You say you’ll never do it again…
You say you’ve learned from your mistakes…
You say you refuse to get burned like that again…
But when next year’s fantasy football draft rolls around, odds are, you’re spending that first-round pick on a running back. Again. And it kills you.
It’s never too early to get a jump on next season (especially for those of you who were just bounced in your league’s playoffs), and now that the majority of owners are done for the year, we can start extrapolating this year’s results to next year’s forecasts. And like it or not, despite how much the RB position might’ve burned you at the top of 2014, you’re going right back to the well again in 2015.
If you don’t believe me, let’s look at your alternatives:
There were up to three QBs who merited first-round discussion this year: P. Manning, Brees and Rodgers. Unless you own the latter, you’re probably in the consolation bracket after sub par showings from Peyton and Drew this past Sunday. For the season, Manning has fallen to third in QB scoring and Brees is down in sixth, hardly evidence that they deserve such lofty draft status next year. Other than Rodgers, the only other QB you could argue for in the first-round is Andrew Luck, but I personally need to see him do it again before I invest so heavily.
We’re officially done with the first-round TE, at least for one year. Jimmy Graham, much like his QB, has underperformed relative to his draft position and has backed his way out of the top-12 overall picks. As good as Gronk has been this year, are you telling me you’re comfortable enough with his health all of a sudden that you’ll sink your top pick for his services? We all know how that one’s going to end.
There are some WRs who will be selected within the top-10 again next year, but it won’t be the same crop of names as this year. As dominant as Calvin Johnson is, he’ll be on the wrong side of 30 next year and those injuries aren’t going to be any less frequent. Demaryius Thomas and Julio Jones are fringe options who will sneak in to the bottom of the first on occasion. But for my money the only slam dunk receivers who have merited definite first-round status next year are Jordy Nelson and Antonio Brown. The combination of consistency and matchup-winning weeks they give you is unparalleled and they’re tied a couple very good offenses.
That brings us all the way back to our love/hate relationship with the running back position. The dearth of the position as a whole makes those top-flight options even more valuable, and I would argue we’ve seen an even greater separation of the running back upper class from the rest of the pack.
Le’Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte are no-brainers. You could argue that those four, in some combination, not only make up the top four in standard leagues, they are also the Mount Rushmore of backs in PPR leagues (check out Lacy’s receiving numbers the last six games if you’re skeptical).
Both LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster must be considered high as well. Foster has shown he’s still got plenty left in the tank when he’s on the field, but much like Megatron, injury concerns knock him to the bottom of the first at best. McCoy will be one of the most divisive players debated in the preseason next year. Are you drafting the 2012 version or the 2013 version? In all likelihood, someone will pull the trigger on him getting back to the top-3 status he enjoyed two years ago. After all, it’s not as if the yards haven’t been there. He has more yards from scrimmage than Charles (1,179-1,132), but JC sports a 10-TD advantage (14-4). There’s some regression to the mean just begging to be worked in there.
Beyond that, you’ve got backs like DeMarco Murray, Marshawn Lynch and, yes, even Adrian Peterson who all warrant first-round consideration depending on their landing spots in 2015. I’ve already gone on record as saying Peterson will end up in Dallas next year. Try walking away from the combination of his individual talent and that Dallas offensive line with the #1 overall pick next year if it happens. Not sure I could do it. If Murray is indeed back in a Cowboys uniform, you’ve already seen what that looks like and the only downside is whether he could hold up under such a heavy workload again (seeing how strong he looks in the fourth quarter of recent games, I would expect the drop off to be smaller than you think). Lynch is the wild card, but whatever team invests in him (should he decide not to retire) will do so with the plan to feed him often.
All told, in a 12-team league, no less than 7 RBs are coming off the board in the first round. We can curse the position and the minefield it’s become, but no matter how football may be evolving, fantasy still revolves around the running backs.
My strong recommendations last week were also all about the running backs, including two stellar plays in Anderson and Williams. Wide receiver was a crap shoot as the two poster boys of last week’s FLEXual Tension All-Stars disappointed mightily. Here’s a full recap of Week 14:
Week 14 Hits:
C.J. Anderson – Standard scoring: 23.8 pts; MLFS scoring: 23.8 pts
Andre Williams – Standard scoring: 20.7 pts; MLFS scoring: 28.5 pts
Chris Johnson – Standard scoring: 6.6 pts; MLFS scoring: 8.6 pts
Nate Washington – Standard scoring: 5.6 pts; MLFS scoring: 8.6 pts
Week 14 Misses:
Keenan Allen – Standard scoring: 0.3 pts; MLFS scoring: 4.0 pts
Tre Mason – Standard scoring: 6.6 pts; MLFS scoring: 8.6 pts
Kelvin Benjamin – Standard scoring: 8.4 pts; MLFS scoring: 10.4 pts
Golden Tate – Standard scoring: 5.0 pts; MLFS scoring: 9.0 pts
Daniel Herron – Standard scoring: 7.1 pts; MLFS scoring: 11.1 pts
Chris Ivory – Standard scoring: 5.7 pts; MLFS scoring: 3.7 pts
Nick Toon – Standard scoring: 4.5 pts; MLFS scoring: 8.5 pts
When looking back on last week, I could talk about how C.J. Anderson just continues to pump out monster numbers. I could dive into what should be done with Kelvin Benjamin at this point in the season. Or I could reemphasize my point about Golden Tate being nothing more than a middling WR3. Instead, my conscience is telling me there’s really only route to go…
We head down to the field for an official ruling on this one:
That’s a big ol’ slice of humble pie I just choked down. I couldn’t help myself, America. Keenan Allen just looked so good. I got lost in that sexy combination of double digit targets and high cheekbones. And boy, do I love a man who gets double digit targets.
