Roundtable - Week 5
Updated 10/8 by FBG Staff, Exclusive for Footballguys.com
Welcome to the second edition of the 2009 Footballguys Roundtable. Feel free to eavesdrop as various staff members share their views on a range of topics in discussion format. This week, they touch on the following:
- Raiders offense
- Fantasy defenses
- Browns revisited
- Who is more valuable?
The Raiders offense has been generally miserable this season. Even the strong running game many expected hasn't produced any fantasy gems. In particular, Darren McFadden has been a huge disappointment to his fantasy owners. He is now out 2-4 weeks with a knee injury; but even when he returns, is he worth a roster spot?
JASON WOOD: Depending on your league, he's probably worth a roster spot as any RB with a chance of major playing time should be rostered in 12- and 14-team leagues. But if you're in a shallow (10-team) league, he may be droppable. It would be one thing if D-Mac was lighting it up until his injury, but he's been terrible AND looks to be on a team without any answers anytime soon. It's a shame because McFadden is an example of a guy I should've trusted my own instincts about, but let the analysis of my peers help mitigate my skepticism. I won't make that mistake again.
AARON RUDNICKI: Apart from his disaster game in week four, McFadden hasn't looked that awful. The Raiders are obviously a mess, and I think that as a lot to do with the struggles of JaMarcus Russell as much as anything. But, there is still reason for optimism if Chaz Schilens can actually get healthy and provide them with another reliable option in the passing game. If the passing game was working better and not turning the ball over as much, that would obviously create more opportunities in the running game and I think McFadden could take advantage.
MATT WALDMAN: McFadden is worth a roster spot for maybe two reasons: (1) as trade bait for people enamored with him; or (2) as a desperation play when the matchup is great and he might break one for a score.
Which of the RBs -- McFadden, Bush, or Fargas -- has the best chance of becoming a strong RB3/flex option later in the season?
JASON WOOD: Who knows? I mean that sincerely. I'm sure the rest of you are about to wow me with analysis in favor of one or several of these guys, but how can we have any confidence in any Raider right now? They have a head coach who could well be arrested on criminal assault charges. They have an owner who is rewriting the book of free agency and draft ineptitude. It's astounding.
MATT WALDMAN: I'm probably in the minority, but I think Fargas is the best RB of the three. In the dysfunctional Raiders organization, however, he's probably the one on his way out the door. (That's unless the Raiders decide that something on offense must be changed, and they'd rather make the change at running back than at quarterback so they can avoid giving up on JaMarcus Russell. They really should make a change at both quarterback and running back, but I doubt Al Davis is reading this.) Realistically, Bush is probably the best fantasy option this season because he is simply a better inside runner than McFadden. McFadden does not run with low pad level, doesn't keep his hips bent to generate good tackle-breaking leverage, and he fumbles way too often. Bush is still learning to be a great inside runner after converting from the QB position at Louisville, but at least he's improving his fundamentals.
CHRIS SMITH: Even if Matt is right that Fargas is the Raiders' best RB right now, he is not the team's RB of the future and the Raiders are in an obvious rebuilding situation. Meanwhile, McFadden looks like a straight-line runner who lacks the moves to make defenders miss. I'm not sure how much of that is because of the horrific offense around him and how much rests on his shoulders. At this point, however, I have more faith in Michael Bush than in McFadden. Bush has the size and power that McFadden lacks and he'd be the guy I'd stash away on my roster if you made me pick one. That said, the Raiders offense is in shambles and nobody on the team is a solid fantasy starter.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: I agree with Chris about McFadden. He simply is not playing well and looks tentative on almost every play. I wonder how healthy he was even before his latest injury. If he comes back and regains some of the explosiveness that has been missing, he could be a decent RB3/flex, but like Jason said, I'm not sure I want to count on any Oakland offensive player. Bush has not shown anything and Fargas probably will not get enough touches to make an impact. The overall offense is so bad that I would hope to not have to decide to use any of the three RBs, but if I did, I think McFadden is the only one with any upside for the balance of the season.
AARON RUDNICKI: For the next few weeks, I'd rather have Michael Bush but the schedule (@NYG, PHI, NYJ) seems daunting and I'd probably want to avoid any Raiders running backs for awhile. Things start to look much better after that stretch with games against SD, KC, and CIN and that's where I think one of these guys could be a decent starting option.
Part of the problem with the running game has been the lack of a passing threat to balance the offense. With Chaz Schilens expected to return soon, will the passing game improve? Can Chaz Schilens succeed with Russell at QB?
JASON WOOD: The good news for Schilens is that no other WR has looked capable, so if he's healthy, he should immediately get a shot to pick up where he left off in the preseason. But can ANYONE succeed when your QB is completing 2/5ths of his passes?
MATT WALDMAN: Schilens did succeed with Russell at QB in short stretches last year; and with the amount Oakland will need to throw, odds are he will generate some production. He ought to be the Raiders' most productive wide receiver by year end - although, of course, that's really not saying much.
CHRIS SMITH: I'm not sure at this point if Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison in their primes could succeed within the Raiders passing system right now. Russell hasn't just looked bad, he has looked putrid. I don't think Schilens can save the Raiders' passing attack - it's up to Russell, and that looks unpromising.
Should fantasy owners be dropping Schilens from their rosters to make room for the likes of Austin Collie?
JASON WOOD: I would have already dropped Schilens by now except in the deepest of leagues. But if I still had him, I would drop him for Collie in a heartbeat.
