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This week we discuss the following:
A number of player who had been fantasy studs earlier in their careers have generally been disappointments this season until recently. Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, and Roddy White have all shown signs of life recently, however.
After throwing eight touchdowns in the first seven games, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown nine touchdowns in the last three games (and has averaged 324 yards per game over the last three games as well). Is he a viable fantasy starter going forward?
Jeff Pasquino: Ben Roethlisberger is a QB1 only in good matchups. The last three weeks forced Pittsburgh to throw because of their matchups with New England and Buffalo, and a shootout with Detroit. I sort of like him against Cleveland in Week 12 (tough run defense). Some other weeks (at Baltimore, against Miami, iffy against Cincinnati) he is more of a QB2. I do like him against Green Bay in Green Bay in Week 16, but that could be a blizzard, so who knows? I think most weeks he will fall in the QB10-16 range, but Antonio Brown could break out in any given week. The Cleveland game will be a tough call, now that I think more on it, with Joe Haden blanketing Brown. Big Ben is a true boom-or-bust guy right now and he would be a risky start in most weeks the rest of this year.
Chad Parsons: Roethlisberger is a matchup play. Detroit was a favorable matchup this past week, but unfortunately Pittsburgh's schedule is not all that favorable in the remaining weeks for quarterback production.
Dave Larkin: Pasquino hit the nail on the head as far as the up-and-down nature of Roethlisberger as a trustworthy QB1 in your lineup. Fortunately, most owners wouldn't have drafted him to be an every-week starter, but more of a platoon option with a guy like Joe Flacco or someone like that. The presence of Antonio Brown certainly helps, but this week he faces a tough matchup against legitimate shutdown cornerback Joe Haden in Cleveland. However, there is also the intangible factor of the trade rumors and the effect it could continue to have on this team. Some have speculated that the Steelers brass themselves put the word out of a possible trade scenario. Roethlisberger certainly looked inspired last week and we've seen him do a lot with a little before, so hovering around the QB10-12 mark with QB8-10 upside isn't outside the realms of possibility.
Heath Cummings: Roethlisberger is a mid-level QB2 who can perform like a QB1 in a good matchup. I wouldn't want to count on him week in and week out down the stretch, though.
Stephen Holloway: Roethlisberger's arrow is definitely pointing up. In addition to the 324 yards and three touchdowns per game, he is also averaging over 40 passes per game over the last four games and they have won their last two, obviously faring better with the increased passing. I expect that they will be in several shoot-out type games down the stretch and need Roethlisberger to continue to pass the ball early and often to compete. And if they are considering a trade, what better way to improve his stock than to showcase his abilities down the stretch.
Carson Palmer is coming off of his best game of the season, having thrown for 419 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars. Any value here?
Jeff Pasquino: Carson Palmer is always a risk to throw some interceptions, but Arizona is a much better team than most are giving them credit for. Three of their four losses are against stiff competition (Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans), so do not underestimate the Cardinals. Throw in that they are struggling mightily to run the ball (Rashard Mendenhall? Really?) and that Michael Floyd is developing nicely as a compliment to Larry Fitzgerald and I like Palmer going forward. With good matchups the rest of the way in virtually every week except Week 16 (at Seattle), I would be reasonably comfortable using Palmer as a low-grade QB1 and certainly as a solid QB2 or QB flex play.
Chad Parsons: I like Palmer this week against the Colts in Arizona, but nothing else on the schedule is flashing in green lights to start Palmer outside of an injury or deep league situation.
Dave Larkin: Let's not get too caught up in Palmer's 'resurgence'. The Jaguars game represented a high-water mark in what has been only a respectable season for Palmer, and not a standout one by any means. Although he has brought veteran savvy and a degree of credibility to the Arizona quarterback situation, he has still thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (15 to 14). However, the matchups moving forward as we approach playoff time appear to be quite favorable. I'm of a mind with Parsons on this one; unless you're really struggling at the position, I would try to avoid the rollercoaster ride of a fantasy QB that Palmer is.
Heath Cummings: Everything I said about Roethlisberger applies equally well to Palmer. I don't consider him a fantasy QB1, but I wouldn't hate having to start him against a weak pass defense.
