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The All-Out Blitz - Vol. 3
Incompetence Identified

Aggressiveness is a characteristic that tends to reward fantasy owners more times than not. In the NFL, an offensive line will sometimes hold up long enough to give the quarterback enough time to beat man coverage down the field and make the defense look foolish against a fierce pass rush. More often than not, though, when a defense brings the heat and forces the action, crisis management becomes the name of the game for the opposing team.

In that same vein, I hope to apply that same kind of pressure to the owners in all of my leagues by beating my opponents to the punch in regards to personnel moves. Sometimes, reaching a conclusion about a player too quickly is much like trying to blitz Peyton Manning – dangerous and painful. However, coming to a correct conclusion two weeks or two minutes quicker than your opponents is considered foresight. Fantasy owners can be a uneasy lot, knowing that one two-or-three-game losing streak can wreak irreparable damage to his/her team’s chances to make a visit to the fantasy postseason. But just as it is in the NFL and in life, it’s hard to land the big prize by playing scared. Thus, I will strive each week to help each of you become a smart blitzer, so to speak.

While deciding which team is the best of the best after three weeks is a dicey proposition, it sure hasn't been hard to identify the teams that are throwing their hat into the ring for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

In all my years of following the NFL, I can't seem to recall a time when so many teams looked so awful coming out of the gate. For instance, Cleveland is off to a start of epic proportions, losing by an average of 22 pts/game while scoring just one offensive TD - a garbage-time throw with 28 seconds remaining in Week 1 vs. the Vikings. While it is hardly shocking that Carolina wasn't able to maintain its 12-4 pace from a season ago, I'm not sure anyone had them going 0-3, averaging just a shade over 12 pts/game while allowing 29. Fellow NFC South competitor Tampa Bay has looked even worse than the Panthers in losing its first three contests, highlighted by Week 3's dismal 84 total-yard performance against a depleted Giants' defense. And let's not forget the Rams, who we anticipated would struggle. And struggle they have, averaging eight points per game while giving up over 24.

To its credit, however, St. Louis actually has fought hard for new HC Steve Spagnuolo in its last two games, giving the Redskins all they could handle on the road in Week 2 before fading in the fourth quarter at home vs. the Packers.

After three weeks, there are seven 0-3 teams in all, most of which are struggling to put together any semblance of an offense. Throw 1-2 Oakland and its 12 pts/game average into the mix as well. Those eight teams comprise a group that takes into account 25% of the league. Of that bunch, only the Titans strike me as a team that not only needs to catch a break, but also could get things righted quickly and make a run.

Why does it matter in fantasy? Certainly, it makes a lot of sense since Miami, Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, Carolina and Tampa Bay aren't scoring a ton of points on offense, it may be high time to re-evaluate how much stock you are putting into players from those teams. Going one step further, the basis for all my preseason work with the PSAs is to identify favorable matchups. Typically, most of the emphasis in fantasy is targeted towards offensive players, but for the thousands of owners who play in leagues in which bonuses are handed out to defenses that hold an opponent under a certain yardage or point total, it may be high time to take another glance at the schedule to see how many of these floundering offenses you can get on your defense's schedule. With nearly a quarter of the league having offensive issues, it may not be as hard as it usually is to find a bye-week defense…or a favorable mix-and-match unit.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the defenses that are lined for fantasy success. Bear in mind that some of these winless teams (Carolina and Kansas City are the most likely to find an offensive spark at some point) probably won't stay poor on offense all season long, but they don't exactly figure to light up the scoreboard in 2009 either.

