The instant impact rookie running back. Seemingly every year, one or two rookies are gifted with an opportunity to see a significant workload at a certain point in the season. Some are scheduled to be their team's starter form the get go (think Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch in 2007) while others benefit from a stroke of luck due to an injury to the starting guy or the starting guy is struggling (Branden Oliver, Jeremy Hill in 2014).
As the NFL Draft nears, it's important to look at these situations so you can identify them and play them to your advantage. It's also important to look at past examples so you can hopefully spot a similar situation in the future.
What can the draft tell us about fantasy?
When it comes to identifying what round a player is more likely to have a higher probability of immediately producing at, it can vary by position. One obvious trend is that quarterbacks taken in Rounds 1-3 typically do better. Current top fantasy quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Ben Reothlisberger and Aaron Rodgers were all drafted in the first two rounds in their respective drafts.
When you look at the wide receiver position, DeMaryius Thomas was a first-rounder as was Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant. Jordy Nelson was a second-round pick in 2008. Top 2014 fantasy wideout Antonio Brown was one exception to the rule. Brown was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 draft.
Running backs are a different story
Even though there's been some late-round gems at the quarterback and wide receiver position, the running back position is place where you'll find perhaps the highest probability quality fantasy players. More frequently than you'd think, you'll find top fantasy running backs who were drafted in the later rounds or even went undrafted.
There's a lot of variables that play into running backs not getting drafted as high as they used to be, and we could list 1,000 more words telling you why that is, but for the sake of this argument lets just say the NFL is a copy cat league and selecting a running back later on is just the trend right now. Even the 2015 running back class, which is being hyped as the best in years, will still likely only draw two first rounders (Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon). So with a running back class as good as this one, which has many draftniks claiming it could be as good as 14 quality starters deep, it's important to look at how late-round running backs have come to the forefront in the past and made an impact on fantasy teams. Let's take a look at last year's impact fantasy running backs who were rookies.
Case study #1 — Branden Oliver, San Diego Chargers (undrafted)
Oliver was ranked in the Top 40 among fantasy backs in fantasy points in 2014, which wasn't bad for a 5'8 undrafted rookie out of SUNY Buffalo. Oliver got his chance when starter Ryan Mathews went down with an MCL sprain. Of course, nobody saw Oliver's start coming after Mathews was scheduled to sit out the following week. Everybody had Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown pegged as the backups most likely to benefit, myself included. It goes to show you — always look all the way down on the depth chart before picking somebody up off the waiver wire. You never know what can happen.
Well, a stroke of luck happened and Oliver took off against the New York Jets. After Brown went out with a concussion early on and with Mathews already sidelined, Oliver feasted on the weak Jets passing defense and caught four balls for 68 yards and 1 touchdown. He also rushed for over 100 yards and finished with 29 fantasy points.
Watching that game, Oliver's ability in the passing game no doubt helped keep the defense and honest and led to him being more effective on the ground. Oliver also benefitted from Brown leaving the first half of that game with a concussion, which opened up the doors for him within the offense.
He didn't slow down afterward that game either. The Chargers leaned heavily on him the following week and Oliver made a nice second impression with a 101-yard effort against the Oakland Raiders and one touchdown. While those numbers were impressive, it's worth noting Oliver averaged just 3.9 yards a clip on 26 carries against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league, so it was no surprise that Oliver's production eventually dropped off.
While he turned out to be a nice addition off the waiver wire for a brief stretch, Oliver's fantasy value hit a snag after he ran into some tough defenses that started with a 36-yard performance against Denver on Thursday night. He tossed in six more equally ineffective games before finishing with 582 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns for the year, with half of his fantasy points coming in those two games against Oakland and New York.
Oliver proved (at least in his rookie season) to be more of a scat, receiving type back. He's not a guy that can beat you with 20 carries per game. He's more of a Darren Sproles type player who will beat you out of the backfield. But in the right matchup against a weak passing defense, he proved he could produce for at least a few weeks.
