Roundtable Week4

Eavesdrop as various staff shares their views on recent running back developments, new starting quarterbacks, surprising tight ends, and future fantasy surprises.

We're almost a month into the NFL season and the unpredictable nature of the game hasn't disappointed. This week, our staff discusses some of the most notable surprises after three games as well as calling their shots on potential surprises that lie ahead:


Fantasy Value of the New Crew of Starting QBs

Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and Trevor Siemian are the No.12, No.13, and No.17 fantasy quarterbacks at the end of September. It's worth noting that the difference at this point between the No.8 QB Ben Roethlisberger and the No.17 Siemian is a passing touchdown. 

Answer and discuss the following: 

  • Who has viable QB1 fantasy value in 12-team leagues and why? 
  • Which quarterback is benefiting the most from his surrounding talent? 
  • Which player will each quarterback help the most moving forward? 
  • Which player will each quarterback hurt the most moving forward?
Chad Parsons: Carson Wentz has the best chance to finish the year as a QB1. I see Dorial Green-Beckham improving by the week and Zach Ertz will be returning to even out the weapons compared to Dak Prescott's situation in Dallas. Wentz has upside as a runner that approaches Prescott's skill as well.

For what it's worth, I was one of the biggest Carson Wentz fans out there during the draft process. Even I did not envision this much immediate success—NFL or fantasy—from the North Dakota product.

Wentz's acumen at the line of scrimmage and reading progressions in his opening games have been standout traits.  He is already running a full NFL offense with empty concepts. 

Mark Wimer: I am all in on Wentz. I started him in some DFS lineups last week and I really wish I had him on my IDP dynasty teams. The kid has been phenomenal and has looked like a polished professional from the starting gun this season.

He has been a big boost to Nelson Agholor, who is just a couple of dropped passes/gross pass-interference calls from breaking out as a fantasy star. I think Agholor (15 targets, 11 catches, 120 yards, and 1 touchdown) will be a legit No.3 fantasy starter moving forward, something few expected after his poor rookie campaign.

Wentz's play is boosting the entire supporting cast so far. 

Andy Hicks:  Wentz is ticking all the right boxes for now, while Dak Prescott and Trevor Siemian will have other options breathing down their necks at any moment. Wentz probably has bottom-end QB1 upside, which we have seen from a few rookies in recent years.

The Eagles quarterback has looked as good as any of them. If he has a flaw though it will be picked up very soon. It is okay to have high expectations given how good he has looked so far, but he won't be given any favors by opposing defenses.  

Jason Wood: I don't believe these three have viable QB1 value. They've all be highly impressive but I don't see their play equating to QB1 production over the full season. 

Andrew Garda: I agree with Woodrow, I highly doubt any of them will end up with QB1 value this year. I mean, sure they may hit the mark on occasion, but so will Blake Bortles or Ryan Tannehill. I don't think either guy holds real QB1 value. Not this year.

Matt Waldman: I'm warming up to the possibility that Wentz will flirt with QB1 fantasy value this year but if I have to pick a position right now, I'm with Andy Hicks—Wentz is close but not quite there. He makes an excellent point about other teams scouting these players and finding ways to foil them sooner than later. 

As strong as it sounds, the NFL has about a four-week lag with its scouting process to begin the year. Coaches like to have four weeks of scouting reports on the competition to form a game plan. Within the next 2-3 weeks, these quarterbacks will begin to see defensive looks that force them to do things that aren't their strengths. 

That said, Chad's point about Wentz's college experience in a scheme with a lot of NFL concepts is a good one. The fact that Wentz has handled the blitz well and he's operating a scheme that uses a lot of misdirection and variation of alignments indicates he's ahead of the curve in some respects.

The one disagreement I have with Chad is about empty shotgun sets. It's not a sign of Wentz's advancement because empty alignments force a defense to declare what it's doing earlier in the pre-snap process. 

And I'll give one worthwhile reminder about the Browns, Bears, and Steelers defenses: Two of these three units were fantasy runways for aerial attacks and despite the early returns of the 2016 stats looking better than 2015 totals, I'm not sold on any of them as massively improved. 

Wentz will have stiffer tests against the Vikings in Week 7, Seahawks in Week 11, and Bengals in Week 13. Even so, if you have Wentz and can trade a stud for more pieces and roll with Wentz in a quarterback by committee, I'd seriously consider it.

If I were to get a little more creative with answering the question and include the coaching staff as the talent, I'd say that Wentz is benefiting the most from his surrounding talent. Answering it conventionally, I'll say Siemian has the best skill talent, a good line, an an excellent defense that can make big plays and supplement the work that he's doing. 

I place Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas far and above the receiving options of the Cowboys and Eagles because they both can turn a short pass into a long play and they're both skilled vertical threats. Denver's defense also has the goods to make up for a mistake or two from Siemian and the big-play ability to keep the offense from abandoning its game plan despite defensive stops. 

I'm not ready to say this about the Eagles and Cowboys yet.

