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Fantasy Football – Rookie running backs

Rookie running backs are the biggest X-factors in fantasy football drafts year after year. As more NFL teams have moved to two-RB systems, it’s become harder and harder for rookie backs to emerge as fantasy forces. But in most years, some unknown rookie runners end up being great sleepers for fantasy owners. So in this post, we’ll compare the fantasy value of rookie running backs and try to uncover some hidden gems.

To do so, we’re going to use our Football Relativity comparison, with 10 being the most impactful rookie back and one being guys who barely merit making your draft board. In the comparison, we’ll note where the tiers break and what this comparison means as you put together your draft board. Also, You can read more about Jahvid Best of the Lions, C.J. Spiller of the Bills, and Ryan Mathews of the Chargers in this post. And there’s lots more fantasy analysis in the fantasy football category here on Football Relativity.

10 – Ryan Mathews, Chargers – Mathews steps into the most fantasy-friendly situation of any rookie back. All fantasy owners know that LaDainian Tomlinson thrived in San Diego for years, and now that Tomlinson’s gone, Mathews is set up to succeed. Of course, Darren Sproles is still around to provide big plays in small doses, but as long as Mathews adjusts to the pros quickly he’ll be the guy who gets the bulk of the carries and the goal-line chances. We’ve already discussed how we’re placing Mathews on Tier 2, and that makes him by far the most valuable rookie running back. We suspect 1,200 yards and 8-10 touchdowns are in the offing.

(*Mathews is the only rookie back on Tier 2, which means he is a starting running back in 10- and 12-team leagues.)

9 – none

8 – Jahvid Best, Lions – Best slipped into the end of the first round with Detroit, with Lions head coach Jim Schwartz talking highly of Best’s big-play ability. With Kevin Smith hurt, Best could get more carries early in the season than a Sproles/Leon Washington style big-play back, and with that being the case Best has a decent amount of upside. But Detroit hasn’t been a fantasy-friendly spot for running backs in recent years, and the additions the offense has made recently seem to help the passing game more than the run game. Best can catch the ball well, which may mean he has more success via the air than the ground as a rookie. He has value, but relying on him as an every-week starter is overly optimistic. Instead, Best is an ideal No. 3 fantasy back with some upside as a rookie.

7 – C.J. Spiller, Bills – Because my wife is a Clemson grad, I’ve seen a ton of Spiller’s college career, and he’s a fine player. He’s explosive as a runner, receiver, and returner, and he can carry the load between the tackles more than some might expect. But while he was the ninth overall pick in the draft, he ended up in a terrible spot for running backs. With Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch around for now (though Lynch could be cut or dealt by the opening of the season), Spiller’s chances will be limited. And even if Spiller gets carries, they will be behind a below-average offensive line with a below-average quarterback. Throw in bad Buffalo weather, and it’s clear that the cards are stacked against Spiller becoming a fantasy stud as a rookie. He’s worth a shot as a No. 4 fantasy back just because he can fill in and make one big play in any given week to make him a spot starter, but expecting more out of him this season is unwise because of the morass that is the Bills offense.

7 (con’t) – Montario Hardesty, Browns – If there’s a sleeper rookie who will be available on Tier 4 who has the upside to have a Steve Slaton-type of rookie year, it’s Hardesty, a second-round pick from Tennessee who goes into a decent situation in Cleveland. While holdover Jerome Harrison finished the season strong, he hasn’t been a reliable back through his career, and so Hardesty beating him out is at least on the table. Hardesty is a big banger who will run behind a line that features standouts in OLT Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack. Keep an eye on Hardesty’s progression through training camp, and be prepared to pounce in your draft in search of a sleeper – even if you have to do so on Tier 3.

(*Best, Spiller, and Hardesty fall on Tier 3. Best is a No. 3 running back in 10- and 12-team leagues; Spiller and Hardesty are No. 4 backs in such leagues.)

6 – none

5 – Ben Tate, Texans – Tate steps into a crowded situation in Houston, where at least three backs – Slaton, Arian Foster, and the departed Ryan Moats got shots as the No. 1 back last year. Slaton and Foster are still around, but Gary Kubiak’s unwillingness to stick with one starter means that Tate could find an opening. But it’s hard to picture Tate breaking free the way Slaton did as a rookie two years ago, which means that Tate’s probably a 2-3 game option, not a guy who could start for fantasy teams for a month or more. He’s still worth a look on Tier 4, but Tate is more of a high-risk option than Hardesty.

4 – Toby Gerhardt, Vikings – Gerhardt is a big, burly back who nearly won the Heisman Trophy at Stanford last year. But now that he’s a Viking, he’s not going to be the same kind of complement to Adrian Peterson that Chester Taylor was last season. While Taylor was a good receiver who provided a different dimension than Taylor, there’s a lot more similarity between Peterson and Gerhardt. That limits Gerhardt’s fantasy upside as a rookie. Since Peterson will be the No. 1 back without question, Gerhardt looks to be a fill-in with 10 carries or less a game. Plus, Peterson figures to get the lion’s share of goal-line carries. Were Peterson to get hurt, Gerhardt’s stock would shoot up, so he’s worth drafting for that reason – especially for Peterson owners. Gerhardt is a No. 5 fantasy back whose main upside comes if Peterson misses a game.

4 (con’t) – Joe McKnight, Jets – McKnight never completely lived up to the hype at USC, but he proved to be a versatile back with breakaway ability. With the Jets, he looks to be a good complement to Shonn Greene – a la the Thomas Jones/Leon Washington combo the Jets formerly had. Having LaDainian Tomlinson around gums up the works and could take away some of McKnight’s receiving chances this year, but McKnight has enough big-play ability that he has a smidgen of fantasy potential. McKnight is more of a fill-in than a guy who can start for fantasy teams weeks in a row, but he’s still a top 50 back.

3 – Dexter McCluster, Chiefs – McCluster will play more as a slot receiver, but since some leagues may allow McCluster running back eligibility, we’ll include him in this post. McCluster is tiny but speedy, which makes him a mini-Reggie Bush type of threat. He won’t get many carries behind Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles in Kansas City, but McCluster could end up with 40-50 catches, and if he has RB eligibility in your league that could make him a Tier 4 back. He’s a guy worth taking a shot on in the late rounds, just to see if he can find a role.

(*Tate, Gerhardt, McKnight, and McCluster fall on Tier 4. They are all No. 5 backs in 10- and 12-team leagues. For the following backs, we note what scenarios they are draftable in.)

