Fantasy football roundtable: Are Wentz, Booker, other rookies still worth owning?
- Carson Wentz started out hot, but has since cooled off this season. Devontae Booker looked to have a starting job when C.J. Anderson got hurt, but it hasn't quite turned out that way. What should fantasy owners do with these (and other) rookies?
Pat Fitzmaurice: Well, Beller, in the span of a week we've seen the Cubs win the World Series and Donald Trump win the presidency. You have to figure that by this time next week, the oceans will have turned to molten lava and we'll be dealing with a worldwide locust plague. If there's anything you want to get off your chest regarding the election, have at it, but I'm going to whistle past the graveyard. I'm already tired of reading about and talking about the election, so the chance to engage in some football chatter is a welcome relief.
Could we talk about some of the rookies? I think we can skip past the two Cowboys—Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott—since their value is pretty obvious. Zeke is currently RB4 in fantasy scoring while Dak is QB9, and it doesn't feel like either one is playing over his head. But let me take your pulse on some of the other first years, because some of them are in the midst of pretty significant value shifts.
Let's start at quarterback. Carson Wentz was terrific in his first four games, but he's hit the wall in his last four. It seems that once defensive coordinators had a decent catalog of film on him, it became pretty easy to defend him. And it's not like Wentz has a lot of playmakers to help make him look good. Jordan Matthews is pretty solid, and ... um, well ... there's not much else with the possible exception of Zach Ertz, who isn't exactly mounting an assault on Rob Gronkowski's throne. Wentz had a bright future, but is he even worth owning now?
The rookie RBs I'm anxious to talk about are Devontae Booker, Jordan Howard and Rob Kelley. Booker looked terrific when he was playing in a change-of-pace role behind C.J. Anderson, and then when Anderson went down, it seemed as if Booker was poised to become a major fantasy asset. But in two games without Anderson, Booker has been pretty mediocre; now there's even talk that he might lose some work to the heretofore anonymous Kapri Bibbs, who took a screen pass 69 yards for a touchdown last week. I'm still cautiously optimistic on Booker and have him ranked RB12 this week, but I have to at least acknowledge that his no-frills running style—some would call it a no-vision running style—might play better in a complementary role.
Beller, I know you're a Jordan Howard fan. Still bullish? I'm sort of on the fence with him simply because I consider the Bears' offense to be a wild card. And what about Rob Kelley? Jay Gruden has made it official that Kelley has passed Matt Jones on the depth chart, but Washington faces a lot of tough run defenses the rest of the way, and Kelley's college numbers at Tulane don't exactly hint at a bright NFL future.
Michael Thomas is clearly the best of the rookie receivers and is on a 94–1,146–10 pace. So tell me, would you rather have Thomas or Allen Robinson right now? Thomas or Michael Crabtree? Thomas or Stefon Diggs? And one more question about a rookie receiver: Do you think Will Fuller will recapture his early-season form at some point in the coming weeks?
Michael Beller: I don't want to skip entirely past the Cowboys without saying a few quick words about them. Have we ever seen a pair of rookie teammates this good? I mean, forget about them being a quarterback and running back for a second. Have we ever seen two rookies on the same team play to the heights of their respective positions the way Prescott and Elliott have? Maybe there was a pair of teammates from the '60s or '70s who could stack up to Prescott and Elliott, but there's nothing in my NFL cognition, which goes back to about 1993 or so, that comes close to what we're seeing from them. That they're a quarterback and running back makes it all the more more impressive and impactful. And that they both have really cool names makes it even better.
Not only is Wentz way off the radar in traditional leagues, I think he's ideally a QB3 in superflex leagues. All his owners in those formats may not have that luxury, but if I'm a Wentz superflex owner—and, because of some trades, I am one in a 12-team superflex league—I want him to be the backup to my two regular starters. That's exactly where I have him, slotted behind Eli Manning and Jay Cutler. You diagnosed his case perfectly. Once there was enough tape on him he became exposed, and he doesn't have a great cache of weapons surrounding him. When Matthews is far and away you're best weapon in the passing game, you're going to need to make a lot of plays on your own—which Wentz did early on, but that avenue has since been shut down by opposing defenses. It's probably worth noting, too, that three of those four games came against the Browns, Bears and Lions. Not exactly a trio of the league's best defenses there.
