Tampa benched Jameis Winston and returned to Ryan Fitzpatrick — we'll examine the fallout and preview the Buccaneers-Panthers tilt. We'll also discuss some fantasy surprises and players who our staff predicts fantasy players will be parting ways with by month's end.
The FitzMagic Effect
Matt Waldman: Ryan Fitzpatrick gave the Buccaneers a fourth-quarter spark to overcome a Bengals lead in Week 8. Barring a shocking turn of events, Fitzpatrick should earn another starter against the Carolina Panthers in Week 9.
Let's discuss the following:
- If Fitzpatrick starts the rest of the year, who benefits the most from his receiving corps?
- What is your dynasty strategy with Jameis Winston if you have him on a roster or you are shopping for quarterbacks?
Where do you stand?
Jason Wood: As luck would have it, Winston and Fitzpatrick have nearly identical workloads this season, making an apples-to-apples comparison possible.
- Fitzpatrick: 98 for 144 (68%), 1550 yards, 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 8 sacks
- Winston: 96 for 148 (65%), 1181 yards, 6 TDs, 10 INTs, 13 sacks
So who benefits the most? The entire offense, assuming Fitzpatrick can approximate what he did thus far in 2018. In looking at the game logs, I don't see a tremendous difference in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin's numbers with Fitzpatrick on the field.
The only major outlier is DeSean Jackson. He was a phoenix resurrected in the early weeks and has a chemistry with Fitzpatrick that lacked with Winston. As to dynasty, Winston is a dirt-cheap asset right now.
On one hand, he's an experienced starter that's only 24 years old and — as a former 1st overall pick — will almost certainly get another chance to start in the league. On the other hand, Winston's on-field play has been suspect, which might be forgivable if he wasn't a character risk, too. If I owned Winston in dynasty formats, I wouldn't try to trade him right now because you're selling low. He ranks toward the end of the top 30 in our staff dynasty rankings, and that probably trends lowering following this weekend's benching.
Sean Settle: One thing that Tampa seems to have going for them is dominant receivers on the outside. Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson are the type of duo you dream of as a quarterback. However, there is one guy who benefits more from the switch at QB and it is Jackson.
The only three games that he has eclipsed 100 receiving yards have come with Fitzpatrick under center and there is a good chance he would have done the same last week if Winston had not played the majority of the game. Fitzpatrick is willing to take the risk and throw deep downfield to Jackson, unlike Winston. This still creates a boom or bust type of situation, but at least there is a higher ceiling with Fitzpatrick.
Mark Wimer: It's apparent that Fitzpatrick has good chemistry with Jackson and the arm to deliver him the ball deep - so given Jackson's "take off the top of the defense" speed Jackson is the biggest winner here, followed closely by Evans — those two are going to be more productive in fantasy terms with Fitzpatrick giving them opportunities to make big plays.
As Sean pointed out, "If Winston cannot succeed throwing to Mike Evans, who could he succeed with elsewhere?" I would add to that observation that if Winston can't thrive knowing that Fitzpatrick is waiting in the wings to take over, where else can he go and succeed in a quarterback competition?
We've seen Joe Flacco respond to the drafting of Lamar Jackson, and Ben Roethlisberger has played well with a possible heir in Mason Rudolph drafted this year, too — whereas Winston seems to have regressed when Fitzpatrick came out of the gates so magnificently in relief of Winston during the latter's suspension.
Adam Schefter reported that Winston expected Fitzpatrick's success. “You know Fitz is going to light it up, don’t you?” Winston said to GM Jason Licht before the start of his suspension — yet he didn't get into a mental space where he was ready to compete for his starting job once the suspension was over. Not too good, folks! I think I'd be trying to preserve some sort of value by trading Winston for some future draft picks or packaging him with another player and shopping him to a QB-needy owner. You never know till you ask and it only takes one owner to have a rosier view of Winston than you do to get a deal done...
