In the 2011 season, Matthew Stafford entered the group of fantasy elite QBs when he tallied 5,038 passing yards, 41 TDs and 16 INTs. It was only his 3rd year in the league and he joined the top tier of fantasy QBs that included Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Fantasy experts saw a young QB with a rocket of an arm, an offense who passes more than anybody, along with the best WR in the NFL, Calvin Johnson, and decided to anoint Stafford as the next big thing at the QB position and a player who would produce fantasy greatness for years to come.
The following year Stafford set the NFL record for passing attempts but his TDs fell dramatically from 41 to 20. We heard a lot of stories about how many times Lions players were tackled inside the 5 yard-line and even at the 1 yard-line and we heard that his 20 TD season was a fluke. He’d be projected as a top 6 QB once again. Well, two more years have passed since Matthew Stafford’s 41 TD outburst in 2011 and in that time frame eleven different QBs have thrown 30 TD passes….none of them are named Matthew Stafford. In 2013, he fell just short with 29 TDs but then followed that up this season with an abysmal 22 TD passes. I think it’s safe to say that the last three years are not all flukes, but that Stafford was just too hyped after 2011. Year after year fantasy owners have been spending a relatively high draft pick (ADP round 3-5) on Stafford and coming away disappointed while chasing what may be the real fluke, 2011’s stats.
In 2014, Stafford bottomed out setting his low mark in passing yards in 4 years and his 22 TDs ranked 14th at the position, one above rookie Derek Carr. Heading into the season, experts and fantasy players were once again expecting Stafford to produce, with a 4th round ADP (46th pick overall) so the question is….what happened?
Coming Into the Season
Joe Lombardi took over as offensive coordinator for the Lions this season replacing Scott Linehan who was released when Jim Schwartz was replaced by Jim Caldwell as the Lions head coach. Linehan had done a decent job developing Stafford since he joined the staff in 2009 including the career year in 2011, but the Lions opted to go another direction and clear house upon the firing of Schwartz. They brought in former Saints QBs coach Joe Lombardi, a Sean Payton disciple to run the offense. Lombardi’s recognition as an OC candidate came to fruition while Sean Payton was suspended following the bountygate scandal. The Saints didn't suffer on offense and many believed Lombardi was the reason. Stafford had all the tools for Lombardi to mold Stafford into the next Drew Brees, a comparison that started popping up upon Lombardi's hiring.
Golden Tate was added to bookend Calvin Johnson on the outside, and as it turned out to complement him in the slot. Having played in a conservative offense in Seattle, it was unknown how good Tate would be but one thing was for sure, he was better than the man he’d be replacing in Nate Burleson and/or Kris Durham. In addition, the Lions used their first round pick on Eric Ebron, a physical specimen with great hands at tight end. These changes once again had everyone aboard the Stafford hype train.
2014: Week 1- A Match Made in Heaven
Stafford’s first week in Joe Lombardi’s offense could not have been scripted any better. On the first drive of the game, Stafford found Calvin Johnson all alone for a 67-yard touchdown down the right sideline. He was all by himself, with nobody within 20 yards of him. On the second drive, he’d catch a 16-yard TD pass and was almost just as open. Stafford finished with 346 yards and 2 TDs passing, a rushing TD, and 0 turnovers in an easy 35-14 victory. The success of the high flying offense was a great start for the Stafford/Lombardi relationship and the Brees comparisons were all over the media. Little did they know, the Giants were just that bad of a defense.
2014: Weeks 2-11 – Calvin’s injury + Tate’s Emergence = Stafford Mediocrity
Over the next 10 games the Lions would go 6-4. They found themselves in a race for the division lead, but it was due to their top ranked defense, not their quarterback. Stafford had only 11 TDs and 10 INTs during this stretch, while only throwing for 300+ yards once. His top performances (2 passing TDs each game) came against the Jets, Saints and Falcons….and the way those defenses were playing, should those even count as good games?
Calvin Johnson sustained an ankle injury in week 3 against Green Bay. He played the next 2 weeks as a decoy combining for only 3 catches and 19 yards. The Lions decided to shut him down for the next 3 weeks. Basically five weeks were played without Calvin Johnson, a scene all too familiar to Lions fans. Stafford didn’t actually have his worst weeks without Calvin, but his improvement in the new offense had to be put on hold while they waited for Calvin to get healthy.
The one positive to come out of the injury was Stafford’s new found chemistry with breakout WR Golden Tate. Tate basically put up Calvin-like numbers during this stretch. In the five games that Calvin was either a decoy or out, Tate had four 100 yard games (three over 134 yds) and surpassed seven receptions in each game. He made two game winning TD catch and runs, one against the Saints and the second against the Falcons. This chemistry would carry through the rest of the season even when Calvin returned and Tate became a dynamic number two option,a mismatch against #2 CBs who could take it to the house on any play.
2014: Weeks 12-17 – Finally!
After a brutal 10 week stretch and back to back 0 TD weeks heading into week 12, Stafford was written off for good as a fantasy option. However, something clicked against the Bears that week that stuck for the remainder of the season. Sure, the Bears are one of the worst defenses in the league, but Stafford looked absolutely incredible on Thanksgiving Day throwing for 390 yards and 2 TDs on 34/45. In the final 5 weeks Stafford threw for 9 TDs and only 2 INTs while the Lions finished winning 4 of their last 5. He had his first two 3 TDs games and had two 300+ yards outings during this time. His most impressive game was actually a loss where he had 217 yards 3 TDs 0 INTs at GB in week 17 to end the season. Sure, Aaron Rodgers out dueled him but putting up those numbers in Green Bay in December is something that only a guy like Rodgers does.
Stafford may be undervalued next season and I believe he will improve significantly. I’m going to give him one more try as long as his ADP puts him in the middle rounds. He finished the season red hot and started realizing Joe Lombardi’s vision on offense. His chemistry with Golden Tate is tremendous for his prospects of breaking out next season. Calvin Johnson is still as good as he always was and if he could ever stay on the field we could see something really special.
