Fantasy football Early Advice: RGIII returns, Rodgers' new toy, more
It has been clear from the beginning of the season that post-ACL-surgery Robert Griffin III is not the same guy who took over the league with his arm, legs and personality last season. He has looked tentative most of the season, unwilling to run and unable to drive the ball down the field. Remember, while Griffin's running ability took him to another level, he would not have been the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft, nor had anywhere near the success he had as a rookie, if he could not thrive as a pure passer. He wasn't that through the first month of this season, but with each passing week, he has showed a little bit more. He looked a respectable facsimile of the 2012 Griffin last week, especially by running for 77 yards on nine carries. With the struggling Bears defense in town in Week 7, it all came together.
Griffin threw for 298 yards, 10.3 yards per attempt and two touchdowns while running for 84 yards on 11 carries and leading a game-winning two-minute drill as the Redskins beat the Bears, 45-41. Washington called more read option than it had all year, and Griffin made the Bears pay over and over again. He threw one long touchdown pass, a 45-yarder to Aldrick Robinson, and while it was a touch underthrown, it was encouraging to see him get the ball downfield the way he did with such efficiency last year.
The NFL is a better, more exciting league with a healthy RGIII. That man appears to be back in fantasy owners' lives.
Let's get to the rest of the Week 7 news and how it might impact Week 8 and beyond.
Randall Cobb brought a special dimension to the Packers that was, and still is, going to be a serious challenge to replace. Given the system and the presence of Aaron Rodgers, though, many people felt Jarrett Boykin could step in and do a decent job filling his shoes. Not so many thought he would catch eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in his first start, going up against a Browns defense that had allowed the second fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers. That's exactly what Boykin did, putting the exclamation point on his day by catching a 20-yard touchdown with just under four minutes remaining in the game.
Boykin led the Packers with 10 targets, giving him a strong 80-percent catch rate for the week. He benefited from James Jones also being out with a knee injury, but I don't see his workload dropping off all that much when Jones returns. The Packers run most of their plays out of a three-wide set, so Boykin should be on the field for nearly as many snaps as he was on Sunday every week the rest of the season. Open up another tab on your browser and check out Green Bay's remaining schedule. Are you seeing this? Minnesota, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York Giants, Minnesota, Detroit. There is not an imposing pass defense in that group. Boykin could be a second-half star.
The NFL Network's studio show is my go-to for pregame on Sunday. This week, Steve Mariucci predicted the Eagles and Cowboys would combine to score 100 points in their battle for first place in the NFC East. While you're always going to be out on a limb calling for a C-note in one football game, it didn't seem like the craziest thing in the world. After all, Philly ranked sixth and Dallas ranked eighth in yards per game heading into Week 7. They also came in at 31st and 30th, respectively, in total defense. Naturally, Dallas won the game 17-3.
There were two touchdowns scored, one by a player, Philip Tanner, who is owned by less than five percent of the fantasy community. Not started. Owned. Dez Bryant had a big yardage day, but didn't find the end zone. LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson combined for 102 yards from scrimmage. Nick Foles had to leave the game due to a head injury. Tony Romo threw for 317 yards, but had more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one). All in all, it was a huge letdown for fantasy owners, but you still have to like the Cowboys skill players going forward, and that Foles played poorly enough to ensure that Michael Vick will get his job back when he's ready.
Nothing is worse than losing one of your most important players to injury. Quarterbacks and running backs generally fall under the heading of "most important." As such, if you started Foles, Jay Cutler or Arian Foster Sunday, three guys who were widely started across the fantasy world, you probably did not win.
BURKE: Texans' Foster hurt in QB Case Keenum's debut
As we just discussed, Foles had a great matchup, but went 11-of-29 for 80 yards before leaving with a head injury. Cutler also had a great matchup, but he left the Bears' game in Washington about halfway through the second quarter with what might be a serious groin injury. He threw for just 28 yards and an interception before leaving. Foster managed 11 yards on four carries before exiting Houston's eventual loss to Kansas City with a hamstring issue. Luckily for fantasy owners, they likely weren't counting on Foles or Cutler as anything more than a matchup play. The Foster injury could be big, though. Ben Tate left briefly with an injury, but it does not appear to be serious. He'd be the big beneficiary, so hopefully you've managed to keep him handcuffed to Foster this year. The Texans do have a bye next week, so Foster will have a couple weeks to get healthy. I just hope you didn't also invest in that Foster IPO.
