All Out Blitz: Volume 46
Who needs preseason?
Let’s face it: the opening week of the NFL each season
typically features at least one storyline that would
probably get rejected by Hollywood. By now, we know that we should
expect injuries – some of the season-ending variety –
and some disappointment as one or more of our “foundation”
fantasy players gets shut down by an opponent for seemingly no
reason. But what happens when the script the NFL just doesn’t
make any sense? Let’s examine:
Player A suffers a major knee injury at the end of last season
that not only should have landed him on the Physically Unable
to Perform (PUP) list, but made him something of an afterthought
for the entire 2012 season. Furthermore, this same player was
not allowed to be tackled in practice as recently as two weeks
ago and was deemed a game-time decision at that time – which
is almost always an ominous sign for a player when a decision
like that is made so far ahead of time. Player B leads the league
in rushing in 2011 (revealing later that he did so with a bum
knee), holds out all preseason long and returns to a full workload
when the man who performed so well in his place during the preseason
cannot stay healthy for a single half. Player C also holds out
for the majority of the exhibition season, only to find six targets
and a touchdown in an offense that was too complex to learn (or
at least pick up) in two weeks.
By now, it should be rather obvious the players I’m referring
to are Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Wallace, respectively.
The trio took a combined zero snaps in the preseason, only to
turn logic – and the value of preparation – on its
head in the opening week. After all, wasn’t it just last
season that Chris Johnson served as a cautionary tale for players
who hold out and/or fail to get their work in during training
camp? Or was it that Johnson and all the other holdouts over the
last 15-20 years just reported out of shape while Peterson, Jones-Drew
and Wallace all attacked their offseason like a professional should?
It might be the right time to move Adrian
While history is merely a good indicator of the future events
– and far from 100% accurate on how things will actually play
out – the past is littered with fantasy football stars who succumbed
to a nagging hamstring pull or disappointed in a big way following
long holdouts, so it would be best to remain pessimistic about
the long-term outlooks of MJD and Wallace. If the opportunity
arises to trade either player at something approaching the value
they had last season for a similar non-holdout player at the same
position, I would advise pulling the trigger. On the other hand,
I still cannot wrap my mind around the return of Peterson, even
with his legendary work ethic. I would
suggest moving him as well following next week’s matchup against
a soft Colts’ run defense. The Vikings smartly called a
number of draw plays for AP in an effort to reduce any additional
stress that lateral movement would place on his surgically-repaired
knee, but as I said with Jamaal
Charles during the preseason, I did not see the burst I am
accustomed to seeing (nor did I expect to). Following the game,
Peterson suggested his knee is at 95% right now; I’d say he is
running at about 75% and benefitted greatly from a number of huge
holes against the Jags. The real test will come over the next
month when the Vikings face the defenses of the Niners, Lions,
Redskins and Cardinals. I’d like to think Minnesota will have
to be a bit more creative with its play-calling against those
Without a doubt, the opening week also serves as a pretty good
indication of how much you trust: (a) your own draft preparation
and/or (b) the “experts” that you followed during
the pre-draft process in an effort to form your rankings and/or
cheat sheets. Week 1, if anything, is the beginning of a 3-to-4
week process that gives us a decent idea of the plans each coaching
staff has for the players that matter to us in fantasy. Barring
a long-term injury, Week 1 is not the time where “the sky
is falling” or owners should be selling their top picks
for pennies on the dollar.
For an example of a player owners are already panicking over,
I present Chris
Johnson. I had the good fortune of recording Patriots-Titans
on the DVR, which allowed me to analyze Johnson’s dreadful fantasy
game and watch each of his 11 rush attempts at least 3-4 times.
In my humble opinion, Johnson deserves very little of the blame
for the performance. In fact, if a running back ever had a “good”
four-yard rushing performance, this may have been it. First of
all, Tennessee’s offensive line graded out as having good blocking
on just two of his 11 runs. Not surprisingly, those two rushes
were Johnson’s longest runs of the game (five- and four-yard runs
on the first drive). After it initially appeared at game speed
that Johnson was dancing in the hole and running tentative, I
slowed each of his runs down and saw a player who showed no hesitation
in getting into the hole and basically got as much out of his
runs as he could. On nearly half of his carries, he made the first
defender miss (which should speak to how dominant the Patriots’
defensive front seven was on Sunday).
