Plus, the real return of Gronkowski, the Giants’ messy backfield, and what’s the deal with Coby Fleener?

By Gary Gramling
September 27, 2016

Got a fantasy football question? I will reluctantly answer it on my Facebook page or Twitter.

I don’t hate my readers. What… where did you ever get that idea? No, I love my readers. But I do hate start ’em/sit ’em questions.

I’m just being honest here. You are welcome to ask me start ’em/sit ’ems (Facebook is the best avenue!), and I will do everything in my power to answer all of them. But I don’t like them for the following reasons:

1) They aren’t easy, and I think folks don’t understand that. I mean, some of them are easy. If Rob Gronkowski is coming off a hamstring injury and on a snap count and playing with a third-string rookie QB making his first career start, don’t start him. But a lot of these are 55/45 situations. I can swing the odds in your favor a bit, but as much as it pains me to say it: I’m not infallible. (Hell, I told someone to bench Terrelle Pryor last week and didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t anticipate the Browns making him the Kordell Stewart of a new generation.)

2) There are usually a lot of other factors that aren’t addressed in the questions I get. Let’s take a hypothetical matchup of John Brown vs. the Seahawks. There’s a 35% chance he’ll have four catches for 100 yards and a TD. And there’s a 35% chance he’ll have two catches for 24 yards. There’s a lot of volatility involved! Let’s say the alternative is Cole Beasley, who has a 70% chance to go 7-63-0 or so in any given week. Do you need Brown’s upside to win your weekly matchup? Or can you just pencil in Beasley’s nine fantasy points and cruise to victory? Not to mention, what’s your league size? Your roster depth? PPR? Half PPR? (That’s why I prefer Facebook for questions, a little more room for the details.)

3) Mostly, if you read this column on a weekly basis and use your medial temporal lobe* to store and recall the facts you learn here, you’ll be fine setting your lineup. So fly on your own, little bird. And know that I believe in you.

* — Yeah, I have no idea if that’s correct.

So, with yet another inspiring intro section in the books, I present this week’s Fantasy 40…

Jordan Howard: Yes. YES! This is a back-up running back who now has value while the starter is out. (Jeremy Langford’s high ankle sprain will keep him sidelined for a month or so.) While Howard doesn’t have the passing-game versatility that Langford does, he is a better pure runner. And while Langford couldn’t catch a frickin’ break, you figure the Bears will eventually start blocking people. Cody Whitehair is a collegiate tackle playing center for the first time, and Josh Sitton was signed like four minutes before kickoff in Week 1. But those two are good players and so is Kyle Long. The run blocking should improve, and Howard should be able to take advantage. At worse, his workload makes him an every-week starter now that we’ve entered bye-week season.

LeGarrette Blount: He’s currently on pace to log 400 carries in 2016, which seems unlikely. Tom Brady returns to the Patriots in Week 5 after serving his suspension for being generally aware of a guy who might have thought about considering slightly deflating a football, and New England will go back to weeks when they spread it out and throw it around, rather than the 1994 offense they’re rolling out now. I’d suggest getting value for Blount while you still can.

Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson: Three weeks in, it’s been pretty close to a 50/50 split in snaps. I’m not sure how long Crowell holds off the more dynamic Johnson. Crowell had an 85-yard TD run against the Ravens. Wonderful! No one can ever take that away from him. But aside from that run and the 40 yards he racked up on the final three plays of a 19-point loss to Philadelphia in Week 1, he’s looking at a 3.6 yard-per-carry average and brings little to the passing game. As the schedule gets tougher and the Browns play catch-up more often than not, Johnson should emerge as the better option in the backfield.

Randall Cobb: You know those Saturday nights in high school when all your friends went out to party but didn’t invite you? You know, didn’t invite you as a joke? It was funny, those were good times. Well, that’s kinda like what happened to Cobb on Sunday, as the Packers offense started clicking but Cobb did nothing after a 33-yard catch early on. Not literally nothing, he still listened to play calls and ran routes and offered encouragement to teammates because he’s a nice guy like that, but he didn’t catch another pass. Part of it was that Jordy Nelson was doing whatever he wanted, and part of it was the fact that the Packers were up 90 or so late in the first half and Aaron Rodgers ultimately attempted only 24 passes. Still, as the Packers get it together and Nelson becomes more of a threat, it will open up opportunities for Cobb. If you can pry him away from some overreactive schmo on the cheap, do it.