I discussed Booker at length in this week's Target and Snap Report. It's obviously too early to say the jury is out, but I think we're seeing his true colors now that he has more responsibility. We see this time and again in all sports. In baseball, it's typically in the form of a platoon player thrust into an everyday role who can't hit same-siders. In basketball, maybe it's a lights-out shooter being asked to defend the ball in ways that he just can't. Some players are meant to be part-time in all sports, and Booker just might be one of those guys. It's not as though he has seen two great run defenses, either. The Chargers and Raiders have been quite friendly to running backs from both real-life and fantasy perspectives, and Booker came up far shy of expectations in those games. He's a volume starter for me at this point. If Bibbs's role proves to be sizable, I think Booker is back in RB3 territory.
I have no doubts about Howard himself. I have plenty, though, about the situation he's in, most notably the decisions made by the coaching staff. If John Fox came out and said, "Jordan Howard is our starting running back and we're going to treat him that way," I'd have no qualms saying he's an RB1 for the rest of the season. We all saw what he did against the Vikings two weeks ago. Sure, 103 of his 202 yards from scrimmage came on two plays, but owning that big-play ability is part of what makes the great backs who they are. Howard is running for 5.1 yards per carry. He has at least 40 receiving yards in three of the five games in which he played 70% or more of Chicago's snaps. If you give him the ball enough, good things happen. I'm hoping that Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains give him the role he has earned.
I'll keep it short on Kelley. Pass. As you noted, Washington's has some challenging run defenses ahead of it, and Kelley was a bit of a mudder at Tulane. With Chris Thompson handling all the passing-down duties, I'm out on Kelley.
Give me Thomas over Crabtree easily and Robinson narrowly. I think I'd still rather have Diggs, though. As I pointed out in this week's Start or Sit, Diggs has 37 catches for 441 yards and two touchdowns in the four weeks during which he did not appear on the injury report. In the three games he played after being on the injury report, he has 11 catches for 105 yards. A healthy Diggs is a real weapon. But that should take nothing away from Thomas, who has been phenomenal and, in a season that didn't feature rookies like Prescott and Elliott, would be running away with the Offensive Rookie of the Year. As for Fuller, I love the player, but I hate the situation. I think he's too good to stay quiet the rest of the season, but I do not think he's going to be a consistent fantasy starter. Brock Osweiler just won't let that happen.
One of the themes of this season has been the league's declining ratings. But Fitz, have you taken a good look at this week's schedule, which just happens to fall after the World Series and election have wrapped up? Sunday Night Football is Seahawks-Patriots. The afternoon showcase game that most everyone in the country will get to see is Cowboys-Steelers. The Bengals, who have made the playoffs in five straight seasons, visit the always-a-big-draw Giants on Monday night. In the early slate we get Minnesota at Washington, two division winners from 2015, Kansas City at Carolina, two playoff teams from 2015, and Denver at New Orleans, the defending Super Bowl champion against Drew Brees and his offensive juggernaut. Something tells me the NFL planned for the ratings dip. I'd be willing to bet the numbers are back in a big way this weekend. Of all those games I just mentioned, which one most intrigues you from a fantasy perspective?
Fitz: You must still be in the throes of your post-World Series hangover, Beller. If I were giving you warmer/colder clues about the last rookie QB-RB combo as prolific as Dak and Zeke, you'd be so close to the answer that you'd sweating. Look no further than Ezekiel Elliott's backup, Alfred Morris. It's easy to overlook Alf because he came into the league as a lightly regarded sixth-rounder out of Florida Atlantic, but he and the much higher-profile Robert Griffin III ripped it up in 2012, finishing RB5 and QB5. It's a shame that RG3 has never been able to fulfill the promise he showed as a rookie, because he was an absolute joy to watch that year. But, hey, Dallas fans who are reading this are undoubtedly furious that I've steered a conversation about Dak and Zeke toward the Cowboys' despised archrivals in Washington, so let's move on ...
Yes, it's serendipitous that we'll be treated to an excellent slate of NFL games now that baseball season and election season are over. Can I give you two games that fascinate me instead of just one? There are some intriguing angles to Broncos-Saints. How will the Ingram-Hightower dynamic work for the Saints this week? What about the aforementioned Booker-Bibbs situation? Drew Brees is usually splendid in home games, but Denver has been smothering QB production all season. Trevor Siemian is revealing himself to be a pretty terrible NFL quarterback, but the New Orleans defense usually props up the quarterbacks it faces. Is the gap between these two pass defenses bigger than the gap between Brees and Siemian? It's like comparing the Grand Canyon to the Marianas Trench, isn't it?