Chad Parsons: I agree with Matt that the best skill position weapons go to Trevor Siemian. They lack a sturdy tight end (TBD on Virgil Green) but have the strongest trio of top-2 receivers and a running back of the three teams.

Andy Hicks:  I also have to agree with Chad and Matt here. Trevor Siemian has better wide receivers, a strong running game, and an awesome defense to lean on.

Jason Wood: Oh, I think it's Dak Prescott, unquestionably. The kid steps behind the league's best offensive line, a great pair of running backs, an awesome Hall of Fame two-way tight end, and a guy by the name of Dez Bryant

Andrew Garda: I actually think it's a tossup between Prescott and Siemian. Prescott has the better offensive line, Siemian has an extra receiver Prescott doesn't, and Siemian has a better back, although you can argue Prescott has a better backfield overall.

Prescott's supporting cast has allowed him to be more consistent, but Siemian has improved each week and I think a lot of that has to do with his comfort level with the people around him. I lean towards Siemian. 

Chad Parsons: The biggest surprise of the trio is Trevor Siemian. My research shows that every quarterback drafted in the first round gets a shot to start. It means Paxton Lynch's shot in Denver will happen this year. Still, Siemian has played much better than a pure game manager which many projected.

Dallas' play design, strong offensive line, and smart use of Prescott's mobility have really helped the rookie. Ezekiel Elliott is the linchpin for Dak Prescott, who needs a strong run game more than the other two signal callers.

Matt Waldman: While Prescott is benefiting from a great offensive line, he also deserves a lot of credit for executing a conservative game plan with discipline—and most young quarterbacks struggle to play the game this close to the vest.

In fact, many veterans struggle with this style. The Seahawks beat Denver in the Super Bowl with a game plan that gave Peyton Manning conservative throws, betting on the likelihood that Manning would get impatient with an approach that wasn't aggressive and it's exactly what happened.   

It's something I want to note in light of what I have written earlier this year about Prescott operating an offense that hasn't given him expanded options early on, his patience and discipline as a decision-maker is commendable. Last week, he also earned empty looks like Wentz and I'm seeing more plays with full-field reads with more than 2-3 receivers. He's making progress. 

I actually think Prescott hurts Elliott. I don't think it was a coincidence that Dallas opening the passing game up against the Bears led to Elliott's career night. Before Week 3, Elliott looked good to me as a decision maker but the creases were not as frequent due to the lack of explosive plays (completions of at least 16 yards) in the passing game.

Chad Parsons: I still think if you take away Dallas' ideal protection and an elite running back, we see a much different result from Prescott.

Matt Waldman: I agree, but it's a symbiotic relationship. When it comes to one of these quarterbacks helping another player, I'm going with Siemian-Sanders because the Denver quarterback is a timing guy who likes to get rid of the ball fast and he has built a strong rapport with Sanders as the designated passer to warm-up the receiver when Manning and Brock Osweiler were the starters. 

Jason Wood: Siemian's style of play lends itself to Emmanuel Sanders being the better of the Sanders/Thomas duo. 

Andrew Garda: Siemian is targeting Sanders and Thomas similarly, though as mentioned he certainly favors Sanders. 

I actually think the answer might be CJ Anderson. Yeah, injuries bogged him down last season, but having a legitimate quarterback has opened up the running lanes a bit. So I lean that way.

Andrew Hicks: I agree it's a running back but I'm going with Ezekiel ElliottDak Prescott is a mobile threat and they have to account for where he is. With the Cowboys excelling as run blockers they will be able to create opportunities for whoever has the ball in their hands.

Jason Wood: Wentz has a clear connection with Jordan Matthews. Combine that with the fact Doug Pederson has made good on his promise of playing Matthews outside and not exclusively in the slot, and he's looking good as a value play that delivers high-end WR2 value. 

Prescott clearly helps Cole Beasley the most. Beasley is well suited for the conservative, ball control passing game versus Terrance Williams who needs a big-armed, gunslinger to flourish. 

Mark Wimer:  Because Prescott is a game manager right now I'm still in wait-and-see mode when it comes to his rapport with Dez Bryant continues to strengthen. If it does, then look for Cole Beasley to fade as some of the targets that have been flowing to Beasley switch over to Bryant.

Jason Wood: In addition to Prescott hurting Williams, I think Siemian does the most damage to DeMaryius Thomas, but as we saw this past week it's not a major hit to his overall productivity. 

Andy Hicks: I agree with Jason here. DeMaryius Thomas will have volatile productivity and he'll be hard to rely on as WR1. Sanders gives way more options for Siemian on a weekly basis.


