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Five up and Five down

The New England Patriots’ ultimate showing of “squish the fish” Monday night closes the curtain on roughly the first quarter of the season. Many fantasy owners aren’t too happy with the production of players while other teams are patting themselves on the back for picking up huge value late in the draft.

At the quarter mark, I decided it would be beneficial to look at five players who really haven’t performed up to high expectations and five players who have greatly exceeded our statistical predictions. Do these slow starts warrant the possibility of not keeping these early draft picks? Do these electric jumps out of the gate signal the need to tag these players with the keeper label? Here’s a quarter of the way through look called five up, five down.

Ray Rice – 230 rush yards (3.8 average),0 TD; 11 receptions, 74  yards, 0 TD

Arian Foster – 537 rush yards (6.3 average), 4 TD; 11 receptions, 152 yards, 1 TD

Did anybody predict anything close to this happening? That Rice would be struggling the way he is and that Foster would be a lead fantasy back? I’m guessing no. Rice came into the season with aspirations of having a Chris Johnson 2009-type of season. Two thousand total yards wasn’t out of the question. But suddenly, a knee injury and his slow start have owners scrambling. Truth be told, we are starting to approach the panic area. Though I do feel as though Rice’s pure talent can pull him out of a hole, 25 percent of his games are now behind him. That’s a lot of value for owners to have to make up. At this point, Rice is still a start as long as he is healthy, but you can’t get back what is already lost.

Foster certainly isn’t having any issues when it comes to playing on Sundays. Foster has come booming out of the gate since Week 1 and has yet to look back. This year looks to be a career season for Foster. But, be aware that coming into this season all the hype surrounded Ben Tate. And the season before, all the hype surrounded Steve Slaton. Houston will have Tate back for next year and most likely still have Slaton on the roster. This year could be the highest we’ll see Foster’s stats hit. That’s not to say that his value will drop off completely, but look what happened to Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones in a running back by committee. Look at LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene in New York. Foster will still have his value, but it may not come close to the value that he has this season

Given both of their situations, if I had to have a back start on my roster for this season I’d go with Foster. But, if I had to pick a keeper heading into next year, I’d still take Rice over Foster. Willis McGahee is all but gone next season, if he’s not traded this season. So, Rice will be losing his backup and Foster will be gaining his. Foster has established himself as a true feature back, but again, didn’t Charles do that last year too? Running back by committee (RBBC) affects overall value. Even if it’s only a small hit, like say that Foster loses 25 percent of the carries next season to Tate and Slaton. What’s the difference from losing 25 percent of the stats through a slow start compared to every single week? It works out to be the same loss in value. The difference is that you can predict RBBC, you can’t predict slow starts.

Ahmad Bradshaw – 382 rush yards (5.1 average), 3 TD; 9 receptions, 61 yards, 0 TD

Steven Jackson – 284 rush yards (3.9 average), 1 TD; 12 receptions, 116 yards, 0 TD

You had a 50-50 shot of guessing who would be the better back to have for the New York Giants going into this season. If you guessed Brandon Jacobs, you’re probably not the happiest owner in the league right now. If you went with Bradshaw, you got yourself an absolute steal, especially considering that Bradshaw was at the most a fifth- or sixth-round pick. The Giants’ offensive line is in complete shambles. Eli Manning doesn’t have time to even get the snap in some cases. On top of that, the Giants’ defense has been letting up their fair share of points. Both of these factors added together means the Giants can’t run effectively and are playing from behind. When that’s the case, the game usually gets put in the quarterback’s hands. That destroys the value of Jacobs and sends Bradshaw’s through the roof due to his receiving skill set.

Bradshaw is having a terrific year in that Giants’ offense with Jacobs still stealing carries and some goal line work. If Jacobs does get his wish to be traded, or perhaps even gets released, Bradshaw could be a potential second round pick in fantasy drafts next year. That means your sixth-round pick now has the value of a borderline first rounder.

Jackson has two big bugaboos that have been seemingly following him for the last few seasons. One is the fact that he seems to injure himself more so than most other NFL players. Whether it’s his back or his knee, he seems to always miss time each and every season. This season doesn’t seem to be an exception to that rule of thumb. Luckily, he doesn’t have anyone resembling a football player at the running back position on the roster threatening to steal his job, but it’s still a point of concern.

Secondly, he seems to have a knack for not scoring touchdowns. He went all of last season with a total of four touchdowns and has played a quarter of the season only registering one. So again, he’s on pace for one of the lowest touchdown totals, yet one of the highest workloads. Sam Bradford is doing his part, picking apart defenses with impressive first year play. Maybe the offensive line isn’t doing its part? Whatever the reasoning is, the yardage is impressive but the touchdowns need to follow.

You can make arguments either way as to which one has the most keeper value. I’d say that it sways solely on the presence of Jacobs. If you have the luxury of waiting to just before the season begins to announce keepers then wait until the last possible minute. With the helmet throwing incident, I would imagine that Jacobs could be out of New York in short order. Tom Coughlin didn’t put up with antics like that from Jeremy Shockey, so I doubt he’ll let this kind of behavior continue.

Jackson remains an elite play at the running back position, but be fully aware of the injuries. If Bradford can keep defenses honest and Jackson doesn’t require surgery in the offseason, he could be in for a great year again next season. But, if Bradshaw becomes the sole back for the Giants, he has fresher legs and better offensive compliments. Bradshaw could be working his way into keeper-company while Jackson begins to slip out.

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