Who to Freak Out About, Who to Not Freak Out About and a Carson Palmer Theory
It’s the new and improved Fantasy 40. “New and improved” in that I, the person writing it, recently got a haircut. I think you’ll really sense the difference…
T.J. Yeldon: Better! The Jaguars won their first game of the season by taking more of a “eh, screw it, run around and do whatever you want, Blake Bortles” approach, and Yeldon is a better fit in that kind of “system” than Chris Ivory is. Despite the fact that the Jaguars were protecting a lead Yeldon saw far more playing time than Ivory on Sunday (54 snaps to 18). Even though it happened in a country that calls french fries “chips”* (so, what, Britain’s McDonaldland’s Fry Guys are “Chip Guys”? Have you no respect for the poetic?), it’s a good sign that Yeldon is a useable FLEX going forward, even if Ivory is in the lineup.
* — An earlier version of this story erroneously referred to the British term for fries as “crisps.” As The MMQB’s London Bureau Chief, I regret the error.
John Kuhn: They weren’t saying “boooo,” they were saying “Kuuuuuuhn.” Actually, they were saying neither because most people filed out of Qualcomm in disgust after Travis Benjamin’s fumble. Don’t pick up Kuhn. He has 11 touches over four games. In fact, feel shame if you even considered it.
Dontrelle Inman: I mentioned Inman as San Diego’s best hope after the Keenan Allen injury in Week 1. Setting aside the sweet Abby Wambach-esque header on the Chargers’ doomed final drive, Inman delivered: seven catches, 120 yards and a TD on 11 targets. Like Jason Bourne, Philip Rivers trusts no one (I heard he also once blew up a Qualcomm break room with a magazine and a toaster). But Inman has a chance to become his go-to guy by default, at least while Antonio Gates is out.
DeAndre Hopkins: I sounded the alarm a week ago, but let’s now go ahead and raise the Bush-era alert level from burnt sienna to fuchsia. (That’s… that’s more threat.) Hopkins was often one-on-one with Perrish Cox on Sunday, an enormous mismatch in the Texans’ favor, and Hopkins ended up with... one catch for four yards. This is what happens when you have a contested-catch specialist and pair him with a quarterback who struggles desperately with ball placement.
Now, I’ve never subscribed to the theory that you have to start someone. In 2010 I drafted Chris Johnson first overall in one league, then benched him in Week 2 when he was coming off a 142-yard, two-TD opener (he had 53 total yards and no TDs on my bench in that Week 2 game). Anyone who asked me about Rob Gronkowski the past two weeks got the same answer: If Jacoby Brissett is under center, don’t start Gronk. (Yes, yes, I wrote last week’s column under the assumption that Jimmy Garoppolo’s handsome face would be starting at quarterback.) So while it depends on your alternatives, I’d seriously consider benching Hopkins when Houston goes to Minnesota on Sunday, especially if there’s word that Xavier Rhodes will shadow him. Because here’s the thing: When your quarterback is Brock Osweiler, you don’t have the luxury of saying “we want to get this guy involved this week.” You simply set up a game plan that creates the simplest reads and widest throwing lanes possible, then pray the majority of his throws end up in the hands of the guys wearing the same jersey as him.
Ezekiel Elliott: Sure, the schedule has been awfully soft in the early going (the upside of last year’s Cassel-fueled last-place finish). But Elliott has looked very good the past two weeks, and the return of a healthy Dez Bryant would keep opponents from loading up the box against the Cowboys. Elliott has a real chance to finish 2016 as the top running back in fantasy football.
All the Patriots: Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman. Danny Amendola. Martellus Bennett. James White. Patrick Henry. Thomas Paine. All of my militia brethren willing to fight against the tyranny of “forever stamps.” (So you’re telling me this stamp will serve as full postage for my Cat Fancy subscription renewal when the sun, in red-giant phase, engulfs the Earth 7.6 billion years from now? Yeah, that’s what I thought.) They’re all good to go now that Tom Brady’s suspension for thought crimes (sorry, for being “generally aware” of thought crimes) is over. Except for LeGarrette Blount, but if you read this column you already traded him like I told you to. Because you do everything I say, right? So send me a dollar.
Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr.: Four games into the Ben McAdoo Era, the Giants offense has managed to turn Manning into a tiny Brock Osweiler. Monday night’s game plan seemed to be centered around a hope that the Vikings would devote three defenders to stopping Will Tye (if you missed the game, they… they didn’t). Big Blue goes to Green Bay on Sunday night, and a banged up Packers secondary presents an opportunity for the Giants to get back on track. The value for both these guys can’t get any lower, so, by definition they’re buy-low candidates. But at the moment nothing suggests a bounce back is imminent. It’s been four weeks of opponents dictating what the Giants do offensively. (And, hint: Opponents want this offense to be built around Will Tye and Bobby Rainey.)
Zach Zenner: Dwayne Washington left Sunday’s loss with a foot and ankle injury, and while it won’t be an extended absence it seems unlikely he’ll play against the Eagles on Sunday. That opens up a role for Zenner, though it’s a miniscule role behind Theo Riddick as the Lions will continue to go pass-happy. As I’ve written in this column a few times and keep repeating aloud as I walk down the street, confusing and terrifying onlookers: The Lions want to go no-huddle as often as possible, and when you go no-huddle you don’t substitute often, even near the goal line. Zenner actually got a single shot on the goal line, just like Washington did in Week 3. And, just like Washington in Week 3, he was stopped behind the line of scrimmage.
Paxton Lynch: Trevor Siemian might not miss much time (if any), but let’s imagine we live in a world in which Siemian is out for an extended period and also public water fountains dispensed chocolate milk instead. Lynch is, at best, a risky bye-week streamer. His athleticism and arms strength are Cam-like, and the Broncos know how to protect a young quarterback. But because they know how to protect a young quarterback, I can’t imagine there will be anything but play-action throws and half-field reads in a run-heavy offense.
Kelvin Benjamin: These are the ups and downs of a player coming off a torn ACL, though it has really been a matter of the Panthers' overall struggles on offense. Expect Benjamin to be boom or bust on a weekly basis all season.
Terrance West: Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. Pete Townshend wrote those lyrics looking forward to what he knew would be a rotating feature back situation in the 2016 Baltimore Ravens backfield. So it’s West again as the No. 1 back, but he’s still not very good. The Raiders are going to get destroyed by zone blocking teams because their linebackers are very... bad at diagnosing plays and tackling. West’s 113 yards on Sunday was as much a matter of bad defense as it was good offense. West comes off the field on third downs, so his ceiling is limited anyway. And Kenneth Dixon will unseat him at some point this season, because Dixon is a better player. West did buy himself some short-term value though, especially with Washington and its suspect front seven up next.
Blake Bortles: Anyone who is not a deranged lunatic will admit that Bortles has regressed in 2016. The Jaguars came up with solution on Sunday: Let him scramble around and make it up as he goes along, just like he did as a rookie. Assuming a desperate Jaguars coaching staff doesn’t go away from what worked for one week, what can you expect from Bortles going forward? A wildly inconsistent quarterback who can make or break you in any week. You’re literally playing Russian roulette every time you put him in your lineup. O.K., maybe not literally, but my point is you’re taking a risk.
Amari Cooper: In the long run he’ll be fine. Honest. The immediate problem is that Cooper will draw Jason Varrett on Sunday. And the long-term problem is that Michael Crabtree continues to thrive in the red zone, eating into Cooper’s touchdown chances. Cooper has yet to score a touchdown this year, which is fluky. I’d expect seven or eight in the end. If you can pry him away from some panicky idiot, do it now. But the opportunity might present itself again next week.
Matthew Stafford: I’m not sure what that was in Chicago on Sunday (re-watching the game, it seemed to be a combination of mistake-prone receivers and a handful of good ol’-fashioned misfires). Like the Metro-North train I’m currently writing from, the Lions’ season is constantly at risk of going off the rails. I remain bullish on Stafford though. This team can not run the ball, and the trio of Marvin Jones, Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron is enough to make up for Golden Tate’s meltdown. Speaking of whom…
Golden Tate: On Monday, Jim Caldwell emphasized that Tate is still an important part of Detroit’s offense despite Tate’s benching on Sunday. Tate is the kind of guy for whom you can manufacture touches, due to his run-after-catch ability. However, despite the fact that he has a chance for a bounce back game, I can’t imagine starting him this week against the Eagles. Tate has been—and this is not hyperbole—the worst starting receiver in football this year. He’s running incorrect routes, he’s dropping everything, he has 95 yards on 26 targets. The power of long division tells me that that is 3.7 yards per target. And the power of… thinking thoughts tells me that that is humiliatingly, soul-crushingly bad.
