Going into this season, many of the fantasy football mock drafts were looking about the same. The average draft positions (ADP) of the first seven players selected off the board were very consistent. The majority of the drafts had the top seven going: Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Michael Turner, Andre Johnson and Frank Gore. So far we’ve gotten just a glimpse of these players overall value. It’s only week 4, so there is no need to start hitting the panic button on any yet. But who have truly lived up to their top ADP billings so far? Who could see the biggest value fall from the 2010 draft to the 2011 draft?
Chris Johnson – 301 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns, 27 yards receiving
The tiny Tennessee Titan himself. Johnson has continued his two-year campaign of yardage and touchdowns in the first three games of 2010. Even with struggling play from the quarterback position, Johnson has provided the punch that owners were expecting when they took him first overall. As the passing game begins to come around, Johnson could actually see a pick up in value due to catching more passes. Johnson literally has zero threats on that Titans roster to draw coverage, except for the occasional Vince Young roll out.
However, he’s shown that the only person that affects his value is himself. The Titans cut star center Kevin Mawae and apparently Johnson doesn’t miss him all that much. None of the Titans’ receivers have established themselves as a legit threat either. Damian Williams who? Kenny Britt and Nate Washington offer some value, but honestly defenses aren’t taking coverage off of Johnson to double team Washington. Johnson is doing a great job of racking up fantasy points and is cementing his place as the No. 1 ranked player going into next season as well. We could be looking at a LaDainian Tomlinson type of fantasy draft run, where Johnson should be a consensus top two pick for the next several seasons. It’s clear that Johnson has earned his draft spot thus far this season.
Adrian Peterson – 392 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns, 85 yards receiving
The man they call “All Day” puts up points on that same basis. The Minnesota Vikings are in shambles. The defense is having issues all over the field and not performing at the extremely high level they did just a season ago. The wide receiving corps may be the most confusing collection of players in the entire league. And the quarterback play has been so bad that the Vikings offered Dan Marino a shot at the job. Not really, but I think I’d rather have Marino in there under center over Brett Favre.
All of these 180-degree turnarounds from last season and only one thing remains the same. Peterson is a beast. Hopefully since that Detroit game, the offensive staff now understands the difference from winning strategy and losing strategy. Winning is handing the ball off to Peterson, losing is throwing down field to Greg Camarillo and Bernard Berrian. Even with all the attention from the defenses from not respecting the passing game, Peterson still has put up great numbers. The touchdowns are there and the yardage is there. The biggest difference is his receiving capabilities. He’s been putting up noticeable numbers through the passing game, which is great for Favre.
Visanthe Shiancoe and Peterson seem to be the only receivers that understand their routes and can actually catch the ball. It was concerning to see Peterson get stuffed on the goal line a few times in a row against the Dolphins, but minds were eased with the 80-yard breakaway touchdown against the Lions. Peterson’s numbers reflect that of his draft positioning. Given Peterson’s age, he and Johnson could be going head to head for No. 1 status for the next several years.
Maurice Jones-Drew – 217 rushing yards, 33 receiving yards, 0 touchdowns
Rounding out the “Big Three” we have Jones-Drew. Here’s our first case where the stats don’t reflect the ADP. But, take into consideration that it’s not his fault. We just got done slamming the Vikings about their horrible quarterback play and confused receiving corps. But these Jacksonville Jaguars make those Vikings look like the “All-Madden” team.
David Garrard is either a three-touchdown quarterback or running for the hills. There really isn’t an in between. And Mike Sims-Walker seems to be a human roller coaster. He comes in with a no catch game and then has a huge game the following week. All of these inconsistencies on offense allow defenses to key on the focal point of the offense, being the running game. And on top of it all, the Jaguars’ defense is one of the worst in the league. The Jaguars are letting up huge points on a regular basis, leading to the offense having to play from behind. When playing from behind, you’re forced to throw more. Jones-Drew is healthy and therefore still a must start every week. But if the defense can’t make some stops and the offense can’t get it together, Jones-Drew’s numbers could be way down from last season.
