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Fantasy Roundtable - Week 13

Various staff members will share their views on a range of topics each week in discussion format. Feel free to eavesdrop.

Quick Links to Topics:

New Starters at QB
Lions’ Offensive Changes?
Saints’ WRs
Defenses With Attractive Fantasy Playoff Matchups
Thinking Ahead in Dynasty Leagues

New Starters at QB

Maurile Tremblay: Ryan Fitzpatrick, David Garrard, and Ken Dorsey all saw substantial playing time last week and look like they may start for the rest of the season. Mike McMahon and Brooks Bollinger are also relatively new to the starting line-up on their teams.

Fitzpatrick will be a hot waiver-wire pickup this week after his stellar come-back performance for the Rams on Sunday. Is he the only guy worth pursuing from that group, or do any of the other guys have any serious fantasy potential this season?

Marc Levin: Quick correction: Alex Smith has been named the starter over Dorsey for the Forty-Niners this week. So Dorsey appears to be done.

Maurile Tremblay: Thanks, Marc. So let’s throw Alex Smith into the discussion as well.

Jason Wood: As an Eagles season ticket holder, I loathed the signing of Mike McMahon this offseason and continue to abhor it. That said, he's going to continue to get PT and can do some damage with his legs which can add up to fantasy relevancy in a hurry. Assuming all the guys you've mentioned remain the starters from here on out, I would rank them...

1) Garrard
2) Fitzpatrick
3) McMahon
4) Bollinger
5) Smith/Dorsey

Will Grant: I agree with Jason on Garrard. Last week we talked about Leftwich's potential from here on out. With Leftwich on the shelf for the next four or five weeks, Garrard steps into that role now.

Fitzpatrick's comeback has earned him the right to start. Until Bulger is declared 'out' for the rest of the season, I'd still hang onto him just in case though.

At some point, I'd expect to see Charlie Frye, Andrew Walter and possibly even Aaron Rogers and Dan Orlovsky starting under center. Of this group, I'd say that Walter is the guy with the biggest potential.

Marc Levin: I like Garrard best of all of them -- by far. Garrard gets numbers on the ground as well as Leftwich does, or better, and he has the support of a very effective ground game. Plus he has solid receiving threats with Jimmy Smith, Matt Jones, Reggie Williams and Ernest Wilford. Finally, the team is playing for something. The other QBs mentioned are not as motivated and (except Fitzpatrick) they play on extremely conservative offenses.

I am not convinced that Fitzpatrick is going to be the man in
St. Louis from here on out. What if he struggles next game? Jamie Martin is healthy and could easily regain the starting role for the rest of the year with a good performance.

Regarding Alex Smith, we saw how poorly he played earlier, and I do not expect drastic improvement in his second go-around.

On the other QBs mentioned above, both McMahon and Bollinger have shown sparks during the games, but neither has shown consistency throughout any game. Neither looks to be more than a team manager type of QB who will get you around 200 yards passing and try not to lose the game. That conservative style of play usually doesn’t result in many TD passes, however. And with the Jets wanting to get Curtis Martin 1000 yards, and the Eagles relying so heavily on Brian Westbrook, neither QB looks good to me for fantasy purposes.

Lions’ Offensive Changes?

Maurile Tremblay: Maybe it's too soon to even speculate about this, but do you foresee any major changes to the Lions' offense after the coaching change? One thing that jumps out at me is that Kevin Jones, who led the NFL in rushing over the second half of last season, has averaged fewer than ten carries a game over the past four weeks. Is there any good reason to think that Dick Jauron will make a renewed commitment to the running game, allowing Kevin Jones to finish the season strong again?

Chris Smith: It's tough to say at this point but Dick Jauron did favor getting one back the ball during his time as head coach of the Bears (Curtis Enis in year one, James Allen in year two, Anthony Thomas in the final years), so there is something concrete there that would suggest one running back getting the bulk of the work.

I would expect the Lions to feed Kevin Jones the ball 20 times per game and perhaps try to stretch the field, throwing more vertical passes to the receivers.

Marc Levin: I don't think we will see immediate drastic changes - though I do agree that Kevin Jones' carries will likely increase.

Dick Jauron's reputation as a coach is that he uses a vanilla and predictable offensive scheme -- and a very conservative passing game. If he implements that system, there will be drastic changes.

