September is in the books and it's time to take stock of its surprises and we must decide which developments warrant a change in plan:
- Todd Gurley's inauspicious start for the surprising 3-1 Rams.
- Major surprises and why it's working out.
- Major disappointments and why it's failing.
- Either-Or/Neither: A game of choices between a top producer sustaining the pace or lower-ranked player to rebound.
Todd Gurley's Inauspicious start for the 3-1 Rams
The Los Angeles Rams' feature back is the No.26 fantasy RB after four weeks and nearly 20 points behind the No.9 back, UDFA Isaiah Crowell--Gurley's former teammate at Georgia. Gurley is averaging 2.6 yards per carry and he scored his two touchdowns during the same game.
Despite Gurley's struggles, the Rams are 3-1, lead the NFC West, and beat two of the division's toughest teams on paper. Where do you stand with the following:
- The Seahawks and Cardinals allow the 7th and 11th-least fantasy points to RBs. Does LA's schedule explain much of Gurley's struggles?
- If the early schedule isn't a significant factor, what is ailing Gurley and can it be fixed?
- What's Gurley's fantasy upside for the rest of the season?
- What type of player or players can you give/get for him via trade?
Andy Hicks: I think this situation is one of the most difficult for fantasy owners to get their head around, but would it be possible that Todd Gurley isn't as good as his first 4 games suggested? Since that golden start, he has had 217 carries for 749 yards in his last 12 games at a Trent Richardson-like average of 3.45 yards a carry. Although his 10 touchdowns during this span have eased the pain, at some point he has to be better than this.
The schedule has been a factor to a degree, but Rams have been very conservative in their play calling—especially in the run game. Everybody in the stadium and watching on TV knows when they are running the ball. Until they fix this it will be difficult for Gurley. They are 3-1 with him struggling so far, so who knows what they could do if they can get him going.
Chris Feery: I agree with Andy, that the schedule is only partially the reason and it’s also the Rams offense. Opposing defenses are clearly keying on Gurley and having success at stopping him. Until we see consistency from the Rams offense as a whole, that trend will continue.
That being said, Case Keenum has been relatively productive over the past two weeks. He's thrown a pair of touchdowns in each game. Perhaps the tide is starting to turn on that front.
Dave Larkin: The schedule has absolutely been a factor but as Chris and Andy have mentioned, it doesn't absolve him of all sins. I don't think Gurley has hit the heights as a runner that we saw during his rookie season.
In a struggling offense like the Rams, Gurley needs to find creases where there appear to be none. In other words, he must turn a two-yard gain into a six-yard gain.
Daniel Simpkins: Gurley’s tough schedule against rugged run defenses account for some of his struggles. The other problem is that Gurley is the player that defenses are selling out to stop. They are daring the Rams to beat them in other ways.
So far, the Rams offense and defense has done just enough to answer the bell three out of four times. Whether defensive coordinators as a whole will continue to focus on Gurley or whether they will gain at least some respect for the Los Angeles passing game remains to be seen.
Chris Kuczynski: I agree with everything Daniel detailed about Gurley's struggles. Not only have the Rams played some great defenses, but teams are focusing all of their attention on Gurley because no one is afraid of Case Keenum. There is a reason he had 250-ish yards and 2 TDs against the Cardinals: Arizona sold out on the run.
Matt Waldman: While it's possible that Todd Gurley goes the way of Trent Richardson, the reasons won't be remotely the same. Gurley understands how to run both man and zone blocking schemes. It's a tricky switch for a running back if he's only used to running one style.
Richardson struggled with man and gap schemes because of the direction that the linemen block is opposite of what he was used to. He also had difficulty staying in shape.
Gurley has neither of these problems.The problem he might have more than any is that his production last year exceeded lofty expectations for an elite prospect coming off an ACL tear and most fans and media expected production on par with the best backs in football.
Back in the day when the NFL was a run-oriented league, great runners were the focal point of offenses. Because defenses could play physical coverage on receivers, game scripts didn't veer away from the ground as often as they do in this era of football.
With this era of football weighted heavily towards passing, I wonder if we're placing the same expectations on Gurley transcending his offense in the same way that we expected it from great backs of the past. Although the production was poor, I didn't think Adrian Peterson looked bad before his injury.
But just a few years ago, Peterson transcended his teammates so I'm at a loss with how to explain what's happening with Gurley without studying him. It's something that I'm looking forward to doing. What do you guys think of his upside moving foward? If you don't think much of it, what's his market value?
Daniel Simpkins: I still would hold fast to Gurley in your leagues unless offered the moon. David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, or Ezekiel Elliot are the only backs I would consider taking straight up for him.
The present reality dictates that you won't get that kind of trade offer at this point. Still, Gurley is one of the few backs in fantasy football that commands 20-plus touches a game. He’s also one of the few that has shown he is capable of “going off” and helping you to win your week.
Fantasy owners should take heart. Easier matchups are coming. As one of my fantasy mentors always says, “Cream rises to the top.” Gurley is a transcendent, once-in-a-generation talent that will do just that for owners who are patient and continue to faithfully start him each week.
Chris Feery: For the rest of the way, it looks like a mixed bag on what we can expect from Gurley. Some tough defensive matchups remain on the docket, but there are also some cupcakes ahead.
Owners should sit tight unless they’re blown away by an offer. From my perspective, I’d still want a pretty big haul to part ways with Gurley, namely a bonafide stud receiver or a workhorse back in return.
Andy Hicks: Gurley still has marquee value but if he—or more importantly, the Rams players and staff—doesn't lift their game, I wouldn't say no to a big offer for him. If you can get a genuine stud at WR like Julio Jones plus another good young player or two, I would take it.