MATT WALDMAN: I mentioned in my 20/20 Hindsight column this week that I think Austin Collie could eventually be a better player than Anthony Gonzalez despite the fact everyone is saying otherwise. Collie is a big-time worker, which already endears him to Peyton Manning. Plus, Collie has incredible hands and concentration at a level you just can't teach. Gonzalez is a very good player, but I think Collie has a shot to remain a big option for the Colts when Gonzalez returns. I'd give a slight edge to Collie. So yes, like Jason, I'd drop Schilens for Collie in a heartbeat.
CHRIS SMITH: Duh! Seriously, this as close to a no-brainer as you can have in fantasy football.
AARON RUDNICKI: Not so fast. Given how great Schilens looked in the preseason, I'm willing to wait on him for another week or two. Collie is maybe the fourth or fifth option at best in Indianapolis behind Wayne, Clark, Garcon, and the running backs (not to mention Gonzalez when he returns). I'd rather take a chance on landing the #1 WR in Oakland. I at least want to see what Schilens looks like in a regular season game before giving up on him.
Whom do you like better in dynasty leagues at this point, Louis Murphy or Darrius Heyward-Bey?
JASON WOOD: Murphy seemed to be the more polished, NFL-ready option in camp when things were more normal and the QBs were getting the WRs the ball. But DHB, by virtue of his contract, is going to be given every opportunity to be a starter. I probably would still prefer DHB in dynasty, but I wouldn't be feeling great about either of them.
MATT WALDMAN: Heyward-Bey was a player I was wrong about in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. I should have been more suspect of the fact he caught passes by trapping them against his body in the same way Ted Ginn did at Ohio State. If a receiver isn't a hands-catcher, his adjustment time is far longer and less likely to be successful than a player that can catch the ball away from his body on a consistent basis. Louis Murphy is better in this respect and he's shown he's a better (and more versatile) route runner. I'd opt for Murphy.
CHRIS SMITH: I don't like either of these options really. I agree with Jason that Heyward-Bey will get every opportunity, but so did Mike Williams, Charles Rogers, Troy Williamson, Reggie Williams and countless other high draft choices that haven't panned out. I don't see either of these players as future fantasy starters.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: Heyward-Bey looks like a complete bust and I'd rather have Murphy in dynasty. At least Murphy looks like a wide receiver, whereas Heyward-Bey looks more like a track and field athlete - he can run fast, but that's it.
AARON RUDNICKI: Like most observers, I was shocked by the Heyward-Bey pick on draft day. Murphy has outplayed him thus far, but I think I'd still rather take my chances with Heyward-Bey in dynasty leagues. He has a higher ceiling and given where he was drafted and the contract he signed, he is going to get every opportunity to succeed. As Chris pointed out, an opportunity is far from sufficient - but it is necessary. Most rookie WRs are slow to adjust and the QB play has been awful so my opinion of him hasn't changed that much since a month or two ago.
Can Zach Miller succeed with Russell at QB?
JASON WOOD: Once again I'll ask, can ANYONE thrive with that kind of QB play? Russell may start to play better as the season progresses; but if he doesn't, then no - neither Miller nor any other Raider receiver can succeed.
CHRIS SMITH: I agree with Jason once again. Antonio Gates combined with Todd Christensen and the original Kellen Winslow would still struggle to catch passes thrown several yards off target.
AARON RUDNICKI: This question was answered last season. Miller has already shown that he can be productive with Russell at QB. As Jason said, Russell has to start playing better - but that's almost guaranteed. It's not like he can play any worse.
Should fantasy owners be dropping Miller from their rosters to make room for the likes of Jermichael Finley?
JASON WOOD: I wouldn't drop him for Finley specifically, but for Shockey or Brent Celek (both are available in a number of shallow leagues I know of), I absolutely would. And if you're in a league where carrying 1 tight end is feasible after your bye week, I wouldn't hesitate dumping Miller if he's your backup. In that offense, his upside is too limited.
MATT WALDMAN: Tough call, because one great game from Finley doesn't mean he'll keep doing it. It kind of depends on how the Packers decide to use their tight ends going forward. If they use more two-TE sets so Finley could be the receiver, then Finley is the pick over Miller. I think Miller is the safer pick, but I also think you'll have an easier time getting him if you pick up Finley first and see if he continues to perform than you will if you skip Finley and take Miller.
ANTHONY BORBELY: I'd probably hold Miller for now. I want to see if there is any improvement in the passing game once Schilens is healthy and McFadden returns. I'm not overly optimistic, but I do think the lack of weapons is at least a part of the offensive ineptitude. As Aaron mentioned, Miller was respectable last year and Russell was the QB then too.
AARON RUDNICKI: I'm not encouraged by the start at all but I think Miller has a better chance to be a reliable every-week option than Finley at this point. There are simply too many other weapons in Green Bay and Finley is still splitting time with Donald Lee. Given the two offenses and quarterbacks, however, I think Finley probably has more upside. So, if your team is struggling, it certainly wouldn't be a bad idea to take a chance on Finley.
How safe is Russell's job as the starter?
JASON WOOD: When you play that poorly, your job CAN'T be safe or you risk losing season ticket holder support. But realistically, is Bruce Gradkowski or Charlie Frye a material upgrade?
MATT WALDMAN: Russell isn't making it to practice on-time or staying in shape. Combine that with his poor play and he deserves to see the bench. If I channel my inner Al Davis (putting on my Halloween mask and summoning my Brooklyn accent)....I'm thinking I'll have to keep playing Russell until he stubs his "Dun-lap" trying to scramble out of the pocket (for you non-Southerners, a dun-lap is when you've gained enough weight that your belly done lapped over your belt-line). Then I'll have the convenient excuse to bench him.
