The Gut Check No.455: Sneaky Goods And Patience Plays

Matt Waldman lists good fantasy options who haven't started strong but will finish strong. 

The sense of urgency that football and football media instills in the game trickles down to fantasy football. There are times when urgency is essential, but it can cross the line into reactionary behavior.

Fantasy players often panic when they lose multiple games within the first six weeks of the season. What they don't realize is that impatience is a bigger driver of their failures as bad September production. They either overreact and give up on good players or stop trying to make their team better and do the minimum to retain consideration as an active owner when they've really checked out weeks prior.

One to three players can be the difference between a sub-.500 record and a playoff team in most fantasy leagues. Translating that difference to your fantasy team requires three things:

  • Differentiating between short-term slow starts and a season-long disappointment among players on your roster.
  • Staying abreast of players on your waiver wire and determining who can truly help your team.
  • Recognizing trades that will help you more than hurt you.

This article won't give you the definitive answers, but it will highlight players who should help you make wiser decisions in all three areas. The players below are either slow starters who should sneak up on the rest of your league because they'll overcome the fantasy deficit or they are younger options to make that speculative addition on the cheap because they have the talent and a promising situation to deliver if called upon.

Patience Play Quarterbacks

Russell Wilson: A notoriously slow starter and fiery finisher, it always appears that this year will be the year he doesn't overcome the obstacles his team and teammates set before him. History has been on Wilson's side:

Year Weeks 1-4 Rank Last 12 Weeks Final 16-Week Ranking
2012 32nd 8th 11th
2013 21st 7th 9th
2014 21st 3rd 5th
2015 8th 4th 3rd
2016 19th 10th 10th
2017 4th 1st 1st

Wilson is 17th among fantasy quarterbacks after three weeks. Based on his track record above, he still has room for another bad game or two and can overcome it. Wilson isn't injured and he's throwing the ball well.

His biggest issue has been Doug Baldwin's injury and Brandon Marshall dropping passes.

Marshall dropped three passes this weekend. However, drops have always been a part of Marshall's game and he will make big plays. Tyler Lockett is playing well and Baldwin is expected back in a week or two, which will help Seattle control the middle of the field in the passing game.

Don't worry about the offensive line. It hasn't been good in at least four years and Wilson continues to overcome it. It's not a pretty offense and the football beauty pageant judges will continue to criticize it but it won't be the end of Wilson, either.

If someone is offering a package deal and slipping Wilson into it, give it serious consideration if the primary option involved will significantly upgrade your running back, receiver, or tight end corps.

Matthew Stafford: The 15th-ranked fantasy starter after three weeks, he's the 9th-ranked option if you give him a mulligan for the Jets game where the Lions coaching staff failed to change its signals and the New York defense had the answers to the test. Stafford took a beating in that game and threw four of the five interceptions he's had this year.

We'll also invariably find out this spring that he played the next 3-4 weeks with a significant injury after that horrific opener that probably affected his accuracy on the six deep throws he missed to wide open receivers a week later.

The Lions' trio of excellent young receivers, an emerging offensive line, and a talented Kerryon Johnson will reward patient fantasy players.

Quarterbacks worth monitoring

Baker Mayfield: The player that football media is losing its mind over is Mayfield. He has been the analytic community's adopted son since last year and they're hellbent on being right about him. So much so, that they've abandoned any caution about giving him a few games before pronouncing him their boy king.

Mayfield is a good prospect and there's no doubt that he outperformed Tyrod Taylor during the second half of the Jets game last Thursday night. Mayfield was quicker at reading the field, quicker at letting the ball go, and willing to make tight-window throws against zone coverage. He also recognized opportunities to throw receivers open based on the leverage of defensive backs.

These differences reduced the amount of time the Browns offensive line needed to protect its quarterback, and the unit wasn't forced to give up its position on opponents because Mayfield's quick decisions meant he remained in the pocket more often than Taylor.

