NFL fantasy roundtable: Hopes for Johnson rebound growing bleak
Hope for better days is only reason to keep Chris Johnson in fantasy lineups
DeMarco Murray has played to at least a share of starting Dallas RB duties
Lack of top-rate receiver options will limit Christian Ponder's production
Each week of the NFL season, a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will huddle together and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
1. The Chris Johnson situation has become a disaster. What advice can you offer for Johnson owners?
Mike Beacom: It's time to make peace with the situation. Up until now, fantasy owners have inserted Johnson into their starting lineups with the hope he would turn things around. His performance against Indianapolis' 31st-ranked run defense (14 carries for 34 yards) suggests he might not be capable of doing so. Stop waiting on Johnson; he's nothing more than an emergency play at this point.
Will Carroll: I said going into this week that if Johnson couldn't run on the Colts, he couldn't run on anyone. Peter King addressed this in MMQB as well, but I think that Javon Ringer might be the better RB to have and that if the Titans stay in playoff contention, Mike Munchak will have to shift as well. I still feel like there's no good reason that Johnson stopped being effective -- at least that we know of -- and that he could still bust out at some point. I've just stopped waiting on it. Trade him for something useful, like an upgrade at flex, and let someone else hope each week.
Eric Mack: The easy answer: Bench him. That will give you a week to evaluate whether you can afford to have him take up space on your roster. You can try to trade him, but the chances of getting something for him that has as much potential as what he can do for you down the stretch is very unlikely. Bench him for a week and cross your fingers for the Titans to fix their run-blocking woes. That might be the only way to get something out of your first-round investment. Cutting him or trading him for what little you can get back just doesn't seem to be wise at this point. Johnson is still a sleeping giant, just don't allow him to ruin your starting lineup this week.
David Sabino: The only saving grace of Johnson's situation is that Ringer, his new timeshare partner, is not someone who will set the league on fire and make Johnson irrelevant. It's still just a matter of time before the immensely gifted Johnson finally uses his NFL-best speed to hit a few holes and gives his owners some fantasy black ink on the ledger. However, the first time he does this may see him on your bench as it's hard to use him right now. If there's a way to package him in a deal, you should consider it, but I still don't believe it's a lost cause.
2. With Felix Jones likely to return in the next week or two, will DeMarco Murray fall into a timeshare or has he done enough to hold onto him the rest of the season?
Beacom: Fantasy owners can expect Murray to remain the team's primary rusher, but Jones' explosiveness demands no fewer than 10 touches a game. Fantasy owners should hold on to the rookie back but should not expect another 25-carry day like we saw in Week 7.
Carroll: Jones needs a partner. He's not Darren Sproles, but he's not Ahmad Bradshaw, either. Murray showed in Week 7 that there's upside, but I don't yet see consistency. Pairing the two of them should work to help take some of the wear off the fragile Jones and put Murray in situations where he can succeed. Murray's got more upside at this stage, but that big performance came against a Rams defense that was out of sorts.
Mack: Jones likely will get his job back, only because it will make things difficult for us in fantasy. Running back situations just have to be as complex as possible, right? Allowing Murray to take off as a starter is just too fitting. Jones still has potential and a favorable schedule for the Cowboys down the stretch could make both backs useful for fantasy owners. Neither one will be the elite option they could be, though. The presence of each other will make both fringe fantasy starters once Jones is healthy. For now, consider Murray a solid start in all leagues.
Sabino: Given Jones' lack of durability or success when given repeated opportunities to produce, and Murray's instant stardom and ability displayed in his first two games as a featured back, I can't see this turning out as a split-carries situation. However, as a third-down back, Jones should develop into a PPR asset, especially in the near future when the 'Pokes face a pretty soft schedule.
3. Larry Fitzgerald hasn't been much better than OK for most of this season. Is this what fantasy owners need to expect or can he pick things up down the stretch?
Beacom: Fitzgerald lacks help. Consider that he has 11 catches of 20-plus yards; no other Cardinals receiver has more than three. Nothing on the schedule, or from Arizona's performance in recent weeks, suggests anything will change in the second half of the season. Fitzgerald will continue to be a steady fantasy receiver (86.1 yards per game), just not the elite player he's been in past years.
Carroll: Fitzgerald's actually been worse with Kevin Kolb, which I didn't think was possible. Kolb isn't an elite QB, but I thought he was going to be a league average one, which should have been a big upgrade off of 2010's wasteland of prospects. Instead, he's found no rhythm with any of his receivers. Fitzgerald still shows some skills, but none of the leadership he's going to need. Maybe he needs to do what Anquan Boldin did with Joe Flacco this week and just say "get me the ball."
Mack: The production level really isn't the fault of Fitzgerald, or even the disappointing Kolb. The Cardinals just don't have anyone else to take the coverage off Fitzgerald. He is drawing the opposing teams' No. 1 cover guy and a safety over the top. It is tough to be an elite receiver that way. The Cardinals really need to develop something more significant with another receiver. Early Doucet or Todd Heap just don't scare anyone enough to rotate the extra cover age away from Fitzgerald. So, this was a long answer to say: What you're getting from Fitzgerald is what you should expect here on out.
Sabino: As Steve Smith has proved in Carolina, a receiver's struggles are sometimes not his own fault. It all falls on the right arm of Kolb (or John Skelton should he not be able to play against the Rams this week). Unfortunately for one of the league's most skilled and toughest receivers, what you see is what you'll get.
4. Christian Ponder has shown signs of promise in his short time as a starter. What value does he deserve in fantasy?
Beacom: Ponder has performed well under pressure the last two weeks -- rare for a rookie quarterback. But even if he continues to progress, Ponder is nothing more than a fringe No. 2 fantasy quarterback. The Vikings lack weapons in the passing game and the road ahead is unfriendly (Green Bay, Oakland and Atlanta close out November).
Carroll: I liked Ponder coming in, and while this is quicker than I expected to see him produce, I rate him above the rest of the QB class with the exception of Cam Newton. He's the most pro-ready QB and has a great RB he can hand the ball to 25-30 times a game. If he had some receivers, he could be really good, but at this stage, he's a game manager type with some upside, putting him with the Flacco/Hasselbeck/Sanchez tier.
Mack: None. Well, almost none. Ponder might have beaten this writer in a 14-team league this week, but his lack of a viable set of receivers will keep him from being anything better than the 16th-best fantasy quarterback option even in his most favorable of matchups. Unless you play in a two-quarterback league, you shouldn't be pondering Ponder. Now that we have just two four-team bye weeks remaining, your quarterback options are going to be much better elsewhere. Michael Jenkins isn't a No. 1 receiver on any other team in the NFL, and Percy Harvin isn't being used properly by the Vikings staff. Ponder's supporting cast outside of Adrian Peterson is crippling. Look elsewhere to fill your quarterback hole you might have.
Sabino: Take a look at his remaining schedule and you get the idea that Ponder can continue to put up 15 to 25 points per week. But being a rookie so close to the start of his career, there's always the risk of a meltdown. I wouldn't use him at Lambeau in Week 10, but he should be a quality bye week replacement at home against the Raiders when Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub are all on their byes.
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