If you are trading for him, it may be harder as the owner probably has a lot invested in him. If you genuinely think he has a long-term future, I'm afraid he may not have hit rock bottom yet.
I would wait a few more weeks. By then, the Gurley owner may be panicked into shipping him. Of course, he could go off any week, so it's risky.
Matt Waldman: Gurley's trade value is a tough negotiation at this point. I posted a trade chart in Week 3 and it underscores this point well. If you believe you have the top fantasy RB in the game, here are some of the options that player could command:
- A top-5 QB, the top WR, or the top TE.
- (A low-end QB1, a mid-range RB, a low-end WR, or the top TE) + (an RB4 or WR5)
- (A low-end RB1, low-end WR2, or Top-5 TE) + (mid-range RB3, low-end WR4, or low-end TE1)
- Pick two: mid-range RB2, low-range WR3, or a mid-range TE1.
This is what owners of Gurley will want and it's honestly what anyone trading for him hopes he's worth. But if you're dealing him or hoping to deal for him, you and your negotiation partner have to arrive at a realistic agreement of what his current value is based on a combination of his disappointing output and tremendous upside based on the past.
My suggestion is to value Gurley as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2. If you can't get the Gurley owner to drop his expectations from top-5 RB, don't settle for less and cut off negotiations.
If you're the Gurley owner and can't bring yourself to deal him at this value, then you have to accept the realization that you still believe in him as a top option and it makes no sense for you to deal him. You'll have to ride it out and hope you're right or find a way to end your denial that the situation has changed.
If you accept Gurley as that low-end RB1/high-end RB2, these are my suggested packages to consider in a trade in order of preference:
- A one-for-one deal for a low-end QB1/high-end QB who you think is under-performing and rebounds big (I'd try Russell Wilson).
- A one-for-one deal for a current mid-range RB1 that you believe will sustain his production.
- A one-for-one deal for a low-end WR1 or whomever you believe is the best TE in the game.
- Essentially a one-for-one deal for a low-end RB1, WR2, or top-5 TE plus a scrub you have a gut feeling about.
- A mid-range RB2, mid-range WR3 + your choice of an RB5 or WR (essentially a bye-week player with promise).
I feel for those of you out there with him. If I had him, I'd keep him.
Chris Kuczynski: As Daniel mentioned, Gurley is one of the only backs that is a 20-carry workhorse with little competition behind him, so the Rams will not shy away from giving him the ball even if they are behind. He will have easier matchups and he will have better performances because he is just too good to be stopped every week. As long as he's healthy it's pretty much impossible to bench him just because of his upside.
In terms of what he is worth, I can speak from my own experience, because I reluctantly drafted him at No.8 overall this year in one league. I was Pro-Zero RB Strategy, but even I couldn't pass on him after my top 6 WRs were off the board.
Daniel hit the nail on the head again: If we are talking RB for RB, the offer will not be there because I'm only accepting David Johnson, Zeke or Bell. In general, I am not a sell-low person at all, and this is how owners lose their season by having knee-jerk reactions and panicking.
Matt makes a good point with this trade exercise. If you can't drop your value for him, go down with the ship unless a high profile player is out for an extended period of time. I'd rather have these top guys on my bench than drop them or trade them for much less than I drafted them for and then see them turn it on later on someone else's team.
If we are talking trading other positions, the lowest offer I'm willing to accept to sell is much higher than the highest offer I'd be willing to give as a buyer. In other words, you'd have to give me a top-10 WR (at this point no one would offer that), but I'm not sure I'd offer a top-20 WR to the Gurley owner. And rightfully so, they shouldn't take that).
Matt Waldman: That's the tough part about letting one's ego get invested in these matters. We all do it. But I will argue that there are times that the right thing to do is make a trade for values that appear lower on paper than the investment. Would you trade a slumping IBM at the top of its game for an upstart Berkshire Hathaway? In hindsight, yes, but it's a ballsy maneuver that few did—even pros.
What Chris explained and what I shared with the chart should tell you that if you're going to trade Gurley, you better have a dead-on feeling about the players you're targeting in exchange have even more upside than their value. But whether you stick with Gurley or trade him, make a strong decision and stand by it. Don't be a wilting flower about it.
I'd stick with Gurley because he's been the No.12 PPR RB the past two weeks and even if he earns ugly Eddie George numbers, he'll earn enough volume that it's unlikely he'll warrant further benchings.
Andy Hicks: Like the others, I have faith he is as good as advertised, but I'm starting to query this a little harder.
Dave Larkin: The Rams won't be in a lot of situations that dictate a heavy workload for Gurley, but I am optimistic he can pick up his production as the season wears on.
In the end, though, a high-end RB2 might be his ceiling. If you are planning to deal Gurley, I would be looking for a steady RB1 who hasn't quite hit his potential or an established WR1.
Major Surprises: What's Going Right?
I'll name a player and you explain why it's working out for him. Also, provide your recommendation for him moving forward in re-draft and dynasty formats.
- QB Brian Hoyer (No.6 QB for the past two weeks).
- RB Matt Jones (No.13 RB for the past two weeks)
- WR Brian Quick (No.17 WR for the past two weeks)
- TE Ryan Griffin (No.10 TE for the past two weeks)
Chris Kuczynski: The player I feel most confident about on this list is Matt Jones. He is the only player listed who I think will have longer-term value and the only player who will actually be in your lineups unless you are desperate.
He was devalued early in the season because of the shoulder injury in August, but it hasn't appeared to hinder him. He has very little competition behind him, with Chris Thompson more as an under-used pass catcher, so he dominates touches for the team.
With Jordan Reed and Desean Jackson running routes, defenses need to respect the pass and it opens things for the running game. I think he has good enough value in redraft leagues to be an RB2 or flex, but I'm a little hesitant in dynasty.
