Opening weekend for the National Fantasy Football Championship is upon us. There’s more risk early on in this year’s draft than any other in recent memory. Let’s look at a few make or break players and see if they are worth investing in tomorrow and Saturday.
Last year, for some reason, Mike McCarthy relinquished play-calling duties for the Green Bay Packers. Despite my misgivings about this peculiar development, I invested heavily in Aaron Rodgers’ aerial assault squad in the NFFC. If you watched even a few of the Pack’s games last year, you know my season essentially was over before it even began. The numbers themselves don’t convey just how inept the entire offense was. Unconfirmed rumors floated that a name change to the "Green Bay Three & Outs" was briefly considered. Jordy Nelson’s absence was only part of the problem. With a similar play-calling plan in place this year, I’m not touching any Packers with a ten-foot pole. The miniscule ADP discount says this group is not worth the risk.
Supposedly, A.J. Green merely banged knees with a defensive back and expressed no concern over his latest injury. The play I saw that gave him a significant limp was of the "touch-me-not" variety, and involved no knee contact at all. This may well blow over and be nothing, but until I see Adriel Jeremiah go full tilt and get up from hard contact as if it’s nothing, I will not invest. Particularly when a healthy A.J. wasn’t that attractive at a pricey #6 overall ADP. The prolific pass catcher profiled more as a high-end WR2 last year. Marvin Jones is gone and Tyler Eifert is out the first few weeks. There’s not much here to draw defenders away from the Bengals' only elite offensive weapon.
Josh Norman took Odell Beckham Jr. to the woodshed in a marquee clash of the Titans back in December. There’s no shame in getting shut down by the NFL’s best shutdown cornerback, but becoming mentally unhinged in the midst of it broadcasts your weakness far too loud and wide. Beckham has always been emotionally volatile. Throw in the non negligible injury risk (four games missed the last two seasons) and I’m very glad the NFFC employs the KDS system of submitting draft slot preference. 1.3 is not where I want to be, but if you are stuck there, the NFFC’s premium on the wide receiver position almost forces you to take one here.
How will Dez Bryant’s foot hold up after off-season surgery? Can Dak Prescott feed him the ball? Too many questions to risk a late first-round or early second-round pick. Similarly, Sammy Watkins had off-season foot surgery and always seems to be hurt, not to mention Buffalo’s run first philosophy. That makes him worth fading.
Jordan Reed missed 12 games over his first two seasons, then somehow managed to stay on the field for 14 in 2015, enough to land him a huge five-year contract. Do you want to spend an early-round pick (#37 ADP) hoping he can match his career high of 14 games played coming off a contract year?
Melvin Gordon managed a meager 3.5 yards per carry in his rookie campaign. Off-season knee surgery has the fantasy market shying away. Another legitimate concern is that if San Diego plays from behind, Danny Woodhead could steal some of his snaps. The former Badger flashed game changing breakaway speed this pre-season and made more decisive cuts than I saw last year. Gordon is not without risk, but he's a decent flier with RB2 upside for those that roll with the Zero RB theory.
Seems as though Carlos Hyde is never 100% healthy. Even though he suited up most of the time, and put up elite statistics, he may have set an OSU record for limping off the field with various foot ailments. After off-season foot surgery, he claims that the foot is now healed, but how long will that last? I would be shocked if the Buckeye alumnus played 16 games. The talent is great and Chip Kelly’s system ideal, but you can’t score fantasy points on the sidelines. Having said that, a true bell-cow in a day and age where such animals are virtually extinct is hard to come by. You’re going to have to spend a 4th round pick to acquire Hyde’s services, then you’re going to have to handcuff two other backs to lock up the San Francisco running back stable. Shaun Draughn is the official backup for now, but he’s dinged up with a rib injury and may not be ready for Week 1. Not only that, but a much improved and very fast Mike Davis looked more impressive and could overtake Draughn as the true backup. That’s a lot of roster space to burn for one starting position, but it could pay off.
