Running backs adept at catching the football are often revered in fantasy football. They can turn an average fantasy scoring day into a good one, a good one into a great one, a great one into a historic one and a historic one into something you think is really, really awesome. More importantly, backs who catch the ball can alleviate the pain of a bad fantasy day on the ground, which allows the running back to become 'matchup proof.'
What is 'matchup proof?'
'Matchup proof' means a running back is startable no matter who he's playing against, and one way a receiving back becomes matchup proof is by defying game script. For example, if a running back finds his team down by 30 points in the first half and his team needs to pass more to get back into the game, he'll still accrue fantasy points because he'll likely be targeted on check down passes.
While receiving is a big factor in creating consistency among RBs, it's not the only trait a running back needs to possess. He also must be a talented inside runner, a back who can generate tough yards after contact with big defenders on runs up the gut and also possess the vision and instincts to make sharp cuts up the field. This is even more true in zone blocking schemes.
Among the traits listed above, Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson definitely fits the receiving mold, and while he hasn't shown the ability to run the ball effectively between the tackles, it's unfair to think he can't do it because he hasn't gotten a real shot at the team's 'feature back' role. He also possesses the kind of instincts and athletic ability required to make plays in the run game. In this piece, we will examine if Johnson could emerge as a breakout fantasy candidate in 2017.
Where he could be of considerable value
Going back to Johnson's receiving ability, it's very clear he's had potential in PPR leagues. Johnson was targeted 68 times in 2016, good for 5th most among all NFL running backs. He also ranked seventh in yards per reception at 9.7. Despite all this though, he only finished RB48 in PPR leagues, right around where T.J. Yeldon, Theo Riddick and Alfred Blue ended up.
While the result wasn't ideal, the potential was definitely there given Johnson's role in the offense. More importantly, we've seen smaller receiving backs have very good fantasy seasons — even in standard leagues.
One example of this is Danny Woodhead in 2015. Featured in a passing offense alongside Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers, Woodhead finished as a Top 10 fantasy back in 2015 and it was largely due to his receiving stats. Woodhead caught 80 passes for 755 yards and scored six touchdowns that season. He was also targeted over 100 times total.
Standing just 5'8, 200 lbs, Woodhead benefited from an offense that scored a lot, which allowed him to see 37 red zone targets in 2015, which far exceeded anyone else on the team.
Like Woodhead in 2015, Duke Johnson's role in the passing game was prominent in 2016. Unlike Woodhead though, Johnson didn't have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Rivers throwing him the ball. He instead dealt with a merry-go-round of QBs that consisted of a still-inept Robert Griffin III, a veteran in Josh McCown who also struggled, and a rookie in Cody Kessler who was actually the best of the bunch.
Overall, the poor situation hurt Johnson's touchdown value, as he saw only 14 red zone looks in 2016. If we're going to expect bigger things from Johnson in 2016, the Browns must improve their quarterback situation.
Hope for a bigger role
Johnson also had to deal with playing second fiddle to Isaiah Crowell, who saw 34 red zone attempts in 2016 also.
While Crowell was the team's dominant inside runner in 2016, he struggled with consistency as 518 of his 952 rushing yards came in four games, making him a liability from week to week. He was also woeful in pass protection.
Crowell also finished out the final year of his contract in 2016 and the latest talk of an extension appears unlikely. While Crow managed 7 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards on the year, it's likely the Browns will want to spend their money elsewhere since Crowell was only valuable on first and second down and didn't change the course of the Browns dismal 2016 season.
Crowell and Johnson are not too far off from each other in terms of talent either. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson and Crowell graded out about the same in running and receiving. Plus, Johnson carried the ball only 73 times in 2016, which gives him less wear-and-tear for next season and makes you wonder if he could play better if he gets more carries in the offense.
Hope for a better situation
It's likely Cleveland will improve its situation at the quarterback position in 2017. Imagine if they locked down a quarterback like, say, Jimmy Garoppolo from New England? A quarterback with better accuracy could allow Johnson a lot more opportunity to catch the ball in stride and make plays out of the backfield. This will be something to monitor heading into the offseason.
It's absolutely possible Duke Johnson could put together a 700+ yard receiving season given his talent, but he needs some help. He has the talent as a receiver and a good coaching staff that can maximize his skill set. He just needs a quality quarterback to go along with a bigger role in the offense next season. The latter variables could definitely turn in his favor in 2017. Keep an eye on how things fall together this offseason.
A Defense can be one of the biggest conundrums in fantasy year in and year out. People tend to go with popular Defensive choices like the Seattle Seahawks or Carolina Panthers rather early in drafts. Just because it’s Round 10 doesn’t mean choose a defense. There are still valuable players and handcuffs to acquire during the latter rounds of a draft.
Going by the finishing statistics of 2016, only one defense finished in the top five as their projection at the beginning of the season. According to ESPN Scoring, Denver Broncos D/ST had an average ADP of pick 67 which is asinine and only scored 152 points in 2016. That’s mid-fifth round in 12-team leagues and mid-sixth round in 10-team leagues. Let me ask you a question would you rather have Broncos Defense or future 2016-17 MVP Matt Ryan whose ADP was pick 114.
Think smart on average defenses can score you 150 to 180 points in a good year depending on your league scoring. Every other position eclipses those numbers by mid-season. Kickers score more than Defenses do on average per year, and they get chosen as flier picks in the last round of every draft. Last season, the Atlanta Falcons Kicker Matt Bryant scored a whopping 212 points outscoring the highest Defense by 46 points, that’s astonishing for a position we thought was worthless.