Defenses built for success over the next five weeks (must have multiple good matchups):

  • Buffalo - @ Miami (Week 4), vs. Cleveland (Week 5), @ Carolina (Week 7)
  • NY Jets - @ Miami (Week 5), vs. Buffalo (Week 6), @ Oakland (Week 7), vs. Miami (Week 8)
  • San Diego - @ Kansas City (Week 7), vs. Oakland (Week 8)
  • NY Giants - @ Kansas City (Week 4), vs. Oakland (Week 5)
  • Philadelphia - vs. Tampa Bay (Week 5), at Oakland (Week 6), at Washington (Week 7)
  • Washington - vs. Tampa Bay (Week 4), at Carolina (Week 5), vs. Kansas City (Week 6)
  • Green Bay - vs. Detroit (Week 6), at Cleveland (Week 7)

Before I break down the workloads this week, Week 3 has usually been the time of the season when coaches tend to turn their main RBs loose, that is, if they have a featured back. Because many teams opt not to overwork their backs during the preseason, coaches have generally used the first two weeks of the regular season to ease their runners into midseason form. Certainly, matchups and game situations dictate usage week-to-week, but this past week saw a significant increase in touches for Steven Jackson, Ryan Grant and Willie Parker, among others.

Willie  Parker

Time to deal Willie Parker.

(Speaking of Fast Willie, deal, deal, deal...if the recent past has taught us anything about turf toe injuries on running backs, it is that those injuries not only linger, but pretty much sap the fantasy value of that player. After nearly going for 100 yards in Week 3, it may be as good of time as any to see if someone likes him more than you.)

For RBs this week, I drew the line at 21 touches (seven/game) and for WRs/TEs, I stopped at five targets/game. Those are hardly foolproof limits, but once we get lower than those numbers, we are typically dealing with role players at best, which should be available on your league’s waiver wire or on the cheap from an owner holding onto that player to fill out his/her roster. As you will see, there are some notable exceptions on each list, but expect most of those players to find their way back up the chart before long.

Note: This week, I opted to sort each position by touches or targets/game.

 RB Workloads - Touches
Rank Player Wk1 Wk2 Wk3 Total Avg
1 Fred Jackson 20 34 22 76 25.3
2 Cedric Benson 25 29 17 71 23.7
3 Maurice Jones-Drew 26 17 27 70 23.3
4 Matt Forte 25 18 27 70 23.3
5 Steven Jackson 16 21 32 69 23.0
6 Mike Bell 28 18 DNP 46 23.0
7 Kevin Smith 22 26 19 67 22.3
8 Michael Turner 22 29 15 66 22.0
9 Adrian Peterson 26 19 21 66 22.0
10 Chris Johnson 16 25 23 64 21.3
11 Ryan Grant 17 17 27 61 20.3
12 Brandon Jacobs 18 16 26 60 20.0
13 Ronnie Brown 13 24 21 58 19.3
14 Larry Johnson 12 27 19 58 19.3
15 Willie Parker 14 15 27 56 18.7
16 Julius Jones 21 11 22 54 18.0
17 Tim Hightower 20 18 14 52 17.3
18 Clinton Portis 17 21 13 51 17.0
19 DeAngelo Williams 18 20 13 51 17.0
20 Darren Sproles 14 17 20 51 17.0
21 Thomas Jones 20 15 15 50 16.7
22 Ray Rice 21 13 15 49 16.3
23 Knowshon Moreno 8 19 21 48 16.0
24 Leon Washington 19 16 13 48 16.0
25 Marion Barber 14 18 DNP 32 16.0
26 Brian Westbrook 16 16 DNP 32 16.0
27 Frank Gore 25 21 1 47 15.7
28 Darren McFadden 19 14 14 47 15.7
29 Steve Slaton 12 20 15 47 15.7
30 Joseph Addai 22 7 16 45 15.0
31 Jamal Lewis 14 15 DNP 29 14.5
32 Reggie Bush 12 13 16 41 13.7
33 Ricky Williams 9 20 12 41 13.7
34 Ahmad Bradshaw 15 11 14 40 13.3
35 LeSean McCoy 10 9 21 40 13.3
36 Fred Taylor 9 8 22 39 13.0
37 Willis McGahee 14 17 7 38 12.7
38 Glen Coffee 1 9 25 35 11.7
39 Correll Buckhalter 10 10 14 34 11.3
40 Donald Brown 13 5 15 33 11.0
41 Michael Bush 13 10 10 33 11.0
42 Chester Taylor 12 7 13 32 10.7
43 Derrick Ward 14 10 7 31 10.3
44 Cadillac Williams 13 14 3 30 10.0
45 Jonathan Stewart 13 12 5 30 10.0
46 Tashard Choice 4 3 22 29 9.7
47 Jerome Harrison 0 7 21 28 9.3
48 Jamaal Charles 8 DNP 9 17 8.5
49 Laurence Maroney 12 6 4 22 7.3
50 Felix Jones 6 7 9 22 7.3
51 LenDale White 8 6 7 21 7.0
52 Kevin Faulk 9 4 8 21 7.0
53 Pierre Thomas DNP 0 14 14 7.0