[return to top]

 The Ever-Treacherous RB Landscape

Let's examine some of the difficult issues on fantasy running back landscape: 

  • Sigmund Bloom recommended that fantasy owners should sell high on Cleveland's ground game after losing Josh McCown for several weeks. But RBs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr had a combined 25 carries for 148 yards against the Dolphins with Cody Kessler and Terrelle Pryor under center. Is it likely that Crowell and/or Johnson deliver starter production as an RB2 until McCown returns? Which player would you want more if you had to choose? 
  • Jordan Howard essentially inherits the Bears' starting gig after Jeremy Langford's injury. Are you buying or selling? 
  • Christine Michael also inherits the Seahawks' starting gig after Thomas Rawls will miss significant time. Are you buying or selling? 
  • Latavius Murray scored a 22-yard TD against the Titans but only earned 15 yards on his other 9 carries. Rookies DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard combined for 85 yards on 12 carries and out-paced Murray with 2 catches for 18 yards to Murray's 1 catch for 1 yard. Murray remains the No.13 fantasy runner but is there reason for concern about his productivity for fantasy owners moving forward? 
  • Does Todd Gurley turn it around after last week's two-TD performance against the Buccaneers or does he remain a high-priced disappointment?
  • Can we finally ditch the narrative that we don't know how Bill Belichick will approach the running game? Why is LeGarrette Blount overrated/underrated in your view?  

Mark Wimer: I am convinced that the Browns are committed to Crowell as the bell cow—at 6.1 yards per carry through three games, why wouldn't they stick with him (45/274/2 rushing with four targets for 3/31/0 receiving)? Duke Johnson Jr is going to be the change of pace/pass-catching back (16/103/0 rushing, with 17 targets for 12/84/0 receiving). He has PPR league value, but Crowell is going to be fed the football.

I think Crowell will get enough work and have enough success to be a viable fantasy starter going forwards, regardless of which quarterback is calling the shots under center. He's the guy I most want in my lineups.

Jason Wood: Going into the preseason I was high on Duke Johnson Jr, feeling as though he was a better interior runner than he was being given credit for and a better receiving than Crowell. But late in the preseason, I pivoted because it seemed that all signs from training camp pointed to Crowell getting the workhorse opportunity.

While I agree with Sigmund that the game script is not going to be favorable in many weeks, I wouldn't give up on Crowell since he a) came cheaply and b) should see enough volume that justifies no worse than an RB3/Flex value in today's NFL. 

Andrew Garda: As pointed out by others, Crowell came cheap so you're good either way. Sure, if you can get good value for him, Crowell is likely someone you can get rid of without disrupting your lineups. But again, as others pointed out, the Browns are committed to him, he's successful, and they need to run the ball. Crowell is a solid RB3 at worst and as long as your expectations are about there, you should be fine.

One side note - if you want to sell, NOW is the time. Crowell should be OK against a team like Washington, but the Patriots are a problem waiting to happen as are the Bengals and Jets. The window on selling is closing, so if you are doing it, do it now.

Andy Hicks: Like the others have mentioned, Crowell is probably the pick here. He is getting the carries and with the right matchup can break free. Duke Johnson Jr to my mind was always only going to contribute in the right circumstances and what we have in Cleveland right now is far from that.

The Browns are basically building from the ground up and the back of the future isn't here yet. The right now, however, is Crowell, but I wouldn't go overboard with expectations for the rest of the season.

Matt Waldman: I've always been a Crowell fan and I believe he has the feature back talent. Some people may believe Hue Jackson's statement that Crowell and Johnson were as good or better than any of the backs he's coached in recent years had a dash of partisan flavor as the new head coach.

I don't, but I do have to agree with Andy that by the time (if ever) Cleveland becomes a compelling offense, Crowell may be past his prime when it happens. Even so, if you flip-flopped the tandems in Cleveland and Atlanta, I believe Crowell would have earned Freeman's production last year. 

I am worried about the schedule but I don't know if anyone is going to buy him without a real lowball offer. I'm hoping the return of Josh Gordon will continue to open things up enough for Crowell to remain a low-end starter.

Chad Parsons: I liked what I have seen from Cleveland, adapting to Terrelle Pryor mixed in at quarterback and delivering a strong run game against Miami. Crowell has been running hot and is arguably an upper-half talent of the starters around the NFL.

Crowell has even seen a hearty snap rate in games when Cleveland has trailed where we assumed Duke Johnson Jr would monopolize playing time. I have recommended folks buy Crowell of the two as he is valued more in the RB3 type zone than a weekly starter and provides solid depth and rotational fantasy starter potential depending on the weekly matchups and injuries. 

Jordan Howard was one of 'my guys' during the draft process. He is a big back with quality movement, production, and he can catch. I saw one of the few easy calls as a three-down back of the 2016 class.

Landing in Chicago only fueled my support as Jeremy Langford was one of my least favorite NFL starters. I projected Howard as the starter by midseason, injury or not.

Howard looked fantastic in Weeks 2 and 3. He was rising up in playing time even without Langford's recent injury. I would be holding (unless in dynasty an owner can get a 2017 1st or better) and starting Howard. In terms of buying, I would want to pay a 2017 2nd plus a lower level upside player as the buy-sell line.

