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Roundtable Week 2

For real or fool's gold, potential replacements, true or false narratives, and an extended debate on Tarik Cohen's fantasy value and free agent strategy.

A lot happened opening week that will shape the course of the 2017 fantasy season. Let's discuss...

Let's roll...

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For Real/Fool's Gold 

Matt Waldman: Explain which end of the spectrum you fall on these opening-week performers. We're making these calls based on fantasy value, not talent. Still, feel free to comment on skills if you wish.

Wood, since you're my favorite anti-Marvin Jones staffer, please be the first to answer this question and share your summer-long admiration for the rookie Golladay. 

Jason Wood: Golladay is 100 percent real, Waldman. Golladay earned rave reviews from the day he set foot in the Lions locker. The Lions have plenty of room for three receivers because Anquan Boldin produced as a red zone factor last year and is gone. And Eric Ebron is fool's gold. We saw in the fourth quarter what Golladay is capable of, and I suspect Stafford will only come to trust the mammoth rookie more in the coming weeks. Since I'm no fan of Marvin Jones, it's easy for me to recommend Golladay as someone who becomes a starter sooner rather than later.

Adam Harstad: Golladay is good. So are Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. Golladay might have more good days, but I don't think the Lions offense can sustain three fantasy-viable wide receivers, and at the moment I'd bet on Golladay being the one left out in the cold. Great value in best-ball leagues, though.

Maurile Tremblay: He'll compete with Golden Tate and Marvin Jones for targets, but there could be enough balls to go around that Golladay could make a fantasy impact as a rookie. His upside for the year is likely as a flex player, but in typical leagues, he's absolutely worth picking up if he's available on the waiver wire.

Stephen Holloway: Golladay tied for the second most targets among all Lions and caught four passes for 69 yards and scored two touchdowns in his debut with the Lions. His 6’-4” frame is an excellent fit for Matthew Stafford and he could continue to see red zone targets. The Lions should continue their heavy focus on the passing game and Golladay will likely continue to see opportunities.

Justin Howe: He's the real thing and he's bringing to the NFL table what he'd brought in college. Golladay put up 2,491 yards and 21 touchdowns from scrimmage over his 2 school years, and he looks like a legitimate weapon on this level - especially on deep balls and in the red zone. He won't surpass Marvin Jones as the No. 2 option anytime soon, but there's a non-zero chance he's already the better playmaker. And he looks set to produce sporadically strong WR3/4 numbers as the clear No. 3 in Detroit.

Matt Waldman: Since this appears to be a Golladay love fest, allow me to pose some reasons why his talent may be real but his readiness to overtake the first two receivers on this depth chart is too sunny a fantasy outlook. While he's tall, fast, and productive as a collegian, college production does not provide a strong statistical correlation to NFL production. Golladay has impressed the Lions as an athlete and pass catcher, but the team has recognized that he still has work to do to become a viable primary wide receiver, something that beat reporters often gloss over because they either aren't examining the details of the position on that deep of a level or it diminishes the sexiness of a beat report discussing Golladay's athletic ability in action against corners playing him one-on-one in practice.

Golladay repeatedly made mistakes getting open against zone coverage. He caused or nearly caused multiple interceptions on routes in the middle of the field this summer and nearly did the same against the Cardinals. He relies on one move to release off the line of scrimmage and it was successful against the worst corner on the Cardinals defense while Marvin Jones earned single coverage from Patrick Peterson for all but one target of the game.

The fact that Jones will face the top cornerback on each team makes Golladay a worthwhile option during the first month of the season when opponents haven't scouted the team's film (teams usually wait 3-4 weeks to collect current season tape and then develop game plans from it). However, if Golladay continues making good on his one-on-ones with subpar cornerbacks this month, teams will be forced to account for Golladay in ways that will prevent them from sticking their best corner on Jones, and based on his limited route tree (streaks, crossing routes, posts, and fades) and steep learning curve to be on the same page of Matthew Stafford on zone routes and adjustments before and after the snap, I would not count on Golladay as for real year-long. 

The fact that Matthew Stafford told ESPN's Scott Van Pelt on a Monday night interview that Golladay still has work to do with the conceptual side of the game adds to the learning curve that Golladay's tape shows. Could he learn fast enough to develop his game as the season progresses? It's possible, but I believe he'll be far less consistent to label him 'for real" even for 40 percent of the fantasy season.  

Justin, what about Cooper Kupp? For real or fool's gold?

Howe: I wasn't a Kupp fan during draft season. He's slow, he's old for a prospect, and he looked to blend in with the Rams' numerous, similar slot-only names. But Kupp has worked his way up the priority chart and looks like a solid (if uninspiring) PPR WR4 going forward. His ceiling isn't anything to gush over, but I'm confident he can catch four passes a week.

Holloway: Cooper Kupp had a nice opening game, but I do not trust Jared Goff to have continued sustained success and Kupp is one of a trio (Sammy Watkins & Robert Woods) who could lead the Rams in receiving from week to week. I am letting Kupp be picked up by others.

Waldman: I would like to point out that speed isn't nearly as important as quickness. Kupp had a slower 40-time, but his 20-Shuttle and 3-Cone drill performances were among the quickest of his class and as good or better than Allen Robinson's times. Technically speaking to the role of the position, wide receivers earn most of their separation within the first 10-15 yards of their routes. Kupp's quickness has shown up over and over and over again at the college level, and not just against small-school opponents. While I disagree with the "not enough targets to go around argument" can understand the lack of confidence in Goff supporting three fantasy receivers when two of them are proven veterans. I disagree because I believe the slot receiver has an important role in this offense and he already knows all three spots, which increases his scheme flexibility. These skills will make Kupp more reliable than most think.  

Tremblay: I'm less certain about Kupp. He's in somewhat of a similar situation to that of Kenny Golladay in that he's ostensibly third in the pecking order among his team's wide receivers. Kupp is behind Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods for now, although he could end up passing Woods. Unlike Golladay's Lions, however, the Rams are unlikely to generate a passing game robust enough to support fantasy relevance for three wide receivers. Kupp could have some big weeks now and then, but when we look back at the season after it's done, Week 1 might end up being one of the better ones.

