We're approaching the midpoint of the fantasy football's regular season. Down the stretch, the landscape could change dramatically. There are also situations that could also remain the same despite fantasy owners expecting big changes. Let's cover the gamut of players who could make a difference moving forward:
- Amari Cooper or Michael Crabtree
- Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman
- Antonio Gates or Hunter Henry
- Martellus Bennett or Rob Gronkowski
- Miscellaneous Topics
- Is DeMarco Murray a sell-high?
- Rest of the season: Carlos Hyde, Isaiah Crowell, or Matt Forte?
- Rest of the season: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, or Sam Bradford?
- True or False: Jesse James owners should be concerned about the imminent return of Ladarius Green.
- True or False: Tony Romo gets his job back despite Dak Prescott's impressive performance.
- True or False: Jeremy Kerley will remain a fantasy WR2 (No.13 for the past 3 weeks in standard and PPR formats).
- State of the Panthers
Each pair performed well last week and are in offenses where they could potentially thrive for the rest of the year. Who do you prefer for rest of the season and why?
- Amari Cooper or Michael Crabtree?
- Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman?
- Antonio Gates or Hunter Henry?
- Martellus Bennett or Rob Gronkowski?
Will Grant: Crabtree went crazy two weeks ago with his 3-TD game, so everyone's hot on him now. But the reality is that Cooper is really the big play guy, averaging over 17 yards per catch. He just hasn't been able to reach the end zone until last week. The truth is either of these guys would be great for your team, but if I had to choose, I'd rather have Cooper.
Jason Wood: In terms of draft day value, Crabtree is the play. But that's not what you're asking. ADP and cost aside, I would still rather have Cooper (even though I'm an unabashed Crabtree bull). Cooper is young and we should credibly expect further growth, whereas Crabtree is playing at peak level. I'll take the guy with upside over the guy at baseline every day when all else is equal (snaps, system, quarterback, etc...). Cooper could well finish as a Top-10 receiver this year with a bit more luck. Would this even be a discussion if Cooper had scored those 4 touchdowns last week?
Matt Waldman: It wouldn't be a discussion, but I know I'd be privately wondering if Crabtree wasn't in a position to outscore Cooper down the stretch if those touchdowns were red zone targets that got him inside the five rather than the end zone. Watching how easily Crabtree is getting open—and often due to the players Cooper draws in coverage—led me to consider whether I'd rather have the best all-around athlete with excellent receiving skills at the position on the team or the veteran who lacks Cooper's downfield speed, but is known as one of the best route runners in the league and Carr clearly looks to in pivotal situations.
I believe Crabtree will remain a top-15 receiver for the rest of the season and benefits more from Cooper than Cooper benefits from him. While Cooper easily has higher upside, I think is floor is lower than Crabtree's in this situation and it leads me to think that I'd rather have Crabtree this year if I had to make this kind of difficult decision.
John Mamula: I will take either of these guys and actually have shares of both in my season long leagues. If I had to choose, give me Amari Cooper as he is still developing as a player and has a higher ceiling. The Raiders are ranked in the Top 7 of Total Passing Yards. It's a ranking that I think will remain this strong as long as Derek Carr, Cooper, and Crabtree stays healthy.
Andrew Garda: Both guys are close in terms of targets (Cooper: 47, Crabs: 44). Crabtree has caught more of his targets as well as scored more touchdowns. Cooper has more yards by about 100 yards which, in most leagues, translates to about 10 points. If things stay the same way, Crabtree will be the better guy down the road, even if the TD production falls off, as he's not far off Cooper's current production. In PPR, Crabtree is a winner as well, as he is catching more balls.
Danny Tuccitto: I like Cooper for the rest of the year. Crabtree's over-performed by 20.7 standard points, which ranks third among wide receivers through three weeks. Cooper ranks 30th at +5.7.
Crabtree's main issue is that he's currently scoring a touchdown on 2.72 percent of his routes run when the league average is only 0.94%. It's less of a factor because yardage rates are more consistent than touchdown rates over time, but Crabtree's 1.93 yards per route is also well above the league average of 1.57, so it's likely to come down a bit as well.
Mark Wimer: Cooper is the big play threat as Will mentioned, but he has to score from way out, while Crabtree is doing well in higher percentage scoring situations. Carr is going to throw the ball to each guy in the high single digits or low double-digits each week so either is very attractive from a fantasy perspective. Personally, I prefer Crabtree because he is trusted in red zone situations.
Matt Waldman: What about Freeman and Coleman for Atlanta?