John Brown: I’m not sure Sunday’s outing will be duplicated, especially with Carson Palmer a question mark in a short week. The Arizona passing game is a bit of a mess at the moment, as the Bills and Rams both managed to cause enough confusion to make Palmer hesitate, not only throwing off the timing of plays but allowing the pass rush an extra beat to get home.
Xavier Grimble: It’s a name worth remembering, because it’s a really good name. (Ha! Grimble.) And also, Grimble has proven to be very adept as a receiving specialist, working up the seams in the Steelers offense. He doesn’t have enough of a role right now to be worth rostering.
Frank Gore, Robert Turbin, Josh Ferguson: There is an obvious need to limit Gore’s workload, seeing as he is an octogenarian. So what you’re getting right now is probably what you’ll get from him going forward. And of course, he’s a durability risk, even with that relatively limited workload. Now, that brings us to the question of who would step in for Gore if he goes down. My initial assumption was that Turbin would take a huge workload. He’s fungible as a runner but he’ll fall forward, he’s a capable receiver and he’s actually pretty good in pass pro (as I’ve written previously, he’s a Boom Herron-type). But the Colts have gone with Ferguson more and more frequently. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why. This will sound unnecessarily harsh (especially coming from some butthole sitting on his couch), but I don’t think Ferguson would make the roster of any of the other 31 teams. Not even practice squads. He’s fairly fluid getting out into his routes, and that’s about it. He drops a lot of easy passes. The next tackle he eludes or breaks will be the first. As a runner, he’s the equivalent of taking a knee. He’s bad in pass pro. (So bad that when, against the Jaguars, he picked up a blitz properly one time my reaction was “Holy crap, I can’t believe Josh Ferguson picked up a blitz.”) My guess is that Turbin, more capable of handling early-down work, takes Gore’s snaps in the case of an injury. But if Ferguson has made it this far…
Steve Smith Sr.: Well, I guess I underestimated Steve Smith Sr. He looks like he’s getting healthier and re-gaining some of his explosiveness, making him a top-30 receiver going forward. And he will apparently never retire. Or die.
Orleans Darkwa, Bobby Rainey and Paul Perkins: At least until Rashad Jennings returns to further muddle this backfield, Darkwa remains the best choice in a bad group. He saw the majority of the snaps before the Giants went into catch-up mode on Monday night, and got the goal-line work. Rainey mostly handled the Shane Vereen role, making him a PPR option (at least a better option than disbanding your team and quitting), though Perkins also played well enough (and the bar is awfully low right now) to maintain a role going forward.
Brian Quick: C’mon, leave him on the waiver wire. He’s Butch Rolle. (What?! You don’t remember Butch Rolle?! He of the 15 catches of which 10 were touchdowns over six seasons with the Bills in the late 80s and early 90s?!)
Kyle Rudolph: Good for Kyle Rudolph. The Vikings have gotten much more creative with his usage this year, splitting him out wide some and targeting him nearly twice as often as they did a year ago (33 times through four games, 73 times through all of last season). But, most encouragingly, with Adrian Peterson out the Vikings are throwing it much more often in the red zone, where Rudolph remains their No. 1 target. He's a safe, low-end TE starter as long as Sam Bradford is healthy.
Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers: From the sounds of his Monday meeting with the press, Dirk Koetter has his finger on the panic button. There’s a chance Sims (who is also dealing with a minor knee injury) will see his workload cut in favor of Rodgers. Of course, the problem is that Sims is not Doug Martin and the Bucs have faced excellent defenses each of the last three weeks. Rodgers is not Doug Martin either, as evidenced by his five-plus year body of work and the fact that they spell and pronounce their names differently, but he could see more work as the Bucs opt to make a change for the sake of change. Sims is the superior runner though. The hope is that cooler heads prevail and Sims remains the lead back on Monday night, but he is an awfully risky FLEX option.
Jameis Winston: Remember 2015 Matthew Stafford? Five weeks into the season, this was the collective reaction to the Lions QB’s play
After a four-game stretch that took him to Minnesota and Seattle, plus home dates with Denver and Arizona, Stafford had an Osweiler-like 6-to-8 TD/INT ratio and was averaging 241.0 yards per game. He turned it around and posted a 26-to-5 ratio with 277.9 yards per game over the final 11 games of the season. Because—and you might want to sit down for this—great defenses often make opposing quarterbacks look bad.
