This time next year, I will have been married for 4 months. Yeah I’m that kid: the one who gets married halfway through college. She’s a beautiful nursing student who, thankfully, will be graduating in December of 2015. But until then, as Alan Jackson puts it, we’ll be “living on love”…and very little else. Being newlyweds will be exciting as we learn more about each other everyday and experience a brand new life together. We’ll be two college students joined in wedded bliss.
Now you’re not reading this to know about my personal life, you’re waiting to get to the fantasy analysis. Well, I challenge you to look back at the wonderful football marriages that took place this offseason and the beautiful impact they’re now having on your fantasy lineup. Remember when Gary Kubiak and Steve Smith were brought together as one? Yeah we’re not talking about marriage in the traditional sense, we’re talking about the ever-important marriage of new offensive coordinators and their new toys. Let’s take a quick look at just how big of an impact three new offensive coordinators are having on your roster.
· Gary Kubiak and WR Steve Smith
o When Kubiak was let go by the Texans this past offseason, teams around the league quickly inquired about the former offensive coordinator. He was always more of an offensive mind in Houston, leaving the defense up to his staff. Now in Baltimore, there may be no one happier than former Panther wide receiver Steve Smith. Upon leaving Carolina, Smith quickly became the ‘X factor’ receiver in Kubiak’s offense. For years, none other than Texan star receiver Andre Johnson held this prominent role. During his time in Houston, Kubiak made Johnson the first, second, and third option in the passing game. Secondary receivers weren’t important because they weren’t utilized. Kubiak had one receiver he cared about and that was going to be his guy through thick and thin. All this to say, we should have seen this breakout coming from Smith. Through three weeks, the former Panther has been targeted a staggering 32 times and has reeled in 18 of them. The next most targeted receiver is Torrey Smith, targeted only 18 times (or almost less than half of Smith). If an owner in your league is letting Smith ride the pine, see what kind of deal you can put together to grab him while he’s still available. As long as he holds down the ‘X’ spot, Smith is a viable WR2 in most formats.
· Hue Jackson and RB Giovani Bernard
o Hue Jackson is in a much different situation then Kubiak. Rather than moving teams, Jackson was promoted from Bengals running backs coach to offensive coordinator upon Jay Gruden’s exit to Washington. Having coached the team’s running backs, Jackson was smart enough to know what he had in the dynamic Gio Bernard. In 2013, Gruden was still focused on splitting the carries between Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. But today, Green-Ellis finds himself a free agent looking for a job while Bernard shines in Cincy. This fantasy marriage has done wonders for the young back. Last season, Bernard had more than 13 carries in just two games. This year, he’s already surpassed that number, averaging more than 18 carries a game. This doesn’t even include his role in the passing game, having already accumulated 19 targets through 3 weeks. Gio is the real deal and his owners are grateful for this marriage of coordinator and star running back.
· Ben McAdoo and RB Rashad Jennings
o In the last of our three marriages, we look at the beautiful chemistry between former Packers assistant McAdoo and Giants running back Rashad Jennings. McAdoo was brought into New York to spark life in an offense that ended in the bottom-five in offense last season. Having run the West Coast offense while in Green Bay, the coordinator quickly transformed the Giants into this system. West Coast offenses are known for short passes near the line of scrimmage and a hurry-up mentality. The Giants brass hired McAdoo hoping he could raise Eli Manning’s career 58.5% completion rate (hasn’t topped 60% in a season since 2011). What they didn’t expect was the massive role Jennings would play in the new scheme. Through week 3, Jennings has carried the rock 68 times for nearly 300 yards. In the current age of football, it’s hard to find many bell cow running backs. You need not look any further to find one. Having ceded just 19 carries to backup Andre Williams, this backfield is all Jennings. Expect more of the same in the coming weeks as McAdoo and Jennings take their marriage and turn it into wedded bliss (in the form of many, many fantasy points).
Week 4 Rankings:
Here are my week 4 rankings broken down by position. I’ve also included my top 50 flex for those who can’t decide if they need to start a RB, WR, or TE in that flex spot. On to the rankings….
DeMarco Murray — Murray absolutely torched the St. Louis defense for 175 yards this past Sunday, adding another outstanding performance against the Rams to his Cowboy history. Let’s just hope that he can replicate some of that success outside of St. Louis.
Josh Gordon — Gordon is finally relieved of his suspension in Week 3, and what does he do? He catches 10 balls on 19 targets for 146 yards and a touchdown. Other than a few turnovers, Brian Hoyer threw the ball well, and Gordon was his main recipient. Ironically, the same week that the Browns trade away their superstar running back, their offense finally starts to click. This offense will run through Gordon, making him a good player to have on a team.
Giovani Bernard — What does a young Darren Sproles look like? He looks a lot like Bernard. Bernard has two touchdowns in his last two games and received double-digit carries in Week 3. He is an adept pass catcher, has breakaway speed, and a team that uses him appropriately. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will still be used in late game and goal line situations because of his reliability, but Bernard is the better runner in this backfield.
Antonio Brown — Brown totaled 196 yards and two touchdowns against a strong Chicago secondary Sunday. Looks like the Steelers might not be missing Mike Wallace that much after all.