Wood: Kupp is quite possibly the real deal. The Rams had everything go right against the Colts so it's important we don't overvalue that box score. However, Kupp looked sharp and made plays when Jared Goff threw his way. Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins remain the starters, but Woods isn't special enough to keep Kupp from ascending if he plays as well as he did in Week One. 

Waldman: Alright Tremblay, what about Sam Bradford? Did his Monday night performance sway you? 

Tremblay: It was just one game, and it was just the Saints defense he picked apart, but I think there's a strong chance that Sam Bradford is ready to break out. As a former top overall draft pick, he's always had the physical attributes to succeed in the NFL, and he's reputed to be a smart quarterback with a strong work ethic. He was set back by injuries early in his career, but he's always had potential, and he played adequately in a difficult situation last season. With a full year in the Vikings' offense and with a much improved offensive line, it shouldn't be much of a surprise if Bradford develops into one of the better quarterbacks in the league. His fantasy value may never catch up to his NFL value, but his performance Monday night shows that it's possible.

Holloway: Bradford completed 71.6 percent of his pass attempts last year in his first season at Minnesota and also set a career high with 7.02 yards per attempt. He completed 84.4 percent of his passes for 10.8 yards per attempt in the season opener against the Saints. Bradford seems extremely comfortable and the offensive line appears improved. Bradford also has favorable matchups upcoming in weeks 4, 6 & 8. He is worthy of a waiver wire move, particularly as a streaming quarterback. 

Howe: This is easily the best team and most talented supporting cast he's ever had around him. Armed with two guys capable of winning downfield, Bradford can finally flash some dynamism after years of being shackled. With Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen excelling on all levels of the field, Week 1 won't be Bradford's only QB1 performance. Owners who sat tight at quarterback and paired him with another high-end QB2 like Philip Rivers have to feel good about their strategy. 

Harstad: Bradford played better than his stats might suggest last year, and his receiving corps of Diggs, Thielen, and Rudolph is better than most people think. But in leagues that start one quarterback, being good isn't good enough; you need volume, too, and I don't think Bradford gets it, especially with Cook looking good.

Wood: If the Vikings offensive line plays as well as they did in Week One, Bradford is the real deal. He looked comfortable and executed the game plan flawlessly. He was precise throughout the route tree, including on deep throws. This is not the guy who flamed out as the Rams top draft pick. This is a savvy veteran that finally feels comfortable in the pocket. 

Waldman: It's amazing what happens when the offensive line can do its job, isn't it? Bradford was a great deep ball thrower at Oklahoma. It's nice to see it happening with greater consistency in the NFL. Can Jared Goff possibly be the next Sam Bradford in a good way? 

Howe: We'll see, but I like what Week 1 hinted at. Goff looked much better in Week 1 than he ever did as a rookie, and I'm a believer in Sean McVay, who turned Kirk Cousins (!) into one of the most expensive athletes in history. But there are a lot of x-factors swinging between Goff and his status as a slam-dunk weekly QB2. The safe, sanitized nature of the Rams' current passing game dings his upside; he'll rarely throw more than 30-32 passes. His rebuilding line still needs to gel - as does new No. 1 receiver Sammy Watkins. They all looked great against the Colts' helpless defense, but will inevitably hit some growing pains. There's potential for Goff's fantasy outlook, but you probably won't want to be stuck starting him as a bye-week fill-in a month from now.

Tremblay: Goff looked efficient against the Colts, but a lot of quarterbacks may be able to say that by the time this season is over. Goff's problem from a fantasy standpoint is that the Rams' offense is built around the running game. If Goff succeeds, he is more likely to succeed as a game-manager than as a gunslinger. He could develop into a fine NFL quarterback as soon as this season, but I suspect that strong fantasy value is still at least a year away.

Harstad: Highly-drafted players tend to be more talented than their lower-drafted peers, and they definitely get more chances to turn things around. Goff was historically bad his rookie year, but I wouldn't be shocked to see a former No. 1 pick turn it around. I wouldn't be shocked to see him not turn it around, either. For fantasy, though, I think the thing holding Goff back is the same as the thing holding Bradford back; I don't know where the volume is going to come from.

Waldman: Highly-drafted players tend to be more risk-friendly picks based on criteria that general managers use to cover their assets: big school, strong production, and close-as-possible measurements to physical prototypes at the position. However, teams have a bias about giving high draft picks far more chances to succeed instead of sponsoring a true competition among high draft picks and lower draft picks in training camps. Even coaches and players in the league had noted the bias that exists when higher draft picks are critiqued compared to lower picks when mistakes are made. That said, it's good that Goff is getting a second chance with a new offense after the debacle that was the Jeff Fisher regime.

Wood: This depends on what you view as "real" versus "fool's gold." If by "real" you mean a viable QB2 and someone worth playing in favorable match-ups in 2QB and Super flex leagues, then yes Goff is real. If you mean someone that will vie for Top-10 quarterback honors, he's fool's gold. 

Waldman: Leonard Fournette looked pretty strong against the Houston Texans front. What say you about the runaway cement mixer from LSU?

Harstad: He's going to get the ball until his arms fall off this year. For real.

Tremblay: He's a stud. There was never any question about his talent, only his team situation. But it looks fine to me. The Jaguars have an improved defense and a desire to develop a strong running game. Fournette will be the workhorse. His rookie year could be similar to Todd Gurley's.

Holloway: The Jaguars defense was outstanding and we already know that they do not trust their quarterbacks. Therefore, Fournette will continue to see a healthy workload and will continue to produce as a top running back.