Mark Wimer: I'm buying on Howard. He has outplayed Langford in his chances so far this year and I think he cements his hold on the starting gig while Langford is out and never looks back.

Jason Wood: Howard is one of those end game picks that I committed to; he's on at least a dozen of my rosters. I dislike Jeremy Langford as a runner and figured if it was truly opened up as a competition, Howard is the better player.

Now with Langford hurt—after frustrating his coaches for a few weeks to boot—I see Howard as a must-add in leagues where he's available, and a game changer for those who rostered him on draft day. The Bears offensive line isn't very good, but I see Howard getting enough work and having enough talent to work his way into lineups in many weeks.  

Matt Waldman: I thought Howard (and Devontae Booker) was a confusing back in this draft class for one reason and one reason only: burst. I didn't see enough of it to believe he's a shoe-in as a long-term starter.

Do I think he can hang as the starter for the Bears this year? Considering that Ka'Deem Carey appears to lack that same kind of burst and it's one of the few starter-caliber things Jeremy Langford actually has when he sees things clearly, yes, Howard can be a functional starter this year.

I would look out for Joique Bell, though. Yeah, I know, funny, Bell looked worn-out last year and it's likely he's on his last legs. But if it turns out that Bell felt pressured to return early due to Ameer Abdullah's presence, he might have earned enough time to heal properly and that burst could be back. If it is, he might surprise those on the Howard Bandwagon.

Howard looks like a one-speed runner to me but if that one speed is enough, I love his power game and he could become John Fox's next Stephen Davis. That said, let's say I'm not excited about him as much as I'm curious. 

Andy Hicks: I am going against the grain here as people are desperate to find a starter following the shocking start to the season for running backs. I am a big believer in following NFL history and 5th round running backs rarely work out as anything other than short-term measures. The same will happen here.

Howard may have a good week here or there, maybe even to the end of the season, but given how woeful Chicago looks and how often they will be playing from behind, I wouldn't get my hopes up.

We have limited data on how he has done so far, but let's look at his 10 carries against the Cowboys. His first one went for 36 yards and he looked good. His next six carries went for -5 yards, with three of them being for negative yards. Then there was a 14-yard run and a 0-yard carry. Outside of his two good carries, his next best was one-yard gain.

Let's see how he does this week before investing the farm on him.

Matt Waldman: I'm so tempted to point out as many exceptions to Andy's historical reference on running backs as possible and take this on a tangent about the factors that lead to this historical trend that make the exceptional cases matter but as the moderator, I don't want to hijack this conversation. I do want to note that Andy's reference to the Cowboys game is an example of one of my concerns and why curiosity and desperation are the two terms that come to mind when I consider Howard. 

Andrew Garda: Yeah guys, this offense is a mess right now, so I am very lukewarm. But for me, that's more about the situation than Howard, though. He's talented enough to succeed in the NFL, but this offensive line is a tragedy and until the rest of the offense gets its act together, he could see a lot of stacked fronts.

He has some theoretically ok matchups right now—the Lions, Colts, and Jaguars aren't playing run defense right now—but this team is one that makes even those matchups shaky. Buy if you can get a low cost which might be hard given his new status as the starter.

Matt Waldman: I love those matchups, but I wonder if those teams will prefer to dare Hoyer to throw or load up the box. I don't feel I have a definitive answer.  One thing I do know is that I'm stoked about Christine Michael finally figuring out how to be a professional and I liked what I saw from the Seahawks line last weekend. What say you?

Jason Wood: How can you sell Michael at this point? The talent was never in question but the maturity and focus were. Now that he's done a 180 and has seemingly regained the coaches' trust, he could be a top-10 fantasy back this year. He's an easy buy but only if there's a willing seller; which I doubt. 

Andy Hicks: I agree 100 percent with Jason here. Very rarely do clear warning signs present themselves in preseason as they did here.

Everyone was jumping on Rawls, despite Michael getting good wraps from the coaching staff and then performing well in the preseason with the starters. Injured players are difficult to rely on and Rawls just hasn't had a chance this season to be fit enough to practice and contribute.

Andrew Garda: As Jason points out, who is selling on him now? But I dread how this line is going to play and he faces a super-tough match in the Jets run defense.

Something else to consider: a banged up Russell Wilson could mean an increased workload for Michael. Even if he's half as effective as he was against San Francisco, he should be worth having.

Mark Wimer: Given the Seahawks' desire to control the ball; Russell Wilson's shaky ankle and knee; and the success that a recommitted Michael has displayed so far this season, I am happy to start him in those leagues where I've rostered him. Rawls has had bad injury luck, but he has also been out-produced on the field by Michael this year, and the NFL is a performance-oriented business.

Matt Waldman: One player who seems to be on the verge of getting out-gained by his competition on the depth chart is Latavius Murray. I know some of you have been fans of his game. Do you feel different after what we've seen three weeks into the 2016 season? 