CHRIS SMITH: Russell's job shouldn't be safe, but honestly I just don't know. The Raiders may leave him in the entire season and let him try and work out the kinks. Really at this point, Jim Plunkett may be a better option under center for the Raiders. Russell has talent but so have so many other quarterbacks who flamed out -- Joey Harrington, Heath Shuler, Akili Smith, David Carr, and countless others. I just don't think Russell has much longer in the NFL.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: The real problem is that Oakland simply does not have a viable replacement for Russell, so they appear to be stuck with him for the rest of the year.
AARON RUDNICKI: I think the Raiders will probably sink or swim with Russell at QB as they don't really have a better option on the bench, but I think that cutting Jeff Garcia was a mistake. He would have been a perfect guy to throw in there to try and spark the team when they are struggling like this. As a QB who is almost 40, he's certainly not a long-term option so I don't think he would have been a threat to Russell in the long term, but he showed last year that he can still be a very effective QB. Perhaps taking a few weeks off midseason would have been a good thing for Russell.
Does anyone else agree with Aaron's last point? Would the Raiders have been better off if they'd kept Jeff Garcia and put him into the lineup, with Russell getting clipboard duty for a while?
JASON WOOD: I think Jeff Garcia's value is way overstated by most fantasy owners at this point in his career. Remember, Garcia was a non factor in Raider camp. Beat writer Jerry MacDonald talked quite a bit about how Garcia was in absentia for much of camp and had done nothing to integrate himself into the locker room much less emerge as a leader. And the fact the Raiders cut him loose in favor of Frye and Gradkowski speaks volumes, not to mention the fact Garcia couldn't find employ as anything more than a third-string QB in Philly for one week.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: I think Garcia is done. As bad as Russell has been, I doubt Garcia could have been the answer.
MATT WALDMAN: I disagree. The Raiders would have probably beaten San Diego with Garcia in the lineup.
Many fantasy owners consider kickers and team defenses to be somewhat of an afterthought.
As we saw last week, however, having the right fantasy defense in your lineup can be huge. (The 49ers, Saints, Texans, and Bengals all scored a ton of points in most scoring systems -- having them was about as big as having Antonio Gates or Peyton Manning.)
Should fantasy owners generally be spending more time, both in the offseason and during the season, evaluating fantasy defenses? Or are many fantasy owners rationally devoting the bulk of their efforts on the offensive side of the ball since defenses are so much of a crap shoot?
JASON WOOD: I think that question kind of answers itself. The 49ers, Texans, Bengals and Saints were NOT considered top-tier fantasy options on draft day, and most either went undrafted in conventional 10- and 12-team leagues or were very late round picks that I guarantee few people were actively targeting. Yet each year we see people "outsmart" their friends by taking the Steelers or Titans or Ravens in the middle rounds. How is that strategy working so far?
MATT WALDMAN: Exactly. The fact that the 49ers, Saints, Texans, and Bengals are being mentioned as examples of defenses that had huge production last week supports the point that evaluating fantasy defenses is more of a crap shoot than devoting effort to the offensive side of the ball. It's easier in hindsight to see why these four teams are performing better than expected, but discovering it ahead of time is harder than it is with offensive players. It plays into my recent thoughts about which coaches tend to have more immediate success in the NFL. Defensive coaches tend to perform better out of the gate and I believe it's because you may actually need less rapport and continuity as defensive teammates than you do on offense. The best offensive players at QB and WR generally have more years of rapport or at least familiarity with the offensive system, while RBs don't need as much time because their job is more intuitive and about reading and reacting much like the way defenders do. This is why rookie linebackers and running backs seem to have a higher rate of initial success in the NFL than QBs, WRs, TEs, or DBs.
Therefore, a new coach can turn around a defense (Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans) quickly with a new scheme or the addition of minimal players (Jets) faster than an offensive-minded coordinator can turn around an offensive unit. This is why I think defenses are less predictable in the offseason compared to offenses that try to maintain continuity and build on rapport so they can develop elite production.
AARON RUDNICKI: I think it's very difficult to predict the performance of fantasy team defenses so it's generally best to wait on them while drafting. Going into this season, Pittsburgh was clearly the consensus choice as the top fantasy defense but after 4 weeks they have been among the 5 lowest scoring defenses in most scoring systems. Dallas, Miami, and San Diego have also been a disappointment despite having some of the best pass rushers in the league. Meanwhile, teams like San Francisco and New Orleans have been two of the biggest surprises so far this year, yet they probably went undrafted in most leagues. I think it's important to try to land as much depth as possible on offense early in the draft, then you can try to find some late-round sleeper picks at defense that might blow up. Worst case scenario, you can pick up defenses off the waiver wire that have good matchups.
JEFF PASQUINO: While I agree with everyone else's answers so far, the big key that people are overlooking is to find matchups where a defense is about to encounter a bad team - and there's plenty of those this year. The Texans and Bengals defenses aren't studly in general - they were just studly last week because they faced the Raiders and Browns. The 49ers faced the Rams. The Saints faced a rookie QB who finally looked like a rookie.
You can make a killing just following around the teams that are slated to play St. Louis, Kansas City, Tampa Bay or Cleveland. Look two weeks ahead if you have deep enough benches to keep playing that waiver wire and getting the team defense that will be playing one of these four teams two weeks down the road and you'll be in great shape.
