There is no better time to talk about zombies than on Halloween, and then there is no better time to talk about fantasy football zombies than halfway through the NFL season.
There have been some players this year who have played like they have been in a trance. They appear a couple steps slower, or they have been so quiet in games that you forget they are on the field. And unfortunately many of them were supposed to be mainstays on millions of fantasy squads across the country.
Here are fantasy football’s top-eight zombies of 2014:
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (RB)
“The Muscle Hamster” should be called “The Muscle Zombie.”
Martin had 1,454 rushing yards, 472 receiving yards and a dozen touchdowns during his rookie campaign just two years ago. Then he plummeted to 522 combined yards and a touchdown in 2013. And now Martin has sunk so low no deep-sea diver in the world could find his fantasy value.
Martin has played in five games this season and failed to break the 50-rushing-yard barrier in any of them. He is averaging 2.9 yards per carry and has had trouble finding holes and hitting holes when he does find them. Tampa Bay’s offensive line has been subpar on many occasions, but Martin’s legs seem sapped of their speed.
Martin’s other problem has been that he has been perpetually injured the past two years. His 2013 season was ended prematurely due to injury and a knee injury cost him some time earlier this year, and now he has a bum ankle that could sideline him again, per Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times.
Martin was not dealt at the trade deadline, so he is going to be fighting with playmaker Bobby Rainey and rookie Charles Sims for carries from here on out. Martin is going to need a miracle cure to prevent him from a fantasy zombie the rest of the way.
Chris Johnson, New York Jets (RB)
Johnson’s streak of consecutive 1,000-yard years is in as much jeopardy as Rex Ryan’s head coaching job.
After six straight seasons topping the 1,000-yard mark, Johnson is on pace to run for 536 yards. He has not made many big plays and has not received many carries (32 over last five weeks) while Chris Ivory has been impressing everyone with his hard-charging, hard-running style and earning himself twice the playing time.
Johnson’s fantasy worth will stay stagnant unless Ivory’s violent running gets him injured. Until Johnson shows some explosiveness and does something with the few touches he has been afforded, he will continue to be the fastest running back on the bench in the NFL.
Montee Ball, Denver Broncos (RB)
Ball entered the 2014 campaign as the top tailback in the most explosive offense in the NFL. He should have been able to stumble into 1,200 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and been the luckiest man in football.
Fast forward a month. Ball runs like he has 330-pound teammate Terrance Knighton tied to him. He runs for 172 yards and one lone touchdown in four games and then proceeds to injure his groin.
Fast forward another month. Ball still is not back yet and has witnessed Ronnie Hillman run 10 times better than Ball did. At best Ball will split time with Hillman when he returns, and at worst he will get knocked down a peg on the depth chart in favor of Hillman.
Ball was ranked as a top-10 or top-15 running back by most fantasy experts when we were having our drafts. He may be ranked 40th or 50th next August if things keep going this way.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (QB)
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger threw six touchdown passes this past weekend. Dalton has thrown six touchdown passes all season. That is all fantasy owners really need to know.
By the way, “Big Ben” accomplished his feat against an Indianapolis Colts defense that shut down Dalton and shut out Cincinnati, just to add insult to more insult.
Dalton has gone from throwing 33 touchdown passes last year to having thrown fewer TD passes than Geno Smith, Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer this year. Heck, he only has one more touchdown toss than Charlie Whitehurst!
The “Red Rifle” has been hamstrung because his top two wide receivers, A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, have been injured for most of the year with foot and ankle injuries. Jones is not coming back, and no one really knows when Green is returning. And with star running back Giovani Bernard dealing with a myriad of injuries, Dalton is losing more weapons than he is gaining.
Dalton’s zombie-like performance so far is not fully his fault, but that does not make his fantasy owners feel better. There are other quarterbacks in the NFL who have done more stats-wise with less of a supporting cast.
Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns (TE)
Who would have thought fantasy owners would have been better off drafting Tennessee’s Delanie Walker in the late rounds or picking up New York’s Larry Donnell on the waiver wire than having Cameron as their tight end coming off his 917-yard season in 2013?
Cameron was ranked in the top five in many if not most lists of fantasy tight ends at the start of the season, but his year got off to an ominous start when he suffered a shoulder injury that limited him. And things have not gotten better.
Cameron has had one great game and five bad-to-mediocre games for his fantasy owners. He only has one touchdown and only one game where he has had more than 50 yards. His sore shoulder, his inaccurate quarterback and having defenses keying on him have caused his slump.
Unfortunately, Cameron was concussed in his last contest, and because this is not his first one he is in danger of missing a game or two and being set back even further. When Cameron returns it is more likely he will keep putting up 40-yard games than returning to his 2013 form.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers (TE)
Speaking of top tight ends who have been sleepwalking through the season, Davis has been a fantasy non-factor. No games with more than four catches, no games with more than 45 yards and no touchdowns since Week 1.
Davis has also been banged up as he has been dealing with nagging back, ankle and knee injuries that have surely slowed him down. Davis just had 850 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns just last year, so it is hard to blame Father Time for slowing him down, even though Davis is 30.
San Francisco has more experienced pass-catchers than most teams in the NFL with Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd all in the fold, and the 49ers still run the ball more than most teams. This has not been helping Davis get targeted a ton.
Hopefully Davis gets healthier as the season goes on and quarterback Colin Kaepernick remembers to look his way more often during the second half of the season, but for now Davis is a fantasy zombie.
Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers (WR)
Allen was scintillating during his rousing rookie season when he racked up 1,047 receiving yards and eight touchdown receptions. Now he is the king of the eight-yard out.
Allen is averaging a paltry 9.9 yards per catch this year after going for 14.7 yards per catch last year. You cannot blame the quarterback. Philip Rivers is having no trouble getting the ball downfield to Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal. There really is no reason for this other than Allen has become the underneath receiver in the Chargers offense.
The good news is that Allen is not being ignored. He leads San Diego in targets and has 15 more than his closest competition, Gates. So it is not like Rivers is giving him the coldest shoulder this side of Antarctica. Rivers and Allen are just not hooking up on deeper routes, sort of like what is happening in Miami between Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace.
Allen is the perfect buy-low candidate, but he better not have another eight games with just one 100-yard effort and one touchdown or else he will be a finalist for Fantasy Zombie of the Year.
Hakeem Nicks, Indianapolis Colts (WR)
Eli Manning and the New York Giants have been absolved of any blame for Nicks’ terrible 2013 season after what fantasy owners have witnessed in 2014.
While T.Y Hilton has been targeted by quarterback Andrew Luck more often than Selena Gomez has by the paparazzi, Nicks has been aimed at half the time. That is the first problem. The second problem is Nicks has successfully caught passes on only 18 of his 39 targets. The rest of the Colts receiving group has caught 67 percent of the passes thrown in their directions.
Give Hicks some credit. The man somehow caught 56 passes in 2013 without finding the end zone. He was the anti-Magellan. But even though he only has 168 yards in eight games, Nicks does have two touchdowns to his credit this year.
Nicks looks like he has lost 15 steps. He is averaging 9.3 yards per catch and has not had a reception of 30 yards or more. When a receiver cannot prosper in a passing attack led by Luck, he is on the verge of washing out of the NFL.