A month into the season, injuries have hit, bye weeks are coming, and unexpected contributors are around the corner. This week: alternate takes on a variety of football narratives; players with an opportunity for more playing time; a game of "For Real, Fool's Gold"; and to finish, each panelist gets to pick from the Roundtable GRab BAg (yes, that's how you read it, GRab. BAg).
Matt Waldman: Every week, I read football analysis that, after watching the games, I disagree with. A good example is the conclusion that Jared Goff failed his test against Seattle. I came away more impressed with Goff than I was with him entering the game. Share your analysis of a player, unit, or team that runs counter to the popular analysis that you've seen during the past two weeks. Include fantasy implications for your take.
Darin Tietgen: There are some pundits that feel Jameis Winston and his Buc offense are not "ready for prime time". I have to disagree and disagree strongly. Let's not forget this team—along with the Miami Dolphins, who are also struggling mightily—had their seasons twisted by Hurricane Irma.
Just because Winston and the Bucs couldn't move the ball well on the Patriots (who admittedly, had been letting everyone move the ball), they are somehow a disappointment? Another "let's not forget" item: Bill Belichick knows what he's doing and a veteran team like the Pats are capable of turning things quickly, as evidenced by their play against the Bucs this past Thursday night.
Winston is currently enjoying his best stats as compared to historical numbers. His passer rating is over six points higher than last season. His completion percentage is hovering around his 2016 mark, but his yards per game are way up.
So yeah, I don't get it. Just because they didn't put up huge numbers (Winston still threw for 300-plus) against the Super Bowl champions doesn't mean we should cast them as busts.
The return of Doug Martin will certainly open things up for this offense. I wouldn't sweat their seemingly slowish start. The only concerning factor may be their remaining strength of schedule. Only seven teams face a tougher schedule against the pass (including the Pats, but are you benching Tom Brady?).
I would continue to rely on Winston, Mike Evans, and DeSean Jackson and in larger leagues Cameron Brate will still be a weekly option at tight end. Bottom line, it's far too early to be really concerned about this offense, especially when they had such an odd start to the season.
Chad Parsons: The 'Amari Cooper is a bust' dialogue has been a deafening beat of late. I do not share the opinion in any regard. Speaking more from a dynasty perspective, Cooper reminds me of the 'sky is falling' dialogue with Davante Adams a couple years ago when he was miring through a rough season. Todd Gurley in 2016 also applies. Cooper has the prospect profile where I will go down with the ship if we have seen Cooper's best season in the rearview. The Raiders' schedule has been one of the toughest opening stretches in the NFL, Derek Carr has missed part of one game and a whole other one. Cooper is any dealing with a soft tissue injury as well. The schedule clears up after Oakland's bye week from a pass efficiency against standpoint and Carr should be back and in rhythm by that juncture.
Jason Wood: I'll give you a few wide receivers who are being misunderstood. Jarvis Landry tops the list. He's currently outside the top 50 in fantasy points at his position, averaging an inconceivable 7 yards per reception. Yet, we know from history he's much better than his 2017 numbers suggest. Even if you think Jay Cutler is the problem, the Dolphins aren't going to stick with Cutler for the sake of it. Either Cutler rounds into shape quickly, or Adam Gase will turn to Matt Moore. That will unlock Landry to return to his perennial role as a top-20 receiver.
I know Martavis Bryant has disappointed, but the narrative of his being a bust is overdone. He has 15 catches on 31 targets (48% catch rate), which isn't far off his career 54% mark. Simply put, he and Ben Roethlisberger just haven't connected regularly yet; but they will. Bryant is talented and the Steelers are not as bad as they looked against Jacksonville. Bryant's recent play guarantees low ownership, yet his talent signals better production ahead.
Andy Hicks: I am preparing to have egg on my face by the end of the season here, but the conclusion that this is a bumper crop of rookie running backs, seems to be a fallacy at this point. We have Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt dominating so far, Dalvin Cook was doing really well until his injury but outside of that, what do we have?
There is an assortment of committee backs, third down guys and plodding backs that won't cut it long term.
In reality, we should never judge rookies by their first five weeks, especially running backs as they get to grips with much better defenses, blocking schemes, and a much faster pace than they have dealt with before, but other than the three guys I've mentioned, let us see what we have to date:
Christian McCaffrey: He is averaging 2.8 yards a carry and is almost exclusively going to be better served as a receiver out of the backfield. These guys have their use in the NFL, but so far he is more Chris Thompson than Tevin Coleman.