Jones-Drew is a monster in the red zone, but he does need some help getting there. I expect him to break off a couple of big yardage gainers to show owners that he’s not the issue; it’s the team. His ADP isn’t a huge loss yet, but he needs to find the end zone in the very near future to make owners feel a little better. Maybe Trent Edwards could bring some balance to the Jaguars? Or maybe they should have drafted fan favorite Tim Tebow? Who knows? One thing is for certain, the drafting of such players as Matt Jones aren’t helping take coverage away from Jones-Drew. His value is still there for now, but the team has a lot of issues. If the offense continues to struggle as badly as it has so far, Jones-Drew could lose several spots of ADP value heading into next season. If things get any worse we could find him outside the top five ADP wise for the first time since his rookie season.
Ray Rice – 210 rushing yards, 65 receiving yards, 0 touchdowns
How similar are the stats of Jones-Drew and Rice? The problem is that the Baltimore Ravens have no excuse to not be getting Rice better stats. The defense has played well. Joe Flacco seems to have found his grove in the win over Cleveland. Anquan Boldin is drawing defensive attention, and will draw even more after his three-touchdown performance.
So what’s the deal? Is it the play calling? Is it Rice? The answer lies in the schedule. The Ravens opened up against the Bengals and the Jets. The Bengals let up points through the air, limiting rush production and the Jets may be the best defense in football. The big bang was predicted (sadly by me) to come against Cleveland, but instead he ran into a case of the injury bug. The knee appears to be a non-issue at the moment, but Rice owners should already own Willis McGahee.
Rice’s schedule isn’t getting terribly easier any time soon. He will need to capitalize on the few easy matchups though to make up for the first three weeks. But, that’s what happens when you finish as one of the best teams in the league the season before in a tough division to boot. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s numbers could be even more impressive if their teams lost the season before. But the schedule comes with the territory. Rice was drafted as a lead “stud” fantasy back, meaning he should be performing no matter the level of competition. The theory going into the season was that the passing game would lead to more rushing opportunities. That has yet to be the case. He’s still on pace to put up good overall yardage numbers, but if his knee becomes an issue, the production could drop off even further. And McGahee is ready to perform so he can show that he is still capable of being a lead back.
As the Ravens offense begins to click, Rice will catch on. But this injury only adds to the possibility of Rice not being used on goal line work to avoid further bumps and bruises. It’s only week 4 so don’t go off the deep end and trade a player that was ranked fourth overall just 21 days ago. But monitor the situation closely. His stats could very well be below preseason expectations at seasons end.
Frank Gore – 193 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown, 207 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown
The 49ers did everything humanly possible to ensure a great season for Gore. They went out and drafted two first round offensive linemen to help plow the way. They resigned Vernon Davis and drafted Michael Crabtree the season before to take pressure off the ground game. They even rested him for 95 percent of the preseason to avoid mid-season breakdowns. The only thing the 49ers didn’t account for was a useless offensive coordinator.
Let’s be completely honest here – this firing was well deserved. This isn’t a situation like Seattle or Detroit where the circumstances are beyond the capabilities of production. This team has all the necessary tools to put up numbers. Though Alex Smith isn’t Aaron Rodgers, he has shown that he can manage the game and put points up when needed. But, defenses aren’t respecting Crabtree and Davis because the play calling hasn’t allowed for them to be serviceable yet. But all of that could change very soon. If the passing game gets jump started, then Gore could be in for a boost in production.
Gore is such an asset in the passing game that he could actually be used even more than he is now, with better results. That’s a scary thought considering that Gore is already halfway to his season total receiving numbers from last year. The best thing about Gore is that he rarely gets spelled by backups. He’s a workhorse back. But that’s also the downfall of Gore. He handles so much of the workload that he gets dinged up. If the passing game can get going and open up bigger holes leading to less carries, but for more yards per carry average, Gore could actually increase his probability of staying healthy. Having to smash into a crowded defensive front at full speed 23 times a game isn’t good for anybody’s health. But so far, so good.
