If you're a fantasy owner then you're prone to overthinking. It's hard not to when there's a myriad of ways to analyze in-season roster management:
- Buy Low/Sell High . . .
- Strength of Schedule . . .
- Fantasy Points Scored Against . . .
- Top 200 Forward Rankings . . .
- Weekly Matchups . . .
- Target Stats . . .
- Red Zone Stats . . .
- Injury Reports . . .
- Expert Projections . . .
If you do your fantasy football research on the porcelain throne, it's enough information to make your hindparts fall asleep -- and that's the best case scenario. Some of you will have so much information overload that by Sunday morning your head's swimming worse than a rookie quarterback facing a Rex Ryan defense stacked with All-Pros.
Manage a team where the projected starters drafted in the early rounds are under performing and it's tempting to heed the exhortations of fantasy writers to take immediate action. One of my readers told me of a dream that he had on Saturday night where the inimitable Footballguys analyst Sigmund Bloom appeared in a tie-dye monk habit chanting change or die with his Rocky Balboa voice as he stood over this poor sap's open grave.
It's only weird if you let it be weird.
There are scenarios where taking a proactive stance and making bold moves is the correct choice, but ton't let Monseigneur Bloom-Kesey (I now christen this Bloom's hip-hop handle) instill an existential crisis involving your fantasy squad after three weeks. Sometimes the best thing to do with a 1-2 or 0-3 roster is to drop anchor, hold tight, and let those waves of panic pass.
After examining five years of Week 3 vs. Week 17 fantasy rankings by position, there's enough evidence to help fantasy owners make more strategic decisions when to hit the gas and when to apply the brake. The information in this article comes from top-36 rankings for running backs and receivers and top-24 rankings for quarterbacks and tight ends.
Note: As with any analysis involving data look for qualitative information that provides contextual balance.
QBs and TEs sustain early high rankings more than RBs and WRs: Quarterbacks and tight ends who are top-12 performers at their position after Week 3 have a higher rate of sustaining that top-12 production (63 percent for both positions) compared to running backs (50 percent) and wide receivers (45 percent). If you have two QB1s and/or TE1s at this stage of the season, sell one of these players and use the data above as a talking point during your negotiations.
Injuries are a greater factor for RB and WR ranking movement: Common sense, but still worth noting here. The rigors of the two positions should inform a strategic choice to stockpile these positions even if your starting backs and receivers are healthy and performing well. If you have depth at QB and TE, selling an established starter at either position for a slightly under performing stud at RB and/or WR could be a good move.
Trade for RBs, hunt and gather WRs: Seeking an RB1? Look at at the top-24 from this week and get ready to make a deal, because 82 percent of the runners that finished as RB1s by season's end were top-24 backs after Week 3.
During the past five years, 50 percent of the RB1s after Week 3 remain RB1s and 32 percent of the RB2s become RB1s. The remaining 18 percent of RBs that become RB1s by season's end come from the combined tiers of RB3-RB7. Nothing wrong with the attempt to land an RB on the waiver wire, but expecting to get an RB1 is a low-odds proposition.
Think about Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West, Alfred Blue, and Lorenzo Taliaferro. Could one of them become a fantasy RB1 by season's end? Absolutely, in fact all four are on teams capable of helping them produce this well.
Howeer there are a lot of "ifs" to get them there: If they wouldn't have to share time with another back or if they weren't rookies still transitioning to the game or if they they weren't on teams lacking a consistent, high-producer at quarterback to provide balance.
If your ambitions to acquire an RB is lower -- say, a RB2 -- then you have a better chance to land this kind of starter. Even so, most fantasy owners stockpile 4-6 RBs on their rosters.
The five-year average indicates that 44 percent of RB2s by season's end were RBs ranked 37th-60th after Week 3, and another 7 percent of these backs were ranked 61st or lower. Maybe you'll hit on that waiver wire wonder thanks to the advanced scouting of Footballguys' Game Recaps, Upgrades Downgrades, and Sleeper articles. However, most waiver process are ordered by priority and if I have multiple needs, I'd rather target one position via trade and the other via free agency.
