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Editor's note: This article was written by guest writer Chase Kiddy.
Eddie Lacy: We’re four weeks in and Lacy owners are approaching full-on panic mode. Lacy, who was likely drafted in the first round in most leagues, has barely scored 20 total points on the season. However, when you factor in that the Packers have faced the Front 7s of the Seahawks, Jets, and Lions over the first three weeks, you start to understand why Lacy has struggled to emerge as a dominant fantasy back thus far this season. Add in a concussion from two weeks ago and an average offensive line in Green Bay, and we’ve got a full set of tea leaves to pick apart.
We’re seeing Lacy’s floor right now, and it’s not very pretty. But that’s what makes him such a perfect buy-low candidate: short of a third concussion, he couldn’t possibly be playing worse than he and his teammates are right now.
On the other hand, Lacy’s ceiling is that of a top-tier running back. Target him in a trade and hope for the best. Even if he continues to underperform, you’re probably not paying too much for him right now, and he’s got nowhere to go but up. Maybe way up.
DeAndre Hopkins: The knock on the second-year Clemson product who plays opposite of Andre Johnson in Houston was that he is too touchdown-dependent. That reputation has kept his value low despite a touchdown in each of the Texans’ first two games. But now it’s time to re-evaluate Hopkins, who scored in double digits for the second time this season simply by grabbing six balls for 116 yards in a loss to the Giants on Sunday.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is throwing the ball, on average, 25 times a game. It’s not a ton, but it’s more than you might expect from a run-first team like Houston. If he continues to target Hopkins, the public is eventually going to inflate his value to an appropriate market level. For now, though, it’s still possible to steal him in a trade. (Or, perhaps, just pick him up. Despite being the No. 11 receiver in fantasy, he’s actually available in 22% of leagues!)
Colin Kaepernick: Remember last year, when the 49ers passed the least out of all 32 teams, and could always be trusted to run the ball with brutal effectiveness and play great defense? Those were the days. Now, though, the 49ers are arguably the worst defensive team in the NFC West, although they shut down the high-powered offense of Philadelphia and clawed their way back to 2-2. The 49ers simply don’t have the tools this year to be a run-first kind of team, ranking 17th as a team in both rushing yards per game (112) and scoring defense (22.7). On the other hand, with Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, and Stevie Johnson all lining up and running routes, they’ve got plenty of weapons available through the air. San Fran has looked their best this year when they’ve thrown the ball, and that means plenty of fantasy value for Kaepernick. He’ll finish the year as a top 10 quarterback, so you should grab him now, while his profile is down low.
Andrew Hawkins: Hawkins is an interesting prospect to target in trades, mainly because of his visibility. He’s yet to score a touchdown after three weeks, and you’d have to be pretty desperate for receivers to initiate a trade with the primary objective of requiring Hawkins. Still, Hawkins, who’s hauled in 21 catches from Brian Hoyer through three games, is an intriguing flex play opportunity. He hasn’t failed to score 7 points or more in a game yet, so if you’re just looking for a bust-resistant guy that could nab an extra 7-10 points, Hawkins could be your guy. His value could drop slightly with Jordan Cameron back on the field, but he could be a nice tack-on to a trade offer you’re already considering, but would like to get a little something extra out of. He’s a respectable off-week replacement, particularly in PPR leagues, and will be available for the remainder of the season after Cleveland’s Week 4 bye.
DeMarco Murray: Trade the NFL’s leading rusher? Well, yeah. Beat writer Eddie Middlebrook from WFAA sports commented last week that Murray “looks great right now,” adding that “his stock is as high as it’s ever been,” which certainly qualifies him as a sell-high candidate. And make no mistake about it — Murray does look like a dominant fantasy runner right now, particularly after rushing for 100 yards and a score in Week 3 in St. Louis and a monster 149-yard game this past week against New Orleans.
However, there’s plenty to be concerned about when it comes to Murray. He’s a moderate injury concern, missing 11 games over his first three years in the League, including six in 2012. And when you mix those health concerns with his upcoming schedule — the Cowboys will face the D-lines of Houston, Seattle, Washington, and Arizona, all in the next six weeks — Murray’s long-term value over 2014 is not without red flags.
