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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

The Stud Club
All Out Blitz: Volume 73

One of the oldest fantasy football axioms is “never sit your studs”. It’s an interesting notion in the sense that it assumes: 1) it is common knowledge who the “studs” are; 2) their “status” don’t change from week-to-week or month-to-month and 3) every fantasy team has enough great options to consider benching them. The advice also works great because it doesn’t leave the owner accountable should the strategy not work (i.e. “it just wasn’t his week”).

Somewhere after the league draft and before midseason – let’s say between Week 4 and Week 6 – the round in which a player was selected should be pretty much taken out of consideration in terms of how often they are relied upon as regular starters. (Some would argue that it takes less time than that…) In my estimation, true “studs” should be able to produce at the floor of their fantasy position (QB1, WR2, etc.) almost without fail and consistently deliver numbers that meet or exceed the expectations for that position.

To find that kind of information (position expectations) quickly, owners need to look no further than FFToday’s Consistency Calculator. Generally speaking, I would focus mostly on how often a player has been subpar in relation to the rest of his peers at his position because the expectation is that a truly great player will at least meet the baseline fantasy-point average just about every week.

As far as I’m concerned, new players could (and probably should) be added and subtracted to the “Stud Club” every month – if such a thing existed. Can anyone discount the fact that Shane Vereen has yet to turn in a single-digit fantasy-point total in PPR leagues? How about Andre Brown? Rashad Jennings?

On the other hand, it is hard to believe that owners of backs such as Alfred Morris and Giovani Bernard aren’t at least considering other options. Very few would question Morris and Bernard are among the better fits and/or talents at their position in the league, but fantasy production doesn’t always reward for that as often as we would like it to. In Morris’ case, he is a player that is utilized very little in the passing game and dependent on his team to be able to establish and maintain a lead – which it has done very little in 2013. As for Bernard, he is a fantasy RB1 talent is on the borderline when it comes to how much work he sees every game. Few doubt the rookie could probably be a rock-solid top 5-8 fantasy option at his position if the Bengals simply gave up the notion their offense is better off giving the ball to BenJarvus Green-Ellis (179 touches) more often than Bernard (162). However, we don’t get to make that call; all we can do is take the information we have at our disposal and make educated guesses based upon what offenses have done against similar defenses and assume what their likeliest plan of attack will be in the coming week(s).

Danny Woodhead has toyed with low-end RB1 status on occasion because 34.7% of his value comes from his 61 receptions. In standard leagues, he’s more of a hit-or-miss RB2. The same can pretty much be said about Pierre Thomas. Last year, I wrote a column “It’s All Relative” in regards to the subject of never sitting your studs and stand by the opinion that lofty status is not only fluid, but relative. However, I wanted to expand on it a bit more this time around and actually get more specific as owners prepare to make the most important lineup decisions of their fantasy season.

Below is a list of the players in PPR leagues who I think should be considered “studs” (or unquestioned starters) for the final three weeks of the season based on any number of factors such as talent, role and production over the course of the season. The players in this first table have all played eight games, performed at a QB1/RB1/WR1/TE1 or elite level more often than most of their peers and should be expected to maintain that level throughout the fantasy playoffs. Quarterbacks will be held to a higher standard than running backs, receivers or tight ends for the simple fact that a down fantasy week from that position typically sinks a fantasy team in that week.

Some final notes: players are listed in the order they fall on the consistency calculator. Players highlighted in green actually “belong” in the group above, but haven’t fully earned my trust or have injury/supporting cast situations that make me a bit leery. Those players highlighted in red don’t meet all of the criteria to qualify for the group they are in, but have done enough to make me believe they are worthy of consideration.

The Stud Club
QB (<33.3% subpar) RB (<40% subpar) WR (<40% subpar) TE (<40% subpar)
Peyton Manning Jamaal Charles Calvin Johnson Julius Thomas
Drew Brees Matt Forte Josh Gordon Jimmy Graham
Matthew Stafford LeSean McCoy A.J. Green Vernon Davis
Nick Foles DeMarco Murray Wes Welker Greg Olsen
Cam Newton Knowshon Moreno Andre Johnson Jordan Reed
Reggie Bush Antonio Brown
Adrian Peterson Dez Bryant
Le’Veon Bell Demaryius Thomas
Eddie Lacy Brandon Marshall
Marshawn Lynch Alshon Jeffery
DeSean Jackson

Note: Players like Aaron Rodgers who are currently injured were intentionally left off the list. Obviously, Rodgers will be a must-start if/when he returns. Shane Vereen is another player that probably cannot be removed from lineups given the likelihood he will see 8-10 carries in a chaotic backfield and handle pretty much all the passing-down snaps as well, but given the fact he has played only four games, I cannot place him above because I do factor durability into this list. Rob Gronkowski has six games under his belt, but is an obvious play as well.