Wide receivers have more volatility between Weeks 4-17. The five-year average of finding a WR1 from the group of wide outs ranked after the top 36 options between Weeks 4-17 is 22 percent; 30 percent to find a WR2; and 62 percent when seeking a WR3.
Good Luck With That Waiver Wire QB: During the past five years only three percent of the quarterbacks outside the top-24 after Week 3 earned QB1 production the rest of the way -- we're talking a little less than one quarterback manages this feat every two years. If there's a QB with top-24 production sitting on the waiver wire after Week 3, he might be worth that speculative add because 33 percent of the QB1s by season's end began the first three weeks as QB2s.
You'll Have to Trade Your Elite TE: If you're desperate for a top option at RB or QB and your waiver wire is already barren based on the criteria above then it's unlikely anyone will accept a deal for a low-end TE1. However, if you can command a strong deal for that elite option, take heart because a combination of your low-end TE1 and the waiver wire could make this deal fruitful. The five-year average for tight ends not in the top-12 after Week 3, but finish there by season's end is 37 percent.
Unless you feel you can get by with a flex-play or you have enough RBs ranked in the 37th-60th range on the waiver wire after Week 3, the data indicates it's easiest to acquire that starter through a trade
|Week 3 Status||RB1 Week17||RB2 Week 17||RB3 Week 17|
Using 2013 as context, 58 percent of the RB1s remained RB1s and 25 percent of the RB2s became RB1s. In non-geek-speak, 5 backs (Maurice Jones-Drew, Zac Stacy, Le'Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, and Rashad Jennings) that weren't in the top-36 after Week 3 managed to produce as top-24 runners by season's end -- and only 1 of them became a top-12 RB (Eddie Lacy).
It shouldn't be lost on you that 3 of these 5 backs were rookies and all 5 backs were either dealing with a short-term injury or subbing for an injured starter. However, the only options likely to be found on the waiver wire were Stacy and Jennings, because the other three were considered the starter entering the season.
Perhaps this offers Ryan Mathews, Mark Ingram II, Knowshon Moreno, and Arian Foster owners some hope this year. Of the four, I'm most optimistic about Ingram, Foster, Mathews, and Moreno in that order.
2012's post-Week3 top-24 options not in the top 36 included Chris Johnson, Mikel Leshoure, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Danny Woodhead. Only Chris Johnson earned top-12 production and fantasy owners moaned about Johnson's inconsistent production for a RB1 all year long. Leshoure was returning from an Achilles' injury the year prior and Bradshaw was dealing with chronic foot/ankle issue.
2011's post-Week 3 top-24 includes Steven Jackson, Michael Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Roy Helu. Bush was subbing for an injured Darren McFadden; Mark Ingram II missed time and that increased Thomas's workload, and Helu subbed for Tim Hightower after the veteran tore his ACL (incidentally, don't be surprised if Hightower gets a look from an RB-needy team - he had an infection in his repaired knee that slowed his return, but he's healthy now).
RB Candidates Outside The Top 36 Worth Targeting (or Just as Important, Keeping...)
Matt Forte: The Bears have been pass-heavy, and they aced three decent run defenses in the Bills, 49ers, and Jets over the first three weeks. Nothing is wrong with Forte's play on film. He looks good despite limited opportunities. In fact, he looks a lot like the back I awarded a high grade in the RSP after he faced LSU's top-ranked defense that limited him to less than two yards per carry in that game. Target Forte and you should bet rewarded as the season progresses.
Eddie Lacy: The talent in Green Bay is too strong not to think Lacy won't get it together. Seattle, New York, and Detroit have excellent defenses this year. Lacy makes an excellent buy-low right now.
