Struggles Among Fantasy Football Elite Through Two Weeks and What It Means

John ZaktanskyCorrespondent ISeptember 23, 2010

Projected to be an elite fantasy option in 2010, Maurice Jones-Drew has been a major disappointment through two weeks of action. What does it mean? How should you react? Read on for the answers!
Projected to be an elite fantasy option in 2010, Maurice Jones-Drew has been a major disappointment through two weeks of action. What does it mean? How should you react? Read on for the answers!Marc Serota/Getty Images

How exactly did the fantasy football universe become more upside-down than Aunt Bertha’s pineapple cake?

Just two-plus short weeks ago, everything was in its place. The Chris Johnsons, Maurice Jones-Drews, and Adrian Petersons of the world were sitting at their rightful place atop most people’s rankings, ready to wreak havoc on defensive units that had no answers for their rushing fury. Just 14 days ago, the Michael Vicks and Jason Snellings were nestled away on their respective team’s depth charts, offering no more than a deep sleeper option to fantasy football redraft owners.

But someone during the past two weeks took a jackhammer to the ordered peacefulness that we call fantasy football. What does it mean? Is it time to worry about preseason “studs?” Let’s discuss…

If someone had told me in late August that the top four players in standard PPR fantasy leagues after two weeks of play would all be running backs, I would have nodded my consenting agreement. If that same person had told me these four running backs would be Jahvid Best, Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, and Matt Forte, I would have placed an order for a custom-embroidered chinstrapninjas straitjacket.

You want really crazy? Consider that Jahvid Best (69) has outscored Maurice Jones-Drew (16) by 53 fantasy points (again, in standard PPR leagues) in JUST TWO WEEKS. Or that Matt Forte (188) would have 91 more receiving yards than Randy Moss (97) during that same stretch.

But before you grab for the closest bottle of Zoloft, let’s put it all into perspective. We are heading into Week 3, not Week 13. Matchups, injuries, and a few unexpected variables have dictated a lot of the insanity we currently consider our 2010 season. Look back at 2009, or even 2008, or any year for that matter, and you’ll notice similar trends. Typically, by mid-season, everything falls into a more consistent rhythm.

However, for some, the early-season struggles or breakouts are an indicator of rapidly changing value. For example, Michael Vick’s impressive play has not only earned him the starting QB gig in Philly, but a starting spot in many a fantasy league, too. Even if Kevin Kolb works his way back onto the field, Vick will continue to generate value. He’s one hot commodity that you don’t want to sell high, but plug in and enjoy.

What about the opposite end of the spectrum? Guys who were supposed to be studs who instead are struggling to tread water? Let’s consider the pros and cons:

Chris Johnson, TEN

After an ordinary 142-yard, two-TD opening week against Oakland, Johnson was uncharacteristically held to just 34 yards on 16 carries against Pittsburgh. On the surface, fantasy owners starting sprouting ulcers faster than mold grows on the leftover meatloaf in the fridge. However, the Steelers run defense is downright tough.

They hog-tied Michael Turner in Week 1 and had their way with Johnson in Week 2. Another reason to breathe easier? Johnson had an 85-yard TD run called back in Week 2 due to a holding penalty. No flag, and Johnson would be right where everyone expected him after two weeks of play.

However, a word of caution—as we have mentioned multiple times before, his 358 carries in 2009 suggest we could see some breaking down indicators for Johnson at some point this season. Just something to keep in the back of your mind. He does have a nice schedule in stretches this year, including Indianapolis, Houston and Kansas City in Weeks 14, 15 and 16.

Adrian Peterson, MIN

His two-week totals aren’t horrible. The 232 yards, eight receptions, and 55 yards through the air are on par with what we’d expect from Peterson. One would expect more than one total TD after two weeks, but the lack, so far, of fumbles bodes well.

The concerning factors for Peterson include that most of his stats came in Week 2 after he was hugely mis-used in the season-opener, getting nearly shut out from carries in the second half against New Orleans after early-game success toting the rock.

The Vikings as a team are struggling. The passing game is only a shell of what it was last year, and defenses will be looking to stuff Peterson more and more moving forward until Brett Favre and his injury-depleted WR set start to flex some muscle.