But as bad as that performance was, Allen gets Denver this week, a team he already went 9-73-1 against in Week 8. Consider this a double down. If you trust him this Sunday, you will be rewarded with a strong WR2 performance.
Onto the rest of this week’s recommendations. The NFL did the fantasy community a favor by giving us a cornucopia of fantasy-friendly options in the Sunday nighter (DAL-PHI) and the Monday nighter (NO-CHI). Here’s hoping you can pair some big names in those tilts with a few of the following flex options and make it to the ship:
Latavius Murray, RB (OAK) – So lemme get this straight? Oakland, who for months have been trotting out the useless bodies of Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, finally figured it out? They decided to let their most explosive offensive talent touch the ball more than four times? Apparently, this ain’t your daddy’s Raiders. I don’t care that Murray’s only managed 76 yards against the 49ers. The most important number is that glaring 23 in the carries column. This is what many of us have been waiting all season to see. Now he gets another shot at a Kansas City defense that just gave up 100 yards and over five yards per carry to some guy named Kerwynn. Kerwynn Williams to be exact. Not bad for a guy who sells paint for a living (wait, that’s Sherwin Williams? Eh, close enough). The Chiefs have given up the second-most yards to opposing running backs this year. Yes. Read that one more time in case it didn’t sink in. Chiefs. Second-most rushing yards. All of football. A high-volume Murray and this sieve of a rushing defense almost seems to good to be true. Almost.
Expectation: Top-15 RB
Alfred Morris, RB (WAS) – There’s one man in Washington who is hoping for another start from RGIII this Sunday. That man is… Daniel Snyder, duh. But another guy who benefits from Griffin taking the snaps is Alfred Morris. Colt McCoy’s neck injury is not as serious as once thought, but it is no sure thing he’ll be back under center for Washington when they meet up with the Giants. If he can’t go, word out of D.C. is it’ll be Griffin’s job again, to that chagrin of anyone who enjoys quality quarterback play. But Morris’ production has been unquestionably helped by the presence of RGIII. In the five games the Griffin has started, Morris has posted no less than 85 rushing yards in each and has averaged a TD per contest. New York’s run D looks a lot better as of late but that’s largely due to matchups with Jacksonville and Tennessee over the past two weeks. Expect a heavy dose of Morris in this one, and I could even see him reaching RB1 status with you-know-who under center, making him worthy of a start in daily games.
Expectation: Top-18 RB; Top-12 if Robert Griffin III starts at QB
LeGarrette Blount, RB (NE) – So this is the play. Whine your way out of Pittsburgh and end up the lead back on the best team in the AFC. Maybe LeGarrette Blount is smarter than any of us gave him credit for. Those of you who bought into the Jonas Gray hype after his 4-TD game a few weeks ago, allow me to introduce you to Bill Belechick. You should’ve known by now this is what he does, which does make me pause for a minute on this recommendation. But when Blount is getting 15 touches a game since joining the Pats, including 22 last week, it’s hard not to trust him, especially against a Miami defense that has looked frazzled against the run the past three weeks. The Dolphins have allowed 529 yards on the ground to opposing running backs over that span, and it’s not like the Broncos, Jets and Ravens are world-beaters on the ground. Nobody game plans for individual games quite like New England and with Miami playing well on the back end with Grimes and Co., it would not surprise me at all to see another heavy dose of Blount and the ground game.
Expectation: Top-20 RB
Jonathan Stewart, RB (CAR) – Stewart absolutely saved my bacon in one of my league’s this week, giving me a solid RB2 option in a desperate situation. He rose to the occasion against a porous Saints defense to the tune of 155 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and should enjoy success against a Tampa Bay team that isn’t much better stopping the run. The Bucs have allowed over 20 points to opposing backfields (standard scoring) in three of their past four. The unfortunate news of Cam Newton’s car accident and subsequent back injury means Derek Anderson will get the start for the Panthers, which ultimately drops Stewart from an RB2 option again down to RB3/Flex territory for me. I still think the volume will be there and Carolina will be able to open some holes on Sunday, but losing the threat of Newton’s legs does trim some of the appeal and upside.