Quick Hits: Fred Jackson and Benson top the charts again this week, but the former's owners will need to return to their pre-draft plans as Marshawn Lynch returns this week. Word has it that Buffalo plans on an even split. Expect Jackson to get more work than Lynch this week, but all bets are off from Week 5 on. As for Benson owners, it may be time to lock up Bernard Scott if you want to keep him around. Benson showed an ability to handle this kind of workload at the college level, but I'd be a bit leery of trusting him all season long at this rate. If the first three weeks are any indication of his future opponents, his rest-of-the-season schedule appears manageable. Still, I'd see what I could get for him following this week's Battle of Ohio game vs. Cleveland.

Many of you were forewarned about Michael Turner and DeAngelo Williams during the preseason. There's still a lot of games left to be played, but Turner is averaging a full yard/carry less than he did last season. He's also on pace for 31 fewer touches than he had in 2008 (383 to 352) but the removal of the AFC and NFC West from his schedule is taking its toll on his fantasy stock. He's a candidate to explode for a two- or three-score game at some point if the right matchup presents itself, but heís going to need a couple of monster games pretty soon to approach last yearís pace. To wit, it took him until his 64th carry this season what it took him 22 carries to do last season - run for 220 yards. He still hasn't matched the three-TD output he posted in that Week 1 vs. Detroit in 2008 either.

As for Williams, he has been very productive from a YPC and yards/touch standpoint. Still, the presence of Jonathan Stewart and the Panthersí awful defense has conspired to keep D-Will down. Like Turner, he is a full yard/carry below last season's 5.5 and given Carolina's other problems, I'm not sure he's going to get enough work on a consistent basis to live up to his first-round billing. Whatever happens with him, it sure won't be for a lack of talent. Both Turner and Williams will have byes this week, so let's hope that the offensive coordinators for both teams get some things figured out during the off week.

At this point, I wouldn't mind dealing for Moreno or Slaton if the price was right. The Broncosí rookie is heading into the difficult part of his schedule, but his touches are increasing each week and one has to think it won't be long before he squeezes Correll Buckhalter's playing time even more, especially as the Broncos play some teams that will likely expose them for the fraud of a 3-0 team they are. I'm not sure next week's game vs. Dallas qualifies as a true test, but I would be a bit concerned about all things Broncos as they meet the Chargers before heading into a bye, followed by games vs. the Ravens and Steelers.

Sure enough, Slaton's production nearly doubled once he got past the difficult run defenses of the Jets and Titans. He looks a step slower than he did last year and appears to be clutching the ball with two arms in open space more often than I ever remember seeing him do before, likely as a result of his three fumbles in his first two games. With that said, look for Slaton to continue increasing his touches and run with a bit more confidence starting this week vs. Oakland. Weeks 5-7 don't look all that promising, but the worst is probably already over schedule-wise for Houston's top back. Yes, Chris Brown looms as the TD vulture, but we all know he's far from a sure thing in the durability department.

Even before the announcement that LeSean McCoy would split backfield duties with Brian Westbrook came down, the rookie was getting his fair share of the workload (32-19 prior to Week 3's 21-touch effort from McCoy). I'm not exactly sure that we can just take a few fantasy points per game from Westbrook and give them to McCoy just yet, but if you had the foresight to grab the rookie at your draft, take advantage of it. While he may not match the production of a healthy Westbrook going forward, it's safe to say McCoy's stock may be skyrocketing soon. Westbrook has been an injury risk for years, so itís quite likely Week 3 was just the first of a few missed games this season for the aging veteran.