It’s time to implore a new philosophy of choosing Defenses last in drafts instead of Kickers. Don’t panic when you see four or five Defenses already off the board here a few tips to finding the Defensive Gems of 2017. Choose a Defensive Unit with one of these qualities:
· D/ST VS Consistent Bad QB Play
o Look for a D/ST that goes up against a lot of inexperienced QBs like Brock Osweiler, any Cleveland Browns QB, or Blake Borltes. Zeroing in on a defenses schedule will help you find the gems you need that will help you succeed during the regular season.
o Bad QB Play turns into natural points either sacks or turnovers. Rookie QB’s have a tendency of struggling against any defense, so look for those type of matchups as well.
o For instance, the Chiefs was the No. 1 D/ST of 2016. They took advantage of games where they faced QBs like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trevor Semian (twice), Jameis Winston, Brock Osweiler, and Blake Bortles. All of which are either young or turnover prone.
· D/ST That Creates Turnovers
o Teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or San Diego Chargers were barely drafted but were some of the top turnover leaders. Tampa Bay led the league with four interceptions returned for touchdowns, which is a huge boost to any roster.
o Overall Arizona Cardinals high ranked defense lived up to expectation by creating a league-high 25 forced fumbles and 48 sacks.
· D/ST With a Lethal Special Teams Unit
o Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, and Philadelphia Eagles are teams that boast lethal Special Team units. Cordarrelle Patterson, Ty ”Freak” Hill and Darren Sproles are one of a kind talents that can take any kickoff return to the house.
All of these qualities are pertinent to selecting a Defense that will be beneficial to your team and draft position. I learned to wait on this position and collect value at others in 2016. So, try philosophy in 2017 and see if you can come out more dominant rosters from top to bottom. It always feels good to get bailed out from somewhere you least expected it.
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On Wednesday's show, The Fantasy Football Helpers are joined by Adam Inman of FFLockeroom.com. Adam talks about different backup running backs who he thinks you should draft to your team for the coming 2015 season.
The first backfield they go over is the Arizona Cardinals. Starting running back Andre Ellington has been stifled by injuries throughout his career and the latest addition of Dustin Johnson via the 2015 draft creates intrigue. Johnson dons prototypical running back size at 6'1 and could be a strong candidate for more carries in his rookie season if Ellington gets hurt.
Now, of course it's always tough to predict injuries. But, Ellington has a strong history of struggling to stay 100 percent throughout his career going back to his college days at Clemson. Since he began playing at the collegiate level, Ellington has undergone two surgeries, one on his foot and one on his ankle. He's also dealt with concussions and hasn't played a full season once in his two-year career. It's important to see the trends when identifying injury risk, and Ellington has them unfortunately.
The next backfield up is the Tennessee Titans. Since he lives in Washington, Adam Inman followed Titans RB Bishop Sankey quite a bit while he played at Washington. Inman was always a believer in his talent and isn't ready to give up on him just yet, however, Sankey struggled mightily as a runner in 2014 and didn't look like he had any special trait that he could beat defenses with on a consistent basis. Fellow rookie running back David Cobb, out of Minnesota, possesses the receiving ability you want out of a running back in addition to a good burst through the hole which could itself to a more consistent rushing attack. Sankey will likely still see the bulk of the carries early on, but if he slips, watch out for Cobb. Consider drafting Cobb in the very late rounds of your redraft league and you should have a chance at landing a steal.
The next running back tandem discussed comes out of Cleveland. Podcast host George Banko admits he's a big believer in Duke Johnson as a potent receiving back but also admits he's a big injury liability. Inman reiterates that current top RB Isaiah Crowell should be the top guy and Johnson looked like he got hurt on seemingly every carry while playing at Miami in college. Either way, this is a backfield that's tough to judge given the inconsistency of the Browns' offense and also the uncertainty at the quarterback position. Probably best to stay away from this one until it becomes less of a blob of bodies and more of a group built around a consistent identity.
The fourth and final backfield discussed is the Detroit Lions. Joique Bell looks like a prime candidate for regression coming off a dismal 2014 season and rookie Ameer Abdullah has been drawing tons of hype since getting drafted. Abdullah is undersized, but plays strong and has the potential to be an elite receiving back. Adam and George both agreed on this one, that Abdullah has amazing potential and could be one of the best handcuff backs to pick up in 2015.
He entered 2014 as a sleeper, but quickly energized the Browns' running game and entered the realm of fantasy relevance as a talented back with considerable upside especially around the goal line. While there were plenty of somewhat high peaks accompanied by somewhat lower valleys, Cleveland Browns rookie running back Isaiah Crowell remained in the fantasy spotlight as a high quality flex option throughout 2014, and his 2015 value is something worth monitoring this offseason.
How he got to where he is now
As a 22-year-old rookie coming in to Cleveland, Crowell signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent and was immediately given a $10,000 signing bonus. Scouts were wary of his discipline issues while in college. For example, Crowell was arrested on a weapons charge just before his sophomore season at Georgia which led to his dismissal from the perennial Division I powerhouse and his eventual enrollment at Alabama State just a month later. He bounced back while at Alabama State though, rushing for 30 touchdowns in two seasons and despised 1,000 yards rushing during his senior year.
