NFL fantasy roundtable: Absence of Vick could boost Young, McCoy
Each week of the NFL season, a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will huddle together and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
1. Should Michael Vick miss a significant amount of time because of his injured right hand, whose stock will rise and whose will fall with the Eagles?
Will Carroll: The big winner or loser could be Mike Kafka. He looked great when Vick was knocked out in Week 2, but terrible in Week 3. Kafka had the chance to be Matt Cassel, but now has put enough doubts in Andy Reid's mind to make Vince Young a possibility, if he's healthy. I think LeSean McCoy will get more attention with Vick not back there, which could show us how good "Shady" really is.
Gary Gramling: It's a downer across the board for the Eagles, with the possible exception of Brent Celek. The tight end's value has gone all Wile E. Coyote since Vick stepped in. Even after all the preseason talk of utilizing Celek, Vick has targeted him 11 times for a 6-59-0 line through three games. Celek would be worth a look if paired up with Kafka, and even more so with Vince Young, who made Bo Scaife a household name (well, at least in my household).
Eric Mack: The absence of Vick might not directly impact anyone's value. This is going to be a good offense no matter which quarterback runs the show; we should be convinced of that. Kafka struggled late against the Giants, but he was great in relief against the Falcons. The biggest riser could be Young, if he is selected to start. He is Cam Newton years before Newton, so we could see some rushing scores and plenty of yards in that Eagles offense.
David Sabino: New reports say that Vick doesn't have a broken hand, so he'll be all right as long as he can deal with the pain. It's hard for McCoy's value to get any higher at this point, and DeSean Jackson is as dangerous a speed receiver and return man as there is in the league right now.
2. Chris Johnson struggled for the third straight week. Is he still shaking off the rust of missing training camp or should fantasy owners start planning around him for the rest of the season?
Carroll: Here's my question about this: what was Johnson doing while he was holding out? He's obviously in condition, so what's missing? Is anyone saying his timing is off? Does he not know the plays? What is it that Johnson's not doing, besides gaining yards? I don't have the answer, but I'm not sure we've been asking the right questions either. I do think you have to go to Plan B until he shows he can put up some decent yardage, which is harder than losing a player to injury I think.
Gramling: Despite being a self-proclaimed expert, I can't figure out what's going on with Johnson. There shouldn't be any rust because he would have gotten, what, 10 touches in preseason play? (Remember The Simpsons self-help guru Brad Goodman's "Feel Bad Rainbow? Perhaps Johnson is patient zero for uncontrollable falling down syndrome.) If I was drafting in the league that ran from Weeks 4-17, I'd still draft Johnson in the top 5.
Mack: He shouldn't have struggled last week, so yes, we should be concerned. There shouldn't be this much of an impact of missing training camp. Emmitt Smith held out two games back in 1993 and he was rushing for 100 yards by Game 3. C.J. should have been fine by now. You cannot do anything but start him, though. You have hitched your wagons to the highest-paid running back; he will do no good for you on the bench. Wait for the revival.
Sabino: I wouldn't plan around him for the season but I'd have a plan B just in case he struggles against the soft Browns run defense. All indications are that Johnson doesn't have any injury; he's simply dealing with timing issues and the lack of reps running behind his offensive line. He'll be just fine before long, and if he stays healthy will be one of the highest-scoring fantasy players come playoff time.
3. San Diego's Ryan Mathews put forth a solid effort against the Chiefs while Shonn Greene struggled yet again for the Jets. Which trend are you more confident in?
Carroll: Both. Greene's just not going to take that next step, while Mathews (and Tolbert) are showing that they fill their role well in SD. Where the Chargers have taken guys and figured out how to best use them, it doesn't seem like the Jets have been able to figure out what role Greene can succeed in.
Gramling: Probably Mathews. I've been riding shotgun on the Ryan Mathews Bandwagon since last winter (snagged him 16th overall in the SI mock draft), and this is exactly what I expected of him. Mike Tolbert has been awful; he's on the verge of being a complete non-factor. As for Greene, he hasn't been able to find a rhythm due to some suspect play-calling (sorry Brian Schottenheimer, no Mark Sanchez-led offense should be throwing 62.2% of the time), but I don't necessarily think he's looked bad. It's a big concern that LaDainian Tomlinson continues to take red zone reps, but I'd take Greene as a buy-low candidate. The Jets should run the ball more as the wind starts whipping around the Meadowlands (and as logic sets in with the coaching staff), and a relatively fresh Greene could be a handful for defenses in the second half of the season.
Mack: Mathews still isn't his team's primary focus. The Chargers are still pass first, run second. Greene should get out of his early season malaise, especially since the Jets are run first, pass second. The Jets should have learned last week they cannot deviate from their plan to run the ball. Mark Sanchez had a busy day against the Raiders, but it wasn't a victorious one. Greene will be ridden harder down the stretch. So, to answer the question, neither Week 3 performance looks like a real trend -- although Mathews' breakthrough is promising and long overdue.
Sabino: Part of Greene's struggles on Sunday stemmed from LaDainian Tomlinson's super-human ability against the Raiders, which got the old pro more reps than usual. The other major factor was the absence of center Nick Mangold on an already shaky offensive line. I still have confidence in Greene but it's getting harder to believe that the player who led the NFL in playoff rushing two years ago will become a top fantasy player. Mathews' game against the Chiefs was meant to be a confidence builder and he definitely earned more opportunities, especially in light of Mike Tolbert's recent struggles. But I'm still not completely sold on either trend just yet.
4. Torrey Smith of the Ravens and Victor Cruz of the Giants both emerged from seemingly nowhere for huge performances in Week 3. Which player has more long-term value this season?
Carroll: Smith. Speed plays and the Ravens don't have anyone else that can do that. Injuries gave him a chance, but he'll remain that home run threat. With Cruz, the thing to remember is that Giants coaches have been looking at him for a while now, day after day, and think he's their fourth or fifth best option. When Manningham comes back, Cruz will bump down and lose targets. He's not bad, he's just not better. Opportunity makes Smith the better play.
Gramling: Smith, though he's more of a high-risk WR3. Joe Flacco has been desperate for a deep threat, and we saw what he can do when he has one. I'm just not sure what kind of role Smith has if/when Lee Evans comes back healthy. As for Cruz, he's already getting knocked down the depth chart with Mario Manningham's return. And while the end result was nice (110 yards, 2 TD's), you could watch 1,000 years of professional football and not see two more feeble attempts at tackling on a single play than Kurt Coleman and Nnamdi Asomugha turned in on Cruz's 74-yard catch-and-run TD.
Mack: It was interesting to see these guys take off in both of their first career starts. Cruz was the star of the preseason in 2010 before going through an apprenticeship with the Giants a year ago, which ended when he was put on IR (inadvisably) for a hamstring issue. Cruz has his growing pains under his belt, and breaking out with a pair of touchdown grabs -- against arguably the best corner in the NFL (Nnamdi Asomugha) -- is eye opening. Smith is a better talent and long-term project, but trusting rookie receivers is tough. Let's go with Cruz, but it should be close. In the end, both aren't more trustworthy than using as bye-week replacements this year.
Sabino: Smith has the chance to become the Ravens top receiver this year and for years to come. Cruz is a nice complement to Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, but he won't surprise many teams as he did the Eagles. I like Smith's upside more.
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