Gut Check No.346: Week 1

Waldman takes you on the opening week tour of his fantasy football department store. 

Welcome to my in-season column. If you're seeking strategic tips, match-up advice, game observations, IDP info, and dynasty advice with a little bit of current football events opinion added to the mix then you've come to the right place. Think of the in-season Gut Check column as a department store with a variety of areas:

  • Re-Draft
  • IDP
  • Dynasty
  • Futures (Rookies and College Prospects)
  • Opinion
  • Wild Side

How much attention each department earns will depend on my observations during the week. Let's take the Week 1 Tour. 

Re-Draft: The utility of Danny Woodhead 

Ladarius Green wasn't a slam-dunk start for fantasy owners this week against Detroit, but his evaluation for a potential concussion makes it a lot easier to consider Danny Woodhead. The Lions were among the best defenses in the league last year when it came to limiting running back fantasy production on the ground.

But the Lions were the six-easiest fantasy unit for running backs through the air in terms of yards and they gave up the fifth-most receptions to backs. This is Woodhead's wheelhouse, especially when the Chargers will likely show extra caution with rookie Melvin Gordon III's third-down skills early in the year.

The NFL loves to throw fantasy football owners for a loop and the idea of Gordon exploding onto the scene after a lackluster preseason would be one of those scenarios. If, in this case, the opening month models the preseason, Woodhead will out-produce Gordon, or at least have more efficient production that fantasy owners can rely on.

If Gordon needs a season to adjust to the speed and complexity of the league, Woodhead will be a nice value if you can trade for him early or ride him as a top-flight flex option. The former Pats do-it-all option might also become a sell-high option if the light comes on for Gordon by midseason.

Running backs are never easy to trade for early in the year, but a player like Woodhead might go for a reasonable value if you're desperate after your draft.  

If you're in a PPR league, I wouldn't be surprised if Woodhead earns 5 catches 45 yards and another 30 yards on the ground. It's a 12.5-point total that would put Woodhead near the top-15 at his position this week if the points projections of my colleagues prove reasonable. 

IDP: Sack-Heavy Sleeper O'brien Schofield

There was a time that Schofield was a top-flight edge prospect. That time came to a close when he shredded his knee at Senior Bowl practices. He has bounced from Arizona to Seattle to Atlanta, flashing that explosion that made him a star at Wisconsin. The Falcons will use the six-year veteran at defensive end and outside linebacker and My Fantasy League has Schofield positioned as a defensive end. 

This designation could prove valuable for IDP owners seeking depth at defensive end, because strong side linebacker Brooks Reed is slated to miss six weeks and the reps will be divided between Schofield and Kroy Biermann. Most believe Biermann will have the greatest share of the reps, but Schofield has performed well enough that Atlanta wants to feature him off the edge on third down. 

I also noticed that Atlanta used Schofield on the weak side at times during the preseason. This may have more to do with resting starters during the summer, but it also hints that Schofield could earn that spot if Justin Durant gets hurt. 

The one area where Atlanta should improve this year is along the defensive front. The rotation of Paul Soliai, Ra'Shede Hageman, Grady Jarrett, Jonathan Babineau, Vic Beasley Jr, Tyson Jackson, and Adrian Clayborn isn't a superstar group, but there's strength in these numbers before you add Biermann and Schofield to the equation. 

Schofield knows Dan Quinn's system from Seattle and he has three seasons with four sacks during limited time on the field. Atlanta seems like a situation ripe enough for Schofield to earn an extended opportunity at playing time.

Unless you're in a league with 40-plus active roster spots, Schofield is not worth your consideration now. But if MFL keeps Schofield as a DE and the veteran plays enough OLB to earn a nice share of tackles, you might have a reasonable waiver wire bargain.  I've added Schofield two larger leagues because I have rookies and suspension servers on my DE depth chart. 

I'll keep you posted. 

Dynasty: Taxi Squad Luxury Stashes

Most leagues I compete in have taxi squads and rarely do I have vacanies. I'm generally wishing our active rosters or taxi squads would expand another 3-5 spots. But if you have a vacancy or two and you're seeking some high-upside options who are unlikely to see the field this year and may need another year or two before you begin to see returns, here's a list of players I've been coveting. 

San Diego WR Tyrell Williams:  The 6'3" 204-pound option had an amazing three-cone drill time for his size (6.53 seconds). It would have been the best of the NFL Combine if he ran it there rather than a pro day. Three-cone drills are a good indicator of stop-start quickness and agility needed in the open field and route running. Williams has to master the techniques of the the craft to maximize his quickness on the field, but the raw athleticism is there: 

    • 4.38-40
    • 39.5-inch vertical
    • 107-inch broad jump
    • 4.22-shuttle

San Diego kept Williams over the more heralded Titus Davis, a player that one scout I know in particular liked a lot last year. Davis was a safer prospect because he had fundamentals as a route runner. But Williams' athleticism appeals to the Chargers' hope that they will strike gold the way the Vikings did with Charles Johnson (at the expense of the Packers and Browns cutting him). 