One of the takeaways you can use from Oliver is to considers drafting backup running backs where the starter has an injury history. Now, this doesn't always work out. DeMarco Murray was injured almost every season but managed to finish 2014 without any major injuries to speak of. He did suffer a hand injury at one point, but it didn't slow him up much to create a ton of value for the backup running back on Dallas.
In the case of Oliver, starting RB Ryan Mathews also had a long injury history. So keep an eye out for running backs (especially the rookies in this draft) who get drafted to a team with a No. 1 back who is prone to sitting out games.
Next, always be keen on matchups. Oliver benefited from two easy defenses (New York Jets weak passing defense and Oakland's weak rushing defense) when he put up his best numbers.
Lastly, always make sure to scope out the entire depth chart of a team. Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown were the top backups but Oliver was also on the depth chart as well.
The three week long storm (of bye weeks) is finally coming to an end. If the last 2 weeks were a fantasy football hurricane, monsoon, and/or tornado for you, this week should only be partly cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms. The worst of the storm is over, and if you’ve come away with little to no damage, then congratulations to you. If you’ve sustained irreparable damage then you have my condolences. I personally escaped fantasy destruction due to the fine work of running back/fantasy football contractor, Marshawn Lynch. The walls he erected and insulation he installed at approximately 4:25 EST on Sunday totally shielded me from disaster. He’s an expert builder as he’s built specifically for me a nearly insurmountable lead in my division that should put me into the week 15 semifinals via bye. I hope you’ve hired someone even half as reliable as my beast mode contractor, Marshawn Lynch, to get you through the coming Winter weather.
We’re back to a manageable four teams with byes, and two of those teams are barely relevant in the fantasy world (Jets, Jaguars). However, not everyone is in the clear as owners of DeMarco Murray, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Terrence Williams, Percy Harvin, Eric Decker, Chris Ivory, Denard Robinson, Justin Forsett, Steve Smith and Torrey Smith are still left with holes in the starting lineup.
You can use the following sleepers and busts advice to ensure that your Week 11 and fantasy football future will be disaster free.
Without further ado, your week 11 Sleepers and Busts:
DISCLAIMER: A sleeper is not a must start and a bust is not a must bench, they are merely indications that a player will have a better or worse game this week than they normally do. It all really depends on your alternatives. I will give an example of a few players for whom I personally would start the sleeper over or bench the bust for. These players are simply there as an indication of how good or bad I think the sleepers/busts will perform so you have a comparison in mind when applying it to your actual lineup. For example if I am comparing a QB to a stud like Andrew Luck, I am not necessarily saying you need to start him over Luck (even if I would) but it will imply that I feel really good about him.
· Colin Kaepernick at New York Giants. It’s been a strange year for Colin Kaepernick and his owners. He’s had one complete dud to this point, but he’s also only had one performance that can be considered very good. The rest of his games have just been average, ordinary and boring in terms of fantasy scoring. He’s ranked 13th among fantasy QBs, but the film shows that he should be ranked significantly higher. This past week Anquan Boldin dropped 4 passes including one that would have gone for a long TD. Boldin dropped a TD a few weeks ago from 3 yards out as well. Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis can’t stop dropping passes. They each dropped 2 passes while I was writing this sentence. And Kaepernick owners remember all too well, a play where Davis and second TE, Derrick Carrier, ran into each other in the endzone on a sure TD pass.
At least a few hundred yards and at least a few TDs have been left on the table because of the 49ers pass catchers’ dropped passes. This week the 49ers travel to East Rutherford to face the New York Giants, a defense that is banged up in the secondary and at LB and is struggling mightily. The Giants rank 25th in passing yards against and dead last in rushing yards against.
The Giants last 4 opponents have scored between 27-40 points. If you watched the Giants game in week 11, you’d think they didn’t know that Russell Wilson was a running threat in the read-option game. Wilson struggled as a passer, but as a runner he ripped off several chunks of 15-30 yard gains en route to 100+ yards rushing.
