Fantasy Cheat Sheet: Andre Ellington a star in waiting, more storylines

Sunday November 17th, 2013

Andre Ellington has gotten only 54 carries this year but is averaging 7.2 yards per rushing attempt.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

It would be great, at least for Andre Ellington owners, to see Bruce Arians come to his senses just a bit. Ellington should be a fantasy beast, and could be just that if his head coach was willing to give him just a few more touches per game. Of course, Arians remains loyal to Rashard Mendenhall and is parroting the theory that Ellington could break down with an uptick in carries. The evidence suggests Arians is allowing Ellington's smallish stature to fool him.

Ellington was a prime feature back at Clemson. He had 223 carries and 22 receptions as a junior, and 212 carries and 14 catches as a senior. He ran for more than five yards per carry both of those years and led the ACC in carries his final year in school. Just as important, he remained healthy. I'm not exactly sure why Arians believes he couldn't handle a similar role in the pros, but it's holding back his team, as well as Ellington's fantasy owners. Whether or not his presence increases, he's a great play against the Jaguars on Sunday. They allow the fourth most fantasy points per game to running backs, and have surrendered 4.6 yards per carry and 14 rushing touchdowns this season. Just one team, the Titans, have allowed more, and that's because they just gave up three to the Colts on Thursday night. Make sure you have Ellington active this week.

We'll be updating here Sunday morning with important news as it breaks. Meanwhile, Alessandro Miglio and Eric Edholm will be taking your start/sit questions in The MMQB's live chat from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET.

10:47 a.m. update: Weather could be an issue in Chicago and Pittsburgh. It is raining and, more importantly, very windy in both cities. You shouldn't let that sway you from starting your best players, though. That means Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Calvin Johnson, Torrey Smith and Antonio Brown should still be in your lineups. However, players on the fringes, like Josh McCown, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger could be a bit of a risk.

11:15 a.m. update -- There could be weather troubles in Cincinnati for the Battle of Ohio, too. The song remains the same here. Start A.J. Green, Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. Be careful with Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell. And if you can avoid all six kickers involved in these three games, especially Robbie Gould and Justin Tucker with potential 60 mph wind gusts in Chicago, you should do so.

11:50 a.m. -- The biggest injury news thus far is the surprise inactive status of Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. You were already starting Matt Forte, but he could be in line for a monster day now, especially when you consider the weather conditions. This is good news for Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, as well, and boosts the stock of Josh McCown. He's a solid QB2 for those of you in two-QB leagues.

12:05 p.m. -- Other than Ngata, there are not any big active/inactive surprises. That means you should start Vincent Jackson, Tony Gonzalez, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson. Chris Ivory should be considered an RB2. Michael Floyd, Harry Douglas and, to a much lesser degree, Santonio Holmes can be considered depending on your roster composition.

12:16 p.m. -- We've been expecting this most of the week, but it appears we finally have confirmation. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports that the Patriots will active Shane Vereen for Monday's game against the Panthers. Of course, it's a risk to roll with him given that you probably won't be able to sub someone in if he's a surprise inactive, and the Panthers have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. Still, I consider Vereen a solid flex play this week.

12:41 p.m. -- I've been getting a lot of questions about Riley Cooper this morning. Put simply, if you own him you should be starting him no matter what. He has been a legitimate WR1 with Nick Foles under center, and Washington allows the sixth-most fantasy points per game to receivers. I'm betting he scores as a top-10 receiver this week.

The Week 11 Shane Vereen conundrum

The Patriots have not committed to anything regarding Vereen's status for Monday night's game with the Panthers, but signs indicate he will suit up for the first time since Week 1. Assuming he does, Tom Brady will finally get his full complement of weapons on the field at the same time, an occurrence that has yet to happen this season. While Vereen will be a real asset in fantasy leagues the rest of the year, he's a dicey play this week.

Let's start with that pesky Bill Belichick, who likely won't give the fantasy community any clarity before owners need to set their lineups. He almost certainly won't go on record as to what Vereen's role will be if he does play. That alone creates a high degree of uncertainty that makes Vereen a risk. On top of that, the Panthers present him with a very tough matchup. They've allowed the sixth fewest fantasy points per game to running backs this year, having surrendered just 3.8 yards per carry and two rushing touchdowns. This isn't to say owners must avoid Vereen at all costs this week, just understand that he is not the slam-dunk play he will be in many weeks for the rest of the season.

Handicapping the Brian Leonard/Bobby Rainey timeshare

Leonard and Rainey will split carries in the Tampa Bay backfield in the wake of Mike James' season-ending ankle injury. Leonard is likely to lead the timeshare, especially if last week is any indication. Rainey got just 11 snaps last week compared with Leonard's 48. Leonard also had a role in the offense prior to the Doug Martin and James injuries thanks to his prowess as a pass blocker. However, Rainey also did a whole lot more with his touches than Leonard did with his. The second-year back out of Western Kentucky ran for 45 yards and a score on eight carries while Leonard picked up just 57 yards on 20 totes. Leonard may be ahead of Rainey on the depth chart, and he's definitely better in pass protection, but there's no denying the success Rainey had in limited action last week.

So where does that the pair for Week 11? The chance that both of these guys produce stat lines worthy of a fantasy starter is slim. One of them should put up the numbers of a top-20 back against an Atlanta defense allowing 4.6 yards per carry, though, and it's up to us to figure which one is more likely to do it. I'm tempted to go with Rainey, but the volume is too hard to ignore here. Leonard is expected to get more touches, and when you're digging this deep, it's almost always best to go with the guy who will have more opportunity. I'm calling Leonard a starter in most 12-team leagues. Rainey is a guy you should only consider if desperate.

