Arian Foster's injury has thrown a kink into the top of draft boards. How should fantasy owners proceed? What about the slew of unproven backs primed for starring roles this season? Plus, how should you handle Justin Blackmon? Our fantasy experts Michael Beller, Eric Mack and Brian Flood discuss in this week's fantasy roundtable.
It's time for us to plant a flag on Arian Foster. Where do you rank the riskiest first rounder?
Beller: Compared with most others in the industry, I was down on Foster at the start of the summer. I felt he had been worked too hard in the last few seasons, evidenced in part by his 4.1 yards per carry and 40 receptions last year, both career lows since becoming a starter in 2010. When I say "down," though, I mean I didn't view him as the slam-dunk No. 2 choice behind Adrian Peterson. Now I believe the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. The back and calf issues he dealt with in training camp are a concern, but he's back on the field, and a player of his stature doesn't need any real seasoning before the real games start. I'm all for targeting high floors early, but it's not as if the players you'd take ahead of him are without their warts. Foster has racked up 1,115 touches in the last three regular seasons, but he also just turned 27 over the weekend. The Houston offense is built around him, and you can't overstate the benefit of having a running back on a contender. Foster is the third player on my board behind Peterson and Jamaal Charles.
Mack: I haven't budged from having Arian Foster as the No. 2 pick in fantasy behind Peterson, even with the drama over his back and calf ailments. It was all overblown in training camp. Sure, he hasn't worked out, but he is still in good shape for the start of the season. There is still plenty of time to get game-ready. Heck, the lack of beating in training camp should merely viewed as a positive right now. Don't buy into all the media hype all the time. Foster is still the safest pick after Peterson on draft day. I just don't buy Charles behind able to handle the feature-back workload that awaits him. He isn't even in my top five.
Flood: Your first-round pick typically doesn't win you the league. Everyone is going to have an elite talent after Round 1. Often, the key to your first selection is making sure you won't lose the title because of a risky selection. Foster is an absolute stud, but 956 carries over the last three seasons is alarming. It's nearly impossible to contend if your first-round pick doesn't stay healthy for the majority of the season. Other running backs, such as C.J. Spiller, Trent Richardson, LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch and Ray Rice, are perfectly adequate top picks and don't come with as much ruin-your-season potential as Foster. One of the most important rules in fantasy this season: If you select Foster, you had better draft Ben Tate before anyone else in your league even thinks about it. Remember when Priest Holmes got injured and trendy handcuff Larry Johnson carried fantasy owners to the championship? This situation could be very similar to that.
Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas have been splitting duties this preseason, but Miller got more work and looked like the better back against the Buccaneers on Saturday. Coach Joe Philbin has yet to announce Miller the starter, but it feels like a foregone conclusion. Is he a reliable RB2?
Beller: This has felt like a charade on Philbin's part, the kind of thing coaches do to motivate players during training camp. I'm comfortable going all in on Miller as an RB2. The Dolphins' zone-blocking scheme fits Miller's strengths -- blazing speed, and cutback ability -- to a tee. He has looked capable in pass protection, and the coaching staff has shown confidence in him in short-yardage situations, though he didn't pick up a yard on back-to-back carries from Tampa Bay's 4-yard-line. It appears the Dolphins are committed to giving Miller every opportunity to be a workhorse this year, and that, combined with his skill set, give me a ton of confidence in him as a second back, especially when you compare him with the other options coming off the board in the third and fourth rounds.
Mack: The fact the Dolphins even kept Thomas in the mix to be the feature back late into camp doesn't say much for Miller, who should have run away from the job. Thomas is still a potential touchdown vulture and the better pass protector, so Miller needs to prove worthy of full-time duty before he is drafted in the top 20 running backs in fantasy. You are better off making him one of the last starters picked in drafts. The Dolphins offense doesn't seem all that potent going into the season, Miller is unproven and Thomas will still be a drain near the goal line.
Flood: Lamar Miller is a better running back than Daniel Thomas... no question about it. Would I target Miller as my RB2 for fantasy purposes? No. The main reason is because Daniel Thomas is horrible. If Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland didn't have a man crush on Thomas, he wouldn't even be a blip on 2013 fantasy football radars. Frankly, the fact that Thomas has even made his battle with Miller a "competition" makes me petrified of Miller, and that's coming from someone who typically loves U of Miami running backs. Miller has a high ceiling and should run away with the starting job, but he's far from "reliable."
The Giants offense sputtered against the Jets in Week 3 of the preseason, but David Wilson showed why he is the object of obsession for a large portion of the fantasy community with his 84-yard touchdown run. How high are you willing to go on Wilson? Where do you rank him in comparison with ADP peers such as DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden and Ryan Mathews?
Beller: The electrifying run against the Jets was Wilson at his best, and shows exactly why he has fantasy owners so excited. The home-run speed is an arrow in his quiver, and 84-yard scores are the types of singular plays that can win you a week. However, the Giants offense really struggled outside of that run, and Wilson picked up just eight yards on his other four carries. Center David Baas is considered week-to-week with a sprained MCL, and tackle David Diehl will miss six weeks after undergoing thumb surgery. That's going to trickle down to the rest of the offense, something that was evident against the Jets. Couple that with Wilson not expected to get goal-line carries, and my enthusiasm remains tempered. I'd rather have Murray and Mathews, though I'd take Wilson over McFadden.
