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This week, fantasy football Steve McDaniel discusses when, as a fantasy owner, you need to bail on your high round busts, and when you should stay patient.

It’s a question every owner faces if he or she plays fantasy football long enough. Where is the point where you have to let a would be stud grab some bench?

It’s an issue that came to mind this week during my weekly discussion with fellow “expert” Stan Feldman as we were compiling our list of players for Fantasy Watch, where we focus on the rising or falling prospects of three players.

This week’s list included top draftees who have had less than spectacular starts: Chicago’s Matt Forte, New York Giants’ Brandon Jacobs and Arizona’s Anquan Boldin.

All three have been mediocre to bad at times this season, and all were picked in the top five or six at their positions. But this is not to single out those three; they have plenty of company on the bust heap this season.

Boldin’s woes go directly back to those of his quarterback, Kurt Warner, who was at worst the fifth quarterback taken in most drafts. He’s stuck right in the middle of the QB pack right now, alongside such fantasy luminaries as David Garrard and Matt Cassel.

Warner’s counterpart in Dallas, Tony Romo, has been no better. He lasted about as long as Warner in mostdrafts, but his play so far this season has been disappointing, to say the least.

Forte is possibly the most glaring flameout among running backs, but he’s hardly alone. Jacobs, Steven Jackson, Steve Slaton, Frank Gore, Brian Westbrook, and Marion Barber were all among the top 15 drafted, yet only Slaton and Gore are in that same group after six weeks.

Now, as the season midpoint looms, owners of these underachieving laggards are sinking under the weight of their top players’ struggles.

The root of the problem is that none of these players are finding the end zone enough to warrant their draft position. Forte and Jacobs, for example, have just one TD each, and have scored fewer points than Fred Taylor, who hasn’t played for the past three weeks since suffering an ankle injury.

But the random nature of the NFL dictates that touchdowns cannot be reliably predicted. Think for a moment about the complexity of a single play where 22 players scramble around a 100 x 50 yard field for 10 to 15 seconds; the possible outcomes from that one play are almost infinite. So many things have to go right for a player to score that we should probably be shocked when it actually happens.

At least right now, you can’t bench a healthy Forte, Warner or Barber. And you can’t trade them because no other owner is going to give you what they’re worth in exchange. Just imagine your horror if you were to deal Barber for Knowshon Moreno, and Barber reeled off six or eight TDs over the next four games.

That’s the rub, you see. These top players were drafted where they were for a good reason; each has the potential to carry a team to the playoffs. We just never know when that potential will be realized.

Welcome to the wild, wild world of fantasy football.

Fantasy “expert” Steve McDaniel once traded his dud of a second round pick, running back Travis Henry of the Bills, in 2004 for Colts wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who went on to score seven of his career high 10 TDs in the final two months of the season. Never underestimate the power of delusional Buffalo fans.

This week, Steve and fellow fantasy football Stan Feldman discuss three high round picks who haven lived up to expectations.

Matt Forte, running back, Chicago Bears

The issue: Forte was easily among the top five running backs heading into 2009. After six weeks, he’s closer to the bottom five. The dreaded sophomore slump seems to have him firmly in its grasp, but can you expect any return from your first round investment the rest of the way?

Stan: With Forte, the most glaring issue so far has been the touchdowns. Other than that, his numbers really aren’t that far off his pace from last year. Yards per carry are down about half a yard per game, and he’s not getting quite as many carries per game, but receptions are comparable, as are yards per catch. If he has four or five more touchdowns so far, I don’t think owners would be panicking.

Steve: Yes, a few more TDs would ease the pain considerably, and TDs are what you expect from your No. 1 pick. The forthcoming schedule (at Cincinnati, Cleveland at home) might help him snap out of the scoring slump, but the Bears don’t have too many gimmes the rest of the season. Plus, he’s had just one double digit scoring game fantasy wise, which has killed his owners.

Stan: You have to figure it will turn around soon enough. He’s too talented not to produce with theSteve: He’s one of the few RBs in the league who has virtually no worries about losing touches, one of the reasons why his preseason rank was so high. And as new quarterback Jay Cutler gets more comfortable running the offense, you have to believe that Forte will see less seven and eight man fronts as well.

The issue: Jacobs was supposed to be the go to goal line guy on a potent Giants offense. He’s been outperformed by Ahmad Bradshaw (mainly on the strength of one breakout game). Does that trend continue, or can Jacobs regain the workhorse status he had last season?

Stan: Jacobs, unlike Forte, relies almost entirely touchdowns. So the lack of scoring is troubling. But again, I consider touchdowns to be such a fickle stat anyway. If he pounds in three touchdowns next week, all of a sudden he’s back. Plus, he’s easily on pace to eclipse his previous career highs in carries, which gives him a good chance for a career high in rushing yards despite a significantly lower yards per carry.

Steve: A goal line back like Jacobs does live and die by TDs. He’s still getting plenty of touches (except last week in the Saints track meet), and even though he’s yet to break 100 yards rushing, he’s hit 90 twice. But he’ll have to score more TDs going forward to make him a legitimate every week starter. And he’s got a lot of work to do to match last season’s 15 TD total. The rise of the passing game figures to cut into his production as well, especially if Steve Smith continues to emerge as a top wide receiver.
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