He was no doubt a talented college player, and he proved his game could translate into the NFL during his rookie year. In his first season, he averaged a very solid 4.1 yards per carry, which was higher than teammates Terrance West (3.9 YPC) and now former teammate Ben Tate (3.1 YPC).
But Crowell's lack of touches early on curbed his fantasy upside. While he managed 11 carries twice in the team's first four games, it was clear the Browns' coaching staff was committed to offseason acquisition Ben Tate, a guy we will talk about later in this article.
So because he didn't see the majority of the carries (that distinction would eventually belong to Terrance West who had 171 total on the season), Crowell ended up with only 607 rushing yards. He rushed just 148 total times in 2014, a little over nine carries per game. Between him, Tate and West, the Browns were among the most run happy teams in the NFL.
While his yardage numbers didn't set hair on fire, Crowell made his fantasy money around the goal line which was a place the Cleveland coaching staff trusted him the most. He finished with a team-high eight rushing touchdowns, twice as money as both West and Tate.
Offensive line hot start and late fizzle
With a front that included Pro Bowlers Alex Mack and Joe Thomas, the Browns were all the rage through the first four games of the season and it looked like Crowell could benefit from that. Starting quarterback Brian Hoyer sure did, as the Browns' offensive line allowed the fewest quarterback pressures through five games, giving Hoyer the kind of protection usually reserved for the great quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and most recently, Tony Romo.
The good protection Hoyer enjoyed paid dividends for his stats. His zero interceptions in the first three games of the season and tacked up a three touchdown, 297 yard performance against Tennessee in Week 4. It only took Tate until Week 2 to record his first 100 yard game against the Tennessee Titans. The Browns went 2-2 in those first four games, but never lost a game by more than a field goal. Overall, it looked like things were trending upward.
But then misfortune occurred. Pro Bowl center Mack broke his leg in the team's Week 6 victory over Pittsburgh, which ended his season. The loss was a huge blow to an offensive line that had just played its best game of the year in a 31-10 victory over Pittsburgh. Coincidentally, Crowell rushed for 77 yards on just 11 carries (7.0 YPC) and a touchdown in that game. Other than his 88 yard outing against Atlanta, it was Crowell's the highest YPC average performance of the season.
No sooner when Mack left did Crowell's numbers start to dip. They lost an ugly game against Jacksonville, where fill in center John Greco struggled in his first ever start at the position after shifting over from guard. Hoyer felt the difference too, as he was sacked three times after being virtually untouched through the first quarter of the season. He finished just 16-for-41 for 215 yards in that loss. The rushing game also suffered, as Crowell turned in his worst performance of the season up until that point, rushing for just 18 yards on seven carries (2.6 YPC).
The Browns quickly rebounded and rattled off three straight victories, but the schedule was a bit softer against bad defenses like Oakland and Tampa Bay. Plus, the running game wasn't a factor in the victories since the Browns averaged 1.8 yards per carry as a team in that stretch. With those numbers coming against a bad Oakland Raiders rush defense and a Gerald McCoyless Tampa Bay D, you would've liked to have seen better stats from Crowell in that stretch. No doubt the injury to Mack played a key role. That said, the Browns averaged 23 points per game through nine weeks, which is something to be respected.
Making them eat Crow
Crowell slowly won over the coaches trust as the season went along. By Week 9, he started to see a consistent uptick in carries and eventually became the team's starting running back. He averaged 12 carries per game over the last eight weeks of the season, but remained a boom or bust candidate due to his inability to break big plays which zapped his yardage potential.
His fantasy value also suffered from the committee style attack employed by coach Mike Pettine, which led to inconsistent carry totals as the Browns rode the hot hand between he and West. Sometimes West would end up with more carries even if Crowell was the starter going in, as was the case in Week 12 against the Falcons where Crowell rushed 12 times for 88 yards while West saw 15 carries for 48 yards. Despite Crowell's better numbers, the Browns were committed to running a committee style system which left production at the running back spot very erratic at times.
To top it off, he battled a hip injury throughout the later part of the season which constantly kept his starting status in doubt.
Taters gonna Tate
While the competition between two running backs is enough to pose a consistency problem from a fantasy standpoint, it was even more muddled at one time during the 2014 season. The Browns signed former Texans running back Ben Tate in the offseason in hopes of finding a feature back after former their once coveted Top 5 draft pick in Trent Richardson didn't pan out, but the result was more of the same.
Tate started out well enough, averaging 6.2 yards per carry in his first two games, but quickly fell back to earth after that. From Weeks 4-8, Tate rushed for just 90 yards over five games. It all came to a head after a noticeably poor showing against Houston in Week 8, where Tate couldn't find a way into the positive net yardage category and ended with a pathetic -9 yards on four carries. He was released shortly after.
So with Tate gone, that's 119 more carries available to split between West and Crowell, assuming they don't go out and grab a running back in a talented pool of rookies come draft time. So while we can't say for sure if Crowell will have a chance to see a significantly higher amount of carries in 2015, there will be more opportunities for carries next season now that he proved his worth as a rookie.
Departure of Shanahan
After Norv Turner left in 2013, the Browns brought in Kyle Shanahan from Washington. The change in style was immediately noticeable. Turner was a pass enthusiast and the Browns ended up leading the league in pass attempts that season with 681. The results were good for wide receiver Josh Gordon, who ended up winning the receiving title, but the Browns didn't exactly light the world on fire and missed the playoffs for the 11th straight season.