After last weekend’s 34-31 win over the Rams, it’s true that the Cowboys are now 13-1 over Murray’s career when he gets at least 20 touches. But as Tony Romo’s back continues to heal, doesn’t that just feel like the kind of thing that Dallas ownership and coaches are bound to lose sight of?
Rashad Jennings: When you think of top five fantasy running backs, do you think of Rashad Jennings? Probably not, but somehow, the Giants’ newest offensive weapon is sitting just ahead of former New York resident Ahmad Bradshaw as the No. 5 running back in fantasy football. Which is, well, kind of weird. With the G-Men’s new emphasis on the short passing game, Jennings has more value as a PPR guy who might catch the ball out in the flat 6-8 times a game than as a bonafide between-the-tackles runner. Jennings should finish among the top 15 RBs, and has plenty of value for the remainder of the season. But you’d be wise to ship him now, when his value is likely peaking, before he settles in as 10-20 guy.
Nick Foles: Mark this one down as the Rashad Jennings Corollary, if you like. Fresh off a super-sexy shootout with the Skins, Foles eclipsed 25+ points in standard scoring for the first time this season and became the fifth-highest scoring signal caller in standard scoring. But Foles, who was forced to throw a little more than normal because LeSean McCoy missed part of the game with a head injury, looked pretty beat up in the win. He regressed further against the 49ers in Week 4 and took several shots in that game as well. Foles seems like he might be a couple hits away from his own personal morphine drip, which would place backup QB Mark Sanchez at the helm of Chip Kelly’s fantasy-friendly offense. But even if he stays healthy, it’s probably not wise to bet on Foles, now in his first full year as a starting quarterback, to keep outpacing guys like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Phillip Rivers in fantasy points. Kelly’s system lines Foles up as a solid QB1, but not necessarily a top-5 guy.
Owen Daniels: This one is easy. Daniels was already trending upward after his two-touchdown Week 2 matchup with the Steelers and is now a trendy pick at tight end with Dennis Pitta on the IR due to a season-ending hip injury. But even though Daniels shares an important Houston connection with offensive coordinator and play-caller Gary Kubiak, it’s unlikely that Daniels rises above all the other mouths to feed in Baltimore. With a three-headed RBBC approach on the horizon and Steve Smith Sr. & Torrey Smith as the two most important targets for Joe Flacco, Daniels’ perceived value before Week 4 is much higher than what is actual value likely settles out to, even without Pitta.
Editor's note: This article was written by guest writer Casey Bass and is the second of a two-part series. Part II covers wide receivers and tight ends.
Cecil Shorts/Jacksonville Jaguars
Current .5 PPR Rank: N/A. Only played 1 game (5 rec. 35 yds TD)
Current 16 game pace: N/A. Only played 1 game (5 rec. 35 yds TD)
This is for you deep-league folks. Cecil Shorts has played only 1 game thus far and therefore he’s listed as the WR76 in .5 PPR leagues. He scored 12 points in his 1 game however, which would place him at WR23 on a per game basis. Shorts is injury prone, but hopefully he’s got his one injury for the season out of the way.
He’s been able to put up back-to-back productive seasons (2012 – 979 yds 7 TD, 2013 – 777 yds. 3 TD) despite playing with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne at QB. The Blake Bortles era has begun and even if he was forced to play out the season blindfolded, he’d still have 100 times more ability than his predecessors. Bortles will go through his growing pains and the Jaguars will still be a very bad football team but there will be flashes of brilliance in the passing game that were not possible with Gabbart and Henne.
In his first half of football in the NFL in Week 3, Bortles did not look shy to take shots down field and the Jaguars will look to get a ton of experience under his belt. He had 2 garbage time TDs and the coaching staff looks like they will let him throw the football all the way down to the last second like he did this week in a 44-17 drubbing at the hands of the Colts. That is where Shorts caught his TD with less than 1 minute remaining.