If Washington finishes middle of the pack and has a mid-first round pick, I'm not sure Jones will have done enough to stop the team from drafting one of the 5 or 6 dominant RBs in next year's draft that's loaded at the position.
Dave Larkin: Jones has seen a steady increase in his snap count over the first four weeks, culminating in his 122-yard effort against the Browns. The Redskins offensive line played well on Sunday, but can this rag-tag group really overcome the loss of key cogs and stay viable? That remains to be seen. What is clear is Jones represents the best option for carries and he should continue to produce at a steady clip. In redraft leagues, he is a strong RB2 for the time being, while you might be wise to acquire him on the cheap in dynasty.
Daniel Simpkins: I’m still not a fan of Jones in terms of running style and abilities but with no significant challenger for touches in Washington, Jones continues winning on sheer volume. While I’m fine with riding Jones till the wheels fall off in redraft leagues, I’m advocating that owners sell him in dynasty formats. When you are certain that a player you don’t believe in has hit their peak value, it is time to unload them for assets you do believe in.
Andy Hicks: The dearth of running back talent in the NFL has thrown Matt Jones to near-RB1 status. Let's also not forget that last week's game against the Browns was his second-best career game to date.
If the landscape were different, Jones is a guy that should end up producing in the 20-30 range of runners but if injuries continue hitting the RB position, he may hold his value. I doubt that he has long-term dynasty value and the key debate is when to sell. I would say immediately after he had a game like this.
The back of the future for Washington isn't on the roster now and Jones will do for now. Washington will let Jones play out his rookie contract, which runs after the 2018 season, but they could upgrade after the season and Jones becomes a reserve.
We saw what Washington did with Alfred Morris who had much better stats. Jones could hold the job until the end of this season, 2017, or 2018. It all depends on if Jones' work against Cleveland becomes the norm or he reverts to what we've seen before Week 4.
Chris Feery: Jones is talented enough to remain a key cog in the Washington backfield for the next year or so, but he’s also not so talented that he won’t be bypassed on the depth chart. That doesn’t appear to be a concern for this year, so his role remains secure for 2016 absent injury. Moving forward, I have middling interest for dynasty purposes. While there’s absolutely no reason to cut bait and move on, I also wouldn’t knock myself out in a bid to acquire his services.
Matt Waldman: I'll only add that I still believe in Keith Marshall as a prospect. I'd buy-low on the rookie in dynasty leagues and see if he takes a step forward in 2017 training camp.
I want to believe Brian Quick has grown enough to turn a corner. It seems like injuries have hurt him after flashing good things early in the year...
Alex Miglio: They may as well call him Brian Quicksand.
The Rams have been surprising in recent weeks, and that includes some big numbers from oft-hyped, never-delivering Brian Quick. Three touchdowns in the past two weeks have fantasy owners swarming the waiver wire looking to balm their Odell Beckham Jr or Dez Bryant wounds. But a closer examination of Quick's recent success throws up giant red flags.
Those three touchdowns came on four receptions. Four. Receptions. Quick has only garnered eight targets over the past two weeks. He made nice plays against Arizona, but two of his three touchdowns were a result of bad coverage and/or tackling. More importantly, his outrageous touchdown rate is going to crater quickly, and he doesn't get nearly the volume other top receivers garner.
There is also this to consider: Los Angeles finds a way to look awful outside the NFC West, and they have already gone through the division once. Granted, that is more superstition than scientific evidence, but we have all been bamboozled by the Rams before.
Chris Feery: I’m not sold on Brian Quick in either dynasty or re-draft formats. The Rams offense is far too unreliable for my tastes, and it appears likely that it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.
Todd Gurley has generally been held in check with the exception of the game against the Buccaneers, and number one overall pick Jared Goff appears to be pretty far away from seeing live game action. Add it all up, and we may see the occasional flash, but nothing that makes Quick worthy of a hot pursuit for fantasy purposes.
Andy Hicks: Quick is in his fifth season and as only now crossed the 1000-yard mark for the entirety of his career. He is on pace to have his best season to date, but that's not much when the previous best is 375 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Quick projects as a 700-800 yard guy at his best and half a dozen touchdowns if all the breaks go his way. The Rams have shown a lot of faith in him, though. Jeff Fisher was quoted as saying the game "was starting to slow down".
That's all well and good, but at best he projects as a WR4/WR5. There are better options on the waiver wire, both in redraft or dynasty leagues. The only advantage he has is that he is a starting receiver in the NFL and will get a handful of targets each week, for now.
Daniel Simpkins: Anyone who has played fantasy the last few years knows this is the pattern with Quick. He’ll flash early, only to end up getting injured or fading into obscurity as the year wears on. Let others blow their budget on Quick in both dynasty and redraft format
Chris Kuczynski: Brian Quick has shown flashes, but he is always dealing with injuries, and to be honest, I want very little to do with the Ram's offense. In redraft leagues, he's staying in the free agency pool. In dynasty leagues, he is a hold on your very deep bench.
Dave Larkin: I think my colleague Alex Miglio hit the nail on the head with his analysis, and I will echo it: Quick simply hasn't been targeted enough to make this spike in production anything more than a mirage. The Rams passing offense is still a wasteland until further notice, and quite frankly any one of the receivers on this team could go off in any given week. I would be quick—no pun intended—to trade him for whatever you can get in dynasty, while in redraft leagues, I would only add him if I was very thin at WR.
Matt Waldman: Let's transition from Jeff Fisher's LA-version of Justin McCareins or Tyrone Calico (don't even get me started...) to a player I've liked since he was a star with the UConn Huskies: Texans tight end Ryan Griffin.
