I awoke late Sunday morning, flipped on the tube and awaited the latest injury and weather updates that might affect the afternoon games. Tweets of a whiteout in Foxborough came rolling in. The images on the television betrayed the hyperbole, but no small amount of snow had covered the pitch. Word came from reporters on the scene that “blizzard-like conditions” with sustained winds over 20 mph and gust of 50 mph were bound to wreak havoc on both offenses. The Broncos would lean heavily on Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson. The Patriots would feed either Shane Vereen or Jonas Gray. It was a beautiful plan. The only problem was neither John Fox nor Bill Belichick got the memo and the Snow Miser left the stadium prior to the 4:25 kickoff. Chicken Little has this way of stirring the starting lineup pot with foreboding weather reports. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were so intimidated that they limited themselves to 110 pass attempts for 771 yards.
Mychal Rivera is 6’3” and weighs in at 245. The sophomore reeled in eight catches and found the end zone twice on Sunday. You might recall another relatively obscure Raider Tight End with a similar build that came out of nowhere a couple of years ago to be a mid-range TE1. Brandon Myers was an opportunist that filled a void. Right now, the Raiders are tied for last in the NFL with just two rushing TD’s. Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew are not getting it done on the ground. That means it’s on rookie Derek Carr’s shoulders to distribute touchdowns. Rivera doesn’t have great speed or moves, but he has good hands and is a strong, decent-sized target that won’t get pushed around in the red zone or when the Raiders need to move the chains. Predicting player usage is a little like Russian Roulette, but if the Raiders want to move the chains and increase their red zone efficiency, they’ll continue to give Rivera more looks.
Many of you heard Dennis Pitta touted as a sleeper during the preseason due to his skill set and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s Tight End friendly system. With Pitta on injured reserve, Owen Daniels is now the soup du jour in Baltimore and one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets. The former Texan was Flacco’s most targeted receiver in Week 7 and Week 9 (missed Week 8 after having his knee scoped). Given Flacco’s inaccuracy when throwing more than 20 yards downfield, that trend could easily continue.
Minnesota Vikings wide receivers have been allergic to the end zone this year, finding pay dirt just thrice. Only the Kansas City Chiefs wideouts have been worse. Matt Asiata has shown flashes of being effective on the ground inside the five, but if he gets shut down, rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater may start looking more to Chase Ford, at least until Kyle Rudolph returns.
It seems like every year some young Cincinnati Bengals Tight End is hyped as a fantasy prospect. I fade that hype because, for the most part, Bengals coaches mistake tight ends for offensive linemen. They’re involvement in the offense has been minimal for over a decade. However, since Week 5, Jermaine Gresham has been Andy Dalton’s #2 target. A.J. Green is back and Gresham’s role will certainly diminish as Green’s snap count increases. Keep in mind, however, that turf toe has a tendency of flaring up rather easily. If it does, Gresham might be a serviceable fill-in for those dealing with injuries or bye week issues.
Nick Foles suffered a broken collarbone and will be sidelined indefinitely. Mark Sanchez is the next man up in the city of brotherly love. That’s all you need to know if you are stuck with Andy Dalton as your best QB. Even Greg Ambrosius could throw touchdowns in Chip Kelly’s system.
Michael Vick is pretty good when he’s not throwing interceptions and incompletions. Yes, I do but jest, but there is an element of truth in my jocularity. If you are desperate at quarterback, he might be worth the risk as a spot play in the right matchup, for instance Week 12, when the Jets face the Bills. Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton have byes that week, and Andy Dalton has to travel to Houston to face J.J. Watt. Would you want to roll out the Red Rifle if A.J. Green is out with turf toe again, or a strained foot, or whatever they want to call it this week?
1 – Never listen to beat writers. “Calvin Johnson’s ankle is fine. He looks great in pre-game warmups. He’s going to be a factor.” Yeah, how did that turn out? If you drafted Calvin Johnson in standard leagues, you were going to start him no matter what, but for those in daily leagues, how did his one catch for seven yards work for you?