I expect more blowouts, more prevent defenses, and more cheap touchdowns with Shorts leading the way in the Jacksonville receiving core. Buy (or pick up in shallow leagues) Shorts at WR5 or flex value and you’ll gain a player who should settle in as a WR3 with the upside of a WR2.
Mohamed Sanu/ Cinncinatti Bengals
Current .5 PPR Rank: WR 18
Current 16 game pace: 896 receiving/rushing yds. 64 rec. 5 TD / 363 yds. 5 TD passing.
Mohamed Sanu has been so much more fun as a quarterback to own through 3 weeks than Tom Brady. Wait….what?
Well, in two separate weeks you were able to get bonus points from Sanu’s passing stats (a 50 yard pass and an 18 yard TD pass)!!! I’m going to go ahead and say that he will not reach his pace of 363 yards passing and 5 TD passes. His receiving totals are about what was expected after Marvin Jones went down with a long term injury in the preseason and they are solid totals. However, if we subtract his passing statistics, Sanu plummets down to WR32.
If you delve deeper, you’ll see that 46% of his receiving points came on 1 play (a 76 yard TD), in a game where A.J. Green was not on the field. Sanu is not going to put up many big plays like this and the targets are not there (5.66/g) for him to have value via volume. The Bengals are locked and loaded as a dominant all around team and are the type of team we try to avoid when it comes to fantasy WRs (besides AJ Green, he’s amazing).
They’ve got a great running game and an even better defense and will look to pound the ball and run clock in many 2nd halves of games (Think, a poor man’s Seahawks). If you can sell Sanu at WR18 then DO IT. If you can sell Sanu as WR25 then DO IT. Even if you can sell him at WR35 I’d say DO IT as he has nothing more than a WR4 value from here on out.
Current .5 PPR Rank: WR56
Current 16 game pace: 720 Total yds. 37 rec. 5 Total TD.
In week 1, Marques Colston had a huge game (110 yds) in a shootout against Atlanta, but ended the game on a sour note, as his overtime fumble gave the game away to the Falcons.
Since then, he’s had a case of yips with 2 drops on wide open passes down field. He failed to catch a pass in week 2 and in week 3 he was held to just 2 catches for 25 yards. His TD came late in the 4th quarter on an 18 yard pass which really should not have happened had Minnesota not been flagged for roughing the passer on 3rd down earlier in the possession.
I’m not sure if the coaching staff has lost faith in him, as the Browns and Vikings should not have been tough matchups, but what I do know is this.
1. The Saints are committed to running the football. Khiry Robinson has picked up where the injured Mark Ingram left off and the Saints are pounding away more than they have in the past.
2. The Saints are throwing a ton of short passes and not taking shots down field. It’s shocking to see how conservative the Saints have been, and the days of bombs to Devery Henderson/Robert Meachem are in the past. Colston benefitted from the threat those players posed and was able to find a hole in the zone or beat his man 1 on 1 in short to intermediate routes. Until that deep threat is established, the middle of the field will be a crowded place with Graham, and Cooks also specializing in short to intermediate routes.
3. Brandin Cooks is the second most effective non-RB pass catcher on the Saints (after Jimmy Graham). This man is lightning quick, has great hands and can run all types of routes on any part of the field. Colston had easily been the Saints 2nd best non-RB pass catcher (above Lance Moore and Kenny Stills) prior to this year but it looks as if he’s dropped on the totem pole. I do expect more than WR56 value but if you think you’re getting sneaky WR3 value in deep leagues then you’ll be disappointed. Do not buy. Let someone continue to roster him, start him, and hate him.
DeAndre Hopkins/Houston Texans
Current .5 PPR Rank: WR12
Current 16 game pace: 1211 Total yds. 69 rec. 11 Total TD
Hopkins was among the most highly touted WR prospects in last year’s draft class (along with Tavon Austin). Despite an ugly quarterback situation (Schaub/Keenum/Yates) and a tired offensive scheme, he finished with 55 catches and 802 yds, a fine season for a rookie WR. Hopkins has the speed, size and route running ability to be an elite WR in this league.
