Aggressiveness is a characteristic that tends to reward fantasy
owners more times than not. In the NFL, an offensive line will sometimes
hold up long enough to give the quarterback enough time to beat
man coverage down the field and make the defense look foolish against
a fierce pass rush. More often than not, though, when a defense
brings the heat and forces the action, crisis management becomes
the name of the game for the opposing team.
In that same vein,
I hope to apply that same kind of pressure to the owners in all
of my leagues by beating my opponents to the punch in regards
to personnel moves. Sometimes, reaching a conclusion about a player
too quickly is much like trying to blitz Peyton Manning –
dangerous and painful. However, coming to a correct conclusion
two weeks or two minutes quicker than your opponents is considered
foresight. Fantasy owners can be a uneasy lot, knowing that one
two-or-three-game losing streak can wreak irreparable damage to
his/her team’s chances to make a visit to the fantasy postseason.
But just as it is in the NFL and in life, it’s hard to land
the big prize by playing scared. Thus, I will strive each week
to help each of you become a smart blitzer, so to speak.
While deciding which team is the best of the best after three weeks
is a dicey proposition, it sure hasn't been hard to identify the
teams that are throwing their hat into the ring for the No. 1 overall
pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
In all my years of following the NFL, I can't seem to recall
a time when so many teams looked so awful coming out of the gate.
For instance, Cleveland is off to a start of epic proportions,
losing by an average of 22 pts/game while scoring just one offensive
TD - a garbage-time throw with 28 seconds remaining in Week 1
vs. the Vikings. While it is hardly shocking that Carolina wasn't
able to maintain its 12-4 pace from a season ago, I'm not sure
anyone had them going 0-3, averaging just a shade over 12 pts/game
while allowing 29. Fellow NFC South competitor Tampa Bay has looked
even worse than the Panthers in losing its first three contests,
highlighted by Week 3's dismal 84 total-yard performance against
a depleted Giants' defense. And let's not forget the Rams, who
we anticipated would struggle. And struggle they have, averaging
eight points per game while giving up over 24.
To its credit, however, St. Louis actually has fought hard for
new HC Steve Spagnuolo in its last two games, giving the Redskins
all they could handle on the road in Week 2 before fading in the
fourth quarter at home vs. the Packers.
After three weeks, there are seven 0-3 teams in all, most of
which are struggling to put together any semblance of an offense.
Throw 1-2 Oakland and its 12 pts/game average into the mix as
well. Those eight teams comprise a group that takes into account
25% of the league. Of that bunch, only the Titans strike me as
a team that not only needs to catch a break, but also could get
things righted quickly and make a run.
Why does it matter in fantasy? Certainly, it makes a lot of sense
since Miami, Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, Carolina and Tampa
Bay aren't scoring a ton of points on offense, it may be high
time to re-evaluate how much stock you are putting into players
from those teams. Going one step further, the basis for all my
preseason work with the PSAs is to identify favorable matchups.
Typically, most of the emphasis in fantasy is targeted towards
offensive players, but for the thousands of owners who play in
leagues in which bonuses are handed out to defenses that hold
an opponent under a certain yardage or point total, it may be
high time to take another glance at the schedule to see how many
of these floundering offenses you can get on your defense's schedule.
With nearly a quarter of the league having offensive issues, it
may not be as hard as it usually is to find a bye-week defense…or
a favorable mix-and-match unit.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the defenses that are
lined for fantasy success. Bear in mind that some of these winless
teams (Carolina and Kansas City are the most likely to find an
offensive spark at some point) probably won't stay poor on offense
all season long, but they don't exactly figure to light up the
scoreboard in 2009 either.
Defenses built for success over the next five weeks (must have
multiple good matchups):
- Buffalo - @ Miami (Week
4), vs. Cleveland (Week 5), @ Carolina (Week 7)
- NY Jets - @ Miami (Week
5), vs. Buffalo (Week 6), @ Oakland (Week 7), vs. Miami (Week
- San Diego - @ Kansas City
(Week 7), vs. Oakland (Week 8)
- NY Giants - @ Kansas City
(Week 4), vs. Oakland (Week 5)
- Philadelphia - vs. Tampa
Bay (Week 5), at Oakland (Week 6), at Washington (Week 7)
- Washington - vs. Tampa Bay
(Week 4), at Carolina (Week 5), vs. Kansas City (Week 6)
- Green Bay - vs. Detroit
(Week 6), at Cleveland (Week 7)
Before I break down the workloads this week, Week 3 has usually
been the time of the season when coaches tend to turn their main
RBs loose, that is, if they have a featured back. Because many
teams opt not to overwork their backs during the preseason, coaches
have generally used the first two weeks of the regular season
to ease their runners into midseason form. Certainly, matchups
and game situations dictate usage week-to-week, but this past
week saw a significant increase in touches for Steven Jackson,
Ryan Grant and Willie Parker, among others.