2 – Never, EVER listen to coaches when they address intended player usage. “The roles of Blount and Bell have yet to be determined. Blount is more than a goal-line and red zone back.” Yeah. Sure coach. I even heard a spin that a 60-40 split was in the works. How many of you are glad that you listened to this rubbish and stopped drafting LeVeon Bell in the early 2nd round?
3 – Take what players say with a grain of salt. In fact, take 3-4 tablespoons of sodium chloride when it’s Joe Flacco. The self-proclaimed greatest quarterback in the NFL decided to imitate something else on Sunday. His fantasy production is up slightly this year due to the presence of Steve Smith, but his inaccuracy on throws greater than 20 yards was on display yet again in Indianapolis, missing would-be touchdowns to Marlon Brown and Torrey Smith. It’s the same old Flacco who will be feast or famine this year dependent on Steve Smith’s YAC-ability and blown coverages.
Ben Tate expressed his concern that his knee might not be healthy enough to play against the Titans. How many Ben Tate owners were glad they heard that report after he toted the rock 22 times for 123 yards, or the Isaiah Crowell owners sucked into starting the Crow over other flex options?
I’ve mentioned only a couple examples, and yet there have been dozens of times this year alone when “being informed” simply meant being deceived, tricked, or at least led astray. The fact is I would have been far better off both on draft day and with weekly lineup decisions having ignored just about all news and updates with the exception of official game day active/inactive reports and preseason injury reports. With the latter, you still have to be extremely careful and interpret them the right way.
So what is the answer then? Stick our heads in the sand and arbitrarily set lineups? There is a better way, but it takes a lot of work. Get NFL Game Rewind and watch condensed games, full games or the coach’s film. You can even drill down into individual plays from a menu to scout particular players. All games throughout the season are archived so everything is at your disposal. No, I don’t get paid for the plug, just presenting a way to get an edge. Plus, you’ll have the satisfaction that your own two eyes helped build your team. Win or lose with YOUR GUYS and YOUR DECISIONS. Not someone else’s. It’s something I have to keep reminding myself of, as it’s all too easy to be influenced. I’ll even watch games with the volume off sometimes so as not to be swayed by the commentary.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t good writers out there with useful fantasy info. There are, but you have to set your filter on high. If you can help it, don’t heed anyone else’s take on a player without first scouting them yourself. Fade the hype (3rd round Cordarrelle Patterson anyone?).
Some players that I’ll be scouting this week:
Which of these players should be picked up? Let the game film decide.
Almost each day of this month’s fantasy football blitz, Greg Ambrosius of the NFFC is gracious enough to post the first six rounds of recently completed NFFC drafts on the NFFC message board (go to nffc.stats.com for information on how to register for any of their contests). These are not “mock” drafts, they are real drafts, so they carry a lot more credibility than ADP rankings generated from drafts that could be largely auto-picked.
I have been tracking the 12-team drafts that have been posted in the past week and have the following observations:
We are going to follow up with Part II of our rundown of sleeper wide receivers from around the league. Since we end up drafting more wide receivers than any other position in fantasy football, it is necessary to dig a little deeper to find viable sleeper candidates. We'll take a look at every team from around the league and give you some names you need to know for the mid-to-late rounds of your fantasy drafts this year. Here is the second batch from Miami to Washington.
The Dolphins tabbed Jarvus Landry in the second round of the draft with an eye to the future. The team may decide to let Brian Hartline walk after this season and in Landry, they think they have the perfect guy to groom as a replacement. He will need to wrest the No. 3 job from Brandon Gibson, but if he does, he could pay off as a late round dart in deep PPR leagues.
Cordarrelle Patterson is already getting drafted too high to merit “sleeper”status. If anything, he is being overdrafted at this point, with questions about who will be throwing him passes still undecided. Greg Jennings is cheaper, but doesn’t have the upside anymore to be much more than a flex option. Jarius Wright has some intrigue if he can manage to outlast Jerome Simpson for the No. 3 job. But let’s be honest, it would have to be an extremely deep league for you to call his name on draft day.