You don't need me to tell you that Glen Coffee is worth a waiver wire pickup, but I can't get the notion of a fade from the player who immediately precedes him on this list, Willis McGahee, out of my head. Certainly, no one expects to keep up his two-TD-per-game pace, but the Ravens' run through weak run defenses is over, especially if New England decides to bring its run defense to the party in Week 4 like it did in Week 3.

After the Pats, the Ravens begin a five-game, six-week run against rush defenses that are in the bottom half of fantasy points allowed to RBs this season. Perhaps Rice-McGahee is this year's Smash-and-Dash in which both players can finish among the top 20 fantasy RBs, but Iím not getting that vibe quite yet. OC Cam Cameron's offenses have historically produced ridiculously productive ground games, but I think that as the season progresses and the defenses get tougher, the Ravens will lean just a bit more on Joe Flacco. I can't see McGahee's stock getting much higher (barring an injury to Rice), meaning it might be time to turn him around into a RB2 with a steadier, more-defined role or sure-fire starter at WR.

There seems to be a lot of speculation that Pierre Thomas re-cemented his role as the Saints' feature back (as Reggie Bush essentially plays a hybrid receiver-runner position in the Saints' offense) with his Week 3 performance. I'm not so sure. If I'm a Thomas owner, I'm doing whatever I can to grab Mike Bell now just to hedge my bet. After Bellís impressive two-week audition, I canít believe weíve seen the last of his fantasy contributions in 2009, so now is a great time to acquire his services on the cheap while he is just eating up space on another teamís bench.

Notable names that just missed the cut: LaDainian Tomlinson, Chris Brown, Chris ďBeanieĒ Wells

 WR/TE Targets (TEs listed in bold)
Rank Player Wk1 Wk2 Wk3 Total Avg
1 Wes Welker 16 DNP DNP 16 16.0
2 Randy Moss 16 8 16 40 13.3
3 Steve Smith (CAR) 13 15 7 35 11.7
4 Nate Burleson 11 10 12 33 11.0
5 Santonio Holmes 11 14 5 30 10.0
6 Andre Johnson 7 16 7 30 10.0
7 Reggie Wayne 14 6 9 29 9.7
8 Larry Fitzgerald 11 5 13 29 9.7
9 Steve Smith (NYG) 8 13 7 28 9.3
10 Ted Ginn Jr. 5 16 6 27 9.0
11 Calvin Johnson 13 7 7 27 9.0
12 Kellen Winslow 9 10 8 27 9.0
13 Brent Celek 7 11 9 27 9.0
14 Roddy White 10 10 6 26 8.7
15 DeSean Jackson 7 9 10 26 8.7
16 John Carlson 8 8 10 26 8.7
17 T.J. Houshmandzadeh 9 7 9 25 8.3
18 Muhsin Muhammad 9 7 9 25 8.3
19 Justin Gage 11 4 10 25 8.3
20 Anquan Boldin 5 9 11 25 8.3
21 Chad Ochocinco 7 7 11 25 8.3
22 Jerricho Cotchery 7 6 12 25 8.3
23 Santana Moss 5 6 14 25 8.3
24 Mario Manningham 4 13 7 24 8.0
25 Laurent Robinson 10 9 4 23 7.7
26 Donald Driver 7 9 7 23 7.7
27 Antonio Gates 9 7 7 23 7.7
28 Owen Daniels 8 8 7 23 7.7
29 Jason Witten 7 7 9 23 7.7
30 Dallas Clark 6 8 9 23 7.7
31 Vernon Davis 7 6 10 23 7.7
32 Steve Breaston DNP 5 10 15 7.5
33 Hines Ward 10 7 5 22 7.3
34 Vincent Jackson 7 7 8 22 7.3
35 Derrick Mason 10 4 8 22 7.3
36 Chris Cooley 8 9 5 22 7.3
37 Isaac Bruce 8 8 5 21 7.0
38 Julian Edelman 0 16 5 21 7.0
39 Chansi Stuckey 8 7 6 21 7.0
40 Marques Colston 6 8 7 21 7.0
41 Torry Holt 5 9 7 21 7.0
42 Donnie Avery 8 6 7 21 7.0
43 Louis Murphy 9 6 5 20 6.7
44 Brandon Marshall 7 6 7 20 6.7
45 Mike Sims-Walker 1 9 10 20 6.7
46 Bryant Johnson 8 1 11 20 6.7
47 Earl Bennett 13 2 4 19 6.3
48 Joey Galloway 2 12 5 19 6.3
49 Mark Clayton 9 4 6 19 6.3
50 Devin Hester 4 7 8 19 6.3
51 Nate Washington 3 7 9 19 6.3
52 Davone Bess 7 3 9 19 6.3
53 Andre Caldwell 8 2 9 19 6.3
54 Jeremy Shockey 4 7 8 19 6.3
55 Antwaan Randle El 9 6 4 19 6.3
56 Roy Williams 7 4 7 18 6.0
57 Percy Harvin 4 5 9 18 6.0
58 Tony Gonzalez 9 7 2 18 6.0
59 Greg Olsen 6 6 6 18 6.0
60 Heath Miller 8 4 6 18 6.0
61 Patrick Crayton 6 7 4 17 5.7
62 Braylon Edwards 5 7 5 17 5.7
63 Devery Henderson 8 4 5 17 5.7
64 Lee Evans 6 5 6 17 5.7
65 Mike Furrey 7 4 6 17 5.7
66 Bernard Berrian 2 6 9 17 5.7
67 Michael Jenkins 5 4 8 17 5.7
68 Mike Wallace 6 3 8 17 5.7
69 Jerramy Stevens 5 9 3 17 5.7
70 Greg Jennings 8 5 3 16 5.3
71 Eddie Royal 4 9 3 16 5.3
72 Dustin Keller 7 5 4 16 5.3
73 Todd Heap 8 4 4 16 5.3
74 Johnny Knox 4 9 3 16 5.3
75 Sidney Rice 4 5 7 16 5.3
76 Michael Clayton 8 4 4 16 5.3
77 Laveranues Coles 5 3 7 15 5.0
78 Jabar Gaffney 4 5 6 15 5.0
79 Randy McMichael 7 5 3 15 5.0

