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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.
View Keith Allison's Flickr page here.
Must-starts for Week 2
Justin Hunter WR/Tennessee Titans v. Dallas Cowboys
After dominating the preseason, second year wide receiver Justin Hunter was a popular sleeper pick going into fantasy drafts. In week one, Hunter’s stat line may not get fantasy owners that excited (3 rec/63 yds.). However, Hunter led the team in targets (8), and averaged over 20 yards per reception, showing that he has the ability to make a major impact in coach Whisenhunt’s vertical passing scheme.
Going into Week 2, Hunter draws a juicy matchup with the sieve that is the Cowboys' secondary. In week one, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick picked apart the Cowboys, completing 69.6% of his passes and had the fifth most yards per attempt (8.7) on top of his two touchdown passes.
In Week 2, Hunter should be in line for a massive stat line going against the soft Cowboys' secondary. I expect Hunter to once again lead the Titans in targets, and expect him to find the end zone at least one time. Get ready for Hunter to bust out this week and make sure to get him in your lineups before they lock.
Niles Paul TE/Washington Redskins v. Jacksonville Jaguars
With Jordan Reed sidelined with a hamstring injury, the Redskins will rely on converted wide receiver Niles Paul to help fill the void. In week 1, Paul finished with 4 catches for 86 yards, showing to be a more than serviceable option in the passing game.
Week 2 should be another solid week for Paul, as he draws a favorable matchup with the Jaguars. Paul flashed the ability to stretch the field and could be a major mismatch for linebackers in coverage. While Paul will not get the workload that most tight ends will, he does have the potential to see 5-7 targets, giving him value as a high TE2 in week 2.
Brandin Cooks WR/New Orleans Saints v. Cleveland Browns
Just as much as a fat kid needs that last piece of chocolate cake, the New Orleans Saints needed to add another weapon to their offensive arsenal. The 2014 first-round pick got off to a good start in his debut, reeling in 7 receptions for 77 yards while patrolling the underneath area of the field. Going into week 2, Cooks has a matchup with the Browns primed for fantasy success.
The Browns allowed over 360 receiving yards to the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 1, showing their secondary may not be as improved as once thought. The Steelers completed passes to six different receivers, five of them with three receptions or more.
Going into Week 2, there is no reason to believe Saints quarterback Drew Brees would not continue the trend of shredding the Browns secondary. With Kenny Stills battling a quad injury, Cooks will be in line for an increased workload on offense.
Keenan Allen WR/San Diego Chargers v. Seattle Seahawks
Allen got off the rough start in week one (5 rec./37 yds.) going up against arguably the best all-around cornerback in football in Patrick Peterson. However, Allen still was second on the team in targets with 10, showing that the Chargers will not let a defense dictate their offensive game plan.
In week two, Allen draws another scary match-up with Richard Sherman and the other members of the Legion of Boom. However, the Packers may have shown a way to get Allen away from Sherman’s side of the field in Week 1. In the Seahawks defensive scheme, Sherman lines up on the left side of the field every play, not necessarily shadowing Packers Jordy Nelson. Nelson was still able to put together a productive week working predominantly against Seahawks No. 2 corner Byron Maxwell hauling in 9 receptions for 83 yards.
If the Chargers hold true and try to force-feed Allen the ball, there is a scenario for him to have a successful afternoon. However, the Seahawks will try and find ways to combat the holes that were shown during their week one match up with the Packers. Allen still could produce this week, but I would be wary putting him into my lineup as more than a no.3/flex option for this week due to the matchup.
Jordan Cameron TE/Cleveland Browns v. New Orleans Saints
It has recently been reported that Cameron has aggravated a shoulder injury, making his status for playing in Week 2 cloudy. Cameron suffered a sprain to the AC joint in the shoulder and is currently listed as day-to-day on the Browns injury report.
With wide receiver Josh Gordon currently serving an indefinite suspension, the Browns made it clear that Cameron would be the focal point of the passing game. Cameron got off to a rocky start, managing jsut two catches against the Steelers in week one. If Cameron is able to lace it up, he will still be the focal point of the Browns passing game. However with the shoulder injury putting his availability in question, it may be wise to use another option as your starting tight end.