2 – Jonathan Dwyer, Steelers – Dwyer is a sleeper for fantasy owners, but given our lack in faith in Rashard Mendenhall as a stalwart back, we are curious to see if Dwyer emerges as a complement in Pittsburgh. Dwyer had a good college career but a bad combine season, which is why he fell into the sixth round of the NFL draft. Our hunch is that Dwyer is worth a flier as a sixth back in 12- or 14-team leagues just in case he establishes a role behind or alongside Mendenhall.

1 – Anthony Dixon, 49ers – Last year, rookie Glen Coffee looked to have the backup job behind Frank Gore in San Francisco, but Coffee’s performance when Gore was out was subpar. Now Dixon, another rookie, looks to have the shot to surpass Coffee as Gore’s backup. Given Gore’s injury history, Dixon is worth grabbing, especially for Gore owners. But we don’t see a ton of fantasy upside in Dixon because of Coffee’s presence and Gore’s dominance. He’s only draftable in 12-team leagues if you own Gore.

1 (con’t) – LeGarrette Blount, Titans – Blount wasn’t drafted, but he’s worth noting because there’s an opening in Tennessee for a complement to Chris Johnson now that LenDale White is gone. Second-year man Javon Ringer will get the first shot, but Blount has enough talent to beat out Ringer for that role. Watch how things break down in training camp to see if Blount is worth a flier in large leagues with 14 teams or more.

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Rise/Sink/Float – RBs in new places

As we continue our fantasy football preparation for 2010, we’re going to analyze players with new teams and predict whether their 2010 numbers will rise above, sink below, or float alongside their 2009 production. In this post, we cover running backs. We covered quarterbacks here, and we’ll cover wide receivers and tight ends in subsequent posts.

RB Chester Taylor, Bears – Taylor passed the dreaded 30-year-old milestone last year, but he remained a productive second back in the Vikings’ system. He surpassed 700 yards from scrimmage in each of the last two years as Adrian Peterson’s understudy. Now he moves to Chicago, where he figures to have more of a 50-50 split with Matt Forte. Taylor’s receiving skills seem to be a hand-in-glove fit with new Bears coordinator Mike Martz, which leads some fantasy analysts to predict big things for Taylor. Add in the fact that Taylor scored at least six touchdowns in the three seasons preceding ’09, and Taylor looks like a nice No. 3 fantasy back who will get some chances to make plays. Because of the new offense and the growing opportunities in Chicago, Taylor looks to move from the 40s at running back into the 30s, which is at least a noticeable rise. Verdict: Rise

RB Thomas Jones, Chiefs – Jones bucked the trend of over-30 running backs falling off last season, rushing for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns in the Jets’ run-heavy offense. The former first-round pick, who turns 32 in August, did appear to wear down during Gang Green’s playoff run, but that kind of January workload doesn’t seem to be a threat now that he’s in K.C. What is a threat to his fantasy stock is Jamaal Charles, who broke out over the second half of last season and emerged as an electric big-play threat. Our hunch is that the Chiefs see Jones as a balance to Charles in a 60-40 split (Jones is the 40). And while Jones may get some goal-line carries, his fantasy stock won’t come close to the starter level it was last year. Instead, Jones falls into the 30s at running back and becomes an emergency fill-in but not much more. Verdict: Sink

RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets – Others tried to talk you into Tomlinson last year, but his 12 touchdowns didn’t offset his 3.3 yards per carry or the fact that he had just 20 catches after surpassing 50 in each of his first eight seasons. Tomlinson’s numbers ended up making him a borderline No. 2 fantasy back, and that was all because of touchdowns, which are an unpredictable stat. The Chargers saw Tomlinson as on a pretty steep decline and so they cut him. Tomlinson landed in New York, where he and Shonn Greene replace the Jones/Leon Washington combo that New York entered last season with. While we’re pretty bullish on Greene’s stock, we see Tomlinson as the bottom half of a 75/25 split designed to do little more than keep Greene from breaking down midseason. And rookie Joe McKnight could easily emerge as a far better receiving option out of the backfield than Tomlinson is at this point. After nearly a decade atop the fantasy rankings, Tomlinson was in the 20s at running back last season, and now he falls at least one more level – if not two – into the land of No. 3 and No. 4 backs. Don’t let his new gig distract you from the fact that LDT is D-U-N done. Verdict: Sinking like a rock

RB Mike Bell, Eagles – Bell has had a strange career. He ran for 677 yards and eight touchdowns (with 20 catches to boot) as a rookie in Denver, and then had just 19 total carries the next two years as he moved from the Broncos to the Saints. Then last year, Bell emerged as a complement to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush and carved out a niche, running for 654 yards and five touchdowns. Now Bell moves to Philly, where he will complement LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver now that Brian Westbrook is gone. Bell is an effective between-the-tackles runner but not a breakaway threat, which makes him a No. 2 running back for a team. But with Weaver in Philly, Bell’s goal-line chances will be limited. Bell’s a No. 4 fantasy back, and because Weaver is more of a runner than Bush was, his stock actually slips a bit in his new home. Bell will probably run for 500 yards or so, but expecting a bunch of TDs or receptions with that production isn’t wise. Verdict: Sink

RB Larry Johnson, Redskins – Continuing a trend in this post, Johnson is now 30, which is usually a death knell age for running backs. His 2009 stats indicate that he may be in decline, as he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry with the Chiefs before being released. In Cincy, Johnson rebounded a bit, averaging 4.2 yards per carry for a run-first team. That gives a little bit of hope for Johnson from a fantasy perspective, but the glimmer of hope is actually a mirage. The crowded Redskins backfield with Johnson, Willie Parker, and holdover Clinton Portis will limit any of those backs from breaking out, and the Redskins’ offensive line doesn’t look like it will boost performance for any of those aging backs. We believe Johnson will be close to Portis in terms of having the most value of any of the Redskins’ backs, but that’s damning with faint praise. Neither guy will end up in the top 35 fantasy backs. Maybe that’s a slight increase over Johnson’s 2009 value, but don’t draft LJ looking for upside. Verdict: Rise

RB Willie Parker, Redskins – Like Johnson, Parker, a long-time Steeler, is looking for a renaissance in Washington. Parker, who turns 30 in November, averaged 4.0 yards per carry last year but lost his starting job to Rashard Mendenhall in Pittsburgh. Fast Willie doesn’t have the breakaway speed he once had, and last year he had just one touchdown. He figures to settle into a complimentary role in D.C. as a change-of-pace back – which leaves him out of the top 40 among fantasy running backs. Verdict: Sink

