George Banko

George Banko

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Wednesday, 03 September 2014 00:00

Prospect: Isaiah Crowell

Image courtesy of Erik Drost

There have been a lot of changes to the Cleveland Browns since last season. A pass-happy team in 2013, there's reason to believe the running game may be creeping its way back into the team's philosophy this season. But with no convincing No. 1 running back on its roster just yet, it leaves room for speculation regarding who the best fantasy running back could be in Cleveland for 2014.

It all started with a shift in management. Vertical passing enthusiast Norv Turner took his talents to Minnesota and was replaced by former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, a guy who's often been jokingly referred to as an 'anti-fantasy football' coordinator. Alfred Morris owner's from 2013 can attest to that. You could play a sad violin for Morris owners last season, as they saw their touchdown points gobbled up when Shanhan opted to dial up several doses of Roy Helu on the goal line last season. Morris still went on to have a solid season in 2013 with 1,275 rushing yards, but his touchdown total nearly halved after he finished with 7 compared to the 13 he had during his rookie season.

Unlike Turner, Shanahan's offensive philosophy centers around a balance of run and pass. He has proven effective at managing quarterbacks with vastly different styles as well. He helped Texans' Matt Schaub throw for a lot of yards in Houston and also ushered in the zone-read in Washington under the athletic Robert Griffin III. With Shanahan's equally favored approach to both the ground and aerial game, it creates some fantasy intrigue for owner's who may be looking at some stat potential out of the Browns backfield. It can't get much worse for Cleveland in the running category from 2013, as the Browns ranked 30th in rushing attempts with 348.

A good fantasy running back is made in the trenches

A good running game starts with the guys up front, and the Cleveland Browns have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. Center Alex Mack is a two-time pro bowler and has been a fixture on the Browns' offensive line since Cleveland drafted him in 2009. Mack provided the blocking for several highlight games early in his career, including Jerome Harrison's 286-yard rushing effort which ranked third-most all time for one game. 

Left tackle Joe Thomas remains one of the best pass protectors in the league, though the Browns one weakness could be at right tackle with Mitchell Schwartz. Schwartz was a liability in pass protection last year, and while Shanahan believes he's a good fit for his zone-blocking scheme, one has to wonder if the 6'5, 320 lb Schwartz will be able to hack a run offense usually designed for more athletic lineman.

Schwartz was such a liability in fact that the Browns used plenty of resources to cover up for him. According to pro football focus, the Browns led the league in chip blocks for both the running back and tight end positions last season to help alleviate some of their protection problems. However, that may be a tougher task this season due to their inexperienced backfield.

The current crop of running backs may not be best suited for providing quality pass protection. According to pro football focus, current starting running back Ben Tate ranked 39th in pass blocking efficiency in a pool of 46 running backs who saw at least 40 pass blocking snaps last year. Behind Tate, you have two rookies in Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell who both of which weren't known as pass blockers in college.

Enter Crowell

We mentioned his name finally, and the undrafted rookie out of Alabama State has some upside for stashing on your roster right now.

Crowell's college career started off very promising. He landed a starting spot with the Georgia Bulldogs when he was just a freshman. Playing against several vaunted defenses in the SEC, Crowell went on to have several big games including a 30-carry, 147-yard performance against Ole Miss. He finished his freshman year with 856 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns, but it was disciplinary problems that kept him from continuing what looked like a future successful collegiate career with the Bulldogs.

The following season, Crowell was dismissed from Georgia after he was arrested on a drug charge. He ended up enrolling at Alabama State and finished as the leading rusher at Alabama State and led the Hornets to a 7-4 record.

Some of his highlights can be seen in the video below. His run at the :37 second mark of this video is especially impressive.

Why he's worth a roster stash on your fantasy team

Current starter Ben Tate is expected to be an every-down back for Cleveland starting out, which isn't surprising considering the fifth-year RB has proven reliable with a respectable 4.7 ypc average while playing behind Arian Foster in Houston for three seasons. Still, it's Tate's first go in the workhorse role, which is a job only a handful of running backs have proven able to hack at a consistent level. Tate played in only 11 games in 2012 and was eventually placed on injury reserve with cracked ribs in 2013, so durability may also be an issue. 

Current No. 2 running back West struggled during preseason, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and zero touchdowns. Crowell, on the other hand, notched 105 yards on 15 carries (7 YPC) and a touchdown. If Crowell can keep his previous run ins with the law a thing of the past, he's got real potential to be a starter on the Browns at some point if the chips fall the right way.

Monday, 01 September 2014 00:00

Episode 13: All-denim team

Goal of this podcast: To give you one last string of well-educated speculation before the NFL regular season begins. We talk sleeper picks that have been overhyped, plus two bold predictions, some mailbag and a few guys who could rock the denim as well as Aaron Rodgers and crew did earlier this week.

One of the most talented dogs in the dog pound was kenneled for 2014, and it leaves fantasy owners wondering if anybody else is capable of leading the pack.

The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks proved they were the best team in the league last year, but they also proved something that fantasy football owners could apply to their teams, and that is success comes from finding gems late in their fantasy football draft.

Monday, 25 August 2014 00:00

Episode 11: Bradford, Welker, mailbag

Goal of this podcast: To shed light on St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford's injury and what it means for the Rams and for fantasy owners who drafted him. We also talk about Wes Welker and what his latest concussion could mean. Then we talk about good players in bad situations and finish off the podcast answering a few questions from readers.

Sunday, 24 August 2014 00:00

Late-round gem: Ahmad Bradshaw

Editors's note: Photo for this article was courtesy of Tom Russo on Flickr. You can find his photo page here.