Like many other great runners, CJ2K is at his best when he has
an opportunity to cut back and utilize his blinding speed. I can
see why many observers – including CBS analyst Phil Simms
– thought he ran tentative at first glance, but I saw a
player who just never had a chance to operate in space. Frankly,
I expect similar poor production from Johnson against the Chargers
this week if OC Chris Palmer doesn’t start getting his stud
runner on the perimeter of the defense a bit more often with some
toss and stretch plays. It will quickly become vogue to jump off
the CJ2K bandwagon if he turns in another poor performance this
week, but I’m convinced after watching the first game Johnson
is not his own worst enemy. I get it: 11 carries for four yards
from your RB1 isn’t going to win fantasy football games
no matter whose fault it is, but I feel safe in saying the Patriots
will shut down multiple running games this season. An offensive
line’s ability to run block can improve dramatically over
the course of the year and I expect it to because, quite frankly,
most of the coaching staff will be out of a job if the Titans’
line turns in another performance or two like this one.
In general, I am less concerned about backs who have these kind
of dreadful games – Barry Sanders had one or two in his
Hall-of-Fame career – and more concerned about the ones
where the runner either doesn’t see a lot of snaps or averages
1.5-2.5 yards per carry. Why? Generally speaking, if a running
back averages less than a yard per carry in a game, his line is
getting manhandled (which was definitely the case here). On the
other hand, when a runner is averaging over 6.0 YPC, he’s
typically not getting touched until he’s at the second or
third level of the defense (which happened quite often for Johnson
in 2009 and 2010). It is the those “in-between” games
that generally concern me the most because, a lot of times, the
running back is either dancing too much or going down on first
contact. As far as I could tell, Johnson was regularly surrounded
by 3-4 defenders in the backfield, making the story of this game
much more about the Patriots’ vastly improved defense and
less about Johnson’s “demise”.
Do you need more proof that Week 1 can be an aberration of sorts?
Let’s examine the Bucs-Panthers contest in which one of
the league’s worst defenses from a season ago not only bottled
up Cam Newton, but also held Carolina to 10 rushing yards as a
team! (Bear in mind the Panthers ran for over 2,400 yards last
season.) Now I suppose we can say the absence of Jonathan Stewart
or the wet field conditions didn’t help Carolina, but I
cannot imagine that either team will see a repeat of this kind
of performance for the remainder of 2012 even though Tampa Bay
substantially upgraded its defensive personnel this offseason.
Hopefully, I’ve established by now that one week is hardly
enough time to panic. It is, however, a time to begin evaluating
what kind of staying power some of the surprising stars of the
first week have going forward. I’ve often said the time
between Week 1 and Week 2 is the most important waiver-wire week
of the season. As a result, I would like to take the next few
minutes to discuss players that exceeded our expectations. While
some of the players below will not be free agents in your league,
it is always a good idea to take a weekly inventory – especially
this early in the season – at players drafted later (or
that went undrafted) and evaluate if owners should be making a
strong push to acquire their services. Let’s take a brief
look at a few players from each position and see if each player’s
first week should be considered the start of something good (trend),
a flash in the pan (mirage) or if there is insufficient evidence
to make a good call at the moment (incomplete):
Sanchez – The Jets’ victory over the Bills was much more about
Buffalo’s awful preseason showing on defense carrying over into
the regular season than it was about New York’s sudden ability
to look like it had a clue on offense. I still feel safe in saying
the Jets will struggle for points this season and be a plus matchup
for a number of upcoming defenses. Over the next four weeks, the
Jets face the Steelers, Dolphins, Niners and Texans. Good luck.
Let him sit on the waiver wire.
Griffin III – In my final RG3 projection, I predicted that
he would throw for 275 yards, rush for 55 yards and account for
two touchdowns in Week 1. In other words, I wasn’t all that surprised
he thrived against an average Saints defense. I’ve also been saying
all summer that he was a player that could have low-end QB1 value.
He’s still a matchup QB for now, but with an incredibly high ceiling.
Flacco – As I said in my final Big
Board article, I needed Flacco to show me all the qualities
that made him the talk of the offseason before I could give him
my stamp of approval. He did that and more in Baltimore’s third
preseason game against the Jags. While the Bengals will not field
one of the more elite pass defenses this season, Flacco made a
lot of respectable veteran defensive backs look pretty bad on
Verdict: Trend. Flacco is ready to ascend into near-elite group
of fantasy quarterbacks.
Cassel – With an aggressive OC in Brian Daboll and a running
game that will be much better than it looked in Week 1, Cassel
has a chance to be the fantasy darling he was in 2010. With that
said, his Jekyll-and-Hyde showing against the Falcons was just
the latest reminder on why it is tough to trust him.
Verdict: Incomplete. He has the supporting cast necessary
to thrive, but his maddening inconsistency will likely always
make him a fringe fantasy talent at best.
Gabbert – I suggested most of the offseason that Gabbert would
be at least a bye-week alternative while most had written him
off completely after one year. (Isn’t it amazing what a decent
supporting cast and some time to develop can do for a young quarterback?)
Jacksonville’s renewed emphasis on the short passing game will
work wonders for him, even if he isn’t ready to be an every-week
starter in fantasy for at least one more year.