However, I don't mean top 5 QB when I say really special. For one, the Lions defense is elite. If they can retain Ndomukong Suh next season, then it will remain elite. In addition, the running game is much improved. Joique Bell has settled into the Lions work-horse back and was able to close out games by picking up late first downs and eating clock. The team no longer needs to rely on Stafford’s arm to win games. This formula was successful and will not be changing if the defense remains intact. Keep an eye on Suh’s status because if the defense gets worse it will really help Stafford’s fantasy value.
Stafford will enter year two with confidence in Joe Lombardi’s system. Lombardi was quoted as saying “Looking back, I kind of tried to drop maybe some responsibilities on him that maybe a quarterback like Drew didn’t get until four years into the system in New Orleans. “We asked a lot of him and he responded...” Stafford will have another year under his belt throwing balls to Golden Tate and while Eric Ebron did very little (as almost all rookie TEs do), we can expect a significant improvement in his game. I do think Stafford will reach 4500 yds and 30 TDs next season. In a way too early mock draft on NFL.com he was the 14th QB off the board in the 12th round. Getting Stafford at that value is highway robbery. I anticipate his value improving the offseason and would target him as the 10th QB starting in round 8.
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.
View Erik Drost's Flickr page here.
Coming Into the 2014 Season
Colin Kaepernick came into the season off a breakout 2013 campaign in which he had thrown 10 TDs vs. 1 INT in his last 6 regular season games all while rushing for 243 yards in three post season games. He was 1 Richard Sherman tip away from reaching the Super Bowl and NFL and fantasy football fans were led to believe that he could be the next big thing at the quarterback position. His 2013 season (25 TDs/8 INTs, 524 yards rushing) placed him 12th amongst fantasy QBs, but because of his rushing ability and his much improved passing efficiency, it seemed as if this was his floor while the sky was the limit. His ADP ranged from as high as the 6th QB to as low as the 10th QB off the board.
2014: Weeks 1-6
The 2014 fantasy season started off with mixed results as Kaepernick was not playing all that well as an NFL QB, but the fantasy point totals added up. In the first five weeks he showed flashes of brilliance for one half of the game while sailing throws, taking sacks and folding in the other half. However, he consistently provided enough rushing yards so that his fantasy point total was respectable. His week 6 MNF performance against the Rams (335 yards and 3 TD) was his high point of the season, raising him to the 7th ranked QB. This performance had Kaepernick owners saying to themselves, “This guy hasn’t even started really running yet. He’s put together incredible halves of games, and finally he had a complete game of dominance. This guy could be top 5 when all is said and done. Crabtree and Vernon Davis haven’t even done anything yet. This season is going to be incredible!” Well, as you all know, that week 6 game would be his only big performance, and the plummet to a disappointing season happened quickly, leading to his finishing as the 16th ranked QB. So the question on the minds of Kaepernick owners at year’s end was…..What happened?
Two Bust Pass Catchers. I’m talkin’ to you Crabtree and Vernon
Michael Crabtree finished 2013 healthy and having been two years removed from a torn ACL, his 2014 season was supposed to be a special one. NFL experts pegged a healthy Crabtree as a game changer, much like he was in 2012, and the reason why San Francisco would overtake Seattle in the division. In addition, Vernon Davis was an athletic tight end on the rise coming off a career high 13 TDs. Savvy veterans Anquan Boldin and newly signed Stevie Johnson rounded out what looked like a pass catching foursome that would give defensive backs nightmares. What happened next was not expected by anyone…Boldin was the heart and soul of the team and was incredible while the great duo of Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree were among the biggest real life and fantasy football busts. Both players struggled with injury while running poor routes and dropping pass after pass. They’ve actually dropped three passes since you started reading this article! Stevie Johnson was basically a non-factor. The poor play of Crabtree and Davis left a lot of points on the table for Kapernick owners from day 1 all the way through week 16.
Ineffective/Injured Offensive Line
Starting guard Alex Boone entered 2014 as a holdout and didn’t have a training camp. Pro Bowl right tackle Anthony Davis was coming off shoulder surgery which held him out of the preseason and injured his hamstring in practice before week 1. He returned in week 4 and sprained his MCL the same day against the Eagles. He returned briefly while playing injured and then sustained a concussion in week 12. He was held to 5 games. Boone struggled throughout the year and Davis’s absence led to swinging gate, Jonathan Martin, having to play right tackle. The end result was an offensive line that allowed 53 sacks, the 3rd most in the league. Sure, Kaepernick held onto the ball too long leading to some of these sacks, but the o-line was significantly worse than the unit the 49ers had previously considered a position of great strength.
Defenses Adjusting to the Mobile QB
As I had previously mentioned, Kaepernick put together respectable rushing totals in weeks 1-6. He had rushed for 37-65 yards in 4 out of the first 6 weeks. In the following 7 weeks, Kaepernick was not able to break 26 yards. His threat as a rusher had been taken away, and the safety net for fantasy owners, Kaepernick’s rushing totals, had disappeared. As a slap in the face to his owners, he ended the season rushing for 151 yards and a TD in a game against the Chargers. It was his only rushing TD on the season (last season he had 4).
Decision Making and Touch Passes
These are the two areas where Kaepernick struggles the most. When his first read is open he’s incredible. When his second read is open he’s pretty good. When both his first and second reads are covered he starts dancing around and either throws the ball away, takes a sack, or turns it over. Starting in week 7, defenses regularly started to rush only 3 or 4 and take away his first receiving option. He was able to find Anquan Boldin often because my man Q is incredible at finding holes in the zone, but Kaerpernick often missed first down opportunities on crucial drives because he did not go past his second read. Outlet receivers and lesser talented options would be open, but he just wouldn't bother to look at them. These adjustments led to a jaw dropping run from week 7 to week 16 where Kaepernick had 1 or fewer TD passes leading to Kaepernick being amongst the worst fantasy QBs in the 2nd half of the season.
In addition, when Kaepernick did deliver the ball it was almost always getting to the receiver at 95 MPH. Kaepernick was recruited as a pitcher and he sports one of the fastest bullet passes, but it’s the only speed he knows how to throw. Until the young QB learns when it is appropriate to throw a bullet vs. a medium speed pass vs. a touch pass, more drops and more inaccuracy can be expected.