RB Peyton Hillis, Browns – Hillis showed some fantasy promise as a rookie in Denver with 5.0 yards per carry and five touchdowns over 68 carries. He lost his role in Josh McDaniels’ offense last year, which is why Denver was willing to include him in a deal with Cleveland. Given the Browns’ questions at running back with Jerome Harrison unproven and Montario Hardesty a rookie, Hillis could find a role as an inside runner in a carries split. He’s just a No. 4 fantasy back, but that’s more than Hillis was last year, and it’s reason enough to put Hillis back on the draft board for 2010. Verdict: Rise

RB Ryan Moats, Vikings – Moats burst onto the scene at midseason for the Texans last year, then burst right back off of it. By the end of the year, he was behind Arian Foster and Steve Slaton in Houston’s pecking order, and after the Texans drafted Ben Tate they released Moats. But Minnesota, looking to replace Taylor, claimed Moats on waivers. Moats is a different kind of back than rookie Toby Gerhardt – smaller, shiftier, and more of a receiver. That gives Moats the chance to establish a little value as Adrian Peterson’s valet. Moats is probably a No. 5 back, but being cut actually landed him in a situation where his value floats along at the same level. Verdict: Float

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FR: May-June cuts

This post compares cuts NFL teams made during the month of May. For previous cuts, start at the April cuts post and work your way back.

10 – Raiders (cut QB JaMarcus Russell) – The Raiders finally admitted that Russell, a former No. 1 overall pick, that he has become one of the biggest draft busts of all time. Russell has a big arm, and he went through a couple of offensive systems under Lane Kiffin and then Tom Cable. But Russell also showed an inadequate work ethic, and his noticeable belly became a tell about that. Russell’s failure became obvious last year, when journeyman Bruce Gradkowski took over the offense and got much better results. This offseason, the Raiders finally moved on from Russell, chalking up the $39 million they paid him as a sunk cost and trading for Jason Campbell as a replacement. Campbell, a QB who’s at least league average, if not a tick better, represents a huge upgrade over the underachieving and undermotivated Russell. Now Russell must show he wants to resurrect his career by getting in good shape and playing as a backup somewhere. But given Russell’s track record, a team would have to be completely desperate at quarterback to give him a shot, and aside from Buffalo, few teams are that needy. So Russell’s next shot won’t come easily.

9 – none

8 – none

7 – Patriots (cut CB Shawn Springs) – Springs was released after he reportedly failed a physical, although the Patriots indicated they may bring him back later in the offseason. Springs has been a good corner in the league for a lot of years, but his time as a starter is waning. He’s better as a No. 3 corner or even a veteran backup who gets a lot of time off during the regular season but who is available when it counts. Of course, all that assumes he can get healthy, which is no given for someone with 13 seasons of tread already on the tires.

6 – Seahawks (cut RB LenDale White, S Quinton Teal, QB Mike Teel, and WR Reggie Williams) – White had two good years out of four in Tennessee, but the Titans tired of his weight problems and attitude issues and dealt him to Seattle during the draft to move up a few spots in the fourth and sixth rounds. That light price in itself was a sign, but it appeared that White would be able to live up to his potential with his former college coach Pete Carroll. But when White was flagged for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, which will shelve him for the first four games of the season, the Seahawks decided White wasn’t worth the hassle and released him. White has talent, but if Carroll, under whom White thrived at USC, doesn’t see White as worth a roster spot, then it’s possible that no one else will either. White now faces a huge crossroads, and if he doesn’t dedicate himself to performing on the field, he could end up in the UFL instead of the NFL this fall. Teal came over to Seattle from Carolina earlier this offseason, but after Seattle re-signed Lawyer Milloy and drafted Earl Thomas, Teal become redundant there. Teel, a sixth-round pick last season, got caught up in the Seahawks’ regime change after Seattle brought in Charlie Whitehurst and J.P. Losman to back up Matt Hasselbeck. Teel still may have some developmental potential, but the Patriots cut him after taking a quick look via waivers. Williams, a former first-round pick in Jacksonville, got a second chance in Seattle but wasn’t able to even make it last until training camp.

5 – Saints (cut DE Bobby McCray) – After adding Alex Brown this offseason, the Saints decided McCray was expendable in a move that saved the team over a million dollars. McCray had six sacks as he started eight games and played all 16 for the Saints in 2008 but slipped to just one start and 1.5 sacks in 16 games last year. At this point, he’s not going to provide a ton of pass rush, but he’d be a good minimum-salary gamble for a team looking for a third end who could start in a pinch.

4 – Dolphins (cut LB Reggie Torbor) – Torbor, a six-year vet, has never been a full-time starter in the NFL, and the Dolphins decided to move toward a younger (and cheaper) option at their backup inside ‘backer position. Torbor landed in Buffalo to help the Bills install their new 3-4 defense.

4 (con’t) – Chargers (cut DT Ian Scott and S Kevin Ellison) – Scott played as a backup defensive tackle for the Chargers last year, but he’s been passed on the depth chart and is just a replacement-level player. Ellison started nine games as a rookie for the Chargers last year, but he fell out of favor. Still, Ellison is young enough to be a prospect elsewhere, and that elsewhere is Seattle.

3 – Texans (cut RB Ryan Moats) – Moats had one monster game for the Texans last year, but fumble problems cut his playing time short, and with the addition of rookie Ben Tate and the emergence of Arian Foster, plus Steve Slaton in place, Moats faced a fight for a roster spot. Moats is good enough that the Vikings claimed him off waivers to take a look, but he’s not a starting-quality NFL back.

3 (con’t) – Cowboys (cut C Cory Procter) – Procter, who backed up for the Cowboys at guard and center, was released in what appeared to be a cost-cutting move. Instead of paying Procter more than a million bucks, the ‘Pokes can use a first- or second-year guy in a backup role at about a third of the cost. Despite that, though, Procter is good enough that the Dolphins are giving him a look.

2 – Buccaneers (cut LB Angelo Crowell) – Crowell was once a productive linebacker in Buffalo, but he missed the last two years with injury. At this point, it’s uncertain whether Crowell is anywhere close health-wise to a starting-caliber player.

2 (con’t) – Titans (cut WR Mark Jones) – Jones had a couple of good years as a return specialist, but injuries shelved him last season and continue to be a problem.