Griffin has always been a fluid receiver but he's always been caught between playing a veteran talent mainstay in one regime (Owen Daniels with Gary Kubiak at the helm) and the next regime's favorite new toy (C.J. Fiedorowicz). Griffin has earned top-10 production at the position after Weeks 3 and 4.
Where you at, fellas?
Dave Larkin: Ryan Griffin should continue to see targets, but I'm not sure how viable he is as a starting option despite his productive past two weeks. Griffin caught a 45-yard pass from Brock Osweiler last Sunday, but could only muster two short receptions besides that.
Against the Patriots, most of his production came on underneath throws. Osweiler was hopelessly looking for options downfield and couldn't find any.
My advice here is to be cautious when considering Griffin. There are bound to be better options out there at the tight end in both redraft and dynasty.
Chris Feery: I’m intrigued by his prospects for the rest of this season for redraft purposes on a fill-in basis. How those prospects turn out will go a long way towards determining my interest level for dynasty purposes.
Daniel Simpkins: Bill O’Brien took over play-calling responsibilities in Houston this past week. It accounts for why the team suddenly began to use their tight ends again. C.J. Fiedorowicz sprained his MCL in the game, which made Griffin the primary receiving option at the position.
I’m not overly excited about either of these guys in dynasty or redraft. To me, they are both bottom-of-the-barrel desperation plays in an offense that will always look to the receivers and the running back first.
Chris Feery: As Daniel mentioned, the change in play calling duties could point to the Texans increasing the use of tight ends in the offense. If Griffin has another decent game or two, he could carve out a small, reliable role in the offense for the remainder of the season.
Chris Kuczynski: Ryan Griffin can be an ok filler for byes, injuries, and underperformers at the TE position because it seems every week there's only a couple of good TE performances. You hope you don't have to use him more than once or twice in redraft because you're just hoping for a 4/50 game each week. In dynasty, he's worth a hold on your bench.
Matt Waldman: So I take it you're telling me not to trade Gurley for him?
Andy Hicks: Hold up, I'll let me add Griffin to my roster and we'll talk–
Matt Waldman: Ha! I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid. At least not this week. Since we're on a roll with guys that none of you want, let's revisit the quarterback that the Texans bid adieu to last year for Brock Osweiler.
What do you think of Bryan Hoyer the Chicago Bear?
Dave Larkin: It shocks me to my very core to read that Brian Hoyer—Brian Hoyer?!—is the No.6 quarterback over the past two weeks. Is that an indictment of the overall level of quarterback play right now, or just that the veteran is plying his trade like the very best of them?
I am going to side with the former stance. Sooner or later, Hoyer might turn back into a pumpkin but the Bears clearly have an intention—if John Fox's cryptic comments are anything to go by—to keep Hoyer in the lineup.
Jay Cutler is simply too erratic, and it doesn't surprise me that Fox has taken the first chance he has gotten to bench him. All of this remains up in the air, but my recommendation in redraft leagues is to keep him on your watch list for desperation situations. In dynasty, you can safely avoid him.
Chris Kuczynski: I think Hoyer is a decent enough stop-gap for a couple weeks, but he is absolutely a desperation play and holds very little dynasty value. He will have some okay performances, then he'll have a disaster game like the wild card playoffs last season that reminds you why he hasn't been able to be a long term starter for any team. I don't see him keeping the starting job when Jay Cutler is healthy again.
Andy Hicks: Let's not get carried away here. He has played two games against defenses that are well below average. But if we look at the schedule for the Bears going forward the rest of the defenses are reasonably good matchups apart from the Vikings and Packers games.
The biggest concern is that Hoyer is "just a guy". That may or may not be good enough to hold the job when Jay Cutler is deemed fit enough. Even so, he is backup material, at best.
He is certainly not worth much in anything but the deepest dynasty leagues and holds emergency/bye week opportunity only in redrafts.
Daniel Simpkins: Hoyer is largely benefiting from garbage time game scripts and/ or weak defenses. We’re also hearing buzz that Hoyer may replace Cutler in the lineup—even when Cutler has recovered from his hand injury.
As bad as the Bears are, I think the garbage time opportunities will continue to be there for most weeks. It puts Hoyer squarely on the quarterback streaming radar for our redraft leagues.
In dynasty leagues, don’t give up anything of value to acquire Hoyer. The quarterback of the Bears’ future is not on the roster yet.
Chris Feery: Hoyer makes for a decent streaming option, but he should be off the radar for dynasty purposes. He’s looked decent in a balanced Bears offense in which he’s not asked to do too much.
Let’s not forget that he carries a high risk of implosion at a moment’s notice. I’ll echo Daniel’s point that the Bears long-term answer at the quarterback position is not currently on the roster. He’ll provide decent production for fantasy owners in need of a short-term answer, but that’s about the extent of his value at this point.
Major Surprises: What's Going Wrong?
I'll name a player and you explain why he's struggling. Also, give your recommendation for fantasy owners in re-draft and dynasty leagues.
- Carson Palmer (No.16 QB overall and No.17 for the past two weeks among QBs)
- C.J. Anderson (No.12 RB overall, but the past two weeks he's No.25 among RBs--not horrible, but his production has dipped)
- Odell Beckham Jr, Jr. (No.20 WR overall heading into Week 4, which wasn't bad but Xavier Rhodes clearly frustrated Beckham on MNF to the point that Beckham's teammates exhorted him to calm down and focus--and without success).
- Dwayne Allen (No.21 TE overall after Week 4, but No.23 overall the past two weeks).
Daniel Simpkins: After watching Palmer play for four weeks, I’m afraid we need to recalibrate our season-long expectations for him.
He's a fantasy backup. Palmer looks a step slower and his decision-making does not seem as crisp as it was last season. These are things we commonly see when a quarterback is declining near the end of his career.