Stephen Holloway: I have serious doubts that Palmer will continue his past week's success. Arizona has only one game in the next five against a bad passing defense and that is the Eagles in a couple of weeks. The rest of their schedule is against teams that not only have really good pass defenses, but their offenses have been less than stellar in most cases. I can see several low-scoring contests that Arizona could win and remain in the playoff hunt without needing an offensive explosion.
Ray Rice is also coming off of his best game (by far) of the season, having rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown against the Bears. Does that portend good things down the stretch?
Jeff Pasquino: Ray Rice has been warming up lately, and Baltimore is finally getting better production from him. Rice broke off a big run to start the game against Chicago and that definitely boosted his confidence. It doesn't hurt that Bernard Pierce is not at full strength so that the Ravens have to rely on Rice for 20+ carries now. He has a tough matchup this week (Jets) but he remains a solid RB2 going forward, especially when it is getting harder and harder to find backs that touch the ball 20+ times a game these days.
Chad Parsons: The Vikings and Lions in weeks 14 and 15 are appealing matchups for Rice in the fantasy playoffs. I am not one to be back on the Rice bandwagon after last week, being more skeptical that low RB2-level games are far more likely than difference-making performances.
Dave Larkin: One game does not a season make (or whatever cliché you prefer here), and Rice's long overdue breakout performance against Chicago was too little, too late for me. Players have to earn the trust of fantasy owners to be a viable every-week play. You have to expect a threshold of production for your RB1, but can you really rely on that with Rice? As Pasquino said, there aren't many 20+ carry-per-game backs you can truly count on, but for me Rice's lack of spark this season has turned me off of his prospects. I would recommend him as a low-floor RB2 until he puts a run together that reverses the trend.
Heath Cummings: Rice and the Ravens ground game are going to come crashing back to earth this week against the Jets. The only way Rice is going to help out his owners is if they can find a way to sell high before Sunday.
Stephen Holloway: Rice looked both quicker and stronger than I have witnessed all season. He had over 20 carries for only the second game this year after having six games with that many carries a year ago. I expect Rice to continue to produce better down the stretch than earlier this year. He might have another down day this weekend against the Jets and the top ranked rushing defense, but he also has much easier games against the Steelers and Patriots over the next five weeks.
After scoring zero touchdowns through the first seven games, Chris Johnson has scored four touchdowns in the last three games. He's also increased his YPC from 3.2 in the first seven games to 5.1 in the last three. Is he back on track?
Jeff Pasquino: Chris Johnson has been crying about his blocking and feeling some heat from Shonn Greene, but the game against the Colts last Thursday really showed that he has turned the corner. Tennessee can run the ball well now thanks to a balanced offense that keeps defenses honest, but it certainly didn't hurt that they had good matchups over the past few weeks (Rams, Jaguars, Colts). I like Johnson in good matchups as a strong RB2 with low RB1 upside, but do fear touchdown vultures from Greene and even Ryan Fitzpatrick. The best news overall for all Titans is that they have the best fantasy playoff schedule you might find anywhere (at Denver, Arizona, at Jacksonville Weeks 14-16), so I would love to have nearly any productive Titan on my roster right now.
Chad Parsons: Outside of Arizona in week 15, I love Johnson's remaining schedule. Another appealing aspect is that Johnson is the type of back that can have huge games, ones that win fantasy championships. He is a worthy start as an RB2 and one whose 'boom' is worth the risk of a 'bust' in weeks 12-16.
Dave Larkin: Ah, the never-ending story of Chris Johnson's inconsistency. As a Johnson owner in a league, the decision to start or bench him has been a common question I've had to make a call on. The fantasy playoff schedule and the recent trend suggests, however, that Johnson is just about trustworthy. He could give you 60 yards or 160 yards and a pair of scores, so he is the very definition of boom-or-bust.
Heath Cummings: This is one we all should have seen coming. Johnson's schedule in the first half of the year was extremely difficult and it got much easier after the bye. He won't be as good down the stretch as he's been the last three games but he'll be much better than he was in the first half.
Stephen Holloway: Even though he has increased his average yards per carry from 3.2 to 5.1 in the last three games, he still had one game with 12 carries for 30 yards and that was against Jacksonville, the worst run defense in the league. Johnson is simply too up-and-down to trust. I expect his status to continue to wane.
Dwayne Bowe has started to become much more involved in the offense recently. He's gotten double-digit targets in each of the last two games (he had zero such games before that), and has brought his average fantasy points per game up from 5.3 over the first eight games to 9.2 in the last two. Can we be comfortable starting him again?
