Let’s imagine a nightmare draft strategy, playing out in Week 1.
You get a top-five pick and are ecstatic when Chris Johnson falls to you. Coming back around, you pair the speedster with a classic power back in LeGarrette Blount, then debate between going RB-heavy in the third round, or taking your first receiver. You opt for touchdown monster Dwayne Bowe, then stop the inexplicable slide of Shonn Greene in the fourth. You pair Bowe with Tom Brady’s new vertical threat, Senor OchoCinco in the fifth, then delve into the meat of the “value” quarterbacks by grabbing Ben Roethlisberger in the sixth. At this point, you’re tempted to light up a cigar and quote Hannibal Smith from the A-Team: “I love it when a plan comes together.”
In week one, that set of top five picks got you a whopping 142 yards rushing and receiving, no touchdowns, with Big Ben’s five turnovers thrown in for good measure.
So what happened? In the Fantasy MIA column, we explore the reasons why some of the games’ big names went missing in action.
Chris Johnson: 14 touches, 49 yards. Apparently, hobbling his best horse was a part of coach Munchak’s plan, a response to Johnson’s lengthy holdout, and his apparent lack of conditioning. Johnson was appallingly lousy in the first half, with only two successful plays out of eight touches. He finally got on track in the fourth quarter, helping his team close to within two points. Munchak has stated that Johnson should get closer to 20-25 touches next week against Baltimore. Analysis: Hold steady.
Rashard Mendenhall: 12 touches, 45 yards, fumble. Ironically, it was the Steelers’ shutdown run defense that had some panicked fantasy owners talking about benching Ray Rice. While Rice excelled, his counterpart Mendenhall was essentially shut out of the game after the first half by the runaway score. The Steelers’ running back totaled one yard and a fumble on four second-half carries as the game got pass-wacky and turnover heavy. He faces an ideal match-up this week though, against Seattle. Analysis: Still a must-start.
LeGarrette Blount: 5 touches, 15 yards. The lack of work for the Bucs’ workhorse back puzzled everyone, including Blount himself. He sat on the bench for most of the second half as the Bucs went to an all-hurry-up attack on offense. For what it’s worth, coach Raheem Morris now regrets that decision. But the shortened off-season prevented Blount from improving his pass protection, which for now means sitting for extended periods of time. Analysis: downgrade from RB2 to flex play.
Shonn Greene: 11 touches, 33 yards. To quote Evan Silva from Rotoworld, “The problem with Shonn Greene: 1) He’s not that good 2) Jets’ OL isn’t as good without Damian Woody 3) He won’t get the ball when the Jets fall behind.” This third point became all too apparent as Mark Sanchez fed the ball to Ladanian Tomlinson again and again as the Jets mounted a furious comeback. Greene was a speculative buy, but it may already be time to cut bait. Analysis: deal if you can.
Dwayne Bowe: 2 catches, 17 yards. Bowe was hardly alone in his suffering in a top-to-bottom offensive suckfest in the Chiefs’ home opener. Analysts thought the Kansas City offense might suffer without Charlie Weis and Tony Moeaki, but Matt Cassel’s 36 pass attempts garnered a pathetic 119 total yards. The good news is that Bowe was Cassel’s most-targeted receiver, with 8 throws going his way and a ninth negated by penalty. The bad news is that he came down with only two balls, with the pedestrian Leodis McKelvin in primary coverage. Analysis: WR1 in a bad offense = borderline WR2.
Vincent Jackson: 2 catches, 31 yards. Philip Rivers led the league in yards-per-attempt over the last three years, and Jackson and his fellow wide-outs reaped the benefits. On Sunday, though, Rivers spread 30 of his 48 targets to his tight ends and running backs, for a pedestrian 7 yards per throw. This is surely matchup-based, as Minnesota’s weakness is underneath. Next week, against Kansas City, look for a return to form. Analysis: Still a good start.
Chad Ochocinco: 1 catch, 14 yards. Tom Brady said all the right things about Ochocinco after finding seven other receivers to throw to for 503 yards and 4 TDs. But after running only 13 routes in 18 plays on the Patriots’ record-setting day, the simple fact is that Ocho is way behind in his understanding of the playbook. What’s worse, the Pats don’t need him to “stretch the field” to succeed. Ocho was horribly over-drafted in most leagues, a speculative buy that may take a long, long time to pay off. Analysis: Cuttable.
Matt Ryan: 319 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 5 sacks. After years of being a run-dominated offense, and then working towards a “balanced” offensive approach, the Falcons have suddenly become pass-wacky. This should be good news for Ryan owners, except for days like this. Facing a Bears defensive line all too hungry for the quarterback, Ryan was pressured nearly nonstop, and failed to make them pay. Despite a 53-yard run and averaging 5 ypc otherwise, Atlanta abandoned Michael Turner as the score climbed out of reach, leaving Ryan to the wolves. Analysis: Faces a tough matchup in Week 2. Benchable.
Ben Roethlisberger: 280 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 2 fumbles, 4 sacks. Aside from Philip Rivers, Roethlisberger is surprisingly one of the most vertical-pass-happy quarterbacks in the game. But his method of getting those passes — stand around behind a shabby offensive and wait for someone to come open — leaves him open to punishment. The Ravens proved more than capable of delivering that punishment, and turning his opening day into a disaster. Against lesser teams, his high-risk, high-reward methods will pay off. Analysis: Should bounce back nicely against Seattle.
Matt Cassel: 118 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2 sacks. A quick look at Cassel’s career should show us a trend. Surprisingly good with Josh McDaniels in 2008. Mediocre at best without him in KC in 2009. Transcendent with Charlie Weis in 2010. Without him in 2011? Puts the “ugh” in ugly. Some quarterbacks are just system players. Take them out of the system (think Marc Bulger without Mike Martz) and you’ve got a shabby mess. Cassel is one of those guys. Analysis: Run far, far away, and don’t look back.