This year the QB situation is slightly improved with Ryan Fitzpatrick but the new offensive scheme of Bill O’Brien is maximizing Hopkins' talent. This year Hopkins is emerging as the Texans primary down field threat, averaging 17.5 yards per catch. He has 2 TDs which is great, but his 13 receptions and 19 targets are nothing to write home about. However, there was one play this week that will not be found in the box score that could increase his role going forward.
In the second quarter, Hopkins ran a go route down the middle of the field and Fitzpatrick gave him a shot to make a play, and boy did he MAKE A PLAY. He jumped, did a 180 in the air, reached out with his fully extended left hand and hauled in what has to be the catch of the year thus far, for 53 yards.
The play was called back due to an illegal motion penalty, but that didn’t stop Bill O’Brien from talking about the play.
When asked about the play, O’Brien admitted that he was impressed but not surprised because he makes those plays in practice all the time, but even more importantly, when talking further about his young WR, he said "we need to do a better job of getting [DeAndre Hopkins] the ball." If he’s telling the truth then we can be seeing a change of the guard in Houston with Andre Johnson settling in as the number two option or maybe they can be options 1A and 1B. Either way, hold, don’t sell, start him and enjoy.
Jason Witten/Dallas Cowboys
Current .5 PPR Rank: TE27
Current 16 game pace: 507 Total yds. 53 rec 0 TD
Owners of struggling teams that have Jason Witten have either gone grey, are starting to go bald, or have torn their hair out entirely. Almost all Witten owners have had him in the lineup every week and this week started saying to themselves, “Ok, Dallas will open it up. Their defense is horrible. They have to open it up right? 21-0 AND YOU’RE RUNNING?!?!?! AHHHHHH”.
Bottom line is, Witten still looks the same. He and Tony Romo have great chemistry and he did make a few key catches for first downs in this game. It’s evident that the offense will not be going back to the way it was, but the Dallas defense is still bad, and they will face better competition than they did in weeks 2 and 3 (Titans and Rams). I do still see the Cowboys as a run-first team until the wheels fall off of DeMarco Murray, but the offense will have to open up a little bit and Witten will provide TE1 value…..right? It has to happen?
Current .5 PPR Rank: TE2
Current 16 game pace: 859 Total yds. 107 rec. 21 TD
Brandon Marshall has been badly hurt for 2+ games and Alshon Jeffery was hurt for about a game and a half. I love the Bears offense and I think Bennett does have value as a matchup play TE1 but if anyone in your league is really buying him at this value or even 50% of this value then the time to sell is now. Sell them on the ranking, sell them on the targets (26 in 3 games), sell them on the TDs which he’s had in every game. And then smile to yourself after you pull off the rip-off of the year.
Current .5 PPR Rank: TE6
Current 16 game pace: 987 Total yds. 75 rec. 16 TD
I own Antonio Gates so I’m hoping what I’m about to say is all a big fat lie. Antonio Gates is such a smart football player and can still make plenty of plays but he’s just not the tight end you’re going to want in your lineup every week, especially late in the season. Gates is still more than capable of the huge game no matter what the matchup may be.
Two weeks ago against Seattle he put on an absolute clinic scoring 3 beautiful TDs and looked like the Antonio Gates of 2005-2010. Nostalgic fantasy football players will hear the name, see the highlights and proclaim “He’s back!”….but I have bad news……his resurrection into the top TE ranks is only temporary. There are two reasons why this is the case. The first is that the Chargers have experienced two major blows to their RB position (Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead).
The dynamic duo that they lost to injury was the backbone of the offense. They drew line backers and safeties forward allowing Gates to get easy 1 on 1 matchups (and sometimes 1 on 0) allowing him to break free in the passing game. The Chargers first game without these two was an absolute disaster for Gates (1 target, 1 catch, 8 yds), as Donald Brown (31 carries, 62 yds, 5 rec 27 yds) proved that he will not in any way seamlessly fill in for the two injured RBs that he has replaced. In addition, we’ve seen this from Gates as early as last season. He started 2013 with two 100+ yard performances and 2 TD in his first 4 games. In the next 12 games he topped out at 74 yards and scored two total TDs.