1 – Browns (cut PK Shaun Suisham) – Cleveland signed Suisham to put pressure on kicker Phil Dawson, who’s a free agent. But Suisham isn’t a long-term option, and Dawson has apparently called Cleveland’s bluff. The contract issue lingers, but Suisham won’t.

1 (con’t) – Broncos (cut QB Tom Brandstater and OT Maurice Williams) – Brandstater, who last year looked like a quarterback prospect, lost his roster spot after the Broncos added Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn in the offseason. He was claimed on waivers by the Colts and will get a shot to make the roster there. Williams, an offseason signee, wasn’t able to provide the OT depth Denver had hoped.

1 (con’t) – Chiefs (cut RB Kolby Smith and QB Matt Gutierrez) – Smith showed some flashes in Kansas City, but he fell behind Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones and became too expensive to be a third-stringer. He landed in Denver via waiver claim. Gutierrez knows the Patriot-ish system the Chiefs run but has never proved he’s better than a No. 3 quarterback.

1 (con’t) – Bengals (cut CB Keiwan Ratliff) – Ratliff has bounced around in recent years after starting his career with the Bengals, but he’s out of a job – likely because Adam Jones pac-manned up the last CB spot on the roster.

1 (con’t) – Redskins (cut TE Sean Ryan) – Ryan is a block-first tight end who has bounced around but who wasn’t going to pass Chris Cooley or Fred Davis.

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FR: June signings

This post compares free-agent signings during the month of June. For past signings, go to the May signings post and work your way back.

10 – Raiders (add DT John Henderson) – Henderson was a salary-saving cut by the Jaguars, and he’s not the player he was at his Pro Bowl peak. But Henderson can still be a force inside, and at the worst he’s an upgrade over ’09 Raiders starter Gerard Warren. Henderson, like Richard Seymour last year, is an older player who can bring quality to a Raiders defense that isn’t bad. Plus, Henderson will help protect ’10 first-rounder Rolando McClain, which is a wise move as well. This is a nice late signing by the Raiders, who have had a solid offseason.

9 – Ravens (add UFA PK Shayne Graham, S Ken Hamlin, QB Marc Bulger, and UFA CB Walt Harris) – Graham had some great years with the Bengals, but last year wasn’t one of them, and the Bengals looked for a cheaper option. So Graham moves to Baltimore, where he figures to beat out Billy Cundiff at a spot that was a problem for the Ravens last year. Hamlin was a Pro Bowl participant just three seasons ago in Dallas, but his lack of range showed up over the last two years, and his play fell off to a level far below his contract. What Hamlin can still do is hit – he had 74 tackles last year and can still play as an in-the-box safety. But relying on him in coverage at this point will burn a team. In Baltimore, Ed Reed handles the backfield brilliantly, which makes a guy like Hamlin an acceptable safety counterpart. Maybe Hamlin finds the fountain of youth in Baltimore, but if he doesn’t, he can still help in a limited role. He’s still worth a shot for Baltimore on a one-year deal. Bulger was once a franchise quarterback in St. Louis, but years of playing behind a terrible offensive line sapped his effectiveness, led to injuries, and scuttled his starting career. So after posting three consecutive years with a 90-plus passer rating, Bulger has been pretty bad in recent years with his rating staying below 72. That’s a massive drop. The Rams have moved on to Sam Bradford, and now Bulger moves on to Baltimore. The Ravens are a good fit for Bulger because they have a solid offensive line and a top-flight running game, which means that if Bulger has to replace Joe Flacco, he’s set up to succeed. For the Ravens, meanwhile, Bulger provides a professional quarterback who’s just 33 and can be more of a long-term fill-in than Troy Smith at this point. This is a win-now move at $2.3 million that may not have been possible if not for the uncapped year. The signing of Harris is a similar transaction. Harris missed all of last season after an offseason injury, but before that he was a starter for some pretty good San Francisco defenses. Harris will be 36 when the season opens, but his more physical style can work in the right system. For a Ravens team that has really struggled at cornerback in recent years, Harris is the kind of veteran who may help younger players develop and who could even contribute on the field if the system makes up for his age-related shortcomings.

8 – Rams (keep UFA S O.J. Atogwe, add DT Chris Hovan) – Atogwe didn’t have his best season last year, which made restricted free agency a little dicey for the Rams and their former franchise player. But Atogwe is still a plus player for the Rams as he forces plenty of turnovers and makes big plays. Maybe the Rams would prefer Atogwe be more consistent, but his aggressiveness is still a benefit for a team bereft of playmakers. Keeping him once they had to let his restricted free-agent tender lapse was something the Rams needed to do to continue moving forward. Hovan hasn’t been a dominant player since his early days in Minnesota, but he’s still a starting-quality tackle who may be revived under Steve Spagnuolo, who had great success with defensive lines coaching the Giants. Hovan started all but one game over the last six seasons in Tampa, so at the least he’s a guy a rebuilding team can depend on to be there.

7 – none

6 – Chargers (add UFA WR Josh Reed, UFA TE Randy McMichael and OT Tra Thomas) – Both Reed and Thomas are solid pros, but neither is more than a fill-in at this point in his career. Thomas lost playing time to rookie Eugene Monroe in Jacksonville last year, but his years of experience at left tackle in Philadelphia are what San Diego’s looking at. If starting OLT Marcus McNeill holds out, Thomas has the know-how to be a stopgap option. But Thomas, who never was a dancer out on the edge, has lost mobility as he’s gotten older and could be exploited by speed rushers. Reed was a slot receiver in Buffalo, and while he can catch the ball reliably, he won’t break many plays. But if star WR Vincent Jackson holds out, San Diego needed some veterans who could at least run the right patterns, and Reed fills that bill. The more interesting things about both signings is not what these players bring but what it says about the Chargers’ hard-line stance against Jackson and McNeill. McMichael never lived up to his potential as a game-changing pass-catcher, but he’s been somewhat productive, and so he becomes a solid backup to Antonio Gates. He’s the kind of luxury bench signing a contender like the Chargers need to make.

5 – Bills (add LB Reggie Torbor) – Torbor got caught in a numbers game in Miami, but he’s a nice addition at inside linebacker for a Bills defense trying to move to a 3-4 this year. Like previous signee Andra Davis, Torbor does his job and tackles well. Neither Davis nor Torbor is a great player, but they’re good enough to provide stability until the Bills get playmakers in their linebacker corps.