Under his zone blocking run scheme, Shanahan recommitted the Browns to the ground game in 2014 and Cleveland ended up ranking sixth in rushing attempts with 477 total carries for the season. But the poor finish by the team and eventual 7-9 record led to Shanahan getting canned as well. So now the Browns are looking at their sixth offensive coordinator in six years. Former Rams, Bears and Lions coordinator Mike Martz interviewed with the team most recently, but there has been no official word on who will replace Shanahan just yet.
Uncertainty at quarterback
Brian Hoyer was the clear cut starter heading into 2014, but eventually regressed to the point where rookie Johnny Manziel started to see action. If Manziel's expected to take the reins in 2015, it could mean much more inconsistent play while he goes through growing pains as a young player. This could force the Browns into a bit of a rebuilding mode, which could also zap Crowell's value.
There is considerable sleeper potential for Crowell in 2015. The Browns still have a very talented offensive line and the absence of Ben Tate should provide more opportunities for carries as long as Cleveland doesn't try to add more RBs through the draft and/or free agency. But while it looks like he's weathered his past discipline problems that drained his value in college, there's always the possibility he messes up again. Also, inconsistencies at the quarterback position and some uncertainty at the offensive coordinator spot still leaves the possibility of fantasy upside for Crowell as a work in progress. But he's definitely an above average in the talent department.
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If you were lucky enough to make the fantasy playoffs in your league this season, chances are your lineup is already set. It's easy to know which guys to start for Week 14 right? You simply go with the guys that got you there. Your QB1, RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, TE, DEF are all ready to go.
This idea of sticking with your studs is a philosophy we will endorse to the death. Advanced fantasy football people don't think twice about it, while beginners may get too cute and bench somebody because of a bad matchup or just a bad gut feeling. Word to the wise, your best players are matchup proof, so start them.
But even though your studs are set in stone, there are last-second tweaks that you can make to your flex spot that can often make the difference between a good week and a great one. Since flex players often aren't the most electric guys, their chances of success boil down to favorable matchups and a good situation. If you can find the right guy in the right matchup who's peaking at the right time, you can really give yourself an edge over an opponent that's probably just a good as you are because he's in the playoffs as well.
Here are five running backs who we would trust as flex options for your first playoff matchup in Week 14.
Carlos Hyde (owned in 36% of leagues) @ Oakland
Hyde has been one of the top fantasy handcuffs all season. He doesn't get a whole lot of opportunities but when he does, he runs hard and usually sees touches around the goal line. The 49ers have a good matchup against a Raiders team that's given up the most fantasy points to running backs (22 points per game) this season. It's likely the 49ers utilize Hyde and Frank Gore as a one-two punch and Hyde sees some production as a result.
Over the past three games, Hyde has recorded carry averages of 9, 7, and 5, respectively. He hasn't rushed for many yards in those games, but he has scored a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints, a bottom-five team in fantasy points allowed to running backs (20.4 points per game) on average. It's likely the Raiders could allow a similar result.
If you really don't know who to start in the flex spot and don't want to leave things up to a boom-or-bust receiver, Hyde is a good bet to give you some kind of production because of the matchup. San Francisco also ranks 8th in the league in rushing attempts (347), so the opportunities should be there for Hyde.
Jonathan Stewart (owned in 27% of leagues) @ New Orleans Saints
For the same reasons as we just mentioned for Hyde, Stewart could also benefit from a good matchup against the New Orleans Saints. With DeAngelo Williams likely out with a hand injury, Stewart steps in as the best running back option on a Panthers team in desperate need of offensive firepower.
Last week against Minnesota, Stewart averaged 7.1 yards per carry on his way to 85 yards on 12 attempts. It was Stewart's best game in over a month.
When it comes to the New Orleans Saints' defense, they've allowed 95 yards from Le'Veon Bell, 182 yards from Justin Forsett and 152 yards from Jeremy Hill over the last three weeks. Their defense hasn't shown any signs of improvement so expect the Panthers to go at them with the run game.
Isaiah Crowell (owned in 67% of leagues) vs. Indianapolis
Ok, so it's unlikely you'll snag the Crow off the waiver wire this week as he's owned in the majority of leagues. This advice is more for the people who already have him and are wondering if they should start him in this week. Well, we didn't like Crowell last week against Buffalo and we were vindicated, as he ended up rushing for just 29 yards on 17 carries (1.9 yards per carry) against a tough Buffalo run defense that swarmed him on nearly every play. It was like watching a guy repeatedly run into a brick wall at times.
But the key number in Crowell's stats is '17.' Crowell's 17 carries are a good indicator that the Browns will continue to run the ball even if the end result isn't positive yardage. They still used him around the goal line plenty as well, so a touchdown could be play. The Browns were also trailing in that game throughout and still committed to the run game, which is a good sign gameflow won't affect Crowell's numbers. Also, fellow rookie Terrance West gave up a costly fumble which could limit his workload going forward.
As for the matchup, the Colts rank in the bottom five against running backs (19.9 points per game) and their offense hasn't taken good care of the ball all season long. Newly starting running back Dan 'Boom' Herron's has had issues with fumbles early on and quarterback Andrew Luck has thrown at least one interception in eight games this season. Add in the fact that the Browns have at least one takeaway in 8 straight games and this could be a game where we see Cleveland get a chance to turn mistakes into points.