When it comes to drafting fantasy running backs, you look for several key things to indicate a players’ potential value.

Editor’s note: This is part three of an eight-part series where we will look at each team’s receiving core by division and analyze which receiver will be the favorite for most targets So you’re telling me. As fantasy owners know, targets are a crucial part of success for fantasy receivers. This week covers the NFC South.


 

2013 Atlanta Falcons

 

Record: 4-12

 

Quarterback: Matt Ryan

 

Most targeted receiver in 2013: Harry Douglas (133)

 

 

Harry Douglas was the top wide receiver on one of the most pass-happy teams in the NFL last season. It shows you just how a team’s offensive philosophy can still produce fantasy worthy stats even if both starting receivers are injured. 

 

The unlucky wideouts who contracted the injury virus in 2013 were Atlanta’s top two receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. White suffered from a high-ankle sprain and a hamstring injury, which limited him to his first season of less than 1,000 receiving yards since 2006, an incredible feat in and of itself.

 

Jones on the other hand, fractured his foot for the second time in his career in Week 6. His injury came shortly after he exploded for 580 receiving yards in the season’s first five games, dousing his potential career-year with a tub of gasoline and setting it ablaze.

 

Had both top receivers not gone down, Douglas would’ve remained a slot receiver, a spot where he was often productive from a change of pace and game plan standpoint but never accrued the kind of stats that would’ve garnered him significant fantasy appeal. A few unfortunate strokes of luck later, he upgraded himself to a reasonably reliable fantasy option, one that could produce at a high level and give fantasy owners steady doses of 70-80 yard efforts and even toss in the occasional 100-yard game.

 

At 6’0, 183 lbs, Douglas never expected to be utilized in an offense the way he was last season. Yet, even though he was undersized, he still produced. He finished with over 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career.

 

Douglas also benefitted from other situations as well. With Jones out for the year and White not finding his groove until later in the season, Douglas competed only with veteran Tony Gonzalez for targets at times, leaving him as the lone receiver in an offense that threw the ball the second most times of any team in the league last season.

 

So if Douglas was as successful as he was last year, it means monster fantasy potential for the now healthy Jones and White this year. Plus, with the bigger, less athletic Levin Toilolo replacing the retired Gonzalez, there will be less targets used on the tight end position and even more on the receivers. It wouldn’t be crazy to see close to 180 targets for both White and Jones and also some flirting with 1,000 receiving yards.

 

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is still firmly entrenched as the team’s franchise guy, and as long as the offensive line holds up, the sky appears to be the limit for this offense.

 

What could’ve been

 

Before his injury last season, Jones was on pace for nearly 2,000 receiving yards. He recorded as many as 15 targets in one game and never saw less than nine in that five-game stint. His 14.1 yards per catch ranked among the best in the league.

 

 

What they’re both capable of

 

When you look at what they Jones and White did in the 2011 and 2012 seasons when they were both relatively healthy, you could see White was still favored in the offense. In 2012, White drew 143 targets to Jones’ 129. Jones edged White in touchdowns 10:7 while White beat Jones in receiving yards 1,351:1,198. During Jones’ rookie year in 2011, White dominated in targets with 181 while Jones ended up with just 96. White and Jones both record eight touchdowns that season.

 

Three years later, and we have a 32-year-old receiver in White while Jones entering the all-so-important third season of his career. White is now fully healthy, signed to a new 4-year, $30 million deal and is still one of the most respected route runners which allows his performance to defy his age.  

 

Jones is 25 years old, coming off foot surgery after he fractured his fifth metatarsal in his foot, which is fancy doctor language for the area around the middle of the foot. Luckily, doctors have said the injury doesn’t lead to long-term effects. Jones saw his first game action since last October against Houston last Saturday. He caught two passes for 20 yards on four targets and even though he’s got some catching up to do, he’s still on pace to be ready for the regular season.

 

 

Final verdict

 

When it comes to who will get more targets, the answer is probably White. But it doesn’t matter so much as Jones is equally talented and equally utilized in the offense. They’ll likely trade off who gets the hot hand from week or week, which could limit one’s upside almost like a receiver-by-committee style of offense. Jones clearly has the higher ceiling, and White is old reliable. White is the better ADP value right now at No. 45 overall, but Jones could shatter records if he’s healthy. It’s a great problem for Atlanta to have, and if you’re a fantasy owner, you can’t go wrong with either of them.

 

Likely most targeted receiver for 2014: White

 

Projected targets: 160

 

 

 

           

 

Editor’s note: This is part three of an eight-part series where we will look at each team’s receiving core by division and analyze which receiver will be the favorite for most targets. As fantasy owners know, targets are a crucial part of success for fantasy receivers. This week covers the NFC South.

Friday, 15 August 2014 00:00

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Goal of this podcast: To talk a little bit about some players in the early preseason who have piqued our interest a little bit. Obviously, it’s just the preseason, so you don’t know for sure if what these players are doing will translate to the regular season. But there were a few players who we saw do some eye-opening things that deserve some attention and overall fantasy consideration. We also talk a little bit about a few players who haven’t piqued our interest even though they should’ve by now.

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About Us

We believe Fantasy Football success comes down to two things — opportunity and talent. You will have Fantasy Football mastered once you understand how good a player is and how good of an opportunity he has to gain yards and score touchdowns. The thing is, you'll never master Fantasy Football. But you can get pretty darn good at it when you have even a slightly better understanding of opportunity and talent than the average Joe. That's what Fantasy Football Helpers is dedicated to doing.

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We'd love to hear from you. Feel free to email George Banko