The total yardage is there and two touchdowns in three weeks isn’t bad. Even though it kind of stinks that they came in the same game. Hopefully the new offensive coordinator can find a way to raise his 3.7 average to the four-plus that we are used to seeing. Throughout the first three weeks though, Gore has performed up to his ADP. His keeper potential and future ADP could actually increase due to others slow starts.
Andre Johnson – 19 receptions, 255 yards, 1 touchdown
Johnson is the sole wide receiver to break into the top ADP. Johnson has, by far, the best combination of overall pure talent and situation. He’s got the physical skill set of Calvin Johnson, but Johnson has a Pro Bowl quarterback tossing him the ball. Johnson caught a nice red zone touchdown too, showing that he’s not getting lost when moving into scoring territory.
He’s capable of short-yardage scores and able to break huge gains on his own. The only thing that could be an issue for Johnson is the fact that he relies so heavily on his speed. The fact that speed is his trademark makes that high ankle sprain all that more troubling. His production thus far has been great, but high ankle sprains are no joke when it comes to ability to produce. Michael Turner had a high ankle sprain last season and had to be shut down midway through the year. LaDainian Tomlinson saw one of his least productive seasons due to a similar issue as well. This sprain doesn’t effect what should be the No. 1 overall wide receiver billing going into next season. But, there is a chance that his production could take a hit and his stats may not reflect his draft position for this year. As long as Johnson can play, he’s a must start and will produce good fantasy numbers. But as far as posting No. 1 elitist numbers, that may have to wait. Hopefully this injury is being overblown by the media. But if he can’t hit that high gear, make his cuts cleanly on routes or out jump defenders, his stats will obviously take a hit.
He’s yet to post what I believe to be the best game of the season, so keep starting him. The only way Johnson should be benched is if he’s on Injured Reserve, and even then I’d still start him over half the receivers in the league. I’d still take an 80 percent Johnson as my No. 1 receiver, no question. He would still be taken first overall outside the top 5 running backs, so his ADP is still accurate.
Michael Turner – 231 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown,
18 receiving yards
Turner was one of the hottest commodities heading into week 1. Most everyone was predicting a huge bounce back from Turner. Turner has proven to be solid so far, but owners have already seen what they were afraid of when they drafted him. Turner is a candidate for double-digit touchdowns every season, but he’s also a candidate to end up on Injured Reserve. Last year when Turner finally got shut off around mid-season, he had 10 touchdowns to his record. So far through three games, we’ve seen him cross the end zone once. There are six more games heading into week 10 of this year.
Is Turner capable of reaching those stats by that time? Yes. We’ve seen many multiple touchdown games out of ‘The Burner’ before. But will it realistically happen? Can he get back on pace with nine touchdowns in the next six games? No. Turner’s bread-and-butter play is his short-yardage scoring drives into the pile. But now he’s suffered a setback already. It’s an extremely long season and an injury this early is troubling. You can’t predict a season’s worth of production on three weeks of play. But expectations of a huge touchdown campaign need to be reigned back in.
He hasn’t fallen out of his ADP billing yet. Owners should hold on tight and hunt for Jason Snelling just incase they decide to limit Turner to keep him fresh (could end up with a LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene situation). Turner’s game doesn’t include the option to receive notable yardage, so his touchdown efforts will need to increase quickly for him to keep his ADP accurate and to ensure top selection status for next year.
If you noticed throughout the article, the general idea is that some players may not be currently living up to their ADP status, but no is out of the game yet. How many yards or touchdowns did Jamaal Charles have in the first three weeks last season? All of these players maintain their forecasted values and remain top keepers going into next season. While other players such as Darren McFadden and Arian Foster are making keeper arguments for themselves with their numbers, the “too early to tell” rule applies to those who are posting big numbers as well. All of these players fit their draft position and unless you have a ridiculous team should be brought with you going into next season as well. No one is a bust until you can review the total stats at the end of the season. I sincerely doubt that Rice will finish the season with no touchdowns, but I also doubt that Turner will finish the season leading in the touchdown category. Don’t beat yourself up too much about it. I would have been thrilled to have Rice, DeAngelo Williams, Calvin Johnson and Sidney Rice just a few weeks ago. But it’s not over until it’s over.