Quick Hits: Randy Moss is never going to come cheap, but it sure wouldn't hurt to remind his owners he hasn't scored yet. At the rate Tom Brady is targeting him, Moss could blow up for a two- or three-TD game any week now.

Speaking of a high-volume target WR, Nate Burleson's continued presence atop this list puzzles me. On one hand, he is no slouch and we have seen his potential on a number of occasions, but I'm still highly skeptical of how long he can be productive with his surgerically-repaired knee. Houshmandzadeh is one of the best possession WRs in the league (especially key in OC Greg Knapp's run-heavy offense) and John Carlson is awful tempting in the red zone. The Bears appeared willing to let him have the short stuff in Week 3, but I have to believe it is only a matter of time before opponents start testing his long speed. Maybe Burleson and Houshmandzadeh end up being options 1A and 1B, but as of right now, I doubt it.

Andre Johnson

Andre Johnson: Keep the faith.

Andre Johnson's target rate is a bit disturbing, but keep the faith if you own him and wait until after this week to trade for him if you want him. In 16 games last season, AJ saw single-digit targets in a game just five times. This season, he already has two, and if history tells us anything, it will be three after this week. Week 1ís low-target rate against the Jets' defense was excusable and Week 3ís low total against Jacksonville isnít all that surprising as the Jaguars haven't allowed him to beat them lately. This week, he should see a lot of Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha. Last year, that matchup led to Johnson's worst fantasy game since two miserable games in December 2006 (one of which came against Oakland). Now, assuming the Raiders know what is good for them (don't laugh), they won't change a thing when it comes to defending the Texans' passing game in Week 4.

Is there a player who produces more with limited opportunities than Vincent Jackson? After posting 18.6 YPC and seven scores on 59 catches last year, he's a shade under 20 YPC and has scored twice in 2009. Much like Calvin Johnson last year, neither WR seems to need a lot of balls thrown his way to produce in a big way. Speaking of Johnson, things are only going to get better for him. On at least two occasions this season, all Megatron needed was for his QB, Matthew Stafford, to give him a ball in the end zone in which he could ouDougump his defender. Both times the rookie QB has put too much heat on the throw. Don't worry, Stafford will settle down and perfect that throw soon enough.