Jeff Pasquino: Dwayne Bowe knows that he just has to step it up to prove to himself, Kansas City, Andy Reid and the rest of the NFL that he is a true NFL WR1. Granted, he is limited by Alex Smith's inability to throw the deep ball, but Bowe is the unquestionable top wideout for the Chiefs and he needs to prove himself for several reasons. Bowe's complaining aside, the recent arrest off the field does not help his case, nor does his big contract for the next several seasons. Andy Reid normally does not pay big money for wide receivers, but if anyone produces he can get behind them. Bowe has great matchups the rest of the way (San Diego, Denver, Washington, Oakland, Indy and San Diego Weeks 12-17) and could easily produce at WR1 levels for the next six weeks, helping Kansas City get to the playoffs and possibly win the AFC West. A big stretch run and postseason for Bowe would go a long way towards Bowe's credibility within the Chiefs' organization, and he knows that he has to step it up. I like Bowe to continue to see 8-12 targets a game the rest of this year and he should be good for 5-7 catches and 70-90 yards most weeks.
Chad Parsons: We now know that Bowe has a pulse, but not one that I want in my lineup outside of the game against Denver in two weeks. The Chiefs are resistant to open up the offense and, frankly, their best chance to win involves great defense and a ball-control offense. Bowe would be on my bench outside of injuries or a slew of week 12 bye weeks on a fantasy depth chart.
Dave Larkin: Bowe has topped four receptions in a game only twice this season, and while it is easy to think that the targets must translate into production, most of that will come within 10 to 15 yards of the line of scrimmage in this ball control offense. I would trust Bowe and, by extension, this Chiefs offense if you are looking for a guaranteed six to eight points, but I can't see the Smith-to-Bowe connection suddenly taking flight.
Heath Cummings: As with Chris Johnson, the schedule has flipped for Bowe and he should be a solid WR3 at worst the remainder of the year. His matchups are juicy and the Chiefs face several offenses that should keep them throwing.
Stephen Holloway: He has been more involved recently, but on the season he ranks 32nd among wide receivers in targets. When you also consider that Alex Smith manages only 6.0 yards per attempt, there are two significant reasons for Bowe's lack of success in 2013. I am not expecting continued improvement for Bowe down the stretch.
Marques Colston went through a very cold streak in weeks 5-8 before missing week nine with an ankle injury. (He averaged only 14.7 yards per game over that period.) Over the last two weeks, he gone 7-107-1 and 5-80-0.
Jeff Pasquino: Marques Colston is not much of a sure thing, but after resting in week nine to get his knee right, he seems to be back as the true top receiver for Drew Brees—and let that sink in. Colston is the top receiver for one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Brees, who is nearly a lock for two touchdown passes and 300 yards every week. With Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles both ailing, I love Colston to see 10+ targets a game most weeks going forward—but I would be concerned for the fantasy playoffs with two matchups against Carolina in Weeks 14 and 16.
Chad Parsons: The Saints are the ultimate 'spread it around' offense. The constant is Jimmy Graham most weeks. Colston will have his moments, but good luck predicting them. Ideally Colston is slotted as an upside WR3 and this week's matchup against Atlanta is by far his best remaining game on the docket.
Dave Larkin: If you're a part of the Saints passing attack and you're a healthy body, you're a contender to go off for 100 yards and a touchdown every other week. Colston seems to be recovered from his knee injury and will continue to be a threat down the seam for New Orleans and Brees.
Heath Cummings: Colston has lost a step with or without the ankle injury. He should be good again this week against the Falcons, but I wouldn't want to count on him after that.
Stephen Holloway: There are simply too many viable options in New Orleans for Colston to be able to sustain success this season. Both Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles have as many targets as Colston on the season and even Mark Ingram has seen the ball come his way recently.
Roddy White got off to a slow start against the tough Tampa Bay pass defense last week, but he got seven targets in the second half and ended up scoring his first touchdown of the season.
Jeff Pasquino: Roddy White is aging and ailing, and without Julio Jones to draw attention as the top target for Atlanta, White has very limited upside. It also doesn't help that Tony Gonzalez is banged up almost as much as Matt Ryan's confidence. White is not much more than a WR3 going forward at best—and that's not a lock. He does have some favorable matchups down the stretch (Buffalo, Green Bay, Washington Weeks 13-15) but Atlanta is a mess right now on offense.
