Risers/Sliders: Jaguars' Robinson a solid WR1, Browns' Barnidge falling
A couple of second-year quarterbacks have helped turn moribund offenses into fantasy-rich units, and both could still realistically end up in the playoffs by season’s end. One of those quarterbacks appears in this week’s edition of Risers and Sliders. The other, Blake Bortles, doesn’t, but one of his receivers, who has quietly turned into a legitimate WR1 kicks us off as we head into Week 10. Both the Raiders' and Jaguars' offenses, which fantasy owners have ignored with impunity for years, will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars
Robinson is seventh in both raw points and points per game among wide receivers after a four-game stretch in which he has scored at least 12 points in every contest. Robinson's hot streak started with a seven-catch, 72-yard two-touchdown performance against the Buccaneers, and he followed that up with six catches for 86 yards and a score against Houston, six more grabs for 98 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo, and another six-catch outing for 121 yards last week in a loss to the Jets.
Thanks to Blake Bortles’s maturation, as well as Robinson and Allen Hurns emerging as one of the best receiver duos in the league, the Jaguars’ offense is 13th in pass DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Everything from talent to offensive environment to opportunity—both because of the targets he commands and the Jacksonville defense’s struggles—is in place for Robinson to remain a WR1 for the rest of the year.
Derek Carr, QB, Raiders
Carr’s finish, by week, in 2015 through nine weeks: 35th, 3rd, 12th, 23rd, 19th, 6th, 5th, 5th. He’s 11th in total points and 12th in points per game for the season. No matter how you look at it, he has been a worthy QB1 in his second year in the league.
What’s more, this offense has turned a corner since its Week 6 bye. In the three games since, Carr has thrown for 923 yards, 8.32 yards per attempt and 11 touchdowns against the Chargers, Jets and Steelers. The Chargers pass defense doesn’t intimidate anyone, but the Jets and Steelers rank seventh and 13th, respectively, in pass defense DVOA. Pro Football Focus rates Carr as its fourth-best quarterback this season, trailing only Carson Palmer, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. Just as is the case in Jacksonville, the Raiders are building a potent young offense around a second-year quarterback. Carr has been better than Bortles, but both have clearly taken a leap this season. Carr, however, has already proven his consistent QB1 bona fides.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Eagles
After an eight-carry, 30-yard game in Week 4 that brought Murray’s season-long rushing total all the way up to 47 yards and helped drop the Eagles to 1–3, the team’s biggest acquisition of the offseason said he needed to get the ball more frequently. Whether or not the squeaky wheel got the grease or Chip Kelly simply agreed with Murray, that is exactly what has happened in the last four games. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Eagles are 3–1 since Murray’s complaints, largely spurred by his exploits on the ground. In those four weeks, Murray has run the ball 77 times, getting no fewer than 18 carries in any game. He has 343 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, and has added 18 receptions for 134 yards through the air.
Over that same timeframe, only Lamar Miller (22.2), Todd Gurley (20.4), Devonta Freeman (18.7) and Arian Foster (17.8) have scored more than Murray’s 16.4 points per game. With the Eagles finally on the winning track and just a half game behind the Giants for first place in the NFC East, you can bet they’ll continue leaning on the run game as their primary means of attack. Murray, who’s currently 14th in total points among running backs, may still yet finish the season as an RB1, which was unthinkable one month ago.
Darren McFadden, RB, Cowboys
McFadden made it through the toughest part of the Cowboys’ remaining schedule against the run with surprisingly good results after what he did against the Eagles last week. The newly crowned starter for the Cowboys ran for 117 yards on 27 carries against an Eagles team that held all opposing running backs south of 100 yards through the first six weeks of the season.
Even in McFadden’s first start against the Seahawks, in which he picked up just 64 yards, his owners could take solace in the fact that he got 20 carries. They can find a whole lot more than solace in the Cowboys’ remaining schedule. Their next two games are against the Buccaneers and Dolphins, both of which rank in the bottom six in run defense, according to Pro Football Focus. McFadden gets Washington (23rd in rush defense DVOA) in Week 13, Green Bay (25th) in Week 14 and Buffalo (24th) in fantasy football’s typical championship week. He’s a candidate to win leagues over the next six weeks.