Howe: It's certainly good news that he's the clear workhorse for a run-dominant team looking to shorten games and win with defense. Fournette looks set to serve as both opener and closer in Jacksonville, with a quick peek at the requisite receiving production (three receptions) for a fantasy RB1. He carries concerns, of course. His lingering foot issue could aggravate at any moment, and there's a solid chance his volume proves less effective when the Jaguars' aren't leading the Titans by 19 points. But Week 1 certainly settled some of our questions as to his role and floor.

Wood: Without question the real deal. Fournette was the top drafted running back for a reason, and a bogus sore ankle scared fantasy owners off in August in favor of the other rookies. If you watched the Jaguars/Texans game, you saw a classic workhorse. He pounded the defense and took what was there. He showed patience and got better as the game progressed. 

Waldman: AFC South, be afraid...be very afraid.

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Tarik Cohen: Extended Discussion 

Waldman: The rookie runner from North Carolina A&T surprised many with his production and workload against the Falcons in the opener. First, is Cohen for real or fool's gold. Second, if you presume he's for real on the level of acquiring him for a fantasy roster, how much should fantasy owners spend on him? 

Howe: There are a lot of narratives in his favor: his prominent Week 1 role, the Bears' lack of weaponry, their penchant for playing in catch-up mode, etc. I won't expound too much on his size, although it would be virtually unprecedented to see such a small guy excel long-term because Cohen certainly seems locked into a niche in Chicago. Expectations need to be tempered, as he's a package back and Week 1 was a perfect storm in his favor. But there's plenty of reason to think he'll threaten 4-5 catches per game as a ceiling, or that his floor is appreciably lower than the rest of the league's third-down spark plugs.

Holloway: Although he played in the FCS, Cohen ran for 5,619 yards and was an accomplished receiver with 98 catches. Given Chicago’s shortage of receiving options, Cohen should continue to garner targets, which he could turn into decent production. He's a nice running back option, particularly in PPR scoring leagues for teams that have already lost a player at that position or drafted with shallow depth.

Harstad: Fool's Gold in the sense that his week 1 performance was ludicrously unsustainable on a ton of levels. He had a 46-yard run, which isn't going to happen every week. He had 12 targets on 22 routes, which is just absurd. Antonio Brown doesn't even get targeted more than 50 percent of the time when he's out in a pass pattern. Unless something dramatic changes, it's a good bet that the opener was Cohen's best week of the season.

But in the sense that Tarik Cohen plays a role that has a solid track record of producing fantasy value in PPR leagues, he's for real. We've seen Danny Woodhead, Theo Riddick, Darren Sproles, and more make a living as starting-caliber fantasy RBs basically off of five receptions a game and a handful of carries. Especially given how dire Chicago's receiver situation is, it wouldn't surprise me if Cohen finished with 64-80 receptions, which is free money in PPR.

Tremblay: In terms of talent, Cohen looks like he is for real. That's not good news for Cohen's immediate fantasy value so much as it is bad news for Jordan Howard's fantasy value. Howard is still the lead back, but Cohen will get significant touches, especially in the passing game. I won't go so far as to call this a full-blown committee situation, but as long as both backs stay healthy, I think Howard's value is appreciably depressed by Cohen's presence. Cohen won't get enough touches to make him a fantasy starter, however, except in deep point-per-reception leagues. He's worth picking up as a handcuff to Howard (or as a lottery ticket that would pay off if Howard misses games) if you have space on your roster.

Wood: Fool's gold unless Jordan Howard gets hurt. He's a small guy in a secondary role on a team that will be in very few advantageous game scripts. I like the talent, but you specifically want us to weigh in on the fantasy outlook. Cohen will be a bye-week level talent barring injury. Now, is he worth claiming on waivers? Absolutely! Most leagues are deep enough that key backups are rostered and Cohen showed he can be a viable fantasy commodity if given the opportunity.

However, seeing people advocate fantasy owners pay 40-50 percent of FAAB on Cohen pains me. 

Howe: Yep. Shortsighted as can be.

Phil Alexander: Disagree. Why can't he maintain low-end RB2 production in PPR? There's a major target void in that offense and a lack of play makers outside of him and Howard.

Simon Shepherd: A low PPR RB2 is not worth 40-50 percent of FAAB

Alexander:  A low PPR RB2 is more of a floor by virtue of receptions. We've seen him flash a much higher ceiling already. And I don't know that 40-50 percent for a RB2/flex isn't worth it if you drafted David Johnson or are otherwise hurting at RB.

Wood: Spending 50 percent of your FAAB for a "low RB2," at best? Ridiculous. The guy is built like Darren Sproles and is the clear No.2 back on an offense that should be largely ineffective and at disadvantageous game scripts. You're FAR more likely to have a true stud emerge in the coming weeks and your FAAB budget is better saved for that. As I said on Twitter 20 times in the last 24 hours, no one is replacing David Johnson. Just because you spend on Tarik like he's a stud doesn't make him one. To me telling people to spend that much on a smurf is legitimately bad advice. If you have regular waivers? Cool. If you can spend 15%-20% of FAAB? OK. But 50%+ is negligent.

Adam Harstad: My FAAB philosophy is that 50 percent of big-ticket FAAB adds are total trash, 90 percent of non-big-ticket FAAB adds are trash, and the "trash rate" of mid-tier FAABs and FCFS adds are basically indistinguishable. So find a guy you like in the first three weeks and blow your entire budget on him, and if all you get is a low-end season-long starter, that's still a win. Jason, Whether you spend 20 percent on Cohen or 50 percent on Cohen, that's enough to take you out of the running for the "true stud that will emerge in the next couple weeks" that you advocate saving your FAAB for.

Wood: I think we need to contextualize roster size here. In a 14-team league with 18 roster spots, I agree the chances a difference maker crop up on waivers are slim. But most of our guys play in 10- and 12-team leagues with smaller rosters. There are legitimate PLAYERS on waivers and injuries pretty much create new stars every week or two. Those guys should not be dropping 50 percent on Tarik Cohen!  