Major changes will be coming in San Francisco. Jim Harbaugh is already out as head coach and offensive coordinator Greg Roman is interviewing with other teams, so he could very well be out of the mix in San Francisco. Kaepernick has all the talent in the world, but he needs to get his head on straight in order to succeed. His decision making and accuracy issues were exploited this season and he’ll most likely be learning a new offense. The new head coach, and coordinator/personnel changes will determine his value going into next season. Because of his unique skill-set, he will always have a high ceiling as long as he’s a starting QB, however, unlike last year, fantasy owners should not be drafting him as their starting QB.
Sammy Watkins delivered for those who took the risk and went against the age-old notion that rookie receivers rarely produce quality numbers. But despite a respectable 65/982/6 line, there were several factors that prevented him from having one of the best seasons for a rookie wide receiver in recent memory.
When it comes to redrafting Watkins onto your team next season, there are already several wheels in motion that will affect his value for 2015.
In what could end up going down in history as one of the greatest wide receiver drafts of all time, rookie WRs Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin all finished with over 1,000 receiving yards in their first year. All three receivers were first round talents, but they weren't the ones who drew the biggest hype.
That distinction belonged to Watkins, a 6'1 phenom who possessed blazing 4.34 speed and considerable size at 211 lbs. He had all the playmaking tools you want out of a franchise receiver. Watkins ended up being the first receiver taken off the board at No. 4 overall by the Buffalo Bills, a team that endured a big risk to get him after they surrenderd a 2015 first and fourth round pick to move up from the No. 9 spot.
Unfortunately for Watkins, being taken that high in the draft usually means the team you play for is still a ways away from being any good, and that was definitely the case with the Buffalo offense. Watkins landed on a team that had a young, unproven quarterback in E.J. Manuel, an offense geared more toward the run without a premier running back to take the pressure off the receivers and to top it all off, a below average offensive line that put increased pressure on quarterbacks.
But even with the obstacles that came with being on a sub par team, Watkins set record team rookie marks in receptions (65) and receiving yards (982) and also netted six touchdowns. Those numbers are impressive for any rookie receiver, but you can't help but feel like you missed out on the Beckham Jr./Evans party considering both receivers had double the touchdown total of Watkins when all was said and done. Those one-handed preseason catches were probably enough to sway a lot of fantasy football players to draft him though, so it's understandable. I mean, look at this.
But even though he managed to string together a decent rookie year, it does leave the question. With so much uncertainty in Buffalo right now thanks a departed quarterback in Kyle Orton and a new coaching staff that favors the run over the pass, is Watkins the last receiver you would take in your fantasy draft this season among Beckham Jr., Benjamin, Evans and maybe even Brandin Cooks?
Leaving touchdowns on the table early
When the Bills drafted Watkins, it was a move designed specifically to get the developing Manuel some help. Manuel struggled early on during his rookie season, and eventually suffered a knee njury which led to him only playing in 10 games.
Watkins and Manuel didn't exactly light the world on fire in the beginning of 2014, but they didn't flounder either. Watkins eclipsed 100 yards receiving in just his second game of the season, catching eight passes for 117 yards and a touchdown against Miami in what was perhaps Manuel's best game of the season.
But if you watched that Miami game and had Watkins on your fantasy team, you couldn't help but be a little frustrated. Manuel missed Watkins on what would've been a sure touchdown to a wide open Watkins down the seam. Manuel also failed the punch the ball in when the Bills' defense frequently gave his offense fantastic field position and settled for three Dan Carpenter field goals instead. Manuel even had the ball on the 20 yard line after the Bills blocked a punt and still couldn't find a way to get a score. It wasn't so much that Manuel played bad, he just didn't thrive like you would've expected.
Sidenote: Buffalo finished 30th in red zone efficiency on the season, scoring just 43% of the time which stifled Watkins' ability to score the all important touchdown consistently. He finished with just six touchdowns in his first season and if the Bills can find a quarterback who can consistently score in the red zone, then those numbers will obviously go up. It's not out of the question that Watkins could be in line for a 1,500 yard, 12-plus touchdown season if the Bills can get the right guy under center. That of course, is a big if because of the following.
Manuel's benching, enter Kyle Orton
After Manuel's completion percentage took a considerable dip in losses to San Diego and Houston, the coaches soon lost faith that he was their guy and signed veteran game manager Kyle Orton to take center.
Orton was thrust into the starting role after only starting one game a season ago in the Dallas Cowboys' season finale against Philadelphia. Orton and the Cowboys lost that game, but the veteran did put up a 358 passing yards to go along with two touchdowns. He seemed like he was a better fit to help move the offense down the field and therefore increase Watkins' fantasy value.
Watkins takes off
When Orton was offcially named the starter against Detroit, the Bills instantly became an offense more capable putting up bigger passing stats which led to Watkins having some of his best games as a rookie.
While it took a few games for Watkins to develop chemistry with Orton, Watkins flourished midway through the season in Weeks 7 and 8. He torched the Minnesota Vikings for 122 yards and two scores, which was the first and only multiple touchdown game he had all season.
A week later against a bad New York Jets secondary in Week 8, Watkins got behind the defense consistently and finished with three catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. However, he showboated too early on a long pass he caught in the first half which resulted in him getting dragged down from behind at the ten yard line by a hustling Darrin Walls. Chalk it up as a rookie mistake, but it was just another touchdown left on the table for Watkins.
Despite a few lapses in focus, the two-game stretch of nearly 400 receiving yards was incredibly impressive and offered those a glimpse at just how dominant Watkins can be with a couple of good matchups and a quarterback who's playing well.
Injuries/drop in numbers
Despite a quick spike numbers midway through the season, Watkins and the Bills offense quickly fell back to earth almost immediately after their dominating 43-23 win against the Jets. Watkins failed to catch for more than 35 receiving yards over the next four games, eventually injuring his hip against the Browns which was one of several nagging injuries that plagued his rookie campaign. Watkins had already been slowed by several other ailments including broken ribs earlier in the season.