Joe Mixon: He has shown signs of being able to run well, but again at 2.8 yards a carry it is disappointing, to say the least. He has had 67 carries and only found the end zone once. He has looked like Le'Veon Bell on occasion, but on others danced east to west too much. He may turn it around, but this start concerns me.
Alvin Kamara: He will benefit from the trade of Adrian Peterson to the Cardinals and has looked really good in his limited action so far. The RB1 upside isn't there though with the presence of Mark Ingram II. Out of this group he is most likely to improve from a fantasy perspective
D'Onta Foreman: He looks like he was ready to break out a couple of weeks ago, but the development of Deshaun Watson probably requires a more experienced back in Lamar Miller to get the majority of snaps. I find it hard, outside a Miller injury, to see him being much of an option going forward.
James Conner: has looked good in limited action, but he isn't seeing much time unless something happens to Le'Veon Bell
Samaje Perine: He is the one I am most disappointed in. He has made Rob Kelley look like Barry Sanders at times. 3.1 yards a carry is made worse by the fact that every other back is averaging at least 4.5 yards a carry behind this excellent Washington run blocking unit. Perine has looked slow, indecisive and I can't see a way he turns this around
Tarik Cohen: He is an interesting player, but he is never going to be a feature back. His upside seems to be 10-15 touches per game and although he may do a lot with those limited touches, he is going to hard to rely on for a fantasy owner as performances against the Vikings are going to be more likely than what he did in week 1.
Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones: They are not going to push ahead of Ty Montgomery for the moment. Jones has looked better, but he doesn't look like a full time back. A nice change of pace sure, but that is hard to use for a fantasy owner. We haven't seen enough of Williams yet, but Jones has probably stolen any playing time that he was on track to see.
Wayne Gallman: He is taking advantage of a poor Giants rushing attack, which he has been the only significant addition to a bottom-three unit. Clearly outplaying Paul Perkins and splitting time with Orleans Darkwa, he has had issues with pass protection but is seeing more time with the starters. With the receiving corp decimated and the offensive line awful, his upside is a bottom tier RB2, but he will have use moving forward. Long term he is expendable.
In conclusion, I don't think there are as many Pro Bowl caliber backs as people expected at the start of the season and just like almost every other year only 2 or 3 are likely to have a long-term future as a stud running back in the NFL. Obviously too early to tell, but we have a good feel for how it will turn out this year and beyond.
Waldman: Those aren't alternate takes; that's a full pair of alternate sides. Thank you, Andy.
Dan Hindery: Amari Cooper has certainly been partially responsible for his awful start to the 2017 season. He leads the league with seven drops. However, there is also a narrative that has emerged recently that he cannot generate separation. I am not seeing that. Aside from the drops, Cooper has had two major issues that have led to his fantasy struggles.
First, teams are shifting extra coverage his way. Two weeks ago against Denver, the Broncos consistently had a safety shaded toward Cooper’s side to take away the deep ball and tasked the cornerback with being aggressive and jumping the shorter routes. Last week against Baltimore, he drew extra attention on deep routes which opened things up for Michael Crabtree. On Crabtree’s long touchdown, the play was designed to go to Cooper. Cooper lined up in the slot inside of Cooper and ran a deep post route across the middle of the field. Three Ravens defenders followed him and left Crabtree wide open behind the defense. The pendulum will swing in the other direction sometime soon if Crabtree keeps making big plays.
Second, Cooper has often been open and the quarterback has simply not seen it. There were multiple instances last week when Cooper badly beat the corner and was running free for what could have been a long touchdown but Manuel never saw him. “I saw five wide open, shook his guy, was open in space. I would have loved to see that ball get delivered to him there,” Jack Del Rio said when asked if Cooper was having trouble getting separation. When a star receiver is open and not getting the ball, the coaching staff is going to make sure that situation is remedied.
From a fantasy perspective, Cooper is a hold. He probably bounces back to fantasy top-25 wide receiver production in the final 11 games.
