The 50 Biggest Fantasy Football Surprises at the NFL's Midseason Mark
I was at New Orleans Saints practice on the first day everyone walked in to see the billboard-sized image featured above in the indoor practice facility.
It was huge. Larger than life. An obvious symbol of the larger-than-life presence that Saints head coach Sean Payton represented within the organization.
As we reach into our minds and think about our preseason expectations for the NFL's 2012 season, there are some surprises: some with distinct indicators, some with larger-than-life indicators that should never, looking back, have been ignored.
That is hindsight, though, the most worthless use of 20/20 vision in human history. This is the present, and you have six games left in your fantasy league's regular season.
If you're 2-5 or 1-6, believe it or not, you're still in it. I've made playoff runs from 1-6; it is possible. If you are 7-0, congratulations. You are no lock for a first-round bye at this time, however, and while I have never seen a 7-0 team miss the playoffs, I have seen 6-1 teams do so, miserably and brutally.
My mantra is "no swindles."
Basically, no weird deals, no snake-jobs and no suckouts. All we can do through this playoff stretch is keep our heads down and avoid the little "surprises" the fantasy gods may bring our way, and in the best case, be on the right side of them.
Cam Newton, QB Carolina Panthers: Sophomore Slump
The picture in the slide pretty much sums up 2012 for Cam Newton so far. He has been pouting on the sidelines and showing distinct signs of professional and athletic regression in the face of adversity in disturbing, repeated instances for his 2012 owners.
The issue with Newton's "slump" is not so much the number of points he has scored. If you look at his average points per game on the season, it is a serviceable 16.69 points in standard leagues.
Serviceable. A far cry from the near 30-point average he rolled into Week 8 of 2011 boasting for owners who did not spend a first- or second-round pick on him.
Furthermore, Newton's 16.69 points per game average does not tell the whole tale. Newton has had a few of his signature, monster performances intermingled with absolute exhibitions of fantasy bed-wetting.
I tell people all the time on the radio when I counsel and help them with their teams, it's the one thing that even the smartest fantasy players sometimes struggle to understand.
You win by scoring the most points, but fantasy football is not about scoring the most points. It is about fielding a starting roster that puts you in the position of being a statistical favorite to win the matchup. Fantasy football is about nothing other than increasing your probability of winning. The points scored are the end; they are not the means to themselves.
The sporadic nature of Newton's play has made him a liability until proven otherwise in a sustainable fashion. You do not increase your probability of victory by rolling out a known liability.
Michael Vick, QB Philadelphia Eagles: Turnover Machine
This is more a knock on Mike Vick as an NFL quarterback than it is on Mike Vick as a fantasy QB.
Besides one 4.73-point stinker in Arizona, Vick has been more than serviceable as a week-in, week-out fantasy starter despite his horrible turnover propensity. He's shown a 13.43-point fantasy floor with two games over 15 points and two games over 20 in standard leagues.
This is more about what a nice surprise these turnovers have been in fantasy. I'll let you in on one of my tips: I am a fan of not holding on to one defense for too terribly long, and I am generally a fan of fading Mike Vick when playing the waiver-wire defense game if at all possible.
I knew Vick was going to turn the ball over, but I hit the jackpot this year. It's like Vick's been playing on my team.
Week 1 Cleveland Browns defense: 22.52 points
Week 2 Baltimore Ravens defense: 14.68 points
Week 3 Arizona Cardinals defense: 25.28 points
Week 4 New York Giants defense: 7.92 points
Week 5 Pittsburgh Steelers defense: 9.28 points
Week 6 Detroit Lions defense: 10.96 points
That's an average of 15.1 points per game you would have gotten out of your defense had you simply picked up the team that was facing Vick and the turnovers he serves up on a silver platter. A 15.1-point average out of your defense would serve as second-best of any one fantasy team defense this season behind Chicago without a close third.
Baltimore Ravens Defense: Fantasy Juggernaut to Fantasy Doormat
It's depressing to watch, and it's depressing to talk about, but the Baltimore Ravens are not what they used to be as a defensive unit.
Terrell Suggs (a surprise on his own) has already returned from offseason Achilles surgery, and the Baltimore Ravens defense could not imagine a position in which they may need him more.
With the losses of Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis, even a recovering Suggs brings an element of leadership and a "link back" to times of seemingly long-forgotten defensive dominance in Baltimore given their 2012 start.
When is the last time you can remember the Ravens being a top-10 defense for opposing fantasy RBs to face?
The AFC North is changing, and it isn't just the Ravens. Tough defenses and pound-it-out run games are giving way to finesse and touch on offense with little depth of positive attributes elsewhere. Just one stage in the cyclical arms race toward a division crown.
