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Fantasy Roundtable - Week 14

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:

Cedric Houston
Denver RBs
Always Start Your Studs
RB Changes Next Year
NFL's Top Offenses

Cedric Houston

Maurile Tremblay: With Curtis Martin out for the year, what can we expect from Cedric Houston over the next three weeks? The Jets' offense in general had been struggling until last Sunday when they came to life against the Raiders. Are they going to be able to get Houston some scoring opportunities against the tougher Miami and New England defenses in the next couple weeks?

Jason Wood: Cedric Houston is a straight line runner who underachieved in college. That doesn't mean he can't be successful in the right system, but with the Jets’ offensive woes and uneven line play, what fantasy playoff team is going to rely on this kid? If you're in your playoffs, I'm betting you have better alternatives.

Marc Levin: A lot of owners’ “better alternatives” may be recently injured. For somebody who just lost Kevin Jones or Curtis Martin or Brian Westbrook, the 70 or 80 combined yards Cedric Houston should be able to get may come in handy.

That said, I don't have a ton of hope for Cedric to be a strong option these next two weeks. I think he will do as well or better than Curtis Martin has been doing, so he is an adequate RB3, and a pretty good late season RB2 if you are now in a situation where you have suffered injury after injury to your RB2 crew.

Heck, he is the Jets’ only option at RB with Blaylock and Martin shelved. I'm thinking of
Houston as a fantasy player on the level of McGahee or Antowain Smith - or even the split backfield of Ricky Williams/Ronnie Brown. I think he makes a better play than someone who is not the only option and is on a poor running team, such as Kevan Barlow or Artose Pinner.

Will Grant: I don't see Houston putting up those kinds of numbers against the Patriots or Miami. I'd be careful projecting Houston's stats out the rest of the way. Not to mention that Blaylock might cut into his time before the end of the season. Blaylock is the main backup, and the Jets didn't put him in IR because they hoped that he'd be back before the end of the season. Expect Blaylock to see time the rest of the way as well.

Marc Levin: I don’t think 70 or 80 combined yards is an overly optimistic projection. Even Barlow is getting 60 combined per week.

Cecil Lammey: Cedric Houston had a college career where he didn't play up to his potential. Perhaps it was the undiagnosed thyroid condition that kept him from being a big time college back. At the 2005 combine Houston was diagnosed properly and was able to remedy the condition with medication. With a thyroid condition he was devoid of much energy, thus he seemed to be lazy in practice. What does this have to do with the Jets’ situation now? Well, Houston is a back that has a limited skill set, but can still be productive as we've seen from his first starting action. For those teams desperate and decimated by injury I believe that Houston could prove to be the workhorse type back that the Jets need. Derrick Blaylock is nothing more than a veteran/insurance type of back. We shall see in the upcoming weeks if Houston can become the Jets’ back of the future. I believe that he will be good in this late season role, but I have questions as to whether he can carry the load full time for the Jets.

David Yudkin: The Jets’ RB corps has averaged 95 total yards and 0.7 TD per game. It would be nice to think that Houston gets all of that production (and at the same level), but the fact remains that B.J. Askew had 54 rushing yards last week and Jerald Sowell had several receptions. Unless the Jets get the lead, I doubt Houston will get 28 carries again, and this could turn more into a RBBC.

Add in that the Jets play
Miami and New England--both playing better defensively as of late, and I temper my enthusiasm for Houston.

As Marc mentioned, if you have guys beat up, Houston could salvage something out of a fantasy roster spot that otherwise might get little to no production. Not the worst option at RB, but not the best either.


Denver RBs

Maurile Tremblay: A few weeks ago, it looked like Mike Anderson would be a solid FF contributor for the rest of the year. But his workload has been substantially reduced over the last couple weeks, and Tatum Bell had more success than Anderson against the Ravens last week. Any clue on how the carries will be distributed from here on out, or should fantasy owners just avoid the Denver backfield if they can?