Justin Howe: Of late, the book on Melvin Gordon III seems to be that he’s a ho-hum runner; not explosive and not offering upper-RB1 dynamism. I’ve always considered Gordon a relatively explosive back. As a prospect, he was a decent speed/sizzling athleticism guy, with a great 11.11 agility score and a career 7.8 per-carry mark at Wisconsin.
In the NFL his efficiency has sputtered to a 3.7 career average. If we look closer, we see that Gordon has been as dynamic as most backs could only dream of behind such a shaky line. His efficiency numbers aren’t strong, but since the start of 2016 he’s managed to break off the fifth-most runs at least 15 yards—despite missing 4 games—and forcing missed tackles at a higher rate than Ezekiel Elliott. All told, he’s averaged 113.1 yards from scrimmage and scored 17 touchdowns over his last 16 full games. Why he’s still looked at as a second-tier fantasy back is beyond me.
Waldman: Below is a list of players with an opportunity for extended usage for the rest of the year:
- TE Nick O'Leary, Bills
- WR Tre McBride, Bears
- RB Matt Breida, 49ers
- WR Roger Lewis, Giants
- RB Kenjon Barner, Eagles
- WR Bruce Ellington, Texans
- QB Kevin Hogan, Browns
- QB Mitchell Trubisky, Bears
- RB Marlon Mack, Colts
- RB Austin Ekeler, Chargers
- RB Dion Lewis, Patriots
- WR Nelson Agholor, Eagles
- WR Kasen Williams, Browns
- WR Ricardo Louis, Browns
- TE George Kittle, 49ers
- TE Tyler Higbee, Rams
Your second job is to pick two players who you think has the best shot at production based on scheme fit, opportunity, and/or rapport with a teammate (as well as talent).
For the second part of the question, I'll select Mitchell Trubisky and George Kittle, if for no other reason than that they have 100 percent market share at the one-off positions. Speaking of which, I didn't choose Mack and Breida again because, barring a season-ending injury to Frank Gore or Carlos Hyde, I don't think they will garner enough market share of opportunity to be a fantasy starter.
Mitchell Trubisky: I have to admit something. As a Bears fan and as a sports fan in general, I had never been so angry at a draft pick than when the Bears gave up assets to move up a single spot to get Trubisky. Especially after inking Mike Glennon to a multi-year deal. I knew Glennon wasn't leading us to the promised land, but the Bears needed a defensive force (Jamal Adams was my hope) and there were plenty of quarterbacks going to be available in 2018 both in the draft and in free agency. I watched pre-draft specials on Trubisky and I could tell that he had arm talent and athletic ability but wasn't sure he had "it". I am starting to warm up on the kid (currently watching him do alright against a very good Viking D) and think that he could eventually get "it". In terms of pure talent, I think his ceiling may be higher than, say, DeShaun Watson.
Matt Breida: Trubisky is not only talented but also has a huge opportunity. However, Brieda also has a big opportunity. Yes, there are talented backs that are also given chances, but with as bad as the Niners are and will continue to be as the season goes on, you gotta think the team will want to give guys like Breida a ton of chances down the stretch. And when Carlos Hyde's hip is being troublesome once again, those opportunities are coming sooner rather than later.
George Kittle: Let's go with another Niner. The Iowa product had a huge Week 5 and could be a sign of things to come as the Niners search for an identity on offense. He may not be the most physically-dominating tight end in the Gronk mold, but he's an adept blocker that appears to run pretty solid routes and has good hands. With a mish-mash at WR and only the venerable Pierre Garcon to really compete with for targets, Kittle could turn an opportunity into great fantasy stats as the season develops.
Situationally, Nick O'Leary and George Kittle stand out. Charles Clay could miss a month or more and Kittle already has the starting job and high snap counts. Buffalo is running on fumes at wide receiver and O'Leary has sturdy hands. Both are in the matchup play TE2 zone with TE1 moments due to volume or the occasional touchdown.
Like the others, I have to include Kittle as well. I have to confess that I drafted him for cheap in the staff dynasty league and have already traded him away. Gut feel tells me he is not going to be the guying moving forward, just for right now. He lacks the size you want in a tight end and as I mentioned in the Dynasty Movement column, something that I just can't quite put my finger on is just not right here, despite the production.