Chad Parsons: The good news for White is that Atlanta will trail quite a bit in their remaining games and, when healthy and capable, he should see a wealth of targets. The catch is that White is not healthy and his touchdown in week 11 came in complete garbage time. I want to see a healthy and productive White on the field before putting him into a starting lineup, which may mean waiting another few weeks.
Heath Cummings: I'm not sold that White is back to full strength, but I'd rather have him in my starting lineup than Colston. As much as it looks like the Falcons have quit on this year, that's not something I'd worry about with Ryan or White. This team could be playing from behind a lot the rest of the year, and that would of course be good for White's numbers.
Stephen Holloway: White had been the model of health and consistency over his previous eight seasons in Atlanta. But, this year it is obvious that he is not his reliable self. Perhaps he will continue to get healthy as the season winds down, but he is going to have to prove to me his value before he gets back on the fantasy field for me. Last week was a mild uptick, but not enough to build confidence yet.
It looks like the Raiders have a quarterback controversy. It's not between Matt Flynn and Tyler Wilson. It's between Terrelle Pryor and . . . Matt McGloin? McGloin shined against the Texans on Sunday. Does he have an edge over Pryor right now in the quest to be the Raiders QB of the future?
Jeff Pasquino: Matt McGloin—who saw THAT coming? Oakland's current General Manager, Reggie McKenzie, did pick McGloin for the roster (and not Terrelle Pryor), and McGloin's results in Week 11 are hard to dispute. I think he has the edge going forward and all the receivers seemed to be more productive as a result of McGloin being under center. The offense looked more productive and balanced with McGloin, although Houston has been making several teams look better than they should in the past two months. Oakland will stick with McGloin in Week 12, and if he plays well against Tennessee he will stick as the starter on Thanksgiving in Dallas. Those two games will decide if McGloin gets the job the rest of the season.
Chad Parsons: Pryor still looks very raw as a passer and I have doubts he ever cleans that up enough to be a long-term starter in the NFL. McGloin showed well in limited duty and at least earned the right to see a few more starts the rest of the season. Regardless, Oakland is highly likely to address the position in the offseason and McGloin's upside is capped as the backup entering next season.
Dave Larkin: Holy McGloin! I'm not ready to pronounce McGloin as the savior for Oakland long-term, but a solid few performances as we approach the end of the season could put him in the conversation as the Raiders' roster overhaul continues at pace this offseason. Pryor has been impressive at times but is still terribly raw and one wonders how much further he can progress as a passer. Can he develop the nuances of a pocket quarterback? We shall see. I still think general manager Reggie McKenzie will look to address the position in the offseason.
Heath Cummings: I don't believe there is any faith in Pryor long-term in Oakland. McGloin throws a much nicer ball and makes quicker decisions. While it's safe to say that McGloin has an edge over Pryor as the quarterback of the future, the field may still have an edge on both of them. McGloin is going to have to do what he did against Houston for the rest of the year to get serious consideration as their starter in 2014.
Stephen Holloway: I was not sold on either Flynn or Pryor during the off-season, so I am not surprised that Oakland is going with a third option. I was expecting that this would be Tyler Wilson time, but it looks like Matt McGloin will get his chance down the stretch. The schedule is not terrible although he faces the Titans' tough pass defense this week. Following that, he gets to face Dallas and the New York Jets, both of whose defenses are below average right now. I expect him to show better decision making than Pryor and maintain the starting gig for the remainder of the season.
Is it too early to pronounce Bobby Rainey an every-week fantasy starter going forward?
Jeff Pasquino: Every-week starter? I wouldn't quite jump to that level just yet, but he certainly has earned the top workload for Tampa Bay for now. Rainey should be a fantasy starter in favorable matchups going forward and is in the discussion for starts as a fantasy RB2 or flex every week the rest of this season if he continues to see so many touches.
Chad Parsons: It's not too early for me. Considering the lack of running back options that are likely to see 15+ touches most weeks, Rainey is a solid RB2 down the stretch. Rainey is running with fresh legs late in the season and his short, stout build is a plus as he is hard to track behind the offensive line. Mike Glennon is playing well enough to keep defenses relatively honest and to keep Tampa Bay in games so that they can run the ball with plenty of volume. Rainey, like Mike James before him, turned into a fantasy starter overnight.
