This week we discuss the following:
- Colts without Luck
- Players on the rise
- Patriots without Dion Lewis
- Antonio Brown with Landry Jones
- Sammy Watkins
- Darren McFadden
It looks like Andrew Luck will be out for 4-6 weeks.
How will Luck's absence impact the rest of the offense?
Daniel Simpkins: I would think the Colts will want to be careful with their future and be on the more cautious side of that time frame, but I'll leave further medical musings to Jene and Craig.
Ryan Hester: This will impact the Colts offense very negatively. My expectations for every piece of the offense are much lower than they were before the injury.
Bruce Hammond: The drop off from Luck to Hasselbeck in terms of arm strength and big play ability is huge. I'd be surprised if the Colts don't score on average at least 10 points less per game. Trying to run the ball more won't work because their defense is so bad they will still need to throw to stay in games.
Jeff Haseley: Losing Andrew Luck as the Colts signal caller is going to sting from a fantasy, production perspective, but ultimately it may wind up being beneficial to the Colts team in general. Matt Hasselbeck is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league even at age 40, simply due to his experience. Overall, the Colts offense takes a step down without Luck, but they still have enough talent and ability to yield adequate fantasy results. Let's just hope Hasselbeck doesn't go down.
John Mamula: The Colts offense suffers a major downgrade without Luck. I do not trust anybody on the offense and would only be willing to use if I absolutely needed to due to injuries or a bye week.
Does this help or hurt Frank Gore?
Daniel Simpkins: Gore gets a bump up with this development. Even though he'll see frequent eight-man fronts, the offense will need to run through him.
Ryan Hester: Gore's volume may go up, but his efficiency won't. He could also be more susceptible to injury as an older veteran turned "workhorse" back. If you have someone in your league who buys into the narrative that Gore's value is increased, pounce and trade him for anything you consider $0.90 on the dollar or better.
Bruce Hammond: I think it is neutral. Gore at his age only has so much in him each game, and if there is any increase in running the ball I think those carries will go to Ahmad Bradshaw.
Jeff Haseley: Frank Gore should see an increase in touches in Rob Chudzinski's offense, but that doesn't mean he's going to consistently thrive.
John Mamula: The Luck injury hurts Gore because defenses will focus their attention on the running game. Gore has yet to have a 100 yard rushing game this season. The only 32 year old running back I trust is DeAngelo Williams.
Can Hilton and Moncrief keep decent fantasy value with Hasselbeck?
Daniel Simpkins: The passing game may suffer a bit, but Hasselbeck was far more functional than I originally thought when he saw action earlier in the year. He can keep Hilton and Moncrief's value from totally tanking, but lower your expectations for the pair.
Ryan Hester: I won't view either as a top-20 receiver in any given week, save for perhaps Week 12 when the Colts host Tampa Bay or Week 13 at Pittsburgh. But I don't view this as a unit that can sustain multiple WR2-or-better options, so predicting which will be right selection will be difficult.
Bruce Hammond: Maybe one or the other will have good fantasy value in a given game, but not both as we've seen so many times with Luck. My guess is Moncrief will be hurt more than Hilton.
Jeff Haseley: Earlier in the season when Hasselbeck started, both T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief produced and accumulated decent numbers. I would give a slight edge to Hilton going forward, but the truth of the matter is either one could be successful any given week, but it's possible there won't be enough fantasy production for both—and don't forget about Andre Johnson either.
John Mamula: Hilton and Moncrief both suffer a drop off without Luck. Even though Hasselbeck stepped in earlier this season and did okay, I cannot put my faith in a 40 year old quarterback. I would only use Hilton and Moncrief in my starting lineup if I had absolutely had to.
Given the injury to Luck, what are the Colts' current playoff chances?
Daniel Simpkins: They still look pretty good. The toughest of their schedule lies behind them and they still have enough intact to go toe-to-toe in the divisional games they have remaining.
Ryan Hester: In any other division, they would be slim to none. In the AFC South, they're probably still favorites. Hasselbeck was serviceable in his time earlier this season and should remain so. But if he were hurt, I shudder to think what would become of this offense. The Colts are still the favorite to win the division in my book.
Bruce Hammond: The first of the missed weeks is the bye, then they play @ATL, TB, @PIT, @JAX, HOU in the next five weeks. Other than @PIT, those are very winnable games. The problem is, with Luck the Colts were a mediocre team this year, and without him they will be a bad team. I expect them to lose at least three of those games, maybe four. The division is poor and Houston (1/2 game back) has a tougher schedule ahead, so I think if the Colts can win two of five games while Luck is out they are still right there.
