Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Some NFL teams have played their eighth game of the 16-game 2008 NFL season, meaning it's time to take a look at the "big picture" and see who has played above expectations and who has disappointed their fantasy owners.
Of course they are rookies, so some take more time to develop than others. Some get an opportunity to play sooner than others because they played well in summer camp or due to injuries. And others just need time to adjust to the speed of the game.
For that reason, in keeper leagues, no rookie should be tossed aside after just seven or eight games in their first year.
Performing above expectations -
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta - It's hard to imagine a rookie quarterback playing better than Ryan (Average Draft Position - 157) has right out of the gate. He has helped turn around a floundering franchise and they are in the playoff chase at 4-3. His first regular season pass attempt turned into a 62-yard touchdown strike to Michael Jenkins. He had his first 300-yards game last week and against a tough Jim Johnson-led Philadelphia defense threw for 277 yards and two scores. Upcoming games against Oakland, New Orleans and Denver make him a viable fantasy league starter.
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago - Although he has just one 100-yard rushing game, the rookie from Tulane has averaged more than 105 yards per game from scrimmage. Add in six touchdowns (four rushing, two receiving) and he has more than covered expectations as a seventh-round fantasy selection (ADP - 70).
Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee - I touted him before the season began and Johnson ADP - 89) has lived up to everything expected of him. His 549 yards, four touchdowns and blazing speed fits perfectly with the Titans offense. He and LenDale White are the best running back tandem in the NFL.
Steve Slaton, RB, Houston - Slaton (ADP - 140) got his chance when Ahman Green got hurt (big surprise) and has taken full advantage of it. Five rushing touchdowns and another receiving along with 601 yards from scrimmage bode well for his future. It doesn't hurt than Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are a lethal passing combination that has defenses backpedaling.
Felix Jones, RB, Dallas - Until he got hurt, Jones (ADP - 93) was the better of the two rookie running backs out of Arkansas. He is averaging 8.9 yards per carry as a change-of-pace from Marion Barber III and also returned one kickoff 98 yards for a score. His best value is in leagues where return yardage counts as he doesn't yet get enough touches from scrimmage.
Tim Hightower, RB, Arizona - The Richmond Spider product has begun to take carries away from Edgerrin James and already gets most the goal line opportunities. Hightower has six rushing touchdowns and also caught 16 balls for 139 yards. He has a bright future in keeper leagues, particularly on this Arizona team with its great passing game. For 2008, however, he is a part-time starter only.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia - Jackson (ADP - 145) has made the most of the opportunity to play which was created due to injuries to both starting wide receivers - Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis. Thirty-two catches for 505 yards and even when Curtis came back on Sunday he was still the team's deep threat. Throw in 22 punt returns for 248 yards and one TD and he is a viable fantasy option.
Eddie Royal, WR, Denver - Royal was likely a free agent pickup (ADP - 159) and was a great early season fantasy player - at least until Brandon Marshall returned from suspension. However, since Marshall's return Royal has just one 100-yard game an no touchdown catches. He also has been struggling with an ankle injury. When healthy he will still get his looks each week as the starter opposite Marshall, so don't give up on him.
Donnie Avery, WR, St. Louis - Now that Marc Bulger is back under center, Avery has emerged as a viable deep threat and legitimate fantasy starter. His last three games are; 4-for-73 yards, 4-for-55 and one TD and 6-for-163 and one TD.
John Carlson, TE, Seattle - With no one else to throw to because of injuries at wide receiver, Carlson has gotten a chance to catch the ball. His numbers are modest (20-214-2), but when Matt Hasselbeck is healthy they should grow correspondingly.
Performing below expectations -
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore - The "other" quarterback drafted in the first round (18th overall), Flacco hasn't played well enough for fantasy owners to pick him up off waivers. Three TD passes in seven games and only cracking the 200-yard mark in two games won't earn you a start in fantasy leagues.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland - McFadden (ADP 44) showed he has the ability in game No.2 against Kansas City when he ran for 164 yards and one score. But he hasn't been able to get healthy (toe) and thus hasn't been a fantasy option since them. Long-term he is going to be good, but right now he can't be started. I hope injuries won't be a continuing problem.
Kevin Smith, RB, Detroit - The starting job in Detroit was Smith's to lose and he managed to do just that. The Lions brought in Rudi Johnson putting Smith (ADP - 69) on the bench. He has had less than 10 carries in four of the last five games and is not a fantasy option until he wins the starting tailback spot.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina - As the 2008 first-round selection of the Carolina Panthers, much was expected from Stewart (ADP - 54). When he couldn't beat out DeAngelo Williams for the starting spot, it limited how good Stewart could be for fantasy owners. He does have five touchdowns, but because you can't predict how much he will be on the field, he can't be reliable from week to week.
Limas Sweed, WR, Pittsburgh - Even with Santonio Holmes suspended, Sweed could only manage three catches for 28 yards. Behind Holmes, Hines Ward and Nate Washington, Sweed (ADP - 148) hasn't had the chance to show the talent he displayed as a Texas Longhorn.
James Hardy, WR, Buffalo - He should be starting opposite Lee Evans and playing well against single coverage, but Hardy couldn't get the job done and sits behind Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish on the depth chart. He has just seven catches for 66 yards and one score.
Fred Davis, TE, Washington - It's hard to get on the field when the man in front of you on the depth chart is Chris Cooley. He was the third tight end drafted (48th overall) behind Dustin Keller (New York Jets) and Carlson, but one catch for six yards makes him a non-entity in fantasy football.