Jason Wood: Is this really a discussion?
Matt Waldman: I've been asking that question for two years so if I'm asking it here, I'm just reflecting what I'm seeing on message boards, Twitter, and in and around Atlanta. I'll also note that Coleman has outscored Freeman four games to one so far, despite earning 30 fewer touches.
Mark Wimer: I get that but Freeman is the more consistent back in Atlanta in terms of point potential because of the number of touches the receivers on a weekly basis, so I prefer him. He's more resistant to the game script than Coleman because he also gets looks in the passing game and he'll tote the rock when Atlanta is ahead and running out the clock.
Will Grant: It depends on the format. In a PPR format where RBs get a full point, I'd want Coleman. He has about 50 fewer yards from scrimmage, but he's a bigger threat in the passing game and he's averaging a whopping 18.4 YPR.
The Falcons will continue to use him in the passing game and he'll see plenty of opportunities the rest of the season. However, if you take PPR out of it, I think I'd rather have Freeman. He's looked pretty good this season, and is averaging almost 2 Yards per carry more than Coleman, and has 50 more yards from scrimmage.
Danny Tuccitto: This one's easy: Freeman. Coleman's standard point total through five weeks is far-and-away the largest outlier with respect to TFP for any running back. He's currently over-performing by 32.7 points, with 2nd-place DeMarco Murray at +18.0. In 9th place, Freeman's also over-performing his TFP. But, for perspective, he's closer to Murray's No. 2 ranking than Murray is to Coleman's No. 1.
Jason Wood: Devonta Freeman is the guy with the resume and is beasting right now. Coleman has carved out a compelling role particularly as a pass-catcher, but I still think Coleman will have difficulty maintaining his current PPG rate given sporadic snaps and targets.
The only reason to worry about Freeman entering the year was an expectation that Atlanta would be bad (really bad) and thus the game script wouldn't support a repeat of last year. Yet, five weeks in and Atlanta has passed a lot of tests and appears to be a true division contender. It also has a much improved offensive line.
John Mamula: Jason nailed it. Atlanta's offensive line has impressed this season. I prefer Devonta Freeman if I had to choose but do not mind shares of both of these players. If either player misses time this season, the other guy will turn gold. If either back gets all the touches, they are instantly in the same tier as Le'Veon Bell or David Johnson.
Andrew Garda: I broke down how the Falcons beat the Broncos defense for Pro Football Weekly this week, and it gave me a real appreciation for the way Atlanta is getting the most out of both backs. So in some ways, my answer is "yes" because Coleman is someone who, when in the right set up, can make some big plays via the passing game while Freeman is the more consistent ball carrier.
If I have to choose—and I know I have to—I echo what Jason and John said in that Freeman is the steadier back and the one I can rely on. The Atlanta offense is looking good—I just wish I felt better about the defense.
Matt Waldman: I prefer Freeman based on Wimer's point about touch rate. I'm also not convinced Coleman will deliver RB1-quality production as a runner if Freeman gets hurt. Still, I might be quibbling about Johnson's point that "if either player misses time this season, the other guy will turn gold." If the Falcons can remain creative with Coleman in the passing game, the rushing yards will turn sterling silver into gold, or 8-karat gold into 18-karat gold.
Gates or Henry?
John Mamula: I would give the edge to Henry because of his upside. However, if I have 16 total roster spots, I don't want either player on my team. I don't like carrying two TEs on my season long teams. With both of these players healthy, it muddies the waters. In most season-long leagues, I think you could stream a better TE option on a week-by-week basis.
Andrew Garda: I'm with John in that I feel like avoiding this. Not only because of Gates' return—even at less than full Gates strength—clouds the issue but because this team is a disaster. Offensively it has issues.
On the plus side, it is averaging a lot of yards and a lot of points in a fairly hopeless cause. I like Henry's upside so if I choose one, it's him and I think Gates gives way more and more to him as the season goes.
Mark Wimer: Hunter Henry has arrived as a bonafide NFL tight end, and Antonio Gates is on his last legs. Gates will be a fine mentor for Henry as he continues his development, but I'd want Henry on my fantasy roster over Gates.
Danny Tuccitto: Even though I posited in the roundtable a couple of weeks ago that Gates is done—
Matt Waldman: And as you can tell from this question, I think there are compelling reasons on film to disagree with your point even if you say "it's the Raiders' linebackers who stink against tight ends."