Wendell Smallwood: Things are getting dicey in the Philly backfield, where they’re now seemingly rotating 10,000 backs. I still think Smallwood has the biggest upside among Philly’s backs due to his well-rounded skill set. But Darren Sproles is the best bet to lead the Eagles in snaps in any given week considering Doug Pederson’s undying love of empty backfields. Ryan Mathews heads into the bye week with some nagging ankle issues. It’s a full-blown committee when Mathews is healthy, and it’s tough to start any of the three anytime they’re all active. But I’d take on Smallwood as a speculative add, and hope (because I’m a jerk) that the soon-to-be 29-year-old back with the long injury history misses time later in the year.

Rob Gronkowski: I’ve been the director of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins for the past 16 years, so I think you can take my word for it when I say Gronkowski should be healthy enough for your fantasy lineup in Week 4. The fact that he played at all in Week 3, combined with the extra rest coming off a Thursday night game, should be enough to get Gronk onto the field for a near-regular workload against the Bills.

Brandon Marshall: He moved better than I thought he would on Sunday while sitting out only two snaps, so the knee is not an issue going forward. The matchup with Seattle is, though. If I had Marshall, I’d start him and feel bad about myself. If I didn’t have him, I’d probably hold off one more week and then try to flip someone in the Marvin Jones or Latavius Murray range for him.

Julio Jones: So you know how all these recent horror movies claim to be “based on actual events”? Like, in the 70s, Ed and Lorraine Warren saw a box of Boo-Berry at the Big Y, and thus we get the Conjuring series. Well, I’m writing one of those films myself. It’s about a guy who spent the evening of Monday, Sept. 26 watching the presidential debate, then at midnight checked the MNF box score to see whether or not Julio Jones scored enough fantasy points to get him a win. He sees the final score: 45 points for the Falcons! Then he clicks on the box score, only to realize that Jones had one catch for 16 yards! And then, a clown pops up out of nowhere. A clown with a broadsword, or something like that. It needs some work, but the bones are there. Anyway, Jones owners, don’t fret too much. He was playing through a calf injury. He was still targeted on seven of Matt Ryan’s 30 throws. But most of all, defensively the Saints were a life-sized version of Electric Football, 11 guys moving aimlessly around the field, occasionally spinning in place of falling down. The Falcons spread the ball around, sure, but it wasn’t a matter of suddenly having the talent to do so. They just happened to be facing a defense that lacks the personnel to stop anyone. It could have been Julio Jones, you and I out there and the result would have been the same. My point is this: Maybe Julio Jones isn’t going to catch nine balls every week for the rest of the year, but there’s no reason to think he’s not a top-10, if not top-five receiver from here on in.

Terrelle Pryor: I did not see this coming, and if I told you to bench him last week I beg for your forgiveness. My assumption is that you’ll see Pryor play a handful of QB snaps the next couple weeks, then it will fade out of the Browns’ plans as opposing teams see it more often and make their adjustments. As for Pryor’s numbers as a receiver, Josh Gordon is back Week 5. It’s a good time to try to get something for Pryor.

Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls: My guess is that Rawls is 50/50 to play this Sunday. It doesn’t really matter though. The feature back job belongs to Michael for the foreseeable future. Rawls isn’t droppable, but even if he takes the starting job back later this year (and it would probably take a Michael injury) he would probably be a part-time player, losing passing-down snaps to C.J. Prosise (presuming Prosise is eventually healthy).

Carlos Hyde: Now maybe you think that trailing by 34 points on the road in the fourth quarter is a good time to sit the injury-prone No. 1 back on whom your entire offense relies. Well, Chip Kelly disagrees. With his team trailing 37-3 and less than 13 minutes to go, Kelly handed it to Hyde 10 times (for 69 yards and two touchdowns) down the stretch in Seattle, plus once more on a two-point conversion, turning a 37-point deficit into a… 19-point loss. (Yay?) Now maybe you think this is utterly insane and bordering on malpractice considering Hyde missed 11 games over his first two seasons, including the final nine of 2015, his first year as a feature back. But what you don’t understand is... that... Chip Kelly is changing the world. Open you mind. And the good news is that, while the 49ers will presumably be trailing in many games, they apparently are willing to keep running the ball with their No. 1 back for reasons that none of us quite understand because we’re not Chip Kelly.

