Trent Richardson and guy from Ohio State with a nickname 'Boom.'
Those two running backs composed the backfield of the Indianapolis Colts for a majority of the 2014 season. As a team that managed to upset the Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional playoffs and sneak their way into the AFC Championship game all having a below average running game, you have to figure there's a good enough team around whoever is in the backfield that it could translate to decent fantasy production.
But last year, the running back wasn't a hot commodity in Indy. The Colts scored just nine total rushing touchdowns in 2014, which ranked 24th overall. They also led the league in fumbles with 10.
No running back really came in and took the reins as a 20-25 carry a game game. Richardson was the first to get a crack at it but his plodding style has continued to lead to less than stellar results in the NFL. Remember when everybody said Richardson just needed time to adjust to the Colts run scheme after his suspect year in 2013? Turns out that wasn't what was plaguing his numbers.
Richardson finished with just 519 yards on 159 carries (3.3 yards per carry) and was castoff to the Oakland Raiders this past offseason. It's crazy to think that the Alabama running back who was drafted the highest among his former teammates (Eddie Lacy and Mark Ingram) will likely be considered the biggest bust when all is said and done.
Ahmad Bradshaw offered the Colts a decent receiving option with 38 catches through 10 games before he broke his leg and ended up on injured reserve. The Colts also opted to not resign Ahmad Bradshaw and the 29-year-old back also dealt with some off-field issues that likely played a role in his departure.
But there were some bright spots for the Colts rushing attack in 2014. After stepping in for Richardson midway through the season, rookie Dan 'Boom' Herron didn't exactly unload two smoking barrels of fantasy worthy statistics, but he didn't exactly shoot blanks either. Herron outplayed Richardson by a wide margin during the regular season, averaging 4.5 yards per carry on his way to
Even though his numbers outshined Richardson, Herron failed to cross the 100-yard plateau in every game he started last season. His numbers also dipped in the postseason as his 4.5 ypc average dropped to 3.8 over the span of three playoff games. So the Colts went out and combated the problem with a key veteran signing.
Welcome Frank Gore
The Colts signed the former San Francisco 49ers running back to a three-year, $12 million deal that includes $7.5 million guaranteed. Coach Chuck Pagano already envisions Gore as the feature back which doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility despite Gore's age. Due to turn 32 in May, Gore finished 2014 off strong with back-to-back games of over 100 rushing yards. His 4.3 yards per carry average was more than respectable and while he only accumulated four rushing touchdowns, it's safe to say his has the potential to rush for more due to his total touchdowns over the last three seasons (9, 8, and 8). So for the sake of this article, let's assume Gore is healthy and still solid as ever and take a look at what could impact his value.
Woes on the offensive line
While we can always place blame on the running backs, we can't leave out Indy's offensive line. A unit that ranked in the bottom 10 in yards per carry (3.9) in 2014, the Colts have gone out and made some changes to hopefully improve their run blocking, but they still have a few question marks.
Colts starting tackle Gosder Cherilus struggled last year while battling knee problems and recently underwent a knee scope in January. They signed former basketball player and 6'8 athletic freak Demarco Cox as well, but he hasn't played any football and is unlikely to crack a roster spot.
Perhaps one of their best moves was picking up veteran Todd Herremans from Philadelphia. Now 32 years old, Herremans was part of one of the best offensive lines in the league in 2013 and helped LeSean McCoy claim the rushing title for the first time in his career. Herremans did struggle with injuries in 2014 though, as he eventually tore his bicep which rendered him useless for the rest of the season. There's a good possibility he takes over one of the starting spots in 2015 based on his upside.
There's also question marks at the center position as neither Khaled Holmes and Jonotthan Harrison really established themselves as an effective option and will likely have to battle it out in training camp for the starting role. Another darkhorse to start would be former CFL player Ben Heenan, a guy that Colts added last February. Now 25 years old, Heenan played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders for three seasons.
They also resigned the versatile Joe Reitz to a three-year deal, but he also wasn't rated that highly according to Pro Football Focus.
Overall, an average offensive line could be something that puts a minor dent in Gore's fantasy value. Remember, he played with some of the best offensive lines in San Francisco for a lengthy period of time, which was a big component to his success and run of 1,000-yard seasons.