Danny Tuccitto: Ha! Anyhow, this one's made a little tougher because Henry is No. 4 among tight ends with respect to over-performing his TFP. His 2.11 yards per route is likely to regress to around 1.67 going forward. His touchdowns per route are likely to regress from 1.83 percent all the way down to 1.10 percent.
That said, Gates actually ranks 9th at +4.9, which is only 4.8 points lower than Henry's +9.7 mark. Therefore, I'll stick with my Henry pick from earlier.
Matt Waldman: It's interesting data but I do wonder how much of this is based on the context of teams that use tight ends like tight ends as opposed to multiple tight ends where both could be considered wide receivers? Gates and Henry were used in combinations that forced defenses to pick their poison and part of the strategy was to compel the opponent to consider Gates the primary and then generate a rub route for Henry's benefit if Gates didn't come open.
There will be times that Gates will come open as the primary. Although he's no longer a force after the catch, Tony Gonzalez lost that part of his game before his final years in Atlanta and he was still unstoppable on zone routes or against linebackers in the short game. I'm seeing evidence of the same from Gates so I think this is a more difficult question than those prizing athletic ability and youth may believe.
That said, I'll also go with Henry because he has greater potential for yards per catch than Gates and like Crabtree and Cooper, he'll benefit more from Gates' presence than Gates will from Henry. But I also think Gates will have better value than many expect because this team needs its best passing weapons on the field and I think we'll see a lot more two-tight end sets.
Jason Wood: This is a tough call. Generally, I would argue that rookie tight ends are wasted roster spots. Most of the league's all-time great tight ends were fantasy non-factors as rookies. Yet, we've now seen that Henry is anything but normal.
He didn't put up peak Gates' numbers in his early starts, but he was far more impactful in that role than I had any reason to expect. Gates' late TD last week muddies the waters, but Henry was still the lead tight end in terms of snap count. As shocked as I may be, I'm going to give the slightest edge to Henry.
Will Grant: There's a part of me that wants to say that Gates is done because he has been so banged up the last two years. The reality of it though is that if he's in the game, he's going to get the ball. Maybe not as often as he used to and maybe he won't be able to separate from defenders like he did in his prime, but Gates will get his fair share of catches, especially in the red zone.
Hunter Henry has filled in nicely while Gates has been out and still had 74 yards receiving and a TD this week when Gates returned to the offense. That being said, Gates seriously limits his upside when he's in the game. The kid has some talent, and the Chargers need all the offensive firepower they can get. I think both are a viable option, but Gates gets the nod when he's healthy.
Andrew Garda: Any athlete making Luke Cage references gets my vote!
Matt Waldman: Ha!
Andrew Garda: But if we're being serious, I would lean towards Gronkowski by just a little. I agree that we're going to see a lot of two tight end sets and have felt that way since Bennett signed. Bennett will get his, but Gronk is going to be more consistent given the long history with Brady. Plenty to go around here in New England though.
Mark Wimer: Now that Brady is back we're going to see a lot of two tight end sets and either guy could go off in any given week. I guess in leagues where long TDs garner bonuses I'd lean to Gronkowski, but in most scoring paradigms they'll both be excellent.
John Mamula: All things being equal, I will take Gronkowski 100 percent of the time. He is getting healthy and will have a breakout game within the next couple of weeks—probably 10 days from now at Pittsburgh.
Bennett will continue to be targeted the rest of the season as well. In this weeks FootballGuys top 200 Forward rankings, Gronkowski and Bennett are both ranked in the Top 4 in standard leagues for the remainder of the season. Both TE has significant value moving forward.
Jason Wood: I love the Black Unicorn (thanks to Sigmund for turning me around on his prospects) and he's been a gem for a lot of my rosters. We saw proof this week that Gronkowski's return and Brady's presence are not going to remove Bennett's value.
Yet, as long as Gronkowski is healthy I have to think he'll be the better player over the last 11 weeks. To be clear, I think we have to look at this in the same way we used to when Aaron Hernandez was a talented player versus a convicted felon. Which is to say both Gronkowski and Bennett are every week fantasy starters. Edge to Gronkowski, but Bennett remains a compelling fantasy TE1 in his own right.
Will Grant: Martellus Bennett has worn out his welcome with several teams over the last few seasons, and I honestly didn't think he was going to make the grade for the Patriots this season. But at least for now, he's minding his manners and doing what he's told, fully embracing the 'Patriot Way'.
His reward is has been three really solid games, including 3 TDs last week against the Browns. We've written in several different places that Gronkowski doesn't 'look like himself' and he still has some nagging injuries that opened up the door for Bennett to find room for himself.