Once again, in 2014, Gates has come out of the gate strong but expect him to get nicked up (already has had reported hamstring woes) wear down, and lose touches and targets to a young talented man who is ready to fill his shoes, Ladarius Green. Gates can turn it on sometimes and is a fine streaming TE to play matchups with. His next few weeks are especially favorable (JAX, NYJ, @OAK) but the fun ends there as the schedule becomes difficult for the rest of the season. So if you have him then start him the next 3 weeks, but if you do not have him then do not even think about buying him at TE6 value. All of that being said….I hope I’m completely wrong about this. Let’s go Antonio Gates.
Greg Olsen/Carolina Panthers
Current .5 PPR Rank: TE4
Current 16 game pace: 1195 yds. 101 rec. 11 TDs
This is one career year in the making that I’m buying. Cam Newton’s broken ribs have eliminated his ability to run the ball. In addition, the Panthers had a rough week on the injury front at RB with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert both suffering what look to be multi-week injuries.
They are now down to DeAngelo Williams (coming off an injury) and 4th string RB, Darrin Reaves, an undrafted free agent out of UAB. I think we’ve seen enough of DeAngelo the last few years to know that he won’t be all that effective and unless Darrin Reaves has some George Reeves (Superman, for those who don’t know) in him, then the Panthers running game as we know it will be extinct.
Greg Olsen, who was already being heavily targeted will be the major beneficiary as they will use his big body and route ability as an extension of the run game. He’ll be asked to make the small plays and the big plays and he can do both as evidenced by his 37 yard catch and run for a TD this past Sunday night. I do expect 100 catches. I do expect 1000 yards. I do expect 10+ TD. And, I do expect Greg Olsen to push Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas for the #1 TE spot. Don’t be sneaky and try to sell here. Olsen is ready to break out.
That’ll do it for this week folks. I look forward to your comments thoughts and feedback. Keep talking to those irrational owners. May your trades be rip-offs and your deals be ever in your favor. Good luck in week 4!
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Editor's note: This article was written by guest writer Casey Bass and is the first of a two-part series. Part I covers quarterbacks and running backs.
Running back is the one position that’s usually a safe bet. But so far, many first-round fantasy running backs have been complete busts. From Adrian Peterson’s off-field trouble to the presence of Darren Sproles hurting LeSean McCoy to Jamaal Charles’ inability to stay healthy, the top three running backs have all been disappointments compared to their pre-draft hype.
Let’s start with the obvious: AP. We all can agree that his domestic abuse allegations against his child are heinous. In many circles, unforgivable. I’ll keep my own opinions out of it and stick strictly to the football side of the equation.
Peterson’s absence—which could very well be for the entire season—is an obvious blow to fantasy owners who banked on All Day with their top pick. It just so happens I took AP with the first overall pick in my ESPN league, so I’m right there with you. Even before the controversial news broke, Peterson wasn’t exactly dominant. Sure, it was only one week, but he managed just 75 yards on 21 carries against the Rams.
Combine his massive $15.4 million cap hit in 2015 and it’s very likely we’ve seen the last of AP in a Vikings uniform. What a sad turn of events for both NFL fans, fantasy owners and the nation. To see the best running back of this generation fall from grace in such a short span simply shows that no one is invincible.
The other common No. 1 overall pick, LeSean McCoy, hasn’t exactly lit things up like he did in 2013, either. McCoy’s 26 points through two games is solid, but by no means a No. 1 overall pick type of performance.
Is this necessarily a reflection of McCoy's talent dissipating? I think not.
The Eagles offensive line has been hit by injuries, and the unit is still playing without 2013 first-round pick Lane Johnson, who is serving a four-game suspension. Philly is starting Dennis Kelly at left guard and Andrew Gardner at right tackle. That’s a massive downgrade from Evan Mathis and Johnson.