Jeff Haseley: If I had to guess right now, I'd say the playoff berth in the AFC South will go to Jacksonville, especially if T.J. Yeldon can turn it on for the running game in the second half of the season. Blake Bortles and the passing game are doing fine and the defense is holding up. I don't see the Colts being better than a .500 team going forward and Jacksonville has an easier schedule, including a home game against the Colts. That game could decide the division winner. My money is on the Jaguars.
John Mamula: The Colts will still make the playoffs because the AFC South is terrible. They go 7-9 and back into the playoffs.
Name a player who you think is likely to average significantly more fantasy points per game in Weeks 10-17 than he did in Weeks 1-9.
Daniel Simpkins: I pick Frank Gore. Will defenses stack the box against him with Luck out? Probably, but I don't think it will matter. He's used to it from his days in San Francisco! He's running well right now and they'll rely on him to be the engine of the offense while Luck heals. We saw that mentality against a tough Denver defense as Rob Chudzinski took over offensive coordinator responsibilities. Gore's remaining matchups are pretty juicy overall— he'll face the Falcons, Buccaneers, Steelers, Jaguars, Texans, Dolphins, and Titans. None of those run defenses have been especially scary and some in that grouping are downright bad. Gore may not only save the Colts' season, he may well save yours!
Ryan Hester: I have a few players, and I'm selecting them for different reasons. First, a player who will see a bump due to an injury to his teammate is LeGarrette Blount. While Blount obviously won't seize the Dion Lewis role in New England's high-powered offense, he'll still be the touches leader among running backs in an elite offense. In games not against Buffalo and the New York Jets, Blount's carry totals are 18, 13, 16, 17, and 29 (with the 29 obviously being last week's game where Lewis was hurt). His totals should go from the 13-15 range to the 16-20 range, and they'll surpass 20 when New England is controlling a game late. Against opponents that were previously classified as "Lewis Games" (and dating back to 2014, "Vereen Games"), Blount may still be unlikely to surpass 10-12 carries, but we can predict those games at this point and avoid him.
Another player I like going forward, albeit for different reasons, is C.J. Anderson. Anderson was clearly playing hurt early in the season. After Denver's bye, he has looked much more like his 2014 self—the one that drove his preseason ADP into the first round. While Anderson may not end up performing like a first-rounder in any one game this season, he's going to have at least flex value going forward as he has been superior to Ronnie Hillman in both games since Denver's bye (especially in Week 9 at Indianapolis). And if Hillman gets hurt, Anderson resumes low-end RB1 status in any given game—and perhaps mid-to-high RB1 status in a game Denver should control. In regards to Hillman's injury chances, he has never been able to handle much more than a complimentary back workload. In fact, he has a minor thigh injury that he suffered in the very first game in which he was a starter (Week 8 against Green Bay). While it hasn't kept him from playing, it just serves as a signal that he's the one less likely to be able to handle a feature back workload.
Bruce Hammond: Call me crazy, but I think Jeremy Hill turns it around in the second half of the season. After a slow start last year, he had rushing yardage in the second half of 154 (Wk 9), 152 (Wk 11), 87 (Wk 12), 148 (Wk 15), 147 (Wk 16) and 100 (Wk17). The Bengals continue to support him to the media and say they are committed to him. I think he'll surprise a lot of folks with his second half of the season again this year.
Jeff Haseley: One obvious pick for me is LeGarrette Blount. It's Blount time in New England now that Dion Lewis is lost for the year with a torn ACL. I see James White and Brandon Bolden splitting duties as the change of pace back, but this has all the makings of a Blount-led rushing attack when Tom Brady isn't passing at will. The fact that James White was a healthy scratch last week tells me the Patriots aren't that high on him as someone they want getting many snaps, carries or targets. Blount is the clear answer to me while a committee approach of White and Bolden will handle the change of pace role. Looking at Blount's success so far this season, he has five rushing touchdowns in a limited role and he's averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The opportunity is definitely there for him to thrive in an offense that has opposing defenses fearing the pass. He should lead the Patriots in carries the rest of the way and should see five or more touchdowns in the next eight games, which would give him double-digit scores for the season.
John Mamula: I agree with the selection of Blount. He will benefit from the Dion Lewis injury and see more snaps going down the stretch.
The other player that I think has a big second half is Mike Evans. He started slow this season due to a pre-season hamstring injury. Over the last three weeks, Evans has received 12, nine, and 19 targets. If and when Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins return, they will be playing catch-up with targets in the Bucs offense. Evans should see a minimum of 9-10 targets on a weekly basis moving forward. Evans has only found the end zone once this season. His connection with Jameis Winston will continue throughout the second half of the season and will have some positive regression with touchdowns.