Now that Gronk is back, even if he's not 100 percent, Tom Brady is still finding ways to get him the ball. We've seen it before that Brady isn't a guy who locks onto 1 receiver, and that's perfect for Bennett because he's a very athletic guy.
If Gronk and Julian Edelman are drawing the strong coverage, Brady is smart enough and quick enough to find Bennett in the open field where his skills can create mismatches that lead to big gains. I'll take a healthy Gronk over Bennett any day just because of past history and strong performance. But Bennett will have his fair share of the offense as well, and both should be considered a TE1 in a PPR league.
Danny Tuccitto: Gronkowski. That's because Bennett's the Tevin Coleman of tight ends. He's not just the most overperforming player at the position; he's the most overperforming player by a country mile.
Through five games, his 2.85 yards per route is more than double the league average of 1.51, and his 3.61% touchdowns per route is nearly quadruple the league average of 0.99%. Sustaining one of those stratospheric stat levels is unlikely; sustaining both is nearly impossible.
Meanwhile, Gronkowski has scored almost exactly the same number of points whether you use his actual stats or his "true" stats, so there's no regression-to-the-mean issue with him. Furthermore, due to injury, he's only run 51 routes in four games. That usage rate figures to ramp up considerably as the season progresses.
Matt Waldman: This is another example where I wonder if your data is based on the traditional use of one tight end in an offense and not the dynamic that occurs into a multiple offense with a power 11 personnel. I expect that the answer is "yes" because there is not enough data on this kind of offense and how it differs from the standard tight end usage that we see.
So I'll argue that the averages don't apply because this scheme and these players may not fit the roles your data assigns them to. So while it's any easy statement to say "sustaining those stratospheric levels is unlikely" and I'll agree because it's common sense that no player will average outrageous production without defenses adjusting, I will argue that defenses NEVER figured out how to contain the Gronkowski-Hernandez pairing.
Because it's so difficult to find two tight ends this versatile, we don't see offenses try this scheme. Gates and Henry couldn't do it because only Gates is a good blocker at the line of scrimmage and only Henry can earn consistent separation up the seam.
In reference to Will's comments about Bennett behaving himself, I watched E:60's Bennett Brothers episode tonight and the impression I got is that most of us have it backwards: Bennett isn't conforming to the Patriots so he can be with a winner; he found a team that doesn't care about his free-spirited, blunt personality because his actions are more important as an everyday professional.
The training camp fight with Will Fuller V and the accompanying video of the event served as great context for Bennett's point that he showed more restraint than many would (although he was wrong for losing his temper and his claim that the Bears management essentially didn't care about him getting hurt compared to Fuller is only his side of the story) and there's credence that the Bears' response was a great example of poor personnel management.
Talking with players and scouts well before the Bennett brothers came along, they have always said that the NFL wants players with bland personalities and nothing substantive to say. The desire to avoid any chance of something negative creates this expectation that it's a threat to the team and/or the league to have players who are expressive, creative, outspoken away from work, or openly different.
Arian Foster, Ricky Williams, Marshawn Lynch, Rob Gronkowski, and the Bennett Brothers are examples of it. I don't think Bill Belichick cares one iota about this stuff. He just wants players to do their jobs. Bennett never had issues doing his job, he's just not a "suit" in the sense that the NFL wants its players to be its definition of "suits."
On the field, I'm giving the slightest edge to Bennett because he's healthier and teams will probably err towards Gronkowski. I'd also lean that way because if I had both players, I believe I could get a lot for Gronkowski to supplement my team and still have one of the three best tight ends on my roster.
- Is DeMarco Murray a sell-high?
- Who do you prefer for the rest of the season: Carlos Hyde, Isaiah Crowell, or Matt Forte?
- Who do you prefer for the rest of the season: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, or Sam Bradford?
- True or False: Jesse James owners should be concerned about the imminent return of Ladarius Green.
- True or False: Tony Romo will get his job back despite Dak Prescott's impressive performance.
- True or False: Jeremy Kerley will remain a fantasy WR2 (No.13 for the past three weeks in standard and PPR leagues)
Matt Waldman: DeMarco Murray. Most thought that he was the equivalent of a temp worker before the season started. Are you selling high?
Jason Wood: NO! Murray is crushing in spite of negative game scripts. He looks like the Murray we saw in 2014, and I know that you will not get fair value for him in trade because there are still too many doubters (and I've tried).
If you have Murray, pat yourself on the back for an out-of-consensus call that went your way. I felt like I was on a Murray island this offseason, so clearly I'm a bit biased here because he's proving me very, very right.