Adam Harstad: You might see some stats floating around this week about how few quarterbacks in the league throw to their tight ends less often than Ryan Fitzpatrick. I'm firmly on team "It's not the X's and O's, it's the Jimmys and Joes", so I want to interrogate this statistic a bit. Here are the teams that Ryan Fitzpatrick has started for, along with their top tight ends:
- 2005 St. Louis Rams - Cam Cleeland. Cleeland had decent receiving numbers in New Orleans, but he hadn't topped 200 receiving yards since 1999 and was in the final year of his NFL career.
- 2008 Cincinnati Bengals - Reggie Kelly. Heading into 2008, Kelly averaged 11 yards per game for his career. He averaged 12.9 yards in 2008, matched his career high in receptions, and then had fewer than 50 receiving yards in his career afterward.
- 2009-2012 Buffalo Bills - Scott Chandler. The Bills signed Chandler late in the 2010 seasons, and by fantasy points per game, Chandler's 2011 and 2012 seasons with Fitzpatrick were the best of his career. Before Chandler's arrival, Fitzpatrick played with Shawn Nelson and Jonathan Stupar, both of whom lasted just two seasons in the NFL.
- 2013 Tennessee Titans - Delanie Walker. While Walker didn't produce anywhere near the heights he reached as a 3-time pro bowler from 2014-2017, he first started to blossom as a receiver with Fitzpatrick under center. In 2013-- Walker's 8th season in the NFL-- he doubled his previous career bests in receptions and receiving touchdowns, nearly doubled his previous high-water mark in receiving yards, and recorded his first career top-12 fantasy finish.
- 2014 Houston Texans - Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin. Both Graham and Griffin saw downturns in production in 2014, but that had less to do with Fitzpatrick and more to do with Houston being the most run-heavy team in the league (1st in rushing attempts, 30th in passing attempts), and DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson combining for nearly 60% of Houston's targets.
- 2015-2016 New York Jets - Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The '15-'16 Jets actually set records for tight end futility; the position contributed just 268 receiving yards in the two seasons combined. A huge driving factor was the team's offensive scheme, as coordinator Chan Gailey is famously allergic to tight ends. But talent played a large role. It's telling that Seferian-Jenkins led all Jets' tight ends in targets, receptions, and yards despite being signed at midseason and struggling with injuries.
- 2017-2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - O.J. Howard / Cameron Brate. In 2017, Brate's production fell with Fitzpatrick on the field, but Howard actually averaged slightly more yards per game with Fitzpatrick starting. In 2018, Brate's production has been about the same with both Winston and Fitzpatrick under center. As for Howard... he averages 4.9 targets and 55.1 receiving yards per four quarters with Jameis Winston vs. 4.8 targets and 61.3 receiving yards per four quarters with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
So yeah, Ryan Fitzpatrick historically hasn't thrown much to his tight ends... because historically Ryan Fitzpatrick's tight ends weren't good, or his outside receivers were too dominant in a low-volume offense, or his offensive coordinator ran a TE-unfriendly scheme. It's not like he's somehow incapable of doing it, he just hasn't been asked to, and when he was he helped turn Delanie Walker into a star and got the best out of Scott Chandler.
Some very smart guys are going to be telling you that you should upgrade Tampa's outside receivers (DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans) and downgrade Tampa's tight ends, (especially O.J. Howard), which is a great thing to do if you for some reason think O.J. Howard is the next Jonathan Stupar.
But I think the smart play here is to fade all of that nonsense. If you can sell Evans and Jackson for substantially more today than you could a week ago, you should do that. I really like both as fantasy starters this year, but I don't think they're more valuable with Fitzpatrick than they were with Winston.
Similarly, now is a great time to see if you can play up the "doesn't throw to his TEs" hype to get O.J. Howard at a nice discount.
Waldman: Should be dare ask about Winston? Yes...yes, we should.
Harstad: Winston somehow leads the NFL in interceptions despite seeing less than three and a half full games worth of action, which is kind of hard to believe. He's clearly in his own head too much right now and I think this benching is probably a good thing for him.