What's your general strategy regarding team defenses? Do you like to select a premium defense in the draft and hold it throughout the season? Do you go the bargain-basement route and then add/drop cheap defenses each week based on matchups?
JASON WOOD: My rule on defenses is twofold:
First, I identify a number of defenses I believe have a great shot at being elite, but have an ADP outside of the top 8-10. Sometimes this pays off in spades, other times not so much. This year my goal was to draft Green Bay or the Jets in every league, if not both. And given their ADP, it was easy to do while waiting until very late.
Second, understand that what we see in the first few weeks is a lot more relevant than what teams did last year. Four weeks in, a lot of owners are still considering teams like the Titans or Ravens as elite fantasy options, and will continue to trot them into their lineups waiting for the bounce. While that MAY happen, those same owners are ignoring the play of some of the aforementioned units. I don't mess around. By this point, you need to find a way to roster one of the units that's ACTUALLY producing big points, before the rest of your league realizes that 2009 isn't 2008. For me that's the 49ers and Bengals. If you didn't grab them off waivers by now, you probably have to trade for them.
MATT WALDMAN: In leagues with team defenses, I will acquire a highly productive defense if I am at a point in the draft where I feel comfortable with my depth at RB and WR and have at least one QB and TE and feel I can get another QB I like up to a few rounds later. Otherwise, I will wait a little longer and select one unit and play the waiver wire if necessary because there is so much turnover from year to year that I'd rather pick more potential surprises at RB and WR and deal from a strength than have two defenses.
That said, I still look for certain things from a defense when I draft them late, and I hope I can get a "yes" to as many of these questions as possible:
- Is the defense in a division with weaker offenses?
- Does the team have an aggressive pass rush?
- Can the team stop the run?
- Does the team have a productive return game?
- Does the team have at least one elite LB or two elite DEs?
ANTHONY BORBELY:: Matt made a great point earlier about a defense undergoing a change in coaches or schemes. There are a lot of defenses whose talent suggests they should be better, and if you can identify one of those before you draft, you can load up on depth at the other (and more important) positions and let defense go until the last couple of rounds...and that is a big advantage.
One thing I look for in a defense (outside of the defense itself) is a powerful offense on that team. If a team can score at will, their defense can generally pin their ears back and rush the passer because the opponent is playing catch-up early. Nothing generates more turnovers than a pass rush. In many scoring systems, turnovers and sacks account for most of the team defense fantasy points.
AARON RUDNICKI: If one of the defenses I really like starts to slip in the draft, I may grab them. But, I try to always avoid being one of the first two or three owners to draft a defense. My reasoning is that if they get off to a slow start, I'll feel obligated to hold onto them because of where I drafted them and then I'll probably need to pick up another defense as well. I just don't like the inflexibility that creates with the rest of the roster, especially while trying to get through bye weeks. If you wait on draft day, you can try to land a breakout defense or you can simply pick up the ones that are playing well or have good matchups in free agency.
What are some of the defenses you currently have your eye on for use during weeks 5 and 6?
AARON RUDNICKI: The options this week aren't great but I think the Panthers might be worth a look with matchups against the Redskins, Buccaneers, and Bills in the next three weeks. I think Buffalo is a good week five unit to pick off the waiver wire, because Cleveland's offense isn't very good and Derek Anderson is more reckless than Brady Quinn so you can expect some turnovers. Plus, Buffalo may be underwhelming offensively, but the defense has kept them in games against quality opponents. When you limit Drew Brees the way they did, it's a good sign. Although the secondary is banged up, the pass rush is still pretty good and the Browns just dealt Braylon Edwards so I would anticipate there to be a greater tendency for mistakes where the QB and WR aren't on the same page with their routes and we see some errant throws that have a chance to be intercepted on Sunday.
What has been your experience with IDP leagues? Is that more fun than using team defenses, or does it dilute the importance of offensive players too much (if you consider offensive players more fun)?
MATT WALDMAN: As I said earlier, I believe team defenses are a crap shoot, which is why I enjoy IDP leagues. Defenses dictate as much of an outcome as offenses in the real world of football and having the opportunity select individual players who do well (or poorly) due to their schemes makes it more predictable than simply lumping a team into your lineup. Watching Patrick Willis dominate a game defensively with 5 tackles, 3 assists, a sack, and an interception for a score, can be more exciting than watching Steve Smith gain 134 yards and 2 TDs - and more productive!
AARON RUDNICKI: I love IDP leagues. I feel like it adds another dimension of skill to fantasy leagues that offense-only leagues do not have. There is a lot of luck involved in fantasy football, but you used to be able to overcome that with extensive research and sound strategy. Nowadays, however, fantasy football is so popular that most people are using the same information and the same strategies so it's hard to get an advantage. When you introduce IDPs to a league, however, the amount of fantasy-relevant information available is greatly reduced and most owners have a lot less experience. The main benefits though are that it gives you more players to watch and follow on Sundays and gives you a much fuller appreciation for the game. I think adding additional players to the lineup helps to decrease the luck factor a bit as well simply because a great game or terrible game for one player is not going to make or break your week. With team defenses, one or two fluke type plays with a fumble returned for a TD or a kickoff return can create a huge swing in scoring. Fantasy leagues don't use team offenses because it's more fun to use individual players. Same logic applies to defenses.
Browns offense revisited
Just a week ago it looked like the Browns offense may have been a complete fantasy wasteland. There have been some interesting developments since then, however. Last there were some adjustments to the lineup and a few younger players showed some promise. And then the bigger news, of course, is this week's trade with the Jets, sending Braylon Edwards to New York for Chansi Stuckey, among other consideration.