John Mamula: No thank you! I am staying aboard the Murray hype train. Jason sold me on him during the preseason.
Murray has a minimum of 18 touches in every game this season, with 27 and 32 touches over the past 2 weeks. His role isn't changing anytime soon. He is right behind Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliott in my personal rest of season rankings.
There is such a steep drop off from the RBs that get the bulk of the workload. If you don't have one of these guys, it's going to be hard to make up the ground this season.
Will Grant: Definitely not. Murray is basically everything in this offense. Delanie Walker will always get his chunk of catches, but Murray is getting 25-30 touches a game. You’d be crazy to give up a guy with that many opportunities. We talk about having a high floor and Murray has one of the highest now.
Mark Wimer: NO, I think that Murray continues to flourish as the featured back in Tennessee. I've played him often in my DFS and season-long lineups and will continue to do so.
Andrew Garda: Murray has been good against some bad teams but you know what he sees a lot of this season? MORE BAD TEAMS.
He's getting the rock a ton and he's doing well with it. He might have some rough patches (Packers in Week 10 if they keep it up, Broncos, and Chiefs) but the schedule is really favorable. I'm with the rest of the sheep—keep him.
Matt Waldman: All we need is a shepherd because...BAAAAAA!!!! I agree. I thought Murray made a business decision to give up last season when the Eagles were a hot mess and he earned the brunt of the criticism. We may not have liked his decision, but I know he's a professional in terms of his preparation and I've never questioned his ability.
Will Grant: Wow. Rough question. I’d probably go with Hyde because he doesn’t have any competition. Forte is a stud, but by the end of the season, he’ll have lost a good chunk of the touches he had early to Powell. Crowell will always share touches with Duke Johnson Jr, and I can’t get excited about anyone on the Cleveland offense.
John Mamula: All three of these offenses have their warts. With this trio, if I had to choose, I would go with Hyde. He has seen at least 16 touches in every game this season. The 49ers don't have any other options at running back.
Mark Wimer: I trust Crowell to retain his role—disregard last week's outlier performance he's the real deal for fantasy owners. Hyde is a close second but I am nervous over how the 49ers' offense will function with Kaepernick under center. He looked just awful last season.
Matt Waldman: Surprise, surprise, count me with with Crowell. The game script went awry early when Cody Kessler got hurt.
Andrew Garda: My heart says Forte but after watching the Jets, it's not letting me pull that trigger so it's Hyde. The 49er is getting the touches though Crowell is close.
I just worried the injury bug at QB will kill what little offense the Brownies have. As for Forte, not only is the offense a mess, his role has shifted significantly and the team stopped throwing him the ball.
Jason Wood: My heart also says Forte, but my head also says Hyde. The Jets are a total mess right now, I have no idea what to make of a team that's turning the ball over nearly 25 percent of the time. With Powell working his way into a 60/40 snap count, it's hard to bet on Forte versus Hyde.
Like Murray in the prior question, Hyde has flourished in spite of game script. Just as I patted myself on the back for touting Murray this preseason, I have to eat crow for being down on Hyde. I just didn't see it. I'll pick Hyde out of this trio, particularly with Kaepernick back under center.
Crowell may be the best pure runner of this trio, but the Browns are onto their 17th quarterback at present and I just can't see him overcoming the weight of the rest of his troubled franchise.
Mark Wimer: It depends on the scoring system. In leagues where rushing yards are valuable, then Taylor edges Bradford. In leagues where pass TDs and interceptions are heavily weighted, I prefer Bradford.
Jason Wood: For me it's Flacco and it's not particularly close. Depth at the receiver position and a new offensive coordinator who will play to his West Coast Offense strengths.
John Mamula: I agree again with Jason; it's Flacco here. He has the best options at WR and a new offensive coordinator that will be driven to produce.
Andrew Garda: I wish I felt better about Flacco's new offensive situation, but I can't help but wonder if this is less about what the OC did or didn't do and more about talent/execution issues. I can't say I love Marty Mornhinweg, either.
I'll choose Bradford, though that scares me as well. The offensive line is just asking to get him killed. So far, their pass blocking has been ok but in doing the Vikings recaps every week, I've seen him take some brutal hits.
I love how Norv Turner is spreading the ball around more, and the passing offense—if the line holds—seems to be very hard to stop. So I lean Bradford, Flacco a little behind him. I like Taylor's running yards, but I don't like his production and offense and feel the wheels will come off there soon.