Andre Williams (owned in 40% of leagues) @ Tennessee
Starter Rashad Jennings injured his ankle last week against Jacksonville but the injury is not considered to be serious. Even if Jennings is healthy, Williams is likely going to see some carries against a Titans team that ranks second worst in the league against running backs (21.8 fantasy points allowed per game).
Williams has not been very effective in his rookie year, as he's averaging just 2.9 yards per carry this season. Still, he's received a respectable 134 carries in 12 games. The Giants like to mix it up in the run game and Williams has the right matchup to at least snipe a touchdown and rush for 40-60 yards, making him a candidate for a solid 12-15 point game which is a great number for a flex spot.
LeGarrette Blount (owned in 63% of leagues) @ San Diego
Blount received the bulk of the workload against Green Bay with 10 carries and should be the Patriots No. 1 running back with Jonas Gray in the doghouse. San Diego has been OK against the run (15th overall) but they still surrendered over 100 yards to Justin Forsett last week and also gave up over 100 total rushing yards to both Miami and St. Louis.
It's likely Blount sees around 12-15 carries, rushes for 70 yards and scores a touchdown. You just have to take the risk that Shane Vereen or Brandon Bolden won't snipe one here or there. Even if they do, there's no reason to expect Blount to not see the majority of the carries in Week 14.
1. Jonas Gray RB/New England Patriots (8.4% Owned)
Raise your hand if you started Patriots running back Jonas Gray this week? Not many? That is what I thought. Well after gashing the Colts on Sunday night for 199 yards on a whopping 38 attempts (5.2 YPC), fantasy owners can expect Gray to be one of the hot commodities on the waiver wire this week.
Gray was buried on the depth chart at the start of the year behind veterans Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. With Ridley out for the year with a torn ACL, Gray has taken over as the bell cow in the Patriots backfield, and Vereen has once again been relegated to a third-down/COP back in the Patriots offense.
I have to warn you fantasy owners; Patriots Head Coach Bill Belicheck can cause some serious headaches with how he divvies up the workload for his running backs, using the flow of the game to dictate his primary rusher for the day. Although you cannot expect Gray to go out and run for 200 yards and four touchdowns on a weekly basis, he's well worth stashing on your roster especially if Belicheck continues to get the former golden domer more involved in the offensive game plan.
Recommendation: Stash and See
Value: Flex/High RB3 w/ Potential
2. Jordan Matthews WR/Philadelphia Eagles (41.7% Owned)
After posting two startight weeks with 100+ yards and a touchdown, it's safe to say that rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews has replaced Riley Cooper as the team’s no. 2 option in the passing game.
In the last two games, Matthews and quarterback Mark Sanchez have shown solid chemistry, connecting for 12 receptions for 245 yards and three touchdowns. I expect Jeremy Maclin to continue to be the focal point of the Eagles passing game, but with the up-tempo offense Kelly employs there's no reason to think that Matthews cannot continue to put up quality fantasy numbers on a weekly basis.
If Matthews was left unclaimed after last week’s monster 7/138/2 line against the Panthers go out and grab him immediately.
Recommendation: Add Immediately
Value: WR2/High Flex
3. C.J. Anderson RB/Denver Broncos (77.8% Owned)
When asked how he would split up the carries between his stable of running backs, Broncos Head Coach John Fox stated that the primary factor would be "first and foremost" on "who's healthy." After losing Ronnie Hillman for an extended period of time with a sprained foot, the Broncos were left to depend on UDFA C.J. Anderson and second-year running back Montee Ball to carry the load.
Fantasy owners who thought Ball was going to come in and make a big splash were quickly disappointed after he re-aggravated the groin injury that cost him the last five weeks. Early indications are the Ball will be out an extended period of time, and could even be placed on injured reserve depending on the results of his MRI on Monday.
With both Ball and Hillman out the Broncos backfield suddenly went from one of the deeper groups in the league to one of the thinnest. Anderson has shown the ability to carry the load for the Broncos running game, racking up 119 yards on 22 carries (5.4 YPC) over the last two weeks. Anderson also proved a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield, hauling in 12 passes for 159 yards and one touchdown. On an offense with Peyton Manning running the show, there will be no shortage of scoring opportunities for Anderson, and as long as he is the starting running back he has the potential to post RB1-type numbers going forward.
Recommendation: Add Immediately
Value: High RB2/Low RB1
4. Isaiah Crowell RB/Cleveland Browns (23.7% Owned)
How frustrating has it been trying to figure out how the Browns will handle their running game this season. One week it’s Tate getting the bulk of the carries, the next it's Terrance West, and finally this week Isaiah Crowell was the Browns starting running back.
I have been saying for some time now that Crowell is the best running back on the Browns roster, and if Sunday’s game is any indication as to how the Browns will split up the carries in the future, the coaching staff agrees with me. Crowell totaled 90 yards of offense (61 rush, 30 receiving) against the Texans, and out-carried West 3:1.
While no one is certain how the Browns coaching staff is going to split the carries up, unless you are Mike Pettine, it is clear to anyone that watches the Browns offense that Crowell is the best of the Brown’s running backs.
Recommendation: Add Immediately
Value: Flex w/High RB2 Potential
5. Josh Gordon WR/Cleveland Browns(68.3% Owned)
The wait is finally over Browns fans as Josh Gordon is finally eligible to play after serving the final game of his suspension this weekend.