He did manage one more 100 yard game against the Denver Broncos in December, which served as his final exclamation point performance of 2014. But he was held largely in check against Green Bay (1 catch for 6 yards) and Darrelle Revis against New England (3 catches for 57 yards) in the final games of the season.
Orton slowly regressed as the season went along as well, posting a 6:7 TD-to-INT ratio in his last five outings. Overall, Watkins finished the season with 128 targets, which ranked 23rd in the league. He finished with a 51 percent catch rate according to Football Outsiders, which was lower than Beckham Jr's incredible 70 percent and Evans' 55 percent. A very good season overall though.
Offensive line issues
Not helping Watkins and the Bills offense was the fact that their offensive line struggled most of the season, especially early on at the guard spot which led to them being ranked among the worst offensive lines in the league for the first quarter of the season. Still, the offensive line did get better as the season went along, which led to them eventually being ranked 19th overall in pass protection according to Football Outsiders. Not terrible, but definitely some room for improvement there.
Marrone's surprise departure
Former Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone expressed in regards to Buffalo's trading up in the 2014 draft to snag phenom wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Even if you put on your hindsight 20/20 spectacles for a minute, it's still hard to understand Marrone's concern with the move. Watkins turned out to be a very solid rookie and the Bills nearly the made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. If anything, it was the reach for Manuel in the first round that set the Bills back. It'll be interesting to see if Manuel is given a second chance under the new coaching staff and we see a Jim Harbaugh/Alex Smith-like resurgence.
The hiring of Rex Ryan
Per Yahoo! sports, recently fired New York Jets coach Rex Ryan became the new head coach in Buffalo earlier this week, and former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman is expected to take over the offense.
We have a pretty good idea of who Ryan is as a coach at this point. He's a defensive guru who took two Jets teams to back-to-back AFC Championships in 2009 and 2010. Ryan's winning formula often emphasizes pounding the ball up the gut with running backs while relying on a strong defense. The downside to his style is he often keeps the quarterback under wraps and doesn't like to take big risks down field, which can lead to little reward for offensive playmakers.
What the new coaches mean for Watkins' fantasy value
It's Ryan's ground and pound style that makes an OC like Roman a good fit for the overall coaching staff since they share the same offensive philosophies, but it might hurt Watkins if they don't adapt. Roman spent the last four seasons running a run heavy offense in San Francisco that had a great offensive line and a workhorse running back in Frank Gore.
The Bills have neither of those right now. Their main strength is at wide receiver with Robert Woods and Watkins. It'll be interesting to see if Roman is a good fit for Buffalo, but he'll likely have to adjust a bit and look to get the receivers more involved than he did in San Francisco if we expect Watkins to have a WR1-type fantasy year.
With Orton announcing his retirement earlier in the week, it's obvious Watkins' ADP for 2015 will mostly hinge on the talent of the guy under center as well.
Final verdict/2015 outlook
Watkins flashed some brilliance with his dazzling one-handed grabs during the preseason and his numbers took off like a rocket over a two-game stretch midway through the season but he left a little to be desired considering his talent is off the charts.
Consistency will likely be his next goal, as injuries, poor quarterback play, a few mental lapses on his part and an average offensive line played a role in keeping his numbers from reaching those of Evans and Beckham Jr.
It's only been one season, but Watkins certainly doesn't look like a bust, so drafting him in fantasy a solid WR2/3 is the best option at this point. A lot can change in the offseason, and if the Bills have a lot of questions they'll have to answer with a new coaching staff and a hole at the quarterback position.
Editor's note: This is the first of many articles where we will recap how a certain player did in 2014. We will also try to explain what went wrong and how we can better prepare for the future.
Coming off a storied 2013 campaign where he claimed the rushing title for the first time in his young career, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy surged into the Top 3 for Average Draft Position (ADP) in 2014.
Obviously there were high expectations, and while you can't say McCoy was a disappointment since he finished third overall in rushing (1,319 yards) behind only Le'Veon Bell (1,361 yards) and top guy DeMarco Murray (1,845 yards), Shady still scored only five touchdowns which ranked 23rd among running backs. For a guy who touched the ball 312 times (second most only to Murray who had an obscene 392 carries), those touchdown numbers left a lot to be desired.
Coming into this season
At just 26 years old, McCoy's 2014 fantasy value was as high as ever at the start of training camp. At a young age, his legs still had plenty of miles left on them and with just six games missed over six seasons and no major injuries, he passed the ever-so-important durability concern test that ever fantasy player analyzes almost to a fault at the beginning of the season. McCoy was also coming off his first season under Chip Kelly, a coach whose scheme lends itself to plenty of rushing attempts due to its fast pace and run heavy nature.
McCoy was also one of the better PPR (points per reception) backs in the league which includes back-to-back 50 catch seasons in 2012 and 2013. All these factors led to many fantasy players selecting McCoy as the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the majority of fantasy drafts this season in hopes that he would repeat those numbers.
But, in what's become a recurring theme with running backs after a big season, McCoy failed to top those numbers in 2014. Overall, he finished 13th in fantasy points among fantasy running backs, which while definitely good overall, didn't live up to expectations based on his ADP. So what obstacles prevented him from doing so and what lessons can we learn from this for the future?
Increased competition for stats
As we mentioned above, McCoy was a dominant receiver for his position. He averaged about 400 receiving yards per season (an extra 40 fantasy points in standard leagues) coming into 2014. But those receiving totals were pretty much halved in 2014 and you can credit a few reasons for that, but the major one was the addition of veteran Darren Sproles.
The Eagles fleeced Sproles for just a fifth-round pick from the New Orleans Saints and the move had a profound impact on the Eagles' passing game early on in the season. Sproles caught 14 passes in the first three games, including a dominant seven catch, 153-yard effort against Indianapolis on Monday Night in Week 2.
Sproles also briefly outshined McCoy overall early on in the season. Through Philadelphia's first three games, Sproles amassed 313 yards combined rushing and receiving compared to McCoy's 239. In that span, Sproles achieved those numbers in only 17 rushing attempts and 14 catches while it took McCoy 40 rushing attempts and 10 catches for his. Now, that wasn't a theme that continued throughout the season, but it's worth noting McCoy was very slow out of the gate in 2014.