I'd say the behind the scenes issues, however, will determine whether Jauron implements a new scheme over the next few weeks. The more important question than what Jauron will do this year is whether it will be Jauron next year. If he's merely an interim coach with very little chance of getting the head coaching job next year, I don't see him implementing a new scheme.

I do see a team that will be a bit more vitalized on both sides of the ball, similar to when Jim Bates took over for the Dolphins in 2004. The team won't change their philosophy or their approach, but the players will play much more relaxed without the stress of a head coach who is under the gun. When football is fun, football players play better. I think the Lions will be more relaxed, regardless, and will play a little bit better, but not enough to make a run or to affect your fantasy decisions.

Jason Wood: I've seen this notion floated out there by a ton of people and it makes no sense to me on so many levels. One, teams can't consistently run the ball unless they're consistently in games (i.e., not playing from behind). Since Jauron was already the team's defensive coordinator it's safe to say that "what we see is what we get" defensively and this unit simply isn't stout enough to keep them in games week in, week out. Furthermore, Jauron is a defensive coach through and through. In Chicago, the only thing he had a hand in was picking his offensive coordinators (Gary Crowton and John Shoop). An interim switch is much different than an offseason change. The Lions are saddled with the same coaches, the same playbook and most importantly, the same players. To expect massive change is foolhardy, in my view.

It is worth noting that QB coach Greg Olsen will take over play calling. What we don't know is how much Olsen's philosophy differs from Mooch’s, but we can be sure of one thing: he's more likely to differ from Mooch than former OC Ted Tollner would have.

Will Kevin Jones get more carries? I certainly hope so (I drafted him in nine leagues), but to assume that's a foregone conclusions would be a grave mistake. I'll be keeping KJ on my bench until I see this prospective increase in productivity play itself out on the field for a week or two before I buy the hype.

Chris Smith: The Lions’ defense has performed well this season and has kept them in football games. Dick Jauron, 'interim' coach or not, will likely want to put his own stamp on this team and obviously what the team was trying to do on offense wasn't working.

I’m not saying that the Lions will be more successful in running the ball with Kevin Jones going forward, only that it is likely that they will try.

Marc Levin: I’m with Chris on this issue: I think Kevin Jones' carries will increase over what they were the last few weeks.

Will Grant: Anyone who saw Jauron coaching in Chicago knows that he's not known for his high powered offenses. In his five seasons in Chicago, they ranked 26th, 28th, 11th, 27th, and 24th in points scored, and 8th, 24th, 27th, 29th, 29th in offensive yards. As Jason pointed out, he's a conservative guy with more of a defensive mind. From here on out, I think you'll see much of the same from Detroit. Their offensive line is not great, their QB play has been deplorable and their running game is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. I would think that you're going to see Kevin Jones more now, but at 3.3 yards per carry, how many carries is he going to have before the Lions have to pass to catch up? It would not surprise me to see Dan Orlovsky under center before the end of the season either.

Jason Wood: Just to clarify, I don't think Dick Jauron has an offensive philosophy anymore than Joe Gibbs has a defensive philosophy. So this question is entirely irrelevant. The real question is, "How will new OC Greg Olsen's philosophy impact the Lions and, most notably, Kevin Jones from here on out?" We’ll have to wait to find out.

Saints’ WRs

Maurile Tremblay: Down in New Orleans, Donte Stallworth has been consistently outperforming Joe Horn recently. Has the torch been passed? Is Stallworth now the Saints' bona-fide go-to receiver? Or is Horn still the guy, just temporarily slowed by injury?

Jason Wood: Once you get past 30, and more specifically into that 32+ range, it seems pundits are just waiting for your game to fall off. Now, at the RB position this is all but a certainty, but WRs have been defying those odds for some time. With Horn, given that last year was arguably his best season, you have to assume his lack of productivity is related to injury.

But the ultimate question is how age and injuries will affect his future. I remember Eric Dickerson talking about the idea that as you get older, you simply don't heal as quickly as you used to. Whereas it used to take until Wednesday for the aches and pains to subside early in your career, it then becomes Thursday, then Friday, then never. At Horn's age, I wouldn't bet on him coming back to 100% of the levels we've seen the last few years until he actually does it. If that means I miss out on drafting him next season, so be it. It's a calculated risk based on a lot of NFL precedent.