Will Grant: I'd be more inclined to go with 'avoid if you can.' Bell's 3.9 YPC isn't going to win anyone a championship, and at this point in the season, you really want backs that you can count on. Last week against KC, Anderson still had the bulk of the carries, but only had 37 yards rushing. He made up for it with a TD rush and a 66 yard TD reception, but that was his only catch. Bell has never touched the ball more than 20 times in a game, and I don't see that changing unless Anderson goes down to injury. I think either back is a risk at this point, and you should start a more consistent player unless you're looking for a big risk, big reward type of thing.

Jason Wood: This has been a frustrating year for tier two RBs. Just when you think Mewelde Moore's the star back, Michael Bennett gets a heavy dose for two straight weeks. Willie Parker is back in the Steelers’ starting lineup and then Jerome Bettis comes out of nowhere with 100 yards and 2 TDs. DeShaun Foster is proclaimed the starter and fantasy leaguers are thrilled to have kept him on their bench all this time, and then he goes out this past week and lays an egg. We've seen this time and again this year and it's been harrowing for fantasy owners trying to plug and play someone in their RB2 or flex spot.

The Broncos’ situation is particularly interesting because Shanahan has historically gone with one lone workhorse. For awhile it seemed as though both
Anderson and Bell had a shot at 1,000 yard seasons, but injury and curiously disappointing performance these last few weeks has hampered that possibility.

If you're in your league's playoffs I would bet you aren't beholden to starting
Anderson or Bell. If you are, I would probably stick with Anderson; he's been the better back this year.

David Yudkin: I am in a similar position to what Jason outlined. I have Anderson and have limited other options for the playoffs, so I have to play him. It does appear that Denver has more going on than on the surface, as they have used Anderson, Bell, and Dayne at different points this season. Anderson would probably be the highest on the pecking order, but he certainly is not as reliable fantasy-wise as many had hoped.

It does not appear that the Broncos will be picking any single guy to be "the guy" from here on out, so if you are a fantasy owner be prepared for a very broad range of scoring from week to week for the usual suspects here.

Cecil Lammey: I would avoid the Broncos run game if at all possible. Mike Anderson would be your best bet to score points if you are really pressed for some starting punch. Tatum Bell cannot convert on short yardage situations, and Ron Dayne is not a power back, no matter how hard Shanny will try to prove otherwise. That being said, Tatum is a great change of pace back and can take any run outside all the way to the house. The Broncos are still fighting for playoff positioning so the chances of Anderson getting a rest before the season is over is slim. I expect Anderson to get back on track, but it's too risky to determine when or for how long.


Always Start Your Studs? (But Who Are They?)

Maurile Tremblay: A popular piece of advice in fantasy football is to always start your studs. It's not always easy to figure out who the studs are, however. In the first half of the season, Willis McGahee and Randy Moss were considered studs. Are they still? Should fantasy owners keep starting them regardless of matchups? On the flip side, guys like Clinton Portis, Carnell Williams, Chris Chambers, and Samkon Gado have started to come on strong in the past few weeks -- have they reached stud status such that owners should "always" start them throughout the rest of the playoffs? How do you decide which players are studly enough that you'd always start them regardless of matchups?

Jason Wood: I think there's a fine line. Playing matchups gets easier as the season wears on because we have a more statistically accurate picture of a team and its opposition. You would never sit Rudi Johnson in Week One, but if in Week 14 he's playing the Bears, you would possibly consider it knowing now how well the Bears run defense is playing. Ultimately I believe you have to honestly assess your alternatives. There's no easy answer. On the radio show I do each week, someone asked about Carson Palmer two weeks ago and he was considering sitting him vs. Pittsburgh. I suggested that you shouldn't sit the #1 fantasy QB unless you've got a great alternative.

Will Grant: Jason is correct: 'Never sit your studs' is a bit easier to go against at this point in the season. 'Stud' at this point could almost be taken to mean the guys who have scored the most points for you to this point. Lamont Jordan, Joey Galloway and Drew Bledsoe were not even in the realm of 'stud' in week one. Now, you're starting them every week if you have them.