Andy Hicks: There is a definite concern here. I've always felt that Latavius Murray is a "bridge runner"; the guy who is good enough until the "real guy" comes along.

Getting sucked into a committee is one way to ensure that he won't be in the future plans of the Raiders. For now, he is a week-to-week proposition and in a performance0based industry, he has to keep a level of production consistent to keep his job.

Mark Wimer: There is some concern, but I think it is being overblown. The Raiders have said they will continue to rotate the backs, so Murray won't get 20-25 touches on the ball like the (few) featured backs in the NFL, but that isn't really a surprise, is it?

He does enough with his 13-15 touches per game (32/153/3 rushing with 8/58/0 receiving so far this season) to be a respectable No.2 RB. If one of the rookies leaves the picture due to injury or suspension, then Murray will be right back to 15-18 touches per game. I am not panicking about Murray entering Week Four.

Andrew Garda: I'm with Mark. Yes, there is a concern as he's in what amounts to an RBBC but no, it's not the end of the world. I do think ultimately he is a bit streaky because of the committee, but he should be good to pop in and out of your lineup.

Chad Parsons: Latavius Murray has been losing snaps the past two weeks. DeAndre Washington was near 30 percent of the snaps in Week 3 and Jalen Richard above 20 percent. Murray owners should be worried.

The touchdown you mentioned buoyed his fantasy day, but Murray's run as the volume hog in Oakland is over. Murray is logging less than 50 percent of Oakland's snaps, a placeholder-like position as a lead NFL back.

I liked Murray's value back when he was a later round rookie pick as a rookie for his size-speed combination, but have been less impressed by the year as the NFL tape accrues. I would cash out, even if for upside plays without solid starting roles now.

Jason Wood: I'm not worried. The threshold for RB2 production these days is so much lower than what we expected back when we all first started in this hobby.

Murray is capable of big runs/catches in his own right, and as long as he gets 12-15 touches per game. I think you'll be pleased with his presence on your roster.  

Matt Waldman: I think Murray is an awkward runner who doesn't have a good feel for blocking schemes the way a lead back should. It probably leads to me having a bias against him as a fantasy option despite the fact that at the end of the year, if he's earning enough volume to produce, style points won't matter. 

At the same time, if those "style points" actually inhibit consistent production for the offense because Murray's positive plays are too few and far between, then that's another story. And for me, that's the storyline I believe is about to unfold because I believe Jalen Richard is already a more consistent runner and DeAndre Washington isn't far from becoming a better all-around player than Murray. 

What I wouldn't give to see Todd Gurley in Oakland right now. Was last week's performance against the Buccaneers a sign of things to come or does he remain a high-priced disappointment? 

Jason Wood: He's an impeccable talent who transcended game script last year. I expect he'll be hard pressed to justify his status as a high end first round pick, but he'll do enough to warrant keeping as a low-end RB1. The one thing you'll have to be comfortable with is weekly variance. He'll have some clunkers.

Mark Wimer: For sure, Wood, Gurley is going to run hot-and-cold this season. He will continue to face stacked boxes as nobody is scared of any of the Rams' current/potential quarterbacks.

As a fire-and-forget–

Matt Waldman: Fire-and-forget? What is that, Mark?

Mark Wimer: It's an old IT term rooted in missile guidance. As I was saying, he's a fire-and-forget, sure-fire every-week starter, I think he disappoints.

Owners of Gurley will need to pay attention to the matchup each week and then make a start/sit decision on him. In his own words prior to Week Three: "It's been crazy. I'm like, 'There's 12 people on the field!' It's definitely a lot of people [crowding the line of scrimmage on opposing defenses]."

Forget about Tampa Bay, Arizona is up next. 

Andy Hicks:  Second-year backs are always a funny breed. NFL teams do a lot of homework in the offseason to negate an opposing team's strength.

Given the Rams offense, why would any defense be scared of the passing game? If the Rams offensive brain trust knows what they are doing, they will figure out ways to let Gurley do what he does best, but his fantasy owners will be stressed until/if they do.

Chad Parsons: Gurley is in a tough spot. The talent is overt, but defenses give little credence to anyone else on the Rams offense when Gurley is in the game.

Benny Cunningham enjoys more running lanes and the receivers see one-on-one opportunities down the field. He needs a quarterback upgrade and/or improved offensive line to approach his talent-based production.

The most quizzical aspect of Gurley's profile is his lack of pass game usage since entering the NFL. Get Gurley in space, away from the eight or nine-man boxes of the traditional run game. Design screen passes for the top back.

Getting Gurley on the perimeter and out in pass routes at least four or five times a game would be on the top of my to-do list if I were the Rams offensive coordinator. More than anything, I need to see Gurley used in the passing game to boost my projections for his production.

Andrew Garda: He is going to disappoint because the reality is that the Rams misuse him, or at least set him up to fail. But I agree, he's going to be a low-end RB1 with scattered bad games. Overall his talent will elevate him, but it's going to be a bumpy ride. 