Alexander: Totally with Adam here. FAAB is an overrated commodity

Wood: Very few fantasy owners are willing or able to spend 80-100 percent of their budget on anyone, even a stud. Dropping 50 percent on a guy like Cohen is far more limiting than 20%. If FAAB is an overrated commodity, why do most championship rosters look markedly different than the did on draft day? 

Harstad: I'm less defending Cohen in particular and more defending the idea with limp bids of 20 percent. If you like a guy, go get him. Otherwise, 20 percent blows your chances at a primo FAAB down the pike every bit as much as 50 percent does.

Wood: Again, I have to ask, if FAAB is an overrated commodity, why do most championship rosters look markedly different than the did on draft day? 

Harstad: They don't, really. I'd wager 80 percent of fantasy starters were drafted. Chase Stuart won FESL without making a single bid last year. And I'm not saying that guys won't emerge. I'm saying historically the guys you spend $20 aren't any more likely to emerge than the guys you spend $1 on.

Alexander: Some of the best waivers adds made are made mid-week when unexpected news breaks on a player after waivers have run. Not having FAAB doesn't eliminate the possibility of making impact waiver moves

Harstad: Most of the big breakout stars you're going to wind up with are guys you picked up a week early for free—Ty Montgomery last year. I'd wager most teams who got him got him really, really cheap. By the time he was worth blowing serious FAAB coin on, he was already on a roster. 

Daniel Simpkins: I grabbed Cohen at 10 percent of my budget this past week in Scott Fish Bowl VII because I saw the writing on the wall from preseason.

Wood: I remember having this same argument with Sigmund Bloom when James Starks was worth "breaking the bank" and Donte Moncrief was worth "all your budget." It sounds savvy in theory, but in practice, it's bad advice. Daniel is doing it right. Grab a guy before you have to overpay.

Harstad: Right. Most of this year's true breakout stars are going to be telegraphed and grabbed pre-breakout. If one slips through and has a huge game, blow your budget on him because it won't hurt your ability to grab other telegraphed breakout stars pre-breakout. Look, even most high-budget FAAB picks are going to flop. Nature of the game. I'd say it's 50/50 whether Cohen is useful this season. But like I said, the non-high-budget FAABs have substantially worse odds. You're paying big for crap odds because the alternative is paying little for super-crap odds. (And if you really want super-crap odds, you can get those for free.)

Wood: This is one of those philosophical debates without a clear "winner." I'm not at all against breaking the bank on a FAAB player. I am against breaking the bank on Tarik Cohen in Week One as that FAAB player. 

Alexander: Does he not catch at least five passes per game going forward and with a Tyreek HIll-style, big-play potential each time he touches the ball? I feel like that's more than many folks are getting from their RB2 in 12 team PPR leagues.

Harstad: Maybe. Although I'll say I've loved the "gadget player" discount on Danny Woodhead, Darren Sproles, and Theo Riddick over the years, and could easily see Cohen following their example. What would you set the over/under on his receptions per game average the rest of the way, Jason?

Clayton Gray: I'm not breaking the bank on a 5'6" player.

Matt Waldman: Clayton, you just like hating on a player who is actually shorter than you...

Gray: I'm 5'10", is that short now? I can get on my toes and be 5'10.5"...

Wood: Cohen will earn 50 catches.

Harstad: Woof, so there's the difference, Jason. You've got him at 3.33 catches per game the rest of the way. If that's the case, he's garbage and not worth spending on. If someone thinks he's getting more in the 4-5 range, that's totally worth half the budget.

Simpkins: I think that's a bit low on Cohen considering how few healthy bodies they have now. They'll manufacture touches for Cohen. What else are they going to do?

Alexander: That's where I'm coming from, Daniel.

Harstad: Running backs averaged 2.03 fantasy points per reception last year and .605 fantasy points per rush in PPR leagues. Give Cohen 5 rushes and 5 receptions a game at league averages and that's 13.175 points per game or 210.8 per 16 games. 210.8 fantasy points were in the Isaiah Crowell / Todd Gurley range last year, RB14/15. I'm not saying that's my projection. I'm saying that's a reasonable point in his range of outcomes. Five receptions and five rushes seem doable. Don't know if he can stand up to it, but Chicago's receiving corps is trash.

For the last two years, Theo Riddick has averaged 13.16 points per game...bang on that "5 rushes + 5 receptions" projection. Like I said, this is a not-at-all-unreasonable outcome. Meanwhile, here are the Footballguys Staff League FAAB Totals from last year. Find a decent guy who you'd lose out on by bidding 50+% on Cohen today  I mean, you left 24 percent of your FAAB unspent last year, Woodrow. League-wide, 49 percent of FAAB went unspent in FESL last year, and that total would have been higher if teams hadn't been blowing money late in the year because it's not like there's any point in saving it.

Shepard: I can think of plenty of RB1s who have come from waivers in years past that you'd be missing out on. DeMarco Murray and the first year of Peyton Hillis spring to mind. 

Harstad: I'm not saying that nobody emerges from Waivers. But (A) in many leagues, Murray and Hillis were added super-cheap before they started throwing up massive games, and (B) if they weren't added before they started throwing up big games, then you'd have to blow a huge percentage of your budget on them. Again, supporting my thesis that the value in FAAB is on the cheap fliers and the high-dollar adds, not the "middle tier" of guys worth 20-30 percent of your budget. The middle tier doesn't exist. (Also, who's to say that a year from now we aren't talking about Tarik Cohen as one of those top RBs available on waivers who you could only get if you were willing to throw some serious budget at him?)

Wood: We're speaking about advice for OUR SUBSCRIBER BASE, Footballguys Staff Leagues and other shark leagues often don't apply here because they are deep leagues where the concept of sleepers falling through the cracks does not exist. You're arguing for apple sauce by showing us a basket of peaches. If our staff league was applicable to the average league, David Dodds wouldn't take kickers in the 12th round and I wouldn't handcuff my quarterbacks.