New England Patriots
Tom Brady likes to spread the ball around, which means anyone in the mix to catch passes has a chance to be fantasy relevant. Danny Amendola will look to bounce back from a lackluster debut in New England. He missed time with injuries and saw Julian Edelman emerge as Brady’s favorite target. Amendola’s injury history keeps his price low, but with the team installing more three-wide sets, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to make some noise in PPR leagues, at least until he gets hurt again. At least the injury risk is priced in this year.
New Orleans Saints
Kenny Stills has been nicked up in camp, which has allowed rookie Brandin Cooks to steal all of the pre-season buzz. If your leaguemates forget about the second-year speedster, take advantage of the discount to get a piece of the Saints passing game. He will be hard to trust on a weekly basis, like many Saints receivers who have filled the “home run” role in the past, but you know Drew Brees is going to lob a couple of deep shots his way every week. That’s the kind of weekly upside you want on your bench to deploy in your flex spot when the matchups are right. The fact that Stills re-injured his quadriceps and is questionable for Week 1 should only suppress his value a little more, making him even easier to grab late.
New York Giants
I always like to target receivers heading into their third year, which brings us to Rueben Randle. The departure of Hakeem Nicks and injuries to rookie Odell Beckham have cleared the way for Randle to begin the season as the starter opposite Victor Cruz. At 6’3”, Randle has the size to become a red zone favorite of Eli Manning’s. As I mentioned, his stock is trending into low WR3 range, so expect to have some competition for his services in your draft.
New York Jets
Jeremy Kerley is one of those players you want to root for and this year he will be someone you will want to consider grabbing late, especially in PPR drafts. He doesn’t have the upside of a lot of the other players on the list, but aside from outside threat Eric Decker, Kerley looks like Geno Smith’s most reliable target in the wake of the team’s release of Stephen Hill. The Jets' slot man should get his targets each and every week, making him a solid bench player for deep leagues.
The Raiders have a pretty crowded receiving corps, and their passing attack doesn’t figure to be one of the league’s elite ones, so you may want to look elsewhere for your sleepers, but looking at the landscape, third-year man (there it is again) Andre Holmes is the guy in silver-and-black that I am tempted to place my bets on. At 6’4”, he has the size and wingspan to go up and get the ball, and was garnering a ton of buzz early in camp. However, he has fallen behind Rod Streater and Denarius Moore as the pre-season continued and now seems best left on the wire to start the year.
Jordan Matthews was an easy choice as the Eagles candidate. He is already locked in as the team's slot receiver, which will instantly put him in the middle of Chip Kelly’s machine-gun offense. I have seen some people argue that he is the best receiver on the Eagles right now. However, working on the inside, he will have company for targets in Darren Sproles and Zach Ertz. I think he is priced right as a WR4/5, and he is a player that I think will come on stronger as the year progresses. Obviously, any injuries to Jeremy Maclin or Riley Cooper will only expedite his arrival, just be aware that he will not be on the field all the time as Kelly keeps his pieces moving.
Markus Wheaton was hailed as the new Mike Wallace when the Steelers drafted him last year, and now he will have his chance to prove it after Emmanuel Sanders landed in Denver. Wheaton has locked down the “X” role held by the two former Steelers, and the stage is set for him to have a breakout year as a result. He is lumped in with other WR5’s like Hakeem Nicks, Greg Jennings, Steve Smith, Danny Amendola and Miles Austin. You don’t really need me to tell you why grabbing the speedy 23-year-old over these injury-prone veterans is the right move, just thank me later.