Time to deal Willie Parker.
(Speaking of Fast Willie, deal, deal, deal...if the recent past
has taught us anything about turf toe injuries on running backs,
it is that those injuries not only linger, but pretty much sap
the fantasy value of that player. After nearly going for 100 yards
in Week 3, it may be as good of time as any to see if someone
likes him more than you.)
For RBs this week, I drew the line at 21 touches (seven/game)
and for WRs/TEs, I stopped at five targets/game. Those are hardly
foolproof limits, but once we get lower than those numbers, we
are typically dealing with role players at best, which should
be available on your league’s waiver wire or on the cheap
from an owner holding onto that player to fill out his/her roster.
As you will see, there are some notable exceptions on each list,
but expect most of those players to find their way back up the
chart before long.
Note: This week,
I opted to sort each position by touches or targets/game.
Quick Hits: Fred Jackson and Benson
top the charts again this week, but the former's owners will need
to return to their pre-draft plans as Marshawn Lynch returns this
week. Word has it that Buffalo plans on an even split. Expect
Jackson to get more work than Lynch this week, but all bets are
off from Week 5 on. As for Benson owners, it may be time to lock
up Bernard Scott if you want to keep him around. Benson showed
an ability to handle this kind of workload at the college level,
but I'd be a bit leery of trusting him all season long at this
rate. If the first three weeks are any indication of his future
opponents, his rest-of-the-season schedule appears manageable.
Still, I'd see what I could get for him following this week's
Battle of Ohio game vs. Cleveland.
Many of you were forewarned about Michael
Turner and DeAngelo
Williams during the preseason. There's still a lot of games
left to be played, but Turner is averaging a full yard/carry less
than he did last season. He's also on pace for 31 fewer touches
than he had in 2008 (383 to 352) but the removal of the AFC and
NFC West from his schedule is taking its toll on his fantasy stock.
He's a candidate to explode for a two- or three-score game at
some point if the right matchup presents itself, but heís going
to need a couple of monster games pretty soon to approach last
yearís pace. To wit, it took him until his 64th carry this season
what it took him 22 carries to do last season - run for 220 yards.
He still hasn't matched the three-TD output he posted in that
Week 1 vs. Detroit in 2008 either.
As for Williams, he has been very productive from a YPC and yards/touch
standpoint. Still, the presence of Jonathan Stewart and the Panthersí
awful defense has conspired to keep D-Will down. Like Turner,
he is a full yard/carry below last season's 5.5 and given Carolina's
other problems, I'm not sure he's going to get enough work on
a consistent basis to live up to his first-round billing. Whatever
happens with him, it sure won't be for a lack of talent. Both
Turner and Williams will have byes this week, so let's hope that
the offensive coordinators for both teams get some things figured
out during the off week.
At this point, I wouldn't mind dealing for Moreno or Slaton if
the price was right. The Broncosí rookie is heading into
the difficult part of his schedule, but his touches are increasing
each week and one has to think it won't be long before he squeezes
Correll Buckhalter's playing time even more, especially as the
Broncos play some teams that will likely expose them for the fraud
of a 3-0 team they are. I'm not sure next week's game vs. Dallas
qualifies as a true test, but I would be a bit concerned about
all things Broncos as they meet the Chargers before heading into
a bye, followed by games vs. the Ravens and Steelers.
Sure enough, Slaton's production nearly doubled once he got past
the difficult run defenses of the Jets and Titans. He looks a
step slower than he did last year and appears to be clutching
the ball with two arms in open space more often than I ever remember
seeing him do before, likely as a result of his three fumbles
in his first two games. With that said, look for Slaton to continue
increasing his touches and run with a bit more confidence starting
this week vs. Oakland. Weeks 5-7 don't look all that promising,
but the worst is probably already over schedule-wise for Houston's
top back. Yes, Chris Brown looms as the TD vulture, but we all
know he's far from a sure thing in the durability department.