BURKE: Cutler suffers groin injury against Washington
Week 7 observations
• No Julio Jones? No Roddy White? No problem for Matt Ryan, who completed 20-of-26 passes for 273 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in the Falcons' 31-23 win over the Buccaneers on Sunday. I was very worried about Ryan after he lost Jones for the rest of the season. While he's clearly not the fantasy mainstay he would be with Jones in the lineup, Ryan's performance this week should give owners confidence that he can be a player worth starting the rest of the season. Tampa entered the game in the middle of the pack in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, and it held Drew Brees in check earlier this year. One huge factor was the emergence this week of Harry Douglas, who caught seven passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. If he can be a reliable No. 1 for Ryan, the Falcons QB still might be able to finish the season in the Top 12 at the position.
• I thought Rob Gronkowski was supposed to make it all better for Tom Brady. Gronk did his thing, catching eight passes for 114 yards. Unfortunately for Brady, his fantasy owners and the Patriots, that represented exactly half of his yardage total for the day. Brady had just 5.0 YPA, which is a huge reason the Patriots fell to 5-2 on the season, losing to the Jets in overtime. Without anyone to reliably stretch the field, Brady just isn't hitting on any big plays -- and Brady is missing throws when he does have anyone running open deep. It's basically impossible to count on Danny Amendola coming back and staying healthy. Even if he were able to remain on the field consistently, he would do most of his work on short and intermediate routes. At this point, fantasy owners have to accept 2013 Brady for what he is: nothing more than a matchup play.
• Cam Newton finally arrived in the 2013 season last week, throwing for 242 yards and accounting for four touchdowns in a win over the Vikings. The counting numbers this week were no doubt a disappointment in a matchup with a Rams defense that had surrendered 8.2 YPA coming into the game. However, this game got weird early, thanks to a pick-six by Captain Munnerlyn in the first quarter. The outcome never felt in doubt, and the Panthers were able to keep the Rams' offense under wraps all day. Newton ended up attempting 17 passes, completing 15 of them for 204 yards and a score. That's good for 12.0 YPA. I'd get him in your lineup with confidence against the Buccaneers on Thursday night.
• The 49ers have reeled off four consecutive wins after losing two straight games in mid-September. In the two losses, they ran the ball a combined 43 times. In their last four games, they've run it 40, 36, 38 and 41 times. And with that, it's time to knock Colin Kaepernick out of the ranks of quarterbacks you start confidently every week. Kaepernick had a useful game on Sunday, but it had little to do with his performance as a passer. He had just 199 yards and zero touchdowns. He did run for 68 yards and a score, his first rushing touchdown of the season. With the Niners so heavily focused on the run game, it's impossible to blindly trust Kaepernick. Thursday, however, should be a great time to start him, as the 49ers meet the Jaguars in London to kickoff Week 8.
• I received a fair number of questions on Sunday morning regarding Aaron Rodgers. Some of you were unsure about starting him, given the injuries in the Green Bay receiving corps and the seemingly tough matchup with Cleveland. He then went out and calmly threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns in an easy Green Bay victory. Rodgers is Rodgers for a reason. He should have a field day with the Vikings on Sunday Night Football next week.
• Case Keenum did not exactly draw an easy assignment for his first career start. The Chiefs arguably have had the best defense in the league thus far in 2013, and Arrowhead Stadium is one of the most challenging venues for an opposing offense. Keenum more than held his own, completing 15-of-25 passes for 271 yards, one touchdown and zero picks. No quarterback, not Romo or Michael Vick or Eli Manning, has played better against the Chiefs this year. The Texans are now 2-5, and with Matt Schaub struggling, they may want to see what they have in Keenum. He could remain the starter for the rest of the year, and is worth a token bid when the Texans come off their bye.
• It is time to take Andy Dalton seriously as a guy you can trust in the right matchup. He dominated the Lions Sunday, throwing for 372 yards, 10.9 YPA and three touchdowns. This came on the heels of lighting up the Bills for 337 yards and three scores a week ago. The Bengals host the Jets next week, and while that is not a great matchup, Dalton is a guy you'll want on your roster as a solid second option.