St. Louis Rams
Here we are at the end of the pre-season, and not only is Kenny Britt still standing, he has landed a starting job for his former coach Jeff Fisher. The Rams definitely have a need for someone with Britt’s skills to work the outside of the field, and his price is so low that it really can’t hurt to take a chance and see if he can have a bounceback season. Yes, he is an injury risk, a headcase and he has lost a step from his prime. But there really aren’t any other receivers of his ilk sitting in his tier, as most No. 1 options will be drafted much, much earlier.
San Diego Chargers
After taking a long look at the Chargers corps of receivers, it is really hard to get excited about anyone beyond Keenan Allen. Malcom Floyd is what he is, a boring veteran who won’t make much noise and will likely get hurt at some point. Eddie Royal is a nice slot-man, and he will have his one or two big weeks, but for the most part is best left on the wire. Vincent Brown has been released. That leaves CFL veteran Dontrelle Inman as the best sleeper candidate here, albeit one for only the deepest of leagues. He’s not going to get too much action until injuries hit, but Inman can make some noise if he can find his way onto the field at some point. I feel I’ll be writing about him again at some point this year.
San Francisco 49ers
Steve Johnson comes over from the Buffalo Bills, where he was their leading receiver for the last four seasons. Now he is third in the pecking order behind Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, and will see much fewer targets than he has in the past, particularly since the Niners run the ball so much and don’t use very many three WR formations. Still, he should rotate in and out to keep the aging Boldin fresh, and he does have a track record of success that makes him a viable stash in deep leagues.
Doug Baldwin has been one of my favorite late-round targets this year, as no one seems to like him as much as I do in my drafts. I have consistently been able to land him as a WR5/6 on my teams as others chase flashier names. Baldwin isn’t flashy, and he doesn’t have the size that everyone covets at only 5’10”. What he does have is a starting job and the trust of his quarterback. He also has Percy Harvin on the other side of the field, which means he is only another injury away from being the number one target. That’s enough upside to go along with what should be steady production otherwise.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Rookie Mike Evans will team up with Vincent Jackson to form one of the most imposing pair of wideouts the league has ever seen. Evans will likely be the first rookie wideout to come off the board in drafts, so it is sort of a stretch to label him a true sleeper. The only question left to be answered is how much of an impact can he have in his first full season? At 6’5”, he will excel in the red-zone and will benefit from getting single-coverage thanks to his running mate across the field.
Justin Hunter is on just about every sleeper list out there, and I see no reason to keep him off this one. This kid has a ton of talent, and he seems ready to put last year’s issues behind him. He has a unique combination of size (6’4”) and speed and has been making plays all through the pre-season. Nate Washington is still around, so Hunter will have to bide his time as the slot receiver, but Hunter is a big play waiting to happen any given week. His strong pre-season has him rising in the ranks, so hopefully you got shares in him while they were still cheap.
The only person who wasn’t particularly excited when DeSean Jackson signed with Washington had to be Andre Roberts. Jackson’s arrival means that instead of finding himself in the starting lineup, Roberts will remain one of the better third receivers in the league, which unfortunately puts a cap on his prospects to begin the year. The good news is Jay Gruden likes to run a lot of three wide receiver sets in his offense and both Pierre Garcon and Jackson have a history of missing time with injuries. You could do worse with your last roster spot in a deep PPR league.
Gary Kubiak has total confidence in Case Keenum. Jim Schwartz didn’t bench Reggie Bush for fumbling. Dennis Allen has no idea how Darren McFadden’s rehab is progressing. Bruce Arians wants to give Andre Ellington more touches. We read George Bush’s lips, ‘No new taxes,’ and Barack Obama promised that we could keep our current health plan. From coaches to politicians, does anyone really believe anything they say? If only there was some way to filter out all coach quotes from all media sources. Seriously. Just give me the practice reports, injury updates, stats and starting lineups. Everything else is chaff.
Well, the final chapter of the FFFC is in the books. Yours truly didn’t get a ticket. I hope you were one of the final 20. If you weren’t, no worries. Daily Fantasy Football leagues live on through Week 17. Stop back Friday and we’ll try to separate the wheat from the chaff as we head into the weekend.