We're seven weeks into the NFL season. We should know what we've got among players we drafted. Some have done better than expected, some have done worse. And some ... well, they've been bad, but owners are having a tough time figuring out what the next move is with them.
Week 8 (and in some cases Week 9) should represent the last chance Fantasy owners should give players they've been frustrated with. Two months worth of action is plenty to decide whether to have the conviction to keep a guy for the rest of the way or trade him (or cut him) for whatever you can get.
Chris Johnson, RB, Titans
Johnson's YTD stats: 268 rush yards, one rushing touchdown; 24 catches, 143 receiving yards
There's a lot going on with Johnson, but after extensive film study dating back to 2009, the most significant factor is that his blocking is not as good as it once was. The Titans are adamant that they have the right linemen in the game, and from a pass protection standpoint they're right. But they're having a hard time giving Johnson space to make plays. But Johnson is not off the hook. As we've noted before, Johnson continues to look tentative and take a little longer to accelerate. His effort hasn't always been there either and at times he's played more like a physical inside rusher instead of the speedster we drafted.
Your next move: You have to start Johnson this week at home vs. a Colts run defense that's been horrible. Indy has allowed at least one rushing touchdown and/or 100 total yards to a running back in five of seven games. Just last week they allowed 97 total yards to three different Saints backs! If Johnson can't find room to speed against the Colts at home, then you can go ahead and assume that he's a bust for the rest of the season and count on him to be a low-end No. 2 Fantasy running back. Trading him away will net you next to nothing. If he shines in Week 8, he could salvage his season thanks to some favorable matchups down the stretch -- it'll be up to you to either accept a fair amount in trade for him or to hang on and hope that he's for real.
Philip Rivers, QB, Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers
Rivers' YTD stats: 1,715 passing yards, seven touchdowns, nine interceptions; 34 rush yards, rush touchdown
Jackson's YTD stats: 24 catches, 423 yards, three touchdowns
Rivers doesn't have a healthy receiving corps, but it's getting better. Losing Antonio Gates for several weeks hurt his numbers, as did playing with a good running back duo that has taken some of the pressure to move the chains off of him. But the Chargers have not been strong in the red zone (46 percent on the season, 36 percent in their last three) and the obvious turnover ratio Rivers has delivered is a downer. Jackson's biggest issue is that he's playing hurt; his hamstring has kept him out of practice and even though it was believed that he had turned the corner before the Jets game, you can tell he doesn't have the speed he once had. His targets are also low; only in half of his games has he had more than six passes thrown at him. Twenty-three receivers have more targets than Jackson on the year, including 19 No. 1 wideouts.
Your next move: Rivers seems healthy and can still throw with good accuracy (despite last week's game). His value is tied in part to Jackson's; if V-Jack can't get going and be a factor all over the field, then Rivers' stats will suffer. Yes, Rivers can go to Gates and his running backs more if Jackson is struggling or double covered, but not having him as a big-time playmaker -- which he's been twice this season and once last season -- will keep Rivers' stats from being off-the-charts. If you can sell high on Jackson, which seems unlikely given his sluggish stats, then do it. But don't give him or Rivers away as the Chargers have several favorable matchups left. If anything, this might be the time to buy low on these guys.
Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns
Hillis' YTD stats: 211 rush yards, two touchdowns; 15 catches, 76 receiving yards
Hillis has only played in four games and has exceeded 15 touches in two. So opportunity is clearly lacking, though he's to blame for part of it (pulling himself when he was sick in Week 3, for example). The Browns might say they're pleased with Montario Hardesty, but the reality is that Hardesty has averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry in his last two games and sports a 3.3 average on the season. Hardesty also hasn't scored this season. When Hillis' hamstring gets healthy he'll be back on the field -- coach Pat Shurmur has said as much.
Your next move: If you own Hillis, don't give him up. The Browns are doing the right thing by letting him get healthy and as soon as he is chances are he'll take over the majority of work in the Cleveland run game. And because the Browns' passing game is mired in mediocrity he'll probably get some opportunities there too. The Browns' schedule gets ugly late, so the best plan might be to hang on to Hillis, hopes he puts up some good numbers and then ship him off before he plays the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals in five of his last six games.
