Midseason Underachieving Studs Offer Value
Nearing the midpoint of the 2012 season, there aren't too many weeks left in the regular season for fantasy owners. It's do-or-die time in fantasy land, so now is the juncture at which you must make a move if your team has underachieved through eight weeks. As always, you'll want to trade for players whose actual value exceeds their current perceived value.
QB: Cam Newton – 12th among QBs
Newton's last three opponents - Chicago, Dallas, and Seattle - possess three of the stingiest pass defenses in the NFL. Consequently, Newton averaged just 229 yards and 0.33 total touchdowns against them. In the second-year quarterback's first four games, however, he threw for 253 yards per game and averaged 1.75 total touchdowns. Plus, Newton is one of two quarterbacks in the NFL with a minimum of 15 deep passing attempts (passes that travel at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage) not to throw a deep touchdown. Things will improve for Newton, especially with games against Washington and Tampa Bay in two of the Panthers' next three.
RB: Darren McFadden – 12th among RBs in PPR
Anyone think Run DMC won't improve upon his 3.3 YPC or two total touchdowns through seven games? McFadden - a player who thrives on big plays - has just five runs of 15 or more yards all season. That's as many as Michael Turner and fewer than Willis McGahee. The only thing saving McFadden's value right now is his reception total of 29, but with Oakland's putrid offensive line, we could actually see the running back's reception rate rise on more screens and dump-offs over the second half of the season.
WR: Dez Bryant - 20th among WRs in PPR
With 110 yards against the Giants, Bryant has already shown signs he'll get things turned around. Still, the wide receiver has scored a touchdown in only one game this season despite possessing an astonishing career touchdown rate of 11.4 percent, i.e. the touchdowns will come. Bryant - praised for his hands coming out of Oklahoma State - has dropped more passes than all but three receivers. That won't continue. And on top of all that, the Cowboys are just now making an effort to get the ball to Bryant downfield, so expect his deep ball rate of just 16.1 percent to increase substantially.
TE: Jermichael Finley - 23rd among TEs in PPR
While Finley has failed to capitalize on Greg Jennings' injury, people forget that the tight end has been hampered by a bum shoulder himself. Even with Randall Cobb stealing looks, Finley is going to get things turned around. He's had to make the switch to playing more snaps as an in-line tight end in Green Bay - only nine of his 43 targets have come in the slot this year - so he's going through a period of change. Plus, while Finley has posted a touchdown rate of just 3.6 percent in 2012, his career rate is 9.7 percent.
Note that all of these players have at least two things in common: talent and opportunities. Newton, McFadden, Bryant and Finley are all top-tier athletes in situations in which their teams will depend on them down the stretch. Plus, regardless of your preseason rankings, you undoubtedly had each player ranked higher than where he currently stands. It's difficult to buy low on underperforming players, but things can change quickly in the NFL; if you want your fantasy fortunes to do the same, you'll need to bite the bullet and have confidence that their struggles won't continue.
Jonathan Bales is the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft. He also runs the "Running the Numbers" blog at DallasCowboys.com and writes for the New York Times.