Even before the announcement that LeSean McCoy would split backfield
duties with Brian Westbrook came down, the rookie was getting
his fair share of the workload (32-19 prior to Week 3's 21-touch
effort from McCoy). I'm not exactly sure that we can just take
a few fantasy points per game from Westbrook and give them to
McCoy just yet, but if you had the foresight to grab the rookie
at your draft, take advantage of it. While he may not match the
production of a healthy Westbrook going forward, it's safe to
say McCoy's stock may be skyrocketing soon. Westbrook has been
an injury risk for years, so itís quite likely Week 3 was
just the first of a few missed games this season for the aging
You don't need me to tell you that Glen Coffee is worth a waiver
wire pickup, but I can't get the notion of a fade from the player
who immediately precedes him on this list, Willis McGahee, out
of my head. Certainly, no one expects to keep up his two-TD-per-game
pace, but the Ravens' run through weak run defenses is over, especially
if New England decides to bring its run defense to the party in
Week 4 like it did in Week 3.
After the Pats, the Ravens begin a five-game, six-week run against
rush defenses that are in the bottom half of fantasy points allowed
to RBs this season. Perhaps Rice-McGahee is this year's Smash-and-Dash
in which both players can finish among the top 20 fantasy RBs,
but Iím not getting that vibe quite yet. OC Cam Cameron's
offenses have historically produced ridiculously productive ground
games, but I think that as the season progresses and the defenses
get tougher, the Ravens will lean just a bit more on Joe Flacco.
I can't see McGahee's stock getting much higher (barring an injury
to Rice), meaning it might be time to turn him around into a RB2
with a steadier, more-defined role or sure-fire starter at WR.
There seems to be a lot of speculation that Pierre
Thomas re-cemented his role as the Saints' feature back (as
essentially plays a hybrid receiver-runner position in the Saints'
offense) with his Week 3 performance. I'm not so sure. If I'm
a Thomas owner, I'm doing whatever I can to grab Mike
Bell now just to hedge my bet. After Bellís impressive two-week
audition, I canít believe weíve seen the last of his fantasy contributions
in 2009, so now is a great time to acquire his services on the
cheap while he is just eating up space on another teamís bench.
Notable names that just missed the cut:
Quick Hits: Randy
Moss is never going to come cheap, but it sure wouldn't hurt
to remind his owners he hasn't scored yet. At the rate Tom Brady
is targeting him, Moss could blow up for a two- or three-TD game
any week now.
Speaking of a high-volume target WR, Nate Burleson's continued
presence atop this list puzzles me. On one hand, he is no slouch
and we have seen his potential on a number of occasions, but I'm
still highly skeptical of how long he can be productive with his
surgerically-repaired knee. Houshmandzadeh is one of the best
possession WRs in the league (especially key in OC Greg Knapp's
run-heavy offense) and John Carlson is awful tempting in the red
zone. The Bears appeared willing to let him have the short stuff
in Week 3, but I have to believe it is only a matter of time before
opponents start testing his long speed. Maybe Burleson and Houshmandzadeh
end up being options 1A and 1B, but as of right now, I doubt it.
Andre Johnson: Keep the faith.
target rate is a bit disturbing, but keep the faith if you own
him and wait until after this week to trade for him if you want
him. In 16 games last season, AJ saw single-digit targets in a
game just five times. This season, he already has two, and if
history tells us anything, it will be three after this week. Week
1ís low-target rate against the Jets' defense was excusable and
Week 3ís low total against Jacksonville isnít all that surprising
as the Jaguars haven't allowed him to beat them lately. This week,
he should see a lot of Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha. Last year, that
matchup led to Johnson's worst fantasy game since two miserable
games in December 2006 (one of which came against Oakland). Now,
assuming the Raiders know what is good for them (don't laugh),
they won't change a thing when it comes to defending the Texans'
passing game in Week 4.
Is there a player who produces more with limited opportunities
Jackson? After posting 18.6 YPC and seven scores on 59 catches
last year, he's a shade under 20 YPC and has scored twice in 2009.