Alfred Morris, RB Washington Redskins: The End of the Shanahanigans
The witch is dead.
Honestly, I feel weird equating Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan to a witch, and feel even weirder insinuating in any way that he is deceased, but the sentiment remains.
The nightmarish Shanahan running back games are over. The bane of many fantasy players' previous existence, as of midseason in 2012, well...ceases to exist.
Rookie RB Alfred Morris has been phenomenal and will be a common link in 2012 among many fantasy championship teams along with A.J. Green and, ironically, his teammate, Robert Griffin III.
Morris has been everything that fantasy owners have optimistically hoped for in a Shanahan running back, fruitlessly and pathetically, since Clinton Portis stopped being Clinton Portis. Morris is the epitome of a one-cut runner, suited perfectly for Washington's zone-blocking scheme.
Morris is perhaps suited more perfectly to be effective playing alongside RG3. The lateral space created against slant calls of the 4-3 fronts that Griffin and the Redskins have faced exclusively so far in 2012 allows for wide lanes that let Morris burst to the second level with a head of steam.
This is a backfield that Daniel Snyder will do everything he can to keep together for many years.
Calvin Johnson, WR Detroit Lions: On Pace for Two Touchdowns in 2012
Calvin Johnson's only TD catch in 2012 has come from Shaun Hill.
Matt Stafford has not thrown Calvin Johnson a TD in 2012, and that is unacceptable.
Universally thought of as the best WR in fantasy (even given his recent relative slump), Megatron has some making up to do statistically for his likely somewhat disenfranchised fantasy owners.
Owners of players such as Brian Hartline, Randall Cobb, Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Reggie Wayne and Stephen Hill have seen a better per-game-played return on average than those of the best WR in the land.
P.S.: Trade for him. Look at this chart. When the touchdowns come, things are going to get dirty. And they will. His lackluster start has been more than a surprise to most, though.
Tony Gonzalez, TE Atlanta Falcons: Ageless Wonder
Thirty-six years old and still unbelievable.
I know two things are certain in life and will pass along this knowledge to my children, and hopefully my children's children. I will go to my grave comforted by the knowledge that they will pass it on to their children and on and on.
There are certain things in life we know to be true, that hopefully find their way into of the fiber and folklore of our inevitable familial processes of handing down assets of all forms.
My contribution to my family's legacy:
1) Tony Gonzalez is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
2) Gonzalez is the No. 1 TE in fantasy coming into the midpoint of the 2012 regular season.
We hold these truths to be self-evident. Gonzalez was not taken until the late eighth round in 12-team fantasy drafts with an average draft position of 96, while Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski were off the board by the middle of Round 2 at the latest.
You could have had A.J. Green and the best TE in fantasy instead of Rob Gronkowski and Issac Redman.
Live and learn.
Reggie Wayne, WR Indianapolis Colts: Late-Career Revival
When I was at the NFL combine this past February, I noticed that Reggie Wayne's image was catty-corner to an image of the soon-to-be Denver Bronco Peyton Manning, adorning opposite sides of Lucas Oil Stadium in 100-foot-tall, larger-than-life form.
I won't be back in Indy until the 2013 combine, but I can imagine that the Peyton Manning mega-drape has been replaced, likely by an image of Andrew Luck.
Something tells me that a 100-foot-tall Reggie Wayne still overlooks downtown Indy, however.
Wayne is the team's leader and "locker room guy." From every report I have received, it is a role he has fully embraced. Wayne's leadership and standing within the organization have translated into monster fantasy numbers thus far in 2012.
Think about it this way. Indianapolis has already had its bye, and Reggie Wayne sits atop the NFL's target leaders with 81, tied for first with Victor Cruz of the Giants, who has played all seven games. That is involvement. What a sixth- or seventh-round pick for lucky owners.
We are seeing the 2012 version, in Wayne, of the 2011 Steve Smith late-career resurgence due to a dynamic rookie QB.
Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota Vikings: Superhuman Healing Powers
Vikings HC Leslie Frazier said tonight in an NFL Network interview that Adrian Peterson was "long past rehab" when describing the physical state of the league's best physical running specimen.
That is crazy considering Peterson's knee was shredded to smithereens, and then completely reconstructed...10 months ago.
It's like an optical illusion. It's like the Vikings are putting a hologram on the field, crafted masterfully by a think tank of Disney's best animation engineers to resemble the player we knew previously.
Peterson has been a dependable rock for fantasy owners, even in the absence of many TD scoring opportunities. This is a good sign. Like Calvin Johnson, those will come, and owners will be rewarded even more than they have been thus far.
Kevin Ogletree, WR Dallas Cowboys: Bursts onto the Scene
Many fantasy players came into the 2012 season hoping that they might get a bargain-basement deal on Dallas' No. 3 wideout.