Dallas Clark, TE, Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
Clark's YTD stats: 20 catches, 189 yards, two touchdowns
Wayne's YTD stats: 30 catches, 426 yards, one touchdown
You've been living in a cave if you don't know the main problem with these guys. Curtis Painter hasn't targeted Clark as much as Peyton Manning used to (Clark has 34 in 2011), and serious issues with drops and fumbles have played a role in his production. Painter has been an obvious problem for Wayne, too; since Painter has replaced Kerry Collins we've seen Pierre Garcon get more targets than Wayne, and we've seen Garcon do more with them than Wayne. Perhaps Wayne has had to do more adjusting to Painter than Garcon has.
Your next move: Fantasy owners should be impatient with Clark, but in a year where tight end play hasn't exactly resulted in a high number of reliable, consistent studs (like Clark used to be), he still carries some value. The idea of carrying him and another tight end and playing the matchups is fine for now, and he's got a dandy of a matchup against the Titans in Week 8. If he can't exploit Tennessee like the majority of tight ends have done recently, owners should be even more willing to let Clark walk. Wayne's a tougher nut to crack because we know he's a great receiver and the targets are still pretty good even if Garcon's getting more. The Colts will throw a lot for the rest of the season obviously so you can't help but think he'll turn in some good weeks. He's worth holding on to as at least a No. 3 receiver and at worst a top backup. If you have those spots filled already on your roster and still have Wayne, though, then try and ship him for whatever you can get.
Mike Williams, WR, Buccaneers
Williams' YTD stats: 31 catches, 317 yards, one touchdown
This is one of the weirdest pickles of the 2011 season. Williams' stats rank him as the 53rd-best receiver in Fantasy (you don't even want to know some of the receivers doing better than him), but he's fifth in the NFL in targets. That's astounding. It's a huge combination of Williams not playing at a high level, his quarterback not passing at a high level and defenses able to keep tight coverage on him because he's not flashing any kind of speed. He's seemingly morphed into a big possession receiver. He also has just seven red zone targets through seven games, which is definitely low.
Your next move: Like other receivers, Williams can fit into Fantasy lineups as a No. 3 option, a flex or a high-end reserve. If you have those spots filled and Williams is still on your bench, find a new home for him. The Buccaneers are surely going to realize soon that Williams can be helpful in some ways but will give Freeman other options, with Dezmon Briscoe the most intriguing choice after a breakout game in London against the Bears. He's got better speed than Williams with the same kind of size and could end up with better stats if given the chance to play close to the same amount of reps as Williams.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings
Harvin's YTD stats: 27 catches, 276 yards, no touchdowns; 166 rush yards
What's wrong with Harvin? Try everything. He's banged up, he didn't get off to a good start with Donovan McNabb throwing passes (no Vikings player did) and he hasn't had a chance to play a whole lot with rookie Christian Ponder. He's caught close to 70 percent of the passes tossed his way, which is nice, but he's not getting a lot of looks. Some of that is made up for by his ability to run with the ball -- a 10.4 rushing average is phenomenal. But opportunity has to improve before Fantasy owners get excited again.
Your next move: He's worth replacing. While I'm a big believer in Ponder and even think he could help turn around Harvin's season, questions about Harvin's health will overshadow him. Don't dump him just to dump him, but after a week of action where there were so many injuries and so many new players begging for a chance off waivers, the time is right to cut him if you need space on your roster. Otherwise, he's a No. 3 Fantasy option until further notice.
Fantasy & Reality
Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.
Fantasy: Cam Newton has been figured out. I've been fooled twice by Newton, which I suppose makes me a fool. Not only were Newton's stats solid against the Redskins, but he was incomplete on only five of 23 passes, and two were knocked away by Redskins defenders. I continue to be astounded by Newton's deep ball, which is usually on point and involves Steve Smith making a play at the other end. He's going to roast the Vikings in Week 8.
Reality: DeMarco Murray was great, but let's see it again. Any great rushing performance this season against the Rams or Colts needs an asterisk next to it. Those run defenses are awful and have been bludgeoned by most everyone. Murray benefitted from the matchup against St. Louis and produced beyond our wildest dreams. And while I've liked Murray since Dallas drafted him, I'm surprised by the big game. That's why I'm not quick to label him as a Fantasy superstar after one game -- the Eagles know how important their home game vs. Dallas is this week and will have the luxury of knowing that Murray is coming. Start him for sure, but keep expectations in serious check. The Cowboys don't strike me as a team that will lean on a rookie making his first career start in a must-win NFC East game.