Matt Waldman: The last back is one you'll have to indulge me here and it's LeGarrette Blount. Can we finally ditch the narrative that we don't know how Bill Belichick will approach the running game? Why is LeGarrette Blount overrated/underrated in your view?  

Andrew Garda: A lot of people bought into the "he could be cut" narrative, which I have said since it started was more a motivational ploy by the staff than a reality. They knew they had to depend on Blount a lot during the early part of this season and they needed him motivated. Because we know what happens when he gets unmotivated and that's not good.

I think Belichick has always known how to manage the run game—he just doesn't do it in a fantasy satisfying way. He'll ride Blount hard again this week and then ease back a little as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski get back in the saddle. He'll likely see his reps and production fall a bit but produce some low-end RB2 numbers across the season.

Andy Hicks: I would estimate one more week of Blount's early season form. Once Brady—and it seems like they are timing Gronkowski's return for the same week—is back then this offense changes.

It already morphs week-to-week and with inexperienced quarterbacks they have leaned on the running game. Don't forget that until Dion Lewis was injured, Blount was on the roster bubble. Sell now if you can, because this team will be totally different in a week.

Mark Wimer: Yes, it appears that Blount will be fed the football—at least until Tom Brady gets back. I think that there will be a realignment of the offense at that point, though, and Blount will become more like the more frustrating, on-again/off again back we've seen in recent years when he played on a Brady-led offense. Right now, the Patriots are sticking to a basic, power football scheme as that is what the young, inexperienced quarterbacking corps is capable of success within.

Jason Wood: The only thing we know about Belichick is that he's going to do what's best for his team to win. No other coach is more willing to flip the script and no other coach has more success changing game plans.

It's silly to think this will be the Patriots game script for the remainder of the year. Tom Brady hasn't played a down. Rob Gronkowski hasn't played a healthy snap. Now that said, Blount has done enough to comfortably project as a rock-solid RB2 in all formats. 

Matt Waldman: I wanted some hope and you guys are killing me! I'll just have to provide some of it myself and at the risk of being delusional. 

If the Patriots employ the multiple scheme with two tight ends like it did in 2012 with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez but now with Martellus Bennett in the Hernandez role for 2016, I think Blount will remain a focal point. 

Stevan Ridley was the No.10 RB in standard leagues in 2012 and both of those tight ends could block as well as any in the league. Bennett is also an excellent blocker. Get me a powdered wig and musket, I'm ready to pose with Blount behind the end zone. 


[return to top]

Surprises at Tight end

After three weeks we have some compelling questions at the position: 

  • Colts tight end Jack Doyle is the No.3 and No.5 option in PPR and standard leagues. Is Doyle's production an early-season mirage? 
  • Kyle Rudolph is also a top-5 option in both formats. Is this the case of a long-awaited rebound or did he simply match up well with defenses early on? 
  • Is Antonio Gates finally done as a fantasy starter?
As one of the kids in my neighborhood says to me about players, 'Where you at?' 
 

Mark Wimer: I'm not sold on Doyle yet. Dwayne Allen remains in the mix there and he just missed a TD catch in that game versus San Diego.

Itt may be a 1A/1B-type situation where one week Doyle is hot and draws the most targets, while Allen does so on other weekends. Each guy has seen 15 targets so far, Doyle has simply converted more of them (13/137/2) than Allen so far (9/113/1).

Chad Parsons: I am all-in on Jack Doyle. The snap counts were strong in Weeks 1-2 as the secondary tight end. With Donte Moncrief out in Week 3, Doyle was even stronger. The Colts ran more two-tight end sets than three-receiver formations, which makes sense as Doyle is better than their third receiver options with Moncrief out (Chester Rogers). Doyle's strong offensive involvement will remain until at least Moncrief returns (another month or so), but carving a role for the rest of the season is possible over that time.

Andy Hicks: Like Mark, I'm not convinced about Doyle just yet. As we've seen in previous years in Indianapolis with Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, both can be useful, but it is hard to pick which week each will have a good game.
 
Though in hindsight, last year Dwayne Allen was used almost exclusively as a blocker. He only registered 16 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown for the entire season.
 
Allen hasn't really excelled as a receiver since his rookie year in 2012, but is Doyle "Fleener Part II" or a lesser receiver? I feel Doyle, will at best, be a bottom-end TE1, while Allen will bob up in the end zone a few times throughout the year.
 
Allen is who the Colts trust to block, which negates his fantasy worth. If I had to pick one, it would be Doyle though. I ultimately doubt he is the player that most will hope to find off the waiver wire.
 
Danny Tuccitto: As I'm wont to do, I took a look at Doyle's "true" stats to see how much we can expect him to regress to the mean going forward. Through three weeks here's what I found:
 
  • He's No. 4 in receptions per route run (21.4 percent). 
  • No. 6 in yards per route run (2.26). 
  • No. 3 in touchdowns per route run (3.29 percent).
Incidentally, that makes him the only tight end to rank in single digits across the three categories.
 