Let's start by discussing the Braylon Edwards' trade. What does losing Edwards mean to the Browns?
JASON WOOD: The Edwards trade certainly throws a monkey wrench into things for Cleveland. With the Browns playing for 2010 essentially, I completely understand that decision to trade Edwards for a basket of picks and role players. They can't lose any more without him than they've lost with him. That said, this completely reshapes the tenor of the Browns attack. Edwards' is a dynamic deep threat, but Brady Quinn couldn't get the ball more than 10-11 yards downfield with any accuracy. QB Derek Anderson was supposed to be the guy who could come in, be less accurate overall, but move the offense by getting downfield. Now what?
ANTHONY BORBELY:: The trade has to help Braylon and really hurts the Browns. Even though the Cleveland offense came to life last week, I think it will remain inconsistent at best for the balance of the year. They simply do not have a good enough QB or good enough auxiliary weapons to be productive week in and week out.
Does Derek Anderson give the other Browns offensive players more value than they had with Brady Quinn under center?
MATT WALDMAN: Anderson gives the Browns a fighting chance because he stretches the field. Cleveland lacks a game-breaking RB between the tackles so they need to stretch the field to keep defenses from compressing the field. Anderson has no problem allowing his athletic receivers fight for the ball in the air. And rookie Mohamed Massaquoi has good enough body control and athleticism to get the football in single coverage.
CHRIS SMITH: Derek Anderson is better for the Browns than Brady Quinn, and it isn't close. Quinn is tentative on the field and appears afraid to throw deep. Anderson may toss up a four-interception game but he'll also make plays happen down the field and put points on the board. I'm not convinced either quarterback is the future in Cleveland but Anderson is the better option right now.
ANTHONY BORBELY: I did think Anderson added the big play capabilities that Quinn lacked, but losing Edwards takes the luster off of last week's performance by the offense. Even though Edwards did not catch a pass, he commanded the attention of the defense and with him now gone, the offense will not be as hard to defend. The running game will really suffer because the safeties will be able to play closer to the line with Edwards gone.
AARON RUDNICKI: I think Derek Anderson has a chance to add some value to the Browns receivers, but I'm still not very excited about this offense given the complete lack of weapons they seem to have.
Where will Chansi Stuckey fit in with the Browns?
MATT WALDMAN: I'm not sure if Chansi Stuckey's value rises as a result of this trade or if we'll see more of the combo that includes Mike Furrey, Brian Robiskie, and Josh Cribbs. None of them excite me at this point.
JASON WOOD: I'm not sure what to make of Chansi Stuckey. Will he be the new starter opposite Mo Mass or will it be a committee approach? Time will tell, but I'm not sure any of them are worth having except in deep leagues.
Did you like what you saw from Jerome Harrison on Sunday? What are his prospects going forward? How serious a threat is he to supplant Jamal Lewis as the primary RB by the end of this season?
MATT WALDMAN: I haven't gotten to watch a Browns game yet this season, but I have long-through that Jerome Harrison has similar skill sets as Priest Holmes, just not the same athleticism and strength. I believe he is a reasonable threat to cut into Jamal Lewis' time and potentially get an extended audition as the primary RB.
CHRIS SMITH: Harrison can play football. He isn't the biggest, fastest or most talented player in the NFL but he has the ability to make defenders miss and is an opportunity away from putting up decent numbers. The Browns have no other real options as of today in the backfield and Lewis looks older and sluggish so perhaps Harrison will be the man this season. He's certainly worth the risk.
JASON WOOD: I loved what I saw from Jerome Harrison, and this is from a guy who discounted him in favor of James Davis this preseason. Davis looked like the complete package and ran roughshod in the preseason but is now on IR. With Jamal Lewis well past his prime, Harrison could help you win a few games over the next few weeks at worst, and be a solid flex play in PPR leagues even if Lewis gets back on the field.
ANTHONY BORBELY: Harrison was impressive last week, but I have to see more to be sold...and the departure of Edwards makes it a lot tougher for Harrison to repeat last week's performance. Jamal Lewis looked done before his injury and I doubt he will make any impact going forward.
AARON RUDNICKI: Most people thought Jamal Lewis was going to get beaten out this year at some point, but it looks like Jerome Harrison is going to be the guy rather than James Davis. Harrison has averaged 5.0 yards per carry in his career so he clearly has the talent to be effective. The only concern is that he hasn't really been asked to carry the load as a feature back since 2005 when he was at Washington State. He's a bit on the small side, but I like that he's a capable receiver out of the backfield since I think the Browns will be playing from behind pretty often. It wouldn't surprise me if he has already taken over the primary RB job from Lewis after his breakout performance last week. Given the situation he is in with limited competition for carries right now, I think Harrison could wind up being one of the best free-agent pickups this season.
Did you like what you saw from Mohamed Massaquoi on Sunday? What are his prospects going forward?
MATT WALDMAN: Massaquoi has always been a superb talent who simply didn't
play consistently enough to be as highly regarded a prospect as he should have
been. What I like about him is that he catches the ball with his hands. Although
he'll have periods of drops, he still uses his hands and when you look at Terrell
Owens and Brandon Marshall they have the same problem. However, like both of
these receivers, MoMass has the athleticism to become a solid starter with some
upside in this league.
JASON WOOD: MO Massaquoi, by sheer opportunity, is worth picking up for a decent waiver-wire bid this week if you have the chance, particularly in PPR leagues. He obviously has rapport with Anderson and is now the WR1, at least for Week 5.