Fantasy: Carson Palmer will flop in Oakland. Take everything that you saw from Palmer vs. the Chiefs and erase it from your memory. The guy had three practices with the team and had been a Raider for six days when coach Hue Jackson put him in the game down two touchdowns at the half. The Raiders say Palmer will work with his coaches and receivers this week in hopes of being a capable -- and far less turnover-prone -- starter and that could lead to some good games. He faces a lot of porous pass defenses down the stretch. I'd consider him a very good No. 2 Fantasy quarterback.
Reality: Tim Tebow's receivers carry huge risk to trust in Fantasy lineups. Words to describe the end of Tebow's Week 7 game vs. the Dolphins are tough to find. Amazing. Astounding. Miraculous? One thing's for sure: His passing needs some work. We knew going into The Tebow Era that accuracy wasn't the quarterback's best friend, and there will be plenty of bad moments from him, just as there will be good moments. But because he'll be tough to trust as a passer, his receivers take a hit. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas have all the potential in the world, but starting them with high expectations is tough until Tebow proves he can be a reliable passer.
Week 8 waiver-wire DSTs
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Bengals (at Seahawks) ... It's always dangerous to start a DST playing in Seattle, but the Bengals match up really well here. Cincinnati has allowed six passing touchdowns on the year, two since Week 3. We already know the Seahawks have problems passing effectively, and if Marshawn Lynch remains out then their run game will be equally challenging. With an extra week to prepare, Mike Zimmer's bunch should be difficult to score on.
Bills (vs. Redskins in Toronto) ... Are you buying John Beck as a serious quarterback? Neither am I. Are you buying Ryan Torain as a stud rusher? Neither am I. While the Bills run defense has been beaten up, they should be up to the task of taking on Torain and keeping him out of the end zone. The Buffalo secondary has also given up some yardage but with Santana Moss out, they shouldn't feel threatened by what the Redskins have left.
Titans (vs. Colts) ... Perhaps this one is risky, but with the way the Colts offense is operating right now, it's worth a shot if you're thin. Tennessee's defense did get steamrolled in their last two games (79 total points), but the Indy offense is not a juggernaut so long as Curtis Painter is under center.
• One quick reference point when considering dropping a player: How quickly would the guy you dropped get picked up if you dropped him? For instance, if you decide you've had enough of Percy Harvin or Mike Williams, how soon after you dumped him would someone put in a waiver claim? In my leagues, owners will take a chance on striking gold with those guys off waivers. If you think someone you drop will get claimed right away, don't be in a rush to drop them. You probably can't get much in trade for those kinds of players either, but don't cut just to cut if the player in question will get picked up.
The caveat, of course, is that if you need to pick someone up off waivers and have to cut the dead weight, then go ahead and do it.
• I've been doing this a long time. I've watched football since I was a kid, I've played Fantasy since the mid-'90s and I've been writing about football, and Fantasy Football, since 2001. I've never seen a week as wild as Week 7 was.
There were injuries seemingly every 30 minutes. You know about most of the injuries that went down already, but even guys like Adrian Peterson, Ryan Mathews and Michael Turner limped off the field before returning. Yep, Week 7 could have been even worse for Fantasy owners than it actually was!
But then you consider the games and the week was even stranger. At halftime of all the 1 p.m. games there were a total of eight offensive touchdowns. There were seven games going! Seven teams failed to score more than seven points overall. After quarterbacks threw like crazy to start the season, only three passers topped 300 yards in Week 7. Only six wide receivers had 100 yards (and one of them was Michael Jenkins!).
And then there's Tim Tebow, who gave those brave Fantasy owners who started him a proverbial Hail Mary with his amazing comeback in five minutes at Miami.
Suffice to say, I was exhausted but exhilarated. Week 7 was maddening, but it was a reminder of why Fantasy Football is such a fun game. It's unpredictable, it's got twists and turns and it's got joy and pain.