On Friday's episode of Treatment, the Helpers discuss several players who have gone on to new teams and assign new fantasy value to their respective situations. Players discussed include Andre Johnson, Jeremy Maclin, Frank Gore and Ryan Mathews. Plus Bill Walton drops. This is going to be fantastically fun.
NFL Free agency is upon us, and fantasy football value is about to shift all over the place like a bunch of tectonic plates under a fault line. With so many players moving around, there's always a lot to take in. But here are the biggest running back transactions so far and what their fantasy impact is.
Trent Richardson out, Frank Gore in
After the debacle of a trade that ended with Cleveland attaining a first-round draft pick in exchange for Richardson, the lifetime 49er is about to finally see what it's like to put on a different jersey after signing with the Indianapolis colts.. Gore turns 32 in May but the veteran back has shown remarkable consistency despite his age. He rushed for over 1,000 yards for the eighth time in his last nine seasons in 2014. Gore has also never averaged less than 4.1 yards per carry.
From an NFL standpoint, Gore made a great choice signing with Indy. It's a winning team with one of the Top 3 quarterbacks in the league. Gore will get another chance to compete to a championship in the somewhat weak AFC and the AFC South will be a cakewalk compared to the types of defenses he saw in the NFC West.
From a fantasy perspective, Gore will likely assume the role of former Colt Ahmad Bradshaw. Always an underrated receiver, Gore posted reception numbers of 61, 53, 43, and 52 from 2006-09 with San Francisco. He compiled those numbers before the run-minded Jim Harbaugh took the helm, which resulted in less passes being thrown his way.
Now that he's back on a team that passes a lot (Indy threw the ball 616 times last season which ranked 3rd highest in the league) expect Gore to see plenty of passes in the flat similar to what Bradshaw saw when he caught six receiving touchdowns over the first half of 2014. While Gore is a bit older than Bradshaw, he's also more durable, playing in all 16 games for the last four seasons.
Gore likely won't be the only back seeing snaps in the backfield, as Dan 'Boom' Herron showed some positive signs as a runner last year, but make no mistake Gore is going to be fantasy relevant as an RB2 this season.
LeSean McCoy out, Ryan Mathews, DeMarco Murray in
An injury prone back who's still in the prime of his career at 27, Mathews still has plenty of value as a running back and should see much better run blocking from the Eagles offensive line than the one he had in San Diego.
Obviously, you can't generate too much fantasy value if you're hurt, and Mathews has long been a guy who has never finished a season strong even when healthy. It's why the Chargers backed him up with so many other players (Danny Woodhead, Brandon Oliver and Donald Brown) in hopes of keeping him fresh throughout the season. But the situation is better in Philadelphia because of the offensive line. Plus, Chip Kelly's system will allow the athletic Mathews to use his conditioning to beat defenders rather than bruise through them.
As far as Murray goes, the former Cowboys running back will see plenty of runs as well in the offense. There should be enough ball to go around so that Murray and Mathews will remain fantasy relevant.
The debate on whether strength of schedule makes a difference in fantasy football is an interesting one. On one hand, it gives you the opportunity to steer clear of the players who might regress. On the other hand, it gives you a chance to over think things and end up not drafting a talented player specifically because you think he might struggle. Like answers to most things, the best way to analyze it lies somewhere between the two extremes.
When applying strength of schedule to fantasy football, it's important to realize which teams find ways to be successful even with a difficult schedule. These are the teams that you don't have to worry much about when it comes to drafting their players on your fantasy team. On the other hand, there are the younger, less successful teams that have been struggling already and adding a tough schedule on top of that can only make things worse.
How teams have done in the past
Looking back on the 2014 season, the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets were saddled with the two toughest schedules coming in. Talent-wise, both teams weren't considered contenders for a Super Bowl so there wasn't much hype coming in anyway and the results were about what you'd expect. Oakland finished a paltry 3-13 while the Jets ended up 4-12. Both teams failed to produce a reliable fantasy player, as they didn't produce a single 1,000 yard rusher or receiver which limited any chance of fantasy upside from any of their players.
Sure, they had their moments like every team did. Raiders RB Latavius Murray exploded for 112 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries during a Thursday night game against the Chiefs. Jets running back Christopher Ivory served as a plug-and-play flex option for the Jets as he finished with just under 900 yards to go along with six rushing touchdowns.
But while both teams had tough schedules, they also were just plain bad.
What about a good team?