But it's also important to remember that we've seen him play a lot to this point, and this kind of interception streak is clearly an aberration. From 2015 to 2017, there were 55 players with at least 200 pass attempts, and Winston ranked 43rd among them in interception percentage... which sounds bad.
But again, every stat must be placed in its proper context. Winston was one of the youngest starting quarterbacks in league history. He holds the all-time record for passing yards through age 21, through age 22, through age 23, and he needs about 1,800 yards this year for the record through age 24. (Though suddenly that's looking very much in doubt.)
His era-adjusted interception percentage is very ordinary compared to his ultra-young peers; Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Fran Tarkenton, Alex Smith, and Deshaun Watson all started young and threw interceptions at a roughly comparable rate relative to league average through age 23.
Winston's interception percentage wasn't even that out of the ordinary compared to veterans. I mentioned he ranked 43rd out of 55. The quarterback in 42nd was Ben Roethlisberger. In 44th place was Andrew Luck. So, we have three years of Winston as a young, talented, productive gunslinger who made a few too many mistakes, and also three games of Winston imploding and throwing way too many picks.
This makes me wonder what the heck happened in those three games. I don't know. I'm not a sports psychologist and I don't pretend to be. Maybe Winston has the yips. Maybe the pressure of Fitzpatrick playing so well is getting to him. Maybe it's just a reminder of the fact that interceptions are the most random quarterback statistic and random is by its nature very streaky.
Tom Brady has the 2nd-lowest interception rate in history, and he also has six games where he threw 4 interceptions like Winston did last week, including one as recently as 2011 at age 34. A 25-year-old Brady also once threw eight interceptions in four weeks. But at this point, I have to give a lot more weight to the promising young quarterback we saw from 2015-2017 than the imploding-before-our-eyes version we've seen in 2018.
Maybe a change of scenery is exactly what he needs, but I would love to make a (cheap) long-term bet on the potential that Winston has already shown at such a young age. I'd be looking to buy and hold in dynasty as long as I could get a nice discount.
Andy Hicks: If the Bucs had a decent runner or a defense that was capable of stopping another team scoring, we would re-evaluate, but right now it’s business as usual, with maybe fewer interceptions. If I had Winston as a dynasty quarterback I would hold, because as Jason said you should never sell low. Hopefully, you would have grabbed Ryan Fitzpatrick on the cheap while Winston was suspended, but you should have at least one other option anyway.
As Adam mentioned, he is still young. He has the arm and the smarts to make it in this league, but with soon to be two coaches notched on his belt and an expensive franchise mistake more than likely, he will have to rebuild elsewhere and come up as a backup.
When you turn the ball over more than Blake Bortles you have a serious issue in your game. In the right situation, he is salvageable, but it may take some time.
There is still a chance he stays with Tampa and resurrects his career there, but the damage appears to be done.
Andrew Garda: I'm with the group on Jackson. His speed and vertical ability pairs up well with Fitzpatrick, who has to be about out of wishes on his Monkey's Paw by now, right? Luckily for Fantasy GMs of Jackson, even if Fitz struggles, he should push plenty of targets Desean's way.
I'm shopping for other quarterbacks. Maybe Winston figures it out either in Tampa or elsewhere, but I'm not standing pat. Evidence suggests he won't and you can't afford to run a dynasty team on hope.
Even as a backup, he has me worried.
Waldman: Great discussion. I'll keep it simple. Winston's interception percentage may offer a compelling argument in his favor but his decision-making wisdom has been lacking since his years at Florida State. If data analysts charted bad decisions — targets that should have been intercepted and not the result of factors like a receiver tipping a target that wasn't a difficult catch beyond the expectation of converting — I would bet Winston's rate of bad decisions has been higher than average.
We could also consider attempts where he holds onto the ball too long and generates sacks rather than throwing the ball away. Winston is an intelligent quarterback. He's not a wise quarterback and that's a tough quality to teach. He's never had it. I'm not sure he ever will. I no longer value him as a future franchise option, only a journeyman hoping to attain Fitzpatrick's top value during a given season.