4 – Seahawks (add S Kevin Ellison) – Ellison started nine games as a rookie for San Diego last year, but he was a surpising June cut by the Bolts. Seattle snapped him up quickly, first claiming him on waivers and then cutting him so that they could sign him to a new contract. If Ellison is going to succeed, Seattle’s a great place, since the former USC product is playing for his college head coach Pete Carroll.

3 – Redskins (add UFA Mike Furrey) – Furrey is perhaps the only two-way player in the league right now, as he can contribute at safety or wide receiver. It’s at wideout that the Redskins need help, since Santana Moss could be facing a league suspension stemming from his connection to Dr. Anthony Galea. Furrey has had one huge catch season, but he’s primarily a slot receiver who runs good routes and has good quickness. He can help the Redskins in three- or four-WR sets.

2 – Vikings (add RB Ryan Moats via waivers) – Moats had his moments in Houston last year, and he played for Vikings head man Brad Childress back in Philadelphia. So when Adrian Peterson started sitting out of minicamps, the Vikes didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to claim Moats. Moats’ pass-catching acumen could mean that he gets some shots over rookie Toby Gerhardt in replacing Chester Taylor.

1 – Saints (add OG Terrence Metcalf) – Metcalf was out of the league last year, but he had a seven-year career with the Bears and could fit in as a backup guard.

1 (con’t) – Steelers (add LB Matt Stewart) – Stewart didn’t play last season, but as a starter in four of his six NFL seasons with Atlanta and Cleveland, he could provide depth at inside linebacker for the Steelers.

1 (con’t) – Broncos (add UFA FB Kyle Eckel and RB Kolby Smith via waivers) – Eckel is a borderline fullback who played for Josh McDaniels in New England. That’s the reason he has a shot to make Denver’s roster as a fullback, especially after Peyton Hillis left via trade. Smith has shown a few flashes in Kansas City, which makes him worth a waiver claim.

1 (con’t) – Colts (add QB Tom Brandstater via waivers) – Brandstater, once a prospect in Denver, got claimed on waivers by the Colts, who need to develop a backup to Peyton Manning now that Jim Sorgi is gone. Brandstater will compete with fellow ’09 rookie Curtis Painter for that spot, and only one of them will likely make the team.

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud – Week 14

Each week, we dive into the stat sheets to see which weekly performers fantasy owners should applaud and which fantasy owners should write off as frauds. You can read past applaud or a fraud analyses in the category listing. And you can also check out our fantasy football thoughts during the week via our Twitter feed here on the blog or here.

Quarterbacks

Kyle Orton, Broncos – Orton bounced back from so-so play of late to produce 277 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts. But that doesn’t mean he’s a reliable fantasy starter down the stretch. You can put Orton as a borderline top-15 guy, but that means he shouldn’t be starting for you except in a big league or an emergency. Verdict: A fraud

Running Backs

Reggie Bush, Saints – Bush will never be a dominant running back, but he’s an incredible receiver out of the backfield or the slot. So his six-catch, 46-yard, two-touchdown game against the Falcons is no fluke. Now that Bush is healthy, he will once again have a significant enough role in the Saints’ potent offense to be a solid fantasy flex option. Verdict: Applaud

Jamaal Charles. Chiefs – Few backs are hotter right now than Charles, who ran for 136 yards and a score against the Bills. It’s a little nerve-wracking to rely on a player on such a bad team, but Charles is proving he’s a worthy fantasy starter. Verdict: A fraud

Josh Cribbs, Browns – Cribbs has well-known chops as a dynamic return man, but he hasn’t gotten a lot of offensive work. But against the Steelers, Cribbs (a former college quarterback) scampered for 87 yards on eight carries out of a Wildcat formation. For the season, he’s averaged 7.3 yards per carry, so if he gets more chances at the end of the season he should be a fantasy producer. That makes him worth a flier in leagues of 12 teams or more, just in case the Browns decide that Cribbs is their best chance to squeak out a couple of wins down the stretch. Verdict: Applaud

Quinton Ganther, Redskins – Ganther is now the Redskins’ starting running back after a slew of injuries, and he delivered fantasy owners 50 yards and a touchdown this week. While that’s not a great game, it’s enough to make him a decent flex option, even for fantasy owners in the playoffs. Verdict: Applaud

Fred Jackson, Bills – Marshawn Lynch ran for 84 yards against the Chiefs, but Jackson got eight more carries (for a total of 20) and ran for 99 yards. It’s now safe to say that Jackson is the Bills’ top fantasy back; however, that leaves him as an emergency fantasy starter but nothing more. Verdict: A fraud

Chris Jennings, Browns – Last week, we called Jerome Harrison a fraud, and against Pittsburgh this week Harrison got just nine touches while the rookie Jennings ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. This week we’re telling you that Jennings isn’t an answer for your fantasy team either. Unless you’re desperate for a runner in a league of 16 teams or more, Jennings isn’t even worth a waiver claim. Verdict: A fraud

Willis McGahee, Ravens – McGahee scored two more touchdowns against the Lions, and he also rushed for 76 yards. While most of those yards came in garbage time of a 48-3 blowout, McGahee’s proclivity to find the end zone makes him an acceptable flex option. He’s not an exciting guy to start, but he is a playoff flex option for fantasy owners. Verdict: Applaud

Ryan Moats, Texans – In the fantasy minefield that is the Houston backfield, Moats was this week’s beneficiary of the Steve Slaton injury. But while Moats’ 43-yard, one-TD game was a Texans’ best as well as a decent result for fantasy owners this week, there’s no way we can read Gary Kubiak’s mind and predict whether Moats will get the call again next week. So just stay away. Verdict: A fraud

Leonard Weaver, Eagles – Weaver is a fullback in the West Coast offense, which traditionally has been a four-TD for the season role. Weaver has scored two weeks in a row, and he’s getting a few more touches (at least seven the last four games). So if Brian Westbrook stays hurt, Weaver will actually sneak into the top 40 of fantasy running backs. That makes him an option in supersized leagues. Verdict: Applaud

Wide Receivers

Greg Camarillo, Dolphins – Camarillo had seven catches for 110 yards against the Jaguars, but don’t read too much into the game. Davone Bess was the Dolphins’ stud receiver last week, and Ted Ginn Jr. is still around. None of them is good enough to maintain that kind of production regularly enough for fantasy owners. Verdict: A fraud

Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu, Bears – Knox had five catches for 83 yards and a score against the Packers, while Aromashodu had six receptions for 72 yards and a TD. Those numbers were inflated because Devin Hester was out, and that means Aromashodu has no fantasy relevance going forward. Knox, meanwhile, is a top-40 wideout but shouldn’t start for your team except in a dire emergency. Verdict for both Bears: A fraud

Hakeem Nicks, Giants – Nicks scored his sixth touchdown of the season against the Giants during a 110-yard game. While Nicks has gotten much of his production in garbage time, he seems to be growing into a bigger role with the Giants, and that makes him a fantasy option despite his rookie mistakes. Verdict: Applaud

Steve Smith, Panthers – Smith’s fantasy value has been depressed all season by crappy quarterback play, but Matt Moore is at least capable of finding Smith downfield. That led to a two- catch, 83-yard day against the Patriots, and it also included a touchdown. While you can’t feel 100 percent comfortable starting Smith, he’s still good enough to be a top-24 fantasy wideout. Verdict: Applaud

Tight Ends

John Carlson, Seahawks – Carlson found the end zone against the Texans, but he had just three catches for 24 yards. Carlson was a top-12 tight end entering the season, but he’s barely top 20 at the position now. Verdict: A fraud

Fred Davis, Redskins – Davis had just three catches against the Raiders, but he amassed 50 yards and scored two touchdowns on those grabs. Davis now has four touchdowns in the last three games, and that means he should be in a lot more fantasy starting lineups at this key point in the season. Verdict: Applaud

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Jersey Numbers: Running Backs

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post. Now we move to running backs, who wear numbers between 20 and 49.

20 – Thomas Jones, Jets – It was surprising to hear during this week’s Jets/Patriots game that Jones had moved into the top 30 of all-time NFL rushers. That’s an impressive accomplishment, especially for a guy who struggled as a top-10 overall pick in his first stop in Arizona. But in subsequent stops in Tampa Bay, Chicago, and now New York Jones has proven he can produce. He’s an easy choice here over young whippersnappers Steve Slaton of Houston and Darren McFadden of Oakland. Other notable 20: Justin Forsett, Seahawks

21 – LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – LDT is no longer the dominant force he was in his prime years, but if one of the top 10 backs of all time is playing in the league, we have to give him the number nod, even over a stud like Frank Gore of San Francisco or a long-time producer like Fred Taylor of the Patriots. Other notable 21s: Mike Bell, Saints; Ryan Moats, Texans; Javon Ringer, Titans; Melwede Moore, Steelers

22 – Matt Forte, Bears – Forte had an outstanding rookie year last year, but this year he’s been stymied by a subpar offensive line. Still, he gets the nod at this point over Julius Jones of the Seahawks and Fred Jackson of the Bills. Other notable 22s: Peyton Hillis, Broncos; Jacob Hester, Chargers; Chris Brown, Texans; Clifton Smith, Buccaneers

23 – Ronnie Brown, Dolphins – Before suffering a season-ending injury, Brown was continuing to prove himself as one of the league’s top-10 backs. Throw in the fact that he can throw it out of the Wildcat, and Brown gets the nod over Marshawn Lynch of the Bills and Pierre Thomas of the Saints. Other notable 23s: Willis McGahee, Ravens; Shonn Greene, Jets

24 – Marion Barber, Cowboys – Marion the Barbarian isn’t having a dominant year, but he’s still a really good back. We have no choice but to give him the nod over comeback story extraordinare Cadillac Williams of Tampa Bay.

25 – Ryan Grant, Packers – While Reggie Bush’s 25 is a best selling jersey not just in New Orleans but league wide, Grant has been the more consistently productive back over the past three years. So we’ll give Grant the nod over Bush. Other notable 25s: Justin Fargas, Raiders; LenDale White, Titans; Garrett Wolfe, Bears; Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

26 – Clinton Portis, Redskins – Although he’s sidelined by a concussion at the home, Portis’ long and productive career makes him an easy choice here over promising rookie Beanie Wells of Arizona.

27 – Ray Rice, Ravens – Brandon Jacobs of the Giants has a bigger profile, and Larry Johnson of the Bengals has a longer career, but Rice is the best back wearing this number right now. Rice is a threat running and receiving, and he can move the chains as well as bust the big play. So he gets the nod over Jacobs, Johnson, and rookie Knowshon Moreno of the Broncos.

28 – Adrian Peterson, Vikings – This is a close call, because Peterson and Chris Johnson of the Titans – probably the two best backs in the league – both wear the same number. We’ll stick to conventional wisdom and lean toward Peterson in this close call. Otehr notable 28s: Jonathan Stewart, Panthers, Correll Buckhalter, Broncos; Felix Jones, Cowboys; Derrick Ward, Buccaneers; Maurice Morris, Lions

29 – Joseph Addai, Colts – Addai isn’t a great back, but he’s good both as a runner and a receiver when he’s healthy. With Leon Washington of the Jets hurt, Addai is an easy choice at this number. Other notable 29s: LeSean McCoy, Eagles; Michael Bush, Raiders; Glen Coffee, 49ers, Chester Taylor, Vikings

30 – John Kuhn, Packers – Green Bay’s fullback is the only notable back currently wearing 30. Thankfully, he has gotten into the end zone often enough to make this selection look respectable.

31 – Jamal Lewis, Browns – Lewis isn’t the back he once was, but the former 2,000-yard rusher has had a terrific career. He’s the clear choice at this number over rookie Donald Brown of the Colts. Other notable 31s: Rock Cartwright, Redskins; Jason Wright, Cardinals

32 – Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – Jones-Drew has moved seamlessly from being a part-time back to a full-time guy this year while still producing big numbers in terms of yardage and touchdowns. That gives him the nod over Cedric Benson, who is having a terrific season with the Bengals. Other notable 32: Jerious Norwood, Falcons

33 – Michael Turner, Falcons – The Burner has been incredibly productive since joining the Falcons in 2008, and that makes him the best back wearing 33 over pass-catching specialist Kevin Faulk of New England and short-yardage specialist LeRon McClain of Baltimore. Other notable 33: Justin Griffith, Seahawks

34 – Ricky Williams, Dolphins – Ricky wins the battle of the Williamses over DeAngelo Williams of Carolina based on Ricky’s longer career track record of production. Both are outstandingly talented backs. Other notable 34s: Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers; Kevin Smith, Lions; Tim Hightower, Cardinals; Ovie Mughelli, Falcons; Sammy Morris, Patriots

35 – Jerome Harrison, Browns – It’s slim pickings at this number, so we have to give the nod to Harrison, who has had a moment or two as Jamal Lewis’ backup. Other notable 35s: Owen Schmitt, Seahawks; Dan Kreider, Cardinals; Chad Simpson, Colts

36 – Brian Westbrook, Eagles – Westbrook, who has been a terrific multipurpose back for many years now, is the easy choice at this number. He’s a truly great player. Other notable 36: LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals

37 – Jason McKie, Bears – McKie, the Bears’ fullback, gets the nod here over recent Bengals signee Fui Vakapuna, another fullback. Neither will make fans forget a great fullback wearing 37 – Larry Centers of the Cardinals.