The position led Laurent Robinson from complete obscurity in 2011 to being acquired by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 to the tune of five years and $32.5 million. Robinson won 2011 fantasy football owners championships in the flex. Check out his Week 16 stat line at New York.
Kevin Ogletree came out in Week 1 of the NFL season and put his official stamp on the position as starter with a 23.4-point monster that led to near-Lisztomania-level frenzy on waiver wires.
Now, he is a free agent again. He has either been dropped in your league or is simply being held on to by the person who is ashamed. They blew 75 percent (or more) of their free-agent budget on Ogletree in the first week of the season.
RosterWatch analyst Bill Byrne has a unique take on what happens early in the season with free-agent acquisition budgets and fantasy player psychology. This is a quote about an early counter-attack strategy he calls "small ball":
It is just human nature. Just like in real life, owners overspend until they realize that they are running out of money. At that point, they become much more restrained in their personal spending. Fantasy owners are no different.
Robert Griffin III, QB Washington Redskins: Worth Three First-Round Picks
If you don't agree, you don't watch the same football games I do.
If the NFL was music, RG3 would be Michael Jackson.
Griffin's fantasy owners have, likely by now, traded Griffin (or preferably the lesser QB they drafted as their original starter) to make upgrades to their optimal starting rosters.
At midseason, it seems obvious that a large sampling of fantasy owners who drafted and/or picked up Griffin in 2012 will go on to be locks for the fantasy playoffs.
Brandon Weeden, QB Cleveland Browns: Rookie Gunslinger
This is what happens when you go all in. You get Brandon Weeden and all his warts.
Despite some moments of amateur failure, the 29-year-old rookie gunslinger is on pace to break 4,000 yards passing in a season where 4,000 yards is not as easy to come by as it was in 2011, when defenses were at a distinct disadvantage due to the shortened offseason.
After a rocky four-game start for fantasy owners save his Week 2 outlier performance, Weeden has been trending positively and represents a viable fantasy play until proven otherwise. Ask anyone who has been forced to start Weeden during the recent byes.
Weeden is averaging just over 17 points per game over the last three weeks; he has a young, developing WR corps, the semblance of a running game and a vastly underrated offensive line.
Cleveland may be known as the factory of sadness, but even given his obvious deficiencies, Browns fans don't have much to find depressing in Weeden's development thus far.
Darren McFadden, RB Oakland Raiders: Struggles with Zone-Blocking Scheme
Darren McFadden will be a decent fantasy option when healthy in 2012 due to the sheer volume of touches he gets.
That is surprising.
The load the new staff has put on him is surprising.
What is more surprising is their non-willingness to employ a body-on-a-body man-blocking scheme under which McFadden thrives. The zone-blocking scheme takes away his explosive ability at the second level and effectively takes away a large portion of his playmaking repertoire.
Chris Johnson, RB Tennessee Titans: A Midseason Return to Form
Chris Johnson has seemingly emerged from his early-season slumber, a state of horrid play that led some owners to question whether the former CJ2K was a worthy start over players like Pierre Thomas.
People were calling into my radio show asking if they should drop him. If you are a Chris Johnson owner and you've felt that way before, then remember that. And think about moving him. After this week will be your last chance.
I'm not thrilled at the midseason mark if I'm a Chris Johnson owner; far from it, in fact. He has likely dug an initial hole that could prove cumbersome to crawl out of. I will say I am much more impressed by Johnson's recent run than I am by that of Shonn Greene.
Brian Hartline, WR Miami Dolphins: Week 4 Explosion
I'll never forget Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season and Brian Hartline's record-breaking 253-yard, 12-reception, one touchdown game.
The performance represented a fire-breathing monster of fantasy destruction. A force that could help even a struggling team overtake a formidable weekly competitor by virtue of one player's performance.
All of this happened on my bench while Nate Washington put up a 4.3-pointer in my flex position. I have a feeling that a few folks reading this column may understand my level of surprise when seeing this go down. Surprise then turned to anger.
Martellus Bennett, TE New York Giants: More Than Just a Blocker
Martellus Bennett was relegated to blocking duty to start his career as a Dallas Cowboy, a key area in which he still shines today as a New York Giant.
Ask any Ahmad Bradshaw owner if they have enjoyed Bradshaw's recent fantasy run on the ground for New York. Bennett has paved the way.
We have seen that Giants TEs coach Mike Pope, who is widely thought of as the best in the business, has plans for Bennett outside of the trenches, however.
Bennett has produced in a fantasy-relevant fashion as well, so much so that Bennett is a top-10 fantasy TE based on weekly points average at the midseason mark.