It's tough to say how heavily involved Gordon might be in his first week back. Last year under Norv Turner, the Browns offense led the NFL in passing attempts. This year it is a different story, as new head coach Mike Pettine has made it clear that he wants to feature an offense that is predicated on a power-running game.
Gordon’s talent is undeniable and should immediately become the no. 1 option in the Browns passing game. For his first game back I would rank Gordon more as a high-end WR2, and depending how offensive coordinator Kyle Shannahan implements him, could easily reach high end WR1 numbers in the very near future.
Recommendation: Add Immediately
Players to Monitor
1. Charles Johnson WR/Minnesota Vikings
If you are not a Vikings fan, you are probably not very familiar with Johnson, but ever since being signed off the Browns practice squad he has quietly become the Vikings most consistent receiver. While his overall stat line may not be that impressive, Johnson has been one of the few receivers that has shown the ability to stretch the field for the Vikings, as well as showing the ability to get separation from man coverage. After posting 6 catches for 87 yards in week 11 against the Bears, I expect Johnson to get some more run with the first-team offense. Do not waste a waiver claim on Johnson this week, but definitely keep an eye on his production going forward.
2. Cody Latimer and Jacob Tamme WR and TE/Denver Broncos
It was a tough week for the Broncos offense. After getting held to 7 points on offense for the first time since 2001, Peyton Manning lost a lot more than just a game on Sunday. Both Julius Thomas (Ankle) and Emmanuel Sanders (Concussion) left Sunday’s game and did not return. While Sanders’ concussion does not look to be major, Thomas was not quite as lucky as his ankle injury could cause him to miss an extended period of time.
If Sanders is forced to miss any time with his concussion there will be a massive void that will need to be filled opposite Demariyus Thomas. I would imagine the Broncos go to a combination of veteran Andre Caldwell and rookie second-round pick Cody Lattimer.
Julius Thomas was forced from Sunday’s game with what is being called a low-ankle sprain, and could potentially miss an extended period of time. If he is forced to miss time, Manning’s long time teammate Jacob Tamme will be given the first opportunity to fill the void in Thomas’ absence. While Tamme will not blow anyone away with his athleticism, he's a very reliable target in the red zone, and if we know one thing about a Peyton Manning led offense they might get down in that area a few times a game. I would not recommend spending a waiver priority on any of these players, except for Tamme due to the lack of quality depth at tight end in fantasy football. As for the rest of them, keep them on your radar in the coming weeks to see how they are integrated in the Broncos offense.
3. Latavius Murray RB/Oakland Raiders (0.7% Owned)
I have no idea what took so long for the Raiders coaching staff to give this kid an opportunity, but like the say “better late than never”. Murray rushed for a team-high 43 yards giving the Raiders running game a much needed kick in the butt.
Now falling to 0-10 this season the Raiders have no reason to not see what they have in Murray, especially when their other options are two veterans in McFadden and Jones-Drew that are completely washed-up.
Being on a terrible team like the Raiders that will consistently be playing from behind will likely limit Murray’s fantasy potential, but there is no denying that he has the ability to make plays that the veterans simply cannot make at this stage in their career. Keep an eye on Murray as I expect his role to continue to grow in the Raiders offense.
Hey everybody, this is Josh Gordon, Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns. Just wanted to say thanks if you're one of the few lucky fantasy owners that stuck with me through this whole suspension ordeal. I say this honestly: You guys are true believers.
As I sealed the deal on my 12th straight used car sale (I promise all customers a free pine tree air freshener if you know what I mean) I could only feel bad as I watched my teammates enjoy the benefits of an easy schedule and play against some of the worst defenses in the league over a five-game stretch of the season. I can only express regret for not being there to give you all fantasy points. But Good things often come to those who wait, and success and prosperity currently lines your remaining path in the 2014 fantasy football season.
You gotta admit, that section of the Browns' schedule from Week 2-7 was as soft as the NFL's domestic violence policy. My matchups would've been pretty tasty considering our opponents consisted of Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Houston. Damn, what I could've done to those cornerbacks.
Don't fret too much, you'll still get some mileage out of me come the end of the regular season, and the first pay off will come this week against Atlanta in the comfortable confines of the Georgia Dome.
Why the Falcons' offense helps me
Well, we know their offensive line has struggled due to injuries, but the real key stat is time of possession. The Falcons are holding onto the ball an average of 28 minutes and 17 seconds per game, which ranks 25th in the league. They don't do much better at home, as they hang onto the ball for 28 minutes and 43 seconds per game. The offense relies too much on the pass as evidenced by their 38.2 pass attempts per game, which forces the clock to stop on incomplete passes and leads to punts. Of the 113 offensive drives put together by Atlanta, 28 of them have resulted in a 3 and out. That's 26th worst in the league.
All this should help Bryan Hoyer and myself stay on the field more. I know my Browns aren't exactly great in time of possession either. We actually rank behind Atlanta in that category. But, we're making changes in that area. We cut Ben Tate earlier this week, and our most talented running back in Isaiah Crowell is finally starting. Crowell averaged a respectable 4.4 yards per carry in his first start as a Brown against Houston last week, and the purpose he shows when running the ball should help us extend drives and keep our offense moving down the field. The longer I'm on the field, the opportunity I will have to score points. Stick that in your pipe.