Switching gears, let's take a look at a more talented team who ran through a gauntlet last season. The Denver Broncos held the AFC's best record at 13-3 in 2013 and entered 2014 with the second toughest schedule in the NFL. They finished at 12-4 in 2014.
So their record wasn't really affected, but let's take a look at their individual stats. Quarterback Peyton Manning posted a 39:15 TD-to-INT ratio in 2014 which paled in comparison to his 55:10 ratio in 2013. He also threw for about 700 less yards. Of course, you can argue that him being a year older at 38 and the fact that a 55 touchdown season is almost impossible to top, and you'd be right. Also, his 597 pass attempts in 2014 were less than his league leading 659 attempts in 2013 as well. Their receivers didn't miss a beat either, as Demaryius Thomas and free agent pickup Emmanuel Sanders surpassed the 1,000-yard plateau.
It really was a testament to how talented the team was. The Broncos took on New England and Seattle both on the road. They also played tough teams like Kansas City, Arizona and San Francisco in the earlier part of the season. Manning was fantastic in that early stretch, as he posted 19 touchdowns in the team's first six games. Ironically, he started to struggle later on against considerably worse defenses like Cincinnati and Oakland.
Manning can also be looked at like an exception to everything, considering he's one of the best quarterbacks of all time. So what if we take a medium-range quarterback who had a tough schedule in 2014.
Phillip Rivers and San Diego
The Chargers had the fourth toughest schedule entering 2014, and they finished 9-7 on the year. Quarterback Philip Rivers finished 12th among all fantasy quarterbacks with 254 points. A season ago, he finished sixth with 276 fantasy points. Overall, still not that big of a drop off. So let's look at the next team to undergo a tough schedule.
Pittsburgh Steelers up next
Well, it just so happens that the Pittsburgh Steelers face a similar road like the Broncos had in 2014. Like Denver, Pittsburgh plays both the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos on the road.
The Steelers schedule is murderous in 2015. They play both Seattle and New England on the road in addition to improving St. Louis. They also have Arizona and San Francisco, two teams that were among the best at stopping the run last year. The AFC West is also a decent defensive conference minus Oakland and the Raiders are already starting to show signs that they are improving on the defensive side as well with rookie Khalil Mack turning in a fantastic rookie season.
What does it mean for Le'Veon Bell?
Of all Pittsburgh's players including Antonio Brown and Ben Reothlisberger, Bell is probably the one guy we need to look at when it comes to a tougher schedule possibly hampering him in 2015. He played above and beyond expectations in 2014, and benefited from some weak defenses in the AFC North and also a weak out of conference schedule with the NFC South in 2014. Not saying that to entirely discredit Bell, he turned in a fantastic season and flashed competence in the receiving game that few people knew he had.
Even with all that though, the Steelers are a franchise that has found ways to defeat good teams regardless. They managed to make the playoffs last season. They also have a good offensive line with even better chemistry, including Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. So does a tough schedule make Le'Veon Bell not worth drafting as an RB1? Absolutely not. Does it make you think twice about drafting him in the Top 3? Maybe. But probably not.
Overall, talent rules over everything. Don't worry too much about strength of schedule when drafting fantasy players. While it plays a slight factor, there are way too many other bigger factors that come into play such as injuries, team chemistry and as mentioned before, talent. The best fantasy players are good/great players on good/great teams. If you have a good player on a bad team, he can still produce. If you have a bad player on a good team, he can still produce. It sounds obvious at it is.
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.
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.
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On Monday's Week 15 edition of First Aid, the Helpers analyze Seattle/San Francisco and Detroit/Minnesota and give out fantasy value to the players in those contests. Plus weekly awards and a quick preview of Chicago/New Orleans tonight. Enjoy.
Congratulations! If you’re reading this then (in most leagues) you’re in the fantasy playoffs! Now let’s begin that Super Bowl run. There’s a common saying “may the best team win”. I couldn’t disagree more with this saying! “May MY team win”, or for you readers, "may YOUR team win” is more like it……unless you’re one of my league competitors. And if I or you happen to be the best team, then this still qualifies. But, in the playoffs the standings are irrelevant, and regular season accomplishments do not matter. It’s three weeks of win or go home, and whether you're a top seed or lower seeded playoff team, be confident. Those teams who are stacked really do have a chance to go home early. It’s a small sample size, but in my 12 team league, the best team, the team who led the league in points during the regular season, has only gone on to win the Super Bowl twice out of 10 years. So if you don’t think you’re the best, then maybe that’s a good thing!