• It's still a bit too early to know for sure, but it sounds like the Eagles may get Vick back from a hamstring injury this week. If he does play, he has a great potential matchup against the Giants.
• Doug Martin left Sunday's game against the Falcons with an injured shoulder after running for 47 yards on 11 carries. According to reports, he has a torn labrum and may be gone for the season. Sixth-round rookie Mike James is the next man up. Grab him if you can, but temper expectations given that offense.
• The final few fantasy owners holding onto hope for Lamar Miller probably lost it Sunday, and with good reason. Miller ran for 43 yards on nine carries. Meanwhile, Daniel Thomas picked up 60 yards on 12 carries. Unfortunately, it appears Miami has a full-fledged timeshare. It was already hard enough to start Miller due to his lackluster performance this season. Now that Thomas appears to have a steady role in the offense, it's all but impossible. You don't want anything to do with this running game.
• Speaking of nightmare running games, is there a bigger bust this season than C.J. Spiller? He was once again limited by his ankle injury, and ran for just 11 yards on six carries. Depending on your format, he might have made his day even worse by catching three passes for a loss of four yards. Fred Jackson scored again, but picked up only 36 yards on 11 carries. He did add 49 yards through the air, though, giving him a solid day in standard-scoring leagues. As surprising as it is to say this, Jackson is the only back you can trust on the Bills. Spiller has been banged up all year, and this looks like a timeshare for the rest of the season. Try to find better options next week, as Buffalo visits New Orleans.
• Rex Ryan must have just felt left out. He saw all the other teams in the AFC East with their muddy running back situations and didn't want his Jets to be the only team settled in the backfield. How else do you explain Chris Ivory getting 34 carries to Bilal Powell's three in the Jets win over the Patriots? Ryan said after the game that Ivory simply had the hot hand, but it was awfully hard for Powell to warm up touching the ball just three times. This is now another nightmare situation for the fantasy community. Powell owners can't possibly start him with any confidence against the Bengals next week. At the same time, while I'd put in a bid for Ivory, I wouldn't consider getting him active, either. There's no telling what sort of role either of these guys will play.
• I don't think there's any sort of running back controversy in Washington. Alfred Morris ran the ball quite well against the Bears, picking up 95 yards on 19 carries. Roy Helu's involvement was likely based on the specific game plan more than anything. However, most of Helu's 11 carries came inside the red zone, and he hogged all three of Washington's rushing scores. That could be a significant development for the rest of the season. If Helu is a true goal-line back, Morris' ceiling will be limited. Helu is worth targeting on the wire, but only Morris is worth starting in most leagues.
• Is this really Ryan Mathews? The ever-frustrating back piled up 110 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in San Diego's 24-6 win over Jacksonville, and has 212 yards in his last two games. Now before anyone gets too excited, remember his opponents. The Colts allow 4.6 yards per carry, and Jacksonville has surrendered the fifth most fantasy points per game to running backs. Still, it's hard not to be encouraged by Mathews' performance. The Chargers have a bye this week, then get Washington and Denver. He should be able to continue his hot streak once San Diego returns to action.
• Heading into Sunday's game with Pittsburgh, Baltimore had allowed 3.6 yards per carry and the second fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. Against those odds, rookie Le'Veon Bell racked up 93 yards on 19 carries. He didn't find the end zone, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless. He's a great play next week with the Steelers heading out west to take on the Raiders.
• Yeah, I think Vincent Jackson is going to be just fine with Mike Glennon as the starter. After catching nine of 14 targets for 114 yards and two touchdowns in Week 6, Jackson hauled in 10 of a ridiculous 22 (22!) targets for 138 yards and two more scores in Week 7. I don't really care who your quarterback is, if you're getting the ball thrown your way an average of 18 times per game, you're probably going to find a way to register in fantasy leagues. You don't have any reason to worry about Jackson for the rest of the year.
• We knew that Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green could put on a show in Detroit this week. They're two of the best receivers in the league, and they certainly played like it while watching each other up close and personal. The pair combined for 15 catches for 310 yards and three touchdowns. They put up identical 155-yard days, though Johnson got the better of Green in both catches (nine to six) and touchdowns (two to one). Green's team left Detroit with a win, though, so he was probably feeling a bit better at the end of the day.