It does not help that Michael Floyd, who was supposed to develop into this team’s No.1 wideout, has struggled. His hands have been inconsistent throughout the season.
In terms of dynasty value in one-quarterback formats where quarterbacks tend to be devalued anyway, the window to sell Palmer is probably firmly shut. If you can still squeeze what projects to be an early-to-mid second round pick out of another owner for Palmer, take it and run!
Chris Feery: It’s pretty clear that something’s not right with Palmer, and I think we can trace it back to two points. For starters, he’s hitting the proverbial wall in terms of age. Father Time remains undefeated, and we’ve seen numerous signal callers seem to fall off a cliff rather rapidly. While I don’t believe the falloff is quite that dramatic for Palmer as of yet, it certainly seems like it’s coming.
Second, perhaps he hasn’t shaken off last year’s playoff meltdown. Imploding on such a huge stage can have disastrous effects on a player’s psyche, and it’s not guaranteed they’ll be able to fight their way out of it.
We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out the rest of this year. For redraft purposes, it’s unlikely there’s a better option for owners to move on to, and the overall upside of the Cardinals offense points to sticking out the rough patch and hoping things turn. On the dynasty front, it may be a good time to assess his value on the trade market although Daniel has a good point that his value is minimal unless you can find a win-now organization that believes in Palmer.
Dave Larkin: The guys have all made salient points about Palmer's career trajectory and how age may finally be catching up with the signal caller. To me, it is an issue of confidence and processing speed.
Palmer is not making his reads quickly enough at times and he is often gun shy when it comes to pulling the trigger. That moment of indecisiveness can be devastating for the efficacy of an offense.
The Cardinals have terrific weapons, but perhaps Bruce Arians would be best-served dialing-back the deep ball approach that is his M.O. and switching to a more quarterback-friendly offense until Palmer regains that bit of lost confidence. There is no doubt, however, that Palmer has not looked the same since the end of last season—and the end could be in sight. Sell now in dynasty, but stay patient if you can in redraft leagues.
Matt Waldman: I still believe in Palmer. He's younger than Tom Brady and Drew Brees. What hasn't been believable is Palmer's pass protection. It's performing at a level that's as oxymoronic as "central intelligence."
Palmer has been sacked 12 times and only 4 quarterbacks have been sacked more. Three of those four are mobile dudes: Andrew Luck, Alex Smith, and Cam Newton. The guy Palmer is tied with is Blake Bortles, another young and mobile passer.
Pressure makes any pocket quarterback look especially bad and the Cardinals were supposed to have a good line. There were warning signs this summer. Evan Mathis has been a fine player but he had two offseason ankle surgeries and didn't look like the Mathis of old this summer.
Center A.Q. Shipley and Earl Watford were splitting reps. The most important part of the line is the center position and you don't want a timeshare to begin the summer or the line doesn't gain rapport.
Add John Brown's early-season concussion to the mix and I think this entire passing offense has been in a fog with the notable exception of future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. I'll buy-low in re-drafts.
Andy Hicks: I don't often toot my own horn–
Matt Waldman: But...
Andy Hicks: But as but my preseason ranking comment is bearing fruit early in the year
Palmer has rarely maintained high fantasy value throughout his career and I would rather jump off before he has that inevitable bad final season. Maybe I'm one or even two years too early, but only 5 of his 14 seasons have been as a QB1, with just 3 inside the top 6. Unlike Drew Brees or Tom Brady, Palmer doesn't project as a safe option.
If you can get anything of value, do so now. He looked slower this year and after his concussion, he could play gun shy. The only advantage is that Arizona will play him until the season is absolutely and positively lost for the year.
Drew Stanton is not going to be the long-term answer so Palmer will play in front of him. If Arizona has any kind of opinion on Zak Dysert he may get a run at the tail end of the season, but more than likely we see Palmer play, for better or for worse, until he can't.
Matt Waldman: C.J. Anderson...Go!
Andy Hicks: For years, Denver has gotten production at the running back position from a lower or undrafted running backs. They are one of the few franchises that can do this. At some stage, though, a player's ability has to come into it and I wonder if we've seen the absolute best that C.J. Anderson can give.
As long as he can get on the field, though, he should be a solid RB2 though. The changes in rules to chop blocking may be affecting Denver more than any other team so far.
Expecting Anderson to live up to his early RB1 status has to be questioned. If you have depth at running back I would happily move Anderson onto a team that may overpay. Otherwise ride him for what he is, not what he has flashed occasionally.
Daniel Simpkins: I’m not worried about Anderson from a production standpoint. The Buccaneers may not be tough through the air, but they are stiff against the run. And the Bengals do not present a great matchup for running backs.
I am worried about Anderson from an injury standpoint. Historically, he seems to miss a little bit of time each year with some sort of malady. Owners in redraft leagues who have taken the precaution of handcuffing him to Devontae Booker or have sufficient depth at running back should be ok.
In terms of dynasty leagues, Anderson is a sell-high for me if I have a rebuilding team. In a nutshell, I believe in building my dynasty teams around young wideouts that I identify as potential core talents and around taking lots of shots on running backs that could increase exponentially in value with time.
Matt Waldman: I like this approach, Daniel. It's also what I tend to do.
Daniel Simpkins: It only makes sense in a WR-driven hobby at this point. Back to Anderson, whose play is at (or near) peak value. It means fantasy teams that are not in contending mode need to cash out on him. If you can get something like Laquon Treadwell or Kevin White plus another player or pick you like in those situations, I strongly advise you to do so.
Matt Waldman: I still believe in those guys long-term. Good suggestion if you've soured on Anderson in Denver.