While Kelly stressed McCoy was still the No. 1 running back and the addition of Sproles wouldn't affect McCoy's attempts, Sproles still finished with 40 receptions while McCoy ended up with just 28, showing that the addition of a versatile running back can curb your feature backs' numbers. Kelly lived up to his word of leaning on McCoy just as much as he did last season though, as Shady frequently carried the ball more than 20 times per game and never saw less than 10 carries in one contest.
While normally a drop in reception numbers wouldn't affect someone with a huge running workload like McCoy, Shady's lack of touchdowns in 2014 served as the real culprit in causing his fantasy numbers to dip slightly. With just five scores on the ground, Kelly leaned on the younger Chris Polk for goal line touches and with a red zone touchdown percentage of just under 50 percent, the Eagles found themselves below average in scoring the ball around the goal line.
McCoy was never a high volume scorer throughout his career. Aside from a fluky year in 2011 where he scored 17 rushing touchdowns, he has never crossed into double digits since. Through six seasons, McCoy rushed for 4,7,17,2,9, and 5 touchdowns, respectively. So without touchdowns (six in most most standard leagues per touchdown) and without the receiving numbers to offset the lack of fantasy points, McCoy didn't pop for big numbers too often. His best fantasy days were back-to-back 19 point efforts in Weeks 12 and 13 against poor rushing defenses in Tennessee and Dallas.
The addition of Sproles curbed McCoy's reception output to his lowest since his rookie year in 2009.
Were injuries along the offensive line an issue?
While Philadelphia's offensive line wasn't nearly as healthy as they were in 2013 with injuries to center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis plus the suspension to a budding star in Lane Johnson making things even more complicated, it still doesn't explain why Sproles was so effective and McCoy wasn't. If you go back and watch McCoy compared to Sproles, he looked a little bit more indecisive at times. In the NFL, all it takes is one split second of uncertainty that can make the difference between a 20-yard gain and a five-yard loss.
We saw just how effective a running back can be with one of the best offensive lines in the league. McCoy arguably had the best one last season and won the rushing title. DeMarco Murray definitely had the best one this season and repeated the same feat.
If you're a top 10 talent at running back, a great offensive line can propel you into No. 1 territory. So keep an eye on which offensive line is the best heading into a season in the future. Also, indecisiveness can creep into a running backs mind at any time and end up zapping his confidence for the remainder of a season. Plus, the addition of a proven veteran in the backfield can mess up fantasy stats.
Ending note/slight brag: We wrote about LeSean McCoy's likely regression before the 2014 season began and our theories proved mostly correct.
On Monday's final edition of First Aid for 2014, the Helpers discuss the Atlanta Falcons and their potential to be fantasy juggernauts next season. The Dallas Cowboys impressive fantasy numbers and what exactly went wrong with Andrew Luck. Plus weekly awards for the best and worst of the week.
Week 16 is the championship week in fantasy football for nearly every league. Unfortunately, there are a lot of top running backs whose status is in flux on the biggest week of the fantasy football season. You may be one of those people facing the dillema of having one of those backs on your fantasy team and are still uncertain what your lineup should look like. We're here to hopefully make it a little easier to decide. Here are a bunch of running backs whose status is uncertain heading into Week 16, what their matchups are like, and whether or not we trust them to win you a fantasy championship.
Cleveland Browns Isaiah Crowell @ Carolina Panthers
Crowell's problem: Hip injury
What he did last game (vs. Cincinnati): 7 carries for 17 yards (2.9 yards per carry), 2 catches for 17 yards
What he's up against this week if he plays: Carolina ranks 12th worst against fantasy running backs (17.8 points per game)
What happened last week: Crowell has put together an impressive rookie season with 8 touchdowns and 546 rushing yards. Not bad for a guy who went undrafted. Crow's always been a bit of a touchdown dependent, boom or bust guy due largely to the Browns dual system with Terrance West. That, combined with the Browns suspect run blocking ever since Pro Bowl center Alex Mack went down for the season and you have a constant whirlwind of uncertainty going into each matchup if you have Crowell.
To complicate matters further, the Browns trotted out rookie Johnny Manziel for the first time last week and it was a strug. The rookie quarterback forced the issue at times, made some classic rookie mistakes like throwing the ball just a half second too late on an out route which lead to an interception and overall created more doubt regarding whether the Browns will move the ball effectively this week. Of course, you can't place the blame solely on Manziel. The Browns receivers failed to reel in a few of his throws, but his mistakes were enough to severely limit the Browns offense and allowed the Bengals to bring the blitz more which limited Crowell's upside.
What could happen this week: The Panthers are a far cry from the dominant defense they were just a year ago where they ranked second best team in the league against running backs. Injuries on the defensive line sprinkled with lackluster depth at the receiver position have resulted in several low scoring outputs for the Panthers, but they have established a bit of a running identity in the last few weeks. The Panthers have shown life in the running game with Jonathan Stewart averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The Panthers will also likely get Cam Newton back and he's averaging 5.0 yards per carry.
Even though Crowell is banged up, he played through it last week which could indicate he's not completely against playing through pain. Still, the Browns are a complete liability on offense as long as Manziel is under center as a rookie. If you watched the Bengals/Browns game last week, you saw how the Bengals completely dominated the Browns in the run game which ate up clock and limited the offenses time on the field. That could very well be the case again this week against Carolina with Stewart.
Do we trust Crowell?: No
Who would we start over him?: Giovani Benard, Carlos Hyde, Dan Herron, Lamar Miller, Tre Mason
Dallas Cowboys' DeMarco Murray vs. Indianapolis Colts
Murray's problem: Broken metacarpal in his left hand (same injury as Apollo Creed's opponent in Rocky I which forced the champ to find himself another ranked contender)
What he did last game (@ Philadelphia): 31 carries for 81 yards, 2 touchdowns (2.6 yards per carry)
What he's up against this week if he plays: Indianapolis ranks 6th worst against fantasy running backs (19.1 points per game)
What happened last week: While many consider Murray's injury huge in terms of affecting his value, the status of offensive linemen Zach Martin and Doug Free may actually make a bigger difference. Martin and Free suffered ankle injuries last week against Philadelphia, but luckily both avoided the dreaded high ankle sprain which could've been a sweet kiss of death for Week 16. Their status is uncertain but if either or them can't go, it could really impact the effectiveness of the Cowboys run game.