38 – Samkon Gado, Rams – Gado has had a few moments in the league, so although he’s just a backup in St. Louis now, we opt for him over Vikings fullback Naufahu Tahi and injured Dolphins back Patrick Cobbs.

39 – Steven Jackson, Rams – Jackson plays for a terrible team, but he remains a terrific bellweather back for St. Louis. He gets the nod over the declining Willie Parker of Pittsburgh and the inconsistent Laurence Maroney of the Patriots. Other notable 39: Madison Hedgecock, Giants

40 – Brian Leonard, Bengals – As we get into the 40s, we’ll have a harder time finding backs wearing these numbers. Leonard, the Bengals’ do-everything back is the only notable runner wearing 40.

41 – Lorenzo Neal, Raiders – Neal has long been one of the league’s best blocking fullbacks, but his career is winding to a conclusion, which is why he’s bounced around in recent years.

42 – BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots – The law firm, as Green-Ellis is called, has done a good job when called on by the Patriots. Other notable 42s: Tony Fiametta, Panthers; Mike Cox, Chiefs; DeShawn Wynn, Packers

43 – Darren Sproles, Chargers – Sproles, the mite-sized, dynamite-powered Chargers back, gets the nod here over underrated Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver.

44 – Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants – Bradshaw, once the speedy portion of the Giants’ RB trio, has emerged as the team’s best runner this season. He gets the nod over a batch of fullbacks here. Other notable 44s: Heath Evans, Saints; Luke Lawton, Raiders; Vonta Leach, Texans; Moran Norris, 49ers, Jason Snelling, Falcons; Mike Karney, Rams

45 – Mike Sellers, Redskins – In a batch of fullbacks, Washginton’s Sellers gets the nod because of his short-yardage acumen and special-teams impact. Other notable 45s: Ahmard Hall, Titans; Brad Hoover, Panthers; Jerome Felton, Lions

46 – Ladell Betts, Redskins – Betts is the only notable back wearing 46. Thankfully, he’s a solid player who has produced when he has gotten the chance to fill in for Clinton Portis.

47 – Lawrence Vickers, Browns – Vickers, a fullback, is the only notable NFL back wearing 47 right now.

48 – None – Poor Stephen Davis. (We went to the same high school.) No current back is making his former number 48 proud.

49 – Tony Richardson, Jets – Richardson has long been one of the league’s better fullbacks, and he now plies his trade with the Jets after stints in K.C. and Minnesota. He’s the only back currently wearing 49.

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud – Week 9

Each week, we dive into the stat sheets to see which weekly performers fantasy owners should applaud and which fantasy owners should write off as frauds. You can read past applaud or a fraud analyses in the category listing. And if we’re changing a past recommendation, we’ll include it here as well.

Quarterbacks

Matt Cassel, Chiefs – Cassel threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs valiantly but ultimately unsuccessfully tried to rally against the Jaguars. This is the kind of game that makes Cassel a decent fantasy backup, and his instant rapport with Chris Chambers is encouraging. But Cassel still is no better than the 15th best fantasy quarterback. If a quarterback between 15 and 20 on the chart helps you, Cassel’s your guy. But we can’t recommend him as more than that. Verdict: A fraud

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers – In his first career start, the rookie Freeman led the Buccaneers back to a 38-28 victory over the Packers. And while he completed just 14-of-31 passes, he ended up with three touchdown passes plus a two-point conversion. That’s more than fantasy owners can expect from Freeman on a weekly basis, but the fact that he showed he can do it makes him worth a pickup in leagues where any starting quarterback has value. If you’re in a 16-team league or a league in which you can start two quarterbacks, Freeman is worth a waiver claim. But your league has to be that big for a pickup to be worth it. That’s why we’re not clapping at this point. Verdict: A fraud

Matthew Stafford, Lions – Stafford threw two first-quarter touchdowns against Seattle, but he ended up with a rather pedestrian game with 203 passing yards and those two scores. Plus, he had five interceptions, which really hurts in many fantasy leagues. The best news is that Stafford is showing he is healthy. But as of now, it’s still hard to see Stafford contributing for fantasy owners unless they’re in a league in which starting two quarterbacks is a good option. Verdict: A fraud

Pat White, Dolphins – You might have noticed that White had 45 rushing yards against the Patriots out of the wildcat formation. But he had just one pass attempt, which was incomplete. My guess it that White got so much use because he was drafted to take the Wildcat to the next level specifically against the Patriots, which is why he got so much work in this particular game. But that view means that White has little to no value for fantasy owners going forward, even in leagues that feature multiple quarterback starters. Verdict: A fraud

Running backs

Ladell Betts, Redskins -After Redskins starter Clinton Portis suffered a concussion in the first quarter, Betts stepped in and had 15 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta. If Portis is sidelined, Betts is a borderline top 20 fantasy back, which makes him a starter in most leagues. That means that Betts is unquestionably worth a pickup if he’s available in your league. Verdict: Applaud

Jamaal Charles, Chiefs – With Larry Johnson suspended, Charles was supposed to be the Chiefs’ answer at running back. But while he averaged six yards per carry, he had just six carries and 36 rushing yards. That was half of the carries that Chiefs running backs got, in large part because the Chiefs fell so far behind so early. Charles is still the Chiefs’ best answer at running back, but that doesn’t mean he’s a legitimate answer for your fantasy team. He’s not a top-30 back. Verdict: A fraud

Ahman Green, Packers – Green had 45 rushing yards in Green Bay’s shocking loss at Tampa Bay, and he did it on just six carries. That’s enough to tell us that he’s now the primary backup to Ryan Grant. But Green isn’t worth a pick up unless you have Grant on your roster and want some insurance. Green is just too old to be a major fantasy factor at this point unless Grant gets hurt and the Packers run out of options. Verdict: A fraud