Percy Harvin makes his much-awaited return

It's somewhat curious that Harvin will make his return this week. The 9-1 Seahawks shouldn't need him to beat the Vikings, and with their bye looming in Week 12 he could get two more weeks off to prepare for the run to homefield advantage and the playoffs. I suppose it's understandable that he'd want to play against his old team, but it just seems like a potentially shortsighted move for both him and the Seahawks.

Alright, that's enough of me fretting over Harvin's motivations. Let's talk about what he can do on the field on Sunday. First of all, this is a great matchup for him or any receiver. The Vikings allow the eighth-most fantasy points per game to receivers and have given up a league-high 21 passing touchdowns this season. Pierre Garcon and Jordy Nelson have burned them in recent weeks. Their one saving grace could be a decent pass rush that ranks 12th in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The Seahawks' one weak link is their offensive line, and if the Vikings can take advantage of that they could make it hard on Russell Wilson to connect with his receivers.

And yet, I don't see that happening. If I own Harvin, I'm riding with him this week. I'd also start Golden Tate. Consider Doug Baldwin a WR4.

Pumping the brakes on the PT Cruiser

Pierre Thomas had a nice run of solid, though not spectacular, games before exploding for 111 total yards and two touchdowns against the Cowboys last week. Despite that, Week 11 is no time to ride with Thomas.

First, consider his opponent from a week ago. The Cowboys have been a sieve on defense all year, allowing the most fantasy points per game to running backs and quarterbacks. This is a team that made Mark Ingram look not only like a viable NFL running back, but like a star. Second, Thomas had done most of his damage before last week, when he was the lone runner in New Orleans' backfield. Against Dallas, Darren Sproles and Ingram combined for 28 touches. The Saints won't run 80 plays against the 49ers like they did against the Cowboys, and you can bet both Sproles and Ingram will be involved again. The Niners actually don't present a terrible matchup -- they've allowed the 12th most fantasy points per game to running backs -- but it's not a clearly beneficial one, either. While none of these points taken individually would be enough to bench Thomas, they combine to make a compelling case against the seven-year veteran out of Illinois. I've got him scoring outside the top 25 backs this week.

Taking a one-week break from Cecil Shorts

This is a tough one for me, as I've been a huge Shorts supporter in general this year, and even more so after Justin Blackmon's suspension. I cannot, however, in good conscience recommend him as a starter for Week 11. The Jaguars host the Cardinals, who have allowed the 10th fewest fantasy points per game to receivers and have surrendered just 6.6 yards per attempt. Shorts should get a healthy dose of Patrick Peterson, who has been one of the best corners in the league by any measure, on Sunday. Pro Football Focus ranks Peterson as the 13th most effective corner in the league this year, and the 11th best in pass coverage.

There remains a chance that Shorts could get saved by volume. The Jaguars are likely to throw the ball a ton given that the Cardinals have allowed just 3.5 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns this season. Pro Football Focus ranks their run defense as the 11th best in the league, and that's bad news for a Jacksonville team that the site ranks dead last in run blocking. Couple that with the fact that the Jags could very well be trailing for most of the game, and Chad Henne might put the ball in the air 50 times. If that's the case, Shorts could produce a helpful day by racking up the targets. Consider him a WR3 and very deep flex play for the week.

Injury wrap lightning round

• Adrian Peterson sat out practice on Thursday and Friday with a groin injury, but he's listed as probable and will play against the Seahawks. He's had 10 days to recover from his last game, and Seattle doesn't present as tough a matchup for a runner as you might think. They gave up 158 yards to Mike James and 134 yards to Zac Stacy. They've only allowed four rushing scores on the year, but runners get 4.2 yards per carry against them.

• Ryan Mathews (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday's practice. Get him in your lineups against a Miami defense that allows the second most fantasy points per game to running backs.

• Vernon Davis practiced in a limited capacity on Friday after suffering a concussion last week, and will be a bit of a risk on Sunday. The Niners play in a late kickoff against the Saints, so you'll have to have a backup ready if you plan on activating Davis. Some names to consider as insurance include John Carlson and Brandon Bostick.

• Harry Douglas (knee) practiced in full Friday. You should feel confident in him going up against a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed 7.2 YPA and 17 passing touchdowns this season. Teammate Tony Gonzalez is a game-time decision with a toe injury. This is an early game, so we'll know whether or not he plays with our full roster at our disposal. If he goes, start him.

• Michael Floyd looks good to go for Sunday, though he is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury. The matchup with Jacksonville is pretty good, as the Jags have surrendered 7.7 YPA and 18 passing touchdowns this year. He's a decent option for those digging deep.

• Santonio Holmes should make his return from a hamstring injury this week. He's a sneaky play against a Buffalo defense that allows the second most fantasy points per game to receivers. Remember, Jeremy Kerley is out.

• Marlon Brown may not play against the Bears on Sunday because of a knee injury. The Bears have been terrible against the pass this season, allowing 8.2 YPA and 14 touchdowns. Now they're without Charles Tillman, their best player in the secondary. It could be a monster day for Torrey Smith.

• Matt McGloin is likely to start in place of Terrelle Pryor (knee) on Sunday. The Texans defense could win some weeks for fantasy owners.

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