Personally, I thought Taylor would be more decisive than he's been and Cleveland would utilize more designed bootlegs where there would be a pocket designed to accommodate movement. The offense didn't play to Taylor's strengths and Taylor also didn't see the field as quickly as needed. If Mayfield continues to make quick decisions with good progression reads, he'll upgrade the Browns offense.

The bigger question is whether Mayfield can elevate his team and his game into fantasy starter production?

The short-term answer is yes. The Raiders, Chargers, Buccaneers Steelers, and Chiefs don't scare offenses. Atlanta's damaged defense may also remain that way before the Week 11 bye. Mayfield's ability to defeat tight man and effective pressure will be tested down the stretch against Carolina, Houston, Denver, and a pair of contests with Cincinnati.

If you can add Mayfield on the cheap now, you might get to sell him at a profit before Weeks 8 or 9. Or, if you're struggling to acquire a position of need, invest in Mayfield, see if he thrives thrives and sell him or your top quarterback for that position of need later. This may work best in two-quarterback leagues where there's not a surplus of passers available on waivers.

One the early games of note will be against the Ravens in Week 5. If he has a top week there, consider keeping him and selling your top quarterback for a position of need.

Derek Carr: In terms of personnel and effective big-play options, the Raiders offense faced two of the best defenses in the league to open its schedule and were only 2-3 plays away from looking like a much different offense than the current perception of them as "a mess." Marshawn Lynch rarely speaks to the media anymore, and he made it a point to do so because he thinks the offense is close to becoming one of the most explosive units in football.

It appears the Raiders have figured out that Jordy Nelson is a great asset in the slot. With Jared Cook already playing well, if Carr and Amari Cooper can get on the same page or Martavis Bryant can hold off the NFL's New York office, there's enough on-field evidence to believe Lynch.

The Raiders face an emerging Browns, a solid but nicked-up Chargers unit, and a Seattle defense that remains dangerous. However, after the Week 7 bye, Oakland gets the Colts, 49ers, Cardinals, Chiefs, and Steelers for five of the next seven weeks. Carr can be had cheaply and just as suggested with Mayfield, he could be an easy investment to set up a trade for something richer if you're having difficulty getting a player at another position now.

Or, Carr can be a reasonable roster reserve to add if you need a backup on the cheap who has the personnel to get hot and outperform your existing starter.

Chad Kelly: Despite being 2-1 in a competitive division, Case Keenum hasn't performed to expectation. If Denver goes on a losing streak and Keenum's play remains below par, Kelly could earn playing time. He's a tough, intense, and decisive option with a big arm. Kelly will not self-destruct on a big stage (off the field has been the bigger question mark). If he gets a shot, he's a speculative addition.

Patience Play Running backs

Chris Carson: The Seahawks faced the Bears and Broncos to begin the year and they're difficult opponents for any ground game. Seattle has also tried to force Rashaad Penny into the backfield equation. After watching the Cowboys' game, it's clear that Carson is the best back on the team.

Carson runs with the physical ferocity that fits the desired attitude of this team and he's a solid receiver. Although Seattle doesn't have the easiest schedule ahead, there are some opportunities for strong games ahead. Don't make any risky deals for him by trading away an under-performing stud back (unless you have at least one stud as a spare or a pair of competent top-24 performers), but if you can get him as a throw-in in a package deal, do it.

Royce Freeman: Philip Lindsay mania is everywhere but as highlighted in last week's Gut Check, Freeman is the guy to own long-term. Watching him plow through the Ravens defense this weekend, it's clear that some fantasy players aren't noting the underrated quickness and savvy that sets up his downhill bulldozing.

Where Lindsay is quick once he builds up speed into the crease, Freeman's quickness shows up at the very beginning of the run and over the course of a season, it's likely that it also guarantees him fewer boom-bust touches. Despite Lindsay's hot start, Freeman has been steady and will remain as such while generating a crescendo of fantasy playoff production against the likes of San Francisco, Cleveland, and Oakland. Buy low.

