Thursday, 12 March 2015 00:00

Episode 49: Newly-minted players

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.

Podcast notes

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.

 

Published in Podcasts
Friday, 30 January 2015 00:00

Epiosde 44: Up on the Bay

On Friday's episode of Treatment, the Fantasy Football Helpers discuss Tampa Bay's hiring of former Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and how it will likely have a positive impact on the Bucs fantasy value. They also talk about San Francisco's new offensive coordinator and how it will have just the opposite effect on the 49ers' offense.

The Helpers first start out discussing newly hired Buccaneers' offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who comes over from the Atlanta Falcons. While at Atlanta, Koetter established a pass happy regime that kept quarterback Matt Ryan in the Top 5 in passing attempts consistently throughout his time there. 

After spending time at Arizona State in the mid 2000s, Koetter landed his first NFL job as offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007. He was very successful during his time there, as he helped David Garrard turn in a 18 touchdown, three interception season and the Jags made the playoffs. The following season, Garrard would throw the ball 535 times, which was seventh most among all quarterbacks that season. Garrard's 15:13 TD-INT ratio wasn't nearly as good that year, however.

While Koetter was in Jacksonville, he helped strengthen the fantasy value of receivers like Mike Sims-Walker, tight end Mercedes Lewis and running back Maurice Jones-Drew. While at Atlanta, he helped the Falcons become one of the most prominent offenses in the game and also played a key role in utilizing Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez in the passing game. In his final season with the Falcons in 2014, Koetter's offense ranked in the Top 5 for passing yards per game (284) and 12th in points per game (23.8).

When it comes to Tampa Bay, Koetter will again step into a good situation with plenty of weapons. Young receiver Mike Evans will be coming off a tremendous rookie campaign where he scored multiple touchdowns in a series of games midway through the season that set records held by former great Randy Moss. Fellow wide receiver Vincent Jackson is also coming off a decent season of his own and young tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be poised for a breakout season of his own. Seferian-Jenkins finished with 21 catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season.

Expect all of Tampa Bay's receivers to become better fantasy options due to Koetter's pass happy offense that will led to more opportunities for the skills players to accrue stats.

The Helpers then shifted their discussion to San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst. Previously the 49ers quarterbacks coach, Chryst will now take over as the team's play caller and is the only assistant still with the team that was brought in by departed coach Jim Harbaugh. It's a puzzling hire, considering Chryst did little to enhance the skills of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a guy who took several steps back and failed to the make the playoffs for the first time since taking over as starter in 2012. It's not a sign that the 49ers' receivers will be better fantasy players in 2015, as Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis are both coming off less than stellar seaosns.

View Thompson's Flickr page here.

Published in Podcasts
Wednesday, 07 January 2015 00:00

What happened in 2014: Colin Kaepernick

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. 

Lessons Learned

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.  

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Wednesday, 07 January 2015 00:00

What happened in 2014: Sammy Watkins

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.

View Zennie Abraham's Flickr page here.

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Monday, 15 December 2014 00:00

Episode 38: First Aid (Week 15)

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.

Published in Podcasts
Saturday, 06 December 2014 00:00

Week 14 sleepers and busts

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. 

Sleeper QB:

·         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

Bust QB:

·         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

Sleeper RB:

·         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

Bust RB:             

·         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

Sleeper WR:

·         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

Bust WR:

·         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

Sleeper TE:

·         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

Bust TE:

·         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!

View Brook Ward's Flickr page here

Published in Fantasy Coverage

If you were lucky enough to make the fantasy playoffs in your league this season, chances are your lineup is already set. It's easy to know which guys to start for Week 14 right? You simply go with the guys that got you there. Your QB1, RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, TE, DEF are all ready to go.

This idea of sticking with your studs is a philosophy we will endorse to the death. Advanced fantasy football people don't think twice about it, while beginners may get too cute and bench somebody because of a bad matchup or just a bad gut feeling. Word to the wise, your best players are matchup proof, so start them.

