The Fantasy Fool | Rivers, Johnson not back in good graces yet

Ever since I mastered the art of flicking a paper football across a table until it dangled off the edge, then drilling it through a two-fingered goal post, I’ve loved fantasy football. Of course, we young lads didn’t call it fantasy back in the day; but I’m sure the grade-school time-killer has its place in the evolution of the game.

But my love of all things fantasy is being tested this year. Mostly by Philip Rivers, who I drafted as a “can’t miss” anchor of two teams, but has played more like a “miss-take” waiting to happen. Even on Sunday, amidst a long-overdue stellar performance, Rivers threw three costly interceptions, including two pick-sixes. Something is clearly rotten in San Diego.

Rivers’ disappointing season, which landed him on my bench weeks ago, is just one of several implosions that have rocked countless unsuspecting fantasy owners. Naturally, Chris Johnson’s inexplicable demise ranks at the top of the list. And no, 110 yards of combined production against the Bengals hasn’t changed a thing.

I suppose $21 million of guaranteed money (roughly half the value of the five-year deal he signed this offseason) goes a long way towards soothing DeAngelo Williams’ concerns over his reduced role in Carolina. But it doesn’t make us feel any better.

We should have known Peyton Hillis would be a one-hit wonder after he became the Madden cover boy. But when will we stop believing that Shonn Greene is workhorse material? Or that Jahvid Best, Beanie Wells and Felix Jones can possibly stay healthy?

We’ll give the Colts receivers a pass this time, since their downfall was not of their own making. So what’s Chad Ochocinco’s excuse?

Halfway through the 2011 season, these and other fantasy underachievers are vying for our dreaded Bust of the Year “honors.” They’d better step up soon, or risk earning a label they may never shake.

Free agent picks and pans

To win a fantasy championship, it helps to start with a great draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents is also important. Here's a look at players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else's lineup. Catch ‘em while you can

Roy Helu, RB, Redskins. Counting on any Redskin back from week to week is foolhardy indeed. But Mike Shanahan has signaled all along that Helu would eventually get his shot at the featured role. While the rookie’s 41 rushing yards were nothing special, those who play in point-per-reception leagues are salivating over his 14-catch, 105-receiving yard effort against the 49ers. While you can’t count on that again, Helu is clearly more roster-worthy than Ryan Torain.

Laurent Robinson, WR, Cowboys. Robinson has been surprisingly effective since Dallas plucked him off the scrap heap earlier this season, in spite of the heavy competition at his position. Now that Miles Austin has aggravated his hamstring again, Robinson could be starting one or more games during a very favorable stretch.

Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders. I still wouldn’t entrust my fantasy team to the mistake-prone Carson Palmer, but I’ve been a fan of Ford’s since last season. His re-emergence as Oakland’s lead receiver, coinciding with Darrius Heyward-Bey’s goose egg, makes Ford a high-upside pickup in leagues where he has been dropped. His role as an electrifying return man gives him bonus potential as well.

Don’t be fooled

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals. Give the rookie his due. Dalton has fired a touchdown pass in all but one game this season, including multi-score efforts in half of them. Sunday’s 217-yard, three-touchdown, zero-turnover performance was his best to date. I’d recommend him if not for his brutal second-half schedule, which includes two dates each with the Steelers and Ravens.

Chris Ogbonnaya, RB, Browns. Hopefully you didn’t invest in Hillis’ backup’s backup. When you dig this low on the depth chart of a mediocre rushing team, you get what you pay for. Even in a favorable matchup with the Rams next week, stay away. Stay far away.