Verdict: Trend. He’s on his way to being a league-average
QB, but good defenses (like the Texans this coming week) will
still make him look bad this season.
Ridley – Coming into 2012, the only obstacles holding Ridley
back from being an upgrade over BenJarvus Green-Ellis were the
Patriots’ insistence on a backfield-by-committee approach and
ball security issues. Shane Vereen missed Week 1 due to injury
(and may miss Week 2 as well) and Ridley didn’t fumble against
a soft run defense. Given the recent history of New England running
backs, Ridley needs to repeat last week’s performance a few more
times and Vereen has to remain sidelined for a while longer if
Ridley is to stick as the featured back.
Talent is on Ridley’s side, but Bill Belichick’s gameplan-specific
use for his backs over the years is not.
Spiller – Last year, it took more than half the season before
we realized that Spiller wasn’t a bust. This year, it took less
than one game for him to go from fringe flex play to a feature
back with top-10 fantasy potential.
Verdict: Trend. Fred
Jackson is reportedly out anywhere from 3-8 weeks. Based on how
bad the injury looked, I’d prepare for the pessimistic side of
that timetable. The Bills face the likes of the Patriots and Niners
before their Week 8 bye, but his all-around game should help keep
his fantasy value afloat even in those contests.
Morris – No one will debate the fact that Morris did a nice
job in his debut on 28 touches, but here’s a little fun fact for
you: Tim Hightower also had 28 touches in Week 1 of last season
and was basically a fantasy afterthought three weeks later, even
before his season-ending knee injury. Long story short, if his
teammates don’t know who
the starter is week-to-week, we don’t either.
If Chris Cooley doesn’t know the identity of the team’s starting
RB for his own fantasy team, then counting on a Redskins RB for
your own fantasy team will be a huge gamble for the foreseeable
Bush – Meet this year’s Mike Tolbert, at least in terms of
a Week 1 performance. While he should have more staying power
than Tolbert did in terms of a useful fantasy player all season
long, Bush is one player I might consider trading if I can convince
a panicked owner to part with a player I ranked as a RB2 before
the season (Willis McGahee would be a decent example). Bush will
visit the end zone with regularity, but touchdowns alone rarely
make for a good weekly flex play and the Bears will not play the
Colts every week.
trend and mirage. Bush’s role isn’t going to change, but
neither is Matt Forte’s. Forte could be similar to the 2011 version
of Ryan Mathews while Bush holds his value better than Tolbert
did, doing so with fewer catches but more touchdowns.
Dwyer – Although Dwyer didn’t exactly set the fantasy world
on fire with his 11-touch debut on Sunday night, he was easily
the most productive RB the Steelers had in the opener (just as
he was during the preseason). Rashard Mendenhall may be close
to returning, but Dwyer could easily be on his way to taking control
of the lead-back role in this offense soon.
It should only get better from here, assuming Mendenhall doesn’t
return before the team’s Week 4 bye. If this was simply a matter
of Pittsburgh playing its best player at the moment, Dwyer would
be a feature back right now. It also remains to be seen how committed
the Steelers are to Mendenhall since he is coming off a knee injury
and in the final year of his contract.
Ogletree – While I’m reasonably convinced that he isn’t the
second coming of Laurent Robinson, I’m also fairly certain Ogletree
isn’t a flash in the pan either (11 targets will do that, even
against back-of-the-roster defensive backs). Still, Week 1 will
likely go down as his best game of the season and, quite likely,
his career. Also bear in mind that while Jason Witten played in
the opener, he was likely at something approaching 60%. Most of
Ogletree’s stat line could have very easily been Witten’s last
week had he been healthy.
Verdict: Mirage. Understand I say “mirage” because
owners can’t expect his 8-114-2 line to become the norm.
Treat him as a fantasy WR4 that can beat zone coverage and produce
the occasional big game against soft secondaries.
Hill - Hill knows one route – the fly pattern – but the Bills
made him look like the next great Georgia Tech receiver, following
in the footsteps of Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas. While
he has the talent to get there one day, time will show he has
a long way to go to get there.
Verdict: Mirage. It may not take long for Hill to become the
Jets’ best receiver, but I’m still highly skeptical
that title will mean much to fantasy owners as this season moves
Cobb – The fact that Cobb had a huge PPR game is not surprising
since his talent has had dynasty owners drooling for over a year.
Even though it was just one week, there is ample evidence the
Packers will continue to use him as an extension of the running
game, much like Darren Sproles without all the rushing attempts.
Verdict: Trend. We knew Cobb had the necessary talent from the
time he scored two touchdowns in his first NFL game last season.
Now it appears Green Bay is ready to make him a regular part of
the offense (20 plays out of the backfield, 15 plays as a receiver
in the opener).