Colin Kaepernick brings a similar skill-set in the run game and the 49ers sport a pass catching core of Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Steve Johnson, Brandon Lloyd and Vernon Davis. Sure these players (other than Boldin) have under achieved, but the Giants simply do not have the talent or play calling intelligence on defense to match up with the 49ers. Look for the 49ers to spread out the Giants, and for Kaepernick to run for a high rushing total while picking them apart in the passing game. Before any Giants fans attack me…..I am a diehard Giants fan. It just is what it is.
I’d Start Colin Kaepernick over: Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Jay Cutler, Russell Wilson
· Mark Sanchez at Green Bay. It’s been a fun two weeks for the Sanchize and his owners but the fun takes a temporary hiatus this week in Green Bay. I give Mark Sanchez (and Chip Kelly) a ton of credit for his success in his first start this season, but it occurred at home, in mild weather, against a pitiful Carolina defense. After easy matchups against the Texans (Ranked 19th against QBs) and Panthers (Rank 27th against QBs), the Packers present Sanchez his first real challenge.
They rank 9th in passing yards against and 12th against opposing fantasy QBs. The Green Bay defense will be riding high as they’re coming off a near perfect game against the Chicago Bears. The high temperature at Lambeau is projected to be only 28 degrees. Sanchez will have to throw a frozen ball, against a quality secondary, with Clay Mathews and Julius Peppers bearing down on him all game.
Even if we don’t see the old, turnover prone Sanchize from the Jets, this matchup does not bode well for a QB making just his second start since 2012.
I’d Start the following players over Mark Sanchez: Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Josh McCown, Shaun Hill
· Branden Oliver vs. Oakland. Many Brandon Oliver owners have cut bait on the young RB. Before the bye week Oliver had struggled and the return of Ryan Mathews is finally here. I am here to say that if you haven’t cut bait yet, give it at least one more week and get him in the lineup! Sure, Ryan Mathews is back…sort of. The sources out of San Diego are saying that Mathews is expected to receive approximately 15 touches.
Let’s think about this. In a matchup at home against Oakland, a game in which the Chargers should win running away, Mathews will receive 15 touches. Fine, so how many touches does that leave for other SD running backs including Branden Oliver? Since this game should be a blowout I’ll use the numbers in two Chargers blowout wins earlier this season. Against Jacksonville in Week 4, San Diego RBs received 27 touches and against the Jets in Week 5, San Diego RBs received 43 touches. Since San Diego has played Oakland already, the 33 touches RBs received in that Week 6 game are relevant as well.
Therefore, if Ryan Mathews does receive 15 touches as advertised, then that leaves Oliver and/or other SD backs with 12-28 touches. Even if we stay on the lower end of this range and say he gets 14-18 touches, that is a huge number of touches against a team that ranks 27th in rushing yards against. It’s important to note that Oliver had 124 total yards and a TD in his previous meeting with Oakland. Owners may have sourced on Oliver but his previous three games have been difficult matchups against the Chiefs, Broncos and Dolphins. This game is easier and offers huge upside to Oliver and his owners. Use him as a RB2 with confidence.
I’d start Branden Oliver over: Bishop Sankey, Ben Tate, Lamar Miller, Joique Bell
· Jeremy Hill at New Orleans. This could be a knee jerk reaction, but I just cannot forget what I witnessed in the Bengals/Browns game in Cincinnati last Thursday. Andy Dalton played one of the worst games I’ve seen in recent memory. I hope he has a Men In Black flashy thing available because he needs to forget everything that happened in that ugly, ugly, ugly game.
I do not see the cure for his struggles being a road matchup against an angry desperate Saints team who has forced 8 turnovers and 15 sacks in the last four weeks. We could see another lopsided score which will once again result in another low output from Jeremy Hill. Last week, Hill had only 61 total yards. In his last three games he has had one big time game in Jacksonville sandwiched between two disastrous games against Baltimore and Cleveland. He will go as the offense goes, so unless Dalton gets back on track immediately, Hill will struggle. I just don’t see Dalton being able to get over a 10-for-33. 83 yard passing performance in a difficult environment like New Orleans.