Most of what I said concerning Carlos Hyde applies to C.J. Anderson. Right now, the Denver Broncos #1 back looks great, showing burst, speed, and quick cutting ability he didn’t display at all last season and only partially started to flash towards the end of last year. How long can that possibly last? Anderson’s natural state is that of being hobbled. As an owner, you see it almost every game. Sure, he usually suits up, but the over/under on limping off the field and missing a few plays is set to about 2.5 every game. Last year, C.J. frustrated fantasy owners by posting fewer than 10 points 11 times, and the only 20+ point performance was such a shocker that it was certainly on fantasy benches, a tease that tricked owners into starting him the next two weeks as he posted 5.9 and 2.5 points. He’s a boom or bust 4th round selection that could make your season if he stays healthy, but since he’s never shown that ability, the odds are better than 50% he becomes an anchor sinking your fantasy dreams.
Over the past few days, I’ve been perplexed as to how much the press has flocked to Bryce Harper’s defense. Right said Fred was too sexy for his shirt. Is "The Kid" too sexy to hustle? If merely 5% of the rumors I’ve heard about the Washington Nationals right fielder are true, it makes it very hard to root for the guy. CJ Nitkowski’s piece nails it. Of course, all of this Jonathan Papelbon hate works well for the fantasy investor trying to spot market flaws. The mercurial closer continues to be the most reliable, consistent, and undervalued source of saves on the rotisserie market. I can’t help but think disdain for his personality is what’s driving his price down. It’s certainly nothing in his repertoire. While others chase the elite relievers in the early rounds, and the steep opportunity costs that come packaged with them, just be patient and wait for Papelbon, who is often still on the board in the 10th and 11th rounds (2014 ADP was 132). He’s there later than he should be every year.
Alas, baseball is winding down and football is in full swing, so let’s move our attention to the latter.
Sifting through the free agent chaff
If you have dead space on your 14-team roster, Brice Butler is a $1 stash and hold option. With 4.39 speed in Dallas, he has the upside you covet in deeper leagues. Time will tell if he can learn the playbook enough in time to become a factor before Dez Bryant returns from injury.
Those of you from Buckeye country are already well familiar with Devin Smith, who was on the field for 63 snaps and caught three of nine targets in his NFL debut. The burner from Ohio State should see his role increase as he becomes more familiar with the route tree in New York. He’s still available in some 12-team leagues and is worth an immediate pickup but remains a slight desperation flex play in the short term. A very high ceiling here if he continues to get targets. Keep in mind veteran Jeremy Kerley caught six of 11 targets and a TD in Week 3. I targeted both as handcuffs to Eric Decker. Brandon Marshall should get the attention from the best opposing corners, creating decent matchups for Ryan Fitzpatrick. David Gibson, who breaks down game-tape better than anyone else I know, had this to say:
"Devin Smith has elite speed and an uncanny knack for tracking the ball and making circus catches. This makes him ideal for taking the top off a defense, teams that want to cheat a safety up in the box to support the run will give up the deep ball when Smith is on the field. He is fearless when tracking the ball. While this contributes to his ridiculous yards per catch stats, it will also lend to his exposure to injury at the NFL level."
Joique Bell has devolved into a slow plodder good for 1-yard and a cloud of dust coupled with limited touches. That’s not going to get it done. The Chronicles of Theo Riddick is worth a look as a marginal flex option in 14-team leagues. The Lions inept offensive schemes spell 2nd half deficits in which the Lions will have to throw to catch up. Add in a thoroughly banged up Matthew Stafford who will be looking to unload the ball quickly and you have a potential PPR bailout here if you’ve got a hole to plug.
There are many traps that can befall you when looking for an edge. One of those is the "team giving up the most points to (insert position here)." And yet, I am going to go to that well here due to the one-week wonders created by the beloved Oakland Raiders: Tyler Eifert, Crockett Gillmore and Gary Barnidge. This week, Martellus Bennett ($4,500 in DraftKings) and the Chicago Bears host the men in black and the price is right.
