Fantasy Football: Slow Starters You Should Target on the Trade Market

Ryan Hubler@ryan_hublerCorrespondent IOctober 16, 2012

Fantasy Football: Slow Starters You Should Target on the Trade Market

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    As the fantasy football season approaches its pinnacle and overall most crucial point—the trading deadline, owners should begin to look at the players who have come short of expectations thus far. While every season has its fair share of disappointments, this season has been an unmitigated disaster for some of the NFL's brightest.

    The disappointing production has led frustrated fantasy owners to benching their first-round picks or worse—trading them for a lesser bounty.

    The cunning, intelligent fantasy football owners should jump at the chance at obtaining the early round flubs, with hopes that they can regain their past production at an under the market value. But one has to be careful when doing so because the small glimmer of light they show, can simply be just that.

    Here are five players that should be targeted while their value is still low, but have the upside to be a Top 10 player at their position when the season ends.

No. 5: Chris Johnson

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    The fifth-year back came into the season with fantasy owners being split down the middle on whether he could find his old self again or was destined to be a wasted first-round pick for the second consecutive season.

    Well, he has been the latter so far.

    But in recent weeks, the football world has witnessed what he is capable of regaining.

    In Week 4, Chris Johnson and the Titans went up against the stout run defense of the Houston Texans. Johnson carried the ball 25 times during the game, racking up a solid 141 yards.

    Then two weeks later, CJ took on a defense he has always struggled against, the Steelers. Most owners sat Johnson expecting a minute output offensively, but impressed by putting up an unexpected 91 yards on 19 carries, marking the second time this season that he topped 100 total yards in one game.

    Johnson's carries have steadily increased after the first three games of the season, where he only saw 33 carries total.

    The three games since? 59

    The best news is that the next couple games the Titans will be taking on run defenses that leave much to be desired. The schedule is headlined by the Buffalo Bills, a rush defense that allows 26.2 fantasy points per game, and one that conceded 182 rushing yards to the woeful rushing attack of the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.

    Moral of the story?

    Buy low, expect big. But also expect a small bout with inconsistency against defenses that shroud outside the tackles. He is capable of being a low-end No. 1/solid No. 2 from here on out.

No. 4: Michael Vick

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    On paper, the Philadelphia Eagles and Michael Vick have had a fair season. The Eagles are now 3-3, sitting soundly in second place in the NFC East and going into the bye week to get fully healthy and nurse their minor wounds.

    On further inspection, we see that their offense has been up and down so frequently that they are starting to resemble a roller coaster. The high-octane offense many expected has been held somewhat in check, as the passing game and rushing attack have yet to click.

    And it all starts with Michael Vick.

    Vick has thrown for more than 300 yards three times this season and scored multiple touchdowns in each game. The problem is that he has committed turnovers at an alarming rate.

    With eight interceptions and five fumbles lost in six games, many owners have jumped ship and looked toward their backup or traded for another QB to evade the headache of starting and ruing the fact later on in the day.

    Week 7's bye week couldn't come any sooner for the Eagles and their fans. It is obvious that their play-calling needs to change.

    The upside for Vick comes with the notion that he simply cannot turn the ball over at the same clip as he has to start the season. More check down passes to LeSean McCoy and screen passes to Brent Celek will surely be included into head coach Andy Reid's offense.

    The strong performance by Jeremy Maclin Sunday will go a long way in helping Vick, by keeping defenses off the box and giving him some space to move and create.

    Buy low while you still can. He will finish the season as a Top 10 QB.

No. 3: Matthew Stafford

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    Matthew Stafford has not been as prolific as owners would have liked thus far.

    Yes, he has thrown for 1,493 yards to date, but his TD-INT ratio has been rather lackluster, throwing four touchdowns to five interceptions.

    Stafford is averaging 44 passing attempts per game this season, so the yards will absolutely come. It is just a matter of keeping his picks down that will make Stafford a Top 5 quarterback again.

    Stafford also needs to make the best out of his receiving corps not named Calvin Johnson. Defenses know who Stafford is looking for on deep routes, but by amalgamating the rest of his powerful aerial threats (Pettigrew, Young and Burleson) into one cohesive unit, his upside is limitless.

    Sunday marked the first time this season that Stafford had a multi-touchdown game, throwing for a one, while rushing for the other.

    The interception he threw Sunday will most likely keep a stale taste in the mouth of fantasy owners, allowing sneaky (but smart) owners to trade for him rather easily.

    Keep in mind that Detroit's upcoming schedule features some tenacious, stout defenses, but nothing that the offensive-minded Lions can't handle.

    Stafford's value will teeter on the fact that without incorporating his viable supporting cast, his production (and fantasy worth) will suffer. As Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young start to wake up, so will Stafford. Trade for him with confidence.

No. 2: Darren McFadden

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    McFadden has had a slow start to the 2012 season, rushing for 271 yards on 84 carries—a 3.5 yard per carry average.

    But the reason to look up in terms of his fantasy value come from the fact that his best two performances came against tough rush defenses. He put up 113 yards against the Steelers and 70 yards against the Atlanta Falcons, while scoring a touchdown in each game.

    His yards per carry average and lack of performance in the passing game (other than the strange Week 1 anomaly) may keep owners away. But for the right price, McFadden can be had and hold great value as a second running back on most teams.

    The Raiders held true Sunday, by giving McFadden more reps and carries.

    The result?

    The Raiders almost came out with a win against, the now, 6-0 Atlanta Falcons.

    Look for more of the same as the Raiders approach a schedule that should lead to loads of rushing attempts and rushing scores. His catches Sunday (3-for-28 yards) should also be a sign that Oakland will look to throw more screens to the speedy back.

No. 1: Andre Johnson

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    The start of this season has proved to be one of his worst.

    Johnson has seen 43 targets come his way, while corralling 25 of them for 358 yards over the first six games of the season. Those numbers seem quite strange, especially considering how well the Texans have played this season, but there is reason to believe the early-round pick will come out of his funk and put up numbers similar to his old standards.

    The groin injury that has hampered him the past few weeks has been held at bay of late. Plus, the Texans have limited his reps in an attempt to keep him fresh for the late season surge.

    Reading between the lines shows that Johnson will be incorporated more and more as the season continues on.

    If you look closely, this season resembles Johnson's rookie campaign, a season in which he took the league by storm. That season AJ put up 466 yards on 31 catches in the first six games. Johnson didn't necessarily have any monster games that year, but did manage to accumulate 976 yards and four touchdowns.

    Keep in mind that he was a rookie. The now savvy veteran will undoubtedly surpass that season's total and look to gather enough touchdowns to hit his average (6).

    After the Baltimore game next week, Houston has rather favorable matchups, something very important going into the fantasy playoff season.

    If he can be had at a reasonable price, send him out as a superb No. 2 option at wide receiver and relish the benefits.