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This week we discuss the following:
- Bengals running backs
- Leonard Hankerson
- Washington running backs
- Rishard Matthews
- Patriots running backs
- Travis Benjamin
- Broncos running backs
- Buy-low: Miller vs. Forsett?
- QBs off the discount rack
Giovani Bernard got more than twice as many touches last week as Jeremy Hill. Is this going to be a full-fledged RBBC going forward, or his Hill still the featured back with Bernard merely changing the pace?
Dave Larkin: Putting aside the backfield conundrum for a moment, it is worth pointing out how dominant the Bengals offensive line has been through two weeks. If they stay at that level, either back should be able to succeed with favorable game scripts and terrific blocking up front. Hill's fumbling issues will undoubtedly be taken seriously by the coaching staff, but I'm not sure I'm ready to anoint Giovani Bernard the 'starter' just yet. We have seen many backs throughout the years fall foul of the fumbling bug, only to rededicate themselves to their craft and emphasize ball security, ensuring it won't happen again. I still see this as more of a 65/35 split in favor of Hill—unless the fumbling issues continue.
Justin Howe: Luckily for their owners, the Bengals offense is fully capable of supporting two runners. Hue Jackson's ground-heavy scheme centers the run in the offense, and it's second to none in giving its backs opportunities in the red zone. Hill and Bernard fit well together, of course, as a talented power back and a playmaking threat on the edges. It's the kind of situation we can project, if only theoretically, by the game script we expect: Hill would dominate the heavily-favored games, while Bernard would rack up numbers in the faster-paced matchups.
That's never a foolproof plan, however, and both of these guys become risky with such murky outlooks each week. Bernard now carries far less risk; he likely only cost a sixth- or seventh-round pick to acquire and carries a great PPR floor (5.6 catches over his last seven games). Ultimately, Hill's value receives far more of a ding here. He was widely drafted as a low-end RB1, which now appears to be his absolute ceiling. And varying weekly roles would hurt his floor, making him a dicier play in any weekly format.
Andy Hicks: I'm concerned that Jeremy Hill is fumbling the ball, but he is the better long term runner for this team. In having two highly talented runners with different styles and attributes, the Bengals have a luxury that few teams do and there will be, as Justin said, circumstances where Bernard will have the better game in the occasional week. Unless Hill keeps fumbling the ball then he still will be the number one back. I'm pretty sure this has been made clear by the coaching staff during the game and this week. I'm still very high on Hill, but fumbling and poor pass protection are deal killers for running backs in the NFL.
Dan Hindery: Hill should still be the top guy and get 60% of the touches. The Bengals are just trying to send him a message about ball security. You have to keep in mind that Hill is only 22-years old and not a finished product, so there are going to be ups and downs along the way. Bengals typically try to bring along their young guys slowly if they can. That included giving a broke down BENJARVUS GREEN-ELLIS almost 250 carries when Bernard was a rookie and clearly a better option. That is a big part of the story here with Hue Jackson and Marvin Jones using the two fumble day as a teaching moment for an immature young player.
Hill is still the guy to own short term in redraft and long term in dynasty. The Bengals want a physical running game and Hill is likely to be the go-to guy once the weather gets cold. The Bengals have always believed that winning key division games in December and January requires a physical power-running offense. They are building the team around this principle as evidenced by using their first two draft picks on OL and their third on a blocking TE. It may not look as though Hill is the key player for this offense in September, but by December the Bengals will be leaning on him more and more heavily.
John Mamula: Hill is still the lead back but I would hesitate to call him the feature back. Most teams in the league are now using at least two RB, if not three RB, in their running back committees. On a normal game flow, I would I expect Hill to see 70-75% of the touches and Bernard to see 25-30 percent. Where these numbers have the potential to drastically change is the weekly matchup. If they are playing a high paced game or from behind, Bernard is going to be in the game significantly more. If Cincinnati is playing with a lead, the preference is to grind the clock with Hill.
Matt Waldman: I'm still a believer that Hill has one more shot to remain the feature back, but the discussion I've heard that Bernard is not an effective runner between the tackles is something I'd disagree with as a point of analysis. Bernard wasn't the ideal runner between the tackles compared to a banger like Hill, but he has enough leg drive and balance to earn what the defense gives him and he has the vision and quickness to gain a lot more if there's a cutback available. I'd still approach Bernard as the change of pace but if you're in deal-making mode and a team you're negotiating with has Bernard, I'd see if you can get him added into your deal with the hope Hill can't hang onto the ball.
Will Grant: The biggest knock on Bernard is that he isn't going to be able to hold up as the feature back for another 14 games. Hill has too much talent to sit the bench, and as Justin points out—the Bengals have plenty of carries to go around. Hill needs to get the fumbling under control though. If he keeps putting the ball on the carpet, he's going to be watching the game from the sidelines a lot.
Justin Howe: We knew that White was 33 and on a noticeable decline, but this still seems a bit accelerated. White is rarely fully healthy and no longer much of a separator, but he's always enjoyed such a solid fantasy floor due to the volume that goes to Matt Ryan's wideouts. EJT (extra-Julio targets) have to go somewhere, and Hankerson looks to have run away with the number three job, but he's yet to truly pass White. Hankerson is a height-speed guy who flamed out memorably as a project in Washington under his new coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. Yes, game plans often compartmentalize older, declining guys like White, drawing more situational appeal than prolific output. But White remains the second option, and there's still enough volume to make White an ideal WR4 with a glint of upside, given Hankerson's inconsistency.
