A typical week usually flies by for most fantasy football owners.
The same cannot be said about the last seven or so days at NFL Headquarters,
which must already long for the time when the number of flags thrown
during the preseason ranked among its most pressing problems.
The legal situations of Greg Hardy, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson
(and as of Wednesday, Jonathan Dwyer) have cast a dark cloud over
the NFL unlike any I can remember in the 30-plus years I have
watched football. Certainly, there have been singular darker moments
over that time, but the categorical failures on multiple levels
within and outside the league offices over the last few months
has thrust the NFL into the spotlight that it was not prepared
to handle – and that is an understatement to say the least.
However, there is more than enough blame to be passed around,
with the legal system and media among the many that need to reevaluate
their priorities. To suggest it is simply the league’s failure
to react properly would be taking an extremely limited view of
the situations, at least in my opinion. Then again, it is much
less important to assign blame in situations like this and much
more important to decide how all of it should be addressed.
In a country where athletes should not necessarily always be
role models (but often are), it seems only natural the leagues
in which they play in should take the lead and set the bar for
the rest of the country in terms of acceptable conduct –
on and off the field (or inside and outside the workplace). It
is not any employer’s right to play judge and jury, but
it is their job to hire the kind of people and encourage the behavior
they want from those people that will represent them in the most
favorable light. Coaches and general managers alike often say
that playing in the NFL is a privilege, but we can all take this
as a reminder that working in any occupation that allows us to
make a decent living is a privilege as well.
In some respects, I’m torn as to whether or not it is “my
place” to use this forum to discuss such issues. On one
hand, I have a unique opportunity as a writer to express or share
relevant views when necessary and consider it somewhat negligent
on my part to pretend as if the “real world” doesn’t
exist when I write this piece each week. On the other hand, I
feel as my psychology background gives me some degree of insight
into each of the matters that have dominated the news in the last
couple of weeks. Ultimately, my job is to share any fantasy football
analysis I have and that is what I intend to do going forward.
Hot-button issues such as the ones regarding Hardy, Rice, Peterson
and Dwyer need to be discussed and if there is something good
that will almost certainly come out of all this, it is the fact
that it will force more people to confront and consider these
matters more strongly than they likely ever have before. The problem
with such hot-button issues is they are tricky enough to verbalize,
much less write about. In short, please be aware there is a time
and place to more fully discuss such matters and my weekly column
probably isn’t the best of either.
Making the difficult transition back to the fantasy world, the
departures of Rice and Peterson have stolen two players from what
was an already-thin pool of potential or established feature backs.
Let’s take a team-by-team look at the sad state of affairs
at the running back position. For the sake of driving home my
point about the lack of quality options at the position, I will
tag each player with the “fantasy position” I believe
they fill in PPR leagues – much like I did on my
final Big Board.
Arizona – Andre Ellington
(RB2) has been dealing with a foot injury for a foot injury for
a few weeks and, while HC Bruce Arians believes it will be a non-issue
after the Week 4 bye, there is the small issue of Dwyer (RB5)
basically handling anything close to the goal line.
Atlanta – Steven Jackson
(RB4) is averaging 12.5 touches, but he is one of four backs getting
work in the backfield. As long as the Falcons continue to essentially
divide Jacquizz Rodgers’ old role three ways, there aren’t
going to be a lot of notable fantasy performances coming out of
Baltimore – Bernard Pierce
(RB3) and Justin Forsett (RB4) appear to be the only players in
the backfield equation right now, although it would be naive to
believe rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro won’t get his shot at
some touches before long.
Buffalo – This backfield
isn’t looking too much different than it did at the start
of last year, at least before C.J. Spiller (RB3) suffered a high
ankle sprain. Spiller’s upside is huge simply because he
is such a dynamic big-play threat, but is basically a lesser version
of Ellington in that he takes a back seat to Fred Jackson (RB3)
on about half of the regular snaps, third-down plays and in the
Carolina – Jonathan Stewart
(RB4) saw a fairly heavy load last week as DeAngelo Williams (RB4)
was ruled out and Mike Tolbert (RB5) got hurt. A healthy Stewart
could become a reasonable weekly flex play if he can just stay
healthy, but the Panthers’ backfield is just as likely to
frustrate as it is to produce one stud back.
Forte: One of only nine true RB1's in fantasy
Chicago – Ah, bliss. Matt
Cincinnati – One gets the
sense that new OC Hue Jackson had Week 2 in mind when the Bengals
selected Jeremy Hill (RB3) to go along with Giovani Bernard (RB2).
Perhaps a bit like Philadelphia, tempo and a firm belief in the
running game will produce two players worthy of starting status
in most fantasy leagues.