But the rule cuts both ways. Cadillac Williams went up against
Carolina, a top 3 defense against the run. He lit them up for 110 yards and 2 TDS. Yet McGahee was shut down against New England when New England wasn't even a top 10 rushing defense.

As Wood said... you have to honestly assess the alternatives on your roster. 'Never sit your studs' really becomes 'never sit your studs unless you have a better alternative'.

David Yudkin: I think always start your studs is great advice with the proviso at this time of the year that defines a stud as someone that was productive all year. I hope nobody benched Larry Johnson last week against the strong Cowboys’ rush defense, and I hope nobody benches LaDainian Tomlinson this week against a strong Colts’ rush defense. Long story short, you don't sit guys like that unless they had a leg fall off.

Guys like Randy Moss, Willis McGahee, Julius Jones, et al, are horses of another color. They haven’t been studs all year long, and if I had better matchup options or great depth at a position I would seriously consider sitting them.

Cecil Lammey: You should always start your studs! As stated by the other guys, if they are truly having a stud year, then keep playing them, even if the matchup dictates that you shouldn't. Potential "studs" like Willis McGahee should sit the bench if you have better options at RB.


RB Changes Next Year

Maurile Tremblay: Looking ahead to next year, what kind of changes do you see happening around the league at the running back position? I’ll throw a few potential changes out and get your comments.

Is there a reasonable chance that Greg Jones will be named the starter over Fred Taylor?

Jason Wood: Taylor is entering the penultimate year of his current deal and is owed $2.55 million. I would say it's 50/50 the Jaguars will opt to part ways with him as the cap hit would be minimal. Whether Greg Jones gets the job next year is less certain. Between free agency and the draft, anything can happen.

Will Grant: I agree with Jason that I think Jacksonville is done with Taylor. If the Jags want to compete with Indy, they're going to need more than a part time starting RB. As to who takes over, it's going to be wide open. Greg Jones looks solid now, but with Pearman and Toefield there, it could be anyone's guess. It would not surprise me at all to see Jacksonville make a free agent play as well. (How scary would Jacksonville be with Shaun Alexander running the ball?)

Cecil Lammey: It looks as though Greg Jones has played his way into more playing time in 2006. I believe that he should start over Fred Taylor, if Taylor is even a Jag next summer. At the very least I think the 2 backs will duke it out in training camp for the starting job. Alvin Pearman should play a larger role if Jones is named the starter. Greg Jones is a good power back but is a little one dimensional. He should be in on the first 2 downs and short yardage situations with Pearman coming in on obvious passing situations and 3rd down.

Maurile Tremblay: Might Samkon Gado will start over Ahman Green?

Jason Wood: Gado is somewhat reminiscent of Nick Goings in
Carolina last year: fourth stringer turned into yardage machine. Yet Goings has been relegated back to a special teams role primarily this year. Gado has been impressive as a runner, but he certainly isn't in Ahman Green's class in terms of overall ability. That said, Green is a free agent at year end and I can't imagine the Packers, who are clearly in rebuilding mode, will opt to pay Ahman a big new deal. Best guess is Ahman signs with another team while Green Bay goes in another direction that does not necessarily involve Gado as the starter.

Will Grant: Again I agree with Woodrow that Gado is probably a one-season wonder. He puts the ball on the carpet too much to be a legitimate consideration for starter next season. When the announcers are saying 'Son, just hold onto the ball', you know something is up. While the Packers won't get Reggie Bush, it wouldn't surprise me if they drafted a rookie runner in 2006.

Cecil Lammey: As good as Samkon Gado has been doing I feel it's unlikely he'll get the starting nod over a healthy Ahman Green. He has a problem with ball security, much like Green used to, and until he can prove he won't cough up the rock I think that his starting chances over Ahman are slim.

Maurile Tremblay: Will Cedric Benson will start over Thomas Jones?

Jason Wood: The Bears need more than one running back to win playing their style of smash mouth football and Jones contract is palatable. With Benson being hurt this year and rather unimpressive prior to the injury, I can't see the Bears letting Jones walk. I would imagine it will be an honest, open competition in camp with Jones emerging as the favorite.