I’d start the following players over Jeremy Hill: Frank Gore, Andre Ellington, Shane Vereen, CJ Anderson, Branden Oliver
· Pierre Garcon vs. Tampa Bay. Pierre the waiter is a forgotten man. The emergence of DeSean Jackson has turned last year’s NFL leader in receptions into an unreliable WR 3/4. He’s a matchup play and this week I believe the matchup is ripe. For one, I believe that one of the main goals of the Redskins bye week was to renew the chemistry between RG III and his WRs, especially Garcon. Secondly, the Buccaneers, a team that ranks dead last against opposing WRs in .5 PPR leagues are coming to Washington.
Roddy White is a WR who is past his prime but still runs effective routes and even he registered a big day against the hopeless Bucs defense. White was getting free in the middle of the field for 10-25 yards at a time on slant and seam routes, and he capitalized on an even easier short crossing route for a TD.
Garcon is a younger, crisp route runner in the mold of Roddy and he should be able to capitalize off Tampa Bay’s inability to cover well run routes in the middle of the field. Garcon can pay huge dividends in the right matchup so try to put his struggles aside and get him in the lineup in deep leagues that start 3 WRs.
I’d Start Pierre Garcon over: DeAndre Hopkins, Jordan Matthews, Larry Fitzgerald, Doug Baldwin
· Brandon LaFell at Indianapolis. When Vontae Davis got injured just a handful of snaps into the game in week 8 against Pittsburgh, the floodgates opened and Pittsburgh put up 51 points. Even after giving up all of those yards and TDs to Big Ben, the Colts still rank 9th against opposing fantasy WRs. When Davis is healthy they are in the top 3. Vontae Davis is the best cornerback in the business. Bill Belichick knows this.
Belichick is the type of coach who is matchup specific in his game plans and he will not force the ball to his big play WR if the matchup isn’t right. Davis had been playing through an injury before the bye week and has had two weeks to recover and prepare.
LaFell has been a nice story and he and Rob Gronkowski have been the keys to the Patriots high powered passing attack since the Pats turned their season around several weeks ago. The Patriots can and probably will succeed passing the football but look for it to be with Gronk, Edelman, Vereen and maybe Tim Wright. LaFell should not be used in 3 WR formats this week.
I’d start the following players over Brandon LaFell: Vincent Jackson, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, John Brown
· Austin Seferian-Jenkins at Washington. Seferian Jenkins is a raw talent who at this point in his career has shaky hands. However, he does get open a lot, and he receives enough red-zone and overall targets to hold matchup play value against a team who ranks 23rd against the TE, the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins are coming off back to back weeks where they were victimized by Vikings TE, Chase Ford, and Dallas’s Jason Witten who has not exactly been lighting it up. Josh McCown targeted Seferian-Jenkins 8 times last week and a successful redzone play was called specifically for him in last week’s loss to Atlanta. This marked the 3rd game in the last four where Seferian Jenkins had either topped 50 yards or scored a TD. He is a low end TE1 this week and should be started by teams who are playing the matchups every week or by those owners who drafted Vernon Davis or Dennis Pitta.
I’d start Austin Seferian-Jenkins over: Mychal Rivera, Larry Donnell, Charles Clay, Vernon Davis
· Mychal Rivera at San Diego. Everyone’s favorite pickup at TE has been a monster over the last three weeks with 21 catches, 185 yards and 3 TDs. Rivera has had immense short term value and he has long term value as well, but this week I’m going to say he has very little value. Rivera opposes San Diego the second ranked team against fantasy TEs.
The Chargers have shut down the likes of Julius Thomas and Travis Kelce as well as Rivera himself, who did not record a catch in week 6. Furthermore, Oakland and Derek Carr seem to be regressing on offense. Carr has not been able to sustain drives and he won’t figure it out all of a sudden on the road against one of the AFC’s top teams that are coming off a bye. It’s so hard to bench Rivera after the run he’s been on but these are the tough decisions fantasy owners have to make sometimes.