Harstad: For me, the point still stands. The very best additions were super-cheap guys. Pasquino got Ty Montgomery right before his big fantasy playoff output for $1. This isn't unique to FESL. This is how all leagues are.
 
Waldman: I have to agree. I've gone deep in our staff league two of the past three years with cheap adds. Jay Ajayi was one of them last year. 
 
 
Harstad: Maybe our subscribers aren't playing in shark leagues where teams are adding sleepers in advance, but our subscribers subscribe to Footballguys, which advocates adding sleepers weeks in advance, so theoretically they are doing this even if their league mates are not. This just strengthens the case that they'll be able to get plenty of value down the line on minimum-bid FAAB, so why not blow a huge chunk on a guy if they like him?

Wood: If you think Cohen is more likely than other options in coming weeks to be a fantasy relevant player, cool. I do not. It's really as simple as that. 

Shepard: Another way of looking at this...my expected yield from the waiver wire is so far above two Tarik Cohens in a season. Even excluding pre-emptive pickups. Everyone but DJ owners will still have two-plus RBs they are very hopeful will provide starter numbers. I can see 50 percent for a desperate DJ owner who under-drafted bench RBs but for sure no-one else in standard leagues. But with a healthy Howard, Cohen surely does not have high RB2 upside even in PPR leagues.
 
Harstad:  Do you not think he has five-reception per game upside in that offense with those receivers?
 
Shepard: He's listed as the No. 20 RB in PPR (so much lower in standard leagues) for Week 2. Your upside numbers don't have him as a higher multiplier than anyone else which as the RB2 on his team I would agree with. No. 20 is low-RB2 or marginal RB2 in 10-team leagues. So I don't think he has high RB2 upside in even the most favorable leagues, without an injury to Howard (and even then, I doubt it as he doesn't seem to have the physical size to deal with 15-plus touches week to week 


Harstad: Are you looking at the right upside values, Simon? I put in a 1.2 upside multiplier for Cohen this week, which is one of the higher values of the week.

(Players with uncertain roles get higher multipliers because the multiplier is really just quantifying uncertainty.)
 
But again, we're talking about upside. If a guy is projected as RB20, his upside is higher than RB20. If he finishes 4 spots higher than expected, he's RB16, which I'd call a "high RB2". So my multipliers aside, "high RB2 production" seems to be firmly within his range of possible outcomes in PPR leagues.
 
Shepard: Ah, my bad! I was using the wrong app version. All the same, I think with his physical size and place on the depth chart, the Sproles role is the correct comparison, on a worse offense than Sproles has ever played on. And historically he's had kick/punt returns too (I don't know for sure that he didn't handle these at the weekend, but he's listed as the third string kick returner on the Bears depth chart)
 

Harstad: Cohen handles punt returns.

Waldman: I appreciate all of your data, but I'm going to ignore it for a bit to present a different case based on what's happening on the field. I don't mean that to sound dismissive. I think a different context provides a compelling argument. While this situation will be an anomaly if Cohen has success on a level worth a significant FAAB spend, it's worth noting that Chicago used Cohen in multiple ways on the offense in Week 1. A team doesn't line a guy up in four different spots in the offense without knowing he's ready to handle these roles.

This isn't Chicago gashing Atlanta with the Wildcat eight times in a game because they found a weakness and then they'll be caught trying to go to the well too often with one type of play or concept and opponents catch on after 3-4 weeks. This is more McCaffrey-like in usage and planning. It's a conscious decision to feature Cohen because the Bears receivers were an open casting call this spring and none of them stand out.

Warrick Dunn was less than 180 pounds when he was a feature back for Dan Reeves in ATL and a top-15 option when injuries struck. He was also a good fantasy back in Tampa for years during a time when the NFL was nastier than now. The Bears need a game-breaker when you examine how personnel is supposed to help the scheme. Jordan Howard isn't that guy. Miller can be that guy in 1-2 very specific situations but needs additional personnel to open that up for him to do.

Cohen can be that guy as a Danny Woodhead-like producer, who was the No. 3 PPR RB in 2015--thanks again to injury/paucity of surrounding talent. The risk for most, which I understand, is that Howard isn't hurt and people think RB-to-RB replacement as opposed to seeing Cohen as a hybrid player who will earn those targets. I think the 50 catches projection for Cohen is low. I'd set the baseline at 64 and the ceiling at 80. 

Harstad: Here's the thing about the Bears: their top two receivers are on IR. They're now throwing to Kendall Wright, who hasn't topped 500 yards since 2014, and Deonte Thompson, a kickoff return specialist who doesn't have 500 yards in his 5-year career. I think Cohen is going to be a big part of their passing game and 80 receptions this year wouldn't surprise me in the slightest, and 80 receptions practically guarantee top-notch RB2 production in PPR.

If he keeps punt returns going forward, that doesn't necessarily mean anything either way. Plenty of critical offensive/defensive players also handle returns: Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, to a lesser extent even someone like Ted Ginn. But in another way, punt returns are definitely the canary in the coal mine. If he ever loses punt return duties, acquire him ASAP, because he is going to have a monster year on offense. Teams only take electric guys like Cohen off of returns because they plan on dramatically upping his usage on offense.

Waldman: I agree with a higher than average possibility for 80 catches. Cohen doesn't fit into data models in any traditional way.  He's too short, too light, HBCU college program, a second RB who may not really fit as a traditional RB and on a team that is using him differently than many RBs are used. When you see the exception to the model, do you dismiss it or explore why that it is the case?

Tyreek Hill is 5-10, 185 pounds. He was an RB at Ok St before converting to WR. Cohen is are far more compact player based on height/weight dimensions. He's a more densely muscular player. Will he run over LBs? No. But he's tough to wrap and he carried the load at A&T. He broke multiple tackles because defenders can't hit him high and bring him to the ground. This was the case at A&T and will remain the case.

I'm not worried about punishment compared to any other NFL player. The issue is usage, and whether the Bears intend to use him as a featured contributor in the offense. If you think the answer is "no," I can understand that argument. I'm willing to be open to the exceptional due to the circumstances, but it is a steep investment to consider.