Andy Hicks: Leonard Hankerson has 15 targets to Roddy White's nine, but in this age of instant results and week to week panic attacks we need to relax just a little bit. If we asked this question after Week 1 we would have said clearly it was Roddy White who had eight targets to four and registered four catches for 84 yards compared to Hankerson who only managed two catches for 16 yards. We could have done this comparison in any of the last five years for Roddy White in comparison to Harry Douglas on a couple of weeks' worth of stats. I would still favor White to post better end of season stats than Hankerson, but don't think there will be much in it. Hankerson is a fifth year veteran who has given no indication of decent WR2 stats on a long-term basis. He will be keeping the seat warm until either Justin Hardy or the next young prospect comes along to complement Julio Jones.
Chad Parsons: Roddy White has struggled with press coverage for two weeks and Hankerson looks like the player Washington drafted years ago. I would bet on Hankerson as the number two to Julio Jones' lead receiver status the rest of the year over Roddy White. There is bound to be a game or two of strong production out of White, but the touchdown potential is low and big-play acumen will be minimal.
Dan Hindery: Roddy White and Leonard Hankerson look headed towards a 2A/2B arrangement where each week the coverage dictates which of the two sees more targets. The encouraging thing for White's owners is that he hasn't seen a decrease in snaps. He played only two snaps less than Julio Jones did in Week 2 and had more snaps than Hankerson. White is a savvy veteran and will have some favorable matchups some weeks against opposing second and third corners. Hankerson has certainly looked good both in the preseason and through the first two weeks of the season. Like White, his target load each week will depend on matchups and coverages and they won't go out of their way to force feed him targets if White is finding more space to operate. The one thing that makes Hankerson a more appealing option if forced to choose between him and White however is health. White has suffered through so many minor injuries over the past few years and has already had a minor injuries this year to his knee and his elbow. The odds of his making it through 16 games are not high. Should White miss time, Hankerson could find himself consistently seeing double-digit targets as the clear number two option in the offense.
John Mamula: The pecking order for targets is not yet defined behind Julio Jones. One thing is for certain, Kyle Shanahan is going to make sure that Julio Jones is the centerpiece of the offense. Hankerson's receiving targets have the potential to be 10 one week and two the next week. The same goes for Roddy White. It is really dependent on game flow. Dan has a good point regarding injury. If White or Hankerson go down with injury, then the other will benefit as a more consistent option in the passing game.
Will Grant: White had a reasonable week to start the season, but had just one target last week. I wouldn't push the panic button just yet, but he's definitely a guy that you can't really trust in your starting lineup until you see more from him. He 'should' bounce back this week against Dallas, but after last week, it wouldn't surprise me if he has another poor performance. As for Hankerson, I'd feel comfortable starting him as a WR3 or a flex in 12 team leagues.
Matt Waldman: Hankerson is the less consistent pass catcher compared to White, but the staff's point that White is no longer the athlete he used to be is a real issue that makes Hankerson the more appealing prospect. White's quickness and short area stop-start skills are no longer there. If they were, Matt Ryan would have demanded that the offense would throw more of those intermediate outs and comebacks to White. These are routes that would fit great in the Shanahan system off play action and Ryan and White dominated defenses with their timing on these routes. I doubt that White can consistently run these routes any more. Hankerson is the guy to own, but don't count on as a starter just yet.
Dave Larkin: It may not have been the intention at the outset for this to be a fantasy RBBC, but it has turned into one before our eyes. Matt Jones is a great complement to Alfred Morris; just when defenses think they will have a break, Jones bursts between the tackles and bulls over a defender in the hole. The Washington offensive line has not disgraced themselves at all, and Jay Gruden will want to keep the ball out of Kirk Cousins' hands as much as possible. They won't be able to rely on this conservative game script every week, but as long as they can keep the game close both Jones and Morris will be fed often. I can see this turning into a 50-50 split before too long.
Andy Hicks: Washington is a team that is blessed to have two different styles or runners that complement each other well. Unlike the Bengals situation where they are likely to be leading a lot of games, Washington will be playing from behind more often than not. Dave mentioned that as long as they can keep the ball out of the hands of Kirk Cousins they will be a much better team. I agree with that and would add that both backs are start-able in the right circumstance, but we've seen many rookies flash for one game and struggle to repeat. I would like to see Matt Jones do it against a different defense and in different circumstances. Until then I'm confident that Alfred Morris is going to see more carries out of the two backs and goal line touches.
Dan Hindery: Washington does look headed towards a full-fledged RBBC. Gruden and the offensive staff were clearly enamored with what Jones brought to the table during the offseason and his smash mouth style meshes with what they want this team to become. You don't spend a top five draft choice on an offensive guard like Washington last May unless you are hoping to run the ball 30+ times per game. In today's NFL, that high number of rushing attempts usually requires two backs and I think we'll see this develop into something close to a 50-50 split for the rest of the season. With Alfred Morris set to his free agency after the season though, Washington might look to see later in the season whether or not Jones can hold up as a true lead back and we could see him win that role down the stretch.
John Mamula: Yes, Washington has turned into a full-fledged RBBC. The best chance for the Washington to win is with a heavy emphasis on the running game and time of possession. The less you ask Cousins to do, the more you put the team in a position to win. For fantasy purposes, this muddies the water as you can't rely on a high floor of weekly touches from either RB.