Chris Feery: I’m completely sold on holding onto or buying Anderson in both formats. Part of his slight dip in production has coincided with a rise in productivity for the Broncos passing attack. That will balance out over the next few games, and should also open up even more opportunities for Anderson as opposing teams realize they need to shift their focus away from simply stopping Anderson.
He’s in line for a solid 2016 when all is said and done. For dynasty purposes, the shadow of Devontae Booker makes me a little nervous, but if Anderson knocks it out of the park for the rest of the way, he should guarantee himself a role regardless of Booker’s emergence.
Dave Larkin: This comes down to the game scripts, which Daniel mentioned earlier. The Broncos were forced into a pass-first approach by Cincinnati in Week 3, and Trevor Siemian answered the call. The Bengals were so fervent in stopping the Broncos rushing attack, it goes a long way to explaining Anderson's lack of success.
But I'll part ways with Daniel about Anderson's value. His skill in the red zone, combined with how well the offensive line has been playing should produce dividends very soon for impatient owners. To quote the great Cecil Lammey: Don't sweat it, you've got C.J. Anderson on your fantasy team.
Stick with him in redraft and dynasty formats.
Matt Waldman: Let's segue from one of Cecil Lammey's faves to one of Sigmund Bloom's "guys"..."Robo-Cop" Dwayne Allen. We watched Allen force his opponent into committing a pass interference penalty in the end zone last weekend but DPIs don't give fantasy owners points.
Allen is TE21 after Week 4 and TE23 the past two weeks. What gives?
Chris Kuczynski: Not only has he shown very little up to this point in his career due to injuries and being low man in the pecking order, but he has not taken advantage of his starting opportunities with Fleener now with the Saints and Moncrief hurt. With his average of 3 catches for 33 yards per game during the first 4 weeks, he's even been out-performed by the team's other TE Jack Doyle.
Given the circumstances—and the fact Colts have been involved in some shootouts—the opportunities are there, but Allen has been a disappointment. Hopefully, you have better options and benched Allen sooner than Week 5. He is still roster-worthy in most 12 team leagues, but sit him until he proves himself startable. He does have more value in dynasty leagues because of his age.
Dave Larkin: The Colts offense reeks of problems, and Dwayne Allen is just one of the poor souls who has to set sail on this sinking ship. The Colts are rotating their tight ends enough to make this situation more trouble than it is worth for fantasy owners.
Andrew Luck is also not inspiring a whole lot of confidence. As many predicted before the season amid talk of an Allen breakout, he is simply more valuable to the offense as a blocker.
I would drop him for one of the up and coming options at tight end in redraft leagues. I might even consider selling in dynasty for the right price.
Chris Feery: While many expected to see a leap from Dwayne Allen with Coby Fleener out of the picture, that simply hasn’t come to fruition. In short, it’s quite obvious that the largest amount of value he brings to the table is as a blocker.
The Colts recognize this as well, which is why we’ve seen Jack Doyle receive a similar number of targets thus far this year. There’s no reason to believe that will be changing anytime soon. Allen provides some value on a fill-in basis, but that appears to be it at this point.
Andy Hicks: Until the Colts fix their blocking and defensive issues, I wouldn't expect him to be unleashed in the passing game.
Given previous experience from the Colts, this may be a long time coming. Allen may have a career renaissance at some point, but he is in his fifth year and his best year, by far, was his rookie season.
Even so, 8 touchdowns in 2014 masked his actual use, which was only 29 receptions. Until proven otherwise, he has name recognition only.
Daniel Simpkins: In most re-draft formats, I’ve already thrown him back to the waiver wire in favor of the likes of Hunter Henry, Cameron Brate, Dennis Pitta, and others that will have more favorable opportunities in their respective offenses.
In dynasty formats, I have slightly more optimism in Allen. The Colts will undoubtedly have to continue to address their offensive line problems if they want to keep Luck’s career from being shortened. If we see that happen this offseason, Allen will once again be relevant.
Matt Waldman: Odell Beckham Jr...signs of a career apocalypse or a speed bump on the way to maturity?
Dave Larkin: The elephant in the room—Beckham's temperament—continues to plague this Giants offense, and Beckham himself. The talent is clearly there, but I wonder if he is suffering a crisis of confidence right now.
There are a lot of veterans in that locker room who should be able to get through to Beckham. If they can't, it could be a long and frustrating season for his fantasy owners. It goes without saying he is a hold in all formats.
Chris Feery: To say that Beckham has been a disappointment thus far would be an understatement, but we need to sit tight and wait for the pending explosion in productivity. The continued emergence of Sterling Shepard will gradually lead teams to stop zeroing in on Beckham as much as they have, and it may just take a single game of huge production from Shepard to make that a reality.
I’m slightly concerned about the increased focus on his competitiveness. Those things have a way of snowballing, especially when production is in the tank. A monster stat line will quickly change the conversation revolving around Beckham, and that could come as soon as this week against the Packers.
Daniel Simpkins: I’m not overly concerned about Odell Beckham Jr Jr. from either a dynasty or redraft standpoint. Beckham Jr. is still a supremely talented but very young player that is learning through the school of hard knocks that letting your temper get the best of you on the field will only result in team failure and personal frustration.
Giants General Manager Jerry Reese reportedly had a long conversation with Beckham Jr. after the game in the locker room about these matters. We know Beckham Jr. is an intelligent and highly motivated young man. I have no doubt that he will learn from his mistakes and produce for us going forward.
Beckham is frustrated, but talent usually wins out in these matters. He is a young man facing challenges right now, but he is too good a player not to meet and beat this period in his career. If you can get him from a worried Beckham owner, do it before he explodes (on the field).