TAmpa Bay-Carolina Division Tilt
Waldman: The Carolina Panthers have one of the best ground games in the NFL and an aggressive defense. If things go Carolina's way, the Panthers ground-and-pound the Buccaneers and bleed the clock. If the Buccaneers have its way, the Panthers are abandoning the run by the second quarter and forced to target the perimeter where its receiving corps is weakest.
- Project the game script and outcome.
- Who will be start-able fantasy options on each roster?
- Name one player who will disappoint from each squad.
Preview this game for our readers.
Garda: Has the Panthers ground attack been one of the best? From a YPC, they look good but Christian McCaffrey isn't blowing up defenses on the ground the last four weeks (58 yards, 20, 29, 45). Cam Newton is way more effective, but you can't run him like a running back and sustain his health or the offense.
Waldman: The Panthers have upped its usage of option football, incorporating D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel into the scheme as running threats in addition to Newton. The Panthers are one of the best red zone threats on the ground in the league. While McCaffrey isn't performing like an elite running back for fantasy players, the Panthers are a top rushing attack.
Garda. The passing game has looked pretty good overall since the win over the Giants, and Newton has thrown for 763 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception. Tampa will want to button up Newton, sure, but if I'm them I worry as much about the passing attack. McCaffrey is deadly catching the ball, and Greg Olsen is back and looks healthy.
The Panthers will try to move Newton on the ground, but if Tampa focuses too much on that, the Panthers will beat them through the air. If I'm Tampa, all I've really got is throwing the ball, so the Panthers have to get the pass rush going and hope their secondary is up to the task, which has been a questionable thing.
I expect Olsen, McCaffrey, and Newton to be viable for Fantasy GMs this week on Carolina, with D.J. Moore not as reliable but solid as well. For the Bucs, I never trust Fitzgerald, and if you count on him, I think he will disappoint this week, but I do think DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans are solid options for Fantasy purposes, as is O.J. Howard.
Hicks: The Panthers haven’t conceded more than two passing touchdowns in any game this year, whilst the Bucs are conceding at least 280 passing yards to every quarterback except Baker Mayfield.
Carolina has been good against the run, which is far from the strength of Tampa Bay anyway.
Tampa has been able to keep the run totals against them down, until the last two weeks. Tampa Bay has to start hot. They are on the road and need to hit the scoreboard quick. Carolina will look to grind them early and often. Despite the prediction of a high score, the only 4 matchups between these two coaches have been low scoring affairs.
- 17-3, 22-19 in 2017, both with wins for Carolina
- 17-16, 17-14 in 2016, both with wins for Tampa
A low scoring game will suit Carolina immensely. As we have seen if Fitzpatrick gets hot, the points flow and then it is anyone’s game. If Carolina can keep him out of a rhythm and play tight on his receivers, then the Panthers should dominate in a low scoring affair.
I am going to defy the predictions and stick with what has happened between the two sides over the last two years. A low scoring affair, where Tampa doesn’t get into a groove, while Carolina milk the clock and score after long drives. 21-10
As usual, Newton and McCaffrey will be must-starts, as will Mike Evans.
I expect the tight ends to struggle. Olsen and Howard won’t be suited by the game script and will leave their fantasy managers disappointed.
Settle: Fitzmagic was a lot of fun to watch earlier this season, but Carolina has established themselves as a punishing run-oriented offense. They are going to steamroll a suspect Tampa defense who is lacking a true middle linebacker presence. Look for both Newton and McCaffrey to exceed 50 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Carolina is going to run the ball over and over again and control the clock this week.
Newton has been the entire Carolina offense for years. He has the ability to throw two touchdowns and run for two more in every game that he plays. He also has the ability to implode and throw multiple interceptions as well, but that is not something I see happening this week. Newton took over the game last week and showed why the offense is built around him. McCaffrey is always a great option in PPR settings, but Newton is the best option in all-around scoring leagues.