Chris Smith: I'm not sure I buy into Donte Stallworth as a legitimate number one receiver for an NFL team. I believe he is best suited as the number two guy. That said, Joe Horn is getting to the point in his career where he is a risky player to count on in fantasy football and the Saints have additional questions aside from Joe Horn’s age. Will Aaron Brooks return in 2006? Who will be coaching this squad? Where will this team be playing? Those questions alone are enough to make me leery of the entire Saints’ passing attack going forward and the age of Joe Horn is the straw that breaks the camel's back. Next year, Joe Horn will find himself dropping in my rankings with Stallworth leaping up to where the two are worth a WR2 or WR3 spot at best on my fantasy roster.

Will Grant: Chris nailed it. There are a ton of questions surrounding the Saints going into next season, and that should be enough to keep both Horn and Stallworth in the middle tier for WRs. As for which of them is better, that's a toss up. Horn may take a bit longer to get back to 100% because he's been playing the game 10 years, but Stallworth seems to be injured every year as well. He has never started more than 10 games in a season, and although he should break that personal 'record' this season, he still missed a couple starts this season as well. To me, a number one WR has to be a guy who is going to be on the field for you every week. I don't think Stallworth is that kind of guy.

Marc Levin: It's still Joe Horn, though when Joe Horn was miked up on Sunday night after Stallworth's first TD catch, Joe Horn was heard to say "that guy's (Stallworth's) growing up." Joe Horn -- as Joe Horn is fond of calling Joe Horn -- is not done yet. Don't count Joe Horn out when Joe Horn can still get Joe Horn on the field to make plays.

I do not believe the torch is passed quite yet. Stallworth may not be tough enough to be a number one. (He has decent size, but he plays much smaller than he is – failing to out-jump or outmuscle defenders for the ball. Sort of the opposite of Steve Smith, who plays much bigger than he is.) I believe it'll be one more year of Horn as the primary threat and then either Stallworth or a new WR will take over. As we’ve learned from Rod Smith and Jimmy Smith, never count out a top-flight receiver to put up one more good year.

All that being said, I love both receivers down the stretch for this year. Brooks has been playing very well, and the team is constantly in garbage time/catch-up mode with Brooks able to find his receivers these days. Injuries at tight end and the lack of a legitimate running back have thrust Brooks-to-Stallworth/Horn to the forefront of the Saints' attack.

Defenses With Attractive Fantasy Playoff Matchups

Maurile Tremblay: My general strategy with fantasy defenses is to ignore them during the draft and then use the waiver wire to play weekly matchups throughout the season. I'd rather have whoever is playing the Ravens in a given week than have the top-ranked fantasy defense with a so-so matchup.

At about this point in the season, however, my strategy changes a bit: I look ahead to the fantasy playoffs and stockpile two or three defenses that have particularly good schedules down the stretch, and I stick with them for the rest of the year.

Are there any defenses or combinations of defenses that look particularly enticing to you in weeks 13-17 based on their schedule (especially defenses that might be available on a typical league's waiver wire)?

Or do you recommend a different strategy with regard to defenses down the stretch?

Marc Levin: Minnesota Vikings. Period. This schedule down the stretch is really sweet in almost any scoring system: @DET, STL, PIT, @BAL, CHI.

The Vikings’ defense has been particularly strong in leagues whose defensive scoring emphasizes sacks, turnovers, and TDs over yards and points allowed. And with their remaining schedule, it is unlikely (except against the Rams) that the Vikings will be involved in high-scoring contests, so they should be good down the stretch in point/yardage leagues as well. Pittsburgh at home, Baltimore on the road, and Chicago at home for weeks 15-17 makes the Vikings the far and away best defense to have down the stretch.

And they went undrafted in all my leagues and are still on the waiver wire in almost all of my leagues, so they ought to be available in yours.

Jason Wood: I'm going to assume ATL, CAR and CIN are already spoken for in most leagues. Of the next tier, Denver would be my primary option (I'm bidding for the Broncos D in two $$$ leagues this week) as they face opponents who've given up the 3rd most points to opposing defenses according to Clayton Gray's Strength of Schedule analysis.

