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Early Fantasy Football Studs, Duds of the 2013 NFL Season

Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2013

Early Fantasy Football Studs, Duds of the 2013 NFL Season

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    Even though it's early, there are definitely some players over-performing and underperforming in just the first quarter of the NFL season.

    We've got some players we knew would be studs, but some surprises as well. The same can be said about the duds as well, though, with some guys performing well under their draft positions.

    Some of that might not be their fault, but that won't help their fantasy owners.

    Of course, we can't name all the studs and call out all the duds, so make sure to add in your own choices in the comments. Who is performing above expectations for you? Who is sucking the life out of your fantasy team?

    Pound your chest or commiserate below.

    All statistics referred to on the following pages are from NFL.com

STUD: Peyton Manning

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    It seems only fitting that all the pieces fall into place as Breaking Bad finishes its run. Peyton Manning is the Walter White of your fantasy leagues, if not the NFL.

    There is no excuse—none—to be anywhere but in first place in your league if you drafted Manning.

    Sixteen touchdowns, 1,470 yards and absolutely no interceptions—if you did even a halfway decent job of drafting the rest of your team, you should be in excellent shape.

    Manning doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Perhaps, as some have suggested, Walt—I mean Peyton—will struggle when the weather gets cold.

    However, keep two things in mind.

    First, Manning had three 300-plus-yard games and 11 touchdowns to three interceptions in December. Those three games were at home (where two of his 300-yard games occurred) where it's kind of cold at that time of year.

    This year he has just two December games at home, while the other three games take place in Kansas City, Oakland and Houston. Weather shouldn't be much of a factor, if any.

    Second, most of you should be done with your championships before Week 17 comes around.

    Manning is the top of this list because how could there be anyone else?

DUD: Colin Kaepernick

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    As good as Manning did during the first quarter of the NFL season, Colin Kaepernick has done poorly—awful at times, in fact.

    After a tremendous Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, Kaepernick got kicked in the teeth by the Seattle Seahawks, and neither he nor the rest of the 49ers even got their groove back.

    Well, they did, but he still hasn't.

    Since that 412-yard, three-touchdown opening weekend, Kaepernick has thrown for just 444 yards and two touchdowns, though he added in four picks for good measure.

    He hasn't looked the same since that fateful Sunday against Seattle, and if he was your main quarterback, you're probably at (or beyond) the point where you might bench him until he gets his act together.

STUD: Aaron Rodgers

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Aaron Rodgers was off this past week, but he's still among the top fantasy players in your league even coming off a mediocre Week 3.

    His first two weeks accounted for 813 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception. With his 244 yards and one more touchdown, it brings his totals to 1,057 yards, eight touchdowns and just three interceptions.

    That he does it with less-than-ideal offensive line play may be almost irrelevant for fantasy purposes, but makes his numbers all the more amazing.

    If you have Rodgers, you more than likely paid a premium for him, and he's performing as you need him to.

    Still, he's been one of the best fantasy quarterbacks again this season and is doing a good job of carrying his teams toward the fantasy playoffs.

DUD: Eli Manning

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    What's probably hurt Eli Manning's general managers the most are the interceptions.

    Yes, the 119- and 217-yard passing efforts the last two weeks have been brutal. There have only been two interceptions in that time, but only one touchdown as well.

    There are a lot of factors contributing to Manning's poor start—much of it a lack of pass blocking and no ground game—but whatever the cause, right now it's spelling doom for anyone who hoped Manning would carry him to fantasy wins.

    It's dragging Hakeem Nicks—and to a lesser extent, Victor Cruz—down with him as well.

    I'd like to be able to tell you it's going to get better—that Manning will overcome the mess around him and not only start putting up fantasy points for your team, but winning games for the New York Giants.

    But this isn't a fairy tale. The reality is, it doesn't look so good.

STUD: Matt Forte

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    Matt Forte has been rock solid for fantasy owners in point-per-reception leagues. He's topped 100 total yards in all but the very first game and has scored a touchdown in every game but Week 2 this year.

    As long as this offense continues to be up-tempo and fast-paced, Forte is going to be successful on both the screen passes and running between the tackles.

    On top of that, with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett and Martellus Bennett, he's never going to see a stacked front.

    He's not Adrian Peterson by any stretch, but he will make teams pay all the same.

    Any fantasy owner with Forte in the lineup will be happy. 

DUD: C.J. Spiller

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    C.J. Spiller was touted as a top-five fantasy pick in drafts this season.