It would be easy to say Fitzpatrick would be the go-to guy this week, but it is his favorite receiver in Jackson that is the best bet. Jackson has surpassed 100 yards in a game only when Fitzpatrick is under center and has a great chance to do so again against the weaker corners in Carolina.
The entire Tampa backfield is going to disappoint this week. Just when it looks like they have decided which back to go with, they change gears and keep owners guessing. Tampa has not shown the ability to evaluate running back talent and there is no reason to think that changes this week. It is not a safe bet to roster any Buccaneer running back right now.
Olsen has bounced back from his injury but continues to have a high probability of reaggravating that same injury. For those who took the chance when he first came back, I applaud you and the success you have enjoyed, but it may be short-lived. Olsen has not been the same TE as years past and the wear and tear on that injured foot is only going to get worse. Look for the Panthers to lean heavily on the run and McCaffrey out of the backfield instead of Olsen this week.
Wimer: I don't see any way that Tampa Bay controls the Carolina running attack with their depleted linebacking corps. I again agree with Sean here: "Carolina is going to run the ball over and over again and control the clock this week." McCaffrey may have a very long TD run/long catch-and-run TD in him this week, too, so I like his upside here quite a bit.
It might not be a bad idea to stack Newton and McCaffrey in a DFS tourney lineup. Tampa is likely to be chasing the Panthers' lead all day long, so it's likely they throw the ball all over the field in that scenario — either Evans or Jackson could victimize the suspect Carolina secondary (maybe both will).
I don't think this is an either-or situation — Carolina may control the clock and have near 200 yards rushing and STILL give up 300-plus yards passing to Fitzpatrick and company. I can see this one coming down to a last-second field goal or even overtime sudden-death before a winner is decided.
I don't like the situation for any of the Tampa Bay running backs I'd avoid the entire lot of them. I'm also not excited for any of the Panthers' wide receivers, as they likely see a limited number of targets in this contest. I would look elsewhere if you have Peyton Barber or Devin Funchess available — this is a week for them to ride the bench if possible (but there are six teams on bye in Week 9 so that could be tough to do).
Wood: Vegas has the score at 30.5 Panthers - 23.5 Buccaneers, which makes sense given the porous nature of Tampa Bay's defense. The Panthers should have no problem keeping with their run-heavy game script, so both Newton and McCaffrey are starts, as usual. With six teams on bye this week, Greg Olsen and D.J. Moore are also worth looks.
For the Buccaneers, I wouldn't be clamoring to start Barber in spite of the recent surge in productivity, but the passing game remains fertile ground. Fitzpatrick won't project as a top-12 quarterback but with bye weeks and Superflex leagues, he's viable.
Evans is always a start, and both Godwin and Jackson are justifiable options given the bye week issues many fantasy teams face. If I had to pick a disappointment from each team, it would be Howard for Tampa Bay and Funchess for the Panthers. Fitzpatrick likes to throw downfield, and I feel better about all three wide receivers than I do Howard. Meanwhile, Funchess' already tenuous value is hurt by Moore's steady emergence.
Harstad: Despite multiple quarterback changes, the 2018 Buccaneers are on pace for 6,000 passing yards, which is rather a lot — the current team record is 5,444 by the 2013 Broncos. They're on pace to give up 5,095 passing yards, which would also be a record — the current record is 4,796 by the 2011 Packers.
They're also on pace to edge out the 2015 New Orleans Saints for most passing touchdowns allowed and tie the 1981 Baltimore Colts for most points allowed. Only games featuring the 2000 Rams and 2013 Broncos have featured more combined points by both teams, and no team's games have ever featured more combined yards.
Those statistics are going to regress as the season wears on, but I tend to think in the face of that kind of gravity, "preferences" don't matter much. Both teams are probably going to need to score early and often to win. Even if the game shockingly turns into a battle of defense and field position, both teams are going to go into it expecting to need to score, so I anticipate they'll open up very aggressively.