Dante Rosario, TE San Diego Chargers: Steals Three TDs from Gates Owners
Antonio Gates was a last-minute scratch in Week 2, and his owners got a kick in the gut.
Not only did Gates not play, his backup Dante Rosario went off for a 23.80-point, three-touchdown fantasy monster of epic proportions.
The late scratch did, however, serve as a blessing in disguise for late-reacting owners who had no other choice in the late game than rostering Gates' backup who would go on to fantasy glory, as other TEs still left with afternoon or evening games such as Heath Miller were likely owned.
Jamaal Charles, RB Kansas City Chiefs: Unleashes a Beast in the Big Easy
Jamaal Charles showed us what 288 total yards looked like en route to a 36-point exploit of extreme fantasy domination in New Orleans in Week 3. He did so looking nothing like anyone that should have "reconstructive surgery" mentioned in the same sentence with his name.
Just under a year off his ACL tear, Charles has surprised just about everyone with his seamless return to a workhorse role.
Josh Gordon, WR Cleveland Browns: Supplemental Draft Superstar
Everything that I have been told and believe about the 2012 NFL draft would indicate the Cleveland Browns went with "Plan B," drafting QB Brandon Weeden with their second of two first-round picks when Baylor WR Kendall Wright went off the board.
I covered both Josh Gordon and Kendall Wright in college and can't say with complete certainty who I believe to be the better prospect.
That is truly saying something given the amount of thought I have put into the subject.
Josh Gordon always just looked better, while Wright seemed to always show up in a more reliable fashion once the whistle blew.
Right now, one thing is obvious: Gordon, who was taken by Cleveland in the supplemental draft after getting the boot from Baylor for drug offenses, is the much better fantasy option than his first-round former teammate in Nashville.
Jordy Nelson, WR Green Bay Packers: From Slow Start to on Fire
Greg Jennings has been an in-and-out presence within the Packers WR corps all season, and all indications would have pointed to Jordy Nelson being the piece of the Packers offensive equation set to thrive in his absence.
This was not so to start the season, but Nelson is currently back on track with two straight big games for fantasy owners, including one unexpected, epic three-touchdown trifecta in Houston.
Those who bought Nelson low, pat yourselves on the back...and think about selling high.
Justin Blackmon, WR Jacksonville Jaguars: Growing Pains with Gabbert
Justin Blackmon and Blaine Gabbert appeared to be clicking immediately following Blackmon's ill-advised preseason holdout, and the general line of thought was the pieces were in place to build on this budding relationship with a seemingly much-improved Gabbert.
Well, throw all that out the window. The Jaguars are still terrible, and their prized rookie playmaker has caught all of 14 passes in 2012.
Stephen Hill, WR New York Jets: A New 'No. 1' for Mark Sanchez
The knock on Stephen Hill coming out of college was the same knock that many had on Demaryius Thomas. Both were stellar, borderline freakish physical specimens who came from a Georgia Tech offensive system that does not translate to the pro game.
Georgia Tech runs a triple-option offense that does not require refinement of various aspects of the route tree by its receivers.
Hill, like Thomas, has proven a quick study. With the season-ending injury to Santonio Holmes, Hill has become the New York Jets' true "No. 1" WR, and it is my feeling that he would have emerged in this position eventually even if Holmes had not been lost for the season.
Kevin Smith, RB Detroit Lions: Healthy Disappearing Act
Kevin Smith may have entered the witness protection program for all I know.
For a player that looked decent in spot duty through numerous, nagging injuries in his 2011 return to the NFL, I always wonder why the Lions seem to hate Smith so much.
But in one of the least surprising "surprises" of the 2012 season, the return/debut of Mikel Leshoure to the Lions offense at RB led to a decreased role for Smith.
What is surprising is the manner in which he has been shut out. Smith has not been relegated to fewer snaps. He has been relegated to the healthy inactive list and has been passed on the depth chart by Joique Bell and a very mediocre Keiland Williams. The reason we haven't seen him is because he isn't even suiting up.
A horrible and ill-advised middle-round pick in 2012 drafts.
C.J. Spiller, RB Buffalo Bills: The Future of the Bills Offense
Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have both looked amazing on certain occasions in 2012 as they see-sawed in and out of the active roster while battling their respective early-season injuries.
For everything the Bills were built up to be and are clearly not, there is one thing they are: a great run-blocking team. A scheme-oriented, smart group of run-block guys across the offensive line is what allows Spiller to get free in open space and look like the NFL's top running back whenever his backfield duties are not split with Jackson.
At 31 years old, Fred Jackson will not be able to continue at his same (admittedly, amazingly) high level for much longer.