Joe Mixon: Don't let the injury bother you; it was minor. He looked fantastic prior to the procedure and the offensive line is still good enough without Billy Price that the Bengals can support a productive rushing attack. Giovani Bernard authored top-12 fantasy production at the position last weekend against Carolina and will likely do the same again in Atlanta where the Falcon's injured unit has significant holes and middle linebacker and safety.

Mixon feels so much better that there's potential for him to play this weekend if the incision heals quick enough. Even if you have to wait a week, follow my advice from two weeks ago: Get Mixon now.

Avoid: Packers, Colts, and Titans backfields

Unless you have little choice and must settle for a flex or bye-week producer who might emerge if injuries strike, none of these backfields are worth an investment with the hope that a starter organically emerges without disaster precipitating it. The tape shows it.

Green Bay won't use the I-formation unless it's well ahead in a game. It also doesn't want to place too much stress on Rodgers' leg with drops and exchanges that involve twists and turns that can be avoided with pistol and shotgun. This is obviously a pass-first unit and because all three backs can catch, each option brings just a little something different that will not allow one to overtake the other.

If Green Bay when I-formation, Jamaal Williams is the man. Since Williams blocks much better than the other two backs, it doesn't matter if Aaron Jones is a little quicker and Ty Montgomery is a good downfield receiver. Avoid.

The Colts' best back is Jordan Wilkins but it's obsessed with the explosive potential of Nyheim Hines and probably won't give up on Marlon Mack once his foot and hamstring injuries heal. With Robert Turbin returning, and the Colts desire to use shotgun and pistol so Luck doesn't get hit before he finishes his drops, Indianapolis is not a backfield worth consideration unless you can get a cheap investment in Hines.

Tennessee is at best a match-up play and that's only if Marcus Mariota returns to health and plays better. The second part of that "if" is more uncertain than the first. Dion Lewis is the best of the two match-up plays and should only be acquired out of desperation.

Running backs to monitor

Quick hits on each:

  • Spencer Ware looks good when he's on the field. He's an excellent screen receiver, a tough short-yardage option, and he still breaks a ton of tackles. If Kareem Hunt gets hurt, Ware could emerge as a top-12 runner.
  • If you're buying into the Raiders being close to functioning as a top offense, Martin can ride those coattails if Lynch falters.
  • The Chargers signed Justin Jackson to the active roster now that he's fully healed and cut Detrez Newsome. Austin Ekeler has performed well. It may seem like a tall order for Jackson to step in and function at a high level if Ekeler gets hurt, but he's an underrated talent who could surprise, if not outright shock the league, with his ability.
  • Nick Chubb has played well in limited time. If Carlos Hyde gets hurt and Baker Mayfield keeps Cleveland's offense on schedule, Chubb will thrive.

Ware, Martin, and Chubb are worth a luxury add — if you truly have the luxury. Jackson is a long shot but more talented than he got to show this summer.

Wide Receiver Patience plays

Chris Godwin: He shouldn't qualify as a patience play as the No.18 fantasy receiver in standard leagues. However, it's possible he'll experience a quarterback change within the next 2-3 weeks and he's coming off a game where he dropped multiple passes, including three in the end zone.

He's a patience play because if you watched Monday night's game, you know that the Buccaneers continued feeding Godwin. The second-year receiver took a hard hit on his first target of the game and lost a fumble.

Admittedly, this is narrative but it's one worth considering. A Pennsylvania native, the Steelers are a big deal — especially as a Philadelphia kid who went to school at Penn State. Godwin making mistakes against a team he grew up watching in-state is the type of thing that can take a player off his game. The Buccaneers continued going to Godwin in the red zone just as they have been doing since August in camp.

That's a big deal because quarterbacks like Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers often don't return to young players during games when they drop the football. Whether it has been Ryan Fitzpatrick or Jameis Winston, Godwin has earned his quarterback's trust. Expect Godwin to remain a top-20 option this year, if not build on his production.