Dave Larkin: The Bucs will continue to feed the diminutive back the football, but there are some tough match-ups coming up, including San Francisco, Buffalo and Carolina, all salty enough run defenses. Rainey's versatility as both a runner and a receiver will give him plenty of opportunity, but I wouldn't be expecting 100+ total yards and a score every week.
Heath Cummings: I'm not sure I'd go that far at all. Let's see him do it against someone other than the Falcons, who look like they've quit on the season. Rainey has an excellent shot to set himself up for a change of pace role in the future, but the only way he's an every-week starter is if your running backs have been decimated by injury or one of them is named Trent Richardson.
Stephen Holloway: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have heavily favored one running back with the majority of carries all season. This has included Doug Martin, Mike James, Brian Leonard (for one game) and now Bobby Rainey. He showed burst in his first extended action in week 10 and then was given the primary role in week 11. I think that he will have the reigns for as long as he can stay healthy. Granted his explosion came against Atlanta's 30th-ranked run defense, but he should continue to get 20 or more carries and even though he has not been targeted frequently, he has caught passes on every target on the year. Detroit will be more of a challenge and after that the Panthers, but in week 14 Tampa Bay takes on the Bills and their 24th-ranked run defense. Ride the Rainey train until it derails.
Last week we discussed Chicago wide receivers, noting that while Brandon Marshall had more touchdowns on the season, Alshon Jeffery actually had more yards from scrimmage. It's a similar situation in Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald has more touchdowns, but after Michael Floyd's huge week 11, he's got more yards. Has Floyd's value surpassed Fitzgerald's in dynasty leagues?
Jeff Pasquino: That's an interesting take, but I love proven veterans over younger players with unproven upside. This is a classic debate between a 30-year old Pro Bowl wideout who gets the job done year after year versus a younger (23 year-old) wide receiver who looks like he has fresher legs but hasn't "been there, done that" yet. How do you value those seven years difference in age against the track record of being a Top 10-15 wide receiver for years? Many are too quick to put older wide receivers out to pasture and take the chance on the younger player. In today's NFL, veterans can play longer and produce at high levels for a long time, especially if they take good care of themselves as Fitzgerald does. For now, I like Fitzgerald more than Floyd, but the gap is shrinking between the two.
Chad Parsons: Yes. I see the Arizona receivers similarly to the Atlanta depth chart where there is a well-established veteran (Roddy White, Larry Fitzgerald) that is on the downside of their career and a young, highly-talented option (Julio Jones, Michael Floyd) breathing down their neck for targets. While Carson Palmer is not as cozy of a quarterback option as Matt Ryan for dynasty owners of Michael Floyd, Palmer is at least capable until a better option comes to Arizona. Floyd put it all together in week 11 and his value, if it was not already, will be as a top-15 receiver (if not higher) in most dynasty leagues when drafts begin in January. Fitzgerald, as a receiver hitting 30 years old, has limited appeal in dynasty formats and falls outside the top-25 receivers in my latest rankings update.
Dave Larkin: As the guys mentioned, this is a fascinating topic for debate. In these situations I generally side with the proven veteran and the more talented player overall, and that is Fitzgerald for me. The arrow is pointing down on his career, but there is no reason why he can't—with solid quarterback play—be a solid WR2 for the next three to four seasons. Floyd is an incredible talent too, don't get me wrong, but Fitz has earned my trust.
Heath Cummings: I'd absolutely go with Floyd. The only way you'd want Fitzgerald is if you're in win-now mode and Floyd may be the better option for that type of team as well. Chad makes a great point with the comparison to the situation in Atlanta, although Floyd isn't on Julio Jones level.
Stephen Holloway: Floyd has skills and he is definitely improving and will continue to have a major role for the Cardinals. I will stop short of him overtaking Larry Fitzgerald for either the short-term remainder of the season or in dynasty ranking. Fitzgerald is only 30 and should have several solid seasons ahead, regardless of whether he remains in Arizona or gets traded elsewhere. It is obvious that the dynasty format leads to a much greater diversion of thought between the young and possibly up and comer and the older (although fairly young in wide receiver years) veteran who has produced for a lengthy period. I disagree that this is even close to the Julio Jones against Roddy White.