Mack: Wilson will be the best running back picked after Round 2 in fantasy football this year, and that's only because I believe DeMarco Murray should be off the board in Round 2. Wilson is a top 20 fantasy running back going into the season, but we haven't see his speed and breakaway ability at the position since Chris Johnson was the running back known as CJ2K. Wilson will be hard-pressed to get even 1,200 yards, but his talent suggests he can finish as a top 10 fantasy running back and a fantasy first-rounder for 2014. You should not touch McFadden at his draft position, particularly with the expectedly putrid Raiders supporting cast. Mathews is intriguing, too, but he will have to surrender the pass-receiver numbers to Danny Woodhead, so he is a mere fifth-round pick in fantasy. Wilson is going to be a star.
Flood: David Wilson has the tools to be an elite fantasy running back. However, he's a better fantasy player than a real football player. He's a steal at his current ADP if he receives ample carries, but his poor pass protection and blocking skills scare me. I'm sure Eli and Tom Coughlin are also concerned. Wilson is the type of player who could be having a monster season, but one fumble and one missed blocking assignment would result in him losing carries and playing time. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden and Ryan Mathews don't have this problem, but they do have a problem... they're always hurt! I'd roll the dice on Wilson learning how to block before I gamble on Murray, McFadden or Mathews staying healthy. It's a pick-your-poison situation. I'd rank them Wilson, Murray, McFadden and then Mathews.
Justin Blackmon came on strong at the end of last season, and he has carried that right over into the 2013 preseason. He's going to miss the first four games of the season due to suspension, but that might just be an opportunity for the enterprising fantasy owner. What are your expectations for the talented second-year receiver?
Beller: There might not be a bargain opportunity I'm more excited about than the chance to steal Blackmon late. He didn't register in fantasy leagues for the first half of last season, but was one of the top receivers in the league over the final seven weeks, hauling in 38 receptions for 615 yards and four touchdowns. Too many owners hear the words "four-game suspension" and instantly cross a player's name off their cheat sheet. That would be a huge mistake with a player of Blackmon's caliber. He may only get 12 games this year, but I'd rather have 12 games of him at his draft-day price than 16 of Tavon Austin or Anquan Boldin at their respective prices. I'm forecasting 62 catches, 864 yards and eight scores.
Mack: If not for the four-game suspension, Blackmon would have been drafted as a fantasy starter in three-receiver leagues and flex formats. He has legit top-10 potential long term. The problem, starting in Week 5 this season, will be how much can you expect from the Jaguars passing game, especially if Cecil Shorts will be entrenched as the go-to man at that point? Blackmon is going to be one of the best picks on the board after the top 35 receivers. Don't let him fall too far after that point.
Flood: I love Justin Blackmon. Too bad he doesn't have an NFL-caliber QB throwing to him. The good news is that only Carolina and Green Bay have byes before Blackmon's suspension is over, so he's a high-upside backup receiver to plug in your fantasy lineup as needed. The Jaguars should be losing basically every game and teams tend to air it out when playing from behind. Keep in mind that Jacksonville has a bye in Week 9, so Blackmon's already missing five weeks of the fantasy season. He has sneaky value if a savvy owner uses him the correct way.
A special question for our readers in two-quarterback leagues. Which signal caller generally ranked outside the top 15 is the best bet to significantly outperform his draft-day price?
Beller: In 2011, Alex Smith had the best season of his career to date, completing 61.3 percent of his passes for 3,177 yards, 7.1 yards per attempt, 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He was on pace to blow that season away last year, throwing for 1,731 yards, 8.0 YPA and 12 touchdowns while hitting on 70.2 percent of his attempts through nine games. We all know what happened next. He suffered a concussion, and Colin Kaepernick turned him into Wally Pipp.
Unlike Pipp, though, Smith moved on to a great situation after his version of Lou Gehrig sent him packing. Andy Reid helmed one of the best versions of the West Coast offense during his time with the Eagles. The scheme is perfectly tailored to Smith's strengths. It's no coincidence he had the two best seasons of his career playing for Jim Harbaugh, who also employed the West Coast offense in San Francisco. Not only does he fit perfectly with his new coach and scheme, but also he has one of the great pass-catching backs in Jamaal Charles, and a true No. 1 receiver in Dwayne Bowe. Quite often, the key to winning two-QB leagues is hitting a home run with your second quarterback. Smith can be the round-tripper you need.
Mack: Smith is nice, but he is out of the top 20, not just the top 15. Andy Dalton is 18th in ADP on Yahoo! Josh Freeman is 22nd. Dalton is 18th on ESPN and Freeman is 24th. Ben Roethlisberger is 20th on CBSSports, while Freeman is 22nd. Among the backups in fantasy football after the top 12 in order are: Big Ben, Eli Manning, Dalton, Joe Flacco, Freeman, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Sam Bradford and then the Chiefs' Smith. I like all of those guys as starters in two-quarterback leagues. E.J. Manuel has emerged, too, with a solid start to his preseason before the knee issue put his Week 1 in jeopardy. Freeman seems to be the one universally underrated in ADP. He has an elite running back and receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams in his supporting cast. Only the Giants' Manning has a deeper collection of talent around him in that group.
Flood: Brandon Weeden almost has to be productive. Everybody loves TE Jordan Cameron, Trent Richardson is an elite young running back and the Browns will be forced to throw when they're losing games. Josh Gordon will return in Week 3 with tremendous upside and all of the sudden... the Browns have weapons. Crazy, right? Coach Rob Chudzinski's vertical passing scheme is the perfect recipe for fantasy success and Weeden could be in the right place and the right time.