So let’s look at Jameis Winston, who has a 4-to-7 TD/INT ratio over the last three games. But wait! Those three games came at Arizona, and home against the Rams and Broncos. Those are three very good defenses. (And, actually, Winston threw for 405 and three TDs against the Rams.) Tampa goes to Carolina Monday night (and despite spontaneously combusting at the sight of Julio Jones last week, the Panthers D is still good). But after that, the Bucs’ schedule gets almost comically soft, with the exception of a visit from the Seahawks in November and maybe a trip to K.C. (they don’t play Carolina again until Week 17, when most fantasy seasons are over). So if you’re looking for a bargain-basement price on a good quarterback, Winston is a nice pickup right now.
Matt Ryan: I’d have a tough time starting him in Denver, but I couldn’t blame you if you did. You can ride with Ryan pretty much any other week this season. I don’t know what happened this offseason, but somehow he became 100% comfortable in Kyle Shanahan’s system.
DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry: The smashmouth part of exotic smashmouth has been working. Murray looks rejuvenated playing in a system straight out of 1992. I’d still hold onto Henry though. Murray is already at 85 touches through four games, and aside from injury concerns I’m not sure anyone thinks he has enough juice left for 250-plus touches in a season, let alone the 340 he’s on pace for. I expect Henry to be getting 10 touches per week in the second half of the year.
Carson Palmer: I’m not sure whether or not Palmer will suit up Thursday night, but I’ll be fascinated to see what Arizona does heading into Week 6 with the extra prep time. As Andy Benoit pointed out on our podcast, opponents are disguising coverages effectively early in the down against Palmer, causing him to hesitate, which is throwing off the timing of plays and giving the pass rush an extra beat to get to Palmer. My crackpot theory: The solution might be for the Cardinals to speed everything up. When you go hurry-up, it limits the defense’s ability to layer on chicanery, they just have to line up and play. (That’s fine if you’re the Seahawks, that’s a problem if you’re anyone else.) I think it’s a big reason why the Cardinals marched down the field on the Rams in their two-minute drill, then did nothing for the rest of the game. The hurry-up would allow them to dictate the terms, and it would potentially lead to a big uptick in statistical production for all the Cardinals.
Lamar Miller: His workload has been everything we dreamed it would be (106 touches through four games, and no fewer than 22 in any game). He’s limited by the Osweiler factor, and this week will be an especially tough matchup at Minnesota. But it’s a fluke when a lead back doesn’t have a touchdown after 106 touches. Things will get better for Miller.
Jeremy Kerley: Last week was a reminder that he’s Blaine Gabbert’s guy. The Niners were a mess at Carolina and Seattle, but they’ll move the ball sporadically against second-tier defenses (like Dallas). Kerley is worth keeping around as a bye week fill-in, especially in PPR leagues.
Hunter Henry: The question now is: What kind of role will Henry have when Antonio Gates returns (which could be as soon as this week)? Everything is in flux for the Chargers, especially as their receivers become seemingly more and more mistake-prone. The best-case scenario for Henry is probably what he’s done the past two weeks. He was only targeted 12 times, but he caught nine of them. Rookie tight ends have an especially steep learning curve, and I can’t picture starting Henry while Gates is also in the lineup, even if the Chargers go with a two-tight end base. But he’s worth keeping around in deeper leagues, especially since Gates is unlikely to stay healthy.
Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton: This should be one of the best, if not the best, deep threat combos in football. But what a poorly conceived roster they have in Indy. They can’t protect Luck, and that’s how you end up with an embarrassment like the London game: 42 yards on 10 targets for Hilton. The good news is that they’re finding ways to get Hilton the ball in the screen game, meaning his floor is a bit higher than expected, even if his ceiling is lower.
Allen Hurns: Ugh. Despite the long catch-and-run on Sunday morning, it’s shaping up to be a lost year for Hurns, who is a fringe flex guy at this point. His value will depend on whether or not the Jaguars are going to give up points in the first half of games, like they did a year ago. If Jacksonville doesn’t have to play catch up this season (and with their improved defense, there’s a chance they won’t), Hurns is not going to get it done.
Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.