Risers/Sliders: Fitzgerald making an impact; Bradford fading quickly
There are genuine reasons to be worried about the offenses in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Indianapolis. They all entered the season with different ceilings, but each was expected to be a reliable source of fantasy production. Thanks to injuries and underwhelming performances, though, all have fallen far short of expectations through two weeks. Those offenses are all involved in this week's Risers and Sliders, and the uncertainty within one in particular has created an opportunity for a new fantasy star to emerge.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts
Through two games, Moncrief has been just about the only positive fantasy player for the Colts. He received a lot of attention after T.Y. Hilton’s knee injury, and even though Hilton is essentially at 100% now, Moncrief will remain a fixture of our fantasy lives. Why is that? Well, it appears the Texans knew something about Andre Johnson when they let him go this past offseason. Johnson looks like he has nothing left in the tank, a fact that has to be apparent to the Colts by now. Expect Moncrief to supplant Johnson as the No. 2 target in the offense as early as this week. The second-year player out of Ole Miss already has 13 catches for 168 yards and two scores, and didn’t play much in Week 1 until Hilton suffered his injury. We know that Moncrief is a legitimate weapon for Andrew Luck, and this team already has to be searching for answers after an 0–2 start no one predicted. Getting the ball to No. 10 is one of those answers. He has WR2 upside for the remainder of the season.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
In all likelihood, Fitzgerald just had his best game of the season. After all, an eight-catch, 112-yard, three-touchdown game would be the best game of the season for pretty much every receiver. We also have to acknowledge that Fitzgerald did his damage against a Chicago defense that is almost certainly one of the worst in the league. The main takeaway, however, is that Fitzgerald is back on top in an potent, pass-first offense. John Brown will run past pretty much everyone, but Fitzgerald is obviously a more polished route runner, significantly more dangerous in the red zone. Michael Floyd is basically an afterthought. As long as Carson Palmer stays upright, Fitzgerald will enjoy his best season in years. He has had more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns just once each since 2010. You can bet on him reaching both of those thresholds this year.
Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers
Evans didn’t catch any of his three targets in his first game back from a hamstring injury. So how is it possible for his stock to increase after such a game? Well, for one, the simple fact that he made it through an entire game and didn’t report any issues with the hamstring indicates that the problem is in his rear-view mirror. Additionally, Austin Seferian-Jenkins suffered a shoulder injury in the Buccaneers’ win over the Saints that will have him out for 4-to-6 weeks. That means more targets for both Evans and Jackson. Thirdly, Evans stock is up thanks to all the worriers among us. There’s no reason to panic on the second-year receiver from Texas A&M. He was still working his way back from the hamstring injury, and game flow pretty much took this one out of his hands. This is a 6’5”, 231-pound deep threat who had 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns as a rookie with Mike Glennon and Josh McCown throwing him the ball. He’s going to be just fine. I’d check in with the Evans owner in all my leagues to see if he’s willing to sell.
Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals
Bernard relieved a slightly injured, very ineffective Jeremy Hill in Week 2, and put together his best game on the ground since Week 5 of last yearr, racking up 123 yards on 20 carries and catching three passes for 16 yards. Now, this offense is still at its best when Hill is the primary ballcarrier, and Bernard is changing pace as a runner while gashing defenses as a receiver. Still, that he ran so well likely earned him a few more handoffs from Andy Dalton. It could also simply put him on the field more, with defenses forced to honor his ability as a runner. It wasn’t just last week, either. Bernard totaled 63 yards on just eight carries against the Raiders in Week 1. As we’ve said here time and time again, you want to find some investment in the Cincinnati offense this season. At the very least, Bernard is worthy of flex consideration every single week. He has RB2 upside over the course of the season.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Jets
Marshall may have eventually worn out his welcome in all of his previous three stops in the NFL, but he has also brought a honeymoon period at the beginning of the relationship. That’s exactly where he is with the Jets right now. Marshall got the better of Vontae Davis on Monday night, and when the latter went out with a concussion, the Colts had no answer for him. Marshall finished the night with seven catches for 101 yards and a touchdown, his second in as many games. Eric Decker suffered a knee sprain in the same game, and while it’s not expected to be serious—Decker may even suit up in Week 3—Marshall should see a few more targets in the short term. Ryan Fitzpatrick is eventually going to throw up a few clunkers this year, but he is, at worst, a league-average quarterback. Marshall should be able to put up a WR2 season with him at the helm, and now has legitimate top-20 receiver upside. The Jets are enjoying their honeymoon period with Marshall. Fantasy owners will, as well.
Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray, QB and RB, Eagles
The only way the season could be off to a more disastrous start for the Eagles would have been if Bradford and Murray both got injured. As it stands, they’re just the two main players in an offense that has completely lost its way. We detailed in this week’s Fact or Fiction how the offensive line has made success impossible for Murray through two games. The total lack of an effective run game has made Bradford’s life that much harder, and when he has had time to throw, he has simply missed on too many easy ones that he needs to hit. Bradford has played one good half of football this year, and he hasn’t exactly faced the equivalent of the ’85 Bears and 2000 Ravens. He has been held in check by the Falcons and Cowboys, two defenses that no one expects to be among the league’s best at year’s end (although Dan Quinn's team in Atlanta does look like a particularly strong unit so far). No matter how much talent there is at the skill positions, and no matter how smart Chip Kelly might be, if this line is as bad as it has looked, Bradford and Murray will struggle all season. Forget about QB1 and RB1 seasons for them.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints
There was always something a bit dubious about the idea of a 5'10" second-year receiver who averaged fewer than 10 yards per catch suddenly taking off in an offense led by a soon-to-be 37-year-old quarterback. Even before Drew Brees’s shoulder injury, Cooks was disappointing his fantasy owners. In two games, he has nine catches for 111 yards and zero touchdowns and has, unsurprisingly, failed to make anything happen down the field. Now it appears his ability to do that will be jeopardized all season long. Brees has a bruised rotator cuff, and while it’s not expected to force him to miss too much time, it could very well affect his deep ball all season. If he does have to sit out a few games, the inimitable Luke McCown will take over as the starter in New Orleans. McCown hasn’t started a game since 2011, when he was the Week 1 starter for the done-before-they-ever-got-started Jacksonville Jaguars. Cooks may struggle to put up a WR2 season.
Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals
All Ellington did last week was rest, getting one week closer to stepping back on the field after suffering a knee injury in Week 1. So how did his rest-of-season value slip even further? David Johnson showed how dangerous he can be, and his presence could force Ellington into nothing more than a change-of-pace role. Johnson returned the opening kickoff against the Bears last week 108 yards for a touchdown, yet again showing off his explosive athleticism. He got just five carries, but turned those into 42 yards and a score. Bruce Arians has a history of easing in his skill-position rookies, going back to his days as the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis when he hid T.Y. Hilton for the first few weeks of the 2012 season. He did the same thing with Ellington in 2013 and John Brown last year. Johnson, the rookie out of Northern Iowa, will likely be the next player to receive that treatment. Don’t be surprised if he’s the team’s primary back by Week 6, relegating Ellington to the lesser share of a workload split.
Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins
A similar situation to the one in the desert is playing out in D.C. Matt Jones put on a show against the Rams last week, running for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He showed off his home-run ability, scoring from 39 yards out, and also pounded one in from the 3-yard line. Jones isn’t going to make Washington totally shunt Morris to the side track, but he definitely earned himself a larger role in the offense earlier than most people expected. Morris has lived mostly on volume during his three years in the league, turning a largely uncontested job in one RB1 and a pair of RB2 seasons. He has yet to reclaim the magic of his rookie year, largely because that was also the season that Robert Griffin III was setting the league on fire. His presence alone opened holes the likes of which Morris hasn’t seen the last two years. Now he has some real competition in Jones. This should be a full-fledged committee before long (it might be already), and Jones could realistically take over as the lead back at some point this season.
Davante Adams, WR, Packers
Another week, another big game for Aaron Rodgers, and another pedestrian effort for Adams. The second-year receiver from Fresno State vaulted up draft boards after Jordy Nelson tore his ACL on the belief that he would take over Nelson’s role in the offense. Instead, he has essentially shared that role with James Jones, and it’s Jones who Rodgers has trusted in the red zone. As such, Adams has just nine catches on 13 targets for 92 yards and zero scores. What’s more, he suffered a minor ankle injury in the first half of last week’s win over the Seahawks that shouldn’t cause him to miss any action, but could have him at less than 100% in Week 3. Rodgers always liked Jones in the latter’s first stint in Green Bay, and it appears the two haven’t skipped a beat in rekindling their on-field rapport. Adams was never going to replicate what Nelson does for the Packers and fantasy owners, but the thought was that he’d at least replace him in one of the league’s most dangerous passing attacks. With that potentially off the table, Adams is no more than a WR3.