We saw in the last six weeks of last season what Spiller can do whenever given substantial opportunities touch the ball and got glimpses of it while Jackson missed time through the first half of 2012.
It's going to be hard to keep Spiller off the field given what we've seen, and something tells me it might not be Chan Gailey making the decisions next season regarding this recently enigmatic timeshare.
James Jones, WR Green Bay Packers: The Epitome of Touchdown Dependency
Fantasy owners of James Jones who had been living high on the hog during his ridiculous six-touchdown run over three games in Weeks 4 through 6 came crashing back down to Earth in Week 7 when James Jones played like James Jones.
Simple fact: James Jones is touchdown dependent. You generally do not want to roster players like this as dependable, week in-week-out starters. It's a sucker's game.
The surprise here was most certainly the run he went on, not the fact that he was unable to continue the miracle through the midseason mark. If you haven't sold high by now, sadly, you've likely missed your chance.
Arizona Cardinals: A Revolving Running-Back Door
Beanie Wells: Non-season ending IR. Meaning, he will just basically be dinged up and relatively sorry all season. Big surprise.
Ryan Williams: Season-ending shoulder injury. Ryan Williams, we hardly even knew ya. Williams missed his entire rookie season with an Achilles injury.
Leaving us with, you guessed it: LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell.
They sound like hosts of a Las Vegas poetry slam at the casino that mixes in magic and tigers.
We knew this backfield would be bad, but things are getting ridiculous in Arizona once again. Somehow they have managed to find the "Max Hall" equivalent at the RB position.
Andrew Luck, QB Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Who?
I said it after one week of seeing him in real-game NFL action: Andrew Luck reminds me of Joe Montana, and I don't care who thinks I am crazy for saying it.
It's his rhythm, his pacing and his fluid control and confidence both in and out of the pocket. It's his touch.
Now realize this. Andrew Luck is as athletic as Cam Newton.
Downtown Indy was rejuvenated and rebuilt beautifully via the exploits of Peyton Manning. As a member of the NFL media and Pro Football Writers of America, I could not be happier with the choice that the Colts have made to usher their organization into the next chapter.
Indianapolis serves as a bit of an NFL "headquarters" during the offseason, and of course a place many writers visit yearly covering the NFL combine.
By the time it is all said and done, Andrew Luck will have a similar footprint not only on the football side of things, but on the community as well. He is the perfect replacement for Peyton Manning.
Randall Cobb, WR Green Bay Packers: Slot Machine
The Packers are finding all kinds of ways to get the ball in Randall Cobb's hands, and his fantasy stock is soaring at the midway point following a three-game series of WR1 production.
Operating primarily out of the slot and exploiting matchups against nickel corners and slower safeties is the primary mode of operation for the second-year breakout WR.
Any time you get a package made to get the ball in your hands, that a good thing. When your name is "Cobb" and the offensive set is called "Cobra," well, that's an entirely much more awesome thing altogether.
Cobra. I just love the name alone. Cobb is a player who will flare up and bite you. He operates out of the backfield in Cobra formation and appears to be the NFC North copycat version of Percy Harvin, a dynamic playmaker the team is content to line up anywhere in order to get him free in space.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB Cincinnati Bengals: Left Ball Security in Foxboro
The Law Firm never fumbled as a Patriot. In 2012, however, he revealed a new side of himself to Bengals fans and optimistic fantasy owners by going on a two-game, three-fumble streak after getting off to a solid start.
Green-Ellis along with the Bengals run unit as a whole were predicted strengths of the offense coming into the 2012 season, and Green-Ellis came in looking like a great fit, always falling forward on hard runs and scoring his fantasy owners dual double-digit fantasy performances in standard leagues.
Since fumble-gate, a slow tapering-off has occurred that leaves Green-Ellis as a terrific "buy low" candidate.
Matt Stafford, QB Detroit Lions: Tale of Two Seasons
Matt Stafford was the PFWA's Comeback Player of the Year in 2011.
In 2012, his owners are wishing he would come back to that level of play. Calvin Johnson's one TD this season was thrown by Shaun Hill.
Stafford's season in microcosm. A disaster thus far for those expecting elite numbers like last year. The news also gets worse with one look at Stafford's remaining schedule as QB matchups.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB New York Giants: Monster Midseason Fantasy Run
What makes Ahmad Bradshaw's fantasy run to glory most surprising coming into the midseason mark is the fact that one of the more impressive of three straight double-digit fantasy outings came against the San Francisco 49ers—the toughest team in the league to run on.
David Wilson has shown he is no threat to Bradshaw's carries when healthy, and backup Andre Brown is just that...a backup.
The only concern with Bradshaw at this juncture is the same concern we have always had: his health. The rods and screws in his feet. Will they hold up?