Ryan Mathews: Knee injuries are always a concern, but I have little confidence in either Donald Brown or Branden Oliver to become dynamic options. Look for Mathews, who has been a consistent worker the past two seasons, to rehab well with trainer Travelle Gaines and be ready to resume is role as a solid fantasy starter with upside. Obviously, those of you who need an RB now might balk at the idea of taking Mathews in a trade, but if you have a strong team capable of getting by until Mathews' return, it might earn you a cheaper deal with a nice return after Week 6 or 7.
Knowshon Moreno: I like what I'm seeing from Lamar Miller, but while I'd be less confident about Moreno earning his role back with another team after rehabbing his injury this is the same Dolphins who were patient with their free agent acquisition after surgery and a prolonged rehab to get into shape while in training camp. Moreno returned the favor with a strong Week 1. I wouldn't be surprised if Joe Philbin gives Moreno his job back in Week 6.
Shane Vereen: Stevan Ridley is running well, but Vereen hasn't been bad, either. The biggest problem has been the slow start for the Patriots passing game. However, Tom Brady and company started slow last year, too. Brady was the 27th-ranked fantasy QB after Week 3, but finished as the No.13 fantasy QB. As the offense gets on track, Vereen should, too.
Toby Gerhart: The Jaguars back doesn't excite me as much as the other candidates on this list, but Blake Bortles' running skills could mesh well with Gerhart if the team uses some read-option plays to help the tandem.
DeAngelo Williams: The entire Panthers depth chart is banged up. If Williams is ready to go in a week or two, he has a puncher's chance of earning strong RB production because the only thing that has really prevented the veteran from returning this is solid RB2, low-end RB1 days has been splitting time with backs.
Bishop Sankey: The rookie earned time and production in last week's blowout. I'm not excited about this offense thanks the inconsistent Jake Locker and Justin Hunter, but Sankey could be worth a cheap trade -- if there's an owner of Sankey who doesn't have a massive man-crush on him and demands far more than what the new Titan is worth.
C.J. Anderson - Montee Ball is performing as fantasy football's No.20 RB with a low yards per carry average (3.4) while his backup Anderson has earned 5 yards per carry in limited time. Anderson has looked better than Ball, who lacks the same burst. If the Broncos give more than lip service to how much Ronnie Hillman has progressed, the Lammey favorite might also earn another turn.
You're looking at 12-13 receivers ranked beyond the top-36 with a shot to produce like top-36 starters after Week 3. Of those 12-13 options half of them have historically earned top-24 production.
Injury, suspension, youth, and adjustment to new passing schemes explain why some of the receivers made the post-Week 3 adjustment. Josh Gordon was the No.48 receiver after Week 3. He was arguably the most dominant fantasy option outside of Peyton Manning after his two-game suspension.
Alshon Jeffery dealt with a minor injury early in the season and was the No.63 option by the last week of September. He was good enough to finish as the No.9 wideout as a second-year receiver in a new offense. Kendall Wright finished as the No.21 fantasy receiver as a second-year option completing his NFL transition.
The same could be said of Michael Floyd, who was No.64 on this Week 3 list last year, but finished as the No.26 receiver by year's end. T.Y. Hilton had a fine rookie year, but the Pep Hamilton scheme was a big transition from the Bruce Arians vertical-friendly offense the year prior. Hilton was the No.62 fantasy receiver after Week 3 last year.
Keenan Allen was a rookie and 110th among fantasy receivers after this week last year. He finished No.19 overall after Malcom Floyd got hurt. Speaking of injury subs, Harry Douglas was a low-end fantasy WR2 after Roddy White and Julio Jones went down.
There were similar dynamics happening in 2012. Dez Bryant (WR48) had a slow start, but finished as the 4th-ranked wideout. If there's an offense that has a history of starting slow, it's the Cowboys under Tony Romo.
Marques Colston was returning from microfacture surgery in 2012 and his No.57 ranking was a long cry from his No.12 finish. Randall Cobb benefited from a Jordy Nelson injury to end as the No.16 option despite starting the eyar as teh No.59 receiver. James Jones predictably had a similar bump (WR17 after beginning a Week 4 as WR43).