Matt Waldman: Matt Jones catches the eye of people who love to see big bodies running fast and breaking tackles. That's most everyone—at least on the surface. I liked Jones out of college and mentioned that he had the skills to develop into a starter. I don't believe that he's nearly as skilled of a back between the tackles of Morris and if you watch the tape closely from this year, Morris has done more with less as a runner between the tackles. Morris understands how to vary his stride pace and length to set up smaller creases and gain yards that are harder to get just as a big, fast banger like Jones. I think those skills will get better for Jones with experience and if Washington was forced to go with Jones, they'd be fine.
Another point in Jones' favor is that gap schemes are easier blocking schemes for the offensive line to execute than zone schemes. So if you're thinking as a coach Which scheme is easiest for the most players in the offense? the answer is that the gap benefits 5-6 players on the line versus one back. I think Washington will use these two players in an RBBC and continue to exploit their talents weekly. Not great news for fantasy owners.
Will Grant: I still think that Morris is the 'primary' back in the Washington offense. Morris had a solid game Week 1 and had 20 touches last week. I think that he will continue those type of numbers. The key to remember is that Washington was up 17-0 at the half. They ran the ball a lot in this game, and Jones finished with 20 touches of his own. Will there be 40 touches to go around when they are down 17-0? That being said, Jones does have a lot of talent and he's going to see a few touches every week. I think we're looking at a 60-40 type split.
Justin Howe: Matthews is widely unknown, but he's long been appreciated by Ryan Tannehill. As a result, he again survived final cuts and trade murmurs despite just a seventh-round pedigree and a 2014 that saw him tumble out of the game plan. In other words, his role and overall value to the team is clear as mud. But he's in a contract year and has clearly put his best foot forward to open the season. He doesn't carry Stills' or Parker's theoretical upsides, but brings moderate downfield ability and has experience in the slot and could emerge as Tannehill's clear number two target. It's just hard to pony up much for it in a FAAB waiver system, as his history is so inconsistent: since an 11-catch breakout in a 2013 game, he's drawn three or fewer targets in 11 of 17 tries.
Andy Hicks: In complete contrast to Leonard Hankerson, Rishard Matthews has more upside. I would be surprised if he realizes the upside with the competition for targets though. This isn't the first time we've seen Matthews come out of seemingly nowhere with a big game. Against the Buccaneers in 2013 he recorded 11 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He had four other games that season with four catches, but there were no touchdowns or huge yardage there. He was almost invisible last year though so his performance against the Jaguars was a complete surprise. The other receivers are all new to the team and haven't had a chance to build up a rapport with Ryan Tannehill yet. Jarvis Landry is the dominant receiver and until one or more of Stills, Jennings and Parker gets comfortable then Matthews has a chance to avoid being a one week wonder again.
Dan Hindery: DeVante Parker is still getting up to speed after missing most of the summer and training camp with an injury. He is still is a bit behind in picking up the offense, but he should have a good chance of putting it all together by mid-season. In terms of skill set, he has some similarities to Martavis Bryant and could be a major weapon in the red zone and on deep balls. He went form one snap in Week 1 to 17 snaps in Week 2 and I think we'll continue to see those snap numbers creep up as the season progresses and he will be the number two wide receiver behind Jarvis Landry by the end of the season. Rishard Matthews is in his fourth season and has flashed in the past (as Andy noted). We occasionally see a true breakout later in a player's career, but more often these surprising early season performances end up looking like anomalies by the end of the season.
John Mamula: Jarvis Landry is the only consistent receiving option in the Miami offense on a week-by-week basis. I would not chase the points with Rishard Matthews as his targets should fade in the weeks ahead. Kenny Stills is not a good fit in this offense as Tannehill struggles throwing the ball more than 15+ yards downfield. Stills value comes from the deep pass and this is not a strength of Tannehill. Greg Jennings is just a warm body in the Miami offense. He is not a threat for touches. DeVante Parker has the most potential of the receivers listed but it remains to be seen how he will fit in the Miami offense and how quick he will get up to speed.
Will Grant: Jennings is clearly on the downside of his career. He was a ghost for many weeks last year in Minnesota (nine games with three catches or less) despite being their best receiver. He had five targets last week but couldn't come up with a reception. Parker isn't ready for prime time just yet, and the Dolphins are bringing him along slowly. Stills is the surprise given that the Dolphins gave up Dannell Ellerbe and a third round pick for him. The calf injury that Stills sustained in August may still be hampering him a bit, but it's clear he's not a big part of the Miami offense yet. Matthews has been impressive in his first two weeks and he looks like a safe start as a WR2, especially in a PPR league.
Matt Waldman: Matthews looks good and he is worth consideration. I like him a little more than Hankerson, but the situation is fluid. It's possible that Stills or Parker could get back into the rotation with a higher workload because two solid games from a receiver classified as a "big slot" man isn't a career-making event. I would continue to ride him until something changes. Parker is very talented, but we hear all the time how good rookies look in camp and they don't see the field—even without an injury as a mitigating factor.
Many were expecting LeGarrette Blount to lead the way for the Patriots starting in Week 2, but instead we got a whole lot of Dion Lewis, who picked up where if left off in Week 1. Is this situation going to be impossible to predict from week to week, or will Lewis (or Blount) emerge as a safe fantasy starter in this high-powered offense?