Denver is also off the board, Houston, St. Louis, New England and Green Bay have favorable schedules and should certainly be available.

Will Grant: For leagues that award big points for limited yards and points allowed, Green Bay looks like a good short-term play. The Packers aren't going to score a ton of points for their takeovers, but their next four games are against Chicago (182 PF), Detroit (174 PF), Baltimore (145 PF) and Chicago (182 PF).

The Patriots are probably available in most leagues as well, and their next four opponents are NYJ (140 PF), BUF (161), TB (216), NYJ (140). Again, they won't land you many points for turnovers or sacks, but their points and yards allowed should be pretty low.

Thinking Ahead in Dynasty Leagues

Maurile Tremblay: Is there anybody out there who hasn't made a big impact this year, but who could step into the starting lineup in 2006 -- players whom dynasty owners might be able to get cheaply right now, but who could pay big dividends in future years?

I'll start by mentioning Chester Taylor. The Ravens have had a rough year this year on offense, but Taylor's performance in 2004 and 2005 (in somewhat limited playing time) has been good enough that he should be in the running to start somewhere next year. He's a free agent at the end of the season, so he's a good candidate to end up with a team that could use some RB help.

What other players fall into a similar category? What young WRs have you seen display good potential in limited reps this year?

Will Grant: Predicting next season this early is tricky because so much can happen between now and then. One area that we just covered last week in the Dynasty Watch column was the QB situation in Oakland. Kerry Collins has done a solid job fantasy wise, yet the Raiders are 4-7. With his big salary cap number, and the fans screaming for blood, Oakland is going to have a new QB at the helm in 2006. Keep an eye on Andrew Walter if that happens. Marques Tuiasosopo is second on the depth chart, but he has never proven that he can carry the load. Walter was a third round pick this season, and will have an excellent shot at taking over the starting job in 2006. With Moss, Porter and Gabriel catching the ball, that could be big numbers for whoever is throwing the ball.

Jason Wood: I don’t specialize in dynasty analysis, nor have I compiled next year's likely free agent lists yet. With that in mind, a few players that intrigue me are:

  • Taylor Jacobs, WR, Washington...Jacobs finally got the chance to start in D.C. and I could see him holding onto the spot next year alongside Santana Moss. Patten has been the bust I expected and James Thrash is long in the tooth.
  • Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay...Can Favre really stick around in Green Bay at this point? That's hard to believe, in which case Rodgers will get his shot.
  • Eric Shelton, RB, Carolina...People have probably forgotten about Shelton after his woeful preseason and season-ending injury. But the Panthers’ RB situation remains in flux and it wouldn't be hard to imagine him working his way into a role next year if he rehabs. Who would've thought guys like Sam Gado or Reuben Droughns (last year) had value, but they do.
  • Roddy White, WR, Atlanta...White has started to show off the deep speed that made him a viable 1st round pick. While the Falcons aren't going to light the passing world on fire anytime soon, we see from Alge Crumpler's numbers that Vick can deliver the ball to above average receiving talent.
  • Chester Taylor, RB, Baltimore...probably too veteran to not be owned in dynasty leagues already, but if you can trade for him, I would do so. I'm not sure Baltimore is going to be willing to pony up big money to extend Jamal and Taylor has been the better runner this year anyway.
  • Chris Henry, WR, Cincinnati...Chad Johnson and T.J. Housh are solid and entrenched to be sure, but with Carson Palmer slinging it around, there is value in the Bengals’ #3. Furthermore, if either starter gets injured, I think Henry has shown enough to think he would be immediately productive as a fill in.
  • Charlie Frye, QB, Cleveland...Frye is a MAC QB, Dilfer is doing nothing to warrant holding down the job, and Cleveland's brain trust is new enough to survive another year or two of rebuilding.
  • Cedric Houston, RB, NY Jets...Odds are the Jets will find Curtis Martin's replacement via the 2006 draft (or 2007), but Cedric Houston could get first dibs and has the physical skills to warrant a dynasty league roster spot.

Maurile Tremblay: That’s a good list. And as Will mentioned, the weekly Dynasty Watch column is a great source for additional information on this topic. That’ll wrap up this week’s discussion. Enjoy the games this weekend and we’ll do it again next week.

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