Even if he were at full strength Cameron would be in for a tough matchup against a very much improved Saints secondary. The Saints allowed only three catches to tight ends in week one against the Falcons, and only allowed an average of 6.8 points to tight ends in 2013. Luckily fantasy owners will know early Sunday on Cameron’s availability, but I recommend making sure you have a back-up plan just in case Cameron is inactive.
Stop traffic, the Philadelphia Eagles offense managed to not score in the first half, everybody panic. That was the general consensus after the first half of Philadelphia's Week 1 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars at home last Sunday, and it wasn't without good reason.
Dubbed as one of the most potent fantasy football offenses heading into this season, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles didn't exactly instill faith for the team's fantasy value in the first half. He looked hesitant, tried to force the ball to the now-healthy Jeremy Maclin too much, and when he didn't do that, he held the ball for too long, which was a trait that plagued him last season from time to time. Foles' inability to pull the trigger led to several blindside sacks which resulted in two lost fumbles. He was lucky enough his performance wasn't worse at times, as a few interceptions slipped through the hands of Jacksonville defenders.
After he posted a record quarterback rating last season, it was odd to see Foles perform in such a way to start the season. Other than his lackluster performance against the Dallas Cowboys in 2013 where he was suffering the after effects of a concussion, this was easily one of the most puzzling outings for Foles. This is his first full year as a starter, however, so he's not exactly a veteran at this point in his career.
But all wasn't bad. Foles later showed the hallmark trait a lot of successful quarterbacks possess — a short memory. He bounced back in the second half, hitting Zach Ertz on a seam route for a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Ertz fantasy owners should get used to seeing that as Ertz ran that route several times during the game and Foles finally delivered the ball on the money.
Foles capped his performance off on a too-good-to-be-true wide open Jeremy Maclin in the fourth quarter for a 68-yard score. While that play looked to be a gift after the Jaguars blew their coverage, Foles weathered the storm and finished with a solid 322 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He finished with 18 total fantasy points, which isn't bad considering he had -3 fantasy points when you combine the fumbles after the first half.
Other general thoughts from the game
— Though LeSean McCoy was limited by his standards, he's still a human joystick out there and posed the threat to take the ball to the house on several plays. His 19-yard cut back run where he rushed to left before shifting gears and coming all the way back to the right showed he's just as explosive as last season. He carried the ball a healthy 21 times for 74 yards and zero touchdowns, which isn't a bad line considering he didn't feel like much of a factor in the actual game. His six catches for 41 yards also helped him grab a respectable fantasy score. The touchdowns will come, so owners shouldn't panic too much.
— Darren Sproles looked rejuvenated in an Eagles uniform and his 49-yard untouched touchdown served as the spark Philadelphia needed to crawl back into the game. It's worth noting that the result of that play had as much to do with Chip Kelly rushing the Eagles up to the line before Jacksonville got set as it did Sproles' running ability. It was good to see from Sproles, but he really benefited from the call and was almost dragged down before he reached the end zone. Not trying to discredit Sproles, just doubting the likelihood of that kind of play happening again this season.
Sproles' 11 carries weren't much, but he nearly matched McCoy in rushing yards with 71. He's still one of the all time great PPR fantasy receivers, as he caught four balls for 14 yards. Sproles was also a dynamic on special teams, averaging 15 yards per return. It's only one game, but if Sproles continues to play like this, the Eagles will be forced to keep him on the field. He's a worthy flex guy at this point in deep leagues in addition to PPR.
— Jordan Matthews' first catch as a rookie came on a 30-yard grab. He saw four targets and was open on a lot of them but Foles missed him a few times. As long as he can catch the ball consistently, there's no reason to believe this guy won't turn in the occasional 100-yard game, especially when teams focus on Maclin. He should only be owned in 14-team leagues however, as his inconsistency due to the volume of talent on Philly's offense will drive owners crazy.
— Riley Cooper doesn't make a lot of plays, but has a knack for making the spectacular catch. He nearly came down with a one-handed grab in traffic which would've went for huge yardage. His eight targets were second only to Maclin's 11, so he's still a focal point in the receiving game despite his limited speed. He's a WR3 in deep leagues until proven otherwise.