As for what happened in the game itself, the Philadelphia Eagles front four picked up from where they left off last week after handling the run quite well a week earlier against the Seattle Seahawks and running back Marshawn Lynch. Fletcher Cox has been a force up the middle all year long and is a perfect fit for the 3-4 scheme. They kept Lynch under the 100-yard mark and held him to just 3.7 yards per carry.
Against Murray, it was more of the same. They held the league's leading rusher to a season low 2.9 yards per carry average. Even when defensive end Trent Cole went out with an injury in the second half, Brandon Graham stepped right in and the defense didn't miss a beat as far as containing Murray went. Still, the Cowboys committed to the run and Murray went on to have a productive fantasy day despite being limited. It shows you just how valuable he is to the offense even when he's not performing at his peak.
What could happen this week: Murray is currently a game time decision for Week 16. If you weren't lucky enough to grab his handcuff Joesph Randle (who's available in 87% of Yahoo! Leagues) then you may have a crisis on your hands. The matchup against Indy is tasty like a Dallas steak medium rare cooked on a cast iron grill. The Colts are allowing 110 rushing yards per game and rarely hold opponents to low scores. They've been involved in several shootouts with their No. 1 ranked passing attack and teams haven't exactly struggled when it comes to keeping up with their scoring. Two weeks ago, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West combined for over 100 rushing yards against them. They allowed 99 yards from Arian Foster last week and over 130 total rushing yards to the Texans overall. This is a team that can be run on, but you can't put Murray's status at anything better than 50/50 at this point so you'll have to monitor him throughout the week. But remember to monitor the status of the linemen as well. If Martin and Free can't go but Murray can, expect Murray to maybe be a little less effective but still startable. If Murray can't go and neither can Marin and Free, then go with Randle if you have him but temper expectations severely.
Do we trust Murray?: If Martin and Free can't go, then no. But you have to start him anyway because of the all important fantasy commandment of 'start thy studs.'
Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles' problem: Ankle and knee injuries
What he's up against this week: Pittsburgh ranks 12th best against fantasy running backs (14.6 points per game)
What happened last week: Charles rushed for a respectable 52 yards on 15 carries (4.3 yards per carry) and looked like his usual self until a big hit sidelined him for virtually the remainder of the game. Originally thought to be concussed, it turned out Charles' head is just fine and he shouldn't have any more obstacles keeping him from playing against Pittsburgh this week. Backup running back Knile Davis continues to be among the top handcuff RBs in the league and is a worthy flex option regardless if Charles starts or not.
What could happen this week: The Steelers have a lot on the line in this game. They control their own destiny heading into the playoffs. Still, they remain completely inept against the pass (252 passing yards allowed per game) and allow 23.8 fantasy points to wide receivers per game which could help Charles be very effective catching the ball out of the backfield. Charles hasn't been the dominant receiver in 2014 that we've seen in the past but he still has 5 receiving touchdowns on the year to go with 235 receiving yards. Davis could be in line for some catches as well.
Do we trust Charles?: Yes, go with him as an RB1, start Davis as a flex
San Francisco 49ers' Frank Gore vs. San Diego Chargers
Gore's problem: Concussion
What he did last game: 11 carries for 29 yards, 1 touchdown
What he's up against this week if he plays: San Diego ranks 13th best against fantasy running backs (14.5 points per game)
What happened last week: Gore got off to a hot start before he took a vicious hit after trying to block down field which left him with a concussion. Fellow running back Carlos Hyde, who replaced Gore, also suffered injuries to his ankle and back. Both running backs missed practice on Tuesday and they have a short week as they're scheduled to play San Diego on Saturday.
What could happen this week: Even before his injury, Gore had been struggling. His YPC average hovered around 2.7 over the last four games and he hasn't crossed the century mark since Week 5 against Kansas City. Hyde has been waiting in the wings and looks like the fresher option at this point. He's been limited in touches, but when he's gotten the carries he runs hard and is a touchdown threat around the goal line.
Do we trust Gore?: No
What should you do: if Gore can't go, then start Hyde as a flex. If Gore can go, bench both him and Hyde or keep Gore in the flex if you're desperate. Hyde simply doesn't get enough carries if Gore is on the field to be effective.
View Pro Football Schedules Flickr page here.
Editor's note: Our bullet point articles are written to better explain our weekly rankings, which you can find here.
The playoffs, we know they're here. We know what you need. So here are our bullet points for RBs this week.
Starts of this week
Jamaal Charles vs. Oakland, Matt Forte vs. New Orleans, Le'Veon Bell at Atlanta — #1, #2, and #3 in weekly rankings
It was really difficult to pick any of these guys for the top start, so we figured just go with all three. If you're lucky enough to have snagged two of them in your draft, you're sitting on a gold mine in Week 15. The only thing you have to worry about is Charles, who is a bit banged up with an ankle injury he suffered last week. Still, Andy Reid expects Charles to be a full go for Week 15.
When it comes to Forte, the New Orleans Saints have allowed 15 rushing touchdowns this season, which is tied for second worst in the league behind Atlanta. They allow a third-worst 21.5 points to fantasy running backs and are also in the bottom 10 against receivers, which is good for Forte as well considering he's a PPR dreamboat. Sorry....got a little carried away there.
Forte has dropped off a bit over the last two games so you may be a little concerned heading into Week 15. He averaged just 2.0 yards per carry against a suspect Dallas defense and understandably struggled against the best run defense in Detroit on Thanksgiving. Still, when he isn't feeding you the steak in the run game, he's supplementing it with some mean potatoes in the passing game. With 25 receptions over his last four games, you can count on Forte to continue to catch at least five passes per game and add 40-80 receiving yards on top of it. Even better, a 10-12 catch games is the ceiling for this guy, which is a skill sket you just can't get out of any fantasy running back.
