Three weeks in we’ve seen enough to take some stances. We know our team’s flaws and strengths. It’s time to take action. There are season changing players out in the open that aren’t being adopted as such by the conventional wisdom yet and there are potential season changers incubating that could hatch at any moment. Dion Lewis and Donte Moncrief buy low windows have already come and gone. Maybe your list isn’t the same as mine but you should be making your list, checking it twice, and going forth into the trade market with confidence.
Andy Dalton, CIN - Maybe it’s the sucker bet to feel like it’s different this time around, but it feels different this time around. Dalton has the best supporting cast of his career, a great offensive coordinator and line, and he looks confident and focused. I’ll be waiting for the other shoe to drop, but riding this wave with him in my lineup as long as I can.
Marcus Mariota, TEN - I underestimated Mariota’s ability to translate right away. While his robotic approach to quarterbacking might expose flaws that defenses can exploit over time, it also is part of a methodical approach that the Titans have surprisingly maximized with a play design and calls that allow Mariota function in structure with the personnel they have to work with. He’s on a bye and was drafted as a backup. If you are suffering through Romo, Brees, Roethlisberger, Mariota can save you. If they start to run him more, he could be similar to Cam Newton 2012 because Tennessee doesn’t have a clear #1 running back.
Derek Carr, OAK - Carr, Cooper and Murray are the new triplets. Bill Musgrave has turned this offense around, and Carr has been able to move the team with ease the last two weeks. Sure, they played bad pass defenses, but that’s what a good quarterback is supposed to do to a bad defense. Carr is using secondary targets like Andre Holmes and Seth Roberts well, and his offensive line is effective. Like Mariota, he was a draft afterthought and might come very cheap.
Tyrod Taylor, BUF - Three QB1s go down, and four late to undrafted picks fill the vacuum. JJ Zachariason smiles. Taylor has running ability, sure, but it’s his arms that has made him an instant QB1 in Greg Roman’s offense. The Bills don’t have him on a leash, either. Taylor is taking numerous shots downfield and he is playing in the eye of the storm in terms of pocket presence and accuracy. He also has one of the best WR/TE supporting casts in the league.
Karlos Williams, BUF - LeSean McCoy should rest his hamstring, and McCoy might be great, especially after the bye. It doesn’t matter because Karlos Williams is too big to fit back in the bottle. Besides, this situation can support two fantasy relevant backs. If one is going to emerge as the true difference maker, all of the momentum is on the side of Williams. McCoy’s usage over the last five years and the unlikelihood of the proposition that he gets back to anything near 100% could make Williams an everyweek RB1.
Thomas Rawls (Marshawn Lynch), SEA - I really don’t want to believe that Marshawn Lynch is in his decline phase, but this is what it looks like when it starts. Rawls is more than up to the task of giving the Seahawks the same kind of energy Lynch does, albeit with the personality. I want Lynch to be fine. I want this to be a false alarm. But if the building really is on fire, Rawls can rush in and save your season. On the other hand, if Marshawn is going to say “I’ve been here the whole time”, this moment of a crisis of faith could be the window you need to get a first round pick for a fourth or fifth round price.
Christine Michael, DAL - Michael’s talent, tools and ability to run hot are unquestioned. Some players need a career near death experience to “get it”. By all accounts, Michael has been working hard and endearing himself to the Cowboys organization. The tone and tenor of Jason Garrett’s comments is changing from “Having four back is hard” to “We’ll compete to see who is active”. The buzz is building that Michael’s shot is coming. You want him on your roster when that reveal happens. It might be Al Capone’s vault, but there aren’t even that many vaults to open in any given year.
Chris Johnson, David Johnson (Andre Ellington), ARI - There are obstacles here. Andre Ellington is back soon and Bruce Arians will employ some sort of committee. Let’s not focus on the negative. Chris Johnson is having a career renaissance. David Johnson is translating and then some, including shedding the aversion to contact he seemed to have at times on his college film. Talent points to the rookie as the back who we will want in December (as Bob Harris pointed out on the couch this week) http://podcast.footballguys.com/2015/Footballguys-Audible-2015-Vol147a.mp3, but the veteran is playing lights out and the coach seems to love him. Based on current price, Chris is the better buy, but David could be the season changer. No I haven’t given up on Ellington’s talent and he also qualifies as a potential season changer. This offense, like Buffalo, is looking like it can support more than one fantasy running back anyway. If it wasn’t for New England we would be frothing at the mouth to get shares of the Cardinals offense right now. Act accordingly.