Secondly, the presence of Sproles—the No. 1 RB in most fantasy leagues—certainly hasn’t worked in McCoy’s favor. From a real-life standpoint, having a capable back to spell him should keep Shady healthy. But for fantasy owners, Sproles is eating into McCoy’s touches, and his continued success should only provide for more opportunities.
At the end of the day, McCoy is still a phenomenal talent and he should get back on track. But for now, he hasn’t lived up to his pre-draft billing as a No. 1 overall pick.
Finally, we travel to Kansas City, where the Chiefs are off to a rough 0-2 start. We all knew the Chiefs lacked weapons, but K.C. is tied with Jacksonville for the second-fewest points scored in the NFL. Not good at all.
Again, the offensive line is a major issue, as the Chiefs lost Branden Albert and Jon Asamoah from the left side. With Eric Fisher still struggling, Charles simply hasn’t had the same holes in front of him as he did in years prior.
Facing a new-look Titans 3-4 defense, Charles carried the ball just seven times for 19 yards in Week 1 and failed to find the end zone. He received two carries last week before going down with a high ankle sprain.
Projecting a player’s health is always a slippery slope, but even before the injury, Charles wasn’t lighting it up. And with the Chiefs offense lacking firepower, it just doesn’t feel like a special year for a guy with special speed. And as every good fantasy owner knows, sometimes it’s just good to go with your gut.
Luckily, there has been some solid value at the running back position with guys like DeMarco Murray, Le’Veon Bell and Gio Bernard racking up points early. But for those who spent high picks on the likes of AP, McCoy and Charles, the early results have not been promising.
That said, let’s take a look at a few of the best and worst plays for Week 3.
Players I’m Banking On
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears: Did you see what Aaron Rodgers just did to New York a week ago? Even with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery at less than 100 percent, that duo dominated against San Francisco. Cutler had 25 points despite throwing for just 176 yards against the 49ers. Expect closer to 300 against a horrible Jets secondary.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys: Scott Linehan has done a complete 180 and become a run-first playcaller. That’s good news for Murray owners. He’s already carried the ball 51 times in two games, turning that into 285 yards and two touchdowns. Facing a Rams defense that just got shredded for 144 yards by Bobby Rainey, the arrow is only pointing up on Murray.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Vikings: The absence of AP could hurt Patterson in some people’s eyes, but it only increases his importance in mine. The dynamic playmaker hasn’t gotten enough touches. You and I know both know that. At this point, Norv Turner has to know that. I see Patterson getting at least 8-10 targets and a few touches out of the backfield. That’s promising considering he’s going up against a Saints defense that’s allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers.
Players to Be Cautious With
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: Annually a very solid fantasy QB, Romo simply hasn’t looked right coming off his back surgeries. Perhaps he needs to shake off some rust. Or maybe he just isn’t that good anymore. Either way, Linehan has taken the ball out of Romo’s hands and is placing the responsibility on his strong running game. Facing a Rams defense without Chris Long, I expect Dallas to continue to run the football and minimize Romo’s chances of making mistakes.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Jaguars: It’s almost fun for me to make fun of the Jags. Many of my friends are Jags fans. And many of them were excited about the prospect of the great Gerhart in the backfield. Let’s be serious. This guy is nothing more than a plodding No. 2 back. Fantasy owners who spent a mid-round pick on the guy have to be kicking themselves after the goose egg he laid last week. I fully expect Andrew Luck to shred this defense, putting the Jags in the unenviable position of having to abandon the “running game.”
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals: Even after his dad called out the Cardinals for not feeding Larry the ball, the results weren’t much better in Week 2. Fitzgerald recorded just five points, failing to find the end zone again. With Carson Palmer likely out and the 49ers defense motivated to get back on track, I’m not going to put my money on Fitzgerald suddenly breaking out of his early-season slump.
Editor's note: This is our first edition of 'don't worry about him.' The goal of this article is to shed light on players that pose a good chance to post better numbers than they currently are over the next stretch of the season. This should influence you to either make a trade for a buy low candidate.
The great thing about football—and fantasy football to be more specific—is its unpredictability. In any game, at any time, a superstar can be born.