Matt Waldman: I always love to bring up the perspective Andy revealed about "this time last year." I'll add one more thought: For the past two weeks, Beckham faced two very good cornerbacks—one of them a heated rival that was motivation for a league rule change.
Great players in every sport have lost their temper or composure during their careers and cost themselves or their team victories. While it's nice to say there's now a potential formula for unraveling Beckham, a significant part of it is having a cover corner good enough to stop him.
The next one on the schedule is a rematch with Josh Norman in Week 17. Unless Beckham has a psychological disorder or off-field problem that we don't know about and these events on the field are compounding the issue in some way, I'm not taking any of this seriously.
Let's play a new game called Either-Or/Neither. I'll name two players as potential candidates for your starting lineup for the rest of the season. One is a highly-ranked player after four weeks. The other is a lower-ranked option. Rankings are based on PPR scoring.
You have three options:
- The higher-ranked player.
- The lower-ranked player.
- Another lower-ranked player of your choice that is within 5-spots of lower-ranked option I mentioned or lower.
Make you pick and explain your choices with each:
- No.5 Andrew Luck or No.19 Russell Wilson
- No.1 DeMarco Murray or No.48 Le'Veon Bell
- No.5 Michael Crabtree or No.28 DeAndre Hopkins
- No.5 Jimmy Graham or No.70 Rob Gronkowski
Let's start from the top...Luck, Wilson, or neither?
Chris Kuczynski: It's close but I'll give the edge to Andrew Luck. I like Wilson more in terms of talent, but Wilson has a few things going against him.
He has been banged up with his ankle injury, the team has been pretty good running the ball with Christine Michael, and Seattle has a top-ranked defense. It means Wilson is not going to be expected to do as much. He can play ball control and keep the other offense off the field. Luck on the other hand, has to put the team on his back and outscore the opponent in a shootout every week.
Andy Hicks: Both Luck and Wilson have displayed worrisome moments this year, but Wilson is more likely to have his situation fixed quickly. Luck doesn't have good blocking or a good defense and I fear that Chuck Pagano is on his last legs as the coach.
Who knows what a new coaching scheme does for Luck. The Colts are heavily invested in his future, but they need to build a team around him or it will all be for naught.
Both are injury concerns for the rest of this season, but with a bye this week Wilson should be rested to carry on for the remainder of the season. I fear Luck ends up like he did last year as the Colts get worse and Luck makes plays he shouldn't.
Daniel Simpkins: Give me Russell Wilson. He's proven to be a quick healer and we finally see this passing offense coming together with Jimmy Graham being used correctly. The bye week will only help this banged-up team.
On the other hand, we see the poor team construction on both sides of the ball catching up with the Colts. Andrew Luck is once again taking weekly beatings, even from teams not known for an exceptional pass rush. I don't feel good about Luck making it through the season healthy at this rate.
Chris Feery: Russell Wilson. It looks like an extremely challenging season is unfolding in front of our eyes for the Colts, and it doesn’t appear that will be changing overnight. The offensive line issues have been well documented, and that doesn’t bode well for Luck making it through the season in one piece.
On the other side, the Seahawks look like a team that will continue getting better as the season moves along. As Wilson completely returns to full strength, his production should only increase.
Matt Waldman: Wilson (seriously, did you expect me to say Luck?). The rapport he's building with Jimmy Graham looks every bit as good as the chemistry Graham had with Brees. Seattle has also figured out how to use Graham and they're finding ways to match him with linebackers.
Although Tyler Lockett is dealing with a PCL injury, Paul Richardson Jr has seen time in the starting lineup all season and there are signs that Wilson is gaining trust in him on similar targets as Graham. Add Doug Baldwin to the mix, and this offense seems poised for take-off.
The Broncos have had a strong defense for a few years and it didn't stop Peyton Manning from shredding opponents (until age caught up with him last year). The Seahawks manhandled the Jets. I think this is the turning point for a balanced offense the rest of the way.
Andy Hicks: As much as I love DeMarco Murray—and I was the only staffer to have him in their top 12 rankings in the preseason—Le'Veon Bell is a difference maker in both phases of the game. He is also on the better team that is likely to be leading more games. I still think Murray finishes as a top-6 back, but Bell will be higher than that if he can stay fit.
Daniel Simpkins: I’ll also take Le'Veon Bell over Murray for the same reasons. Not only is Bell on another level in terms of talent, but the offense in Pittsburgh is also much better.
As the season quickly slips away from the Titans, I look for them to eventually decrease the workload for Murray and get Henry additional touches for more experience. There are also no guarantees that Mike Mularkey and company make it through the season and a coaching staff shake-up would likely result in a change of usage.
Chris Feery: While not as confident in Murray as Andy was, I was higher than most on Murray in the offseason so I’m pretty pleased with his results thus far. Despite that, there’s no way that you can take him over Bell for the rest of the way.
For those that need convincing on that front, look no further than both teams overall offenses. Despite being shut down by the Eagles, how often do you see the Steelers offense being held in check this season? Probably not often, if at all, but the same can’t be said for the Titans.
Chris Kuczynski: Okay, I was wrong about Murray; he is not fool's gold. He has been playing well and perfectly fits this offensive scheme. With that said, am I taking a player on an average offense who might get fewer carries based on game flow? No. The Titans will be playing from behind and Marcus Mariota is not very good.
Or, am I taking a player on the No.1 offense with the best WR in the league and a top-5 QB? Yes! Bell looks like he picked up right where he left off. On Sunday night, he earned 144 rushing yards at 8 yards per carry, and 5/34 receiving.
Those receptions and receiving yards will only go up when the Steelers actually have to put up a fight and aren't coasting in the second half.
Matt Waldman: Crabtree or Hopkins?