    He has exactly one 100-yard game and zero touchdowns to his credit this season. His single 100-yard game only happened because he broke off a 46-yard run in the fourth quarter.

    Somehow, despite having more touches than Fred Jackson (66 carries for Spiller to 48 for Jackson), he trails him in yards and is a lot less effective when he does run the ball (3.5 yards per carry for Spiller and 5.3 yards for Jackson).

    It's hard to pin down exactly what's going on with Spiller, although he has been banged up a bit.

    Whatever the cause, it's been tough to be an owner of his this fantasy season.

     

STUD: Adrian Peterson

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    Adrian Peterson has totaled more than 100 yards in all four of his games this season, scoring touchdowns in three out of the four and twice scoring multiple touchdowns.

    That's not a bad return on your top fantasy football pick.

    While he's done it without a passing threat at quarterback, Matt Cassel looked pretty good (admittedly against a shaky Pittsburgh Steelers defense), and Peterson's yards per carry went from his season average of 4.1 yards to 6.1.

    It's hard to pretend that Cassel is going to continue his solid play. Peterson will, though.

    After the bye, he faces a tough Carolina Panthers front seven, but can run on the New York Giants (everyone can), Green Bay, Dallas, Washington and then, after a rough stretch, Philadelphia and Cincinnati during the fantasy playoffs.

    There's a better-than-even chance he ends up as your league's No. 1 fantasy player, just like last year.

DUD: Chris Johnson

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    So far, it appears as if we're going to have another season of Chris Johnson not giving his fantasy owners touchdowns. It's worse this year because he's not really giving up many yards either.

    He's yet to break 100 yards this season (though he has come close), and his yards-per-carry average was a paltry 3.3 before he was shut down by the New York Jets and averaged just 1.4 yards per carry. And that was in a blowout win.

    The offensive line has been playing better, but it still can be inconsistent in opening holes for him, and aside from a massive nine red-zone looks in Week 1, he's not getting many chances there.

    Johnson is always one broken tackle away from a big run. That just isn't coming often enough to justify that late first- or early second-round pick you spent on him.

STUD: Reggie Bush

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    Sure, Reggie Bush missed Week 3, and that hurt.

    However, he is otherwise playing so far over his average draft position, you can forgive him. In Week 1, he totaled 191 yards and a touchdown, and this past week, he hit 173 yards and a score.

    You're going to get more of those games than not, so you're getting a guy you drafted as a second (or third) running back who performs at a No. 1 running back level on a consistent basis.

    If you have Joique Bell to back him up, you get yourself a two-for-one hit.

DUD: Trent Richardson

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    The only things saving Trent Richardson's fantasy value the last two weeks are the short-yardage touchdowns.

    He began the season being stuffed at the line in Cleveland, and now he's still averaging under 4.0 yards per carry in Indianapolis. On 20 carries Sunday, he only mustered up 60 yards.

    Some of that is play-calling, but some of that is Richardson. He's not facing stacked fronts, but he's still not finding the second level enough.

    Richardson has talent; the question is when he's going to reach his potential.

    He was going as a first-round running back in many fantasy drafts—no later than second round in almost any.

    He's not performing like either, though, and that's costing fantasy owners.

STUD: Julio Jones

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    We knew Julio Jones would have a big season, but he really has turned on the jets with Roddy White banged up. While the Atlanta Falcons came up short Sunday night, Jones notched his third straight 100-plus-yard game.

    The only downside to Jones thus far is a lack of touchdowns the last two games.

    That should correct itself, though, and you'll see many more games with touchdowns by Jones than without.

DUD: Roddy White

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    Now, Roddy White is on the list, but you have to respect him from an NFL standpoint because he's out there balling despite being banged up. You can make the argument that he could be doing more harm than good, but let's table that for another article.

    He is, however, pretty much useless for his fantasy owners. White can be on the field, but you can't have him in your lineups.

    There are some signs he's feeling a little better, but Sunday, he still struggled getting separation and was outmuscled more than once for balls he'd normally have gotten. White was targeted nine times and only caught three of them.

    That's just brutal. For a guy people picked up as a low-end No.1 or solid No. 2 wide receiver, it's downright unacceptable.

     

STUD: Anquan Boldin

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    OK, so Anquan Boldin hasn't had another 208-yard game like he did against Green Bay in Week 1, and Week 2 was awful, but he's provided plenty of fantasy points for a guy whom many people grabbed as a flex or No. 3 wide receiver.

