Out of all of the fantasy-related sports, fantasy football is the one where you have the best chance of having your season ruined by Week 2.
Is it too early to label someone as a bust? Probably. Injuries, acts of god, or Andy Reid’s rash decisions could turn a so-called bust into a goldmine in a week’s time. But there are four players who were likely selected within the first five rounds of drafts that are on the verge of becoming fantasy casualties.
Here are the not-fantastic four players whose fantasy values are drowning quicker than James Toney’s MMA career.
Kevin Kolb, Philadelphia Eagles
Injuries should not cost a player his job. Only incompetence should. Yet all Kolb did wrong was get his head slammed into the turf after a sack and have the Eagles doctors, who are obviously not the best concussion testers, declare he was unfit to play. Now Kolb is stuck on the sidelines while Michael Vick sprints towards the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Kolb, who is spending his free time clearing the cobwebs out of his head and counting his $12 million, has everything going against him. He was not exactly lighting up Green Bay’s defense during the game he got hurt (5-for-10 for 24 yards), so there is no clamor from fans, teammates or P.E.T.A. that he needs to rush back. Meanwhile, Vick has regained his fleet feet AND is looking so comfortable in the pocket you could mistake him for Drew Bledsoe.
Another thing going against Kolb is that he is not as mobile and fast as Vick. Who is? Usain Bolt? Patrick Kane? The Flash? The Eagles offensive line is in tatters. Vick can escape constant pressure and stay somewhat unscathed. Meanwhile, Kolb could be a candidate for the Eric Lindros Concussion award if he is behind that line during a 40-pass-attempt game.
No fantasy owner should drop Kolb, though. Maybe Vick gets injured thanks to one scramble too many, or because of Philadelphia’s leaky line. Maybe Vick comes down to earth when he faces a real defense. Come on, Jason Campbell could look good against Detroit. Or maybe Coach Reid changes his mind after one poor pass and installs Kolb as the "new permanent quarterback." Unless one of these things happen, however, Kolb is just a Vick insurance policy for fantasy owners.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
Mathews was the leading contender to be fantasy football’s most valuable rookie because he was one of the few starting running backs not slated to share or split carries with someone else. There was no Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson or Willis McGahee waiting to steal his yards and touchdowns. The plan was for Mathews to get 20 touches per game and for Darren Sproles to be strictly a third-down back.
In Mathews’ first game, he grinded out 78 yards on 20 carries against the Kansas City Chiefs, but a costly fumble caused him to run tentatively ala Brandon Jacobs in the second half, and he was not even on the field for most of the fourth quarter. Then in his second game, Mathews lasted only five carries until an ankle sprain knocked him out of the game. That is when his fantasy value took a Ronnie Lott-like hit.
Now Mathews’ fantasy worth has trouble lurking on two fronts. One is his ankle. Reports are mixed, some saying he has a chance of playing this weekend, and some saying he has the dreaded high-ankle sprain, which could shelve him for a month.
The other is fullback Mike Tolbert. I think I can safely say that Tolbert went undrafted in 99.9 percent of fantasy leagues. I can also assume he has been picked up in 99.9 percent of leagues this week. He seems to have summoned the spirit of Christian Okoye and has been running like a boulder on legs, rumbling for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Tolbert will start as long as Mathews is out and could be in 2010 what Baltimore’s Le’Ron McClain was in 2008.
Mathews can be a talented, multi-purpose back. The kid has the mad skills and wheels to be a guy who can rack up 1,600 combined yards and 10 touchdowns. But with his ankle paining him and with Tolbert angling in to be thunder to go along with Mathews’ lightning, Mathews might have to wait until 2011 before he becomes a fantasy stud.
Jerome Harrison, Cleveland Browns
Harrison probably won millions of dollars for millions of fantasy owners at the end of last season when he rushed for an insane 561 yards over the final three games. Couple that with the season-ending injury rookie Montario Hardesty suffered during the preseason and Harrison looked as attractive to fantasy owners as candy corn looks to a junk food lover.
But not only were those games virtually meaningless for the Browns and their opponents, but the defenses Harrison did his damage against — Oakland, Kansas City, and Jacksonville — were three of the worst in the NFL. The fluke flags should have been raised.
Unfortunately, Harrison has failed as miserably this season as David Hasselhoff did on Dancing With the Stars. He has shown no burst or big-play ability, running for only 85 yards on 25 attempts. He also has caught four passes for 42 yards and scored no touchdowns.
Harrison should have received the bulk of Cleveland’s carries, yet fullback/halfback hybrid Peyton Hillis had his number called just as much right off the bat, so obviously head coach Eric Mangini was not totally sold on Harrison coming off last season and training camp. It would have been nice if the coach had announced his intentions to fantasy owners could have planned accordingly.
Things might only get worse for Harrison. He is now battling a thigh injury, so his availability this Sunday is in question. Plus, take a gander at Cleveland’s schedule – Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Pittsburgh the next four weeks. No cream puff defenses there. Even when Harrison gets healthy he might be stuck averaging 40-50 yards per game against those teams. And later in the season Harrison faces Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh again, and Miami and the New York Jets.
Who concocted this schedule, Notre Dame?
Only time will tell if Harrison was a three-game mirage or he was just unlucky at the onset of this season and is really the real deal. Cleveland cannot think Hillis is the full-time, long-term tailback answer, so this should not be the last we hear of Harrison, unless he is banished to injured reserve by the Browns like James Davis was last year.