If you're an owner who prefers to let everyone screw up around you and make reasonable moves with the hope of winning (kind of Wood's argument), a Cohen type player is not worth your money even if he proves that he is in this instance. If you're an owner who believes you're in a league with a bunch of guys who are playing tight like Wood and they have strong teams, then sometimes you have to make moves that can potentially "Dominate the Dominator mentality.

Tremblay: Adam, you say, "We see this every year. One-week sample sizes are stupidly small. A lot of crazy, crazy stuff happens in any given week. But when we're only one week into the season, we haven't had a chance for things to even out, and that crazy-small one-week sample is also the entire leaderboard. Player values were generated over 8 months of arguing and drafting and consensus-building over the offseason. Don't throw that away over four or five plays made over 60 minutes of football."

Of the two basic kinds of overreaction—overreaction to a weak performance and overreaction to a strong performance—the first is much more harmful.

I spoke to a fantasy football novice this week who was thinking about starting Terrance West over LeVeon Bell in Week 2. Probably nobody reading this would overreact that badly, but if Bell continues to disappoint over the next couple weeks, it may be tempting to bench him—or worse, trade him—for somebody in the low-end RB1 or high-end RB2 range. That's a terrible mistake. Don't let a few bad weeks eradicate a strong preseason consensus.

Overreacting the other way, by picking up a flash in the pan coming off of his surprise performance, is seldom a mistake in leagues with first-come, first-serve waiver-wire procedures (as opposed to free-agent bidding). A week-one wonder won't pan out often, but neither will the guy on the end of your bench that you dropped for him. The few times a surprise player does pan out more than pays for the cost of all the misses. Remember Kurt Warner's first NFL start? He threw for 300+ yards and 3 touchdowns, but people didn't believe the hype, so he stayed on the waiver wire in many leagues for several more weeks. One Kurt Warner makes up for 50 Kevin Ogletrees. (He was surprisingly the top fantasy WR in Week 1 of 2012, then was pretty much worthless the rest of the season.)

Go ahead, pick up Alex Smith, Trevor Siemian, Kenny Golladay, Nelson Agholor, Tarik Cohen, and Bennie Fowler this week. They all have better upside potential than the last guy on your bench. 

Harstad: Totally agree. At the top of your roster, what matters most is what's likely. At the bottom of your roster, what matters most is what's possible. If the guys on the end of the bench perform as expected, they're all unstartable scrubs. You need to bet on guys who you might possibly be wrong about, instead.

Waldman: Love your point, Maurile. I'll add to it: We also see people spend eight months arguing and examining information and ideas based on an incomplete or incorrect understanding of the logic that underpins the game and how it's played. I'm not talking about fantasy football, but the actual game on the field. 

Fantasy owners can get so engrossed in the available information (opinion, numbers, and team-building fantasy strategies), that they don't always have a clear context of whether these data points match up with the actual game on the field. They see the highlights and the box score but they may not understand the context of the player's usage on the field or have an idea of determining whether there's a stronger likelihood of that continuing in future weeks. 

That's the most difficult truth about decision-making in fantasy sports. We don't have complete information when we must make choices. However, the best decision-makers weigh the data, examine the available history to determine the odds, and then make suitable risk-reward choices. The mid-to-late upside is often a strong decision point from this perspective. 

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The Replacements

Waldman: This is by far, my least favorite department for the roundtable but necessary. Give our readers your advice on managing the following injury situations as a fantasy GM of the hurt player or a GM seeking the best way to exploit the injury in your favor via trade or waivers.

Wood: Johnson is irreplaceable. Not only was he the consensus first pick, he was projected to score more points than almost any running back in the last decade. The Cardinals are going to use a committee, but no one on that roster is going to be worth starting in 12-team (or smaller) leagues. If you're a Johnson owner, your best bet is piecing together a lineup for a week or two until an injury opens the door for another free agent running back. In most leagues there's no one worth breaking the FAAB bank for yet, so save your money and hope you get a shot at another stud backup soon.

No one should have drafted Woodhead as their first- or second-string fantasy running back. His injury history and change of teams made him a massive risk as a starter. Assuming you didn't mistakenly reach for Woodhead as a starter, he's more replaceable than Johnson because you're just replacing depth or a flex option. If he's primarily a flex option, you can look at Kenny Golladay, Cooper Kupp and Nelson Agholor. If you need a running back specifically, the cupboard isn't as full, but start with fellow Raven Javorius Allen

Robinson fell in drafts this year because of last year's Jaguars debacle. A torn ACL ends what would have been a solid, bounce-back season. The Jaguars won easily in Week One without a passing game. Blake Bortles completed just 11 passes thanks to a punishing ground game and an attacking defense. Robinson was probably a starter for most owners, which means your attention should turn to free agents including Cooper Kupp, Nelson Agholor, and Kenny Golladay.

Harstad:  Kerwynn Williams is next up in the short term. In the long term, Johnson's replacement is probably not yet on the 53-man roster. As for Woodhead, maybe it's Javorius Allen; maybe no one. When an offense creates a role for a player and that player goes down, it's never guaranteed that that role goes to someone else. Sometimes it just goes away.

I don't buy into the idea of "replacements" at WR nearly as much as at RB. If a receiver is good enough, he'll succeed regardless of the depth chart. If he's not, he'll fail regardless of the depth chart. Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns could see an uptick in targets, but if you didn't love them before, you shouldn't love them now.

Tremblay: Beyond trading Johnson to an owner who is overly optimistic about his timetable to return, there isn't a great answer to this one. Some Johnson owners probably picked up Kareem Hunt at the Round 2-3 turn, which is fortunate for them. Otherwise, most teams with Johnson are probably going to have to live with being weak at the RB position all season unless they get lucky on the waiver wire or have spare talent at another position they can trade away.