Andy Hicks: Crabtree at No. 5 is a direct result of his three-touchdown game—a short-term anomaly. Hopkins is coming off a one-catch, four-yard game. It's as low as he is ever likely to be and another short-term anomaly.
Hopkins is the better receiver plain and simple. Long-term Amari Cooper will be the clear No. 1 in Oakland and Will Fuller V will be the No.2 in Houston. Early season stat returns do not indicate end of season results. Sometimes they provide a trend, other times a deviation to the norm. Both of these situations here will correct themselves by the time the season ends.
Daniel Simpkins: I like DeAndre Hopkins to rebound as teams begin to catch up to the reality of having to have more respect for Will Fuller V’s deep speed. I think Amari Cooper is in a similar situation to Hopkins in his respective offense. More targets and bigger games are coming for him, taking the edge off of Crabtree’s upside.
Chris Kuczynski: I love Michael Crabtree. Fully disclosure, I am a huge Raiders fan and think Derek Carr and Crabtree have excellent chemistry, with Crabtree appearing to make multiple clutch catches every week that puts them in the lead or wins them the game.
With that said, the Raiders still have Amari Cooper and Crabtree is probably not catching 3 TDs in a game too often (though I hope he does). In my opinion, it is way too early to give up on Deandre Hopkins.
Last year, he was approaching top 5 WR status and was toward the top of the league in targets with QBs like Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet throwing to him last year. Brock Osweiler and Bill O'Brien will figure out how to get Hopkins the ball—he is too talented to only have single-digit targets and we definitely won't put up a zero again.
Chris Feery: I’ll lean towards Crabtree by a nose at this point. I wasn’t particularly high on the Texans offense heading into the season, and the early results have confirmed my suspicion.
The Raiders offense has been pretty solid thus far, and Crabtree has been a huge part of that. While teams can certainly start paying him some more mind, that exposes them to the risk of an Amari Cooper explosion.
Crabtree will cool off, but he should remain pretty productive for the remainder of 2016. For Hopkins, an explosion or two is not out of the question, but I fail to see how he’ll justify his lofty draft position when all’s said and done.
Matt Waldman: My man, Chris!
Chris Kuczynski: Which one?
Matt Waldman: Feery, but I feel you, brother. I think Crabtree and Hopkins will finish very close to each other this year. I'm convinced Derek Carr has a better rapport with Crabtree than Cooper. I also think Crabtree is a savvier route runner than Cooper—as good as Cooper is at this early a stage of his career.
It's also notable that the Raiders are moving Crabtree around and placing Seth Roberts outside in many of its alignments. Crabtree is earning some prime time opportunities this way.
That said, I don't know if I have the guts to take Crabtree over Hopkins right now. In theory, yes, because I think Carr is the better quarterback. In practice, I'm not sure I'm ready to pull that trigger.
How about Graham or Gronkowski?
Chris Kuczynski: I'm glad you saved the easiest one for last. Jimmy Graham has certainly exceeded expectations returning from that injury and proving a lot of people wrong, but this is an unfair matchup. Rob Gronkowski is the most dominant TE in the league when healthy and having a Hall of fame QB throwing to him.
But that first part is the problem, he has been banged up all season. Take a look at what Michael Bennett has done in this offensive scheme with Garapolo and Brissett—now replace those players with Gronk and Tom Brady.
Many expect the return of Brady to be another one of those "revenge tours", and I don't think they are wrong. With Brady at the helm the team is a top offense and he will make it a point to force feed Gronk the ball, especially around the redzone. In the second half of the season, I expect Gronk's points per game to be among the best for TEs.
Andy Hicks: As Matt mentioned earlier, the Seattle Seahawks seem to have figured out how to use Jimmy Graham properly. Last year, they tried fitting him into their system. This year, they are using him like he was in New Orleans.
Graham should be closer to people's expectations last year but like Chris said, Rob Gronkowski is a special talent. It seems obvious that New England put Gronkowski on ice while Tom Brady was suspended and I have a feeling that they have been more than conservative in their management of his hamstring injury.
Now that both will be back I expect what we did at the start of the year, Gronkowski will be the clear No. 1 Tight End in the game. As Chris mentioned, if Martellus Bennett can post up 15 catches for 247 yards, with backup quarterbacks, then Gronkowski will dominate.
Matt Waldman: I'd love to buy into the super-secret, Bill Belichick Death Star conspiracy of sandbagging Gronowski until Brady returns but based on recent reports, it sounds like Gronkowski still doesn't look like himself. If this lasts only a few more weeks then I could see siding with the Gronkowski contingent.
But I'm worried it won't and it means I'm going with Graham.
Daniel Simpkins: I'm also going contrarian here and taking Jimmy Graham for the rest of the way. It’s taken a season and a half of using him the wrong way in the offense and a somewhat miraculous recovery on Graham’s part, but it seems he’s back on the right track.
On the other hand, we’re hearing from sources in New England that Gronkowski is still ailing and may have pushed it to return too soon from injury. I worry that if Gronkowski continues to push through and play that he will continue to be ineffective.
New England has another capable tight end in Martellus Bennett who can allow Gronkowski more time to heal. That would be the smart play for a Patriots team that has overcome a great deal of adversity and should be a playoff contender down the stretch.
Chris Feery: A healthy Gronkowski would make this discussion a moot point. At full health, there’s little question that he soars to the top of the tight end rankings, especially with the return of Tom Brady behind center. Unfortunately, there remain questions about exactly when he’ll be returning to full strength.
At the same time, Graham has delivered back-to-back solid outings, and he’s shown an increasing rapport with Russell Wilson while making that happen. If Gronkowski is able to get back to full strength soon, I’d place my vote in his column without question. Absent that, Graham is the prudent choice for the rest of 2016.