Dave Larkin: Well, we all know the perils of trusting New England running backs, but in this case I'm definitely on the side of Dion Lewis. Fumbling issues notwithstanding, his skill set presents defenses with problems. He is too quick and sudden to get a beat on in underneath zones and his small stature allows him to hide behind the Patriots' hulking offensive linemen on running plays. Lewis is a Swiss army knife in an offense that thrives on mismatches; Blount is a battering ram that will get you what is blocked and maybe a little more on a good day. This one seems fairly clear cut to me; Lewis is the guy to trust moving forward.
Justin Howe: We're used to Bill Belichick suplexing fantasy football values with his unpredictability. We've seen Shane Vereen featured on the goal line. We've seen James White shred two preseasons and barely earn a regular season helmet. We've seen semi-promising Jonas Gray cut loose despite being more effective than LeGarrette Blount. Patriots backs see nice value in best-ball leagues, where you can pay RB3 or lower costs and draw big scoring when they're game-planned for. But in weekly leagues, where a consistent floor is desired, it's hard to get excited about any option until one is injured or otherwise falls off the map.
Andy Hicks: The New England running back situation was always going to be unclear and it wasn't helped by the one game suspension for LeGarrette Blount. I still think it will be a week to week proposition as no coach plans better for an opponent than Bill Belichick. I don't think Lewis, Blount or any other back on the roster are a safe starter in any given week. By the end of the year though I expect Blount to end up somewhere in the bottom end of the RB2 tier. Good luck picking which weeks to start him in though.
Chad Parsons: Dion Lewis has been outstanding through two weeks and, even with LeGarrette Blount and Travaris Cadet back in Week 2, no back had more than 10% of the snaps other than Dion Lewis. In addition to strong cuts between the tackles, Lewis won numerous routes as a split-out receiver. This is what we projected from Shane Vereen at his best in New England all those years. Even Bill Belichick cannot justify a game plan without a heavy dose of Dion Lewis going forward.
Dan Hindery: Dion Lewis looks like he should have at least a moderate role in the Patriots offense every week going forward. He is the team's top receiving back and should be involved in the game plan nearly every week. He will have some weeks where he has a primary role and others where he only doesn't reach double-digit touches, but (at least in PPR leagues) should have enough involvement that you will be able to start him with confidence on a weekly basis. Blount looks like he is going to be highly game plan dependent. There are going to be a handful of games over the course of the season where the Patriots think they have an advantage in the trenches and decide to feed Blount heavily. But good luck predicting with any real degree of success which weeks they will decide to use the run-heavy approach with their big back.
John Mamula: The words "safe" and Patriots running back should never to mentioned in the same sentence. It seems as though New England has gone back to their high scoring ways and running up the score. They didn't take the foot off the pedal until two minutes remained in the Buffalo game. With an 18 point lead in the fourth quarter, Brady was still passing and Lewis was still on the field the majority of the plays. Belichick and Brady are out to make a statement this season. That means Brady in the shotgun and a lot of Edelman and Gronkowski. Blount does not fit this high scoring offensive attack. Lewis is a better fit and will benefit from game flow.
Matt Waldman: Every year fans hate getting fooled when they invest in a backfield on a team like New England's. The best advice I can give you is this: If you have LeGarrette Blount, be patient. He's a better interior runner than Lewis and he has proven that he can handle a high volume of work. If you have Dion Lewis, be encouraged that he has earned more playing time. He runs with excellent balance and while Shane Vereen was a better receiver on routes with high difficulty (wheel routes and fades), Lewis is better after the catch, between the tackles, and he's good at catching the ball on the most efficient routes run from a backfield. If you have Lewis, keep looking for running back help but start him until there's reason not to. Don't pretend that you feel safe about Lewis because a fantasy writer told you so. None of us really know what the plan in New England is—we're reading tea leaves—but if you can maintain a realistic expectation that this situation is fluid and have a contingency plan, you'll be acting intelligently as a fantasy owner.
Will Grant: As others have mentioned, the New England running back situation is always a questionable start. But Lewis you want to have in a PPR league because he's going to get opportunities. If you have him, you have to start him. If you have Blount, I'd feel comfortable starting him this week in a game that the Patriots are expected to win pretty easily. Buffalo has a solid defense, and It's not a surprise that the New England running backs only had 10 carries against them. This week you're going to see a lot more volume, and that bodes well for a punishing back like Blount.
Anything to see here? Is he this year's Antone Smith, destined to fade into the background soon enough? Or is he going to have fantasy relevance all season?
Justin Howe: What works against Benjamin is that there's so little complementary talent elsewhere on the field in Cleveland. When Martavis Bryant exploded onto the scene last year, posting video game touchdown totals, he was doing so while lined up alongside Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, and with LeVeon Bell in the backfield. Defenses had most of their attention focused elsewhere; it made sense to expect his big-play run to continue, as he'd be facing favorable secondary matchups going forward. Benjamin doesn't share a fraction of that talent level across the field: Andrew Hawkins is a small-ball slot man only, Brian Hartline lacks downfield dynamism, and Dwayne Bowe has reached "worst case scenario" levels in the poorest start of his wholly underwhelming career.