Will Grant: The Bears believe that they are a playoff team. Come next season, they're going to go with whatever RB will keep them winning. Benson blew a golden opportunity to be the back of the future in Chicago, and Thomas Jones has done everything that was asked of him and then some. This has RBBC written all over it next season, especially if they get their QB position under control.

Cecil Lammey: Cedric Benson, for as talented as he is, will not start over Thomas Jones unless Jones is injured or ineffective. Benson got in the dog house early with his holdout, and now with his injury is even further in it. He needs to get back in Lovie's good graces by pounding the rock, holding onto the ball, and proving that he belongs in the NFL.

Maurile Tremblay: How about Frank Gore starting over Kevan Barlow?


Jason Wood: The Frank Gore story is a nice one, but if the 49ers are going to claw out of the basement it's going to be with someone else as their lead back. I can't imagine how Reggie Bush doesn't end up a 49er if they get the 1st pick. Otherwise I would say Gore remains as the backup while Barlow is sent packing.

Will Grant: Run AWAY. Run AWAY! San Francisco is going to have another rough year in 2006, and it's hard to see anyone becoming a solid fantasy RB from that group next season either. Barlow isn't the answer. Gore has done well in a 'change of pace' role, but he is not an every down back. They are another good candidate to pick up a RB in the draft.

Maurile Tremblay: Might we see Chester Taylor stay in Baltimore and start over Jamal Lewis?


Jason Wood: There will be wholesale changes in that organization this offseason. So without the benefit of knowing who the new coach will be and what kind of offense he plans to run, it's tough to say whether
Chester has a shot at the starting job. Jamal is almost certainly done after the deterioration of his play and attitude this year (particularly after the team stuck by him during his incarceration). Much like the 49ers, I would bet the Ravens’ leading rusher for 2006 isn't currently on their roster.

Will Grant: Lewis will be in another uniform in 2006. I don't see him staying with the Ravens. Taylor could be another Barlow and should be approached with a bit of caution. The guy has never touched the ball more than 200 times a season and might not be able to handle a full load. I agree with Jason here that the coaching changes will dictate who takes over.

Cecil Lammey: Chester Taylor is the future in Baltimore, and Jamal Lewis will be tossed out ASAP.

Maurile Tremblay: Could Marion Barber get more carries than Julius Jones?


Jason Wood: Barber, in my view, looks equipped to be a true bell cow in this league. While I like Jones too, I can't see why he would automatically get the bulk of the carries heading into next year. My guess is this remains a committee until someone gets hurt, and then the other becomes a solid fantasy contributor.

Will Grant: Jones, Barber and Tyson Thompson will probably share the load three ways. All three have their strengths and weaknesses. Unless Barber blows off everyone's doors in the pre-season, this will be a fantasy RB nightmare next year.

Maurile Tremblay: What will happen in Houston if the Texans get the first pick in the draft? Will they take Bush and then trade Domanick Davis? Or keep Davis as a backup?


Will Grant: Without serious OL help, even Reggie Bush would struggle in
Houston next season. They need help in many other places. Davis signed a big contract before the season, Wells was retained and is a team player, and Morency was a third round pick for them this season. I can't see how Reggie Bush gives them the most bang for their buck.

David Yudkin: As a more general note, I’ll mention that some of the cloudiness at the RB position next year will involve teams with free agents. From what I can tell, Jamal Lewis, Chester Taylor, DeShaun Foster, Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport, Edgerrin James, Michael Bennett, Moe Williams, Onterrio Smith, Willie Parker, Shaun Alexander, and Maurice Morris are all in the final year of their contracts. (Possibly Sam Gado as well; I’d have to look it up.)

The market for free agents should be very interesting, with four bona fide studs potentially on the market, depending on how teams use their franchise tags. Even other RBs that aren't free agents could be available (like Ricky Williams), so it should be a very intriguing offseason.