Cleveland – The Browns are
one of the higher-upside spots that are unlikely to have a clear
lead back by the time Ben Tate (RB3) returns from his knee injury
in Week 5. It’d be a tough sell to completely take rookies
Terrance West (RB3) and/or Isaiah Crowell (RB5) completely out
of the rotation after their contributions over the last two weeks.
Dallas – Thank goodness for
DeMarco Murray (RB1), but when will that injury we all know will
happen take place? And when it does, will Lance Dunbar (RB5) or
Joseph Randle (RB5) be the man who benefits the most?
Denver – I predicted a slow
start for Montee Ball (RB1) thanks to his August appendectomy,
which caused him to miss a lot of the preseason. He looks significantly
less explosive than he did late last year, but I will attribute
that his surgery. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t
look a lot better after the Broncos’ Week 4 bye.
Detroit – One backfield committee
that has pretty much played out like we expected, with Joique
Bell (RB2) getting significantly more carries and Reggie
Bush (RB2) returning more to the “satellite” role he once
had in New Orleans.
Green Bay – It’s going
to get a lot better for Eddie Lacy (RB1) soon, so hold if you
own him and start making some offers if you don’t.
Houston – Arian Foster (RB1)
and his owners are pretty much in the same boat as DeMarco Murray.
Regardless of whether or not the Texans choose to reduce Foster’s
workload going forward, the time is now to stash and hold on to
rookie Alfred Blue.
Indianapolis – The talk about
Ahmad Bradshaw (RB2) being reborn is ridiculous. For years, the
question has not been his ability to perform, but rather stay
healthy for an entire season. (It is the only reason I didn’t
have Bradshaw ranked inside the top 20-25 players at his position.)
Trent Richardson (RB3) remains a square peg in a round hole. I
suspect this will remain a 50/50 backfield in an effort to keep
Bradshaw on the field.
Jacksonville – Toby
Gerhart (RB3) has the backfield to himself, but is getting
absolutely no help. The Jags are not using him in the passing
game until garbage time and 48 of his 50 rushing yards have come
after contact. Let’s see if HC Gus Bradley’s promised changes
on the offensive line and upcoming matchups against Indianapolis
and Pittsburgh help things along before we close the door on his
ability to contribute in 2014.
Kansas City – Jamaal Charles
(RB1) is probably going to be unavailable (or less than his usual
self) for the better part of the next month, making Knile Davis
(RB4) a top-10 back in the meantime.
Miami – The rising star of Knowshon
Moreno (RB3) lasted all of one week. What will be interesting
in the weeks ahead is whether or not the Dolphins decide to ride
Miller (RB3) on a more regular basis or use him as a committee
back. Owners would be wise to pick up Damien
Williams (RB5) just in case.
Minnesota – Peterson is done
indefinitely, perhaps even for the season. Matt Asiata (low-end
RB2) figures to be the low-upside bell cow in the interim. Rookie
Jerick McKinnon (RB5) remains the high-upside explosive eye-candy
that may not transition as quickly as everyone hopes in order
to steal significant touches from Asiata before the end of the
season. Keep a close eye on recently-promoted practice squader
New England – Different year,
same story. Shane Vereen (RB3) will see significant work one week
an very little the next week as Stevan Ridley (RB4) carries the
mail. Expect Brandon Bolden (RB5) and rookie James White (RB5)
to get worked into the mix as the season progresses, fumbles happen
or injuries strike.
New Orleans – As much as I wanted
to believe this was going to be the year for Mark
Ingram (RB3), I refused to draft him – at least where he was
coming off the board – because of his durability issues. (I do
not question his toughness, however.) With the former Heisman
Trophy winner out for about a month, it’s time for Khiry
Robinson (RB3) and Pierre
Thomas (RB3) to shine.
New York Giants – Thank goodness
for Rashad Jennings (RB2)? Andre Williams (RB5) hasn’t been
putting any heat on him, so as long as Jennings 3.2 YPC continues
to dwarf Williams’ 1.6 YPC, the former will continue to
push 20 touches per game.
New York Jets – Chris Johnson
(RB3) may not have signed with the Jets to be anything less than
a lead back, but Chris Ivory (RB3) is outperforming Johnson despite
fewer touches. Ivory’s physical running style makes him
highly susceptible to injury, but Johnson has evolved into one
of the few runners in the league that can seemingly do less with
Oakland – Maurice Jones-Drew
(RB3) should be a decent flex option when he returns, but it is
hard to see a situation over the next few weeks where the Raiders
will be able to feed one – much less two – running
back(s) the ball consistently. Any touches Darren McFadden (RB4)
steals is going to cap whatever limited upside either player has
on a team that has rushed 27 times for 69 yards (2.6 YPC) so far.