As for Benjamin himself, he doesn't hold a great outlook on his own. Pint-sized at 5'10" and 175 pounds, he's not a matchup-proof burner who can produce against just anyone. He'll likely need specific matchups with smaller/weaker nickel back types whom he can merely run past. As defenses start to keep a safety over the top of his side—which they can easily afford to do—Benjamin will struggle to find major room downfield more often than not. And considering the offense, there's very limited upside for scoring opportunity. Antone Smith is a great comparison here, as Benjamin will probably bring a very dependent, volatile profile to the table, one more important to Johnny Manziel and the Browns than to fantasy owners.
Andy Hicks: The Cleveland receiver situation is wide open and as we've seen from Andrew Hawkins in recent years the guy that put his hand up when asked will get a chance to contribute. Right now Travis Benjamin is doing all that's asked for and more. An undersized guy he towers over the 5ft seven Hawkins though, but in Cleveland Hawkins has recorded 50+ receptions in two of the last three years. With free agents Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe looking like busts the Browns will need someone to help out. Benjamin is a risk as we don't expect 50+ yard touchdowns all the time. three long bombs in six catches though should make you stand up and take notice. We've seen guys come out of nowhere with stats like this (Hi Marcus Robinson) and win championships for folks so he is worth a shot. The odds of it paying out are slim though.
Dan Hindery: With Travis Benjamin, I do think we may be seeing a real emergence and not just a flash in the pan. Benjamin has looked good at times early in his career but was setback by a torn ACL and multiple coaching changes. He is one of the fastest players in the NFL and we have seen more and more of these smaller speedsters emerge as major weapons in recent years due to the stricter officiating of defensive pass interference. That's not to say that Benjamin develops into the next Antonio Brown, Randall Cobb or T.Y. Hilton. But he does have 1,000 yard upside and could become a legitimate WR3 this season, especially with Cleveland expected to be playing from behind regularly and facing some questionable secondaries inside the AFC North. He is certainly worth a waiver-wire pickup at the very least.
John Mamula: I agree with Andy's analysis. Benjamin will benefit from a lack of competition at the receiver position in Cleveland. Cleveland will often be playing from behind this season and Benjamin will be the default main target. Some weeks he will produce a decent stat line but some weeks he will fall flat. A true boom-or-bust WR. If he is available on your waiver wire and you have the room on your bench, I recommend picking up Benjamin. He makes a good candidate for a WR3, especially when bye weeks start kicking in.
Will Grant: Benjamin reminds me of grade-school nerf football where the quarterback just finds the fastest kid on his team and throws it deep to him a couple times a game. But with three long TD receptions (and a punt return) in two weeks, he's a guy that you have to ride right now. I think he has more potential than Antone Smith though, simply because there are so many question marks about the Cleveland offense that whoever is in a quarterback is going to need someone to count on and right now, Benjamin is that guy. Last week I was firmly on the 'fool's gold' team. After last week, if I had Benjamin, he'd be in my lineup as a flex for sure and maybe even a WR3 in a PPR league.
Matt Waldman: There is something to see with Benjamin if Johnny Manziel can find his way back to the field as a starter. Manziel is a better deep ball thrower than McCown. He's a better quarterback than McCown, period. The problem is the Browns' organization, which continues to have a track record of making horrible decisions with skill position selection. They paid a consultant six figures to recommend a quarterback and the result was Teddy Bridgewater, but they went with a quarterback that the coaching staff didn't want in Manziel. They had the opportunity to pick a top quarterback and receiver and they bypassed Sammy Watkins. They picked Vince Mayle in the fourth round—a player I thought was a free agent-caliber rookie at best. The running back that they picked last year in the draft is now in Tennessee, they did nothing to address the loss of Jordan Cameron, and Dwayne Bowe was their hot free agent pick this spring.
The leadership of this organization is probably at one of his Flying J restaurants having an argument with regional management about what kind of product to stock in the vending machines in their truck stop men's rooms. It's a bad situation and it means that Benjamin, an actual talent that has flashed this type of ability before, is worth a look even with McCown. I compared the receiver to DeSean Jackson when he was a prospect at the University of Miami. He has that kind of quick-twitch athleticism and he has always been a capable player against tight coverage. The real issue is whether McCown can develop the timing with Benjamin in the vertical game that Manziel clearly has with the receiver. I think they'll give it a shot because Benjamin flashed this ability when Jason Campbell was the starter a few years ago.
C.J. Anderson has gotten more touches than Ronnie Hillman over the first two weeks, but he hasn't done much good with them. Is there a real possibility that Hillman will overtake Anderson as the Broncos' lead back this season?
Dave Larkin: Definitely. C.J. Anderson looks like he is pushing it a bit too much with his injury. Foot issues instantly handicap a running back's ability to plant, cut and drive through tacklers. Basically, he is playing with one arm behind his back and doesn't look like the dynamic 'bull in a china shop' runner we saw last year. Ronnie Hillman has popped on his carries, but he is not equipped physically to carry the full load in my opinion. How the Broncos choose to proceed offensively—using Kubiak's zone scheme or Peyton Manning's shotgun spread scheme—will largely determine how effective this ground game will be. Hillman seems to be a good fit for Kubiak's scheme, and ultimately that's the direction I think they will go.
Adam Harstad: Gary Kubiak is the head coach of the team, and ultimately he's going to make any final calls, but I think it's worth pointing out that there are at least three occasions that I'm aware of where John Elway- the VP of Football Operations and the man responsible for drafting Hillman- has specifically called him a "change-of-pace".