I always recommend getting lucky if possible, but that advice is difficult to put into action. Your best shot, in this case, is to scoop up as many solid NFL backups at RB as possible—Tarik Cohen fits the bill, for example—and hope that one of them takes over as the starter before midseason. (I mean "hope" in an abstract sense; actually rooting for an injury is bad karma, so don't do that.) You could take a shot on Kerwynn Williams or Andre Ellington (I would pass on Chris Johnson), but I think looking outside the Cardinals' offense makes more sense.

Unlike David Johnson, Danny Woodhead is replaceable. Pick up one or two of the best RBs available on your league's waiver wire and forge ahead with the season. If Javorious Allen is available, he's a worthwhile addition.

I agree with Adam's comments here. If you weren't already high on Marqise Lee or Allen Hurns, Robinson's injury should not be cause for newfound enthusiasm about them. Losing Robinson hurts, and it obviously increases a fantasy team's need at WR, so any team that lost Robinson should be looking for the best WRs available on the waiver wire. There's no reason to think that such receivers will come from the Jaguars' group, though.

Howe: I'm stashing Johnson on my roster for as long as I can. Injury outlooks are typically fluid, and we could find a month from now that he's on the verge of a return or destined to stay on the shelf. If nothing else, we'll have some degree of clarity, which we don't have now; the injury calls for a November return, while coach Bruce Arians just mentioned Christmas. All told, it would be silly to cut him loose for a hot Week 1 guy, especially since his backups are so unattractive. I'm foreseeing a close split between uninspiring Kerwynn Williams and uninspiring Chris Johnson, with Andre Ellington eating even further into the moldy sandwich.

Hamstring injuries can linger—it's a narrative we all know—and it's hard to expect 32-year-old Woodhead to return quickly and perform at his 2013-15 levels. Owners should look to the waiver wire for comparable replacements, like Tarik Cohen or Woodhead's Baltimore sub, Buck Allen. Allen brings little to the table as a runner, but saw a ton of Week 1 volume (21 rushes) and will almost certainly serve as the passing-down back for the foreseeable future. As a 2015 rookie, he drew a whopping 49 targets over 7 starts, topping 15.0 PPR points in 4 of them.

Many will fret over their waiver claims on Marqise Lee versus Allen Hurns, but Hurns is the one that intrigues me more. He's been a bit more consistent than Lee, and he offers far more upside. Over his first 43 NFL games, Hurns has drawn a stout 18.0 percent of Jacksonville targets and caught 19 touchdowns. He also best fills Robinson's shoes as a tall, go-up-and-get-it receiver who can win in short yardage. Both Hurns and Lee are worth waiver attention, but I'd part with a bit more to bring Hurns on board.

Waldman: As a Hurns truther since his days at one of my alma maters, I agree Hurns is the more polised player who gets open with greater consistency in every range of the field. 

Holloway: Robinson should only be replaced with an up and coming wide receiver on another team (Kenny Golladay) that looks to have consistent targets going forward. Although I was high on Marqise Lee this off-season, without Robinson and with Blake Bortles as the Jaguars’ quarterback, all their wide receivers are downgraded going forward. As long as the Jaguars can, they will keep the offense conservative and run-centric, focusing on Leonard Fournette.

Johnson should not be replaced with another Arizona running back. Their offense looked inept and none of their running back options will have a chance to be consistent producers. If I owned Johnson, I would attempt to trade him for someone that could help my team all season long. There are no waiver wire pick-ups that I value enough to spend significant funds to acquire.

Woodhead is a more difficult call. I believe that if Joe Flacco is fully healthy going forward the Ravens will favor the passing game over the run as they have for the past few seasons. Their defense is improved, but the strength of their offense is Flacco and the receivers. I would not depend on any remaining Raven running back as they are much less likely to get abundant targets like Woodhead.

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Overreaction September

Waldman: Which fantasy outcomes from Week 1 merit the strong reaction within the fantasy community that we're witnessing? Explain why you agree or disagree with this common point of view and how you recommend fantasy GMs to proceed.

Let's begin with Brady 'looking old.' As the Roots say, "Proceed..

Howe: Brady does look old, but he's looked old for years and it's rarely mattered. Brady's game is built on pre-snap reads and safe play from the pocket, not on mobility or superhuman physical feats. When that bubble breaks down, as it did in Week 1, is where he's still beatable: Heavy pressure without heavy blitzing, blanketing Rob Gronkowski, and allowing nothing but quick hitters.

Some aggressive defenses will try these things and succeed, resulting in rough Brady weeks. Some won't. In any event, Brady doesn't necessarily carry more warts than the other top-tier quarterbacks, so I'm not panicking a bit. Besides, trying to sell him at this point would be silly, with his value dinged after such a poor opener.

Holloway: Brady’s lack of accuracy was concerning and I am not nearly as confident that he will finish as the No. 2 QB in fantasy leagues, but I think that there will be good days ahead for the Patriot passing game.  The weapons remain plentiful, even with the loss of Edelman. If the offensive line play can improve a bit, Brady will bounce back.

Tremblay: On the one hand, NFL quarterbacks can get old in a hurry. They can be just fine one season and fall apart the next. It doesn't have to be a gradual process. So we can't rule out the possibility that Tom Brady's fantasy production will fall off a cliff this season. That said, when I watched the game, Tom Brady did not look old to me. He still has the same arm strength and quick release that he's had in the past, as far as I can tell. And he threw the ball downfield with impressive accuracy on the bomb to Cooks. I think Brady will be the same Brady this season that we've come to expect.

Harstad: As a general rule, unless they involve serious injuries, few fantasy outcomes in the opener merit a strong reaction. Preseason ADP is more predictive than season-to-date performance until we have four weeks on the books. But to address these specific examples...

Brady looked fine, to me. Quarterback play is variable, but Brady's performance was well within his established band of variation. It was a below-average game, but a "typical" below average game.

Wood: That's silly...

Waldman: That's what the little voice in my head has been screaming since seeing these remarks in various places....