Mike Williams had a host of off-field issues and quarterback tumult, but the 49th-ranked receiver after Week 3 finished as the No.19 option. Steve Smith had 93 wideouts performing better in fantasy leagues after Week 3, but the Ravens' new top option was behind Williams by season's end.
Jeremy Maclin equals injury, but his return from injury gradually meant an increase in production from No.42 among receivers to No.24.
WR Candidates Outside The Top 36 Worth Targeting (or Just as Important, Keeping...)
Demaryius Thomas: Off to a slow start, thanks in part to Seattle's defense and decent play from the Colts' healthy pair of underrated corners, Thomas owners might be panicking. If you're a Thomas owner, calm down. Peyton Manning isn't veering away from his top option and there will be plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks for Thomas to return to form. If you're seeking Thomas, play up the Cardinals, 49ers, Jets, and Chargers defenses after the bye week to induce a panic-based sale of a great fantasy asset.
Marques Colston: The Saints receiver is a notoriously slow starter. During the five-year period I researched for this information, Coslton was a post-Week 3 riser during 3 of those 5 seasons.
Greg Jennings: Teddy Bridgewater might not be that exception as the waiver wire QB who becomes a QB1, but Jennings is a fine route runner who might be had cheap because of the presence of the rookie and the absence of Adrian Peterson. Seeking a cheap WR3 with WR2 upside? Jennings with a precocious Bridgewater will improve.
Markus Wheaton: The second-year receiver hasn't been bad on the field, but the strong ground game and the historically slow-starting Steelers has limited Wheaton so far. If there's a good bet for a "transition candidate" ala Floyd and Wright, Wheaton is that guy.
Andre Johnson: Are you betting against Johnson when Ryan Fitzpatrick was good enough for Steve Johnson all those years? I didn't think so. DeAndre Hopkins is a fine option who is showing signs of maturing into the dangerous option he was at Clemson, but Johnson isn't washed up.
Roddy White: The Falcons veteran looked strong Week 1, but the hamstring injury set him back and forced him to miss Week 3. This shouldn't be the lingering deal that the high ankle sprain was. I believe the Falcons sat White because they learned from last year. When White returns, he'll be a strong fantasy WR2 moving forward.
Keenan Allen: Injury has slowed Allen a bit, but with the ground game losing Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead in consecutive weeks, look for Philip Rivers and Allen to re-establish their connection. Reports among those I trust as evaluators have indicated Allen looks even better as a route runner this year.
Kenny Britt: I almost dropped Britt heading into Week 3 (I know most have), but I waited one more week because Dallas seemed like a good defense for a struggling offense to get healthy. This turned out to be the case. Britt didn't have a huge day, but he got open deep three times. One of those was a spinning grap at the sideline in tight coverage. The other was a deep streak up the right sideline where Britt was open by three steps, but QB Austin Davis over shot the receiver. And the third "should've been touchdown" was a deep post that Davis overthrew by 3-5 yards. This could be a Dallas defense-infused fantasy mirage, but listening to players, coaches, and media talk about Britt becoming a positive locker room influence and a good practice player tells me that the dividends will come.
Wes Welker: Welker's 6-60-0 day against Seattle is more than a decent return for the concussed receiver, but it also provides another short option that defenses must account for while Peyton Manning targets Demaryius Thomas on shorter routes for bigger gains. Welker is automatic in the red zone and if the Broncos were reticent to use Cody Latimer while Welker was out, don't count on them inserting rookie at Welker's expense at least for the next 6-8 weeks.
Allen Robinson: The rookie could see a lot of garbage time looks and Robinson has earned 16 targets, 11 receptions, and 154 yards the past two weeks. He seems to have a rapport with Blake Bortles. Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Cecil Shorts are all risks right now, but one -- if not two -- of these three receivers has potential to exceed expectations and are worth speculative additions.