As for Bell, you already know he's morphed into a superstar this season. He's coming off his best fantasy performance of the year against Cincinnati, where he totaled over 230 yards and three touchdowns combined rushing and receiving. His soft schedule has helped him out there's no question, not unlike LeSean McCoy's schedule down the stretch helped him win the rushing title last season. Bell will be going against an Atlanta defense that gives up the most fantasy points in the league to running backs (22.3 per game). The Falcons also allow the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL (17) and also allow 122 yards per game.
Mark Ingram at Chicago — #11 in weekly rankings
Da......Bears da Bears da Bears da Bears...have struggled on defense this season. They allowed Lions running back Joique Bell to rattle off a season-high 91 yards on Thanksgiving. They also allowed 196 yards and two touchdowns to Dallas over a week before. Ingram is coming off a dud game against Carolina and the Saints offense has been inconsistent throughout the year, but the trend with Ingram has consisted of one bad game followed by one good game. There's no reason he can't produce well in the flex spot this week. Roll with him.
Isaiah Crowell at Cincinnati — #17 in weekly rankings
Crowell is among our favorite waiver pickups and also among are favorite most frustrating start or sit options for 2014 (aside from maybe Kenny Stills). Crowell rewarded those who started him with 11 fantasy points last week and while Terrance West may see more carries than he did a week before, Crowell remains the most talented of the bunch with his 4.4 yards per carry average to go along with eight touchdowns. The Bengals are fourth worst against running backs, allowing 21.2 points per game.
Le'Veon Bell just gashed them for nearly 200 yards rushing and you have to figure with rookie Johnny Manziel starting today, the Browns may go run heavy if he struggles. Expect Crowell to see anywhere between 15-17 carries and come close to 100 yards and a touchdown today. Start him with confidence.
Well, if you’re still alive then I say congratulations and I I’d also like to say…. I’m jealous! My first round exit will be just another blip on the radar that nobody will remember. Admittedly, my team happened to not be very good, but in addition to my team, the regular season’s points leader and consensus best team in my league by far was eliminated. Unfortunately for that team, they will also be another team in the 2014 season that nobody will recall long term. This week those of you who are one game from the championship, are not only playing for a spot in the Super Bowl, or in many cases money….you’re playing for a permanent place in your league’s history books, a fond memory that you and your league members will have forever the bragging rights that come along with this glorious memory. Let me show you what I mean.
I’m a Giants fan in my early 30s and I’ve been a diehard football fan as long as I could remember. Anything Giants related is entrenched in my mind, but playoff games between other teams before they reached the Super Bowl…not as much. For example, everyone around my age or older remembers the Titans v. Rams Super Bowl XXXIV where Kevin Dyson, instead of scoring the game tying TD, was tackled at the one yard line to end the game. The game was now 15 years ago this January and even if you don’t remember the details of the game you know exactly what game I’m referring to and there is a clear picture of it in your mind. However, do you remember how those teams got there? A small percentage of you might, but I’m almost positive that the very large majority does not. I had to look it up and I discovered that the Rams beat the Tampa Bay Bucs 11-6. Weird score and I know I watched that game, but I can’t tell you anything about it off the top of my head. The Titans dominated the Jaguars 33-14. I can’t tell you anything about that game either. In the long run nobody will remember or care that the Bucs made the NFC Title game that year. I’m sure the Bucs don’t brag about losing that heart breaker. Super Bowls will live in all of our hearts and minds forever. Don’t be a blip on the radar! Whether you’re the best team in your league on paper or whether you’re a team that got hot at the right time, take it home this week and you’ll be in fantasy football lure for the rest of your days.
Your lineup should be set with the exception of maybe a flex spot and the always matchup dependent TE spot. However, there are players at every position that I believe can help you accomplish your goal of winning a Super Bowl ring.
Without further ado, your week 15 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.
· Mark Sanchez v. Dallas. Ok so maybe last week didn’t work out at home against Seattle, but that was the Super Bowl Champs playing at their best in a huge game and this is Dallas, a team that's known as the biggest group of December choke artists in the last 15 years. Their defense has given up 7 TDs through the air in the last three weeks to Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, and Mark Sanchez himself. The Eagles dominated the Cowboys in Dallas 33-10 on Thanksgiving day and there is no reason to think they won’t do the same on Sunday.
Quick stat: According to Football Outsiders, teams losing by more than 20 points at home are just 17-36 (.321) in road rematches. The Eagles and Sanchez are looking better already.
Sanchez has shown consistent QB1 ability other than his misstep last week and despite only throwing for 96 yards, he still threw for 2 TDs. He’s otherwise been consistently over 300 yards and has had multiple TDs in 5 of 6 starts. His matchup is ideal for the playoffs and has unlimited upside. Take a tip from me. Just because you were rejected by the girl/guy who doesn’t ever give it up (Seattle), does not mean you won’t score with the girl/guy who has the reputation for giving it up (Dallas)! As far as Mark Sanchez goes, we know he’ll score on Sunday….as soon as he’s done throwing a few TDs in the football game.
I’d Start Mark Sanchez over: Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, JohnnyManziel
· Matthew Stafford v. Minnesota. Oh how a couple of big performances against awful defenses make us forget. In the last two weeks against the 23rd and 31st ranked teams (Chicago, Tampa Bay) against fantasy QBs, Stafford has averaged approximately 350 yards and 2.5 TDs per game. Stafford’s previous two games were against elite defenses in New England and Arizona, games in which he combined for 0 TD and 2 INT. Minnesota, the 10th ranked fantasy defense against QBs and 6th in passing yards against, is up next on the schedule. They’re not nearly as good as New England or Arizona defensively but they’re not nearly as bad as Chicago and Tampa Bay. The Vikings can be run on easily, ranking 23rd in yards per game and I anticipate the Lions going that route. Some sites have Stafford ranked as high as #4 this week after his success the last two weeks but I’d expect him to finish with about 250 yards and 1-2 TDs, a borderline QB1.