Where do you rank Garrett Graham (vs. the Jaguars) among fantasy tight ends this week?
Jeff Pasquino: I like him as a top-ten option. The Jacksonville defense has played reasonably well over the past 3-4 weeks, but not so much against tight ends. Over the past three games, Jacksonville has given up 18 catches, 246 yards and three touchdowns to tight ends, including solid games by Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis over that stretch. Graham is going to likely see the second most targets behind Andre Johnson with DeAndre Hopkins in the doghouse lately. I like Graham to have a strong week, but expecting another 100-yard game is a bit much. He is a high TE2 with lower end TE1 upside this week.
Chad Parsons: Graham is one of my favorite plays in weekly fantasy football formats this week. The Jaguars are a very favorable opponent for tight ends and Graham has six or more targets in the three of the last four games. While I typically do not like players coming off huge games, Graham is an exception with a great matchup, reeling offense, and defined role for week 12. Graham is a top-six play behind the automatic starters at tight end this week.
Dave Larkin: Apart from the top tier of tight ends, if you can find a favorable match-up among the rest, you take it. Jacksonville is the very definition of that, and Graham's targets suggest he is in line for at least a six-to-eight point outing. Plug him in as a low-end TE1 and see what happens.
Heath Cummings: Graham falls somewhere between 6-10 for me. I had him listed in the FanDuel Bargains last week and he paid off, but he's been very inconsistent this year and last week was the first time Case Keenum showed a willingness to throw the ball to his tight end.
Stephen Holloway: The Texans have steadily used their tight ends this year, with Daniels and Graham totaling 96 targets and 57 receptions for 656 yards and seven touchdowns. The five games that Daniels played before his injury, he averaged eight targets, five catches, and 50 yards per game with three touchdowns. In Graham's last four games, he has averaged 7.5 targets, four catches, and 60 yards, but with only one TD. I expect that Graham will continue to be targeted similarly going forward, and their schedule includes Jacksonville (24th ranked pass defense) twice, Indianapolis (16th), and Denver (28th), so there could be some production in the passing game ahead. I would rank Graham lower top ten for this week, but there is definitely potential for success.
Coby Fleener has gotten double-digit targets (and has led the Colts in targets) in each of the past two weeks. Is he a top ten fantasy TE going forward?
Jeff Pasquino: With Reggie Wayne done for the year, Andrew Luck has been trying to figure out where all of those targets that used to go his way should go. At first, T.Y. Hilton was getting all of the love, but after Hilton the question marks are popping up. Darrius Heyward-Bey cannot catch a cold with those hands, and he might be benched for LaVon Brazill soon. That makes Fleener the probable top target or, at worst, the second-most targeted Colt going forward. Remember, Andrew Luck loved throwing to tight ends while at Stanford, and Fleener is a very stable and reliable option. I like him as a Top 10 candidate the rest of this season with Wayne out.
Chad Parsons: Fleener fits the formula for a top-producing tight end: great quarterback and an offense lacking a true lead receiver (no offense to T.Y. Hilton). I still have concerns that Fleener develops his game into a fantasy difference-maker when the Colts have better receivers and Dwayne Allen is back in the mix next season. For the time being, Fleener will be a top-eight weekly play given the sheer volume of targets he will see and the Colts' struggles in the run game.
Dave Larkin: I'm completely with Parsons on this one—he's in a perfect situation for production with the Colts running game struggling mightily and a pattern of game scripts that has seen the team fall behind in recent weeks could continue. Fleener is a very strong option at TE in the final weeks of the season.
Heath Cummings: Absolutely. Fleener is the only decent option behind T.Y. Hilton in the passing game and Andrew Luck has no choice but to use him heavily. I think top ten might even be selling Fleener short. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he's top five from this point forward in 2013.
Stephen Holloway: I like the potential Fleener has going forward. I can see his back-to-back ten-target games being the norm for the rest of the season. He seems to be gaining confidence and is obviously Luck's second favorite receiver at worst and has been the first option the last two weeks. The schedule however is not favorable down the stretch as Indianapolis takes on Houston (1st), Tennessee (6th), Kansas City (8th), and Cincinnati (11th) after this week's match-up against Arizona (19th). Despite the daunting schedule, Fleener has a solid quarterback and will get opportunities to make plays.
