The fantasy carnage has been devastating for some. The Zero RB Theory has been a veritable mine field: Sammy Watkins, Josh Gordon, Eric Decker, Keenan Allen, Dez Bryant, Corey Coleman, Donte Moncrief and others out of commission. Tyler Lockett, Devin Funchess and Tyler Boyd have been unplayable. Is there help out there on the wire? If you play in the NFFC, the answer is not much. Let’s look at the football "basket of deplorables" that may be on the wire.
Dontrelle Inman hauled in 7 of 11 targets for 120 yards. The bulk of fantasy scoring came on a 57-yard catch where Inman simply blew by Saints cornerback Ken Crawley, who allowed Inman free release to the outside and the safety missed his assignment as well. I don’t know that it will be that easy for Inman most of the time, but 11 targets are 11 targets. You can’t wait for Philip Rivers to "prove" it a second week in a row unless you want to pay heavy freight down the road. Tyrell Williams hurt his arm on a play in the third quarter and was helped toward the sidelines, but he later returned to the game and seemed unaffected.
Dez Bryant is somehow week to week with a hairline fracture in his knee….or is it a bone bruise? Does anyone remember the last time Bryant was healthy for more than a couple of plays? Will the Cowboys hold out the oft-injured receiver until after the Week 7 bye so he can heal up? If Dallas’ #1 gets reinjured, Brice Butler’s stock goes way up. Dak Prescott targeted Bryant’s backup nine times in Week 4, good enough for 17th most targets among wide receivers.
With Sammy Watkins out for the bulk of the season, Tyrod Taylor has to find a new target. Buffalo doesn’t like to pass much, but they do pass some, enough to support 10 targets of Robert Woods.
Digging even deeper, New York Jets undrafted rookie Robbie Anderson is someone to keep an eye on. Brandon Marshall has been a little dinged up and the former Temple Owl is only an injury away from a bigger role in the offense. Even as the #3, Anderson saw six targets last week. Although his pro-day 40 time was 4.34, that type of speed doesn’t seem apparent on his game film. Nevertheless, he’s fast enough and has an excellent stop-and-go move that can burn corners for a big play. Consider him a desperation WR3 or Flex play if he gets more looks. I wouldn't be ready to start him at this point, but he's someone to keep on your radar. Or, if you have chaff like Josh Gordon to discard, he might be worth a $1 bid as a stash.
Kevin White has been placed on Injured Reserve. That means Eddie Royal should be owned. Keep an eye on Cameron Meredith to see if his role increases.
I haven’t watched film on every game in the NFL this year, but I’ve watched a good bit. The worst game for cornerbacks has to be the Lions dismantling of the entire Green Bay secondary. Until they fix this broken defense, I’m riding the aerial attack of whatever team the Pack is facing.
Eli Manning - There’s good Eli and bad Eli, and I think this matchup is just the tonic that the Giants QB needs.
Tom Brady – I always find it interesting when I hear people flippantly dismiss the "angry Tom Brady" theory, as if emotions or level of focus have no bearing on performance. I never try to convince them otherwise. I just smile, tell them they’re right, and ask them to join my league.
Carson Wentz – The rookie is accurate, sharp, makes excellent decisions, doesn’t make mistakes, spreads the ball around and gets a great matchup against the Lions.
Odell Beckham Jr. – We’ve already addressed the matchup. ODJ is due.
John Brown – Led the NFL with 16 targets in Week 4, but with Carson Palmer not traveling with the team and Drew Stanton slated to start, Brown is relegated to a high-risk, GPP-only play.
Brice Butler – We talked about Butler earlier. If Dez is inactive, this speedster is dirt cheap and should easily cover his cost.
Julian Edelman – The man that can find Edelman finally returns, and he’s angry.
Eddie Royal – Alshon Jeffery has been dinged up with ailments in his knee and hamstring, and now Kevin White is out of the picture. Some of those extra targets figure to go to the former Charger.
Melvin Gordon – The sophomore has speed to burn, but the line has not been opening up holes. The fantasy production from the former Badger has been buoyed by touchdowns and his YPC against the Saints and Colts was right around 2.0 YPC. I’m fading Gordon this week.
Terrance West – Justin Forsett’s release has catapulted the mediocre journeyman into fantasy relevance. This is a situation to watch closely. It’s hard to read the tea leaves as to whether West or Kenneth Dixon gets the most carries. Either makes a decent GPP play, and if you’re boxing permutations, floating two similar lineups with both Ravens backs makes sense given their low cost and matchup against the Redskins. Cash game players may want to steer clear and opt for someone with guaranteed touches.
DeMarco Murray – Has received between 18 and 27 touches each of the first four weeks of the season and gets to face the Dolphins.
Zach Ertz – If you’ve been playing DFS much this year, you probably know that attacking Detroit is a common chalk play. It’s worth reiterating that Carson Wentz loves to spread the ball around, but Ertz should still get looks in the end zone. The Eagles first-string tight end has been out since Week 1 and a full practice points to his availability this weekend. But if Ertz has a setback, Trey Burton would be a sneaky play at near minimum salary.
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.
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.
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.