April 2013: "With (Willis) McGahee, he's our big back right now. We have Ronnie Hillman who's a 190-pounder change-of-pace type guy. We look at Willis as being that big back for us right now, and then we'll see what happens in the draft."
And lest you think Hillman's strong offseason had changed Elway's mind, here's one from a month ago: "He adds that added juice—the change-of-pace kind of guy that we need."
Now, as I said, it's going to be Kubiak who ultimately makes the call. And we've seen necessity make for strange bedfellows in the past. I just think it's notable how frequently and consistently Elway has been willing to use the specific phrase "change-of-pace" regarding Hillman. My take is that the team would really prefer for Anderson to be the lead back going forward. He has been playing injured the last two weeks, and hopefully he can get healthy over the long week before their next game. If not, who knows what might happen. But it seems to me the front office at least has made their preference plain.
Justin Howe: Adam, I'm on board with your expectation of Hillman as a part-timer. Elway has not only referred to him the way you've pointed out, he's also called him out publically for lackluster play. He hasn't shown enough for us to wade through the criticism and assume there's strong potential there.
On the other hand, Manning has talked up Anderson specifically all offseason (especially in terms of protection, a Manning requirement), and Kubiak has spoken of his desire to leave the running game largely in the hands of a bell-cow type. I suppose that could change if Anderson continues to struggle with his toe, or otherwise fail to snap out of this mini-funk a la 2014 Montee Ball. But I don't think Hillman is the answer, and I don't think the team does either. If Anderson were to fade away tomorrow, I assume the Broncos would pair Hillman with Juwan Thompson or a free agent. He's a handcuff to me with high-end flex upside, while Anderson still has a real RB1 possibility alive.
Andy Hicks: Presuming C.J. Anderson doesn't keep his job or at least return an investment as an RB1, the fantasy anointment of the Denver starting running back has been wrong for three consecutive years. Knowshon Moreno was behind both Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman in 2013 and finished as the fifth highest running back in that year. Last year Montee Ball cost a lot of people a first round pick before C.J. Anderson took over to finish as an RB1. This year C.J. Anderson was expected to keep the lead role, but in my preseason ranking comments I wrote "We have a new coaching regime, capable backups and opposing defenses having to fear Peyton Manning less than ever in his farewell tour. The one that concerns me most is the new coaching regime. Gary Kubiak has long implemented one of the best running games in the league first in Denver, then as head coach in Houston and then as OC in Baltimore. Is Anderson the best fit? Will he be given first shot no matter what or is Ronnie Hillman or another back going to be given equal reps. We may find out more during preseason, but it wouldn't surprise me if we were kept in the dark until the season starts. Therefore I would advise caution if you are counting on Anderson."
The Denver running back situation is one that is fluid and if Gary Kubiak has proven anything it's that he gets production out of unexpected sources. Ronnie Hillman may be better option right now, but I would not be surprised by seasons end if we have another guy in the picture as well.
John Mamula: Hillman will not overtake Anderson unless Anderson misses action due to injury. Hillman doesn't have the frame to take the every week pounding of a lead back. Denver will keep riding Anderson or switch to more of a short passing game to take the pressure off the running game.
Matt Waldman: There is a real possibility than Ronnie Hillman earns this job. Anderson does not look as quick as he did last season and the toe injury is the mitigating factor. In terms of skill sets, Anderson is a more favorable back when healthy, but Hillman has the quickness and skill to take this job.
Will Grant: No. I don't see this happening. The Broncos look like they were stuck in second gear for these last two weeks but they are showing signs of shifting to third. When that happens, look for Anderson's stats to pick up.
Dave Larkin: Both backs have above average offensive lines to work with, but Lamar Miller is the one I would be buying right now. His usage has frustrated many owners, and understandably so, but the Dolphins will surely figure out that he is their best chance to sustain drives. He is a very talented back with plenty of juice in his legs. Some have speculated that the lack of touches is related to his being in a contract year; there might be something to that. I still think he will come good; sometimes it takes teams a few weeks to discover their identity. Forsett has done well to grind out yards this season despite the Ravens offense playing with no legitimate outside wide receiver threat, but I wonder how sustainable that will be.
Andy Hicks: If Justin Forsett were playing in Miami I would be all over him in this choice. As it is I still prefer Forsett as I feel he is a better back, but Miller is in a better situation though. Also helping Miller is the lack of complementary talent in the running game. Damien Williams is a below average runner and is the clear backup in Miami. Forsett has two backs of reasonable talent behind him and if Forsett continues to struggle the Baltimore coaches would have more confidence in Lorenzo Taliaferro and Buck Allen than Miami would in Williams. Forsett has the better upside if the Ravens can get their offense moving. The lack of receiving talent in Baltimore is palpable though and flows through the entire offense.
Chad Parsons: Lamar Miller has looked great in his touches, but Miami has gone with a heavy pass slant for their offense. While Ryan Tannehill has the weapons and acumen to sustain success on high volume, the offense will balance out in the coming weeks. Damien Williams saw significant work as the passing down back in Week 2, which is something to monitor. Miller is the far better between-the-tackles option in Miami's top-heavy backfield depth chart.
Dan Hindery: Lamar Miller looks like a slightly better buy-low candidate. He looks good running the ball and doesn't have any imminent threats to his status as lead back when he's healthy. The Dolphins offense has just been out of sorts and trying to find itself the first two weeks. If they are able to get back on track, Miller will be just fine and should be able to put up another 1,000 yard season.