Philadelphia – Owners of LeSean
McCoy (RB1) that are bummed out by the emergence of Darren
Sproles (RB2) are out of their mind. McCoy touched the ball
27 times in Week 1 and 24 times in Week 2, so there are no questions
about him. Sproles is probably the most pleasant surprise of any
back so far, although it seems unlikely that he will continue
to see more work going forward than he did in his heyday in New
Orleans. My advice: see if an owner is willing to part with a
clear workhorse. If not, enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts.
Pittsburgh – Holy smokes, it appears
as though we’ve got another RB1 in Le’Veon
Bell. It is important to note the Steelers’ defense is not
nearly what it used to be and that Bell will have a few more difficult
matchups (like the one he had in Baltimore in Week 2) coming up
that will cramp his rushing numbers somewhat, but his heavy use
in the passing game will likely mitigate that.
San Diego – I proposed in
USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in July that
Ryan Mathews (RB3) was the most likely highly-drafted player to
bust, mostly due to his schedule and his injury history. Now,
owners are stuck with him on the bench probably through at least
mid-October while Donald Brown (RB3 while Mathews is out) gets
a chance to carve out a permanent role. Danny Woodhead (RB3) might
see a very slight increase in work as well.
Seattle – Marshawn Lynch
(RB1) is the clear workhorse here, although it is notable that
Robert Turbin (RB5) has drawn 31 snaps through two weeks while
“Beast Mode” has tallied 70. While game situation
is about the only thing that has proven to be able to stop Lynch
as a Seahawk, career workload and his seemingly annual early-season
battle with back issues has me a bit leery of putting all my chips
on him. If I receive an offer in which I am able to trade Lynch
away and get Le’Veon Bell in return, I’d strongly
San Francisco – Frank Gore
(RB2) is hardly setting the world on fire after two weeks, but
it is safe to say the Niners don’t seem to be in much of
a rush to send him out to pasture just yet. Carlos Hyde (RB4)
looms, although Gore has seemingly become the poster child for
durability in his later years after earning the “injury-prone”
tag early in his career.
St. Louis – In a weird way,
the injury of Sam Bradford and uncertain status of the quarterback
depth chart behind him seems to have solidified Zac Stacy (RB2)
as the offensive centerpiece. Benny Cunningham (RB5) is less of
a threat than he seemed to be even just two weeks ago, although
this still feels like a fluid situation.
Tampa Bay – It seems unlikely
that one game will change the mind of HC Lovie Smith, who called
Doug Martin (RB2) his bell cow in late August. Then again, OC
Jeff Tedford has yet to call a play in the regular season yet,
so there may not be a resolution to whether or not Bobby Rainey
(RB4) has worked himself into the complementary role that was
Charles Sims was expected to fill. However, it may only take one
really good game for Martin to silence his critics, especially
if it comes this week. Likewise, we could have ourselves a full-blown
committee if Martin is active against Tampa Bay and fails to perform
while Rainey has another huge game.
Tennessee – The Titans’
backfield choices – both in terms of how often they used
their backs and how they have used them – have been a bit
curious to say the least. Dexter McCluster (RB5) was brought in
to be the new Danny Woodhead and has more snaps than any Titans
running back, but hasn’t exactly been used much as a receiver.
Shonn Greene (RB4) is averaging 5.6 YPC, but has not been targeted
in the passing game and tallied only 20 carries for an offense
that is probably best-suited to pound the rock. Second-round pick
Bishop Sankey (RB4) was the new regime’s hand-picked choice
to lead the backfield committee, yet has fewer snaps than Leon
Washington. In short, none of the weapons seem to be getting used
in the manner in which they should be deployed. In my last set
of projections before the start, I projected Sankey to begin his
rise to fantasy relevance in Week 6. Owners, especially those
in deep leagues, need to wait this one out until at least then.
Washington – Alfred Morris
(RB2) hasn’t been targeted in the passing game, but owners
don’t have much else to complain about thus far with him.
Roy Helu (RB5) left the Week 2 rout of Jacksonville with a quad
strain, although he appears to be on track for Philadelphia. With
a number of key players battling injuries in Washington, Helu
could be on the verge of flex-play status.
Unofficial final count: nine RB1s,
12 RB2s, 20 RB3s, 11 RB4s and 14 RB5s
Like most owners, I will use a quick hook at two positions: kicker
and defense/special teams. (And no, this is not a subtle hint
to drop Seattle or Denver unless, of course, you play in my leagues).