Trent Richardson averaged 3.6 yards per carry as a rookie. Almost everyone expected him to improve on that figure with the Browns this season, but he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry with the Browns before being traded to the Colts. Almost everyone expected him to improve on that figure with the Colts, but he's averaged just 2.8 yards per carry since the trade. Meanwhile, the Colts' former first-round pick Donald Brown has looked very promising (averaging 5.9 yards per carry on the season) and has gotten an increasing share of the workload in recent weeks.
Has Brown surpassed Richardson as the Colts' RB1? How would you evaluate each RB's fantasy potential in both redraft and dynasty leagues? (And how do Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard fit into the dynasty equation?)
Jeff Pasquino: Brown is clearly the RB1 right now for the Colts, but I am not willing to give up on Richardson for the long term. It is not easy to switch teams mid-year, as you have to learn the playbook and your personnel who set up your run lanes and the offense in general. That's working in Brown's favor and to Richardson's detriment, but you cannot attribute the full difference to just that. Brown's been getting the job done with his 5.9 yards per carry, and Richardson is still leaving yards on the field that he should be picking up. He looks hesitant when running, almost dancing to try and set up bigger plays, which results in next to no gain more often than not. Brown is running hard and with conviction, trying to make sure that Indianapolis does not forget about him and keeps giving him chances. For this year, I would rather have Brown and consider him a solid RB2 or flex option in redraft, while I would leave Richardson on my roster but on the bench.
Long term, I still hold out hope for Richardson. A full preseason and the balance of this year will go a long way with him acclimating to this offense, and the Colts invested in him with the trade of a first round pick for his services. Brown will likely be back as the understudy to Richardson at the worst but could easily force a split time backfield again next year. Bradshaw (injuries) and Ballard (too much of a project) will likely be cast aside in 2014.
Chad Parsons: If forced to start one in the remaining games of 2013, Brown gets the edge as a desperation RB2 in deep leagues or a flex play at best in traditional redraft leagues. Looking ahead to 2014 and beyond, Bradshaw and Brown are set to be free agents, leaving Richardson and Ballard with the Colts. Considering the cost to acquire Richardson and his salary over the next few seasons, he will be given every opportunity to be the main ball carrier and show the abilities that made him a top-5 draft pick. Ballard is a replacement-level NFL back that would be a functional backup if he returns to his pre-injury form. Bradshaw will garner limited interest in the free agent market as his injury history will scare away many teams outside of a backup or limited workload role. As the younger option and the fact that he has shown well at times this season, Brown will be the intriguing one to track heading into the offseason. Regardless, it is tough for me to see Brown as anything more than a depth player that may get one more string of starts at some point in the next year or two.
Heath Cummings: I agree almost completely with Chad's take. I wouldn't want to start Brown or Richardson the rest of the year, but if for some reason you have both, I'd pick Brown. We'll find out a lot about Richardson and the Colts this offseason. His performance this year may just be further validation of why teams are so hesitant to make midseason trade...because it really is this hard to assimilate a new weapon midseason. I'm not giving up on Richardson long term, but I have moved him out of my top ten. I still believe he has the talent to be a borderline RB1 moving forward, but it doesn't look like he'll ever live up to his expectations. As for Brown, I don't believe he'll ever get his own gig as a true starting running back, but he'll probably be one of the better handcuff options because we know he can handle the load if forced to.
Stephen Holloway: I concur with Chad and Heath favoring Brown over Richardson for the remainder of 2013 and would not be at all surprised if the Colts go with Richardson and Ballard next year. I, like many others have been disappointed by the lack of success Richardson has had in the NFL to date. One thing that I did notice in the game stats is that Richardson had only 10 targets in his first six games with the Colts, but has had 10 in the last two games. Despite his seeming lack of burst, he was an effective receiver out of the backfield a year ago with Cleveland catching 51 passes. Maybe he is just really slow to pick up the full offense and will perform better down the road. I am not expecting him to perform significantly better down the stretch, but any improvement would be a good omen for his possibilities in 2014.
Darren McFadden has been injury-prone through much of his career, but has flashed star potential when he's been healthy until he seemingly lost his mojo last season and this one. Rashad Jennings has looked significantly better while filling in for McFadden. Will Jennings remain the Raiders' primary runner even after McFadden returns from his current hamstring injury (which could be this week)? What is Jennings' dynasty potential? What is McFadden's?
