One of the most difficult decisions that fantasy owners face as the season wears on is what to do with underperforming players that they picked with a high-round draft pick. Veteran owners know that after Week 1 draft position is inconsequential and player rankings are fluid week to week. Here is look at a few of the players whose early season performances have not matched their lofty draft position and what you can expect from them the rest of the season.
(QB11, average draft position 77.52) – Many fantasy owners expected 2011 to be the year that Freeman catapulted in to the upper echelon of fantasy quarterbacks; five weeks and several underwhelming performances later and Freeman is being labeled a bust. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 3-2 but their offense has yet to get going, scoring only three points in a Week 5 trouncing versus the San Francisco 49ers. A sluggish LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams’ sophomore slump have plagued the Buccaneers and hindered Freeman’s ascension.
With Blount likely giving way to Earnest Graham this week due to an injury, the Buccaneers may be forced to take to the air often in a shootout with the New Orleans Saints. The Week 6 matchup will be a good barometer as to whether Freeman will get over the hump this year or continue to be a disappointment. If Freeman and Williams can start to click they will have the opportunity to build off of their success with another favorable matchup with the Chicago Bears in Week 7 and a rematch with the New Orleans Saints in Week 9, after a bye. The 49ers’ blowout was Freeman’s first real stinker of the year. Keep a close eye on the matchup with the Saints this week and how Freeman bounces back before you decide to dump him. The talent is there, but the on field performances aren’t. Freeman is creeping towards being droppable in most leagues.
(QB16, 110.4) – Kolb was nearly as sought after as a backup fantasy quarterback as he was by the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason. He opened the season with a solid performance against the Carolina Panthers before several poor outings. The idea of drafting Kolb and then trading him when his stock was high is probably not going to happen this season. If you have a solid starter it is time to dump Kolb and look for a favorable bye-week matchup.
There are several problems for Kolb in Arizona. The abbreviated offseason didn’t give him time with a new team of receivers, coaching staff or offensive scheme. Add in a less-than-stellar running game anchored by Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells, Kolb has a lot of weight on his shoulders. If those challenges weren’t enough, the Cardinals don’t have any dependable receivers for Kolb to target other than Larry Fitzgerald. It won’t get any easier for Kolb after a Week 6 bye. In the following weeks the Cardinals face the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. You can find a better option than Kolb the rest of the way.
(QB14, 90.43) – Coming off a record-setting rookie season, Bradford was expected to carry the St. Louis Rams into the playoffs in 2011. Amidst all the expectations, Bradford was generally one of the first backup quarterbacks off the board on draft day. Four poor outings in five weeks have Bradford resting on the free agent scrap heap.
The casual fantasy football fan probably can’t name a single Rams’ wideout. An astute fantasy owner can rattle off four or more. Both those statements are equally problematic. With the season-ending injury suffered by Danny Amendola, Bradford has no “go-to wideout.” Instead, the Rams have a roster full of inconsistent, average receivers. Danario Alexander and Brandon Gibson aren’t the type of names that strike fear in opposing defenses. Running back Steven Jackson has been banged up and missed time, and while Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams has filled in admirably, the running game hasn’t done much to take the pressure off Bradford. Until the Rams address their questions at wide receiver, Bradford’s numbers will suffer and he will be a fantasy question mark. Let Bradford go for now until he proves to be consistently reliable.
(RB14, 26.46) – Madden curse? Strep throat? One-year wonder? Don’t give up on Hillis so easily. He has yet to produce a 100-yard game this season, but he did log 94 yards and two scores in Week 2. Head coach Pat Shurmur came out this week in support of Hillis and says that he will continue to get the majority of the team’s carries. Hillis’ decision to sit out Week 3 with strep throat and the surrounding controversy should have the running back playing with a chip on his shoulder in efforts to prove his critics wrong and earn a big free agent payday.
The Browns square off with the Oakland Raiders in Week 6, and Hillis should have a great chance to get himself back on track with a solid game. He may suffer through some less-than-stellar performances against teams like the San Francisco 49ers in Week 8, but the outlook for Hillis is good. Hillis clearly still belongs on your roster, but he may be more of a matchup play than he was down the stretch last season.
(RB8, 13.75) – Mendenhall and the Steelers had a miserable Week 1 performance against the Baltimore Ravens, and the going hasn’t gotten any better for Mendenhall. Mendenhall sat out with an injury last week, and fill-in Jonathan Dwyer was able to eclipse 100 yards. The Steelers are committed to the run and expect Mendenhall to continue to get the large majority of the carries as long as he stays healthy. His performances may not justify his high draft position but he is a middle-of-the-road running back the rest of the way.
(WR14, 43.38) – Many of the same problems that are plaguing Josh Freeman are hindering Williams. I expect Williams’ numbers to improve, but all indications are that he will not match his output from his rookie season.
His trade value is low and you should keep him on your roster unless you have serious bye-week or injury concerns to fill. Freeman and Williams could rediscover their chemistry in any upcoming week and start to carry your fantasy team. Exercise patience but keep your expectations in check.
(WR19, 53.17) – Rumors are swirling that the New York Jets’ receivers met with the coaching staff last week and requested a change in offensive philosophy … they are said to have requested that the team run the ball more? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Mark Sanchez and the passing game. Holmes has great hands and is an accomplished route runner, but the Jets’ stale offense is concerning. Several soft defenses are on their upcoming schedule, so if the Jets are going to get better the upcoming stretch will provide the perfect opportunity. Holmes will be challenged as the Jets will be asking a rookie wide receiver to step in at the slot after the trade of Derrick Mason to the Houston Texans. Double teams may be in his future, but Holmes needs to stay in your lineup as he still stands to get plenty of targets from Sanchez.
(WR18, 52.44) – An awful lot of Denver Broncos’ fans have wanted Tim Tebow as their quarterback this season. Lloyd fantasy owners likely will have different feelings. Lloyd was the fantasy surprise at receiver last year and most agreed the veteran was poised to produce at a high level again this season. Many owners will expect Lloyd’s value to take a hit with Tebow at quarterback. Don’t write Lloyd off so quickly with Tebow under center. After all, things couldn’t get a whole lot worse with Tebow than they have been with Kyle Orton thus far. It is worth remembering that Lloyd managed to put up respectable numbers late last season while Tebow was quarterbacking. The luster has worn off Lloyd a bit, but he should bounce back and be a weekly starter for you down the stretch.
(WR24, 70.23) – Wow! From a borderline WR2 to losing his starting job, Manningham has fallen quite a bit in a short amount of time. Unless Victor Cruz gets injured or quickly regresses, Manningham will have a hard time contributing for the New York Giants, and more importantly, for your fantasy team. Cutting Manningham should be an easy decision for you.
(TE8, 98.08) – Coming off a 10-touchdown, 700-yard season, expectations were high for Lewis entering 2011. Jacksonville’s decision to move to rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert has saddled Lewis thus far. He has yet to snag more than five balls in a game this season, failing to eclipse 40 yards in each game.
Lewis’ value lies in his red zone effectiveness, and with the Gabbert the Jaguars don’t look to be there very often. There are better options to consider. Grab them and drop Lewis!
(TE1, 38.34) – Gates entered the season with a lot of concerns over his durability. A solid Week 1 performance seemed to squelch many of those questions, but it has all been downhill since them. Gates’ performance is largely due to his poor health, but the reason for including him is because I have serious doubts over his ability to return to the dependable tight end selection he has been in years past. It will be difficult to just cut him at this point, but you would be well served to have a solid second option that you can live with until Gates can answer the questions that surround him this season.