Will Grant: Tyrod Taylor. But to be honest, it’s as much of a gut reaction as anything. Since bouncing their offensive coordinator, the Bills have been on a tear. That hasn’t translated into big numbers for Taylor. Still, their offense is cranking and it feels like solid upside for Taylor.
Flacco is a known commodity, and the Ravens are not really going anywhere. Bradford is on a team that’s losing weapons by the minute. He’s going to be a game manager for most of the season, letting their defense do the talking. Taylor is the only guy who I feel like has any possibility to get hot, even if he’s not going to do it every week.
Matt Waldman: I'm also going with Bradford by a hair over Flacco. The Ravens offense seems like a jumble of parts that aren't integrated as a whole and it's not just the result of Marc Trestman. I don't think this team has a "complete" skill player that is proven. Rookie Kenneth Dixon might be the most versatile weapon but he's neither healthy nor a proven starter.
Mike Wallace isn't a complete receiver. Steve Smith didn't practice on Wednesday due to an ankle injury and I wouldn't be surprised if he misses a week or two. Breshad Perriman's speed is still good but he's effectively a rookie and I don't like what I see from his gait—fast, yes; healthy? Another story.
I actually like the Target-brand offense of the Vikings' players more than the Baltimore department store because the unit is integrated. The offensive line has its problems but the unit is focused on getting rid of the ball fast and they've supported that strategy with more targets to Cordarrelle Patterson.
The Texans had a strong pass defense in the stat ledger heading into this game and the Vikings exposed them early—and without Stefon Diggs, a reciever I'd take over any of the receivers currently healthy player for all three teams.
Jason Wood: False. Jesse James was a marginal fantasy starter already, so owners shouldn't be counting on him for future value.
John Mamula: False. Jesse James is a low-floor option at the moment, even in PPR leagues. The majority of James receptions are short passes. He is hit or miss whether he finds the end zone or not. Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and now Sammie Coates Jr are the receiving options to own in Pittsburgh.
Andrew Garda: False. As pointed out he was never a high end option and more of a matchup guy. Beyond that Green is never healthy and when he has, he's often been marginal. I'm not worried.
Will Grant: False. James has stepped into the role of Heath Miller so well, the fans still chant ‘Heeeeeeeeath’ every time he catches the ball. Green might steal a catch or two, but James is their option at TE.
Matt Waldman: False, but for entirely different reasons than Wood, Garda, and Mamula's points and exactly for Grant's rationale. Jesse James plays the Heath Miller role and he's playing it well. Miller was a mid-to-low range TE1 during his career and I think the lack of proven seasons for James makes it easier for most to doubt him as viable although Miller's similar production over a career made it easier to see Miller in a more favorable light.
I don't believe Green can play James' role. He's not a good zone receiver and he's not as good of a blocker as James. If there's a player he'll replace in this offense, it's Markus Wheaton in the slot.
Mark Wimer: False—Green is prone to getting nicked up and hasn't shown the ability to play through pain. He's not going to be a big factor for the Steelers as he hasn't gained rhythm/trust with Ben Roethlisberger.
Andrew Garda: True, but when? And will he come back in enough time to help a fantasy owner? I think going into the playoffs—and perhaps even down the last few games stretch—you roll with the veteran. Prescott has been exceptional, but I think Jerry Jones goes with the vet, like John Elway did with Manning last season.
Mark Wimer: True—but only until his next injury, which could come on any snap. Romo looks very fragile to me at this stage of his career. Prescott will be back under center fairly quickly.
John Mamula: False. I think the Cowboys are using the PR that Romo is going to get his job back as momentum for Prescott to keep producing. It's the classic carrot leading the horse.
Once it gets closer for Romo to return, it would not surprise me to hear that Romo is "still a couple of weeks away but the team expects him to start once he returns." If the team keeps winning and Prescott keeps playing mistake free football, no way he sits.
Will Grant: True. Prescott’s success as a starter hasn’t been because he’s blowing up the world with his arm. He’s playing smart, mistake-free football and letting the other strengths of the team. The success of Prescott lets the Cowboys give Romo plenty of time to heal but when Romo’s 100 percent, he’ll be back under center.
Jason Wood: True. Prescott has been far better than I expected, but Romo is one of the modern eras most productive passers. He's among the all-time best in completion rate, TD rate and passer rating. If he's healthy, he can step into this offense and make it into an elite, balanced attack.