Expectation: Top-25 RB
Donte Moncrief, WR (IND) – Before any discussion of Moncrief can take place, we have to start with just what is wrong with Reggie Wayne. Have to give credit to the guy for continuing to play despite the partially torn triceps he’s dealing with, but it’s clear this injury has really slowed him down. When’s the last time you saw Wayne record three times as many drops as receptions in a game? Hard to believe, but this does open the door again for Moncrief, who played 48 out of 81 snaps last week against the Browns. As Wayne continues to struggle, expect even an even greater opportunity on Sunday against Houston. Only one team in the NFL gives up more fantasy points to wideouts than the Texans, and Andrew Luck absolutely shredded this team on a Thursday night in Week 6. There should be more than enough to support both Hilton and Moncrief in this one, making the latter a viable WR3/Flex option for those in need.
Expectation: Top-36 WR
Allen Hurns, WR (JAC) – The only team more generous to opposing wide receivers than the aforementioned Texans is the Baltimore Ravens. They’ve swallowed up opposing running games, but have been gashed through the air since losing Jimmy Smith. Now they face a Jaguars team who just lost their only productive rusher, Denard Robinson. Is there any doubt how Jacksonville is going to attack this Baltimore defense? Expect Blake Bortles to air it out and the beneficiary will be Allen Hurns. He’s been Bortles’ go-to guy as of late resulting in 18 targets over the last two games. Unfortunately, those targets haven’t produced much in the way of results for the Miami product (just 78 yards and a TD), but I would still rather take my chances on someone who is getting the looks and has produced big stat lines in the past (sorry, Marqise Lee). If you’re rolling with a Jacksonville WR because of the friendly matchup, I would lean towards Hurns over all others.
Expectation: Top-40 WR
Marquess Wilson, WR (CHI) – Let’s roll the calendar back to August and my 2014 handcuff primer. In it, I touted Marquess Wilson as the heir apparent in the Bears receiving corps should something happen to either Marshall or Jeffery. After a gruesome knee to the back against Dallas last week, Brandon Marshall now finds himself sidelined for the rest of the season, opening the door for Wilson as a sneaky pickup in Week 15. Although he lacks the physical stature of both incumbents, Wilson is another tall target that stands 6’3″ and has plenty of downfield potential. He’s gifted a matchup with the Saints for his first professional start, a team that has more questions than answers in the defensive backfield as evidenced by the team’s benching of safety Kenny Vaccaro. It’s a shot in the dark for sure, but if Wilson approaches the eight targets that Marshall was getting each game, it could be a very lucrative one.
Expectation: Top-40 WR
Harry Douglas, WR (ATL) – Another member of this year’s handcuff brigade in the preseason was Harry Douglas. He showed in 2013 what he can do when injuries crop up on Julio Jones and/or Roddy White. Fast forward to this season and, whaddya know, both Jones and White are dealing with various afflictions again. White is hampered by an ankle injury that sidelined him in Week 13, but he played nearly every snap in Monday night’s barnburner with the Packers. Clearly, however, he’s nowhere near 100 percent. One of the most respected parts of White’s game is also one of the most frustrating to fantasy owners. He’ll suit up no matter how banged up he is even if it’s just to play the decoy role.
It could be through Jones’ injury that Douglas finds a clearer path to more targets. Jones suffered a hip injury in the fourth quarter on Monday and missed the rest of the game. Despite missing practice on Wednesday, he’ll likely go down as a question mark all the way until game time. Owners would be wise to add Douglas if the worst-case scenario plays out and Jones can’t go against the Steelers. Pittsburgh has struggled in the second half of the season defending on the outside and has allowed nine WR scores in the last six games. Roster Douglas for insurance and deploy him with confidence should Julio miss out.
Expectation: Top-50 WR; Top-30 WR if J. Jones doesn’t play
Kamar Aiken, WR (BAL) – Continuing the theme of replacements for banged-up pass catchers, Kamar Aiken had a nice output in relief of Torrey Smith this past Sunday, posting a tidy 6-65-1 line against Miami. Smith, who was active for the game, was unable to do much due to a knee injury and played just 15 of 63 snaps before shutting it down. He also missed practice on Wednesday and his status for this week’s game against the Jags is very much in the air. Should Baltimore decide to rest T. Smith (and against Jacksonville, they should probably do just that), Aiken has shown himself to be a competent option as he has surpassed 50 yards in each of the last two contests. He’s one of the better Hail Mary options you’ll find this week.
Expectation: Top-50 WR
(Click the blue link below to listen live)
Major League Fantasy Sports Radio: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on December 14th, 2014 from 11am-12pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by The Sports PaloozaRadio Network.
We will take your calls live at 646.915.8596. Our guests this week include Bryan Robinson and Ron McCleese. Bryan is a writer with MLFS and his focus is on the RB/WR positions. His articles are published every Thursday called “FLEXual Tension”. Ron McCleese is also a writer with MLFS and his focus is on the QB/TE positions. His articles are published every Friday called “Heroes & Zeros”. This should be a very spirited debate and we encourage listeners to join in!
Don’t forget if you miss the live airing you can always click the blue link above or listen to the podcast afterward. You can find it by searching for “Sports Palooza Radio” on I-Tunes or Google play stores.