Ameer Abdullah, DET - Abdullah’s quickness and acceleration have flashed numerous times already, but the Lions appear to be reluctant to give him a big role. That might remain as a cramp in our style for the rest of the season. Still, firings happen, in-season adjustments, happen, talent begets opportunity begets production. Abdullah might be cheap enough now to acquire him for a reasonable price.
Ryan Mathews, PHI - I have serious hesitation about buying into the Eagles offense, but the schedule is somewhat favorable, and Mathews looks like a much better fit in the running game than Demarco Murray - and that’s comparing him to Murray before he got hurt. I’m not as excited to get in on Mathews as I am the names above him on this list, but I can envision a scenario where I wish I would have been.
Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, ATL - Folks are likely pricing in a “Tevin Coleman will be back eventually” discount, but Freeman is running like he wants to put a strangehold grip on this backfield. He might not continue to be as successful as he was last week against Dallas, but take a look at this schedule and start to project how much production could come from a lead back in this backfield. And on that note, if Coleman is dropped or dirt cheap, don’t pass him by. He looked good pre-injury and things happen. Freeman could get hurt or wear down from overuse while Coleman is out. This Falcons running game is looking much more vibrant that we expected when we got a load of their offensive line in the preseason.
Travis Benjamin, CLE - Season-changer is a high bar at wide receiver. Asking a Browns wide receiver to do it might be too much. Benjamin has flashed special speed and he plays with a toughness and aggressive that belies his frame. He was riffing well with Johnny Manziel and he continues to create opportunities in the deep passing game. Benjamin scored with determination at the goal line this week and the trend should continue to leverage off of his ability to make whatever the Browns passing game will be go this year.
Danny Amendola, NE - Amendola is probably on your waiver wire and he’s a Julian Edelman injury away from a strong WR2 weekly start role. He has a long injury history, but you don’t worry about that when he’s free.
Michael Floyd, ARI - Floyd has the talent and tools of a #1 wide receiver in the NFL. Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown are in his way for target right now, but the Cardinals seem to be trying to get him involved and why shouldn’t they? This offense can really hum with three wide receivers that present mismatches of various types. Floyd can provide weekly flex value without an injury, and if a Cardinals wide receiver does go down, he would become a high ceiling WR2. I’d mention John Brown here, but y’all know how I feel about him. I guess I just did.
Martavis Bryant, PIT - We turned out the lights on the Week 5 Martavis is back party when Ben Roethlisberger went down, but remember that Michael Vick can still throw a deep ball with the best of them. In fact, his first pass a Steeler was a 63-yard bomb to Bryant that was effortless. Perhaps Bryant can be just fine in this vertically-minded pass offense until Ben is back, and even better with Roethlisberger returns. Before Roethlisberger went down, this offense had the look of a no mercy Patriots style attack. You still want to get that kick down the stretch when the band is back together, so take advantage of the buy low moment here.
Mike Evans, TB - Evans got half of the team’s targets in Week 3, and played poorly. So poorly that he only had had seven catches for 101 yards. Jameis Winston is clearly ready to feed Evans the way Roethlisberger feeds Brown and Ryan feeds Jones. Get on board if you can.
Dez Bryant, DAL - The last we heard about Dez, his recovery time was looking longer than expected, but nothing negative has come out since then. The team certainly believes he can come back before Week 9 or 10 because they did not use their IR-return slot on Bryant. He could be slow to produce his usual numbers at first while waiting for Tony Romo to come back, but if he’s anything like his old self for the playoffs, you’ll be happy you got him while his owners might be looking to see what they can sell off to boost a lagging lineup.
Charles Clay, BUF - The Bills theme continues as Charles Clay looks like the better part of the running back and the tight end in his profile. He’s making defenders miss with ease in the open field - sometimes multiple on one play - and he and Tyrod Taylor have terrific chemistry in this offense - a much better than expected offense under the tutelage of Greg Roman.
Crockett Gillmore, BAL - He’s out with a calf injury right now, but Gillmore should be back soon, and he will be central in the Ravens pass offense when he does return. Gillmore’s combination of sheer size, soft hands, natural ball skills, and crafty tough running after the catch is for real, and the Ravens have found one-half of what could be a middle class Gronk/Hernandez combination with Maxx Williams.
Jordan Reed, WAS - Speaking of Hernandez, Reed finally looks like he deserved some of those comparisons (strictly on the field) to Hernandez coming out of Florida. He is playing with more confidence and strength than he did earlier in his career, and when the oft-injured Reed got dinged, he played and played well through the injury. Washington has very little going on in the pass offense, but what there is should hinge on Reed. DeSean Jackson’s eventual return will only create more room for him to roam.