October 02, 2012

The NFL fantasy season is full of decisions. Join SI's roundtable of fantasy experts each week to help sort through the lineup choices, injuries and waiver-wire options that can make or break a season. Each week, we'll also feature a question from our readers, which you are free to submit each Sunday of the season at the @SInow Twitter feed.

1. After being criticized by Chargers GM A.J. Smith for his fumbling issues, Ryan Mathews found himself in a timeshare for carries in Week 4 with Jackie Battle. Should Mathews owners be worried?

Mike Beacom: Mathews is still the future of the franchise, but for now the answer is yes. The Chargers seem content working both backs into the rotation, and until Mathews clearly outperforms Battle that won't change. I'd suggest sitting Mathews for a week or two to see how this plays out.

Will Carroll: Definitely. Mathews has always seemed right on the edge of being a solid fantasy back, but something always seems to get in the way. Usually it's injury, but the fumbling thing seems like a bit of a reach. Mathews is coming back from a collarbone fracture and that can affect a lot of things or cause the kind of unconscious flinch that can result in the hands moving. Mathews has talent and Battle is ... well, he's the kind of guy you want as an RB3. I don't think this particular issue will last, but at some point, Mathews is just too much of a risk to keep waiting and hoping. Worse for Smith, is there any team in the NFL that would trade for Mathews?

Eric Mack: Yes, because we were promised a breakthrough year. Instead, we have gotten a breakdown year. Mathews is not only sharing carries and dealing with fumbling issues, but now he has surrendered the goal-line back role to the bigger, more trusty Battle. That will cut into Mathews' fantasy value more than a mere timeshare. Touchdowns are what makes a decent fantasy running back a great one. We were hoping for greatness, but we have gotten mediocrity at best.

David Sabino: I would be. Mathews was highly touted during the offseason but I've never bought into the idea that he's an every-down back. He seems to thrive when sharing the load with a bigger, more powerful goal-line type runner like a Mike Tolbert or now a Battle. With the success the Chargers are having with this backfield setup, I'd be surprised to see it change anytime soon.

2. The Dolphins' passing offense exploded against a tough Cardinals defense. Who do you trust to continue the good times in Miami?

Beacom: Other than Reggie Bush, I wouldn't put a single Dolphins player in my lineup. Brian Hartline? Maybe save him a spot on my roster as a No. 4 receiver. Ryan Tannehill? Not a chance. On occasion, good things happen to average players and below-average units. They're called flukes.

Carroll: Hartline had a career day, but is this a signal or noise? Hartline is the clear WR1 and there appears to be a good connection between quarterback and receiver. I know a lot of people didn't see this coming because Hartline managed to avoid the Hard Knocks cameras completely. Hartline manages to get just open enough and Tannehill manages to get him the ball. Doing that against a tough defense indicates that the simple mechanics can continue absent a major change. So yes, I'm buying on Hartline; not at ridiculous levels, but I do think he's a solid WR2 on most fantasy teams right now.

Mack: There were some surprises in this Dolphins offense Sunday, for sure. Bush can be a factor and Tannehill showed enough to make Hartline and Davone Bess viable options in PPR leagues. There won't be another 400-yard passing day for the Dolphins this season -- we shouldn't have expected even one -- but you can consider Hartline and Bess solid possession receivers in a rhythm Joe Philbin passing game. Get them now in PPR leagues, especially as bye weeks affect the depth of your rosters.

Sabino: There's no doubt that Philbin's and Mike Sherman's offense is based on throwing the ball a lot and that can only be good news for the fantasy values of Dolphins players. I've been high on Hartline since the offseason and already have him on my roster (although, unfortunately, on my bench this week). Bess is also a quality player to have stashed at the end of your bench, especially in PPR leagues. However there are still many more attractive options than Tannehill, who despite 431 passing yards, still found himself out of the top 15 quarterbacks in terms of fantasy points of for the week.

3. After finally breaking out of the doldrums with 141 yards rushing in Week 4, is it time to sell high on Chris Johnson or bet that he has found his groove?

Beacom: Sell. This was not Johnson's last big game, but fantasy owners will never know if next week has 141 or 14 yards in store. Why go crazy guessing week to week?