C.J. Spiller — It seems to be a new trend in fantasy football this year — a star running back gets hurt mid-game, his back-up comes in to finish the game and outplays the incumbent. Spiller is the latest victim to this trend. Spiller left Sunday’s game with a knee injury, and in his absence, Fred Jackson totaled 109 all-purpose yards. Spiller’s injury isn’t serious, but Jackson looks to limit Spiller’s ceiling moving forward.
Anquan Boldin — I don’t care how many targets Boldin gets every week. The 49ers’ offense has been shut down for the second game in a row, and this time against a historically weak Colts defense. Boldin may be the recipient of many five-yard passes this year, but what good does that really do?
Ryan Mathews — Good news: Mathews is still healthy. Bad news: It doesn’t matter. Mathews is averaging less than four yards per carry this year, and Ronnie Brown is starting to get all of the goal-line work in this offense. Bring in Danny Woodhead for all pass-catching downs, and Mathews has very little fantasy worth.
Stevan Ridley — Ridley is still the running back to own in the Patriot’s offense, but that doesn’t mean that he should be starting on a fantasy team. Brandon Bolden had three carries for 51 yards Sunday, and LeGarrette Blount had 14 carries for 65 yards. This backfield will only become more convoluted with Shane Vereen’s return from injury in a few weeks. I wouldn’t start any Patriots’ running back on my team.
Week 1 of NFL football is always a mixed bag, as it is often hard to tell whether successes or failures will be isolated incidences or the beginning of a trend. Will Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant combine for only 59 yards in future weeks? Unlikely, but you may see players like C.J. Spiller and Lamar Miller start to trend downwards. Usually this column lists the buys and sells related to the prior weekend’s games, but I never like to sell a player based solely on their Week 1 performance. Here are some players that I am currently buying into and some that I worry about.
Jared Cook and Jordan Cameron — Cook and Cameron are stunningly similar players — young, big, fast tight ends on teams with quickly improving offenses. Both players had very successful first weeks and will continue to improve. Both Sam Bradford and Brandon Weeden should continue to look for ways to dump the ball off and avoid turnovers. Cook and Cameron may not repeat their Week 1 successes, but expect them to be strong fantasy starters for the foreseeable future.
Stevan Ridley — This pick isn’t as much of a buy as it is a don’t worry. A fumble on the Patriots’ first drive led to Ridley spending most of his Sunday on the bench. Bill Belichick is a stickler about turnovers, and Ridley should take a lesson from this model even though he doesn’t have a fumble problem historically. Although Shane Vereen racked up 158 yards from scrimmage in Ridley’s stead, he also injured his wrist in the game and required surgery. Ridley will continue to start in New England, post solid numbers and can be bid on at a lower price due to his less-than-stellar Week 1.
Lamar Miller — What does an appallingly bad Week 1 performance for a starting running back look like? Ten rushes for three yards and one reception for seven yards. Welcome to the fantasy dog house, Mr. Miller. Miller showed very few signs of life in Week 1 and saw a large portion of the Dolphins’ touches go to Daniel Thomas. I’m not initiating a fire sale on Miller, but I am definitely leaving him on my bench until further notice.
C.J. Spiller — Since entering the NFL three years ago, Spiller has shown fans exactly one half of a great season. Although he seemed poised to break out this year — and he still might — it may be time to tap the breaks on Spiller’s expectations. He has all of the potential in the world, but inconsistency could cut short his effectiveness. This week Spiller had 55 yards from scrimmage and a fumble, while his counterpart, Fred Jackson, had 108 yards from scrimmage and held onto the ball. The Bills will continue to frustrate fantasy owners and use Jackson for entire quarters at a time, which will limit Spiller’s productivity and make him unworthy of the top 10 overall pick that fantasy football fan probably spent on him.
Former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III launched his NFL career with a win against the New Orleans Saints last Sunday.
RG3’s NFL debut came at the Superdome against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, making his performance even more impressive. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards while running for 42 yards more. Griffin III showed his poise, tallying two touchdowns in the game, one for 88 yards.
Spiller had 14 attempts running for 169 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 12.5 yards a carry while catching a few passes out of the backfield. That isn’t too bad since he ran against a decent New York Jets defense. With Fred Jackson out, Spiller should match his sterling performance when he faces the Kansas City Chiefs, who gave up 40 points in their first game.
Ridley had the best game of his career in the Patriots’ opener, running 21 times for 125 yards. This season, after gaining the starting job with the loss of Green-Ellis, Ridley’s explosive speed and willingness to absorb contact will rack up a lot of points for any fantasy team.
Sanchez faced a weak Buffalo defense in the Jets’ opener, throwing for three touchdowns, but he still has Tim Tebow right behind him. After Tebow came in as a slot receiver on the second play of the game, Sanchez seemed bothered and is facing a Steelers defense in Week 2 that is coming off a Week 1 loss to the Broncos. His first performance was a bit misleading, and may set some fantasy players up for failure in future weeks.
While Smith had a good opener, he shouldn’t have the same luck this week. Smith had a total of 62 yards with 4.8 yards a carry. That was against a St. Louis run defense that was ranked 31st in the league at the end of last season. This week Smith and the Lions face a 49ers defense that is very strong against the running game.
Weeden got stuck under the American flag being brought onto the field during warm-ups. If he knew what was to come, he probably would have stayed there. He threw for only 118 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions. With a tough schedule coming up for the Browns against the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants, things won’t get any easier for Weeden.
Printed on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 as: Griffin III a smart start for fantasy