Green Bay QB Brett HundleyThe UCLA quarterback got nitpicked down to a fifth-round value after earning first-round hype to start the 2014 college season. I argued that if the Hundley and Marcus Mariota switched teams last year, the Heisman Trophy winner still comes from Oregon. The difference between my opinion and the opinion of many in the draft community has been that many analysts and teams viewed Hundley's accuracy as erratic, his pocket presence as inconsistent, and that he ran a simplistic offense that didn't allow him to change plays at the line of scrimmage. 

I believe many of these issues are explainable and correctable. Hundley often displayed the best accuracy of the quarterbacks in this class on targets of the highest difficulty. He played behind an offensive line that struggled and in a scheme that allowed defenses to adjust pre-snap while knowing the offense woudn't do the same. Some believe UCLA didn't allow changes because of Hundley, but I believe it had more to do with the line. 

The fact that Hundley began training camp behind Matt Blanchard--a player that Head Coach Mike McCarthy lauded as a quarterback that he couldn't believe wasn't employed by an NFL team--only to earn a spot ahead of Blanchard while lead the NFL in QB production throughout the preseason indicates how fast Hundley adjusted to the offense. A well-known gymrat at UCLA, Hundley created a study group with young Packers players and his quick development validates to me that the predilections of the UCLA offense weren't because of its quarterback. 

I tend to pay the premium for proven dynasty quarterbacks but it gives me room to farm one of my own. Hundley's talent and situation makes him the type of option I'd like to hold onto for another 2-3 years. 

Vikings TE MyCole PruittThe speed, quickness, and physical dimensions of Pruitt are all NFL-caliber. I like the soft hands and I don't think Vikings fans have seen Pruitt in the open field yet. Once fantasy owners get a glimpse of what Pruitt can do with the ball in his hands there will be more excitement. Kyle Rudolph has the starting role locked up, but injuries can dramatically change the outlook of two players at any given moment. The pair of Minnesota tight ends are good candidates for this kind of fortune/misfortune.

Futures:  TCU WR Josh Doctson 

There was a time Stephen Hill was a big thing and Marvin Jones Jr was an afterthought. I had Jones over Hill easily at that time and I was in the minority.

Jones may never develop into a consistent fantasy stud, but he's already done a lot more than Hill. There are elements to Doctson's game that are advanced for a college receiver, but he's playing with a quarterback who isn't as polished from the pocket. Here's a 10-minute analysis of Doctson and why he's worth remembering next May. 


OPinion: Expectations for WEek 1

I should title this department Expectations for Month 1 but we'll take it a week at a time. The debut of regular season football is a super-charged event and the reactions to good and bad play will carry a ton of unnecessary and inappropriate weight. Don't get caught up in the noise. 

A significant percentage of fantasy owners begin to lose interest in a league between Weeks 5-7 of a season if they get off to a slow start. Much of the battle to contend for a championship in a league begins with staying engaged and not giving up. 

Fantasy owners sometimes overreact to the wrong things and underreact to the right stuff. Here's a list of things I'll be noting as positives or negatives when I watch games this week (month): 

Injuries at the line of scrimmage: The fastest way for a team to go from haven for fanasy heroes to an unrelenting abyss of fanasy mediocrity or disappointment is the health and rapport of the offensive line. If a team has to reshuffle it's offensive line or use more than two inexperience players in its lineup, it's often a bad sign for the ground game and pass protection. Unless the runner is a great player with proven skill behind bad lines or the quarterback can scramble and throw deep on the move with accuracy, injuries to the front five are recipes for an offensive downgrade.

The same can be said about the defensive front. Lose a good nose tackle or defensive tackle capable of handling double-teams and that defense becomes a ripe fantasy matchup for the running game.

The process behind a long run: Gains of 15 yards or greater are exciting, but understanding the anatomy of a good running play and defensive assignments will give a fantasy owner better perspective about a running back than the boxscore or fawning over the back's physical skills. I'll be watching for the execution of the offensive line and how the runner performs in the scheme. Is he staying true to it? Ignoring it and getting a good result that could lead to a false positive? Or, is he demonstrating a good balance of caution and appropriate risk-taking? 

Garbage Time: How much of the production came against a defensive scheme that allowed the run or pass and is there a reason to expect that the player earning that production will see a lot of garbage time this year? 

Fatal Errors: Few things haunt fantasy owners more than getting excited about a young player, watching him make a few impressive plays, and then discovering that player's workload drops or he's benched. Fatal flaws that can kill a play, a series, a teammate, a go-ahead play, or the lead are often the culprit: missed blocking assignments; turnovers; attempts at big-plays at the cost of giving up a smaller, safer gain in a pivotal down-and-distance situation; poorly run routes or misdiagnosed routes versus the defensive scheme; immature celebrations or tantrums; and missed meetings. Make these errors in the NFL and forgiveness without punishment is rare--even for quality talents.

Good luck this week and see you on the other side... 



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