Dorial Green-Beckham: Just a gut feeling here, but deep leaguers should stash him for late bye-week season. He’s the best pure talent in the Eagles’ receiving corps, he should continue to creep up on Nelson Agholor as he continues to get up to speed on the playbook, and Carson Wentz has shown a willingness (correctly) to target Green-Beckham in one-on-one situations.

Matt Jones: I’ve been a Matt Jones skeptic, but he was excellent against the Giants on Sunday. He flashed an ability to grind out between-the-tackles yardage late in the game, a skill he hadn’t shown very often as a rookie.

Orleans Darkwa, Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins: Shane Vereen is out until December and possibly for the rest of the year, turning what was a messy committee situation devoid of any starter-level talent into… a messy committee situation devoid of any starter-level talent. If I had to choose one Giants back for my team going forward, I’d choose Rodney Hampton and then try to coax him out of retirement. If the 47-year-old Hampton is too much of a coward to accept the poorly thought out challenge of a complete stranger, I’d go with Darkwa simply because, in his limited playing time the last two seasons, he’s looked like a better runner than Jennings. Perkins has some appeal, mostly because we haven’t seen him. But the fact that he was fifth on this depth chart a week ago should tell you about what the Giants really think of him. And, of course, Bobby Rainey is here to steal a lot of passing down snaps that used to go to Vereen.

Kenyan Drake: In the long run, I still think he’ll be the most fantasy-relevant back in Miami; he and Arian Foster are the guys the new regime brought in because they fit exactly what Adam Gase wants his running backs to be. But really, unless you’re in a Dolphins-only league, you’re probably better off ignoring this backfield altogether.

Coby Fleener: Here’s the thing: If Fleener couldn’t turn in a good night, at home, against a Falcons team that is as ill-equipped as any in football when it comes to defending the seam routes Fleener was brought in to run, I’d advise not only dropping Fleener but figuring out a way to do that memory-erasing thing they do in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (Of course, Fleener’s night also included another ridiculous third-down drop and a little out-pattern that he almost turned into a pick-six, but we’ll focus on the good for now.) The good news is that the Saints go to San Diego on Sunday, and the Chargers are almost as bad at defending the tight end as the Falcons are. At some point Michael Thomas will emerge as their best weapon up the seam, pushing Fleener further down the pecking order, but in the short-term you should be able to get at least one more decent week out of Fleener.

Tyrod Taylor: For all the talk of improving the passing game, the Bills just aren’t built that way (especially when Sammy Watkins is a question mark from week to week). New offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn ran a more diversified offense in Sunday’s win, sprinkling in a little more zone-read stuff and a couple of old-school option plays with Taylor. It’s a smoke-and-mirrors approach and one that would seem unlikely to work over the long haul, but it makes Taylor interesting enough to consider as a boom-or-bust streaming option during bye week season.

Hunter Henry: My guess is that Antonio Gates sits again in Week 4, and Henry is a pretty good option if he’s sitting on your waiver wire. Don’t ever expect too much from a rookie tight end, and Henry lost the game-clinching fumble in Indy last week. But the Saints can’t cover tight ends (or cover wide receivers or cover running backs, or tackle for that matter) and Henry could put up something in the range of last week’s 5-76-0 performance.

Eric Ebron: He’s fine, he really is. But last week was a big breakout opportunity for Ebron, with the Lions trailing something like 112-0 at halftime and their receivers continuing to have some issues against press coverage. It seemed like Ebron could put up a big second half. Five catches for 69 yards is good. (For instance, it’s better than four catches for 68 yards.) But it seems like Ebron’s ceiling is nowhere near what his physical abilities would suggest it is.

Jerick McKinnon: Good news: Daisy had puppies! Also, good news in regards to McKinnon and those who own him in fantasy leagues: McKinnon not only played nearly twice as many snaps as Matt Asiata (36 to 19), but it was McKinnon who was in the game for the Vikings’ two-point conversion attempt in the third quarter. They were lined up in shotgun and McKinnon had to show some creativity to get the two-pointer, but there’s a chance Asiata might not vulture goal line touches after all.

Michael Thomas: The fact that he’s rotating with Brandon Coleman mostly implies that Thomas isn’t completely up to speed yet (or that Coleman has some incriminating photos of Sean Payton). But the Saints need to find someone who can be a threat up the seam, the old Marques Colston role. Someone better than Coby Fleener.