Beating the best is the key to winning it all, and it is going to take some chutzpah. If you’re going up against a team who is truly elite and is projected to beat you by 30+ points, it’s going to be tough but it's not over by a longshot. If you know you’ll be up against a big score, then I suggest trying to hit a home run with a high upside start even if the player has a low floor. If you’re in this position, now is not the time to stick with your boring, low upside players (i.e. Reggie Wayne, Owen Daniels, Frank Gore) just because you’ve been starting them all year. It all comes down another saying, one I do like a lot, “no guts, no glory”. I’ve witnessed teams starting players like Billy Volek (former Titans QB), Ryan Moats (former Eagles RB), or Tim Tebow make deep playoff runs, demolishing teams who are better on paper. Hey, just look at what Ryan Fitzpatrick of all people was able to do last week. At this time of the year, anything goes.
If you’re in the playoffs then most of 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 be the first step towards your 2014 Super Bowl ring. The below sleepers and busts will be a good source for week 14’s home run hitters and those players to avoid in round 1 of the playoffs.
Without further ado, your week 14 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.
· Teddy Bridgewater vs. New York Jets. If you’re playing matchups at QB the best thing you can do this week is embrace your Teddy bear and hope for the best…your Teddy bear of course being Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater is getting more and more comfortable every week in Norv Turner’s offense and Turner has finally decided (fortunately for Bridgewater and the Vikings offense as a whole) that Cordarelle Patterson should not be on the field. Explosive WR, Charles Johnson’s emergence and Kyle Rudolph’s return to the lineup have allowed Turner to run the offense he envisioned when he joined the staff and it’s led to Bridgewater acquiring value as a matchup play. He has back to back 2 TD weeks and only 2 INTs in the last 5 weeks. The Jets are as good of a matchup play as you can get. Ranking 30th against the pass and having only picked off three passes this season, the Jets are a dream playoff matchup. They're going through the motions to finish the season and Rex Ryan knows he’s not coming back. There is no motivation on the part of Gang Green to pull off a surprising performance on the road. Expect Bridgewater to continue to mature, and if the game stays close and Teddy gets to throw for four quarters, we could be looking at a career day and Bridgewater’s first 3 TD game.
I’d Start Teddy Bridgewater over: Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Mark Sanchez
· Andy Dalton v. Pittsburgh. I totally understand that Pittsburgh is a great matchup and that their CBs are burnable. However, I don’t trust that Andy Dalton and his 13/13 TD/INT ratio are capable of taking advantage. His pro-bowl LT, Andre Smith, is out for the season and Dalton is fresh off a 176 yard 1 TD/3 INT dud against an awful Tampa Bay secondary. Dalton is as inconsistent as they come and he’s thrown 0 TDs in 4 games this season while also throwing 1 TD in another 4 games. So 66.667% of the time he's thrown at most 1 passing TD. He's not exactly trending upward either with 2 TD/4INT in the last two weeks. The Andy Dalton name has some recognition and can make you feel warm and fuzzy when looking at the matchup, but you can easily do better than him as a fantasy starter.
I’d Start the following players over Andy Dalton: Ryan Tannehill, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater
· Trent Richardson at Cleveland. To be clear I like Boom Herron this week but I like Richardson slightly more. Richardson gets to go back to the city where all the running in place started, Cleveland. Seriously, it’s a revenge game for Trent and if he’ll ever put it into that next gear (first gear?), it will be this week. He’s gone on the record saying he’ll jump into the dog pound after he scores, and the Colts if they can take an early lead will do what they can to get Richardson in the endzone. Colts head coach, Chuck Pagano remains adamant Richardson is the starter on this team and will continue to receive touches. Herron’s explosiveness (and Richardson’s lack thereof) keeps him in the rotation but he’s had fumbling issues that keep Trent out there getting half the touches. Besides this being a revenge game, Cleveland sports a soft front 4, and while the defense focuses on containing Andrew Luck, they can be had in the running game. I don’t see this as a high ceiling start but I can see this as a flex play with about 70 total yards and at least one TD.
