I’d like to spin this one like an old vinyl, but truthfully I can’t! Finley has played against some tough defenses (see Jennings above), but has still only exceeded four receptions in a game once. Moreover, he has been unable to help fill the void left by Jennings’ absence, losing targets to receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones.
Prognosis: Despite future matchups with Houston and Chicago, the schedule definitively softens. However, anticipating consistent high-end production for Finley has been a fool’s errand thus far, with no rational expectation for change.
Recommendation: If there’s a theoretical point where talent meshes with experience, Finley would like to throw a third variable into the equation: immaturity. His long-term future with Green Bay is in doubt, with recent reports surfacing that 2013 could be his last year as a cheesehead. Like his teammate Jennings, sell high when given the opportunity.
“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” –Benjamin Franklin
Again, it’s been a long time since I’ve taken a US History course and I don’t fly my kite nearly as much as I’d prefer. So looking at the above quote a bit more ubiquitously and following the same rubric, it’s time to examine a few players who have performed much better than predicted.
Andy Dalton, QB CIN
Prior Synopsis: Is it already time to confess that I was wrong about the Red Rifle in my Building for the Future article? I thought that while Dalton had a respectable year as a rookie, he appeared to lack the physical traits necessary to become an elite signal caller. Looking good in only his second season, it’s possible I was underestimating the 2011 second round pick.
Possible Explanation: Though you can only play the schedule you have, Dalton has feasted on an early diet of creampuffs, getting fat off of subpar pass defenses in Baltimore, Cleveland, Washington and Jacksonville (all #21 or below in pass yards per game). While the Ginger Avenger has handled his business, it’s fair to question how much of his success is due in part to good fortune.
Prognosis: Amazingly enough, the schedule doesn’t get much tougher. Apart from games against Pittsburgh (twice), Dallas and Philadelphia, Dalton doesn’t have another game against another top-ten pass defense. It’s possible his biggest adversary could turn out to be Mother Nature’s handling of the Cincinnati area come December.
Recommendation: There was a time where I would’ve advocated selling Dalton after he strung together a few good games. This is why pencils have erasers! Blessed with the good fortune of being able to throw to fellow sophomore AJ Green for the conceivable future, Dalton has established himself as a solid buy/hold.
Willis McGahee, RB DEN
Prior Synopsis: A seemingly rejuvenated McGahee has stiff-armed Father Time as well as opposing defenses over the past few years. Once left for dead as Ray Rice’s caddy in Baltimore, McGahee was signed on the cheap by the Denver Broncos last offseason. He swiftly took over for an ineffective Knowshon Moreno and hasn’t looked back.
Possible Explanation: 69% of McGahee’s rushing yards have come against Oakland and Atlanta, who currently rank #23 and #29 respectively in terms of rush yards against per game. He averaged only 50 yards per game in contests against Pittsburgh and Houston. Both of his touchdowns against Atlanta were also, at least partially, due to receiving goal-line handoffs, an occurrence which can’t always be counted upon.
Prognosis: Apart from tough games against San Diego (twice), New England and Tampa Bay, McGahee and the Broncos have favorable matchups the rest of the way. With opposing defenses now forced to respect Peyton Manning’s pinpoint accuracy, McGahee should continue to post robust statistics.
Recommendation: The Broncos selected fellow running back Ronnie Hillman with the 67th pick in the 2012 draft, signifying an eventual changing of the guard. At 30 years of age, McGahee’s only value is to a contender, so rebuilding squads should sell high after the next big game.
Reggie Wayne, WR IND
Prior Synopsis: Ever a lock for 80+ receptions and 1,000+ yards with Peyton Manning at the helm, Reggie Wayne more closely resembled Lil’ Wayne when forced to catch “passes” from Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky last season. At 33 years old, it was widely assumed Wayne could no longer gain separation from defensive backs, and his glory days were through. With rookie Andrew Luck’s growing pains coinciding with Wayne’s swan song, expectations were non-existent.
Possible Explanation: I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks after all! Now lining up all over the formation in Bruce Arians’ offense, Wayne has been the recipient of an astounding 40 targets through three games. Though the Colts’ three opponents (Chicago, Minnesota and Jacksonville) are all ranked #17 or worse in terms of receiving yards against per game, Luck’s radar lock on Wayne would’ve possibly mitigated the strength of the opposition anyhow.
Prognosis: The schedule remains relatively easy apart from two late-season clashes with Houston. Though the risk of Wayne slowing down as the season progresses remains, current trends dictate a resurgence (if only temporary) to fantasy’s elite tier of receivers.
Recommendation: Like McGahee, Wayne’s years of fantasy relevance are slowly dwindling. Last year, of the 19 receivers who totaled over 1,000 receiving yards, only two of them (Wes Welker and Steve Smith) were over 30 years of age. You know the drill by now: contenders stand pat, otherwise sell high.
Owen Daniels, TE HOU
Prior Synopsis: Functioning as quarterback Matt Schaub’s security blanket over the past few seasons, Daniels was known for two things: getting open over the middle and accumulating nagging injuries. With Houston’s dependence upon Arian Foster and the run game, as well as the paradigm shift towards bigger, more athletic tight ends, Daniels seemed to be a forgotten man.
Possible Explanation: Two games against Tennessee and Miami, who cover the middle of the field as if there were land mines beneath it, certainly don’t hurt. Regardless, Daniels’ 28 targets lead the team, surpassing even superstar receiver Andre Johnson’s totals. Finally healthy, Daniels has been a perfect fit for the play-action passing game.
Prognosis: The schedule remains Charmin soft, apart from a week ten battle with the Bears. As long as Daniels remains healthy, he has an excellent shot at finishing the season as a top ten tight end.
Recommendation: Out of all the players listed in this analysis, Daniels’ dynasty worth is the toughest to interpret. At 29 years old, he’s not young, but could still be valuable if you look at your team’s contention in terms of a “three-year window.” You likely drafted him as a backup, so the suggestion here is to flip him at the peak of his trade value. Just don’t be surprised if he out-produces your starter!
“Life is largely a matter of expectation.” –Horace
Given empirical evidence and circumstantial analysis, it’s perfectly reasonable to craft expectations for the players on our teams. Unfortunately, unless any of us are distantly related to Nostradamus, the smart money says that our hunches will be wrong more than we’d prefer. The players shown above represent merely a subset of the aggregate of those who have performed in an unanticipated manner. While there will likely always be a few lead-pipe locks in the fantasy game, there’s one immutable truth which should never go underappreciated: expect the unexpected!
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