FANTASY FORECAST: First-round fantasy picks slow to start
MINNEAPOLIS — So much for riding David Johnson to your fantasy league championship.
The Arizona Cardinals running back was the highest-drafted player in most leagues, but he will now spend the majority of the season on injured reserve after requiring surgery on a dislocated left wrist. The third-year back enjoyed a breakout season in 2016 that sent him to the top of draft boards because of his elite ability to run and catch out of the backfield.
While he is eligible to return in mid-November, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said the team hopes to have him back for Week 16 in late December, beyond usefulness for most fantasy players.
The impact on fantasy rosters that invested heavily in Johnson will last all season, but the opening round of the NFL season was terrible for most first round picks. Those poor performances seemed to fall into three categories: injuries, game planning or things beyond their control.
Johnson is the biggest example of an early injury handicapping fantasy performance. Ten of Arizona's first 11 plays went to Johnson, but was only able to tally 91 yards on what was looking to be a big game.
New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. missed his team's opener with an ankle injury. He should be able to play Monday night, but quarterback Eli Manning didn't inspire any confidence with his top target out in Week 1.
Cleveland played Pick Your Poison against Pittsburgh in its Sunday loss: High draft pick Antonio Brown broke out for 182 yards receiving, while teammate Le'Veon Bell was largely quiet. Against a strong Minnesota Vikings front line, I'd guess there will be more of the same for the Steelers standouts.
Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman were two of many beneficiaries of quarterback Matt Ryan's fantastic fantasy season in 2016, but the lowly Bears defense forced Ryan to look elsewhere on Sunday. Freeman was saved by a touchdown, but Tevin Coleman cut into Freeman's workload in the backfield. Jones' ability drew most of the Chicago secondary's attention, particularly on tight end Austin Hooper's 88-yard touchdown catch — fantasy gold for those who picked up the youngster in the late rounds of their draft.
Beyond their control
While there have been some, ahem, interesting reports on cloud-seeding testing, the adage of "you cannot control the weather" still applies. Players from the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers advocated for playing their opening week matchup on neutral ground, but the league decided to postpone the game because of Hurricane Irma.
This left fantasy owners who used early-round picks on the likes of Jay Ajayi and Mike Evans high and dry. Playing 16 weeks in a row, which these two teams must now do, will be a killer test of their depth, but at least Ajayi and Evans will be available for Week 2.
Don't do it
Speaking of Week 2, here's a quick look at a few players I'm not big on for this week's games:
• Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers: Things couldn't have been worse for Henry last week, as he was used exclusively as a blocking tight end in Week 1. With no targets on the score sheet, Henry will be outshadowed by Antonio Gates for the near future — although he remains the heir apparent when Gates can't cut it anymore.
• Adrian Peterson, New Orleans: If coach Sean Payton isn't going to give the former all-pro Peterson a chance at being a featured back in a grudge match against Minnesota, do you really think the run-only back will have any sort of production this week against New England?
• Bennie Fowler III, Denver: "Oh man, this guy caught two touchdowns last week and he's still available on the waiver wire," you excitedly tell yourself as you search for a replacement for an injured receiver or two. Slow your roll, though. Trevor Siemian and the Denver offense isn't good enough to constantly support three wideouts, so leave Fowler for someone else to overreact to.
Last week's picks: DeAndre Hopkins, Tyrod Taylor, Kareem Hunt. Well, I whiffed on this one. Hopkins somehow found the end zone when his starting QB was benched for ineffectiveness, and Taylor turned a day of checkdowns into fantasy competence. Worst of all — for my predictions, anyway — Hunt, a rookie going against 2016's best fantasy defense against running backs, put up 246 yards from scrimmage with three scores. What a crazy week.