The other one I find captivating is Seattle-New England. I'm always interested in seeing how the Patriots will try to attack a strong defense. It's possible that we'll see the return of Dion Lewis this week, which would be fascinating to watch. On the other side, can Russell Wilson can put together another strong performance on the heels of his showing against the Bills, and will Christine Michael continue to lose work to C.J. Prosise? And of course, there's the uber-specimen TE exhibition featuring Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Good stuff, man.
What about you, Beller? Which of these matchups most piques your interest from a fantasy perspective? And can I also get your take on a couple of WR-related matters?
You wrote extensively about Mike Evans in your Target and Snap Report this week on SI.com. He's on pace to rack up more than 200 targets and could threaten the record of 208 targets established by Rob Moore in 2008. (How odd that the target record is held by Moore, a good but not great receiver for the Jets and Cardinals in the '90s.) First, do you think Evans will break the record? Second, if you had to set your 2017 draft board today, what spot would Evans hold on your WR list?
The other guy I want to ask you about is Sammie Coates. I've been bullish on him, believing that if his wounded hand is sound, Coates has the potential to be a Martavis Bryant clone. Coates got fewer snaps while he was dealing with the hand injury, but with Darius Heyward-Bey out of commission, Coates played 65% of Pittsburgh's snaps last week. My point of view might be shaded by the fact that I own Coates in nearly every one of my leagues, so I need your unbiased call on this one, Beller. Put on your Jeff Triplette costume and officiate this one for me.
Beller: I completely snoozed on Alf and RG3, which is insane because I had a whole lot of RG3 that year. It's a shame what has happened to his career. As far as individual seasons go, 2012 Robert Griffin was as fun as it gets.
Cowboys-Steelers has all the elements we look for in a compelling regular season game. Two of the league's classic franchises that just happen to have a great head-to-head history. Two teams everyone expects to be in the playoffs, Pittsburgh's recent struggles notwithstanding. Two teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Great individual players on both sides. The Cowboys have come from seemingly nowhere to go 7–1 in the first half and lead the NFC East. This is their stiffest test to date. Will the defense be able to slow down Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell? Is Roethlisberger healthy, or will the Pittsburgh offense, such a juggernaut when it's clicking, continue to sputter? Will Dak Prescott rise to the moment at Heinz Field? Can reach the 1,000-yard mark on Sunday? It's going to be an incredible game, and one in which I believe the Steelers will come away victorious.
From a standpoint of pure selfish motivation, I'm also pretty excited for Bengals-Giants. I have more than one team in auction-draft leagues where I paired Odell Beckham Jr. and A.J. Green. Nothing like having that Monday night hammer.
Yes, I do think Evans is going to break the targets record. He's at 103 right now, which means he needs 106 to surpass Rob Moore's mark, set in 1997. In the three games since the Buccaneers placed Vincent Jackson on IR, Evans has 13, 11 and 17 targets, good for an average of nearly 14 per game. He needs 13.3 targets per game to set a new record, and I'm wondering how Jameis Winston could possibly target him less than that, on average. Even with Doug Martin back either this week or next week, the Buccaneers need to give Evans that many opportunities to make plays every week if they are going to remain a player in the NFC playoff race. I still have to slot him fifth among receivers on my 2017 board, behind Antonio Brown, Beckham, Julio Jones and Green. There's nothing wrong with being behind that quartet, of course. I think the five of them, along with David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott should be the first eight picks in '17 drafts.
I'm right there with you on Coates. We saw what he was capable of when Pittsburgh's offense was humming earlier this year and, as you said, he gets the benefit of playing without Heyward-Bey now. Sure, DHB isn't an existential threat or anything like that, but his presence necessarily siphoned targets away from Coates. With that fly out of the ointment, I think we see Coates turn in a big finish to the season. His skill set is simply too perfect a fit in Pittsburgh's offense, given everything else defenses have to worry about when they face the Steelers. I'm betting he comes up with one huge play against the Cowboys on Sunday.