Jeremy Langford, RB, Bears
Did someone tell Langford he had to be a perfect facsimile for Matt Forte if he wanted to inherit the job in Chicago next year? That’s sure what it looked like on Monday night. Langford filled in for the longtime Bears starter and did his best Forte impression, running for 72 yards on 18 carries, catching three passes for 70 yards, and hitting paydirt once in the Bears’ 22–19 win over the Chargers. He even provided his fantasy owners with a little cherry on top, plunging in for a two-point conversion. All told, Langford rumbled for 22.2 points in standard-scoring leagues in his first career start.
From here, it gets much tougher for the rookie out of Michigan State. The Bears next three games are against the Rams, Broncos and Packers. Forte is expected to miss the Week 10 matchup with the Rams, but he could be back as soon as that tilt with the Broncos, with the Bears looking to go undefeated against the AFC West this season. Still, after Forte returns, Langford is expected to have a larger role than he did before the former’s injury.
Gary Barnidge, TE, Browns
Barnidge has been a great story, an unmitigated breakout tight end on a Cleveland offense that just isn’t very good. Unfortunately, the story could come to an abrupt end. Barnidge’s first great game this season came in Week 3 when he caught six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders. He scored in double digits for each of the next five weeks, topping 100 yards twice more and finding the end zone five times.
Remember anything else about that Week 3 game? It was, for all intents and purposes, Josh McCown’s first game of the season. McCown was the starter in Week 1, but he left that game in the first quarter with a concussion. That means in three basically full games with Johnny Manziel under center, Barnidge has six catches for 90 yards. You’ll have to knock Barnidge down a few spots in the weekly rankings in every game that Manziel starts.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers
Lacy entered the season as not only a rock-solid first-round pick, but someone who was justifiably off the board within the first five selections of pretty much any draft. Now you can’t find anyone who’s willing to start him with even a shred of confidence. Lacy left last week’s game with a groin injury, but James Starks was already outplaying him. The fact of the matter is Starks has been the better back in Green Bay for about a month now, and will likely remain the team’s primary runner even when Lacy is back at full health.
Those of you in shallow leagues can actually drop him without recourse. In typical 12-team leagues or deeper, Lacy is no more than a depth back. If you’re well situated at running back and flex, chances are you won’t start him again this season.
Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
The Witten-as-TE1 ship sailed last year, but he did still catch 64 passes for 703 yards and five touchdowns. He entered this season outside the safe TE1 class, but still as someone who would likely put up a handful of top-10 weeks at the position, and would be a decent matchup play or spot starter in case of bye or injury.
Then Tony Romo broke his collarbone. In the six games since, Witten has surpassed 70 yards in a game just once and has yet to score a touchdown. He has a total of 29 catches for 287 yards since Romo’s injury, which comes out to 4.78 fantasy points per game. If not for a two-touchdown game Week 1, he’d be rubbing elbows with the likes of Brent Celek and Clay Harbor in the overall tight end rankings. That’s how you should treat him until Romo is back on the field. In other words, he’s persona non grata in all but the deepest fantasy leagues.
James Jones, WR, Packers
Jones has posted snap rates of 88.9% and 93.7% in Green Bay’s last two games. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, Davante Adams has played in 96.3% and 97.5% of the team’s plays in those games. Jones has eight targets over the last two weeks while Adams has 13, including 11 in last week’s loss to the Panthers. It’s clear who the No. 2 receiver is in Green Bay, and it’s not the guy who made fantasy owners swoon earlier in the season.
We’ve made this point time and time again in multiple venues, so it won’t hurt to do so once more. Jones’s early-season fantasy value was tied up almost entirely in touchdowns. In the first three games of the year, he had four touchdowns on just 12 receptions and 15 targets. No one can sustain that sort of touchdown per catch or touchdown per target rate. His value was always going to come down as the season progressed. Now he’s third in the pecking order at receiver, and could be as low as fourth in overall order of importance when you take Starks into account.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals
Hill has had 16, 15 and 15 carries in the Bengals last three games. He has reached 60 yards in just one of those contests, and even in that one he only hit 60 right on the head. Hill’s most rushing yards in a game this season? 63, back in Week 1. His most total yards? 69, against the Bills in Week 6. Games with at least one touchdown? That would be two.
Hill has been a total dud in every game except those in which he has found the end zone, and even in those games he didn’t give his owners anything meaningful in the yardage department. In other words, he has been glorified version of 2014 Matt Asiata. He’s still relevant because Cincinnati’s offense is so potent, but it’s hard to think of him as anything more than an RB2/3 and potential flex play from week to week.