I’d start Trent Richardson over: Jonathan Stewart, Frank Gore, Latavius Murray, Bishop Sankey
· Frank Gore at Oakland. Frank Gore is coming to the end of a fine career and could very well find himself in Canton one day. However, this season may be the beginning of the end. Gore has had 50 yards or fewer rushing in 5 out of the last 7 games and only 1 rushing TD in the last 10 games. He only has 9 catches on the season so he’s no longer a factor in the receiving game. The matchup against Oakland is ideal, but Gore having a big game would mean that San Francisco would have to be able to move the ball on offense. The offensive line is vastly under-performing both in the pass game and run game. Nothing the 49ers have done the past three weeks has shown that they have the ability to move the ball. Last week was pathetic, but I’ll give them a pass against Seattle. But scoring only 16 points and 17 points against two of the worst defenses in the league (NY Giants, Washington), is inexcusable. Oakland presents another supposed plus matchup, so Gore is ranked as a high RB2, but he’s clearly past his prime, and I’m starting to believe that the 49ers do not have a solution to the mess they’re experiencing on offense.
I’d start the following players over Frank Gore: Tre Mason, Ryan Mathews, Lamar Miller, Gio Bernard, Trent Richardson
· Nate Washington v. New York Giants. This is for you guys in deep 3/4 WR leagues, and you’ll thank me later. Nate Washington is about to have a BIG week and a BIG fantasy playoffs so grab him. Prior to this year Washington was a viable WR3 in all leagues. He was 2013s #35 WR in .5 PPR leagues having put up over 900 yards receiving. He has a 1000 yard season to his name and has 8 career 100 yard games including 3 just last season. This season Justin Hunter, a promising WR with freakish speed and size, was supposed to be the next big thing, so the Titans, a team that is not really in win now mode, gave Hunter all the reps, snaps, and looks he can handle. Hunter suffered a lacerated spleen in Week 13 after getting hit by a freight train named Daniel Manning. Hunter stayed in the game briefly but was ineffective. After the injury, Nate Washington started getting peppered with targets, racking up 9 in total along with 5 receptions, 61 yards, and a score. This was Washington’s 2nd TD in the past 3 weeks, a stretch where he’s had over 200 yards receiving. The Titans top WR threat, Kendall Wright, suffered a cracked bone in his wrist this week and could miss week 14, leading to even more targets for the savvy veteran. The Giants come to Tennessee, still brutal and banged up at every position on defense. Nate Washington will be able to outsmart the Giants porous defense and will have many targets, many catches, and at least one of his patented big plays. I recommend him as a #3 WR, the same place he ranked last year when he played a full complement of snaps. His week 14-16 schedule is NYG, NYJ, @Jax. GET HIM NOW.
I’d Start Nate Washington over: Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Keenan Allen, Marques Colston, Julian Edelman, Reuben Randle
· Keenan Allen at New England. Next stop Revis Island. The Chargers have so many other weapons with Gates, Floyd, Royal, and then Mathews in the running game, so there is no way Mike McCoy's gameplan will be to overload Keenan Allen with targets. Revis has left his Tampa Bay days behind him and returned to his lockdown form in 2014. Stud WRs Jordy Nelson, Calvin Johnson and TY Hilton have combined for 9 catches for 125 yards and 1 TD the last 3 weeks against Revis! When ONE of those guys has a game like that nobody blinks an eye, but to lock down all three like that is something that cannot be ignored. Keenan Allen isn't even close to the player those guys are, so I’d expect him to do less than the 3 catch, 40 yard average that they were held to in the previous three weeks. Allen has been hot but he simply cannot be started this week in any/all formats.
I’d start the following players over Keenan Allen: Nate Washington, Charles Johnson, Stedman Bailey, Greg Jennings
· Travis Kelce at Arizona. One team’s strength against another team’s weakness. Arizona has elite CB talent but cannot seem to stop TEs ranking 27th on the season against the position. Kansas City is still waiting to throw its first TD to a WR while their TE combination of Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano have combined for a whopping eight TDs. I like this matchup a lot for Kelce. The Chiefs will do their best to run the ball with Jamaal Charles, but could very well struggle against the league’s 6th ranked team in rushing yards against. They’ll have to go to the air and it only makes sense that they use their TEs to do so. Not convinced? Take a look at this motley crew who has hit paydirt against the Cardinals: Jared Cook, Cooper Helfet, Daniel Fells, Levine Toilolo, and Julius Thomas. Outside of the elite TEs and Delanie Walker, I like Kelce the most this week at this position.