Matt Waldman: True, because I agree with Wood that Romo opens up this offense far more than Prescott. It probably won't threaten the team dynamic because Prescott knows his place as a rookie and never expected to start in the first place. The team will have a ton of confidence in him if he's needed again but it will rejoice at the idea that the offense can play to its full potential down field and with presnap adjustments that a field general like Romo can offer at this stage of his career.
Last one for this segment: Jeremy Kerley will remain a fantasy WR2 (No.13 for the past three weeks in standard and PPR leagues).
Will Grant: True...-ish. Now that Colin Kaepernick it taking over the offense though, things could change. Kerley is their top WR now, but until we see what this offense does under Kaep, you need to approach Kerley with caution.
John Mamula: False. Jeremy Kerley is due for some regression. He is more of a WR3 or flex play rather than a WR2.
Jason Wood: False. He'll be a startable asset particularly in PPR leagues, but his productivity will normalize more in the WR3 range.
Mark Wimer: False, I think Kaepernick has no chemistry with Kerley and has had no reps with him.
Matt Waldman: Neither did Gabbert with Kerley. They had no training camp together. But the big question for me is whether Keapernick's rapport with a slot option like Boldin will also work with Kerley. My feeling is that the players are too different in style, so I'm also answering "false."
Andrew Garda: False. He is who we thought he was—a decent PPR receiver with limited value. Plus, as pointed out, we have no idea what kind of chemistry he has with Colin Kaepernick.
State of the Panthers
Carolina looks nothing like the Super Bowl team it was last year. The Atlanta Falcons pasted this defense in Week 4 and a Tampa Bay rushing attack that featured a struggling offensive line ran through this defense with Jacquizz Rodgers carrying the ball 31 times— a 5'6" free agent cut recently by the Bears—THAT Jacquizz Rodgers.
Weigh-in on the state of the Panthers:
- What's wrong with this offense?
- Will Cam Newton right the ship?
- Who are you holding, buying, and/or selling?
Will Grant: The Panthers aren't particularly BAD on defense, ranked 12th in the league giving up 341 YPG. And that's including the 500 yards passing that they surrendered to the Falcons two weeks ago. Their 135 points allowed are definitely not good, but it's lower than Tampa's 142 and Atlanta's 140 so the key is really on the offensive side of the ball. Even with Rogers 30 carries, he still only averaged 3.3 YPC.
Mark Wimer: One of the big keys to the Panthers' success last year was their +20 takeaway differential. They had 39 takeaways and only 19 giveaways all season. This year, a -7 differential, which is next-to-last in the NFL.
For comparison's sake, Minnesota leads the NFL right now with a +11 differential, they have only turned over 1 fumble while generating 7 interceptions and five fumbles and Minnesota is undefeated so far.
Andrew Garda: Carolina is proof that you can have a Super Bowl hangover and it can be awful. I agree with much of what Will said, especially the fact that the defense can only do so much when the offense is imploding.
The offensive line has been awful, which led to some awful Cam Newton plays and the injuries at running back haven't helped. They need more from Newton—a lot more—and he needs more from the line and backfield.
Jason Wood: What's wrong with the offense starts with protecting the ball. Carolina leads the league with 14 turnovers, with more than 20 percent of their drives ending with a turnover. That's inexcusable and makes it next to impossible to win games. If they can protect the ball, there's reason to believe the offense normalizes.
The team is averaging 4.5 yards per rush which is significantly above league average. The team's 6.8 yards/pass attempt is also solidly above league average. And the team's 24.6 points per game is just outside the Top 10 (and well above league average). Just stop turning the ball over and things will be fine.
Mark Wimer: As Jason pointed out, the 14 giveaways have been hard to overcome. But the fact that the defense is not generating enough takeaways is also a huge factor here.
What did the Panthers expect when they let Josh Norman walk and then replaced him with rookies in the secondary? It was long-term thinking, but what the front office forgot is that the Panthers' world championship window was last season and right now. There is no reclaiming the 2015 defense at this point.
Will Grant: I agree, the key is too many mistakes and missed opportunities. The Panthers have thrown 9 interceptions so far this season (2nd worst in the league), and have given up 13 sacks (tied for 6th worst). They've only fumbled 5 times, but have lost all 5 of them and as Wimer said, their turnover ratio is tied for 31st in the league.
They are also only 8 of 11 in field goal attempts (27th in the league) and even missed an XP. These type of things take points off the board for the offense, and put additional pressure on the defense to perform. Eventually things fall apart and they lose the game.
In the Broncos game week 1, they gave up 14 points in the 4th quarter and lost the game.
Against Minnesota, they jumped out to a 10 point lead and then gave up 22 unanswered points.