But even though your studs are set in stone, there are last-second tweaks that you can make to your flex spot that can often make the difference between a good week and a great one. Since flex players often aren't the most electric guys, their chances of success boil down to favorable matchups and a good situation. If you can find the right guy in the right matchup who's peaking at the right time, you can really give yourself an edge over an opponent that's probably just a good as you are because he's in the playoffs as well.

Here are five running backs who we would trust as flex options for your first playoff matchup in Week 14.

Carlos Hyde (owned in 36% of leagues) @ Oakland

Hyde has been one of the top fantasy handcuffs all season. He doesn't get a whole lot of opportunities but when he does, he runs hard and usually sees touches around the goal line. The 49ers have a good matchup against a Raiders team that's given up the most fantasy points to running backs (22 points per game) this season. It's likely the 49ers utilize Hyde and Frank Gore as a one-two punch and Hyde sees some production as a result.

Over the past three games, Hyde has recorded carry averages of 9, 7, and 5, respectively. He hasn't rushed for many yards in those games, but he has scored a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints, a bottom-five team in fantasy points allowed to running backs (20.4 points per game) on average. It's likely the Raiders could allow a similar result.

If you really don't know who to start in the flex spot and don't want to leave things up to a boom-or-bust receiver, Hyde is a good bet to give you some kind of production because of the matchup. San Francisco also ranks 8th in the league in rushing attempts (347), so the opportunities should be there for Hyde.

Jonathan Stewart (owned in 27% of leagues) @ New Orleans Saints

For the same reasons as we just mentioned for Hyde, Stewart could also benefit from a good matchup against the New Orleans Saints. With DeAngelo Williams likely out with a hand injury, Stewart steps in as the best running back option on a Panthers team in desperate need of offensive firepower.

Last week against Minnesota, Stewart averaged 7.1 yards per carry on his way to 85 yards on 12 attempts. It was Stewart's best game in over a month.

When it comes to the New Orleans Saints' defense, they've allowed 95 yards from Le'Veon Bell, 182 yards from Justin Forsett and 152 yards from Jeremy Hill over the last three weeks. Their defense hasn't shown any signs of improvement so expect the Panthers to go at them with the run game.

Isaiah Crowell (owned in 67% of leagues) vs. Indianapolis

Ok, so it's unlikely you'll snag the Crow off the waiver wire this week as he's owned in the majority of leagues. This advice is more for the people who already have him and are wondering if they should start him in this week. Well, we didn't like Crowell last week against Buffalo and we were vindicated, as he ended up rushing for just 29 yards on 17 carries (1.9 yards per carry) against a tough Buffalo run defense that swarmed him on nearly every play. It was like watching a guy repeatedly run into a brick wall at times.

But the key number in Crowell's stats is '17.' Crowell's 17 carries are a good indicator that the Browns will continue to run the ball even if the end result isn't positive yardage. They still used him around the goal line plenty as well, so a touchdown could be play. The Browns were also trailing in that game throughout and still committed to the run game, which is a good sign gameflow won't affect Crowell's numbers. Also, fellow rookie Terrance West gave up a costly fumble which could limit his workload going forward.

As for the matchup, the Colts rank in the bottom five against running backs (19.9 points per game) and their offense hasn't taken good care of the ball all season long. Newly starting running back Dan 'Boom' Herron's has had issues with fumbles early on and quarterback Andrew Luck has thrown at least one interception in eight games this season. Add in the fact that the Browns have at least one takeaway in 8 straight games and this could be a game where we see Cleveland get a chance to turn mistakes into points.

Andre Williams (owned in 40% of leagues) @ Tennessee

Starter Rashad Jennings injured his ankle last week against Jacksonville but the injury is not considered to be serious. Even if Jennings is healthy, Williams is likely going to see some carries against a Titans team that ranks second worst in the league against running backs (21.8 fantasy points allowed per game).

Williams has not been very effective in his rookie year, as he's averaging just 2.9 yards per carry this season. Still, he's received a respectable 134 carries in 12 games. The Giants like to mix it up in the run game and Williams has the right matchup to at least snipe a touchdown and rush for 40-60 yards, making him a candidate for a solid 12-15 point game which is a great number for a flex spot.

