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The fantasy season is a marathon, not a sprint, so first-half performances aren’t necessarily everything when it comes to championship glory. Still, the midway point is a good time to highlight the most noteworthy players and teams through eight weeks with these completely arbitrary awards:
First-half fantasy MVP: RB David Johnson, Cardinals
A sure-fire first-round pick despite not having been a lead back in his rookie season, Johnson has safely lived up to the hype and then some in his sophomore campaign. He’s simply never had a bad outing, scoring at least one touchdown in four of eight games, and totaling no fewer than 108 yards in any of those games where he failed to find the end zone.
In a PPR league? Johnson has recorded a 35-407-0 receiving line. In a standard-scoring format? Nobody has more than his 1,112 combined rushing and receiving yards, and only two players have more than Johnson’s eight TDs. His sheer consistency earns him first-half MVP honors.
“Touchdowns are king”: RB Melvin Gordon, Chargers
Gordon famously couldn’t find the end zone as a rookie, failing to score once in 14 games while averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. Despite his YPC improving slightly to 3.6, it’s still the third-worst mark of any runner with at least 100 carries (thank you, Matt Forte and Todd Gurley!)
Despite his per-carry struggles, he has been a viable every-week fantasy starter, finding the end zone eight times as a runner and twice as a receiver. Volume helps as well; Gordon has received an astonishing 78.5 percent of San Diego’s rush attempts.
“Hands are overrated”: WR Sammie Coates, Steelers
Drops are an unofficial stat, but Coates nevertheless has four to his credit on just 20 catches overall. Despite those shaky mitts, the second-year receiver has emerged as a lethal deep threat and an able replacement for the suspended Martavis Bryant.
Coates is averaging 21.3 yards per catch and hauled in at least one reception of 41 yards or longer in each of the first five weeks. Alas, a fractured thumb and a QB downgrade from Ben Roethlisberger to Landry Jones conspired to see Coates catch one pass for a mere four yards over a two-game stretch that saw him play just 17 passing snaps.
Hopefully Coates can heal up in time for Week 9 and resume hauling in bombs from Roethlisberger in the season’s second half.
Mr. Adaptable: Gary Barnidge, TE, Browns
A noted film buff who invited fans to a Christmas Eve showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Barnidge must feel like a character in Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow. Instead of being forced to relive the same day over and over, however, the plot device of the Browns’ first half has conjured up a new quarterback injury nearly every week.
Barnidge has caught passes from five of the six players who have taken a snap under center this season, a group that includes two rookies (Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan), two journeymen (Josh McCown and Charlie Whitehurst) and a QB-turned-WR-turned-QB-again (Terrelle Pryor).
Only a goose egg with Week 1 starter Robert Griffin III at the helm prevented Barnidge from being a perfect six-for-six. He’s still sixth among all tight ends with 403 receiving yards, and if he sees some positive second-half touchdown regression (he’s failed to score in eight games), he has a shot at again finishing near the top of the fantasy leaderboard at his position.
Player you will start/bench at the wrong time: TE Martellus Bennett, Patriots
Bennett has had an extremely productive, yet inconsistent, fantasy campaign. He leads the Patriots’ pass-catchers with four scores, and only fellow TE Rob Gronkowski has more receiving yards.
After a quiet Week 1 (just three catches for 14 yards), he likely took a seat on many fantasy owners’ benches for Week 2. Bad move. Bennett responded with six catches for 114 yards and a TD.
After a two-catch, 10-yard effort in Week 3 with rookie QB Jacoby Brissett at the helm, Bennett would surely be unproductive again in Week 4, right? Despite New England losing 16-0 to the Bills, Bennett gained 109 yards on five receptions, totaling more than half of the team’s receiving yards.
After a three-TD explosion against the Browns with Tom Brady back, Bennett has recorded just 10 catches for 88 yards over three subsequent touchdown-less games.
Bennett is destined to finish the year as a top-10 fantasy tight end, but it seems a fool’s errand to accurately predict his week-to-week production.
Highest-profile disappearing act: WR Tyler Lockett, Seahawks
Entering his second year, Lockett received no shortage of preseason hype after posting a 51-664-6 receiving line as a rookie, as well as returning a kick and a punt for touchdowns.
While he has been hindered by nagging injuries, Lockett’s production has fallen off a cliff. He has failed to score a touchdown of any kind, and is on pace for just 39 catches and 450 yards. Given that his QB, Russell Wilson, has thrown just five touchdown passes in seven games and has his own injury limitations, a second-half rebound doesn’t seem particularly likely for Lockett.
Most disappointing fantasy team: Jacksonville Jaguars
The 2-5 Jaguars have also underwhelmed in real-life, but fantasy-wise, it’s hard to imagine a more highly-regarded group of players who have collectively failed to live up to the hype.
QB Blake Bortles has thrown nine interceptions to 12 touchdowns, and his expected top target, WR Allen Robinson (32-366-3), hasn’t had more than 72 yards in a single game. Running backs T.J. Yeldon (3.5 yards per carry) and Chris Ivory (3.2) haven’t offered much, and neither has TE Julius Thomas (19-224-3). Only WR Allen Hurns, who leads the team with 443 yards, can lay claim to having met expectations.
Jacksonville’s most welcome development? The emergence of oft-injured WR Marqise Lee, who has been a deeper PPR option thanks to 358 yards and 30 catches. Still, that’s of little solace to anyone who expected Bortles, Robinson or others to be high-end fantasy starters this season.
Biggest “love/hate” player: RB Doug Martin, Buccaneers
After an extremely productive rookie season in 2012, Martin burned fantasy owners with two consecutive injury-riddled campaigns before an unexpected return to form in 2015 (1,673 total yards and seven TDs while playing in all 16 games for just the second time in his career).
Martin has reverted back to his old ways, to the detriment of those who drafted him in the second round. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry through the only two games that he was healthy for, and remains on the shelf with a hamstring injury that he’s been slow to shake.
Unless Martin can get healthy and produce a monster second half, he’ll enter 2017 as a much less sought-after fantasy asset.