How will the Patriots adjust to losing Dion Lewis?
Daniel Simpkins: I postulate that we'll see this backfield turn into a three-headed monster. Blount will see a small uptick in carries, but White and Bolden will get mixed in as matchup and game script calls for.
Ryan Hester: New England will adjust and find a way to remain successful as they always do. LeGarrette Blount will see a three-to-five carry per game bump (and more if New England is leading big and playing "boa constrictor" mode as our colleague Sigmund Bloom likes to say). They will also use their wide receivers and Rob Gronkowski a bit more.
It's unlikely that the Patriots will score as many points per game without Lewis because he provides such a solid presence on third downs and other key plays, but they'll still be a team whose Vegas over/unders are among the league's highest. And they'll still be able to win games because the offense is talented, the coaches are brilliant, and the quarterback is masterful. None of that even mentions a defense that pretty much only allows garbage time points, which will also help them maintain their winning ways.
Bruce Hammond: Losing Lewis is a blow, but without him they won the Super Bowl last year and they will figure it out. The Patriots are one of the most versatile teams in the history of the NFL. They can beat you by pounding the rock 50 times or by running fewer than 10 times. They game plan to do what they think needs to be done to beat a particular opponent, and then usually are able to go out and do it. So, I can't say they will do one thing to adjust to the loss of Lewis. They will continue to do different things in different weeks. Blount, Gronkowski, Edelman, LaFell, and a little bit of James White and Brandon Bolden will take up the slack, It won't be as easy without Lewis but Brady will make the plays that need to be made.
Jeff Haseley: I think LeGarrette Blount is the biggest winner in the Patriots backfield after losing Dion Lewis. It's possible that Brandon Bolden or James White could emerge as "the replacement" to Lewis, but none come close to providing what Lewis brought to the table. I don't think either can come close to what Shane Vereen brought to the table. This screams COP back by committee to me with Blount earning the majority of the team's carries. When it comes to plays inside the ten and five yard line, Blount is back of choice. I'm all-in on Blount being the back to own in the second half of the season, especially when the weather turns bad in the north east.
John Mamula: The Pats won't miss a beat without Dion Lewis. They will run the table this season and probably win another Super Bowl. LeGarrette Blount will benefit with a few more carries in the offense. He will thrive in certain game scripts when the Pats decide to go run-heavy. Dion Lewis targets will be spread between Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Edelman will have a big second half due to the absence of Lewis.
Daniel Simpkins: This is one we already have the answer to. Jones and Brown showed good chemistry against a tough Chiefs defense in Week 7. While not having Ben caps his upside, we certainly aren't going to bench Brown. Just be sure to scale back your expectations until Roethlisberger returns.
Ryan Hester: Brown is still a WR1 this week, but he's a low-end one. And it wouldn't be surprising to me if he didn't even finish in the top-24 among receivers this week. Many are calling Jones a capable NFL backup, but that's not based on much. He came in against an Arizona team not expecting to see him and made a couple of nice throws. The first touchdown to Martavis Bryant, But appeared to leave the receiver in a precarious position as it lacked ideal accuracy. The second was a quick slant that every NFL quarterback should be able to make, and Bryant made magic with the rest.
Against a weak Kansas City defense that had time to watch film and prepare for him, Jones was far more underwhelming. One of his two interceptions that day was a ball that was tipped twice, but his other was a pass where he completely neglected to see the underneath coverage man, who made the interception. Jones is capable of winning a home game against Cleveland, but he's also capable of losing it—especially if he has to play from behind.
Long story short, don't bench Brown, but don't bet your life savings on 100+ yards or a touchdown.
Bruce Hammond: Brown won't do as well as he did with Roethlisberger, but he'll do a whole lot better than he did with Michael Vick. Landry is just an okay backup but he knows Brown has to be the go-to guy and can be a valuable security blanket for him. Brown loses some fantasy value without Roethlisberger but he is still going to get the majority of targets going his way and should put up top-20 receiver numbers.
Jeff Haseley: I think this best explains and summarizes my thoughts on this situation—Antonio Brown is a Hall of Fame wide receiver with Ben Roethlisberger under center. With Landry Jones at quarterback, he's a Pro Bowler.
John Mamula: I am tempering my expectations for Antonio Brown this week against the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers will focus on defense and the running game in this matchup. Brown will still have 4-6 receptions and I wouldn't be surprised if he is held to under 100 yards due to the game script.