— Zach Ertz played fantastic with three catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. He's a TE1 going forward even though he only saw 4 targets.
Next week's matchup
The Eagles get an extra day's rest before they play a Colts team that surrendered 31 points to the Denver Broncos, including a 3-touchdown performance from tight end Julius Thomas. This could be a very fruitful matchup for Ertz.
Week 1 has arrived and fantasy owners need to know who to start and who to bench. As always on every NFL Sunday, there's a handful of players who may or may not play in addition to certain players who may be better starts than others. You hear fantasy advice all the time from a variety of great sources, allow us to give you our two cents.
Start Ladarius Green, sit Antonio Gates
For those lucky/smart enough to snag both Green and Gates, you're better off going young here with Green. Gates landed on the Chargers injury list this week after tweaking his hamstring in practice and in all likelihood won't be the top guy in Week 1. The Chargers are facing the Cardinals, a team that hasn't defended the tight end position well in the past.
Dating back to last season, the Cardinals gave up a touchdown to a tight end in four out of their last five games. And in that one game they didn't give up a touchdown to a TE (which came against the St. Louis Rams), tight end Jared Cook still led the team in receiving yards.
If you recall, rookie Philadelphia tight end Zach Ertz broke out against the Cardinals last season when he caught 5-of-6 targets for 68 yards and two touchdowns. The Cards also gave up touchdowns to Zach Miller in Seattle, Vernon Davis in San Francisco and Delanie Walker in Tennessee. On the upside scale, Green has to be licking his chops. He's equivalent to the Incredible Hulk who's slowly getting angrier and angrier and just needs one more spark to push him into a beast. There's a perfect storm brewing with the injury to Gates and the Cardinals' weakness against the TE. Go Green this week.
Start Jonathan Dwyer, sit Andre Ellington
While there's still rumblings that the explosive running back will be healthy enough to play on Monday night, Dwyer is still the safer play given Ellington's injury status. Nursing a bad foot, there were reports Ellington could be out anywhere between 4-6 weeks, then there were reports that the offensive coordinator is optimistic about his chances to play this Monday. Simply put, there's too much inconsistency in the reporting on Ellington to make him a safe play this week. Like a hot girl with a bad personality, we don't want to see you emotionally invest in this guy only to have your feelings hurt. It's best to steer clear of him for at least this week.
When it comes to starting Dwyer, you won't be getting an explosive back but you'll have a more reliable one. A plodder in every sense of the word, Dwyer showed consistency when called upon in Pittsburgh, rushing for 4.0 yards per carry in 2012 and 2013. Among the Issac Redman/Dwyer tandem that backed up then-injured Rashad Mendenhall in 2012, Dwyer was simply the more consistent ball carrier. He's not a guy you'd want in your starting lineup for more than a few weeks since he lacks the big-play ability to generate significant points (he's only rushed for more than 100 yards in a game twice in his career), but he's a good band aid for Week 1. The Chargers defense ranked in the middle of the pack last year in rushing yards allowed, so there's worse teams out there Dwyer could be facing.
Start Andrew Hawkins, sit Miles Austin
Miles Austin was a non factor in 2013 after battling numerous hamstring injuries, and a comeback is always difficult for somebody on the wrong side of 30 of age.
Even though his rehab has gone well, it's rare for a player to burst back onto the scene and immediately make an impact at his age in addition to his injury history. Keep in mind, even Adrian Peterson was slow out of the gate in 2012, which was the year he ended up seven yards short of the single-season rushing record after returning from a torn ACL. Of course, an ACL tear is much more severe of an injury than a bad hammy, but it's worth noting that it takes a certain amount of momentum to generate production in the NFL, and Austin doesn't have that right now.
Now, if you're pondering starting Hawkins, we hope you're in a deep league considering he's not the best option either. He'll likely be matched up with Steelers' cornerback Cortez Allen, who recently inked a new deal with Pittsburgh and has built a reputation for causing havoc in the pass and run game. But although Hawkins is undersized (5'7), he does possess decent speed (4.34) and doesn't have the injury questions that Austin has which makes him a better WR4/5 option. Tight end Jordan Cameron is poised to be the target monster in the offense, but that doesn't mean Hawkins can't contribute even if it's a smaller amount.