Vegas agrees; the game is projected as the third-highest-scoring game of the week and the Panthers the third-highest-scoring team.I think everyone involved in either passing game is going to be a solid fantasy play. I think Tampa's rushing game will be anemic, though at this point I'd say that's more business-as-usual than a true disappointment.
B.J. VanderWoude: If I had to choose one of the two scenarios outlined, I would go with the Panthers running on the Bucs, and taking the air out of the football in the second half. The only problem with this is the fact that the Bucs have explosive playmakers on the outside in Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, OJ Howard and Chris Godwin, so if the Panthers get complacent at all, the Bucs can find themselves back in the game in a hurry.
We saw it last week with the Bengals, who controlled that game from the very first possession, only to need every second of the clock to finish off the Bucs after they became conservative on offense. I like the Panthers to win this game 30-21, but I do think the game will be close the entire time and not a 30-10 game until seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. Ryan Fitzpatrick brings a unique element to the Bucs offense in that he is constantly pushing the envelope and probing for deep plays down the field.
For the Bucs, I think you have Fitzpatrick, Evans, Jackson, Godwin, and Howard all in play. I say this because they are all very fairly priced, and unlike most teams, all five of those players have turned in weeks where they simultaneously hit a 3x multiple of their salary. On the Carolina side of the ball, I like Newton, McCaffrey, Olsen, and Moore. Newton and McCaffrey are primary plays, whereas Olsen and Moore are secondary plays with significant upside. The Bucs have given up the second most fantasy points to opposing receivers, which is why I like Moore in this game.
With that said, I think Funchess disappoints in a good matchup. I mean this more from a PPR perspective, as his price across the industry reflects a player who should have a much higher ceiling than what Funchess offers. Funchess is seeing 7.1 targets per game but has yet to reach 80-plus yards in any game this season. He is a solid cash game player because he does have a very stable floor, but I don't think he belongs anywhere near a GPP lineup, which is disappointing considering the great matchup against the Bucs.
Waldman: Pick ONE topic from below and share your thoughts and recommendations.
- James Conner: Is he a stud back or a product of the Steelers offense?
- Tyler Boyd: He's fourth in receptions since Week 4. Is he for real beyond this year?
- Eric Ebron: Will he sustain his production as a top-three option with Jack Doyle back?
- If you had to pick one quarterback OTHER THAN Aaron Rodgers to win games behind a battered offensive line, a struggling ground game, and young receivers, who would it be?
Which topic interests you the most?
Hicks: Tyler Boyd only had 17 catches for 134 yards all last year, until his 5 catches for 91 yards in the meaningless finale. This year he is keeping pace with one of the best and most reliable receivers of the last ten years in his teammate A.J. Green.
Being a second-round pick in the 2016 draft, he had the pedigree to succeed, but that second season was woeful. Multiple injuries just didn’t allow any continuity in his season and he looked to have regressed significantly.
This year after Brandon LaFell was released, which should have been an indicator that one or both of John Ross and Boyd were improving, Boyd is now on pace to become a WR1, which is totally unexpected.
At only 23 years of age, you can expect him to improve further and with Green now over 30, the elder Bengal could slip to the WR2 role in the next few seasons while Boyd continues on from his great start to the 2018 season.
VanderWoude: Boyd is definitely for real, both this year and going forward. There is no doubt that he's the beneficiary of working alongside an All-Pro like AJ Green, but what has impressed me the most is his route-running chops.
Boyd does most of his damage from the slot, and at 6'2, 205 lbs he has a really nice blend of size, quickness, and athleticism. He is not fast by most NFL standards, but he is able to accelerate and get to top speed quickly, which is a big reason why he is so dangerous after the catch.
Currently, Boyd ranks 12th in the NFL in yards after the catch with 239 of his 620 yards coming after the catch. Just in his third season, Boyd is starting to get comfortable in the Bengals offense, and I would count on him only getting better in time, especially as he continues to develop a rapport with Andy Dalton.