Laurence Maroney, Patriots – Maroney had another good game with 82 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, and he did it in a close game. He’s now had a touchdown in three straight games and appears to be emerging as the Patriots’ No. 1 running back once again. That’s enough to make him a flex type of play in 10- or 12-team leagues. Maybe, just maybe, Maroney will once again live up to the fantasy hype he had two or three years ago. Verdict: Applaud

Ryan Moats, Texans – After his huge game in Week 8, Moats won a starting role in Houston. But Moats didn’t deliver on his shot, rushing for just 38 yards on 16 carries and fumbling once at the goal line. He did have a short receiving touchdown, and Moats got more work than Steve Slaton, but he looks more like a flex option than a surefire starter. Verdict: A fraud

Derrick Ward, Buccaneers – Ward has been one of the biggest fantasy disappointments at running back this season, and although he had a receiving touchdown against Green Bay, he still had just five rushing yards on four carries. So don’t let his 54 receiving yards fool you. Ward’s still not a guy that fantasy owners can count on. Verdict: A fraud

Beanie Wells, Cardinals – Wells got some extended work in Arizona’s blowout win over Chicago, and he paid off with 72 rushing yards on 13 carries. But Wells is still behind Tim Hightower in the Cardinals’ pecking order, and that means that Wells remains outside the top 30 at running back. So for now, Beanie has to remain on the bench in your fantasy league. Verdict: A fraud

Wide receivers

Earl Bennett, Bears – As the Bears flung the ball around in an ultimately unsuccessful comeback attempt, Bennett piled up 93 receiving yards on seven catches. Bennett is having a decent year, but he’s still outside of the top 50 fantasy receivers when you look at the rest of the year. Unless you’re in a mega-sized league of 16 teams or more, it’s not worth owning Bennett despite this solid game. Verdict: A fraud

Greg Camarillo, Dolphins – Camarillo is the Dolphins’ version of Wes Welker lite, and against the real Welker he had a decent game with five catches for 71 yards. Camarillo isn’t a guy with much fantasy upside, but if you need a fill-in to get you 50 yards or so he’s a decent bet. That’s not worth a waiver claim in most leagues, but if you’re desperate Camarillo is a name to know. Verdict: A fraud

Chris Chambers, Chiefs – Chambers, who was cut by San Diego earlier this week and then claimed on waivers by the Chiefs, broke out in his first game with K.C. He caught two second-half touchdowns and finished with three catches for 70 yards and those two scores. I don’t know if you can count on Chambers to be a consistent fantasy threat going forward, but he’s worth a claim this week so that you’re in position to see if he does. Claim him on a flier because there’s just enough of a chance that he might actually produce in his new home. Verdict: Applaud

Jason Hill, 49ers – Jason who? Hill, who had no catches this season and only two catches in his three-year career entering Sunday’s game against the Titans, had four catches for 50 yards with two touchdowns in that game. That looks like the epitome of a fluke. Hill should still be behind Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce, and Josh Morgan in the Niners’ WR pecking order, and San Fran doesn’t throw enough to support a fourth receiver as a fantasy option. Verdict: A fraud

Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter, Texans – Both Jones and Walter finished the game with 67 receiving yards, Jones on four catches and Walter on five. It’s so hard to separate which of these two if Houston’s No. 2 receiving target now that Owen Daniels is out that you can’t start either guy with confidence. For now, Jones and Walter need to stay on your bench until we figure out which one is going to be the more dependable fantasy producer. Verdict: A fraud

James Jones, Packers – Jones is generally the Packers’ No. 4 receiver, but he moved up a slot with Jordy Nelson out. That enhanced role showed, as Jones had four catches for 103 yards and a touchdown against the Packers. Jones probably won’t deliver anything close to this on a regular basis, but he is capable of producing numbers every once in a while. Jones is a decent Hail Mary-type of player if you’re stuck, but with bye weeks all but done you likely won’t be in that much of a pickle. That means that Jones is worth leaving on the waiver wire. Verdict: A fraud

Lance Long, Chiefs – Chambers wasn’t the only Chiefs wideout to break out with a big game. Lance Long, who was with head coach Todd Haley in Arizona, had eight catches for 74 yards. Long isn’t a top-40 receiver, but in large leagues he’s worth a claim because he may be a guy the Chiefs want to take an extended look at the rest of the season. That could add to his fantasy value quite a bit. Verdict: Applaud

Robert Meachem, Saints – Meachem had a big game against Carolina, catching five passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. With Lance Moore continuing to battle injury problems, Meachem is developing into the Saints’ No. 2 wide receiver behind Marques Colston. Meachem had been a bust in his first two seasons, but he’s starting to contribute, and he’s moved into the top 40 among fantasy wideouts. Even better for fantasy owners, Meachem has a chance to continue moving forward. He’s got upside, and that makes him worth a claim if he’s still on your league’s waiver wire. Verdict: Applaud

Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars – Sims-Walker has emerged as Jacksonville’s top receiver, and he is delivering big fantasy numbers as a result. His huge day Sunday against the Chiefs – six catches, 147 yards and a touchdown – is just a reminder that you should be starting Sims-Walker if you have him. Here’s the rule – if a Jaguar has a hyphenated last name, he should be in your lineup. Verdict: Applaud

Tight ends

Greg Olsen, Bears – In one league Sunday, I had to put Olsen in my lineup as a wide receiver/tight end at the last minute because Donald Brown and Anquan Boldin were both inactive after being questionable. That worked out, as Olsen exploded with three touchdowns among his five catches for 71 yards. Part of that was because the Bears were being blown out and therefore in throw-it-around mode, but it goes to show Olsen’s ability as a receiver. Maybe this will spark Olsen the rest of the season. At the very least, it rewards Olsen owners who have been patient. Mark Olsen down as a top-15 tight end right now and hope that this positive trend continues. He’s back to being a guy you should think hard about starting on a weekly basis. Verdict: Applaud

Brandon Pettigrew, Lions – Pettigrew caught a touchdown in the first quarter against Seattle and finished with a supersolid seven-catch, 70-yard game. He’s moving into the top 16 to 20 tight ends, which is putting him in starting range in large leagues. There still may be better options on your league’s waiver wire, but owners no longer need to be afraid of Pettigrew’s rookie status. He can contribute to your team. Verdict: Applaud

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