AARON RUDNICKI: The Edwards trade clearly creates an opportunity for Massaquoi to become the #1 WR in Cleveland, but not sure I'd want a rookie going up against the opponent's best corner or facing double teams each week. He looked great last week against a pretty solid Bengals secondary, but I'd like to see him do it over another week or two before really buying into him as a reliable fantasy starter.
Turning our attention toward the Jets, is Braylon Edwards a buy-low candidate, or should he be avoided even at his currently depressed market price?
MATT WALDMAN: Edwards is a legit buy-low candidate because his upside is too good to avoid, especially now that he's a Jet.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: Edwards should have new life with the Jets. They have some weapons there and a fresh start with a playoff contender has to help Edwards. He is an elite talent who has underachieved for all but one year in his career. Even though Sanchez is a rookie, he is already better than any other QB that Braylon has played with.
AARON RUDNICKI: I had high hopes for Braylon Edwards coming into the season but I was ready to give up on him in Cleveland. With the trade to the Jets, I think he should do better but they already have a pretty reliable group of guys to throw to in Cotchery, Keller, and Leon Washington so he'll need to try and make the most of his targets. The Jets are probably going to take more chances throwing downfield due to the different coaching philosophies between Rex Ryan and Eric Mangini so I think this certainly helps his value.
How does the trade affect Jerricho Cotchery's value?
ANTHONY BORBELY: The Jets offense as a whole will be better with Edwards because he is a big play WR and the safeties will have to account for him on the field. This should help the running game and the short and intermediate passing game. Cotchery will probably lose some fantasy value because of a decline in targets, but he still should be a low end WR2 type for the balance of the season.
Who's More Valuable?
In a typical redraft league, would you rather have Tony Romo or David Garrard on your roster?
JASON WOOD: Romo, but I like Garrard too. Romo has become that guy whose lack of playoff success plays way too heavily in people's perception of his skills. He's a talented passer and will have solid numbers most weeks.
MATT WALDMAN: Garrard, because (aside from Jason Witten) the Jags have a better receiving corps. Mike Sims-Walker can simply do more anywhere than the field than the freakishly athletic but underachieving Roy Williams. Torry Holt, rookie Mike Thomas, Maurice Jones Drew, and TE Marcedes Lewis beat the less disciplined unit of Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd, and Miles Austin. The Dallas receivers make too many mistakes running the wrong routes, not coming back to the ball, or dropping passes. Romo has periods of excellent accuracy, but he takes too many chances and doesn't recognize blitzes as well as he should. He has the instincts and moments of a great player, but lacks the consistency. Garrard on the other hand, plays with more control, is a better runner, has more toughness, and the Jags rely a bit less on the ground game.
CHRIS SMITH: I would rather have Garrard. He is a dual threat to run and pass, the Jaguars offense is coming on, and I like the Jaguars' passing schedule going forward more than the Cowboys'.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: I have to go with Romo simply because Garrard is so inconsistent as a passer. But it is much closer than I would have thought prior to the start of the season.
AARON RUDNICKI: I'd rather have Garrard. Apart from the season opener, Romo has not really played well and the Cowboys offense seems to be very run-heavy. Garrard started slowly but it is starting to look like he has some breakout weapons to throw to in Mike Sims-Walker and Marcedes Lewis, plus the rookie Mike Thomas showed some potential last week as well. I also think Garrard adds more value in terms of rushing totals, makes fewer mistakes, and has the easier schedule.
Thomas Jones or Knowshon Moreno?
JASON WOOD: Knowshon Moreno and it's not even close. Moreno was becoming a vital cog in that offense already, and then Buckhalter got hurt. Moreno has looked every bit the franchise back as he's rounded into shape. I love him for the rest of the season. Meanwhile the Jets, for all their success so far, have to get the running game untracked. Jones has looked old, and that line isn't getting any push. I think the Jets run game will improve, but Moreno has Top 12 potential in the second half of the season.
MATT WALDMAN: Moreno, because he's getting a greater share of the carries as the season progresses and Jones is entrenched in an RBBC that has grown with the recent activation of Shonn Greene. Moreno is naturally a better receiver than Jones (who is pretty good) and with Correll Buckhalter hurt, Moreno should become an even greater focal point of the ground game. He has already shown a nose for the end zone, and despite his lack of breakaway speed, his burst and vision are topnotch. As Brandon Marshall and Kyle Orton continue to develop rapport, Moreno's production will continue to move upward.
CHRIS SMITH: Moreno for one giant reason... UPSIDE! Jones is a serviceable running back who is sharing time with Leon Washington (whom I happen to believe is the better player). Moreno is in a situation where he could absolutely thrive in the weeks ahead. The Broncos schedule is laughable, the club wants Moreno to step into the starting role full-time and he has the potential to ultimately slide into the top-five whereas I believe Jones' best days are behind him and his upside is minimal.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: Moreno by a country mile. He looks like the real deal and I expect his touches to increase more and more as the year goes on. Jones looks slow to me and his value right now is directly tied to how many TDs he gets. His YPC is low and I expect to see less of him going forward.
AARON RUDNICKI: I'll make it unanimous: I'd rather have Moreno. While both are part of a committee approach, Moreno seems to clearly be the most talented runner on his team and he's likely to get an increased workload as the season continues. Meanwhile, Jones is on the wrong side of 30 and has averaged 300+ carries/season for the past four years. He has not topped 14 carries or 54 rushing yards the past few weeks and I think there's a good chance that Leon Washington and even Shonn Greene could steal enough touches to render him unstartable before too long. Meanwhile, Moreno is a young talented RB who is averaging over 4 yards per carry and his main competition for carries in Correll Buckhalter is injured. This is an easy choice.
