NFL fantasy roundtable: Smith's potential, Leinart's impact, more
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. Running backs Kevin Smith and Chris Ogbonnaya both made waves in Week 11. Whose stock are you higher on the rest of the season?
Mike Beacom: Can't say either player excites me, but of the two Smith has more upside. The Lions still believe Jahvid Best will return to the lineup this season. Until then, Smith will produce for an offense that keeps opposing defenses away from the line of scrimmage. Ogbonnaya will be Cleveland's primary back for the remainder of the season. However, no NFL running back faces a more difficult schedule (Baltimore twice, Pittsburgh twice and trips to Arizona and Cincinnati).
Will Carroll: Both have value that's based entirely on maintaining the status quo. If Jahvid Best or Hillis/Hardesty return, their value plummets. I guess I'm a bit higher on Smith -- which is hard for me to say, since I'm still bitter about drafting him in the first round a couple years ago -- since there's far more uncertainty about Best's return.
Gary Gramling: You have to take Smith's performance with a shovel full of salt considering it came against a Panthers defense that would give up 30 a game in the SEC. Nonetheless, he has the better shot at a strong finish. The Lions are going to move the ball, and Smith's going to be running against a lot of defensive backs. If I were a betting man, I'd say Jahvid Best doesn't play before Christmas. Talent-wise there's little separation between Smith and Ogbonnaya, but the Browns have no threat of a passing game, and they still have the likes of Pittsburgh (twice, if your league runs until Week 17), Baltimore and Cincinnati left on the schedule.
Eric Mack: It won't be close: Smith is a must-get off waivers. The Lions are an elite offense that can build leads for Smith to run out. The Browns are a plodding offense that doesn't figure to score a lot of points, regardless of the matchup --- even if the running game is the first priority. Montario Hardesty and Peyton Hillis can still return and put Ogbonnaya back in a reserve role, too. It is far less likely Best returns any time soon from his concussion issue. Smith scored huge in a very favorable matchup -- and he will be a risky start against the Packers --- but he is the most promising receiver down the stretch.
David Sabino: I like Smith much better for a few reasons. He plays in a much better offense in which he will not be asked to do things out of his skill-set. Defenses will not be stacked up against him. And with Jahvid Best questionable to return this season, the opportunity to contribute is tremendous. Even if Best does make it back onto the field, Smith has proven in the past that he's a better runner, so given Best's superior receiving skills, there could be a quality timeshare between the two. Ogbonnaya has to deal with an offense that's falling apart at the seams. While the line is solid, it won't be long before defenses start concentrating on stopping him. Also, the impending return of Montario Hardesty will cut into Ogbonnaya's carries, and not in a good way. He is, however, someone to keep tabs on for next season as he would benefit greatly from a full offseason. With Peyton Hillis unlikely to return to Cleveland in 2012, he'll have a chance at the starting running back job and be a quality sleeper.
2. Matt Leinart takes over the Texans offense this weekend. What supporting player(s) value feels the greatest impact?
Beacom: Owen Daniels may receive a boost from the change under center. The Texans will want to keep the passing game simple for Leinart, which means plenty of short-range options. The return of Andre Johnson should help to free up Daniels underneath, where he can dance around overmatched linebackers.
Carroll: The secondary receivers. Backup QBs tend to go for stars and open WRs. We'll have to see if Johnson is both, given his hamstring problem, but Owen Daniels could end up popping a bit. I think the Texans will run more, giving Ben Tate and maybe Derrick Ward a few more carries per game.
Gramling: It's a letdown for Johnson owners who have been patiently awaiting his return. He'll get his catches, but I can't see Houston letting Leinart throw it much in the red zone. Maybe Daniels gets a boost in what should become a very conservative passing game.
Mack: It won't be the running game under Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Those guys will get used even more, if that is possible. Johnson will remain a must-start, when he finally returns. The downgraded ones have to be the likes of Daniels, Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter. None of that trio is worth starting in fantasy until we see what Leinart is capable of. If you have to use one of them, it would be Daniels. A limited QB tends to be game-planned to use his backs and tight ends in the passing game.
Sabino: I would be very surprised if Leinart's role will be more than a caretaker whose main responsibility will be to hand the ball off to Foster and Tate while taking an occasional deep shot to Johnson. The Texans have the league's most dangerous rushing attack and now that Matt Schaub is out, it will be stressed even more than before. So to answer the question, I believe the running backs will be most affected -- in a good way. Don't be surprised to see more out of Derrick Ward before the year is out, too.