I’d Start the following players over Matthew Stafford: Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan
· Fred Jackson v. Green Bay. They say experience wins in the playoffs right? Well why not take a shot with the oldest RB in the NFL. This matchup has big upside for the Bills best receiving threat out of the backfield. Jackson, a versatile threat looks as healthy as ever with 18 and 21 touches the last two weeks. He has not hit pay dirt in those games but he did score big in PPR leagues with his 10 receptions last week against Denver. Denver got off to a 24-3 lead and the Bills had to air it out leading to many dump offs to Jackson. I see this game against Green Bay being extremely similar with a similar outcome for Jackson. Start the old reliable Freddy Jackson as a RB2 in PPR leagues and as a flex in .5 PPR and standard leagues.
I’d start Fred Jackson over: Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson, Jeremy Hill, Latavius Murray
· Chris Johnson at Tennessee. Last week I believed in the awful RB (Trent Richardson) having a big game in a revenge game and it backfired on me. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Chris Johnson is a slightly better Trent Richardson. I don’t mean speed wise, Richardson runs in slow motion, but Johnson has zero power at this stage of his career and doesn’t provide much in terms of broken tackles. It takes Moses parting the waters for him to hit the hole. Johnson did have over 100 yards two games ago, in the run runrunrunrunrun game against the Dolphins, but has otherwise not topped 69 yards rushing yards this season when normal game plans were in place. A decent performance could very well happen against Tennessee but I would not dare to put my fantasy prospects on a guy who has not scored a TD in the last nine games. Experts are ranking him as a mid RB2 but I think he’s a at best a desperate flex option. If you’re still alive at this stage of the game, you probably can do better.
I’d start the following players over Chris Johnson: Isaiah Crowell, Jeremy Hill, Fred Jackson, Chris Ivory, Dan Herron
· Marqise Lee at Baltimore. For one week Baltimore, the league’s worst team against fantasy WRs, did not get dismantled in the passing game. With the Jaguars coming to town, a blowout is likely in favor of Baltimore and a lot of throwing should be in store for the Jaguars come the 2nd half of the game. A lot of throwing against the worst fantasy team against WRs? sounds like fantasy gold to me. Advantage Marqise Lee, the shiny new toy in Jacksonville. Lee has 16 targets over the last two weeks and is building some chemistry with number one pick Blake Bortles. He’s been consistent with 52-75 yards over the last 3 weeks including a TD, but should be on the higher end of the spectrum against one of the league’s poorest defensive backfields. Consider Lee as a 3rd WR.
· Steve Smith Sr vs. Jacksonville. Steve Smith is in the midst of a fine bounce back season in his first year in Baltimore. He comes into this week 15 matchup against the Jaguars with two TDs in his last three games and with Torrey Smith battling an injury common sense says he’ll receive more targets and continue to put up big weeks. People see Jacksonville and think it’s a tasty matchup but much like I’ve warned the past few weeks, they’re actually a BAD matchup. Since week 4 this team has been playing stellar defense against the pass. Just this week they opposed Ryan Fitzpatrick who was coming off a 6 TD performance and held him to 135 yds and 0 TD! IN addition, the previous two weeks they held Eli Manning to 1 TD and broke Andrew Luck’s streak of 300 yard performances while holding him to 1 TD. The point of mentioning all these QBs is that the Ravens could very easily win this game handily, but it could be with a steady dose of Justin Forsett and some big plays against Blake Bortles. The Ravens will not have to air it out too often, limiting Smith’s opportunities against and already very good pass defense. All year Smith has been a boom or bust type of guy and I’m smelling bust for this week.
I’d start the following players over Steve Smith: Marqise Lee, Julian Edelman, Vincent Jackson, Golden Tate, Malcolm Floyd
· Larry Donnell v. Washington. It’s been a rough go for Larry Donnell and those fantasy players who started him for the past three weeks but week 15’s matchup with Washington is the cure for the tight end blues. The Redskins have gotten torched in back to back weeks by Coby Fleener and Jared Cook. They rank 29th overall against the TE. The Giants have shown that when they have an advantage in the passing game that they’ll keep picking on the matchup as evidenced by Donnell’s tendency to either put up a huge game or a tremendous dud. Look for the Giants to look for Donnell on fade patterns and/or jump balls in the endzone. In addition, look for them to throw a few deep seam passes to Donnell, a play that Washington has not shown the ability to cover in the last couple of weeks.
I’d start Larry Donnell over: Antonio Gates, Julius Thomas, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Jordan Reed, Zach Ertz
· Julius Thomas at San Diego. If your other options are borderline options then you must start Julius Thomas, however I am concerned with his week 15 matchup. I’m mostly concerned with his injury. If he is not 100% then he is not the same player that can beat LBs and safeties 1 on 1 in the blink of an eye. In addition, I am concerned with Denver’s proficiency in the run game. In the beginning of the season, Denver was struggling to punch the ball into the endzone and Julius Thomas was their best option inside the 10 yardline. Nowadays CJ Anderson is one of the hottest RBs in the game of football, and he does convert inside the 10. The Broncos have no problem letting Anderson doing the dirty work while letting Julius Thomas get his legs back under him in his first game back from injury. If that wasn’t bad enough, San Diego is the 3rd ranked team against TEs and held a healthy Julius Thomas to only 2 catches for 23 yards in week 8. Once again, start him if you have to but if you have any other high end options like Delanie Walker, Martellus Bennett or this week even Larry Donnell, I would go ahead and bench him and save him for my Super Bowl week.
I’d Start the Following Players over Julius Thomas: Delanie Walker, Martellus Bennett, Larry Donnell, Antonio Gates
That’ll do it for week 15.It’s win or go home my friends. Don’t be a blip on the radar! Get it done this week and you’ll have bragging rights for a lifetime. Good Luck!
On Friday's edition of Diagnosis, the Helpers discuss a few playoff sleeper options at each position for Week 15. Week 15 is often considered the divisional round of the fantasy playoffs, so the competition is likely to get even tougher from here on out. Also, they go over their hits and misses from Week 14.