LeGarrette Blount (owned in 63% of leagues) @ San Diego

Blount received the bulk of the workload against Green Bay with 10 carries and should be the Patriots No. 1 running back with Jonas Gray in the doghouse. San Diego has been OK against the run (15th overall) but they still surrendered over 100 yards to Justin Forsett last week and also gave up over 100 total rushing yards to both Miami and St. Louis.

It's likely Blount sees around 12-15 carries, rushes for 70 yards and scores a touchdown. You just have to take the risk that Shane Vereen or Brandon Bolden won't snipe one here or there. Even if they do, there's no reason to expect Blount to not see the majority of the carries in Week 14.

View Football Schedules Flickr page here.

 

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Monday, 24 November 2014 00:00

Episode 32: First Aid (Week 12)

On Monday's weekly First Aid podcast, the Helpers discuss the dreadful Lions offense from a fantasy perspective. They also discuss RG3's problems in the passing game and pump up the fantasy playoff value of the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14 against Oakland. And yes, Carlos Hyde is somebody should you look to pickup for that game. Plus, weekly awards and a brief preview of tonight's game between New Orleans and Baltimore.

Washington Redskins at San Francisco 49ers

Colin Kaepernick: 20-for-29, 256 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception (13 fantasy points)

Rank among fantasy QBs for Week 12: 13th 

Quarterbacks that did better: P. Manning, R. Tannehill, T. Romo, E. Manning, T. Brady, A. Rodgers, R. Wilson, T. Bridgewater, Z. Mettenberger, A. Smith, M. Ryan, A. Luck, P. Rivers

Chances are, a few of the quarterbacks listed above are available on your waiver wire (Mettenberger, Bridgewater anyone?) and Kaepernick remains a tough guy to start if you're chasing a fantasy championship. I applaud you if you've managed to be a competitive team with him as your QB1, but it's time you start looking elsewhere for fantasy points.

After a quick start where he found Anquan Boldin in the end zone, Kaepernick struggled. He lacks the ability to finish drives which hurts his fantasy value.

Robert Griffin III: 11-for-19, 106 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 1 fumble (3 fantasy points)

Rank among fantasy QBs for Week 12: 25th

Quarterbacks that did better: P. Manning, R. Tannehill, T. Romo, E. Manning, T. Brady, A. Rodgers, R. Wilson, T. Bridgewater, Z. Mettenberger, A. Smith, M. Ryan, A. Luck, P. Rivers, C. Kaepernick, J. McCown, M. Sanchez, A. Dalton, D. Carr, M. Stafford, J. Cutler, B. Hoyer, D. Stanton, R. Mallett, B. Bortles

RG3 continues to struggle. He's been reduced to a game manager at this point, not taking any shots down the field and instead handing the ball off to Alfred Morris and checking down to tight ends. He's lost his confidence, the coaches seem to be out on him, and his future with the franchise is in doubt. He's dropable in all leagues.

Alfred Morris: 21 carries for 125 yards, 1 touchdown (18 fantasy points)

Rank among RBs for Week 12: 9th

Running backs that did better: E. Lacy, C.J. Anderson, L. Murray, M. Forte, I. Crowell, L. McCoy, L. Blount, J. Charles

Morris put together his best fantasy performance of the season despite playing against a good defense. He's among the most consistent running backs in fantasy as of now, with at least 7 points in his last four games. The Redskins will continue to rely on him with their struggles at quarterback, and that could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how well the defense keys in on Morris.

Frank Gore: 13 carries for 36 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 fumble (1 fantasy point)

Rank among RBs for Week 12: 50th

Gore was held largely in check by a Redskins' front seven that has answered quite a few tests this season. Carlos Hyde fared a little better with one goal line touchdown, but even he finished with just 16 yards on the ground. Gore started off hot enough with two 100 yard rushing games in his first five games, but he's tapered off substantially as the season winds down. He's averaging 3.2 yards per carry over his last six games, and it may be time to pull the plug on him as the 49ers get Seattle twice in the next three weeks. He might be a good start against Oakland in Week 14 though.

Published in Podcasts
Monday, 10 November 2014 00:00

Episode 28: First Aid (Week 10)

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.

Published in Podcasts
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