Most of the players on this list should not come as a surprise, but I’d like to discuss the seven players I highlighted in red in a minute.

Before I get to those select seven, the first point I’d like to reference is the rather low bar I had to set for running backs – a position that has experienced its fair share of…er…uncertainty this season. In two-RB PPR leagues, Charles and Forte have been pillars of consistency with only one game apiece falling under the 12.05 fantasy-point threshold. McCoy and Murray are the only other two backs that have produced no more than two subpar performances.

Now back to the “red seven”. Lynch, Bryant, Thomas, Marshall and Jeffery are all players who actually failed to meet the criteria at their position. The reason they are included, however, is because I cannot imagine too many situations in which I could imagine benching them. Bryant has turned in three single-digit games, but has fallen under the 14.39-point threshold five times because Tony Romo has the audacity to lean on players like Jason Witten and Terrance Williams when defenses make stopping Bryant their top priority. Thomas is a bit of surprise here as well with double-digit performances in every game, although his yardage totals are probably a bit lower than most would expect due to number of times Julius Thomas, Welker or Eric Decker have stolen his thunder.

Marshall and Jeffery have essentially traded big weeks most of the season and there is no reason to expect that to change. Jackson has feasted on a number of poor secondaries, but has been a veritable rock for his owners when compared to his previous five seasons. With Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago left on the fantasy schedule, owners can continue to expect huge numbers from him. Reed is a bit of an oddity in the sense that it took him six weeks to mix being healthy with having a substantial role in the offense. Additionally, he has missed the last two weeks with a concussion, all of which combines to make his 66.7% subpar rate a bit of a misnomer.

Waiting For Admittance
QB (33-50% subpar) RB (40-50% subpar) WR (40-50% subpar) TE (40-50% subpar)
Russell Wilson Danny Woodhead Larry Fitzgerald
Tony Romo Fred Jackson Cecil Shorts
Philip Rivers Giovani Bernard Keenan Allen
Robert Griffin III Alfred Morris Pierre Garcon
Zac Stacy Torrey Smith

Note: Jay Cutler is a player who qualifies for this list and is someone I would feel strongly about in this area.

Let the questions and doubting begin. By “waiting for admittance”, I am suggesting these players are on the outside of the stud club looking in, but are making their case to the bouncer – in a matter of speaking. Let’s run through all of them quickly:

QBs: Seattle is usually content relying on Marshawn Lynch and playing defense, turning to Wilson when the running game isn’t working or in comeback situations – even though the second-year quarterback is more than capable of carrying the team with his arm or his legs. It’s for that reason alone I don’t feel like he is a fantasy stud – Seattle is capable of making him an intermediary between the center and the running back in any given game. The Seahawks lead the NFC in points scored, so it is hard to argue with their approach.

Romo could easily lead his fantasy teams to championships with Chicago, Green Bay and Washington as his final three opponents. The major question with him will be whether or not Dallas will take that opportunity to feature DeMarco Murray on a regular basis. The return of MLB Sean Lee should enable the team to be better defensively, making it a real possibility the running game takes priority.

Rivers should be set up for success in Weeks 14 (Giants) and 16 (Raiders), but three of his last four (and five of his last seven) games have been one-touchdown efforts. That recent history is enough to suggest to me that he may not be able to put together three straight solid efforts to close the season. It’s also conceivable that Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead perform well enough in Weeks 14 and 16 that Rivers isn’t needed as much.

The Redskins’ season has been a lost cause, but Griffin hasn’t been nearly as bad in fantasy as many have been led to believe. If RG3 continues to run as much as he has in recent weeks, he’ll hold up his end of the bargain in fantasy, even if he doesn’t deliver elite numbers like he did as a rookie.

RBs: Tread carefully with Woodhead – who has no more than four catches or 70 total yards in any of those contests, which has coincided with an increase in passing-game usage for Ryan Mathews. After many weeks of very good production, the ex-Patriot is walking a thin line between RB2 and flex until his touches and snaps increase to early-season levels.

C.J. Spiller tweaked his ankle injury yet again in Week 13, meaning Jackson is probably back on track to be a great RB2 in the fantasy playoffs. He has been the passing-down and goal-line back all season long, so it is hard to believe that will change now since Spiller cannot stay healthy despite a reduced workload. Assuming Jackson’s owners can get past a fairly difficult game in Week 14 against Tampa Bay, they should be able to enjoy some very nice production over the final two weeks (Jaguars and Dolphins).

Bernard’s role isn’t going to change in all likelihood, but 14 touches per game are enough for me to trust him in fantasy – especially with remaining matchups against the Colts, Steelers and Vikings.