Sammy Watkins: Patrick Mahomes II II described Watkins as a running back with the ball in his hands. The Chiefs offense is built to use Watkins as such. It's also built to capitalize on him as a red zone threat and a vertical option. The scheme and Mahomes' talent are enough to support three fantasy starters in the passing game. Think of Watkins as an upgrade to Jeremy Maclin's role.

Capitalize on any fantasy player who thinks Mahomes' production is an early-season fluke and Watkins will be the receiver to fall off the fantasy production cliff and into the mouth of dragons and sea monsters.

Jordy Nelson: The best offenses make in-game and in-season adjustments. It appears the Raiders figured out that Nelson is a great fit in the slot. He's the most quarterback-friendly option of the receivers because he possesses the greatest knowledge of coverage of the group.

He's not going to threat safeties and cornerbacks because he lacks the speed of Amari Cooper or Martavis Bryant but he's still fast enough to extend plays 40-50 yards after the catch and can still earn separation on cornerbacks in single coverage. It means he's a real danger in the slot when Cooper and Bryant can force a safety to respect one of their deep routes.

Nelson should be an easy throw-in as part of any deal in need of a pot-sweetener because most people think the Raiders offense is only going to get worse. Go against the herd that's engaged in a Mean Girls feud with Gruden.

Monitor these Wide Receivers

Keke Coutee: The Texans don't have a great offense and occasional Rookie Scouting Portfolio contributor, Eric Stoner isn't impressed with how it works:

"Imagine the worst possible version of what a Carolina offense has looked like in the past and that's what you expect from them as an NFL team. Any rushing efficiency they earn is solely buoyed by the quarterback's involvement in the run game. They can't run normal run plays and there's no rhythm and timing element to the passing game.

They have to live and die by the chunk play and they have no sustainability drive to drive. Opponents can let DeAndre Hopkins go crazy every week and it doesn't matter because his use doesn't scare opposing defenses the way it would in another system."

Although much of what Stoner describes lies in the scheme, the offensive line allows a lot of pressure and Watson is forced to improvise with his second or third read if the first read doesn't come open and he's forced to leave the pocket. Coutee earns appeal because he's performed well as an improviser with Patrick Mahomes II at Texas Tech while working the middle of the field. Watson is skilled in this aspect of quarterbacking and it could be a good instant fit.

Cam Meredith: Sean Payton can say all he wants that he wants to involve Tre`Quan Smith more in the offense. Meredith is the guy I'm expecting to become a consistent producer. Meredith is better at reading coverage, he's a superior route runner, and he can play inside and outside, which gives Drew Brees and Payton greater scheme flexibility pre-snap.

Meredith's injury was the biggest reason that he wasn't a productive preseason option and made inactive for the two weeks prior to the Falcons game. If you need a preemptive acquisition for your receiver corps while trying to figure out a trade that will work for you long-term, Meredith could be that guy at a cheap price and little risk.

Tight end Patience plays

Dallas Goedert: The rookie is performing well as a blocker and earning separation as a receiver. Carson Wentz looks good enough to resume his productive ways in this offense that's fit for his skills. Since the Eagles lack a wide receiver that truly scares opponents (bringing back Jordan Matthews is a desperation move), that production will revolve around the Eagles tight end tandem of Ertz and Goedert.

Goedert has the opportunity to become the most flexible weapon in the scheme. Expect the Eagles to split him wide, use him as the inline option sneaking past opponents concentrating on Ertz in the slot, and as an inline or wingback paired next to Ertz and benefiting from Ertz shielding him.

Ben Watson: He still earns separation on linebackers, makes acrobatic plays, and can block. Don't let his age scare you. He'll be even more open when Mark Ingram II returns and Meredith becomes a bigger factor in the middle of the field.

Jimmy Graham: After a slow Week 1, Graham has been the No.9 fantasy producer at the position in standard leagues during the past two weeks and No.7 in PPR formats. He shouldn't even be on this list but you might find some age-obsessive fantasy players who are panicking that they got saddled with Graham.