In terms of scheme fit and fantasy opportunity, the two players who stand out are O’Leary and Agholor. O’Leary isn’t a special talent. He is only 6’3 and has short arms. He is a little tight and only ran a 4.93 40-yard dash at the combine. But he does have a knack for finding open spots in the zone and he has tremendous hands. With Charles Clay out for an extended period of time, O’Leary has a chance to put up TE1 fantasy numbers in the Bills offense. The Bills wide receivers are laughably bad. Zay Jones is the top target and he has 5 receptions on 21 targets. 29-year-old journeyman Andre Holmes is currently the second receiver. Tyrod Taylor has to throw it to someone and O’Leary could emerge as the go-to target in the offense. After Charles Clay left the game against Cincinnati last week, O’Leary was the Bills leading receiver with 5 catches for 54 yards.
Agholor has his confidence back and is showing some of the skills that made him a first-round pick in 2015. It his role in the Philadelphia offense that is most intriguing, however. On the outside, Torrey Smith is a dangerous deep threat that keeps defensive coverage honest. But he does not have the skillset to be a high-volume receiver. On the other side, Alshon Jeffery has a lot of ability but faces a brutal schedule of No. 1 cornerbacks that includes Josh Norman, Janoris Jenkins, Aqib Talib, Richard Sherman and Trumaine Johnson. Carson Wentz has shown that he will look to the most favorable matchup and many weeks the top matchup will be Agholor in the slot.
For Real, Fool's Gold
Waldman: These players are starters after the first five weeks of the year in PPR formats...
- TE David Njoku (TE12)
- WR Devin Funchess (WR14)
- WR Nelson Agholor (WR23)
- WR Cooper Kupp (WR31)
- RB Javorius Allen (RB15)
- RB Duke Johnson Jr (RB7)
- RB Andre Ellington (RB21)
Tuccitto: This kind of question is exactly what my True Fantasy Points stat was made for, so I'll rely on that in my answer(s).
Nelson Agholor and Duke Johnson Jr are fool's gold. Only four wide receivers have outscored their TFP by a larger margin than Agholor (60.6 actual vs. 46.8 TFP). Likewise, only three running backs have outscored their TFP by a larger margin than Johnson (75.7 vs. 57.3). In terms of how/why these two have overachieved, Agholor's posted a Yards-Per-Route-Run Average of 1.45 and a Touchdowns-Per-Route-Run Average of 1.63% despite his "true" stats being 1.16 and 0.85%, respectively. Meanwhile, Johnson's rushing efficiency stats in 2017 (4.81 Yards Per Carry and 12.5% Touchdowns Per Carry) have far outpaced his "true" stats coming into the season (4.32 and 2.62%).
On the flip side, Devin Funchess is for real, as his TFP is nearly equal to his actual PPR fantasy points (68.9 vs. 73.3). Javorious Allen is also for real, with his "true" stats suggesting he should have 11.0 more points than 64.9 he's actually amassed so far this season.
Andre Ellington should remain a solid RB2 for as long as David Johnson is out. The trade for Adrian Peterson will scare some but the Cardinals offensive line won’t generate many holes without Mike Iupati and Peterson looks to have little left in the tank. The Cardinals lead the league in pass attempts per game by a wide margin with 49.2 per game (the Giants are second with 43.0). Ellington has 18 catches over the last two weeks. He should continue to have a big role-playing at least as many snaps as Adrian Peterson. In PPR leagues, Ellington should remain a strong option moving forward.
David Njoku is a talented player with a bright future but will have a hard time maintaining his status as a fantasy TE1. He has seen just 3.0 targets per game and continues to split time with Randall Telfer and Seth DeValve.
Cooper Kupp doesn’t project as a fantasy starter this season either. He is averaging just 3.2 catches per game and his only weeks above 7.5 PPR points came in a pair of games where the Rams scored 35+ points. Los Angeles has a lot of weapons and will continue to spread the ball around too much for any of the receivers to produce consistent fantasy stats.
Duke Johnson Jr: I am not if he holds onto RB1 status, but I'm pretty sure I had Isaiah Crowell lower than any other staffer heading into the season for the pure reason that he statistically looked better because of a huge week 17 in 2016 and playing every game, something that most backs didn't. Johnson, on the other hand, hasn't been given nearly as much opportunity as he deserves based on his play. We have seen that improve as a receiver, but he still has more opportunities as a runner up his sleeve.