Karlos Williams ($3,400 in DK) looks great on tape. In fact, to my eyes, he appears to have more burst and top end speed than Slim Shady McCoy. The latter is dinged up and it’s looking more as though the rookie will get the start. Lock and load him into your GPP lineups this weekend.
The Kansas City Chiefs cornerbacks haven’t been able to stop anyone this year. Andy Dalton ($5,900) isn’t exactly Aaron Rodgers ($7,900), but the Bengal is still set up for a nice fantasy matchup and A.J. Green ($7,600) owners must be licking their chops. Marvin Jones ($3,900) is also worth a look for those seeking players with a little less ownership.
Double check the inactives Sunday morning but my gut tells me that Arian Foster ($7,000) won’t be ready against the Atlanta Falcons, making Alfred Blue ($3,900) an inexpensive option with a great matchup.
The Miami Dolphins recently fired head coach Joe Philbin and promoted Dan Campbell to take the reigns. The results? After averaging 14 points per game over their first four games, the Dolphins posted 38 and 44 points in the two games coming out of their bye week. Lamar Miller has seen his points per game average rise from 6.7 to 22.6, his carries per game increase from 9.25 to 14, and his yards per carry improve from 3.5 to 7.2. In fact, the entire offense has gotten a boost. What we thought we knew about the Dolphins in terms of fantasy value and production changed dramatically overnight. Of course, new Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter was quick to point out that not all change is good, or immediate.
Mike Mularkey has now replaced Ken Whisenhunt at the helm in Tennessee. What we thought we knew about the Tennessee Titan players, in fantasy terms, no longer applies. All we have are unknowns. That might create a buying opportunity. Supposedly, Antonio Andrews is the workhorse. Rumors in the twitterverse say that David Cobb was a little overweight last week and might not be activated for Sunday’s matchup against the New Orleans Saints. This means that the rookie’s price on the wire may be suppressed. We’ve seen how quickly the pecking order can change in one snap due to an injury, fumble, or simply the hot hand. Kendall Wright is dealing with a knee injury and may not be able to suit up on Sunday. This means that 6’5” Dorial Green-Beckham should be on your radar. He’s been non-existent in the Titans offensive scheme to this point. Due to the aforementioned, that could change. Entering Week 9, DGB remains a desperation flex play, though for DFS players the matchup against the Saints secondary might be worth the cheap Hail Mary in GPP contests. Depending on his usage, the rookie has decent upside in season-long leagues as we head down the stretch. If you were impatient and cast him off a week or two ago as I did, you may want to use a token amount to get him back if you can afford the roster space. Don’t forget about Harry Douglas either.
Pep Hamilton is out as Offensive Coordinator in Indianapolis. Pep has been criticized in previous years for trying to ‘force’ the run game, even when it’s not there, only turning to Andrew Luck when trailing late in games. The Colts brought in Andre Johnson to give the passing game another weapon, but they’ve been unable to utilize the former Texans star. The Colts brass has been coy and deceptive about Luck’s injuries and there’s no way to be sure about the quarterback’s health moving forward. Having said that, now that Rob Chudzinski is calling the shots, I expect the Colts to open things up more. It will be interesting to see if they figure out how to get Andre Johnson to contribute more. Yes, he looks slower, but not enough to explain why he’s been unplayable in fantasy this year. He’s 34, not 45, and just a year removed from being a solid WR3 with an inferior QB. In 2014, he outproduced Keenan Allen, Jarvis Landry and Allen Robinson. Only time will tell if AJ will become flex worthy again. Keep an eye on Dwayne Allen’s usage as well.
You don’t need me to tell you about Jeremy Langford, but it will take most of your FAAB to get him.
Various players of interest:
Karlos Williams has the burst and speed but has been sidelined with concussion symptoms the last few weeks. The underrated fifth-round pick has resumed practicing and is on target to return to game action this weekend. LeSean McCoy is the only thing standing between him and a full complement of snaps.
If you are a glutton for punishment, you can try to roster Kendall Gaskins or Jarryd Hayne. With Blaine Gabbert taking over passing duties, defenses will stack the box. If you’ve got to drop Arian Foster and it’s just a $1 flier, sure. Otherwise pass.