3. Jordy Nelson has been on fire of late for the Packers. Does he have more value than Greg Jennings going forward?
Beacom: At any point this season, one of Aaron Rodgers' secondary targets has been on fire (Jermichael Finley against Chicago, James Jones against Atlanta, etc.). Lately, Nelson has been the hot receiver. But through all of it, Jennings has remained Rodgers' No. 1 receiver. Even last week, playing with a bruised knee, Jennings was targeted six times (second only to Nelson's seven). And don't forget that it wasn't until this time last season that Jennings took flight for fantasy owners.
Carroll: Aaron Rodgers spreads the ball around so much that it's not just 1 and 1A, but 1B some games with Donald Driver or Jermichael Finley. The issue for me is that it's tough to predict which one will get the most targets because Rodgers spreads it around based on progressions and matchups, not game plans. I'm curious to see if we get any sort of coverage shifts and how telling those have been in the past.
Gramling: Nah. Jennings sat almost all of the second half with a shin injury on Sunday. But prior to that game, Jennings consistently played more snaps than Nelson, who often gets rotated out when they want James Jones or Randall Cobb on the field. Nelson has certainly closed the gap, but he's still the John Oates to Jennings' Daryl Hall.
Mack: It is hard to have more value than already being a must-start receiver. Nelson has earned that status that Jennings has already had for years. Nelson's breakthrough makes him a valuable commodity that might outscore Jennings every week here on out, but you still shouldn't be jumping at trading Jennings straight up for Nelson. That is perhaps the best way to measure both player's value beyond considering them must-starts weekly for fantasy owners.
Sabino: The way the Packers and Rodgers, in particular, are playing this decision is akin to choosing between a Ferrari and Lamborghini, It's personal preference. Both are Top 10 wide receivers and as such both should be played every week. It baffles me that every week people ask me if they should play Nelson or not. The answer will always be yes.
4. The Bills have fallen into a crater. Who can fantasy owners trust from Buffalo for the rest of the season?
Beacom: Fred Jackson, for one. He had a lousy game last week (calf injury) and still caught five balls for 50 yards. The remaining schedule will not be kind to the passing game, but of the available weapons, I still believe Steve Johnson has one or two big games in him. The shoulder injury doesn't appear to be a long term concern, and Johnson should benefit from Buffalo having to play catch up these last several weeks.
Carroll: If Jackson's injury is more serious than they're letting on, no one. He's the linchpin to this team, more than Ryan Fitzpatrick. Jackson and the Bills are really the one team using the run to set up the pass and losing that would be devastating.
Gramling: Jackson will be fine. As for the passing game, no one against the Jets this week. Maybe Scott Chandler, since he's just about the only one of Fitzpatrick's targets who could pass a physical right now. Long-term, I think they'll be alright once everyone's healthy. As ridiculous as it sounds, the bulk of their problems in Miami was due to the fact that they didn't have a center who could get the ball to Fitzpatrick, repeatedly throwing off the timing of every play. I expect Fitzpatrick and Johnson to be startable in the right matchups in December.
Mack: Clearly, it won't be Fitzpatrick. He has regressed significantly since September. Some of it can be blamed on Johnson's health --- or lack thereof --- the rest can be pinned on the schedule. The Bills are going to be playing in some bad-weather games, but the only player worth trusting is the first-half MVP, Jackson. He should be used heavily down the stretch in cold-weather games. He is a bad play against the Jets, but thereafter the Bills should remain close enough in games to keep him productive for fantasy owners --- even if he won't be his prior MVP-caliber form.
Sabino: It's hard right now to trust any Bills player. Jackson is slated to sit out practice early in the week due to a bruised right calf, but when he's finally deemed to be healthy, he's the only one to play. Fitzpatrick has been virtually worthless for fantasy owners the last three weeks. Johnson, who has suffered because of it and a shoulder injury, and David Nelson, who missed most of the Miami game with an illness, will be followed more closely by defenses now that Donald Jones is likely slated for the IR. Chandler has never been someone to rely on except as a shot in the dark for a touchdown. And C.J. Spiller, has yet to prove that he's an NFL-caliber runner, let alone a fantasy-worthy one. So for me, it's a healthy Fred regularly or Stevie in a pinch, but that's all.
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