If we properly regress these stats to the mean, the values themselves decrease from their currently outlying levels, but the rankings actually improve to first, fourth, and second, respectively.
 
Therefore, I don't think his efficiency is an early-season mirage. But you asked about production, which means we need to take opportunity into account and that's where I have some trepidation.
 
Among the Top 20 tight ends in PPR, he's run the second-fewest routes (61), ahead of only Vance McDonald (43), who's also been able to score despite being in a time-share.
 
Matt Waldman: I love what Danny just did there, which validates what I've seen: A good football player but not an every-week weapon unless the Colts continue to find opportunities to feature him in low-volume, highly-efficient ways based on the matchups ahead. The former Western Kentucky starter is a fluid, flexible pass catcher and a decent blocker. It's why the Tennessee Titans originally had Doyle (blocking tight ends with decent hands is one of the roles it scouts well).  I have difficulty believing he continues producing at this rate and I'm not buying. 
 
Danny, what about Kyle Rudolph? Is this a long-awaited rebound or did he match up well with defenses early?
  

Danny Tuccitto: How about "Neither?" Rudolph's fantasy standing has always been heavily reliant on touchdowns. When he scores them, he's Top 12; when he doesn't, he's not.

Thus far this season, he's back to scoring them, ranking seventh in touchdowns per route run (2.25 percent). So I guess you could say he's rebounded in that sense, maybe? 

However, touchdowns are by far the most inconsistent fantasy stat for tight ends, Rudolph being a perfect example. To wit, when I regress his touchdowns per route run to the mean, I get 1.05 percent. That still ranks fourth, but think of it like this: If he continues running 30ish routes per game for the rest of the season, he's more likely to end up with six touchdowns than with the nine touchdowns his current pace suggests.

As for his competition, I don't think Rudolph's fantasy production can be explained away by favorable matchups. All three of the Vikings' opponents rank in the top half of defenses according to Football Outsiders' DVOA statistic.

From more of an individual matchup perspective, the defenders in primary coverage against Rudolph so far this season have been Da'Norris Searcy, Morgan Burnett, and Luke Kuechly, all three of whom are versatile defenders that rank among the best at their position.

Andy Hicks: Sam Bradford is still learning this offense, but hasn't exactly leaned on Kyle Rudolph to a great extent. The Tight End position seems to be down on touchdowns and stars at this stage of the season, but that will change and when it does, Rudolph will go back to his borderline TE1 status unless he can continue getting into the end zone.

Validating Danny's thoughts, only 5 tight ends have multiple touchdowns to date and only 4 have more than 15 receptions. No player is on both lists. The four guys with the most receptions also have the most yards as well, just not the touchdowns yet.

Andrew Garda: I kind of disagree with Andy, as Sam Bradford was really locked in with Rudolph both in the red zone and in general last week and I think that's the case going forward. I agree he needs more overall targets, but his seven catches last week (off ten targets) tells me things are moving the right direction. I'm thinking he's back.

Matt Waldman: I don't want to believe that Antonio Gates is done. I've only seen one game with him thus far and he made the first man miss after the catch. What are you seeing that says otherwise? 

Chad Parsons: Believe it, Antonio Gates looks physically done. Every week, my game-watching notes say the same thing. Gates struggles to get off the line of scrimmage or separate at the top of routes.

By comparison, Jason Witten looks much better in these two aspects. In Weeks 1-2 the writing was on the wall with Hunter Henry seeing nearly half the offensive snaps as the secondary tight end.

In Week 3 ,with Gates out, Henry looked outstanding. The Chargers cannot put the rookie back in a glass case now as they need quality targets for Philip Rivers with Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead out for the year. Gates will be a rotational, touchdown-dependent TE2 based on matchups and the bye-week gauntlet going forward.

Mark Wimer: I'm with Chad on Gates - stick a fork in him he's done. 

Andy Hicks: I have to agree with Chad and Mark here. Seeing a 36-year-old tight end do well is almost as rare as seeing a 36-year-old running back holding their own. It does happen, but very rarely.

Andrew Garda: Matt, we've said it before and it wasn't true, but it sure looks that way now. I agree with Chad, Mark, and Andy, it looks like the end of a great career.

Matt Waldman: Any hope for me, Danny?

Danny Tuccitto: Going into 2016, Gates ranked 14th or better in all three "true" stat categories. Through Week 3, he's still in the Top 10 in "true" touchdowns per route run but has fallen to 31st in "true" receptions per route run, and 39th in "true" yards per route run.

Thanks to research by Adam Harstad and others in the NFL stats community, we're coming around to the realization that players do not go gently into that good night. Rather, they randomly walk off a cliff one day. I think that day has finally come for this future Hall of Famer.

[return to top]


Call Your Shot

We're barely a month into the season but based on what we've seen thus far, name a player or team that you believe will surprise fantasy owners moving forward—good or bad.