I’d start Travis Kelce over: Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed
· Dwayne Allen at Cleveland. Dwayne Allen is set to make his return to the lineup after missing the past two games with a sprained ankle. Prior to his departure he was squarely in the mid TE 1 conversation. However, I’d expect some rust in his first game back. In addition, Coby Fleener has been fantasy’s #1 TE over the last three weeks. Fleener had a very ugly drop on a sure thing long TD last week but has otherwise been picking up large chunks of yardage through the air and getting into the endzone. Allen will clearly cut into Fleener’s looks but I don’t see the Colts forgetting about what Fleener has done the last few weeks. Furthermore, the Browns are on tap, a team who allowed a huge game to Jimmy Graham in week 2 but has since not allowed any TE to score more than 11.8 fantasy points in .5 PPR leagues. They’ve completely shut down many of the TE they’ve faced during this stretch and in 6 games have limited TEs to less than 6.4 points. Allen is a risky play returning from injury and perhaps sharing with Fleener and the matchup at Cleveland lacks the upside needed for a fantasy playoff start.
I’d Start the Following Players over Dwayne Allen: Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed, Kyle Rudolph, Larry Donnell
That’ll do it for week 14. Do not leave any bullets in that holster. There's no reason to play it safe now. Go big or go home. May your run to the Super Bowl begin this Sunday. Good Luck!
On Monday's edition of First Aid, the Helpers discuss Colin Kaepernick and whether or not they would trust him in the fantasy playoffs. They also hand out weekly awards and discuss the fantasy implication of tonight's game between Philadelphia and Carolina.
Fantasy analysis: San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans
Colin Kaepernick: 14-for-32, 210 yards, 1 touchdown, 4 rushes for 24 yards, 1 fumble lost (10 fantasy points)
Kaepernick's receivers struggled to catch the ball which hurt his stats, but he had his own problems as well. He still holds onto the ball a bit too long and refuses to throw it away, and often takes sacks that result in fumbles instead. His arm is still something to behold though, as his 50-yard strike to Michael Crabtree on diagonal line was a showcase of just how talented he can be at times.
Drew Brees: 28-for-47, 292 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble lost (27 fantasy points)
Brees had just another day at the office, and has now scored 20 or more fantasy points in seven games this season. He found Jimmy Graham twice in the second half, but his three turnovers put a damper on his score a little bit. He continues to develop better chemistry with Brandin Cooks and is looking like he'll remain a QB1 for the rest of the year.
Mark Ingram: 27 carries, 120 yards (4.4 YPC), 0 touchdowns (12 fantasy points)
Another fantastic game from Ingram, who looks like a completely new running back in this Saints' offense. He's running with a purpose we've never seen before, and it's translating to great fantasy numbers on a weekly basis. He's scored 23, 23 and 12 points in his last three games, and the Saints appear more committed to the run than they ever have been. He's a great RB2 option unless the Saints decide to scale back his carries. Keep in mind, Ingram is only 24 years old.
Frank Gore: 23 carries, 81 yards, 1 touchdown (14 fantasy points)
It was the most points scored by Gore since Week 5 against Kansas City where he rushed for over 100 yards. The 49ers keep leaning on Gore and he continues to produce consistently despite his age. He's still a great flex/RB2 option due to his role in the 49ers' offense and as long as he's healthy, you can be safe starting him in deep leagues.
Carlos Hyde: 4 carries, 36 yards, 1 touchdown (9 fantasy points)
It's a bit frustrating to see a talented rookie like Hyde only get four touches, but there's still some upside to having him on your team. The 49ers like to give him the ball in goal line situations, which leads to touchdowns of course. So as long as he's getting those, you can still plug him in your flex spot in a good matchup and hope for the best.
Anquan Boldin: 6 catches, 95 yards, 1 touchdown, 15 targets (15 fantasy points)
You know you're a valued receiver in your team's offense if you drop 3 passes in a game and still see 15 targets. Boldin's drops in this game were uncharacteristic of the veteran, as he came in with just two on the season. If you have Boldin, you shouldn't worry and should continue starting him every week as your WR3. The 49ers schedule gets much easier down the road, and they even have a great matchup against Oakland right around the fantasy playoffs. Boldin should be a heavy favorite to change the fortunes of your team when it matters most.