Lorenzo Taliaferro, in his first week back from injury, had nearly as many snaps as Forsett did in Week 2. For all the talk this offseason of Forsett possibly having a huge year and catching 80+ passes, through two weeks it just hasn't looked like it is going to materialize. The expected heavy usage of Forsett just hasn't materialized and it is hard to see a great matchup on paper for Forsett over the next few weeks either.
John Mamula: I am not enamored with the amount of touches that either running back is receiving in their respected offense. If I had to pick from either Lamar Miller or Justin Forsett, I would lean Miller due to the lack of quality running backs behind him. Lamar Williams leads the Dolphins with 23 rushing attempts. His backup, Damien Williams has three rushing attempts. Miami is one of the few offenses in the league that is not a fantasy RBBC. Miller has the potential to produce in the right matchup and will turn in a solid performance sooner rather than later.
Matt Waldman: Lamar Miller is the better talent and as much as I liked the idea of Forsett in the preseason, the reality of the situation as we see it today leans more in Miller's favor due to the rotation each team uses with its backfield.
Will Grant: Every time I think about getting on the Lamar Miller bandwagon, he disappoints me. For the same of his fantasy owners, I'll continue my fade of him and say Forsett. That being said, I don't think I'd go crazy to get Forsett either. His 3.8 Yards per carry isn't that impressive and he was held in check last week by the Oakland defense. If you can snag him at a bargain price, maybe. But given most guys spend a second or third round pick to get him, you probably will need to pay more than he's currently worth to get him now.
Depending on how deep people's leagues are, the following players will either be on the waiver wire or might be available in an inexpensive trade:
Which of these players would be the most attractive option to you if you had an otherwise solid team that was desperate at quarterback?
Dave Larkin: Honestly, the player I would put my chips on would be Andy Dalton. I've been really impressed by the variety and creativity of the Bengals offense through two weeks. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has drawn up some plays to take advantage of his players' skill sets all over the field, and they should keep that momentum up. Dalton may have to air it out a bit more in the coming weeks—@ Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle—but that will only increase his upside. The other options are interesting and if I had to choose one it would be Tyrod Taylor, whose ability to run the ball gives him a boost every week from a fantasy perspective.
If the Jets continue winning I don't expect Geno Smith to usurp Ryan Fitzpatrick once he is fit, but the countdown will be on as soon as the Jets start losing a game or two. Brandon Weeden needs a healthy Dez Bryant and won't have him for maybe a couple of months. You would need to be desperate to start him.
Tyrod Taylor, Derek Carr and Andy Dalton all have had good games, especially in Week 2. Carr and Dalton are basically locked in as starters for the remainder of the season, while Taylor is making a good first impression in Buffalo. Buffalo has other options if Taylor cannot maintain this level so although he is worth a shot, it can all go wrong quickly for an inexperienced quarterback.
I would be happy with either Derek Carr or Andy Dalton to be honest. Dalton struggled last year with Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones out for the year and A.J. Green hobbled. This year he has all three and a strong running game. I would say Carr has the better upside, but he is maybe a year or two from reaching his peak. Out of the two I would be more secure with Dalton, but Carr has the potential to score higher.
Justin Howe: Taylor is probably the name to chase here. Running quarterbacks enjoy such a (disproportionate) value boost in any fantasy format that a boom-or-bust playmaker can work his nose into the QB1 outlook. A quarterback who can project to add 3-10 points to his total on any given week can make up for some pretty bland passing production. But one who's also a weekly threat to hit on a deep ball or two is a solid bet to post a handful of QB1 lines. And Taylor is certainly that. The Bills are playing it conservatively with Taylor in the lineup, but he's sending the ball downfield; his nine completions of 20+ yards is tied for second league-wide, and they've come on just 49 attempts (fewest among full-timers).
Dave and Andy, you read my mind on Dalton, who has been a pleasantly low-end QB1 thus far and whose success looks largely sustainable. With the offense's ability to dictate a game with the run, Dalton doesn't need more than 2-3 dynamic targets to project to a solid floor and ceiling from week to week. For years, he's had a wildly inefficient Mohamed Sanu as Green's complementary threat, hamstrung by an inconsistent running game rooted in plowing Giovani Bernard between the guards. A healthy Tyler Eifert provides an enticing intermediate target, while playmaker Marvin Jones has apparently laid merciful waste to the Sanu Era.
I do worry about the Bengals schedule, which gets dicey very soon. Over the next four weeks, Dalton will face the pass defenses of Kansas City, Seattle, and Buffalo before things open up again. Most damningly, he travels to Denver for a terrifying matchup in Fantasy Championship Week. Those aren't unbeatable units, of course. But the Bengals offense, while apparently improved, may not be deep or dynamic enough to project highly against an elite defense. Dalton will need to benefit from some close game scripts to compile numbers over the next month.
I'm a fan of Fitzpatrick, who throws to two proven, dynamic number one wideouts and will likely amass more passing volume than many think. He's thrown just 58 passes through two games, but the Jets have controlled the flow of both games and leaned overwhelmingly upon Chris Ivory and the run. With trips to Miami and New England on the horizon (and a home date with the fast-paced Eagles in Week 2), Fitzpatrick will likely see a real and immediate volume boost.