Jeff Pasquino: Rashad Jennings has earned playing time, not just because he can stay healthy, but also due to the simple facts that he continues to produce. Over the past three weeks, Jennings is averaging nearly six yards per carry (57-340), found the end zone twice and added 11 catches for 91 yards. No matter how you slice it, Jennings is getting the job done. McFadden will be worked back in once he returns to health (or whatever passes for McFadden's healthy status these days), but it is clear that the Raiders will use Jennings at least for 50% of the run game—if not more—for the rest of this season.
Looking long term, both players are on the final years of their contracts, but that's about the end of the similarity. McFadden is earning nearly $6M this season and then becomes a free agent with a checkered health history and will be coming off yet another injury-riddled season. He turns 27 next August and will likely sign somewhere (probably not Oakland, but we'll see) and be asked to compete or contribute in a committee backfield, which is all the rage in the "running backs are a dime a dozen" NFL. Jennings is on a one-year deal at the veteran minimum ($630K) and it would be very likely that Oakland offers him both a raise and a longer-term deal, something that Jennings would be smart to take given that the Raiders gave him a great shot this year to prove that he has earned more playing time and money. I like Jennings for more production and see his dynasty stock rising, while McFadden's continues to track downwards.
Chad Parsons: The indefinite timetable for Darren McFadden's latest injury certainly casts a cloud around his short-term value. In addition, McFadden has been a fast, big back that has gotten hurt because he runs in straight line through defenders as a general rule. While Jennings is on the wrong side of the career arc for running backs, he is running hard, well-rounded, and has fresh legs from a minimal role to start the season. For the rest of the season, I am more optimistic about the Oakland games where Jennings is the unquestioned starter than if McFadden resumes that role when healthy. Looking down the line in dynasty, McFadden is a player to avoid as he may see tepid interest in the free agent market and have more competition for touches elsewhere than his time in Oakland. Jennings is a back that can step in if needed for a few starts, but not a back that an NFL team will build a backfield around. Considering that likely role and his age, Jennings is a player to use up for the rest of this season, then drop for a young player with promise in the offseason.
Dave Larkin: Like Pasquino and Parsons have touched on already, the Raiders face the likely scenario in the offseason of releasing Darren McFadden and his near $6 million cap number as part of their bit-by-bit talent overhaul. Rashad Jennings would appear to be the primary beneficiary as the Raiders would be smart to offer him a short-term deal to be their bell cow while they groom a young back. Dynasty-wise, McFadden doesn't appeal to me one bit. We've seen how slow the market for veteran backs in the offseason can be; McFadden's injury history does not bode well, even if he is only 27 and could, conceivably, have some good football left in him.
Jennings' dynasty potential is a short-term RB2 if the Raiders continue to be productive on the ground, but as Parsons correctly said, Jennings is a player to get the best of for fantasy purposes before the end of the season and then seek a younger replacement.
Stephen Holloway: There is no question that Jennings has had the upper hand for 2013 and has produced three consecutive games since McFadden went out with his latest injury. Over the past three games, Jennings has had more carries in each game and totaled 340 yards on 57 carries for just shy of 6.0 ypc. He has also been effective catching the ball. It would not be a surprise for Jennings to get the majority of carries for the remainder of the season, perhaps as Jeff and Dave suggested as a trial run for the lead back in 2014. On the other hand, McFadden has shown a lot of ability, granted in short bursts as he has never been able to stay healthy in the NFL. Yet, he is two years younger than Jennings (28) and could find another opportunity elsewhere if the Raiders decide to move on from him. I have always been surprised that he is not used more in the passing game and he could find success as a role player as a pass catching specialist.
Heath Cummings: Something clicked for Jennings in the second half against the Eagles. Up until that point in the season he'd been the same run-into-the-pile-and-fall-down guy he was in 2012. Since that game he's actually shown a desire to make tacklers miss and flashed speed we hadn't seen since 2011 on his long touchdown run against Houston. If I was Head Coach Dennis Allen, I would absolutely stick with Jennings until he gave me a reason not to. As for dynasty value, I don't see a lot of hope here for either player. We have no reason to ever project a 16 game season for McFadden, and even if we did it's questionable how much burst he has left after all of these leg injuries. Jennings is, for the most part, just another guy. I can't see either player cracking the top 20 of my dynasty running back rankings ever again.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Roundtable. Please join us again next week.