Jackie Battle, RB San Diego Chargers: 20-Point Swindle for Mathews Owners
Fantasy owners should always make note of players returning to face their old teams in a new uniform.
In all my years playing this crazy game, a trend I have noticed is that players come into games against their former teams with chips on their shoulders, and their coaches know it.
Apparently Norv Turner knew something in Week 4 against Kansas City when Jackie Battle went off for just over 20 fantasy points in standard leagues as a result of getting juicy goal-line action and touches against soft fronts in hurry-up while a healthy Ryan Mathews simply looked on.
Mathews would go on to an eight-point fantasy stat line that should have read 25. Battle is not worth rostering and should be deemed relatively worthless in the wake of Mathews' continued return to full health, but remember moving forward that this can happen as a Mathews owner.
You never know with Norv Turner.
Wes Welker, WR New England Patriots: Not Exactly Being 'Phased Out'
We heard it all preseason. The Patriots were moving on from Wes Welker.
Julian Edelman was going to be phased in at the slot, while Brandon Lloyd would operate out of the X. Aaron Hernandez was Tom Brady's "new No. 1."
The Z would be rendered useless as a placeholder position, while the Patriots, once again, would make wholesale changes to their offensive scheme ahead of the curve, transitioning to a run offense that operated vertically through elite TE play as an extension.
No room for Wes Welker in that scenario.
Granted, Edelman has missed the majority of the season with a hand injury, and Hernandez has also missed his fair share with the high ankle sprain.
Welker has been the 12th-best WR in fantasy thus far and a dependable rock as a low-end WR1.
Chris Givens, WR St. Louis Rams: Rookie Sheds 'Diva' Label in Dramatic Form
Chris Givens was a diva in college who was known at Wake Forest as a bad teammate and an overly productive receiver who was devastating in space outside the hash marks.
Over the middle was where Givens would not go. One look at the scouting film revealed that Givens was the type of prospect who might have felt like he was either "too good" or had "too much at risk" to run certain routes. Critical routes.
He would get alligator arms in crossing routes consistently and was often seen on the sidelines sulking for one reason or another.
What we are seeing now is a player motivated by the big stage. It takes all kinds in this league, and sometimes getting in front of a national audience with an accompanying paycheck flips the switch.
Rookie Brian Quick of Appalachian State was thought to be the heir apparent to the No. 1 WR role in St. Louis and was drafted as such, but it has been Givens who appears to be the receiver to own in the absence of Danny Amendola.
Bill Belichick, HC New England Patriots: Running Back 'Patriot Games'
Stevan Ridley is the lead horse in New England, and this we all know.
Mike Loyko of RosterWatch reported such after a mere two days of attendance at training camp.
Bill Belichick's Patriot Games in the New England backfield have been tough on Ridley owners, though, and apparently the RB Shanahanigans that no longer exist in Washington thanks to Alfred Morris have moved north.
Surprise TDs by the likes of rookie Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead have been a thorn in the side of many Ridley owners who enjoyed watching their RB3 featured for an entire, successful drive just to be yanked at the most crucial fantasy moment: at the goal line.
Trent Richardson, RB Cleveland Browns: Bumps and Bruises of NFL Life
This is a big boy's league, and Trent Richardson is a big boy.
I asked former Alabama defenders Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw at the NFL combine how they would compare Trent Richardson to Mark Ingram, another (very similar) running back that they faced during college in practice.
Both gave me virtually the same explanation that Richardson himself gave my RosterWatch co-host, Byron Lambert: “Our games are similar. Mark has better vision and is shiftier through the hole with a few more moves. I probably like contact more.”
Basically, the opposite of everything that I had ever observed when trying to compare their skill sets.
If Richardson "likes contact," it's a vice he might want to begin learning to shed as a professional football player, especially a running back with a very limited shelf life. He started the season injured, has been playing injured and is now becoming a bit of flak-jacket headache for fantasy owners.
Now is an excellent time to buy low on Richardson if you feel you are in very likely playoff contention, but he is far from a "season-maker" thus far. Richardson owners will win their championships this season in spite of him, not because of him.
Shonn Greene, RB New York Jets: Unlikely Week 6 Fantasy Outburst
I had noticed Shonn Greene looking uncharacteristically non-Shonn Greene-ish in the all-but-lost fourth quarter of the Jets' Week 4 loss to Houston and made sure to give him a bump in my rankings coming into Week 5.
It paid off big—34 points in standard leagues big.
I will never trust Shonn Green for that sort of production, and furthermore, I will never trust him for even half or, honestly, one-third of it on a regular basis.
This midseason development has been beyond surprising. Sell high while you still can.