Besides, Chan Gailey is a creative mind who, alongside Fitzpatrick, turned in two top-10 seasons for passing attempts in three years in Buffalo. The Jets boast an imposing and versatile wide receiver duo that commands the bulk of Fitzpatrick's attention and excels in the red zone, so Fitzpatrick's touchdown outlook is fairly strong. Fitzpatrick is manning a run-first offense, for sure, and he doesn't look like a QB1 by any stretch. But he's a top-tier streaming option depending on the matchup.
Chad Parsons: Tyrod Taylor would be my first choice. His rushing ability alone puts him in mid-QB2 or better land weekly. The weapons in Buffalo are promising with Robert Woods, Percy Harvin, and Charles Clay making plays around Sammy Watkins. Derek Carr would be second on my target list. His performance against Baltimore in Week 2 was outstanding, flaunting his quick release, accuracy, and solid reads. Michael Crabtree looks like a functional WR2 to Amari Cooper's lead role.
John Mamula: Of the quarterbacks listed, I would target Tyrod Taylor. He should not be on any 12 team waiver wires at this point. If he is on your waiver wire, I would rush to pick him up, even if I had a solid QB1. I agree with Justin's analysis of Tyrod Taylor's running upside. This is what provides him with a safe floor for your lineups. Taylor has also looked more effective than I expected throwing the football. Through the first two games, Taylor's passes have been on target and he is making good decisions. This is what I am looking for in my QB. If Taylor is unavailable, the only other name that I would target from the list is Andy Dalton. His value is produced from the offensive pieces surrounding him. The addition of a healthy Eifert is huge for the Cincinnati offense. They are one of the most well balanced offensive attacks in the league. Both Taylor and Dalton should be borderline QB1 this season.
Dan Hindery: Andy Dalton has looked surprisingly good the first two weeks. He has a little extra zip on his balls and has been showing off extremely strong accuracy. Plus, of all the guys on this list, he clearly is surrounded by the most offensive talent. His offensive line returns intact from last season and has a number of highly talented guys, including both tackles (Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith). He has a pair of talented running backs that defenses have to scheme to take away in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard (who is also one of the league's best receiving backs). But most importantly, he finally has all of his top receiving weapons healthy at the same time. A.J. Green is 100% after missing a handful of games (and playing hurt in others) last season and is one of the league's best receivers. Tyler Eifert is back after missing all but a few snaps of his second season with injury and he looks fantastic. He is one of the league's biggest mismatches at Tight End. Lastly, number two wide receiver Marvin Jones is back after missing the entire 2014 season with injury. He has been an extremely effective deep threat and dangerous red zone weapon when healthy.
Dalton was third in the NFL in touchdown passes in 2013 (and a fantasy QB1) with a mostly healthy cast of weapons and this group is even more talented and experienced than that 2013 group. Dalton could have a career year and is well on his way already with five touchdowns (and no interceptions) in two games already.
Matt Waldman: Taylor is worth starting because his athleticism, willingness to attack the field deep, and his feel for the pocket. I think teams will see more of his flaws by Week 5 and test him with different coverage types that could lead to worst games for the Bills quarterback sooner rather than later. Still, he's on my list as a viable option and he's perhaps the most compelling option if you only need him for 2-3 weeks.
Carr is worth consideration all season long. Michael Crabtree is a great upgrade for this offense and Amari Cooper should continue to improve each week and earn big-play opportunities that help Carr's production. He might also be the cheapest of the three options I like the most with an even balance of long-term production and lower cost.
Andy Dalton is my favorite of the bunch. He has the most weapons in this offense, the defense is playing well, and he's the most experienced of the three quarterbacks I like on this list. Dalton isn't a guy who will get fooled by the types of coverage that I believe Taylor and Carr will get thrown at them for (still) the first time as NFL starters.
I like Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the loss of Eric Decker and Chris Owusu concerns me. If their injuries are short-term issues (no more than 1-2 weeks) than I'd be inclined to take him over Taylor and Carr long-term and behind Taylor and Dalton short-term (a 3-4 week run).
I don't trust Weeden. Without Dez Bryant, I don't think Weeden has the feel for the game to throw to the correct player when pressured. He has always known where to throw the ball based on the design of a play, but when pressure foils his timing, he consistently throws the ball blind into spots that result in dangerous plays. This is an issue of feel rather than intelligence. I you have to take Weeden, he'll give you some high-yardage games with some nice throws that make fans gush over his arm. Note that Jerry Jones complimented Weeden as a passer, not a quarterback. A passer is a player's physical skill at throwing the ball. A quarterback is the fully-formed player who passes, makes smart decisions, and leads the team. Weeden is a fine passer, but he's not a good starting quarterback.
Will Grant: I'd have to go with Andy Dalton and then Tyrod Taylor. Dalton is going to be on the field if he's healthy, and the solid running game will keep him from having to pull the team on his back every week. That means minimal mistakes and solid, if somewhat boring stats every week with a pretty high floor. Taylor is a guy that's going to be fun to watch every week. The Bills are a scrappy team and they are going to give everyone a run for their money each week. Taylor's rushing stats give him bonus points as well—especially if he can run for a TD like he did against the Patriots this week. I'd feel comfortable with either of those guys as my emergency starter at this point.
If you are looking to replace Jay Cutler as your starting QB, consider either of these guys a more permanent solution. I think Chicago is going to struggle on offense this year, and I think Cutler's going to be gone after the season is over.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Roundtable. Please join us again next week.