By Matt Cott, Moe Koltun, and Matt Schwimmer of RotoAnalysis.com
Fantasy owners spend massive amounts of time trying to figure out who the ‘next big waiver wire pickup’ is. There are myriad columns written every week by fantasy analysts on the best ways to allocate FAAB money and whether or not anyone on the wire is worth a number one waiver claim (our own Matt Schwimmer had some thoughts on the subject); however, the reality is, the best way to really fix your team during the season is figuring out precisely the right time to cut the chord on busts before it’s too late, and also knowing when a player is just underperforming and is going to bounce back the rest of the season. This week, we’re breaking down six mild to extreme early season disappointments and giving our thoughts on whether they are truly done or have a chance to reemerge as fantasy studs.
Matthew Stafford, Lions QB:
After being considered among the ‘elite’ quarterback options in the preseason and even sneaking into some experts’ first rounds, Stafford has really struggled this season. He currently has the 19th best passer rating in the league so far this year, which is worse than Kevin Kolb and Ryan Fitzpatrick. However, if I was a Matthew Stafford owner, I don’t think there is any way I would trade him. I’ve watched every Lions game so far this season, and while it is true that Matthew Stafford doesn’t look 100% as good as last year, he’s also not performing as poorly as his stat line might indicate. Brandon Pettigrew is tied for 2nd in the NFL in drops with 4, Calvin Johnson already has 3 which is tied for 11th in the league and there have been many more plays where the receiver could have made a play on a 50/50 ball and just didn’t. Stafford isn’t doing himself any favors, but his luck should be better going forward and if he’s cheap enough, Stafford may be a great buy-low option who will iron things out after a much needed bye last week.
Matt Forte, Bears RB:
Even when healthy Matt Forte hasn’t produced nearly as well as fantasy owners who drafted him with a first or second round selection expected. In this case, however, I’m not too worried. While everybody made a big deal about Michael Bush stealing carries from Forte, the truth is he has had a minimal impact. Marion Barber took just as many carries last year and Forte was still able to rack up enough yards to be the #2 RB in fantasy before his MCL injury. This year, Forte has a very solid 4.7 YPC and the Bears’ line has improved their run blocking tremendously (their pass blocking is still pretty weak). Going forward, after his bye this week Forte will be in our top 10 week in, week out as one of the safest backs out there. He is the focal point of the Bears offense, garnering at least 20 touches a game, and he is also a PPR stud.
Michael Vick, Eagles QB:
It’s been a long time since Michael Vick was drafted as the first overall pick in a lot of leagues 2 years ago and he’s currently on the outside of the top 15 QB leaders through week 5. Unfortunately, I think Vick might have a tough time getting inside the top 10 for the remainder of the season despite being ranked 5th overall amongst QBs before the season. For starters, he’s begun to show some age and his quickest is not what it once was. He’s only rushed for 1 score this year and has not rushed for 50 yards yet. His offensive line has struggled mightily in giving him time to throw and he’s also dealt with injured receivers. While the receivers should get healthier, the line is the much bigger issue and it will not get better. Combine the line and his lack of rushing with the fact that he’s an injury risk and the future does not look bright for Michael Vick.
Antonio Gates, Chargers TE:
After 5 weeks of struggles, it’s time for fantasy owners to take Antonio Gates out of their lineups. He has just 143 yards so far this season, behind the likes of Zach Miller and Craig Stevens. Even worse, Gates only has 1 catch on 3 red zone targets. He and Rivers haven’t appeared to be on the same page, and Gates seems to have lost the burst and explosive athleticism that made him such a dynamic player in seasons past. Gates’ lack of touchdowns hasn’t been fluky, and mid-tier guys like Dennis Pitta, Martellus Bennett, and Brent Celek should all be considered better options going forward.
Ryan Mathews, Chargers RB:
While Mathews has certainly been a disappointment early this season, now is the perfect time to buy low. Mathews reached a personal low two weeks ago when he was demoted to second on the depth chart, but I wouldn’t look too much into that. Mathews had a much better game two weeks ago then Jackie Battle (4.4 yards per carry verses 2.6), looked dominant last weekend, and is a much more talented and dynamic back. We saw flashes of brilliance from Mathews last year and he’s just been taking his time to get back into the grove after missing training camp with an injury. November has been Mathews’s best month in his first two NFL seasons, and the third year running back could easily be a top 5 RB the rest of the way.
Julio Jones, Falcons WR:
Remember that ‘never project performance onto a player’ thing that fantasy experts often warn fantasy owners about (fantasy baseball owners who drafted Brett Lawrie know what I’m talking about)? Well, it seems that warning wasn’t heeded when it came Jones in the preseason. That’s because had Jones been getting drafted where he should have gone (the 6th-10th receiver range) rather than often getting picked number 2 at receiver and going in the 2nd or 3rd round, he’d be perceived to be having a really nice season. Heading into last week, Jones had 216 yards and 3 TD’s in 4 games, which are really nice numbers for any receiver. Last week, Jones put up one of his best games of the season with 10 receptions (one below his career record) for 94 yards and a touchdown. Fantasy owners who are disappointed in the second-year wide out just need to lower their expectations. Julio Jones is still going to be an absolute stud in this league, but maybe we should all just wait for his first 1,000 yard season to start with the ‘next Calvin Johnson’ tags.
Agree? Disagree? Questions? Tweet @RotoAnalysis and be sure to follow Moe @MoeProblems and Matt @KidCotti21. Check out their work on RotoAnalysis.com, as well as The RotoAnalysis Fantasy Sports Podcast.