Let's talk surprises for a second. Are there any upsets that jump out at you as realistic? And who's a DFS value this week that you think could swing contests?
Fitz: The Week 10 slate is so good that the spread is four points or less in 11 of the 14 games. There isn't a true "upset" pick in any of those 11 games (Thursday's Browns-Ravens matchup notwithstanding), so that leaves us with 49ers-Cardinals and Seahawks-Patriots. I think the well-rested Cards will blow the 49ers' doors off their hinges, so I'm not interested in the 13.5 points. I might have been interested in Seattle +7.5 if the Bills hadn't pushed the Seahawks to the limit on Monday night. Seattle will have had only five days of rest, while New England comes off a bye.
No quarterback has amassed more fantasy points than Marcus Mariota over the past five weeks, and he has a home matchup against a Green Bay defense that's still going to be without its top two or three cornerbacks. I have Mariota ranked QB3 this week, yet there are 15 quarterbacks more expensive than Mariota on DraftKings. We talked about David Johnson being a free square this week against the 49ers and their cheesecloth run defense, so he's a lock, too. But D.J. is expensive, which means I'll have to pinch pennies somewhere. I might stack Mariota with the inexpensive ($4,200) Rishard Matthews, who's scored five TDs in his last five games, or perhaps go with the dirt-cheap ($3,400) Dontrelle Inman, who could get extra targets as a result of the knee injury that's been troubling Travis Benjamin.
O.K., Beller, I need your top two or three DFS plays, and I also need you, as the biggest Rolling Stones fan I know, to give me your top five Stones songs. Here are mine:
1. "Waiting on a Friend"
2. "Tumbling Dice"
4. "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
5. "Let's Spend the Night Together"
As a Stones purist, are you offended by my placement of a latter-era tune atop the list? I can't help it; I love that song. True story: I was dealt 21 on five straight hands (either drawing to get to 21 or being dealt blackjack) at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas while the song "Tumbling Dice" was playing in the casino. I'd be lying if I said that didn't enhance my appreciation of a great tune. "Sticky Fingers" is far and away my favorite Stones album, which explains Nos. 3 and 4. (The guitar outro by Mick Taylor on "Sway" is phenomenal.) And of the old-school Stones songs, "Let's Spend the Night Together" has long been a fave. What about you? Steer the ship home with a Rolling Stones soundtrack playing in the background, amigo.
Beller: I'm not sure I've looked forward to a slate of games more than this week's, including Week 1, when anticipation and optimism always runs high. I'm with you on the Cardinals trouncing the 49ers and the Patriots handling the Seahawks. I know none of the others is a true upset, but I like the Chiefs, who are catching a field goal, to go into Carolina and knock off the Panthers.
I'm still in the process of finalizing my DFS lineups, but I've got the Mariota-Matthews stack going in all of them. I'm not quite as high on Mariota as you are, Fitz. I have him all the way down at No. 4 this week, not up at the lofty heights of No. 3. But when Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are the only quarterbacks ahead of you, you're in pretty good shape. How about Darren Sproles? Neither of us is a huge fan of the player, but he's a good bet to handle 15-plus touches in a great matchup considering his skill set. The Falcons have surrendered the second-most receptions and most receiving yards to backs this year.
Look, "Waiting on a Friend" is a fine song. In fact, after I read your list, I put it on. But I'm not sure it's a top-50 Stones song, let alone their best ever song. Am I offended? No, of course not. Music is very personal. But you're never invited to bring your personal music feelings into my house again.
Kidding, of course.
OK, my five favorite Stones songs. I've thought about this plenty of times in my life, but it's a Sisyphean task for me. Every time I think I have that boulder atop the hill it comes rolling back down with the realization that I left off "Moonlight Mile" or "Monkey Man" or "Midnight Rambler." I can get that boulder back up to the top today, but just know that my answer could look different the next time I reach the summit. And one quick note. I didn't include any covers. The Stones have plenty of their own great tunes to make those ineligible. Sorry, "Stop Breaking Down," "Love in Vain" and "Around and Around."
1. "Rocks Off" (The best 10 seconds to start an album ever)
2. "Gimme Shelter"
3. "Sweet Virginia"
4. "Dead Flowers"
5. "Spider and the Fly"
With that, it's time to let the Stones carry me all the way through the weekend. Enjoy the games, Fitz.