Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): It’s still early enough in the year that we have to qualify our assertions with phrases like “small sample size.” But three games isn’t THAT small a sample size. Obviously there’s still time to get back on track and many of the year’s slow starters will do exactly that. But three weeks of mediocrity is definitely enough for us to start asking questions. Like what’s going on with Le’Veon Bell? You could ask the same of LeSean McCoy, who has averaged under three yards per carry and is still without a touchdown. Amari Cooper and Martavis Bryant have been among the disappointments at wide receiver while Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger (the Steelers are really taking it on the chin in this article) have gotten off to slow starts at the quarterback position.
So I’ll open it up to the group—which players have you been most disappointed by in the early going? And because I have a bad habit of asking two-part questions, which slow-starters have the best chance to turn things around?
Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin): The entire Steelers offense has been a disappointment, but there were signs against the Bears of the attack we all expected to emerge, specifically on the drive that ended in Antonio Brown's touchdown. That was especially true for Martavis Bryant, who had what would have been a long touchdown slip just off his fingertips and several chances in the end zone. I ultimately think the offense will come around and I am happy to buy Le'Veon Bell or Bryant if someone is selling, which may be the case after this week in Baltimore.
I am very interested to see what Cam Newton does this week. He was not able to take advantage of the Saints matchup, but he was without Kelvin Benjamin for basically the entire game. Benjamin will be back this week, and the Patriots have somehow given up even more points to quarterbacks than New Orleans including over 300 yards passing to Alex Smith and Deshaun Watson. I do not trust him enough to start in 10-team leagues, but I will have a couple Cam lineups in DFS.
Evan Silva (@evansilva): Three games is absolutely a small sample size. It is minute. Sixteen games is a small sample size. That's why our opinions on players' "talent" can fluctuate so vastly year to year. A few fortunate ball bounces and a wide receiver goes from six touchdowns to 10. Football is an inherently small-sample sport, even from a full-season view. Beyond takeaways we can glean purely in terms of usage, three games is in almost no way representative of what we should expect rest of season.
Pantuosco: If you’ve listened to any of Evan’s recent podcasts, you probably know what I’m about to say next, though I think it bears repeating because it’s an excellent point. Anyone who’s looked at the Cowboys’ schedule should have seen Dez’s slow start coming a mile away. He faced an absolutely brutal draw over the first three weeks with matchups against Giants corner Janoris Jenkins, Denver’s Aqib Talib and finally Arizona’s Patrick Peterson in the Monday night game. Those three have combined for 11 Pro Bowl appearances and six All-Pro selections. Any receiver in the league would have had a tough time against that trio and though Dez draws an above-average Trumaine Johnson in Week 4 and still has two meetings with Josh Norman later in the year, it should be mostly smooth sailing from here on out. All things considered, I think it’s a testament to Bryant’s talent and chemistry with Dak Prescott that he already has two touchdowns despite an impossible early schedule.
LeSean McCoy has also endured a slow start and similar to Dez, I think his schedule is partially to blame. He took care of business against the lowly Jets in Week 1 (159 yards from scrimmage) but ran into a buzz-saw against the Panthers and Broncos in Weeks 2 and 3 (30 yards on 26 carries). Carolina is always nails against the run (they were the sixth-stingiest run defense last year) while Denver has made marked improvements in that area, evidenced by the way they’ve shut down Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott and Shady in the early going. I’m not convinced McCoy is entirely healthy, but his usage is still encouraging (22 touches per game) and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he had a big game Sunday in Atlanta.
Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): I'm still into the Steelers beyond this week. They seem to always play down to their opponent on the road (like they did last week in Chicago) and Ben has been dreadful in Baltimore for his career, so let's look past this weekend. After this week, they will have played three of four games on the road with their only home game coming against a good defense in Minnesota, who they hung 26 points on. After that, they only play one more road game with an early kickoff the rest of the year (it’s against the Colts), which for some reason has always been a bugaboo for Roethlisberger. The Steelers still have all of their offensive pieces in place and a good O line returning every starter from last year. They've just been under-performing. I believe they'll get on track and I would buy discounted shares of Ben and Martavis Bryant since we know there's not going to be a discount on Bell and Brown.
I'm going to go the other route here and talk about some disappointments who I don’t see turning it around. One is Isaiah Crowell. He's logged 39 carries for 114 yards this year and has yet to finish as a fantasy RB2 in any of his three games. The Browns have trailed more often than any team in the league after leading the NFL in that category last season and there's no sign they’ll turn it around any time soon.
I'm not as down on Terrelle Pryor as I am Crowell, but I think fantasy owners will have a good sell window coming up if he can put in a good game before the Week 5 bye. He should be a big part of the Redskins’ game plan on Monday night running 75 percent of his routes away from Marcus Peters, and the next month or so is light with matchups versus the 49ers, Eagles and Cowboys out of the bye. But after that, it’s an absolute nightmare. From Week 9 on, Washington plays in Seattle with matchups to follow against Xavier Rhodes, Janoris Jenkins, Casey Hayward, Patrick Peterson and the Broncos for the fantasy playoffs. With a brutal second-half slate, it’s hard to envision Pryor finishing the year as a fantasy WR2.
Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): Crowell is an excellent call from Reebs. He's basically been as bad as possible. A Browns line that was supposed to be much improved in the run blocking department has also been more or less the same. It’s definitely concerning that Amari Cooper's season-ending slump has carried over into 2017, but we’re not at crisis level yet. Like Jack Del Rio said earlier this week, I think he's got it in him.
Marshawn Lynch has been a major disappointment. He was electric in the opener, but since then has looked like a 30-plus back who took 2016 off, which is exactly what he is. In an effort to keep him fresh, he's also ceding a ton of work to his backups. The schedule doesn't open up for him any time soon, either.
Terrelle Pryor, seriously bro? Nineteen yards in a game where your quarterback puts up 365? Kirk Cousins has always spread the ball around and he's not going to hold Pryor's hand to get him out of this slump. Aside from the drops, I haven't really seen anything that concerning from Pryor, but man. It's time to get going.