Peyton Manning finally gets his replacement for Julius Thomas with the acquisition of Vernon Davis. Denver’s offensive line looked reborn against Green Bay, and coming off two weeks of rest, Peyton was able to throw accurate deep passes again.
With Keenan Allen out for the year and San Diego playing from behind a lot, Malcom Floyd might benefit from the volume.
Rounding out the list are Dwayne Harris, Marques Colston and Jay Ajayi.
I’ve played High Stakes Fantasy Baseball and Football for 12 years now. I’ve dealt with all of the major companies. If you want a great draft experience and the best customer service in the Fantasy Industry, Greg Ambrosius and Tom Kessenich at the National Fantasy Football Championship have been setting the bar for over a decade. There’s still time to jump into the NFFC waters. Today we’ll scan the current ADP, looking for the most notable market price tags.
1.1 - Adrian Peterson – All-Day’s record setting 2012 performance is a distant memory. AD followed that up with the 9th best running back performance. Some think he will be refreshed with the year off. The 30-year-old also has over 2,000 career carries, so he’s no longer a spring chicken. The #1 ADP speaks more to the instability of the other running backs than it does to anything else.
1.9 - Odell Beckham – Hands down the most valuable wide receiver last year. Was there a championship team on the planet that didn’t own him? 24.7 ppg is the highest total a WR has posted in NFFC history, outpacing even Randy Moss of the 2007 New England Patriots. I get it. It’s only one season, he’s small (5’11”), and he’s got that hamstring issue. He’s also got the highest ceiling in the receiver pool.
2.6 – Brandin Cooks – Was a low in WR2 last year before his season ended in Week 11. He’s the 9th receiver coming off the board, which means his upside is already figured into the price.
3.6 – Jimmy Graham – I wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole. Not in this offense. Seattle only passes when they have to. Expect his target numbers to drop significantly.
4.12 – Doug Martin – I’m so tired of him looking good in the preseason, then looking more like Ickey Woods getting some cold cuts at the deli once they turn on the lights. The offensive line hasn’t completely gelled yet. The Muscle Hampster will most likely be somebody else’s problem this year.
5.11 – Peyton Manning – The Rams defense dominated the Broncos in Week 11. After that, Peyton Manning was a new person. That new person, and the Broncos’ run first philosophy, was not a sight for sore fantasy owners' eyes. The elder Manning posted 15.8 ppg over the last five weeks, ranking 30th in the NFL. Enjoy. Maybe the Broncos offense reverts back to its aerial form in 2015, maybe it doesn’t.
6.4 – Joseph Randle – I smell a committee. His stock is falling and still might not be worth the risk.
8.2 – Victor Cruz – How much faith do you have that his knee will hold up? It’s still a relatively high price for high risk. Even when he plays, he’s not going to be the same.
9.11 – Devin Funchess – Yes, it’s been a rough preseason and the offense is a mess, but he’s big (6’4”, 232 lbs.) and somebody has to catch passes in Carolina.
10.3 – Seattle DST – Just say NO to drugs….and drafting a defense in the first 15 rounds.
11.11 – Matt Jones – The buzz is there’s a committee brewing in Washington and that Matt Jones fits their offensive scheme better. Noise or signal?
12.8 – Dorial Green-Beckham – This size-speed specimen (6’5”, 237 lbs., runs a 4.49 40) is technically buried on the depth chart. If you have the room to stash him, this rookie could make an impact in the second half of the season.
13.7 – Phillip Dorsett – A small rookie (5’10”, 185 lbs.) that doesn’t figure to make a fantasy impact. The Colts’ first-round pick is a situational deep threat that might catch lightning for you in a daily game and disappoint you elsewhere. Think Philly Brown with no experience calling Lucas Oil Stadium his home.
14.4 – Cody Latimer – Peyton Manning hasn’t been happy with his performance, which is all you need to know. He’s cheap for a reason.