• Jeremy Kerley played a big part in the Jets' overtime win against the Patriots Sunday, pulling down eight catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. He started the season a bit slowly, but now has put up at least 12 fantasy points in two of his last three games. Yes, those are selective endpoints, but they could also represent the beginning of a hot streak for the third-year receiver. The Jets have a tough matchup with the Bengals next week. However, that likely means Geno Smith will have to do a lot of throwing. Kerley could be a WR3.
• Look what a little opportunity can do for a receiver. Mike Brown saw an increased role for the Jaguars with Ace Sanders and Stephen Burton out, and he caught five passes for 120 yards. Let's not go too crazy here, though. These are still the Jaguars, and he's still running third at best behind Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. If you're in a deep league, though, he could be worth checking out on the wire. Speaking of Shorts, it was very encouraging to see him not only play, but also catch eight passes for 80 yards. You should feel comfortable using him as you normally would next week, even with a tough matchup against San Francisco.
• Six teams are on byes each of the next two weeks. Week 9 is particularly rough on the wide receiver position. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Calvin Johnson, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Larry Fitzgerald, Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts and Anquan Boldin will all be sitting. Kendall Wright, however, will be playing with a great matchup in St. Louis. He has 40 catches on 58 targets for 433 yards and a touchdown this season. He's not available across the board, but he is still out there in a majority of leagues. The Titans have a bye next week, so people looking for immediate help could overlook him. If you can project being down a player or two Week 9, give a look in Wright's direction.
• Jordan Reed has officially arrived in fantasy circles. Granted, he was going up against the pathetic pass defense of the Bears, and Lance Briggs was out most of the second half, but that doesn't change the fact that Reed absolutely dominated on Sunday. He caught nine passes for 134 yards and a score. RGIII looks like he might be all the way back. That makes Reed a regular starter in fantasy leagues.
• On the flip side of that is Timothy Wright, who picked up some juice after catching seven passes for 91 yards in Week 6. He was just a flavor of the week, though. Carry on.
• In Green Bay's first game of the season without Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley had his best output to date, catching five passes for 72 yards and a score. Given that Cobb operated in the middle of the field, it would figure that Rodgers would have to rely on Finley more often than usual. Unfortunately, he left the game with a neck injury, the severity of which is unclear. That makes his status moving forward unclear. If he's good to go, he's a top-seven tight end for the rest of the season.
• With Julio Jones and Roddy White out, many expected a huge day out of Tony Gonzalez. That didn't happen as he caught two passes for 30 yards. The Buccaneers could have zeroed in on him and dared someone else to beat them. The fact that he got only four targets was very surprising. However, Harry Douglas showed what he can do when given an opportunity. Something tells me Gonzalez will have a whole lot more room to operate against the Cardinals next week.
• If "Jacksonville Opponents" were a fantasy defense, it would probably finish the season in the top five at the position. San Diego picked up that role this week, sacking Chad Henne six times, forcing one turnover and holding the Jaguars to six points. You won't be able to stream their next opponent, unfortunately. The Jags head to London to take on the Niners.
• Let's go ahead and welcome Carolina to the group of defenses we trust in nearly any matchup. The Panthers dominated the Rams on Sunday, posting four sacks, three takeaways and a touchdown. They'll find themselves toward the top of the rankings again next week, as they head to Tampa to take on the Buccaneers on Thursday night.
• If the Saints owner in your league was forced to drop them because they were on a bye this week, you'll definitely want to target them on the waiver wire. (The same goes for two kickers who may have been dropped: Garrett Hartley and Sebastian Janikowski) Not only can the Saints be a solid defense for the rest of the season, but also they have a great matchup next week when they welcome the Bills to New Orleans.
MORE WEEK 8 FANTASY FOOTBALL CONTENT:
BELLER: Player Stat Projections -- RGIII finally looking like himself
SI STAFF: Player Rankings -- Gronkowski rewards his owners
EDHOLM, MIGLIO: Bold Strategies -- Have some faith in Vick
BELLER, FLOOD: Roundtable -- Which injury situation will hurt the most?
FLOOD: Waiver Wire -- James stepping up for Martin-less Buccaneers
McQUADE: Risers, Sliders -- Wilson gifted strong matchups in coming weeks
BELLER: Early Week 8 advice -- Boykin surprises for the Packers