Wimer: Yes, Tyler Boyd is for real. He is an excellent compliment to A.J. Green (something the Bengals have lacked since Mohamed Sanu went to Atlanta, until this season) and Green is no longer a spring chicken, friends. Boyd is the long-term upside player on this roster of wide receivers. And the future may come quickly — Green eclipsed 30 years old this year and has never been a paragon of every-week health during his career in any case — 13, 16, 10, 16 games played in the four seasons prior to 2018-2019.
The biggest reason for pointing to this is the amount of attention Erik Swoope has gotten in recent games. Swoope has three straight games with a touchdown prior to the contest in Oakland and has been a red zone machine for Luck. Ebron has lost an opportunity to a backup tight end that very few people had heard of coming into this season and will soon have to contend with a healthy Jack Doyle in the same situations.
There is also the return of a healthy T.Y Hilton. Hilton has been hampered by a nagging injury but should return to full strength in the coming weeks. It is going to be tough for Ebron to compete with a healthy Hilton and Doyle. Ebron is still going to be a useful piece for the Colts going forward but there is no reason to think he keeps up a top-3 tight end kind of value with the amount of competition coming back.
Wood: James Conner, statistically speaking, has been as good as Le'Veon Bell at his best. I'm not saying there aren't other aspects to Bell's game that set him apart (e.g., versatility, anticipation, vision, chemistry) but the stats indicate Conner is a fantastic replacement. To answer Matt's question...YES. He's a stud back and is a product of the Steelers offense. Most NFL players only achieve elite status by having innate talent and playing in a system that optimizes their opportunities.
Harstad: I still don't have a lot of fully-formed thoughts on Conner himself, but I vigorously reject this framing.
Todd Gurley is a superstar. He's also a product of Sean McVay's offense. (We all saw him play in 2016.) David Johnson might be the most versatile offensive weapon since Brian Westbrook. He tremendously benefited from a relationship with a coach in Bruce Arians who was creative enough to exploit that versatility. Le'Veon Bell is one of the most exciting runners I've ever seen. He has the most yards from scrimmage per game of any player in history in large part because he plays for the last team in the league that gives the top running back 90 percent of the workload — the same team that Conner is now thriving for.
Jim Brown, who ranks second in scrimmage yards per game, is arguably the greatest running back to ever play. He also played behind arguably the greatest offensive line in league history, with three Hall of Famers and multiple other All-Pros. Leroy Kelly, the back that replaced Brown when he retired, was named first-team All-Pro in each of the next three seasons and joined Brown in the Hall of Fame.
Players can both be good and be in good situations. There's no rule saying it has to be one or the other.
Waldman: Adam and Jason, I'm glad you didn't take the bait. The saddest analysis I've seen in recent years is the idea that it's one or the other with running backs and offensive lines. The fact that you reject it outright gives me a sliver of hope for the future of fantasy football analysis.
I remember two years ago how there were legit questions about Todd Gurley being a fraud of a player when it was obvious he wasn't performing with a capable offensive line, productive offensive scheme, and backup-caliber receivers at best. One of the greatest issues with some analysis in our industry is the use of data without learning the game that the data is tracking.
You don't have to develop the skills of a scout or coordinator but if you don't understand basic schemes, techniques, coverages, and other aspects of the environment you're tracking, your data is a huge risk of missing the context of what it's supposed to track.
Telling the public that a runner isn't a good outside runner based on data from a service that doesn't correctly track what is and isn't an outside run because it doesn't understand the design of plays is a disservice. While it's one thing not to watch the game for fear of allowing bias to seep in, if you don't know how to define what you see on the field with proper context, you're even more screwed.
So yes, James Conner is a good player and his great production is also due in large part to his teammates.
Cutting the Cord: Challenge edition
Waldman: Chad Parson's Cutting the Cord feature tells fantasy players who they should be dropping. Let's take this up a notch with a bigger challenge: Predict one player player (QB, RB, WR, or TE) who is currently a fantasy starter in a 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE PPR format that Parson will be recommending readers to cut the cord by this time next month.