Carroll: Hold for one more week, then sell high. I've been advocating trying to buy low on Johnson, but the market can switch just like that. Johnson had a nice game, but the evidence we have is three weeks of bad games and one week of good, adding to a bad 2011 season. Johnson's not reliable now, even if we get glimpses of the 2,000-yard talent. With Jake Locker likely out next week, Johnson could get more touches and edge his value up more. Don't get too greedy.

Mack: Sell! Sell! Sell! Johnson's team is a mess and he still faces some elite run defenses going forward. This isn't just a good time to sell, either. It might be your last chance to sell at a decent rate. Johnson likely frustrated you for three weeks in your starting lineup and Sunday on your bench. Consider this a blessing in disguise to get you some value in return.

Sabino: It's pretty clear to me that he's someone to sell high on. Take this golden opportunity while you have it and cut bait as long as you can get real value for him. I've heard of some owners willing to take just about anything to rid themselves of C.J., but I wouldn't go that far. If you can strengthen another position while not putting yourself out at running back, then make a deal. If not, then gamble that the upward trend will continue.

4. Brandon Bolden played tag-team with Stevan Ridley in the Patriots' backfield in Buffalo. Will the trend continue for Bill Belichick?

Beacom: Yes, because Bill Belichick doesn't care about the norm or fantasy football. Heck, Danny Woodhead could lead the team in carries once or twice this year. I expect the unexpected with Belichick. And that's why fantasy owners with Ridley should not rely on him to be anything more than a spot starter.

Carroll: I think Belichick is the new Mike Shanahan. Now that the Redskins are locked in on Alfred Morris, trying to figure out which back will get the most carries in New England is the new guessing game. I don't play that, which means I can't play any of these backs, including Ridley, who I had high hopes for coming into the season. Most weeks aren't going to be like this one, with yards and touchdowns enough to go around for two backs. I'm not sure whether Bolden is even worth a stash at this stage.

Mack: Running is a trend that will continue, yes, but understanding how much each back runs will be a question left with an open answer. Ridley is going to remain the primary back, so continue to consider him a starter in fantasy leagues -- even against a tough Broncos run defense next week. Bolden should be owned, but starting him outside of being a low-end flex right now is a big risk. This is still a pass-heavy Tom Brady offense.

Sabino: Bolden is a ball-control, between-the-tackles type of north-south runner. Ridley is more east-west, faster, able to get around the corner. Together they are a formidable tandem. The Patriots love to have options to keep the opposition guessing and this is right up their alley. It surely will mean strife for fantasy owners, but if you guess correctly, both are worth owning.

5. What is up with Doug Martin?-- Grant Stevenson @GStevenson3

Beacom:As is common with rookie backs, preseason expectations were set way too high. People bought into Greg Schiano's "run early and often" offense and overlooked the fact that Martin still needed time to adjust. Moving forward, fantasy owners can expect a few big days, just not consistency. And like all first-year rushers, Martin is a candidate to hit a wall come December.

Carroll: 24. 20. 19. 8. If this was one of those number puzzles where you have to find the next number in the sequence, I'm not sure what it might be, but the pattern is clear. Martin is getting fewer touches, got a touchdown poached and isn't putting up yards or points. I'm not sure it's Martin; the Bucs are running less and that's a chicken-egg issue. Are they running less because Martin is ineffective or is Martin ineffective because they're running less? Greg Schiano needs to spend a little more time in practice figuring out the running game than he does worrying about kneel downs.

Mack: The game circumstances have limited Martin of late. First, D.J. Ware has taken over third-down back duties, and LeGarrette Blount has apparently wrested the goal-line back job away, too. That leaves merely 15-20 carries and 80-to-90 yards rushing a game for Martin going forward. That is unexpected, because coach Schiano wanted a feature back doing everything, but he might have asked too much from Martin too soon, because he's involving others now. Martin remains someone to own, even through his bye week, so don't give up on the rookie just yet.

Sabino: This week with his team on a bye you'd better believe that Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan will be asking, and hopefully solving, the same question. Martin debuted with a bang against Carolina but has been much more pedestrian of late (and really, doesn't everyone run well against the Panthers?). Part of that has been Josh Freeman's reliance more on the passing game and part of it stems from Ware and Blount getting more involved in the offense. Either way I wouldn't panic on Martin yet, at least until the Bucs play a couple of games after the bye.

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