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Will first-round picks round into form?

There's a cliché thrown around in fantasy circles that you can't win your league in the first round of the draft, but you can lose it.

I don't fully subscribe to the notion, but a lot of fantasy players that do are surely squirming in their seats through three weeks of the NFL season.

Most who spent a first-round pick on an elite quarterback are concerned, as are many that missed out on Arian Foster and Ray Rice but still drafted a running back in the opening round.

Is it time to push the panic button? Here's a look at the future prospects for the top picks that aren't playing like top picks so far and how to best handle their early-season struggles.


QB QUANDARY: Entering the season, there was an almost universal top five for fantasy quarterbacks.

Through Week 3, only one is putting up top-five numbers.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford have put up downright poor fantasy numbers so far. Tom Brady of the Patriots and Cam Newton of the Panthers have been solid but not spectacular.

First, let's examine Rodgers and Brady, universal first-round draft picks with a long track record of success. Both have looked more uncomfortable in the pocket than in recent seasons, both dealing with changes upfront while facing some very good defenses.

Their respective lines will work out their kinks, and the schedule gets more fantasy friendly starting this week, when Rodgers faces the Saints and Brady faces the Bills. They're simply too good to continue struggling.

It's a little different situation for Stafford and Newton, budding stars still establishing themselves. It's hard to peg Stafford's struggles, especially seeing Shaun Hill come in last week when Stafford suffered a hamstring injury and throwing nearly as many touchdown passes in less than a quarter (two) than Stafford had thrown in nearly 12 quarters (three).

Newton has been more successful thanks to a pair of rushing touchdowns to go with two passing touchdowns. While the passing touchdowns surely will increase, can he be expected to continue to average nearly a rushing score a game?

As younger quarterbacks, expect Stafford and Newton to improve their fantasy numbers going forward but to be more up and down than Rodgers and Brady.

The one top-five fantasy quarterback performing like it is Drew Brees, but his Saints are 0-3 and his fantasy success is in some ways a result of their defensive struggles.


RUNNING INTO TROUBLE: Just about everyone agreed that the running back situation was muddled after the top three. That's proven to be accurate, and even one member of the top three is off to a slow start.

While Foster and Rice have met their lofty expectations, LeSean McCoy of the Eagles has been quiet, with just one touchdown to date. McCoy, however, is averaging nearly 90 rushing yards per game, so it's only a matter of time before he finds the end zone – just not 20 times like he did last year.

The same can't be said for one of the leaders of the next tier going into draft day – Chris Johnson. Remarkably, he's barely averaged more than a yard a carry, with 45 yards on 33 attempts.

Johnson produced some great numbers in a trio of games late last season to make his overall numbers look respectable and make him a first-round pick again this year. He'll likely have a couple of games like that again this year, but with his offensive line stumbling right along with him, don't set your hopes too high.

Darren McFadden of the Raiders and Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs missed this list because of breakout performances in Week 3 but look like they'll be hit-and-miss on struggling teams. The jury is still out on Matt Forte of the Bears, who is still out with an ankle injury and will have to deal with the presence of bruiser Michael Bush once healthy.

WHAT TO DO: Most of the time, the best approach with top fantasy picks that get off to slow starts is to be patient. Often, you don't have any choice.

That's especially the case with elite quarterbacks. It can be hard to get enough for them in a trade, especially with some quarterbacks that aren't even rostered like Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick outperforming them.

It can be a little different at running back, where demand always outweighs supply. Especially in the case of Johnson, I'd look at moving him if you can find an owner that believes he'll break out any minute, but don't give him away.

In most cases, the best approach is to stay the course and remember that these players were first-round picks for a reason.

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