Dennis Pitta, TE Baltimore Ravens: Fast Start Derailed
Dennis Pitta was going to be the breakout TE of the season in Week 2, and coming into Week 8, he is likely on your waiver wire.
Unfortunately, Pitta owners who enjoyed his fantasy production as a result of Baltimore's early success running the no-huddle offense held on to Pitta for too long. Many owners weathered a fantasy storm of sewage including one goose egg, one two-pointer and two three-pointers.
Here is the good news: Baltimore is on bye. Get Pitta out of your lineups and get used to the way that feels.
You may be surprised at your level of enjoyment when your fantasy TE actually produces something for you.
Robert Meachem, WR San Diego Chargers: Where in the World Is Meachem, San Diego?
Robert Meachem and Kevin Smith must be hanging out on an island somewhere drinking mojitos.
Where is he?
I knew, after spending so much time at Saints training camp, that a Week 5 resurfacing was in store for San Diego's latest addition to its WR corps as he returned to New Orleans.
Meachem's teammates such as Marques Colston and Lance Moore told me in no uncertain terms that life without Meachem was different in New Orleans, and that an important void in their system would have to be stepped into and filled appropriately.
So, Meachem came home and performed in Week 5, as predicted. It's the same rule as the Jackie Battle homecoming. When it is appropriate, start players against their former teams.
The bad news is, the Chargers don't play the Saints again this season unless both teams make the Super Bowl. Good luck with that.
Meachem currently appears to be a wasted seventh-round draft pick for fantasy owners, as no connection has formed with Philip Rivers. The imminent return of Vincent Brown from non-season-ending IR as San Diego's "true" No. 1 does not bode well for the New Orleans transplant either.
At this point, owners should feel free to cut bait for greener pastures on the wire.
Heath Miller, TE Pittsburgh Steelers: New Steelers Offense Features Old Standby
Miller has been a sturdy cog in the Steelers offense for years and has only shown sporadic spurts of fantasy productivity, generally thriving alongside Hines Ward when Roethlisberger was playing hurt and utilizing hot reads.
Not so any longer. Miller, largely undrafted in 2012, has averaged his owners almost 11 fantasy points per game at midseason, and he is fantasy's third-best TE in standard leagues.
Frank Gore, RB San Francisco 49ers: Bay Area Brilliance
Frank Gore just keeps on keeping on, and his play speaks for itself.
Gore was a fourth-round 2012 fantasy pick due to lingering concerns about his age, health and threats for playing time in the form of Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs and Anthony Dixon.
Gore has averaged his owners 13.27 fantasy points per game in 2012, and at the midway mark he looks like one of the biggest steals of the fantasy draft.
That's a very pleasant surprise for owners who may not have been overly excited pulling the trigger on an aging veteran in a tough division. The 49ers still operate via the run, and the run still very obviously ticks via Frank Gore.
DeAngelo Williams, RB Carolina Panthers: $43 Million Benchwarmer
Look at the snap counts.
DeAngelo Williams is obviously in the doghouse, and thank goodness I have a strict rule to avoid the Carolina backfield at all costs for my fantasy teams.
Things are falling apart quickly, and HC Ron Rivera is talking at press conferences like he is man prepared to make an all-in move with a hand featuring Cam Newton only.
The running game does not click with organizations in disarray.
The running game takes a cultural philosophy of toughness, fortitude and a mutual sentiment of being "bought in" among teammates.
That creates a well-oiled machine. The Carolina Panthers are not a well-oiled machine currently, and if the team moves into desperation mode, it bodes horribly for Williams.
He is borderline droppable at this point, even in 14-team redraft leagues. Hold tight in dynasty.
Willis McGahee, RB Denver Broncos: Not Dependent on a Mobile Quarterback
It's hard for me to think back on the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, when Willis McGahee blew his knee out. Certainly one of the more memorable on-screen injuries that many of us will regrettably store in our memories for the rest of our days. It happened too quick, before you could turn your eyes away.
"Did his knee just turn backwards or inside-out or something, or was that the camera? Why is it...wobbling like that? Did he..."
Then the slow motion replay came. Horrible. I can't forget it.
I thought that no player could ever be the same after a play like that, yet here we are. Almost 10 years later, and McGahee is not only an NFL force but remains a fantasy stud despite a very well-publicized QB change in Denver between Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning.
A popular line of thought prior to 2012 fantasy drafts was that McGahee was much better playing in the Tebow 2011 offense than in the Kyle Orton 2011 offense. Therefore, one could speculate that McGahee is a better runner when paired with a mobile QB.
As we know, Peyton Manning is far from mobile, yet McGahee has toted the rock to 12th-overall fantasy RB status, averaging his owners 12.25 points per game. A great RB2 and championship type of flex.