Peterson will enjoy a field day against Detroit this week and an early bye in Week 4, but after the bye, faces one of the toughest stretch of run defenses of any back in the league this year.

He’ll see the Jets, Cowboys, Packers and Patriots in four consecutive weeks. He’ll also see tough matchups in the Giants and Bears near the fantasy playoff weeks. Elite players find ways to produce regardless of the matchup, and Peterson will continue playing full-bore each and every week. One wonders, however, how the overall offensive challenges in Vikings-land will ultimately affect Peterson down the stretch.

Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX

Just 16 fantasy points in standard PPR leagues through two weeks? Owners of Jones-Drew have officially begun to panic, and perhaps they should a little. The same Chargers defense that allowed Jamaal Charles (in a timeshare with Thomas Jones) 92 yards rushing and a TD in Week 1 found a way to contain Jones-Drew for 31 yards and no scores in Week 2.

Typically averaging 4.5 or more yards per carry, Jones-Drew has been going only 3.7 yards per clip so far this year. What does that mean? Likely nothing. Perhaps just a slow start. However, one has to consider his lingering ankle injury—the same one that limited him in preseason action—and wonder if it could continue to hamper stats or even cut into his playing time at some point. Watch this situation carefully.

Jones-Drew plays a Philadelphia defense that has proven to be swiss cheese for running backs in the first two weeks. If he struggles against the Eagles and/or the ankle gets a few too many hits from defenders who know what to target, it may be time to crank up the panic dial a few more notches and wonder if you should have dealt him a week earlier for elite value.

Ray Rice, BAL

He has just six more fantasy points than Jones-Drew in two weeks of PPR fantasy action. Personally, I contribute a lot of that to the defenses he faced. The Jets and Bengals both have very stout run defenses, and while Rice still has to face the Steelers twice and a number of other tough matchups, he should regain fantasy prominence as early as this week against Cleveland.

Two small concerns? Rice has only six receptions through the first two weeks. A product of tough matchups, or has the Baltimore offensive chemistry changes (adding Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmanzadeh) eaten into Rice’s role in the passing game? Also, Rice missed some time last week against Cincinnati with an apparent ankle injury. He returned to the game, however, and it doesn’t appear to be an issue at the moment.

Michael Turner, ATL

A one-trick pony that didn’t see a whole lot of chinstrapninja love prior to the season, Turner has just 12 fantasy points in two weeks of play. He was stymied by the Steelers in Week 1, and was a nonfactor in Week 2 against an Arizona defense that he should have dominated (leading up to his groin injury).

Jason Snelling’s emergence in Week 2 was part of an Atlanta Falcons rejuvenation thanks, in large part, to his presence in the passing game—something that Turner hasn’t and won’t be a factor in. One wonders if Snelling has earned a larger role in the offense regardless of how quickly Turner returns from his groin woes. We all know that Turner has an injury track record.

There are plenty of other players who’ve seen major value shifts. Shonn Greene has lost tons of carries to LaDanian Tomlinson and has become a nonfactor. Beanie Wells has been out with injury for two weeks, a concerning factor for a guy with a long list of college injuries. He’s expected back this week, and it remains to be seen how the carries will be divvied up between him and Tim Hightower, but it is safe to say that Beanie isn’t as promising in redraft formats at the moment.

Felix Jones, Tashard Choice, and Marion Barber are sharing carries so much, they’ve killed each other’s value. Dallas may move one of their three-headed RB monsters via trade, opening up opportunities for the remaining backs, but for the moment, all three are struggling to have any immediate value in fantasy leagues.

But, as I said earlier, in most of these cases, things will right themselves over time. Keep up with player news and be ready to make moves if certain studs continue to struggle.

Want more stock up/stock down information? Check out this post.

Want free game-by-game player projections for Week 3 matchups? Check these out: PIT@TB | CLE@BAL | TEN@NYG | SF@KC |    (rest coming very soon ... check back here as we update.)

Want a unique tool to help you dominate your fantasy league? Check out our specialized points against posts through two weeks of action: QB | RB | WR | TE | DEF

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