How about the Atlanta defense?
It's nice if you're me. The Falcons rank dead last in passing yards allowed, averaging 281.2 per game. They're also 24th in rushing yards allowed, so our offense should be able to provide a lot of scoring for you. The Falcons gave up 292 passing yards to Carolina last week. That's right, the team whose tight end leads them in receptions managed to put up nearly 300 yards passing. The week before, Josh McCown and Tampa notched 301 passing yards against them.
There also shouldn't be a lot of pressure on the quarterback this week either. The Falcons have registered only 13 sacks on the year, which is tied for second worst in the league. Only Oakland is worse with 10. There shouldn't be any problem when it comes time for me to get open. One thing needs to happen though.
The elephant in the room
Brian Hoyer has to really show up this week. I'm not saying he can't, but he went 20-for-50 last week against a below average secondary in Houston and finished with a dismal 61 quarterback rating. Granted, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney were breathing down his neck most of the game and he won't have to deal with that so much against Atlanta, but he's got to avoid looking like that other quarterback in our division with the red hair.
But despite Hoyer's struggles last week, I think my presence gives him an added boost. I can run after the catch like nobody's business. Last year, I led the league in receiving yards on just 87 catches and only one receiver in the Top 10 had less receptions than that. I averaged 18.9 yards per catch and turned short passes into large chunks of yardage. Only Kenny Stills averaged more yards per catch than me.
All the elements are there. A good matchup, a better running game and a (hopefully) a serviceable quarterback. I should be good to help you start your run to your fantasy championship, maybe throw you around 18-20 fantasy points (roughly 120 receiving yards and a touchdown). Take care.
Start of the Week
Andrew Hawkins v. Tampa Bay Buccaneers #14 Weekly Rankings
With Josh Gordon suspended for the majority of the season, the Cleveland Browns needed someone to step up and try to fill some of the void left by Gordon. As many of our writer’s here at Fantasy Football Helpers have indicated, Andrew Hawkins has been the most consistent Browns receiver from a fantasy perspective.
Despite not having the body of a typical no. 1 receiver (5’7”) Hawkins is quietly having a very successful year, leading Browns' receivers in targets (52) receptions (36) and receiving yards (471), showing to be quarterback Brian Hoyer’s safety blanket.
This week Hawkins gets a juicy matchup with a Tampa team that has officially waved the white flag on the season after making a couple of trades at the deadline, including one for starting safety Mark Barron. The Buccaneers are currently giving up the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers (29.4), and have given up a league-high 12 receiving touchdowns this season. Look for Hawkins to build on his hot-start as Hoyer picks apart the Buccaneers secondary this Sunday.
Dwayne Allen v. New York Giants
First thing's first, Andrew Luck is an absolute monster and should be one of the leading candidates to be the NFL’s MVP at the half-way point of the season. Luck has not had a game this year with fewer than 300 passing yards, and shown the ability to spread the ball around to the multitude of receiving options on the Colts offense. Even though there was some uncertainty early on as to whom would be the primary tight end for the Colts, Allen has cemented himself atop the tight end depth chart, proving to be the superior option in the passing game between Allen and Luck’s college teammate, Coby Fleener. Despite not having a high-volume of targets, Allen makes the most of his opportunities, finding paydirt in all but two games this season.
This week Allen gets an owner friendly matchup against a Giants defense that is currently allowing the 10th most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, and just gave up two touchdowns to Cowboys tight end Gavin Escobar in week 8. Due to the recent history, and the Colts offense being one of the best in the league, I see Allen as a top-10 play in a week owners are scrambling to find bye-week replacements.
Pierre Garçon v. Minnesota Vikings #16 Weekly Rankings
Garçon owner’s are likely getting very frustrated with the Redskins receiver due to the reduction in fantasy production in Jay Gruden’s offense. However, this is the week I feel Garçon finally busts out of his slump.
With Robert Griffin III officially ruled active for the Redskins week 9 matchup with the Vikings, look for Garçon to once again be the focal point of the Redskins passing game. Despite having a suspect sophomore season, Garçon still led the team NFL in targets and finished second in receiving yards. This year, it was looking as if the two were going to continue their ways, as Garçon led the Redskins in targets (12) and receptions (10) in the team’s week one loss to the Texans.
Despite having a tough matchup with a Vikings defense that ranks in the top-5 in terms of yards-per-game I expect Griffin to try and establish a rhythm with both of his receivers, utilizing the short passing and screen game to get Griffin some early completions. I know that it has been hard to trust Garçon on a weekly basis, but if you had the patience I think you are going to be drastically rewarded very soon.
Michael Floyd v. Dallas Cowboys Unranked this Week
Despite having the big-play potential of the Cardinals receivers, third-year wide receiver Michael Floyd has struggled, failing to top 50 receiving yards or five receptions in any of his last five games. Floyd has been saved by a two touchdowns in his last three games to save any fantasy relevance, but with nagging injuries and an inconsistent workload, Floyd may be someone to keep on your bench this weekend.
It has been no secret that Floyd has been battling some lingering injuries over the last few weeks. He tweaked his knee last week against the Eagles, and even though Floyd was able to remain in the game the team started to feature rookie John Brown as the team’s vertical threat, showing the injury may be more serious than originally led on. Floyd has practiced in full this week and is on track to play, but I know as a fantasy owner I would feel much more comfortable rolling with Fitzgerald, or even the rookie John Brown as a potential sleeper, rather than roll the dice on potentially damaged goods.