Michael Turner, RB Atlanta Falcons: Rumors of Demise Greatly Exaggerated
Michael Turner was criminally undervalued in fantasy drafts coming into 2012, and his success as a high-upside RB2 may be a surprise to a lot of people, but not me.
Barring injury, it won't be a surprise to me next season either. Jacquizz Rodgers is not the answer in the Falcons' new scheme.
Jim Harbaugh, HC San Francisco 49ers: Turns Down 49ers Safety to End Game
Here we take a moment of silence for the $75 million lost.
Feel free to move on when you are emotionally ready.
New Orleans Saints Defense: This Year's Fantasy Doormat
They are horrible. Look at this.
That is a matchup tool that I make every week. It takes into account scouting grades from three separate entities and averages them with fantasy points against to determine the matchup a given position on a given team faces weekly.
The Saints are getting worked everywhere.
Cincinnati Bengals WRs: Who's the No. 2?
When we came into the 2012 season, we knew three things:
1) A.J. Green was going to have a fantasy monster.
2) Jerome Simpson and his weed-smoking backflips had been shipped off to Minnesota.
3) The Bengals were a young offense with returning weapons playing in a division that is becoming more finesse than it has been traditionally known as in the AFC North.
To me, this added up to a great mystery, I'm frankly surprised it hasn't been solved. No one player has stepped up opposite Green. Armon Binns was promoted from the Bengals practice squad and was a preseason favorite but has been less than spectacular thus far.
He missed Week 7 with injury, while Andrew Hawkins looked basically "just OK" as usual operating out of the slot and is a very small target.
Rookies Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu have not emerged as any real prospects for significant contribution in 2012, and if you look at the snap counts, Ryan Whalen was actually the recipient of the most playing time during Binns' Week 7 absence at the Bengals' Z-position.
Golden Tate, WR Seattle Seahawks: 'The Golden Taint'
The Golden Taint. The Simultaneous Possession Transgression. The Seattle Swindle.
Whatever you call it, Golden Tate was on the receiving end of a game-winning touchdown "catch" against Green Bay that will go down in history as the straw that broke the camel's back in reaching an agreement with the NFL Referees Association.
Golden Tate and Russell Wilson won the game, though. The record book says "W." Packers HC Mike McCarthy was much more mature at the podium postgame than I would have been in his position.
I imagine fantasy owners facing teams that started Tate, or owners of the Green Bay defense who were robbed an interception, will likely agree.
Ryan Tannehill, QB Miami Dolphins: Serviceable Fantasy QB
With the AFC East in a horse race for 2012 playoff contention, Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland is not looking like such a fool these days.
We'll see how Miami fans feel at the end of the season. We may be at the midway mark, but there's still a lot of football to be played and seats to be made hot.
Ryan Tannehill looks to be the real deal but is still far from being a dependable fantasy QB in any format. Those who have been in the unenviable position of having to start Tannehill have not fared horribly, however.
If you started Tannehill every week this season, you would only be 1.5 points worse off a week than the poor guy in your league who is rolling out Tony Romo.
Norv Turner, HC San Diego Chargers: Free Ryan Mathews
I can't pretend to understand what Norv Turner, or his boss, A.J. Smith, for that matter, are doing half the time, but the sporadic use of Mathews coming off his preseason collarbone injury has been head-scratching to say the least.
Every year Turner promises Mathews 300 touches, and then Mathews gets hurt, misses two games, comes back, leaves game injured. Misses practice all week, plays in next game, leaves early.
Rinse, repeat. Ryan Mathews' career in a nutshell.
We have seen an uptick in production and positive indicators such as increasing snap counts, which lend credence to the belief that Turner really did want to "ease Mathews back" this time, not because it is the right thing to do, but because he has seen what has happened when he hasn't. He has gotten Ryan Mathews.
Brandon LaFell, WR Carolina Panthers: Preseason Darling, Midseason Headache
People's expectations were sky-high for Brandon LaFell in 2012, as he was coming in as the clear-cut No. 2 WR in a developing, explosive young offense that had the NFL's most feared weapon at QB in Cam Newton.
LaFell then went on to give his owners two very serviceable games in Weeks 1 and 2, posting respective 12.5- and 11.5-pointers. For a 12th- or 13th-round guy, that is fantastic.
What nobody predicted was that Cam Newton would regress as a player, which he has undeniably exhibited signs of having done at this point, midway though the season.
LaFell had a tick on the radar in Week 7 after his relative slump to follow this gaudy fantasy introduction and is again being picked up in leagues where owners may have dropped him in Weeks 4 and 5.
Understand that when you are buying stock in Brandon LaFell, you are buying stock in Cam Newton, which is, without a doubt, a volatile stock currently.