Against Tampa on Monday night, they were leading 14-6 with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and gave up 11 unanswered points. They turned the ball over twice in the 4th quarter, including throwing an INT in the end zone, before giving up the game winning field goal as time expired.
To fix this, Ron Rivera needs to knock a few heads in practice, and keep his team focused for 60 minutes. If they can pull their heads out of their backsides, their season can quickly turn around.
John Mamula: Will and Jason nailed it. The offense has been struggling with mistakes and inopportune turnovers. Through five games, the Panthers have the 21st ranked QB Rating inside the red zone.
Last season, the Panthers were ranked 2nd in that category. They don't seem to have the ruthless aggression to finish off drives this season.
Cam Newton and the Panthers will right the ship and it happens this week in New Orleans. The Saints are the perfect cure for an ailing offense. In season long leagues, the time is now to buy low on Newton and Kelvin Benjamin. Newton has been making progress from his concussion and I expect him to return this week with a vengeance.
The Panthers have already played the best 2 defenses in the league, the Broncos and Vikings. Over the next 6 weeks, they get the Saints twice, the Raiders, and home games vs. the Cardinals and Chiefs. For the fantasy playoffs, the Panthers will feast on the Chargers, Redskins, and Falcons. All match ups where Newton has potential for multiple touchdowns.
Will Grant: Can Newton right the ship? Certainly. In fact, he really has to. It's pretty clear now that Derek Anderson isn't going to do it. He looked awful on Monday night against Tampa, and his three turnovers certainly cost the Panthers the game. Newton should hopefully be back next week, and I agree that the porous New Orleans defense might be just the thing he needs to lead his team out of the hole.
Mark Wimer: I think the Broncos showed the rest of the NFL a defensive blueprint for stopping Newton and other teams have implemented it with results. I don't like all the cheap shots at Newton's head, but he does expose himself as a ball-carrier quite often, taking more hard hits than most quarterbacks in the NFL. The human body can only take so many concussive blows to the head.
Jason Wood: In spite of what I just said about the team, it really doesn't paint a fair picture of Cam Newton's struggles. The team's "mediocrity" encompasses the (surprisingly) strong play of Derek Anderson. Cam's YTD metrics are far less compelling: 58 percent completion rate, 3.8 percent INT rate, and an 8.9 percent sack rate.
I also think Cam's success is tied to the line play and the running game. Without a credible ground attack, it's much easier for defenses to key on Newton and force him into being a pure pocket passer. That's not what won him the MVP award.
Will the line shape up? I think it can, but honestly that's giving this unit a lot of credit versus what we've seen on film thus far.
Still, I'm holding onto Cam. I'm buying Artis-Payne if he's still available, although this week's two-TD performance may have altered his cost. We saw that Kelvin Benjamin is capable of elite play when Cam is rolling, so hold him but don't necessarily start him depending on the matchup.
Olsen is the gem here, of course. No one is unhappy with his performance. EVERYONE ELSE is fodder. Cut them for better alternatives.
With 25 percent of the passing attempts going to Olsen, he's going to do well, no matter how bad the offense is struggling. Benjamin might be a guy I'd look at buying, since he's averaging almost 15 yards per catch and has 4 TDS.
With Newton back under center, Benjamin would be a nice WR2-WR3 option in most formats. The running game is really struggling without Jonathan Stewart, and their lack of production is only something you should look at if you're desperate to cover an injury or bye week hole.
John Mamula: In addition to Newton, I would hold Greg Olsen and Jonathan Stewart if you have them on your roster as they will both have value the rest of season. I'm cutting bait on Devin Funchess as he will be too inconsistent this season. While the Panthers are unlikely to make the NFL playoffs this season, expect their offense to get back on track starting this week in New Orleans.
Andrew Garda: Cameron Artis-Payne looks like the real deal, though I agree the two touchdown game might make him a little pricey. I would also hold Cam Newton and hold or if I had lots of things hanging around buy Olsen. I'm not selling Benjamin because I'll get nothing for him, but for the right price I might buy him as I do think if Cam/theOL can get on track he will show value later.
Mark Wimer: I think that Olsen is the guy I'd hold here. If you have Kelvin Benjamin on your bench, keep him. John is right about softer defenses on the horizon.
From a fantasy perspective Newton is a hold as well. Jason is right, jettison the others unless you get return yardage (then Ginn is a hold).
But I don't expect the Panthers to suddenly regain their 2015 form as a team. In terms of the NFL season, stick a fork in them they are done for making the playoffs this year, in my opinion.