If Mike Sims-Walker isn't David Garrard's first option in the passing game for Jacksonville, he's probably 1A. With 19 targets over his last two games, he's quickly become a viable WR3 in fantasy. Another fairly cheap WR3 option is Nate Washington, a player that Tennessee believed would assume the lead receiver role at some point in 2009. After being slowed by an injury to open the season, he's shown to be an important part of the offense (especially in the red zone) over the last two weeks with two TDs and 16 targets. I like him to be one of the better WR3 options out there by the end of the season.

For a QB-WR pair to look as rough chemistry-wise as Brett Favre and Bernard Berrian do right now, it's rather amazing that he has seen the most targets of all the Vikings' WRs over the past two weeks. As any Favre fan could tell you, the grizzled vet will spread it around to a number of players and there is little doubt he already trusts Harvin in crunch time. With that said, it's only a matter of time before Favre and Berrian make up for their lost preseason and connect on a few deep balls. Berrian will probably never be the most consistent fantasy WR, but he's in the best situation of his career right now and the player most likely to benefit from Favre's arm.

Notable names who just missed the cut: Terrell Owens, Zach Miller, Kelley Washington, Kenny Britt, Pierre Garcon

College Spotlight

Marshwan (Marty) Gilyard, WE Cincinnati (6-1, 180)

Much like last week's entrant, Jahvid Best, Gilyard used the end of the 2008 season as a springboard to what should be the culmination of an incredible college career. After posting reasonable totals for a talented junior receiver through mid-November, Gilyard has been nearly unstoppable since. Say what you will about the level of defensive wizardry that Pitt HC Dave Wannstedt and ex-Syracuse HC Greg Robinson (both former pro defensive coordinators) possess, but along with Virginia Tech HC Frank Beamer, none of these coaches were able to devise a scheme to slow down Gilyard last season. Since torching Pitt for eight catches, 110 yards and a score in late November 2008, Gilyard hasn't fallen below six catches or 65 yards receiving in any of his last eight games, scoring in all but one of those contests and at least 100 yards receiving in all but two of those contests. As amazing as he is to watch on the field, it's safe to say this receiver passes the character test as well. In an effort to make ends meet and fulfill his athletic goals earlier in his career, Gilyard worked four jobs and even slept in his car at one point to get by. Projecting most any college receiver to the pro game is hardly an exact science - especially those from spread offenses - but I'd like to believe I can make a case for Gilyard to contribute almost immediately in the NFL in 2010.

With pro prospect Tony Pike directing the offense, the Bearcats QB must have targeted Gilyard at least 15 times on his 26 pass attempts last weekend in their win over Fresno State. Absent of genetic freaks like Calvin Johnson, I favor college receivers who I feel excel in space, much like a good punt returner would. Because most college defenses don't have cornerbacks to physically match up with someone who possesses Gilyard's speed or quickness, it's a fair question as to how well he will handle press coverage at the next level, although he has the size to beat it if he is taught the proper technique. Cincinnati also doesn't ask him to run many routes over the middle, but the fact that he returns kicks suggests he doesn't mind taking a bit of contact.

Outside of that, there is a lot to like with Gilyard. He is a hands-catcher whose routes are crisp for a college wideout. He actually plays smaller than his listed size (which in this case is a good thing) because his game is what one would typically expect out of a slot receiver. His acceleration makes him a threat in the short passing game as well as the deep passing game. The Bearcats don't ask him to return many punts, but he is one of the few players in my opinion who has the straight-line speed and vision necessary to excel on kick returns and the quickness and elusiveness to fare well on punt returns at the next level. If I were pressed to compare him to a current NFL receiver, I would go with the same player his Bearcat teammates compare him to - Santonio Holmes. However, I must admit in the games I have seen him in so far, I like Gilyard more as a prospect than I did Holmes when he came out of Ohio State. As such, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he is a more consistent version of the Steelers' WR early in his NFL career.