Andre Ellington: We've been down this road before. He is a nice handy utility player for the Cardinal, but not a back that should see more than a handful of touches a game. His strength is out of the backfield and if the Cardinals keep playing from behind he could still have a use, but he will burn fantasy owners more weeks than not.
Javorius Allen: More by circumstance than talent, Allen has seen a role in the Ravens offense. Baltimore did not add a decent runner in the offseason, despite the obvious need and was hoping to rely on the injury-prone Danny Woodhead as the receiver out of the backfield. Allen is doing that now, but Woodhead does it so much better.
As I mentioned above, Agholor is outplaying Torrey Smith in every facet and has a better case to build around given his age and upside potential. His role is locked in with the injuries to Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, and he's shown an ability to get deep (16.6 yards per catch) as well as make plays at the line of scrimmage.
Waldman: I had Ellington in this question on Monday night prior to the Peterson trade. Then I wrote an analysis of the deal on Tuesday afternoon. Arians has never been a huge fan of Ellington and his usage has been a desperation play for an offense that prefers to operate with its quarterback under center. I'll also disagree with the notion that the Cardinals will miss David Johnson skills more than his running between the tackles.
I am betting against Duke Johnson Jr and Nelson Agholor. For Johnson, the Browns will have Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt back and their offense overall is struggling for any consistency. RB7 is a high bar for a pass-centric back as well. Agholor is, at best, the third option in Philadelphia and Torrey Smith also projects as that 'sporadic big play' option in the offensive construct. Agholor may finish just inside the top-40, but more WR50+ is fitting without an injury to Alshon Jeffery for a chunk of games.
The Browns are a mess (shocker) and have no one that can consistently catch the ball outside of Duke Johnson Jr and rookie TE David Njoku. With them playing catch-up ball for at least two quarters a game, guys like Johnson will be PPR gods. He's effectively replaced Isaiah Crowell as the "RB1" for the Browns just because of his production catching the ball. Continue to expect the same kind of workload.
Waldman: Choose one of these topics and share your point of view.
- 2018 Rookie Class: Name a player other than Saquon Barkley who has caught your eye in this coming draft class. Why is he a future fantasy starter?
- Misfits: Is there a team that is dramatically misusing its talent this year? My example is the Chicago Bears and Tarik Cohen. After the first week, it appeared the Bears were going to split him as a receiver from the slot and split wide, use him on screens and deep routes, and use him on counters and cutbacks. Since Week 1, they haven't come close to using him in the same versatile ways. Who tops your list as a 2017 misfit?
- Wait Til Next Year: Name a player you're high on who isn't in a position to do much this year, but you can't wait to see him earn a shot in 2018 and /or beyond.
- Wait Til Next Month: Which one of these players is most worth the long-term stash despite his injury clogging up your roster space? Andrew Luck, Danny Woodhead, or David Johnson?
[Editor's Note]: This question was posed the evening prior to the Adrian Peterson deal.
Tietgen: Being an IDP dork, I have to say, Derwin James. This guy is a monster. At 6'3" and over 210 pounds, he hits like a linebacker but can move like a corner. He'll be the next Landon Collins, who will pile up tackles and will stuff the stat sheet with big plays. Defensive backs are normally not high rookie draft picks (in fantasy drafts) but I'd be hard-pressed to not take James early regardless of the landing spot.
Parsons: While not my No.1 receiver in the 2018 class, one of 'my guys' is Christian Kirk. His profile is such a solid one with outstanding return ability, an elite recruit entering college, a freshman phenom producer, and three straight elite age-adjusted market share seasons. Kirk has a thick build at 5'11" and around 200 pounds and has more downfield ability than most give him credit. I view Kirk as a better version of Jarvis Landry (much more speed and vertical ability) and Kirk grades out in the top 5 percent of my historical wide receiver prospect model dating back to 2000. Kirk has a tremendous work ethic (first one in, last one to leave) mentality and has been grinding every day since arriving at Texas A&M. He is the player I love to root for and his versatility is such he will be drafted, at the latest, by the mid-second round, next April with Round 1 upside.
Wood: Danny Woodhead was overrated going into the season, and his injury history is far too expansive to think he'll return to form. That leaves Andrew Luck, who is back at practice and seemingly on track for a full recovery. We know Luck is capable of Top 5 production and it's not as though his receiving corps has been diminished.