Wood: Remember last year when Aaron Rodgers was washed up? All those stats about how Rodgers last 16 games (spanning the end of 2015 and start of 2016) were pedestrian? Brady is in phenomenal shape and is a few MONTHS removed from an all-time great Super Bowl performance. He's fine, particularly when we consider the elite supporting cast at his disposal. If anyone in your league thinks Brady is old and busted, trade for him NOW. 

Waldman: The Chiefs match up well against him, which Justin touched upon earlier. I debated even posing this question, but I saw enough reactions after the game along these lines that I felt it a public service to raise the question. Let's move on to Kareem Hunt. I've shared my extended thoughts in recent articles at Footballguys, lets' hear your takes on Hunt earning top-5 production at his position?

Wood: That's a bit extreme, but not totally out of reason. This year most analysts were split on which running back deserved the No. 4 spot in rankings after David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott (before his suspension, and then recently after his injunction). Some thought LeSean McCoy was the fourth best, others preferred Melvin Gordon, others liked Devonta Freeman. Is it a stretch to think Hunt can beat those three backs? When you factor David Johnson's wrist injury, Hunt has as good a shot at Top-5 status as any backs outside of Bell and Elliott.

Harstad: Hunt might finish the season as a top-5 fantasy running back, (counting week 1), but I would bet against him being a top-5 fantasy running back from this point forward, (weeks 2-16).

Holloway: Top-5 running back value is easily within reach given his outstanding start. He should continue to be heavily involved in all phases of the Chiefs offense.

Waldman: I'm concerned that his one pass pro rep and some inconsistency with his stand-up game against defenders off the edge could be the reason the Chiefs are hiding him and using creative formations to keep him on the field without being predictable due to his slower learning curve. If this creativity doesn't work weekly, Hunt may have some subpar weeks ahead. I'm not expecting him to be an elite fantasy option, but he'll have elite weeks and that's enough to consider him a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside.

Tremblay: In his first game as a pro, Hunt looked like a very good NFL running back. He lacks true breakaway speed (which became evident on his long run down the left sideline), but he has enough speed to make the occasional big play (also evident on that very same run). He's got impressive lateral agility and balance and, as far as I could see, no glaring weaknesses in his game. He may not have superstar talent, but he's in a great situation. Spencer Ware never had superstar talent either, but the system gave him very solid fantasy value, and I'd expect Hunt to do at least as well as Ware in the same offense. Will he finish as a top five fantasy running back? I actually think top five is a pretty good over-under for him. With his big Week 1 included, I think he's got about a 50-50 shot at finishing top five if he stays healthy. Top eight is where I'd set the over-under with Week 1 excluded.

Howe: I'm on board with projecting top-8 running back value, and yes, perhaps even a little higher. Despite playing just 40 snaps (58 percent of Kansas City's total), Hunt was top-notch as a producer. Many see that snap count as a negative, but I see a rainbow in it: potential for progression. A performer like Hunt should only see his snap count rise as his rookie year goes on. No, we can't project 1.19 PPR points per snap going forward, but Week 1 gave us a lot of hope in 0.50 or so. And at that rate, the only thing between Hunt and a high-RB1 finish is volume. On this shallow depth chart, it's hard to imagine him averaging below 19-21 touches a week.

Waldman: Let's end with Adrian Peterson. Has Fantasy Santa Claus lost his ability to get down the chimney or are there other factors keeping him from rooftops?

Howe: I'm not sure what the pro-Peterson chunk of the fantasy world is expecting from the 32-year-old, but I'm not on board. Adam Harstad does phenomenal work on age-adjusted performance, and he's shown that running backs at 32 are a better-than-50/50 bet to "die," or suffer a catastrophic stat decline. Many of those "deaths" have come mirroring Peterson's situation as an overpaid backup. Still somehow lacking pass-down chops 11 years into his career, Peterson looks like little more than a situational rushing option in New Orleans. There could be a great theoretical opportunity of Mark Ingram goes down, but if Peterson can't prove effective, he'd be mired as a weak, touchdown-dependent RB2. If I owned him in a league anywhere, I'd likely have him atop my cut list.

Holloway: This may not be totally true, but we may not find out. The Saints were already thin on the offensive line with the loss of Terron Armstead for many games. If Strief also misses several games, the entire offense is at risk. Although the defense looked much improved in the pre-season, the Vikings shredded them in the opener and when the Saints are behind they will go away from the running game. When they go away from the running game, they will heavily favor Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Many will presume that Peterson’s skills have eroded, but it could simply be a lack of opportunity.  

Tremblay: Yeah, this isn't an overreaction: it's a straightforward observation. He might still be the Saints' best goalline option. But he's no longer an all-purpose stud. He's a situational guy at best. That kills his fantasy value.

Wood: Of course, they have. Anyone arguing Peterson would dominate this year simply chose to draft on their heart and not their mind. He's 32 years old, hasn't played competitive football in a few years, and is on a team with a propensity to throw and two quality alternatives in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara

Harstad: Adrian Peterson's skills *HAVE* eroded. We didn't need a prime-time game to tell us that. The fact that Peterson signed a 2-year, $7 million contract to be a committee back for New Orleans made that readily apparent. 2012-caliber Adrian Peterson isn't signing for $3.5 million a year.

Waldman: Frank Gore signed a 3-year, $12 million deal and continues to defy your fine work, Adam. A contract tells us more about the NFL's expectation of him due to his position and llimited career time left on his motor as a viable option and less about his talent. While you may be proven right, I think your argument is based on perceptions that create a difficult negotiation for any running back over the age of 30, no matter his talent. I think the skills are still there, but the match to the scheme is not the best. Teams that are a match for his talents would prefer a younger back due to their perceptions of risk and value-to-cost with his age. 

That said, I'm an idealist disguised as a cynic, my buddy Wood is about to strangle my good friend Harstad, and Tremblay is reasonably guiding Holloway and Howe to the nearest exit. Good luck this weekend! See you next week...


 


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