Willis McGahee or Ray Rice?
JASON WOOD: This probably depends on scoring system. McGahee's emergence as the Ravens goalline stud is mind boggling, as is the fact he's got two receiving TDs after just one in his entire career prior to this season. On the other hand, Rice has started to round into form as the between-the-20s guy and as a receiver. In PPR leagues, I'll take Rice, but in traditional leagues give me McGahee. Both look good to be Top 20 options most weeks though. Who would've thought that five weeks ago?
MATT WALDMAN: This is a tough question. I have both in one non-PPR league and have successfully started them the same week! In PPR, it's definitely Rice. He simply gets more touches and has great opportunities to be a consistently productive force. McGahee has more upside with his goal line looks. When it comes down to it, I can rely more on consistent attempts, targets, and yardage more than touchdowns, so I have to give Rice the slight edge in either format despite the fact McGahee has recently outperformed him in non-PPR leagues.
CHRIS SMITH: I agree with Jason that it depends on your scoring rules. The fact is both of these players will continue to get the touches in certain situations. If you are in a league where touchdowns are king, McGahee is poised for a 12+ touchdown campaign. Otherwise it appears likely that Rice will get more and more of the work in between the 20 yard lines. I like both of these players going forward. If I had to choose one to be on my fantasy roster, I am going with Rice as he appears on the way up the ladder while McGahee is hanging onto the ladder for dear life.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: I have to go with Rice because he seems to be the back of choice between the 20s. I just am not overly excited about the Ravens RBs because I really don't know what to expect from one week to the next.
AARON RUDNICKI: While McGahee got off to the better start and will likely maintain solid value if he can hold onto his job as the goalline back in Baltimore, Rice is the more explosive player and I think he has more upside. He's already been very active in the passing game with 16 receptions, which will help offset the lack of touchdowns in PPR leagues. Plus, he is averaging 6.0 yards per carry so he doesn't need a ton of them to be productive. I think he could easily wind up with twice as many touches and yards as McGahee the rest of the season.
LaDainian Tomlinson or Cedric Benson?
JASON WOOD: I would've laughed you out of the room for asking this question a few weeks ago. But you're talking about the two RBs I was (so far) most wrong about this preseason. I bought into LT bouncing back hook, line and sinker, and had him as a Top 3 fantasy back in all formats. Meanwhile I considered Benson undraftable even at his depressed ADP. I'm certainly much more of a Benson believer now; how could I not be? But even with Benson moving way up my rankings, I still would prefer LT from here on out. I'm going to assume they wouldn't have let him play this week if he wasn't 100%, and after the bye a lot of owners are going to be fed up with LT's lack of production. I would consider some trade offers this week hoping to pry him away for 60 cents on the dollar.
MATT WALDMAN: Benson, and I'm looking to see if one of my cats is about to tell me something in English based on the incredulity I feel over this instant response. Tomlinson still has nice agility, but there are three reasons I picked Benson over the great LT: (1) Benson is performing better and did so against a common opponent, Pittsburgh. (2) LT appears to have lost a step. He can get to the corner, but I don't see him getting around it like he did in the past. (3) Despite the fact that LT is an excellent receiver, Philip Rivers routinely ignores LT on swing passes where he's wide open. Maybe this has to do with down, distance, and game situations, but I remember all those years after LT's pal Drew Brees left town and LT would be on the sideline grilling Rivers after a bad series and I wonder if Rivers even feels comfortable going to LT. Even if that bit of manufactured drama on my part is completely off-base, I know that Rivers loves to look down field and is as aggressive as Peyton Manning in that respect. Since San Diego's defense can't stop the run or rush the passer, I also believe the Chargers have to try to win on the arm of Rivers more than the Bengals will with Palmer. As strange as it seems to say, Benson gets the edge.
CHRIS SMITH: Gulp... ahhhhh.... arghhhh... I can't believe I am actually going to say this. I would pick Cedric Benson over Tomlinson going forward. How difficult is it to believe that Benson is the better fantasy option over Tomlinson? But the fact is that Benson has finally found his form, the Bengals offensive line is blocking well and the Chargers have become the Rivers show, relegating Tomlinson to an afterthought almost in San Diego. Benson is clearly the better choice.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: I question how much LT has left in the tank, so I'd have to go with Benson, who has been pretty solid all year.
AARON RUDNICKI: I'm not ready to give up on Tomlinson just yet so I think I'd take him in this comparison, especially in PPR leagues. He has gotten off to a poor start, but I still think the Chargers are better than they've shown and they will likely finish strong. Meanwhile, I think we might have seen the best of Cedric Benson so far and I have doubts about whether he can keep up his early season production, particularly with some tough matchups coming in the next month.
Rashard Mendenhall or Tim Hightower?
JASON WOOD: Interesting. I like them both, but Hightower is going to give you short yardage AND receptions, whereas Mendenhall is not going to catch many balls. And for as good as Mendenhall looked this week, I'm not convinced he's anything more than a fumble away from being back in a time share or worse. Give me Hightower.
MATT WALDMAN: Mendenhall, and this illustrates one of my principles of drafting: if you have the choice between two players who aren't starting material for you, go with the greatest upside. Mendenhall has far and away more upside. Mendenhall is a pick when you play to win. Hightower is a pick when you play not to lose.