Reggie Wayne: The game scripts during the past two weeks have unfolded in a manner where Wayne was not a heavily-targeted option. Look for this to change as the season progresses. At the same time, don't value Wayne as anything more than a strong WR3. If you have to pay more to get him, don't do it because Hakeem Nicks, T.Y. Hilton, and those Indianapolis tight ends will likely keep Wayne grounded a little more than some expect.
T.Y. Hilton: Hilton had 22 targets during his first two weeks. As the ground game continues to improve, more quality vertical targets will follow. Hilton may be a boom-bust fantasy starter, but consider the past three weeks as miniature busts. He could be a nice buy-low due to a minor ankle injury and a lack of fire works thus far.
These receivers had multiple years of starting slow and finishing strong or tailing off and not due to injury. Study tape reviews such as Footballguys' recaps for more information that may help you determine if these options are worth a look.
WR Dez Bryant: 3 of the past 5 seasons studied Bryant rose to fantasy WR1 status (twice) and WR2 status (once) after slow Septembers. Considering that Tony Romo looked stiff maneuvering the pocket during the first two weeks, but was markedly improved Week 3 is a good sign for 2014.
WR Eric Decker: The Jets' new receiver has 2 seasons out of 5 where he rose to WR1 and WR2 status after slow starts. Decker's recent injury is the kind that could slow his progress early, but he's a tough option who could see a large share of targets down the stretch.
WR Andre Johnson: 3 of 5 seasons Johnson started slow and finished as a WR1. Understand why I'm optimistic about the old man's outlook rest of the season?
WR Pierre Garcon: 2 of his 3 seasons where he improved after Week 3 include work with the Colts as an unknown rising to WR3 status.
WR Vincent Jackson: The former Chargers option had 2 seasons where he improved after a slow start and earned WR2 production by year's end after injury and off-field concerns. Jackson's talent is too good to think the Buccaneers won't adjust.
WR T.Y. Hilton: 2 of 2 seasons in the league where he started slower than he finished. Based on his targets (see above), I'm still optimistic.
WR Wes Welker: 2 seasons where he finished as a WR1 after slower starts. With Emmanuel Sanders added to the mix, I'm less optmistic about Welker making it 3, but it's possible if the ground game continues to under perform.
WR Mike Wallace: The Dolphins receiver is playing well. The question is how well Matt Moore will perform moving forward? Wallace had 2 seasons where he overcame slow starts to become a WR1 and a WR3 respectively. I'm not concerned about Moore hurting Wallace; he thinks faster than Tannehill, who has made a slow mental transition to the league. You can see this with Tannehill's footwork that has become far more robotic and deliberate than what he was doing at Texas A&M.
WR Greg Jennings: Jennings as three seasons where he has improved from slow early starts. Working with a rookie will be his biggest challenge, but Bridgewater is sharp, practically unflappable, and his talents as a timing passer with anticipation work well with the veteran receiver. Might be a really cheap buy-low to pair with quality starting RB if you're fortunate to be dealing an elite TE or top QB.
WR Michael Crabtree: The 49ers receiver has 2 seasons out of 5 where he has improved upon his slow starts.
WR Steve Smith: Not that Smith is playing old, but the old-timer has two seasons out of the past 5 where he wasn't even among the top 90 receivers after Week3, but finished as a top-12 and top-24 option by year's end. The guy commands the ball. I'm beginning to think that Cam Newton wasn't accurate enough to throw the ball to Smith and Carolina preferred giving Newton a taller option who could win bad balls the way Smith used to with Jake Delhomme. Keep riding the old bird in Baltimore; he may not reach the same altitude he used to, but he can still fly.
WR Marques Colston: See above.
WR Mike Williams: See above.
WR Jeremy Maclin: Oft-injured means oft-returning and slow starts. Plus, quarterback and scheme changes didn't help. This year he's starting hot.
WR Miles Austin: His early career in Dallas featured two strong finishes to WR2-quality production. So far, he's off to a decent start.