As for teams and their individual situations, one team that has not been mentioned yet is the Patriots. I'm not so sure that they are still enamored with Corey Dillon being in and out of the lineup all year. They also ran into huge depth problems not having many RBs on the roster. I suspect they will get someone else to start (and cut Dillon) or get someone else to compete with Dillon.

As I see it, the teams there are 10-12 teams with significant question marks at RB next year: MIN, GB, SEA, SF, JAX, ARI, DAL, BAL, DEN, PIT, CAR, and PIT. There is a chance we see a lot of players in new locales or even rookie starters (which we really haven't seen in awhile).


The NFL’s Top Offenses

Marc Levin: A few years ago, fantasy owners wanted to invest in players from the high-powered offenses of Kansas City, St. Louis, and Indianapolis. They were pretty much looking to grab almost any player from those rosters, often calling the WR3 from those teams as good as many teams' WR1. All three units, however, are starting to show their age.

Do you see the Bengals and the Seahawks as the current offenses on the rise – the ones that owners should be looking to get a piece of? Are they displacing KC,
St. Louis and Indianapolis? Is there a third team we should be talking about - such as the New York Giants or Arizona Cardinals?

Conversely, should dynasty owners be looking to “sell high” on their
St Louis, Indianapolis, and Kansas City players?

David Yudkin: As for the first question, I am not so sure Seattle is one of the teams you have to get a piece of. For starters, if Alexander does not return, all bets are off as far as I'm concerned. Hasselbeck is currently the #7 fantasy QB--nothing all that phenomenal as a QB1. Joe Jurevicius is the highest ranked fantasy WR on the team (23rd), and who knows how the distribution will be beyond Darrell Jackson>

I still see the Rams as having three WRs, a RB, and a QB option next year that could all be fairly high ranking. The same goes for the Bengals. The Colts are always a good team to have players from. Other than that, I don't see any teams that have several great fantasy options all from the same squad.

As for the second question, I would still want the Chiefs running game, but the passing game not so much. I don't necessarily think the Rams’ offense is going to fall apart anytime soon, and even Bruce at 33 should have another year or two left. I don't think the Rams will be exceedingly competitive, so they will still get into several shootouts a year. The Colts will decline some eventually, but I would still feel comfortable having Manning, Harrison, Wayne, James, Clark on my team next year.
Harrison was supposed to slow down this year and he's currently the #2 WR.

For the most part, dynasty owners should at least look into trading guys in their 30s for younger players in good situations or with great potential. But I have always adhered to a "win now" philosophy, so I wouldn't give away an older player for nothing.

 

Maurile Tremblay: I like the Bengals’ offense quite a bit. Carson Palmer is for real, and he’s got three talented receivers to throw to. I will definitely be trying to get a piece of their offense next year. (Chris Henry will probably be a nice late-round sleeper in redraft leagues.)

I agree with David that I’d want the Chiefs’ running game, but not their passing game. I’ve never been a huge Trent Green fan. Although I will always be willing to draft Tony Gonzalez in the early middle rounds and Eddie Kennison in the middle rounds, I think the Chiefs’ targets get pretty thin after those two guys.

I also still like the Colts and Rams offenses. Peyton Manning and Marc Bulger are both plenty young enough to have many good years in this league, and both have plenty of offensive weapons to work with. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Colts can hold onto Reggie Wayne next year. If they can’t, that increases Marvin Harrison’s value. I agree with David that a “win now” philosophy is generally preferred, so I’ have no qualms about keeping a WR of Harrison’s age on my dynasty team. I am more likely to trade for Harrison than to trade him.

As a more general answer, though, I tend to target specific players rather than teams. I like Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald a lot, but that doesn’t mean I want any other Cardinal WRs, TEs, or RBs. Similarly, the Chargers have had one of the more prolific offenses in the league over the last two years, but it’s been limited largely to Tomlinson and Gates, and to a lesser extent McCardell. I wouldn’t be targeting any of the supporting players just so I could get a piece of that offense. A piece does you no good unless it’s the right piece.

And with that, it looks like I’ve rambled my way to the end of our session here. There’s lots of good football to be played this weekend. Enjoy the games and we’ll see you back here next week.

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