McCluster – If Cobb is going to be Sproles-lite, then let’s
call McCluster a poor man’s Wes Welker. With team highs in targets
(10), receptions (six) and receiving yards (82) against Atlanta,
an inconsistent quarterback like Cassel and no receiver besides
Dwayne Bowe to command regular looks in the passing game, this
“offensive weapon” may be just now finding his NFL niche under
Verdict: Trend. Hours before Sunday’s games kicked off,
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah – a former NFL scout –
predicted on Twitter that McCluster would catch 80 balls for the
Chiefs this season, calling McCluster a perfect scheme fit.
Jones – In the wake of David Nelson’s season-ending ACL injury,
either Scott Chandler or Jones is going to benefit in a big way
in fantasy. While both players will likely spend some time in
the slot, it is a good bet Jones will assume most of the 61 catches
Nelson collected last season.
Verdict: Trend. The coaching staff tinkered with Jones in the
slot during the offseason, a move that might have been done “in
case of emergency” then, but looks brilliant now.
Shorts – Move along. Until Shorts sees more than 15 snaps,
it will be hard for him to reproduce the 4-74-1 line he posted
against a soft Vikings’ secondary. Maybe he overtakes Mike Thomas
at some point, but even then, he’s probably not going to be worth
Verdict: Mirage. It
will be a while before the third (or fourth) receiver in Jacksonville
makes a regular difference in fantasy. Shorts is not going to
overtake Justin Blackmon or Laurent Robinson anytime soon.
Pitta – In yet another example of a player who didn’t need
the preseason, Pitta appeared to be Flacco’s favorite target against
the Bengals. After a mostly ho-hum first half of the season in
2011, Pitta began to produce games like this the one he just had
against the Bengals late last season.
(to a degree). As long as Ed Dickson is healthy, the Ravens’
TEs will probably take turns being the top option in a given week.
Based on the end of the last season and the beginning of this
one, however, Pitta appears to be the slightly better fantasy
play of the two for the foreseeable future.
Bennett – The Giants know how to utilize their tight ends,
so it is no surprise that a good athlete like Bennett got off
to a good start. As an upgrade over Jake Ballard and Kevin Boss,
his fantasy floor should be about 40-50 catches and six touchdowns.
Verdict: Trend. There
will be some games where Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz will be
able to do all the heavy lifting themselves, but for someone like
Bennett who was drafted late in fantasy, he’ll more than hold
his own as a fantasy TE2.
I’d like to close this week with some of my own fantasy experiences
from Week 1. To give each of you an indication on the “joy”
I typically feel the first week of each season, the highest scorer
of the week in my most important league started Ronnie Brown (he
is not a Ryan Mathews’ owner) and the Raiders’ defense
while another owner – who drafted receivers with his first
five picks in a two-receiver league – won his game because
he had the good fortune of facing the only other owner who also
waited six rounds to select a running back and started Rashad Jennings
and Mendenhall. In one of my experts’ leagues, another owner
did not even submit his lineup. Of course, I did not face him; rather,
I had the good fortune of squaring off against the only team that
could score enough points to beat my team this week.
OK, so maybe my experiences were isolated ones. Did you notice
that Eli Manning and Cam Newton currently find themselves in the
bottom half of fantasy quarterbacks while Matt Cassel, Blaine
Gabbert and Ryan Fitzpatrick (he of the 195 yards passing and
three interceptions) are all in the top 12? How about C.J. Spiller
and Kevin Smith on top of the running back mountain in PPR leagues?
Or how about the fact that Jamaal Charles didn’t catch a
pass and Darren Sproles didn’t get a single rushing attempt?
How about fantasy’s #1 and #4 receivers…Kevin Ogletree
and Stephen Hill?
While it is completely understandable that owners are concerned
when their teams fail to meet their expectations in Week 1 –
since each game represents 7.7% of most fantasy owners’
regular season – I present my experiences as a reminder
the start of another year of football will feature the ridiculous
and the sublime. Some drafting oversights will go unpunished while
other owners will have the misfortune of losing a key player to
injury or take a crushing defeat in which their team outscored
all but one or two of the other teams in their league. It happens.
The lesson to be learned here is that if you thought you nailed
your draft last week, one week should not change your opinion
of that team. Allow your investment to grow before doing something
drastic. It takes time, patience and a belief in your ability
to evaluate talent, but by handling your team in this manner,
you give yourself time to make sure the craziness of one week
is going to be that season’s reality and not just a random
Suggestions, comments, musings about the article
or fantasy football in general? E-mail
me or follow me on Twitter.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006, appeared in USA
Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in each of the last
two seasons and served as a weekly fantasy football analyst for
106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C). He is also a member
of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.