Andy Hicks: My Call is coming from the Tight End position. We have seen only five of them with two touchdowns and only four with more 16 or more receptions. Both lists have different players on them. Players who aren't being counted on now will get their opportunities shortly.

Players expected to be a fantasy TE1 that aren't showing up to date are Rob Gronkowski, Coby Fleener, Gary Barnidge, Delanie Walker and Zach Ertz. 3 have been affected by injuries, Fleener has struggled on a new team and Barnidge has had to cope with 3 QBs in 3 weeks. These are obvious names to bounce back, but a name I think will join them is Clive Walford. He had a 24-yard touchdown called back due in week 3 to a penalty and is becoming an increasingly integral part of the Raiders passing game. He is on the way up and if you can get your hands on him, do so now.

Chad Parsons: Latavius Murray is on my 'bad' list. His snap count is low and Oakland has two viable young runners in DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard already seeing significant snaps (and looking better than Murray).

Jordan Howard is on my 'good' list. His college tape, landing spot, and the combination of size-athleticism-movement will keep the starting job in Chicago even when Jeremy Langford returns from injury.

I will throw out some darkhorse candidates to monitor: Dwayne Washington/Zach Zenner in Detroit, Kenneth Dixon in Baltimore, and the Giants backfield in general. With Ameer Abdullah out, Washington and Zenner are one injury (the smaller frame of Theo Riddick) away from a huge uptick in opportunity.

Washington is the leader in the clubhouse of the two, but Zenner is now active on game days and has positive tape from 2015 before his injury. The Ravens backfield seems to be treading water with Justin Forsett and Terrance West until Dixon is healthy. He could be a lesser version of David Johnson in terms of a second half of the fantasy season impact player.

Finally, with Shane Vereen out for the season and Rashad Jennings on the older side and dinged up already, Orleans Darkwa and even Paul Perkins are candidates for significant impact on a strong offense going forward.

Mark Wimer: Terrelle Pryor, who leads the Browns with 31 targets for 14/244/0 receiving and also has 4/21/1 rushing and 3/5 for 35 yards passing. He has already been a big surprise to a lot of fantasy owners. I have been pleasantly surprised with him in the leagues where I added him in the late rounds of the August drafts.

I am excited to see where his "slash" role goes once Josh Gordon/Josh McCown are back around to draw the majority of the coverage. The Cleveland offense is functioning fairly well given the injury issues at quarterback and could improve dramatically in a few short weeks.

Also, with the fun of watching Pryor play three positions last weekend, I'm also simply enjoying watching him play the game which is a nice plus. 

Andrew Garda: I think Kevin White could be on the verge of a breakout. Brian Hoyer clearly saw something he liked last week. While 14 targets is a lot and White only caught 6, I think the ratio gets better as he and Hoyer get used to each other.

Jeffery will still get his, but he's banged up and I think White will see the consistency his targets climb and find ways to take advantage. The one X-Factor might be Jay Cutler. If he comes back, will he look to White as much? He targeted White seven times against Houston, so I'm not terribly concerned.

No matter who throws the ball, this team will be behind a ton as the defense is a dumpster fire. White should see plenty of opportunities and I think he seizes them. 

I am concerned about Carson Palmer. He's got a rough schedule and just got hammered by the Buffalo Bills. While it may have been a case of the "one Rex Ryan surprise game" syndrome we see out of Ryan, the blocking and the overall play of the line and Palmer is concerning. I suspect we're not going to see as much of 2015 Palmer going forward this year as we had hoped. 

Jason Wood: Kenny Dixon will be an every week fantasy starter in the second half of the season. The Ravens are off to a good start, but their defense and passing game are hardly polished products. They WANT to run the ball but right now the healthy backs simply aren't talented enough to be difference makers. As long as Dixon is 100% healthy, nothing should stop him from earning the full-time, 3-down role by midseason.

Matt Waldman:  You know when Wood gives the short version of the player's name that Wood likes him. I'm a Dixon fan, too. And I've been calling Jalen Richard a potential surprise before the NFL Draft. When Tom Brady returns, I expect Martellus Bennett to become a TE1 the rest of the way but I've been calling that shot all summer. Instead, let's go with a player almost completely off the grid: Falcons receiver Taylor Gabriel

The former Brown turned up in Atlanta after Cleveland cut him during the preseason. The Falcons liked him enough to put him in the offensive rotation immediately and while the opportunities have been few, he has performed well. Julio Jones' frequent ankle and foot troubles concern me and if he or Mohamed Sanu miss significant time, I believe it will be Gabriel—not Justin Hardy or Aldrick Robinson—who will benefit fantasy owners the most. 

Gabriel impressed a lot of players in Cleveland with his hands, routes, and burst. As often happens, new coaches like to get rid of the less established young guys and replace them with their own prospects. Atlanta doesn't have the system to make Gabriel the next Willie Snead IV but if Jones gets hurt, he could become a surprisingly serviceable option. 

[return to top]