RB Knowshon Moreno: 2 slow starts ended with an RB1 and RB3 finish. Based on how he looked in the opener against New England, I'd count on it happening again, but depending on Lamar Miller's fine play and workload, I'd focus more on RB2-RB3 production the rest of the way.
RB Reggie Bush: A pretty slow start for Bush this year, but Carolina is a pretty tough unit at home despite the Steeler's making good work of them Sunday night. Bush has 2 years where he ended as RB1 and RB3 after slow starts.
RB Chris Johnson: The Jets' runner has 3 years where he didn't have starter production, but finished as a fantasy RB1. Then again, Johnson was in Tennessee and he never met Rex Ryan. Don't count on it happening again unless Chris Ivory gets hurt, which has happened multiple times in the past.
RB Marshawn Lynch: Since Lynch has been in Seattle, he has two slower starts with RB1 finishes and a third start (on Buffalo's bench) where he finished (in Seattle via trade) as an RB3. All about that action, boss.
RB Danny Woodhead: He finishes as an RB2 twice and a third time as an RB3. This year he's simply finished with a leg fracture, but keep an eye on him in 2015.
RB Ryan Mathews: The Chargers' starter has 3 seasons with slow starts. He finished as a RB2 once and RB3 twice. He might earn RB2 production in 2014 as a best-case due to his MCL strain, but if he does it means he'll have a lot of RB1 games to get there.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew: Everyone with a bully pulpit says Jones-Drew is done. I'm not believing them. The Jets held Matt Forte to a pittance and no is calling for his job. Jones-Drew won the job in the preseason because he looked good. He also has 3 seasons where he improved from slow starts (once to RB1 and twice to RB2). I'm holding on.
RB Ray Rice: Moral qualms aside, if Rice wins his appeal, and a team takes him, he has 3 seasons (1 improving to RB1 production) where he out-performed slow starts.
RB Steven Jackson: If there's a reigning champ of slow starts, strong finishes, Jackson has 4 seasons out of 5 and 3 of them ended with RB1 production. Keep that in your back pocket for naysayers. Of course, you might need to kick the backsides of Falcons coaches that run Jackson to the perimeter when the edge blockers in Atlanta are sub par and Jackson is still laboring with his hamstring injury.
RB DeAngelo Williams: The Panthers' back has 2 years with RB2 finishes after slow starts. This could be another one after Jonathan Stewart's MCL injury, Mike Tolbert's leg fracture, and my lack of enthusiasm about Darrin Reaves. I call Reaves a crash test dummy because he's tough as nails and reckless, but not the most conceptually gifted runner. If Williams can't get back soon, don't be surprised if Lache Seastrunk earns time -- and he is the most talented of the healthy runners on this team or practice squad. Don't go rushing out to get Seastrunk, because his pass protection, receiving, and good judgment on the field are inconsistent, at best.
RB Darren Sproles: The Eagles' new starter is doing well this September, but keep in mind that he has been an RB1 and RB2 before and dropped to RB2 and RB3 production after strong Septembers. Then again, playing for the Saints can be that way for a back. The Eagles might be a different story. I'll believe it until I see otherwise. Sproles' fit in Philadelphia is something I predicted and the on-field usage fits what I expected.
WR Vincent Jackson: He appears on this list as a riser, but he also has two seasons where his production dropped to WR2 an WR3 numbers after stronger starts. The FBGs recapper says Jackson is gettign open, but the targets have not been accurate.
WR Mike Wallace: Is it a coincidence that Wallace -- a vertical option with a more limited route tree responsibility in Pittsburgh -- appears on both lists alongside Jackson? I think not.
WR Victor Cruz: When you play with Eli Manning, it's not difficult to see a downturn with production after a decent start. This has happened twice in 5 years for Cruz. However, I'm still optimistic about Cruz because his downturn was to WR2 and WR3 production. I wouldn't sell over that kind of dip.