Cam Newton: For now, chalk it up to a bad week against a very good defense. But boy, Michael Oher and Mike Remmers… Carolina might as well steal a couple of traffic cones from the parking lots and drape them in adorable little blue and black jerseys. I’d be worried about Cam going against any team that has great rushers coming off the edge. Fortunately for the reigning MVP’s physical well-being, they go to Atlanta this week. (I know, I know, the Falcons beat them last year, fine, but Atlanta’s pass rush is nowhere near the class of the ones the Broncos and Vikings have.)

Zach Miller: I think it was right around the time Brian Hoyer stared him down on three straight goal-to-go snaps. I just knew those two were in love. Miller was targeted nine times by Hoyer on Sunday night, and delivered eight catches and two touchdowns. That’s his absolute ceiling. But with the trust Hoyer has in him, Miller could prove to be the 2016 version of Gary Barnidge, a guy who accumulates garbage-time numbers for a bad team.

Jimmy Graham: Ladies and gentlemen, The Hives…

That’s actually untrue. I love to say I told you so. It’s easily one of my six favorite things to say. Graham is healthy and should continue to be a major part of a Seattle offense that is not the grind-it-out system it was when he first arrived. The biggest concern now is Russell Wilson’s health.

Le’Veon Bell: Is he healthy? Yes. Is he suspended? No. Thus, you start him.

Colin Kaepernick: At some point, the Niners will hand the offense over to Kaepernick because, why not? He’ll be worth monitoring on the waiver wire if (when) he’s a starter, as he’ll be in an uptempo offense that can take advantage of his mobility.

Dwayne Washington: I’ll resist the urge to get giddy about Washington rushing for 38 yards when his first touch of the game came when the Lions were down 18. Especially because the Lions, uncharacteristically, ran a substitution to set up a goal-line play in the third quarter, and Washington was promptly stuffed a yard behind the line of scrimmage. That said, Theo Riddick gave them nothing as a runner (though Jim Caldwell is right when he points out that the Lions didn’t block anyone). The door is open a crack for Washington to grab a part-time role, but this still looks an awful lot like the Danny Woodhead/Melvin Gordon split in San Diego last season. The Lions want to go no-huddle, and when you go no-huddle you don’t substitute. It’s a 65/35 split in Riddick’s favor already, and there’s no guarantee they’ll take him off the field inside the 5.

Ben Roethlisberger: I don’t know what to tell you; Roethlisberger just kind of craps his proverbial pants two or three times a year. In 2015, he followed up a 262-yard, 1-TD, 3-INT game against the Bengals with a 334-2-1 against Oakland. He followed up a 220-0-2 game in Baltimore with 349-3-2 in Cleveland. Chances are, he’ll be fine on Sunday night against K.C.

Latavius Murray: Don’t freak out; he’s still the best back in Oakland. But the little guys (DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard) will keep stealing snaps. It appears the Raiders have settled on a committee approach early in games in order to keep Murray fresh as a fourth-quarter closer.

DeAndre Hopkins: I’m not ready to claim that God has forsaken Hopkins owners. But Brock Osweiler is desperately struggling with ball placement (mostly on account of his badness, if his run in Denver is any indication), and Hopkins is a guy who thrives on making contested catches, especially downfield. With Osweiler an INT risk every time he drops back, the Texans might have to manage him to the point that the passing game is built around screen plays.

Emmanuel Sanders: Nice! A downfield dimension to the Denver offense. I think the Broncos want to sprinkle in the downfield stuff, though I’m not sure how successful they’ll be with Trevor Siemian’s middling arm strength (and the fact that teams have now seen that they’re willing to do it, they probably caught the Bengals off-guard). I’d still be hesitant to start Sanders in Tampa.

Kevin White: He’s still a bit of a mess out there and is clearly learning on the fly, but White made a couple of plays down the stretch in Dallas and Brian Hoyer seemed to be looking his way rather than going toward a slightly gimpy Alshon Jeffery. I’m not sure the Bears are going to stop anyone from scoring any time soon, so White’s garbage-time potential makes him a nice FLEX option.

T.J. Yeldon: He kept a 50/50 time split with Chris Ivory, but Yeldon saw just eight touches (for just 28 yards) in Ivory’s Jaguars debut. The Jaguars are a mess across the board offensively. At this point, I don’t see how you can play Yeldon while Ivory is healthy, though game flow could work in Yeldon’s favor if the Jaguars get blown out a couple of times.

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