Not only are they among the lowest-drafted properties in this
hobby of ours, but they are also among the easiest to replace.
More importantly, I also believe owners can more quickly identify
the season’s “breakout stars” at those positions
(and be right) than at the other four positions. Why do I mention
this? Because I believe I have found one at each spot. And while
those positions are probably the most interchangeable in terms
of plugging in a player from the waiver wire and getting a good
result, it doesn’t make it any less important to find that
kicker or defense/special teams unit that has the ability to deliver
a 15-20 point game on a somewhat regular basis (and doesn’t
hurt you the rest of the time). I have won more than my fair share
of games over the years thanks to a sizeable advantage at one
or both of those spots.
Every year, I look for at least four qualities at the kicker
position. He should:
1) have a strong leg (i.e. a history of kicking 50-plus yard field
2) be on a team with a conservative offensive philosophy and/or
above-average defense (coaches are more likely to opt for field
goals when they believe their defense can get a stop);
3) play the majority of his games in a dome or warm-weather stadium
(or at altitude, as is the case in Denver);
4) perhaps most importantly, play for a team that figures to struggle
in the red zone.
For the most part, Nos. 1 and 3 can be established pretty quickly.
Nos. 2 and 4 can be a bit harder to discern since, outside a handful
of defenses each year, we can’t be incredibly confident
we can nail above-average or elite defenses. Furthermore, predicting
which teams will struggle in the end zone is almost pointless
to do unless there is a long history to back up such a claim (Andy
Reid’s Eagles teams were one such case) until the season
gets started. Short of predicting which teams will repeatedly
stall inside the 20, owners can often look to the age (or youth,
as it were) of the quarterback to get a good sense of which offenses
will struggle in the red zone or at least play it close to the
vest once they get there.
I apologize in advance for what will see like frontrunner choices,
but I wouldn’t recommend either one if I didn’t honestly believe
they have a chance to deliver. Buffalo’s Dan
Carpenter should be owned in just about every competitive
league by the end of this week. Yes, I realize he leads just about
every fantasy league in scoring at his position and most will
dismiss that as a fluke. However, I think his success after two
games is very sustainable considering EJ
Manuel probably isn’t going to evolve into a red-zone beast
anytime soon. And while Manuel’s receivers are much better than
last year, it seems highly unlikely Buffalo will allow him to
prove his accuracy when the windows get tighter in the red zone
when his ability to throw pinpoint passes in between the 20s has
been inconsistent at best. Buffalo has already made 10 trips to
the red zone in 2014 (tied with New Orleans for the most), yet
has scored only three touchdowns with those opportunities. Perhaps
Chicago and Miami were just on their game that day, but the more
likely scenario is that with a condensed field and a conservative
offensive philosophy, the Bills will continue to kick three or
four field goals per game. Based on what I have seen so far, I’d
be stunned if Carpenter doesn’t have at least 40 field-goal attempts
by the end of the season. In fact, I could actually see him coming
close to breaking David Akers’ NFL records of 44 field goals and
52 attempts in 2011.
My defensive recommendation actually uses much of the same logic
that I just used above, so it should be no surprise that I expect
the Bills’ defense to be a stout unit. To be quite frank,
I’m a bit upset with myself that I didn’t give the
Bills a big boost the day they announced that C.J. Spiller would
be handling kickoffs. Can we count on Spiller returning a kick
back to the house every Sunday? Of course not. However, I doubt
Week 2 will be the only time he does it. Digging deeper, Buffalo
has already logged six sacks and 17 hurries (per Pro Football
Focus). In 2013, the Bills tallied 56 sacks and 208 hurries. Combine
that kind of chaos with the fact that Buffalo wants to shorten
games by running the ball relentlessly and there is a solid recipe
for consistently earning a points-allowed bonus as well as a turnover
or two per game. Would you like more reasons? There’s really
not much in the way of offensive juggernauts on their schedule
– outside of Denver in Week 14 and Green Bay in Week 15.
And for the forward-thinking owners, it is hard to imagine a team
with a dominant front four won’t have its way with Oakland
in Week 16. I plan on mixing and matching the Bills and Broncos
in a few of my leagues going forward and wouldn’t be overly
surprised if they hold their own in the most difficult matchups
(like they did at Chicago in Week 1). Buffalo’s schedule
also appears to work pretty well with Baltimore.
Suggestions, comments, 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 and has been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football
Preview magazine since 2010. He has hosted USA Today’s hour-long,
pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday over the
past two seasons and appears as a guest analyst before and during
the season on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive” as well
as 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C). Doug is also a
member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.