    He's been held back a bit by the struggles of the rest of the San Francisco offense, which got hammered by Seattle and then slapped around a bit by Indianapolis.

    Still, he's getting a large number of targets most weeks, and after a solid-but-unspectacular Week 3, he put up 90 yards and a touchdown on five catches.

    Boldin has been a huge help to a struggling Niners offense. He'll be a vital part the whole rest of the way too.

DUD: Vincent Jackson

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    There is so much wrong in Tampa Bay that it's hard to know where to start.

    For Vincent Jackson, who is coming off an incredibly productive 2012, it must be maddening. His first quarterback imploded, and his new one will throw in his direction plenty, just not well.

    Jackson was targeted 11 times during Sunday's loss to the Arizona Cardinals, but too many of those throws were off target.

    That said, at least he's seeing those targets right?

    He's going to be a focal point for the offense if the Buccaneers are going to have any success, but with a really raw rookie quarterback, it could be a very long road before he is productive again.

     

STUD: Jordy Nelson

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    Jordy Nelson was off this past weekend, but that doesn't take away from what has been an outstanding year so far.

    Nelson has 289 yards and three touchdowns on 18 catches, which will make both point-per-reception and non-PPR owners happy.

    It's not going to slow down coming out of the break, and Nelson is a big factor in an offense that seems able to supply all of its various weapons—which include a returning Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley—with enough touches for them all to have value.

    Nelson may not get a touchdown every game, but he will put up consistent yards and see an awful lot of targets.

    Enough to keep him right where he should be, as a low-end No. 1 or No. 2 receiver with upside.

DUD: Dwayne Bowe

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    Dwayne Bowe may not be a complete disaster like some on this list, but he's been really inconsistent and on two occasions, the only thing keeping him from being a disaster was a touchdown.

    Bowe has had no more than four catches in a game this season. He finished the game against Philadelphia in Week 3 with just one catch and has yet to top 60 yards, much less 100.

    Is this what you were expecting when you drafted him as a No. 2 receiver? 

    Bowe may be suffering from the fact that Alex Smith isn't the type of quarterback to attack downfield a lot, but Smith is also spreading the ball around. Sunday saw 11 targets to running back Jamaal Charles and five to tight end Sean McGrath (all of which McGrath caught).

    This offense may not provide enough targets to go around—in which case, Bowe could be inconsistent all year long.

     

STUD: Jimmy Graham

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    Jimmy Graham is about as hot a fantasy tight end as you can get, totaling five touchdowns in the last three weeks.

    He's scored at least one touchdown in every game this year, and Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints get him the ball early and often.

    The Saints aren't exactly consistent in targeting their wide receivers, but you can count on Graham to get his every weekend.

    Graham is far and away the best tight end in fantasy, and he can make a strong case for being the best tight end in the game, period.

DUD: Vernon Davis

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    Vernon Davis has been affected by Colin Kaepernick's struggles more than just about anyone else on the offense and has been banged up to boot.

    If you grabbed Davis, you were expecting big things from him—after all, with Michael Crabtree out, it was only Davis and Anquan Boldin who could save the day for the 49ers passing offense.

    Well, it's pretty much just Boldin now.

    One can only hope he can turn things around as the season progresses.

STUD: Antonio Gates

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    Antonio Gates has been a bit up and down in terms of yardage this year, but he's getting tons of targets and has scored the last two weeks.

    On top of that, he already has a pair of 100-plus-yard games.

    Gates was cast aside by many fantasy owners this year, but the old man still has it. His production is tied to Philip Rivers.

    When Rivers was outstanding in Weeks 2 and 4, so was Gates. When Rivers struggled in Weeks 1 and 3, Gates had more trouble (though he still scored a touchdown in Week 3).

    That's how it might go, but Gates is playing really well right now, and fantasy owners can ride the wave the whole season.

DUD: Kyle Rudolph

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    After a 2012 where he caught a ton of touchdowns, Kyle Rudolph is struggling to find his role in a messy Minnesota Vikings offense.

    Christian Ponder was at least looking for Rudolph, albeit only on very short passes. However, Matt Cassel threw it Rudolph's way only twice—though the tight end caught both passes.

    Part of the challenge now could be that Cassel seems much more able to go downfield and find Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings. Ponder loves to check down to his safety blankets—often Rudolph.

    That's not happening a ton this season, and it appears as if it will happen less with Cassel.

    People were banking on a break-out season from Rudolph, but so far it's largely been a bust.

    Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

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