Assuming the Chiefs continue their recent defensive downswing, Morris finishes off his fantasy season with winnable matchups against Kansas City, Atlanta and Dallas. The only question in any of those games figures to be whether or not the Redskins’ defense can keep the team in the game long enough for Morris to get the kind of touches he saw on a regular basis last season.

At a position where so few players are a good bet for 20 touches, Stacy stands out as a rare fantasy property. The rookie has seen at least 20 touches in all but one week since Week 6 – he left Week 12 early due to a concussion – and is the centerpiece of the Rams’ offense now. Two of Stacy’s three remaining matchups are not great, but it is doubtful many owners have more than one option on their roster that will see as much work as he will.

WRs: Not surprisingly, Fitzgerald has been a much better fantasy receiver following the Cardinals’ Week 9 bye, which apparently gave his hamstring(s) the necessary time to heal. He’s not back to the elite receiver status yet by any means – and may not get there against until Arizona fixes its offensive line – but the Cardinals’ decision to use more two tight-end sets in order to help the running game and the pass blocking has gone a long way in giving Carson Palmer a bit more time to find him. Tennessee and Seattle (Weeks 15 and 16) are poor matchups, but I feel confident a healthy Fitzgerald can hold his own.

Shorts will be a sight to behold when he actually has a legitimate NFL quarterback throwing him the ball. Until that time, he’s just going to have to settle being the ninth-most targeted receiver in the league despite missing the majority of one game earlier in the year. Two of his three remaining matchups are less than ideal, but any receiver who can post 14 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown while spending most of his last two weeks against Johnathan Joseph and Joe Haden doesn’t need to be terribly concerned about matchups.

Allen will probably a top-15 receiver in next year’s drafts at worst and his remaining fantasy schedule could solidify that status. The Giants aren’t the greatest matchup on paper, but they haven’t exactly slammed the door on many of their opponents’ top wideouts. If Allen’s recent target totals are any indication (12 and 10 over the past two weeks), there’s a pretty good chance Denver and Oakland probably won’t have much success against him either.

In part because he has one touchdown since Week 4, Garcon could shape up to be something of a value pick in 2014 despite the fact he is probably going to catch 100 passes and surpass 1,100 yards receiving. The ex-Colt has been reduced to a garbage-time possession receiver over the last couple weeks as Washington’s offense continually shoots itself in the foot for three quarters, but it doesn’t get much better than Atlanta and Dallas in Weeks 15 and 16.

With the exception of a possible Week 16 showdown against Aqib Talib, Smith is going to have every opportunity to lift his owners into their fantasy title games with soft matchups against Minnesota and Detroit. Smith’s yardage numbers have dipped over the second half of the season, but he’s made up for it with three scores over the past four weeks. The Vikings and Lions should allow him to have it both ways.

TEs: I initially had six tight ends listed in “waiting for admittance”, but I cannot make a strong case that Jordan Cameron, Charles Clay, Tony Gonzalez, Coby Fleener, Antonio Gates or Jason Witten have proven themselves worthy of it. No one will question the talent of most of these players and most of them will start for owners over these next three weeks, but that doesn’t necessarily make them must-starts in my mind. As crazy as it may sound now, I would strongly consider playing someone like San Diego’s Ladarius Green over all of them.


Some of the regular readers are probably thinking, “Give me some players that are actually available in my league that I can use in the fantasy playoffs!” While I would not recommend riding more than handful of these players for more than a week, I can make a case for them in at least one of the next three games due to matchups. I will bold the “handful” of players I do feel could be useful as potential every-week starts in deeper leagues:

QBs: Joe Flacco (Week 14 vs. Minnesota); Jay Cutler/Josh McCown (Weeks 14-16); Matt McGloin (Week 14 vs. NY Jets and Week 16 vs. San Diego); Ryan Fitzpatrick (Week 14 vs. Denver and Week 16 vs. Jacksonville)

RBs: James Starks (Week 14 vs. Atlanta, Week 15 vs. Dallas); Dennis Johnson (Week 14 vs. Jacksonville, Week 15 vs. Indianapolis); Roy Helu (Weeks 14-16)

WRs: Robert Woods (Week 14 vs. Tampa Bay), Cordarrelle Patterson (Week 15 vs. Philadelphia); Andre Holmes (Week 14 vs. NY Jets and Week 16 vs. San Diego – assuming Denarius Moore remains out); Doug Baldwin (Weeks 14-16)

TEs: Dennis Pitta (assuming he can play in Week 14, stash and make him prove it); Brandon Myers (Week 14 vs. San Diego); Zach Ertz/Brent Celek (Week 15 vs. Minnesota); Ladarius Green (Weeks 14-16)

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Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and appeared in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in 2010 and 2011. He is also the host of USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday. Doug regularly appears as a fantasy football analyst on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive” and for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C). He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.