I’d start the following players over Mychal Rivera: Dwayne Allen, Travis Kelce, Kyle Rudolph, Austin Seferian-Jenkins
That’ll do it for week 11. Good luck in this last difficult bye week. Make sure you’ve stocked up and are well prepared for this last part of the storm.
Another week in fantasy football, and another week of new faces creeping onto the radar. This week saw some top players go down with injuries including Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (groin), Detroit Lions wideout Calvin Johnson (ankle) and San Diego Chargers running back Donald Brown (concussion). There were also a few rookies who entered the fantasy rader. Here are this week's top waiver wire pickups.
San Diego Chargers RB Branden Oliver (owned in 12% of Yahoo! Leagues)
Why he's a good pickup: In his first ever game seeing a majority of carries, Oliver lit up a Jets defense that came into the game ranked sixth overall against the run and giving up an average of 83 rushing yards per game. Oliver finished with 182 total yards combined rushing and receiving and a score. At 5'8, Oliver is an undersized speedster that displayed great burst through the hole and looked far superior to anybody else in the Charger backfield.
With Ryan Mathews still 2-3 weeks away from returning and Danny Woodhead out for the season, it's likely Oliver remains the top guy for Week 6 at leaast. He's a great plug in guy if you have a few running backs on a bye, and his versatility in the run and passing game makes him a good add in all formats. The Chargers play the Oakland Raiders next week, a team that's giving up 158 yards per game on average to running backs.
New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. (owned in 10% of Yahoo! Leagues)
Why he's a good pickup: We already touched on Beckham Jr. on our podcast earlier, but he's worth mentioning as a solid waiver wire add this week. Beckham Jr. posted a 4/44/1 line in his debut with the Giants and saw a healthy five targets and his touchdown came at a key moment in the game which is often a great confidence builder. It's looking like he'll be firmly entrenched as the team's No. 3 receiver and while he's still a rookie and will likely be inconsistent from time to time, he's still valuable since he fills a much-needed void in terms of WR depth on the Giants' roster. He also gets a good matchup against a Philadelphia team that surrendered three touchdowns and 341 passing yards to Austin Davis and the Rams. Beckham Jr. is an instant flex add in 12-to-14 team leagues.
Cleveland Browns WR Taylor Gabriel (owned in 0% of Yahoo! Leagues)
Why he's a good pickup: After starting the season off slow with just 18 receiving yards in two games, the rookie has strung together back-to-back games of at least 80 receiving yards. At 5'8, Gabriel is undersized and relies on the big play to accrue the majority of his yards, but he's being utilized in the offense and the Browns have a soft stretch in their schedule coming up with their next three opponents consisting of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders. Gabriel is probably only worth adding in 14-team leagues at this point, but he's not a terrible option considering his matchups.
Owen Daniels TE Baltimore Ravens (owned in 42% of Yahoo! Leagues)
Why he's a good pickup: Daniels led the Ravens in receiving with five grabs for 70 yards on seven targets. Daniels could be a good bye-week filler if you're short on tight ends in Week 6 for a few reasons. While he's not very explosive, he has reliable hands (reeled in 19 of his 27 targets), is always a threat for a red zone score and he'll be matched up against a Tampa Bay defense that ranks 30th against the pass this Sunday.
Denver Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (owned in 10% of Yahoo! Leagues)
Why he's a good pickup: With Montee Ball sidelined with a groin injury, Hillman finished with 64 yards on 15 carries. If Ball expects to miss a significant amount of time, Hillman will likely be the guy to fill the void with C.J. Anderson peppered in as well. Lauded at times for his struggles in pass protection which is a deal breaker when keeping quarterback Peyton Manning upright, Hillman doesn't present a ton of upside and his stats may suffer if the Broncos opt to go with a committee-style attack. Still, he'll still be running the ball on one of the most potent offenses in the league. He'll have opportunities to score.