Garda: At this point, I have at least a small concern that if Le'Veon Bell comes back, he will lay waste to the fantasy value of Pittsburgh's backfield because I could see the Steelers going with a committee.
But Bell seems to have forgotten how to get to the stadium so until his GPS starts working.....I think things are going to continue going downhill for LeSean McCoy. Banged up and with a passing offense which is a disaster, he's facing stacked boxes with bad wheels.
Prior to the injury, he was doing ok, but we are back to Nathan Peterman and Derek Anderson — and I just think it's a bad combination. He's not going to be getting healthier and the offense isn't going to get better.
Wimer: By this time next month, I think Zach Ertz will be struggling to produce TE 1 numbers — Golden Tate is a dynamic guy in the short-to-intermediate route portion of the football field and the Eagles didn't trade for Tate to give him a bit part in the second half of the season. Ertz's value has taken a significant hit at the trading deadline.
Settle: It can be hard to let go sometimes, especially when you feel like you have invested so much in a particular player. As the season starts to wind down, we cannot hold on to guys just because they were an early pick and for me, that is Jordan Howard.
Waldman: I remember you mentioning him here int he past as a player you were steadfast with your valuation of Howard this year.
Settle: I was very hopeful that with the changing weather and solid receivers on the outside that the pressure was going to come off, but that has just not been the case. The Bears like the skill set of Tarik Cohen and continue to expand his role each week. Howard started the season around 70 percent of offensive snaps with Cohen around 40 percent, but that split has dropped to near 50/50 with Cohen taking the slight lead last week. We are slowly getting to a point of irrelevance for Howard and you may not be able to take the gamble on goal-line touchdowns as you are fighting for a playoff spot.
Wood: Mitchell Trubisky currently ranks 5th in the Footballguys Top 200 Forward list among quarterbacks, and that's an easy sell for me. He's completed less than 55 percent of his passes over the last two games, and I believe defenses are beginning to figure out Matt Nagy's offense. With Allen Robinson hurt (again), and the defense struggling thanks to Khalil Mack's injury, Trubisky is the lone top-10 quarterback I see as a potential flop down the stretch.
T.J. Yeldon would be the choice at running back, and it's an unfortunate turn of events for the talented tailback. Leonard Fournette is due back in Week 10 and stands an excellent chance of being 100 percent as the Jaguars rested him for an extended time to de-risk the chance of re-aggravation.
At receiver, I'll nominate Jarvis Landry. He's going to see a ton of targets, but the switch to Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens feels like a recipe for disaster.
Harstad: Isaiah Crowell is the easy call here. He has 40 or fewer rushing yards in 6 of 8 games, with a high of 3.08 yards per carry in those contests. He ranks in the top 24 because he had 321 yards — at nearly 13 yards per carry — in 3 games.
He has a pair of touchdowns that totaled 139 yards, which is great from a fantasy standpoint, but not really predictive of anything going forward. Plus the Jets will likely start evaluating for the future at some point, which means playing time for Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon.
Sticking with running back, Latavius Murray and T.J. Yeldon will likely see their value crushed at some point as the starter in front of them returns to health.
Hicks: As Jason said, Mitchell Trubisky is the obvious answer at quarterback. He has made improvement in his second season and the Bears are developing their roster well, but Trubisky is overachieving from a fantasy viewpoint. As the colder weather starts kicking in, Trubisky will be difficult to start.
At running back, we will see some real change here as there are an awful lot of backs in the lower reaches of RB2 that won’t be there for long. Javorius Allen, Austin Ekeler, Nyheim Hines, Isaiah Crowell, Alex Collins, Kenyan Drake, and T.J. Yeldon are all looking shaky to keep their status heading into the colder months. Who replaces them is the harder question.
At wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas and Dede Westbrook in the WR3 group look to be certain fallers. Thomas has looked a shadow of his former self in the last year or two and Denver are getting out before he falls off that cliff.
The top group looks fairly settled, although Tyler Boyd is unlikely to keep up a WR1 pace. He should still be a safe WR2 though.