Vernon Davis v. St. Louis Rams
Despite having being one of the most well known tight ends in the NFL, Vernon Davis is on the verge of being droppable for fantasy football owners. Since destroying the Cowboys in week one with two receiving touchdowns, Davis has failed to register a game with more than 3 receptions or 40 yards in any game.
Davis has also had a run-in with the injury bug, suffering back spasms after taking an award shot to the back from Demeco Ryans in week 4, causing him to miss the teams next game.
If I were a Vernon Davis owner, I would keep him as far away as you can from your starting lineup. As shaky as Davis is there are plenty of other options if you are looking for a potential bye week fill-in, such as Clay Harbor (v. Bengals) or Jace Amaro (v. Chiefs). While none of these players will produce at the TE1 level, both of them I feel have a better chance of reaching fantasy relevance than Davis does in week 9.
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There have been a lot of changes to the Cleveland Browns since last season. A pass-happy team in 2013, there's reason to believe the running game may be creeping its way back into the team's philosophy this season. But with no convincing No. 1 running back on its roster just yet, it leaves room for speculation regarding who the best fantasy running back could be in Cleveland for 2014.
It all started with a shift in management. Vertical passing enthusiast Norv Turner took his talents to Minnesota and was replaced by former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, a guy who's often been jokingly referred to as an 'anti-fantasy football' coordinator. Alfred Morris owner's from 2013 can attest to that. You could play a sad violin for Morris owners last season, as they saw their touchdown points gobbled up when Shanhan opted to dial up several doses of Roy Helu on the goal line last season. Morris still went on to have a solid season in 2013 with 1,275 rushing yards, but his touchdown total nearly halved after he finished with 7 compared to the 13 he had during his rookie season.
Unlike Turner, Shanahan's offensive philosophy centers around a balance of run and pass. He has proven effective at managing quarterbacks with vastly different styles as well. He helped Texans' Matt Schaub throw for a lot of yards in Houston and also ushered in the zone-read in Washington under the athletic Robert Griffin III. With Shanahan's equally favored approach to both the ground and aerial game, it creates some fantasy intrigue for owner's who may be looking at some stat potential out of the Browns backfield. It can't get much worse for Cleveland in the running category from 2013, as the Browns ranked 30th in rushing attempts with 348.
A good fantasy running back is made in the trenches
A good running game starts with the guys up front, and the Cleveland Browns have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. Center Alex Mack is a two-time pro bowler and has been a fixture on the Browns' offensive line since Cleveland drafted him in 2009. Mack provided the blocking for several highlight games early in his career, including Jerome Harrison's 286-yard rushing effort which ranked third-most all time for one game.
Left tackle Joe Thomas remains one of the best pass protectors in the league, though the Browns one weakness could be at right tackle with Mitchell Schwartz. Schwartz was a liability in pass protection last year, and while Shanahan believes he's a good fit for his zone-blocking scheme, one has to wonder if the 6'5, 320 lb Schwartz will be able to hack a run offense usually designed for more athletic lineman.
Schwartz was such a liability in fact that the Browns used plenty of resources to cover up for him. According to pro football focus, the Browns led the league in chip blocks for both the running back and tight end positions last season to help alleviate some of their protection problems. However, that may be a tougher task this season due to their inexperienced backfield.
The current crop of running backs may not be best suited for providing quality pass protection. According to pro football focus, current starting running back Ben Tate ranked 39th in pass blocking efficiency in a pool of 46 running backs who saw at least 40 pass blocking snaps last year. Behind Tate, you have two rookies in Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell who both of which weren't known as pass blockers in college.
We mentioned his name finally, and the undrafted rookie out of Alabama State has some upside for stashing on your roster right now.
Crowell's college career started off very promising. He landed a starting spot with the Georgia Bulldogs when he was just a freshman. Playing against several vaunted defenses in the SEC, Crowell went on to have several big games including a 30-carry, 147-yard performance against Ole Miss. He finished his freshman year with 856 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns, but it was disciplinary problems that kept him from continuing what looked like a future successful collegiate career with the Bulldogs.
The following season, Crowell was dismissed from Georgia after he was arrested on a drug charge. He ended up enrolling at Alabama State and finished as the leading rusher at Alabama State and led the Hornets to a 7-4 record.
Some of his highlights can be seen in the video below. His run at the :37 second mark of this video is especially impressive.
Why he's worth a roster stash on your fantasy team
Current starter Ben Tate is expected to be an every-down back for Cleveland starting out, which isn't surprising considering the fifth-year RB has proven reliable with a respectable 4.7 ypc average while playing behind Arian Foster in Houston for three seasons. Still, it's Tate's first go in the workhorse role, which is a job only a handful of running backs have proven able to hack at a consistent level. Tate played in only 11 games in 2012 and was eventually placed on injury reserve with cracked ribs in 2013, so durability may also be an issue.
Current No. 2 running back West struggled during preseason, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and zero touchdowns. Crowell, on the other hand, notched 105 yards on 15 carries (7 YPC) and a touchdown. If Crowell can keep his previous run ins with the law a thing of the past, he's got real potential to be a starter on the Browns at some point if the chips fall the right way.
One of the most talented dogs in the dog pound was kenneled for 2014, and it leaves fantasy owners wondering if anybody else is capable of leading the pack.