Is Sammy Watkins on the verge of becoming a fantasy stud, or is the Bills' passing offense too anemic to support big receiving numbers?
Daniel Simpkins: The problem will not be the offense. Taylor played well in his first game back and Williams ran hot in relief of McCoy. Watkins certainly has the elite measurables and target volume to become a stud. I simply worry about his ability to stay healthy. That's been the knock on Watkins since his Clemson days.
Ryan Hester: If Watkins is healthy, he's a low-end WR1 going forward. Buffalo's pass offense is going to be low-volume if they have their way, but they showed last week how little they care about a vast portion of that low volume going to one player. This week, But is worrisome for Watkins. In Week 1 (while presumably at full health), Watkins was shadowed by Vontae Davis of Indianapolis. Buffalo showed no hesitation to basically play 10-on-10 that day and eliminate Davis as a weapon for the Colts—even though it eliminated Watkins as one for them too. With Darrelle Revis shadowing Watkins (who is less than 100% if practice reports are any indication), Buffalo might be content employing the same strategy this week. Plus, road teams and passing games tend to struggle on Thursday Night Football.
Bruce Hammond: Overall I think we're going to see some great games like Week 9 and some duds. Watkins has immense talent but quarterback Tyrod Taylor isn't a special passer, and this team is primarily a run-based team. Taylor seems content to take what the defense gives him, and even last week's big game for Watkins was accomplished on only eight targets. Watkins is dealing with an ankle that may slow him this week and for a while too. He's a terrific talent but I just don't see consistently great games the remainder of this year.
Jeff Haseley: The needle is pointing up for Sammy Watkins and having a proficient quarterback under center like Tyrod Taylor only helps his value, but probably not this week as he's up against Darrelle Revis. The remainder of the Bills schedule is favorable against the pass, which is definitely a feather in his cap. I can see Watkins being more of a fantasy threat going forward IF both he and Taylor can stay healthy. He's a good candidate for a second half spike.
John Mamula: I agree with Bruce's analysis. Watkins will continue to be a boom-or-bust receiver in this offense. Last week was his first 100+ yard game this season. Watkins figures to be an easy sit this week with his matchup with the Jets. Watkins will have one or two good receiving games the rest of this season but it will be difficult to gauge when they games will occur.
Darren McFadden: sell high or hold tight?
Daniel Simpkins: Sell high. The injury is coming. He's shown us in the past that he can't withstand a high number of carries. That's exactly what he's getting in Dallas. He's gotten 20 or more carries in his last three contests. In two of those outings, he's been a touch or three away from 30 carries. Call me a Christine Michael truther, but I think he's going to save many a season when McFadden once again can't hold up to the punishment.
Ryan Hester: If you have enough depth at running back (i.e. if you're third-best back excluding McFadden is at least flex-worthy most weeks), I would ride it out. Dallas is getting ready to become a better offense with Tony Romo's return. That should also mean fewer touches for McFadden as the game plans become more pass-oriented. Efficient pass offenses also provide better prospects for running backs as they get inside the red zone and near the goal line more often.
But if you lack the depth, perhaps you could package McFadden for two slightly lower-ranked running backs or a lesser back and a wide receiver that you could flex. As with most trade scenarios, there's an "it depends" portion of the answer. But I'm not opposed to riding it out because as long as he's healthy, there won't be many backs with a more exclusive hold on their backfield than McFadden.
Bruce Hammond: I am not a believer in Darren McFadden. Period. I'd sell sell sell before he gets hurt or fades. I simply have no faith that he will keep up his recent success.
Jeff Haseley: We have gotten to this point of Darren McFadden being a fantasy force due to multiple injuries and deficiencies in the rushing corps. McFadden has this role by default, but he has done enough to keep the job and let's not forget the Cowboys offensive line is playing a large role in his success. If my crystal ball said McFadden would stay healthy for eight more games, I'd definitely be on board with holding tight, but my gut says to sell high. This is the perfect chance to cash in on a player who doesn't necessarily belong in the place that he finds himself in. Dallas doesn't have a Jeremy Langford or a Karlos Williams on its roster. The window has closed on Christine Michael in my opinion—after all, he can't even beat out McFadden or see any valuable time in a revenge game against his former team. Michael is a "in case of emergency break glass" player. Dallas may even wind up signing another running back when it's all said and done.
John Mamula: Hold tight. Darren McFadden will be a RB1 the rest of this season. The Cowboys believe in McFadden and he will get touches in this offense. He has a minimum of 26 touches/per week over the past three weeks. Behind the Cowboys offensive line, McFadden has thrived over the past three weeks.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Roundtable. Please join us again next week.