CHRIS SMITH: I love Mendenhall here. He is big, strong and capable of carrying the rock 25 times per game. With Parker's skills slipping away, there is a real opportunity for Mendenhall to become the 20-carry per game brute the Steelers would love to add into their arsenal. Hightower is a good player but I love the potential of the big Steelers' youngster.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: I'd rather have Mendenhall because I see Mendenhall being a bigger factor in the Steelers' offense going forward and I see Hightower losing touches to Wells. The Cardinals have to get a running game established and Hightower simply has not been effective enough on running downs.
AARON RUDNICKI: In a PPR league, I would take Hightower. The fumbling problems that Chris Wells is having look like they could keep Hightower on the field. In a non-PPR league, however, I'd take a chance on Mendenhall. Even before he got injured, Willie Parker didn't seem to have the same burst he had in the past. Mewelde Moore is a solid third-down back but it really looked like the Steelers offensive line fixed some of their run blocking problems against the Chargers last week. With the way the Steelers passing game is clicking, I wouldn't be surprised if Mendenhall is able to take advantage and emerge as a clear starter in Pittsburgh going forward.
Brandon Marshall or Mike Sims-Walker?
JASON WOOD: Sims-Walker and it's not close.
MATT WALDMAN: Yes, Sims-Walker. While I have to acknowledge that one of the factors is Kyle Orton throwing to Marshall, it's not as big of a reason as you would think. Sims-Walker has better hands and more skills as a route runner. I profiled both for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio and came away more impressed with Sims-Walker as a receiver. Marshall is a better open field runner and more of a big-play artist, but Sims-Walker is capable of stretching the field in his own right.
CHRIS SMITH: Marshall appears to be in a poor situation for stockpiling stats this season, and I also question his reliability on and off the field. Sims-Walker has become a fantasy beast in Jacksonville. This is a no-contest in my mind right now. Take Sims-Walker and don't look back.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: Marshall's upside is huge and he seems to have an improved attitude. I like Sims-Walker, but Marshall is at another level.
AARON RUDNICKI: While I love what Sims-Walker has been able to do the past few weeks, I would still take the player who I think is more talented with a longer track record of success in Brandon Marshall. Sims-Walker has had injury problems in the past that are also a concern. That these two players are even being compared is pretty surprising based on where they were drafted a couple months ago.
Steve Smith (CAR) or Steve Smith (NYG)?
JASON WOOD: The Giants Smith, but it's close. For as poorly as my LT/Benson calls were, I landed the Giants Steve Smith in nearly every league and it's saving my bacon. As long as Eli Manning is OK to step onto the field, Smith is going to remain a PPR stud. That said, the Panthers Smith is too talented with too long a history to completely write off. I would be trying to trade for the Panthers' Smith right now hoping his owners are panicking.
MATT WALDMAN: As much as I like the Giants Steve Smith, if a quality QB were throwing the ball to the Carolina Steve Smith there would be no discussion. However, Eli Manning is a better QB at this stage of his career than Jake Delhomme, so I'd rather have the Giants Steve Smith. I've been touting the former USC WR since he was helping people mistake Matt Leinart for the next Tom Brady. Smith has the trust of Eli Manning, runs good routes and doesn't shy away from contact. He's nowhere as dynamic as the Carolina Smith, but I'm looking for consistently high production in fantasy football; not four games of greatness and 11 more of praying Delhomme doesn't throw it up for grabs.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: I would take the Giants' Smith in a PPR league because Delhomme's inconsistency. Carolina's Smith has the edge in non-PPR leagues, but there will be games where he disappears.
AARON RUDNICKI: Particularly in PPR leagues, I would take the Giants Steve Smith. The Giants running game has been more effective than the Panthers running game so far this year and Eli Manning seems to be throwing to him every chance he gets. The Panthers QB situation is definitely a concern as Delhomme is much more inconsistent and that can lead to widely varying totals from Smith on a week-to-week basis. I'll take the more consistent player in New York as he seems to be one of this year's biggest breakout players.
Brent Celek or Kellen Winslow?
JASON WOOD: In PPR leagues, Celek. And that's me eating a huge amount of crow. I'm an Eagles season ticket holder and thought Celek was a non-athletic plodder. But he's looked smooth in and out of his breaks this year and has caught everything thrown his way. He's integral to the Eagles plans and will rack up points in PPR leagues as the second or third option on a pass happy team.
MATT WALDMAN: Celek, because of McNabb or Kolb throwing to him with a healthy game-breaker in DeSean Jackson stretching the field. Winslow might improve as Josh Johnson gets used to the deep end of the pool, but he's simply not as reliable for the same reasons I'd rather have the Giants Smith over the Carolina version, or Sims-Walker over Marshall.
CHRIS SMITH: I think Winslow is the much better talent and has more upside but the Eagles passing attack is light-years ahead of the Buccaneers flickering offense right now. That makes Celek the clear choice.
ANTHONY BORBELY:: Celek is an easy choice because of the difference in QBs. Winslow is just in a terrible situation and I don't think it will change for the rest of the year. Celek has been very impressive and it goes back to late last year. He is the real deal when it comes to fantasy football.
AARON RUDNICKI: I'll take Celek here. Winslow clearly has the talent to be an elite player but I'm worried about him losing interest on a losing team down in Tampa. Plus, Josh Johnson is more of a running QB at this point in his career while the Eagles love to throw the ball. Celek isn't as good but in that offense, he has a much better opportunity to put up big numbers every single week.
That will do it for this edition of the Roundtable. Enjoy the games this weekend, and we'll see you back here next week!