Much like Calvin
Johnson last year, neither WR seems to need a lot of balls
thrown his way to produce in a big way. Speaking of Johnson, things
are only going to get better for him. On at least two occasions
this season, all Megatron needed was for his QB, Matthew Stafford,
to give him a ball in the end zone in which he could ouDougump his
defender. Both times the rookie QB has put too much heat on the
throw. Don't worry, Stafford will settle down and perfect that
throw soon enough.
Sims-Walker isn't David Garrard's first option in the passing
game for Jacksonville, he's probably 1A. With 19 targets over
his last two games, he's quickly become a viable WR3 in fantasy.
Another fairly cheap WR3 option is Nate
Washington, a player that Tennessee believed would assume
the lead receiver role at some point in 2009. After being slowed
by an injury to open the season, he's shown to be an important
part of the offense (especially in the red zone) over the last
two weeks with two TDs and 16 targets. I like him to be one of
the better WR3 options out there by the end of the season.
For a QB-WR pair to look as rough chemistry-wise as Brett Favre
and Bernard Berrian do right now, it's rather amazing that he
has seen the most targets of all the Vikings' WRs over the past
two weeks. As any Favre fan could tell you, the grizzled vet will
spread it around to a number of players and there is little doubt
he already trusts Harvin in crunch time. With that said, it's
only a matter of time before Favre and Berrian make up for their
lost preseason and connect on a few deep balls. Berrian will probably
never be the most consistent fantasy WR, but he's in the best
situation of his career right now and the player most likely to
benefit from Favre's arm.
Notable names who just missed the cut:
Marshwan (Marty) Gilyard, WE Cincinnati (6-1,
Much like last week's entrant, Jahvid Best, Gilyard used the
end of the 2008 season as a springboard to what should be the
culmination of an incredible college career. After posting reasonable
totals for a talented junior receiver through mid-November, Gilyard
has been nearly unstoppable since. Say what you will about the
level of defensive wizardry that Pitt HC Dave Wannstedt and ex-Syracuse
HC Greg Robinson (both former pro defensive coordinators) possess,
but along with Virginia Tech HC Frank Beamer, none of these coaches
were able to devise a scheme to slow down Gilyard last season.
Since torching Pitt for eight catches, 110 yards and a score in
late November 2008, Gilyard hasn't fallen below six catches or
65 yards receiving in any of his last eight games, scoring in
all but one of those contests and at least 100 yards receiving
in all but two of those contests. As amazing as he is to watch
on the field, it's safe to say this receiver passes the character
test as well. In an effort to make ends meet and fulfill his athletic
goals earlier in his career, Gilyard worked four jobs and even
slept in his car at one point to get by. Projecting most any college
receiver to the pro game is hardly an exact science - especially
those from spread offenses - but I'd like to believe I can make
a case for Gilyard to contribute almost immediately in the NFL
With pro prospect Tony Pike directing the offense, the Bearcats
QB must have targeted Gilyard at least 15 times on his 26 pass
attempts last weekend in their win over Fresno State. Absent of
genetic freaks like Calvin Johnson, I favor college receivers
who I feel excel in space, much like a good punt returner would.
Because most college defenses don't have cornerbacks to physically
match up with someone who possesses Gilyard's speed or quickness,
it's a fair question as to how well he will handle press coverage
at the next level, although he has the size to beat it if he is
taught the proper technique. Cincinnati also doesn't ask him to
run many routes over the middle, but the fact that he returns
kicks suggests he doesn't mind taking a bit of contact.
Outside of that, there is a lot to like with Gilyard. He is a
hands-catcher whose routes are crisp for a college wideout. He
actually plays smaller than his listed size (which in this case
is a good thing) because his game is what one would typically
expect out of a slot receiver. His acceleration makes him a threat
in the short passing game as well as the deep passing game. The
Bearcats don't ask him to return many punts, but he is one of
the few players in my opinion who has the straight-line speed
and vision necessary to excel on kick returns and the quickness
and elusiveness to fare well on punt returns at the next level.
If I were pressed to compare him to a current NFL receiver, I
would go with the same player his Bearcat teammates compare him
to - Santonio Holmes. However, I must admit in the games I have
seen him in so far, I like Gilyard more as a prospect than I did
Holmes when he came out of Ohio State. As such, I wouldn't be
a bit surprised if he is a more consistent version of the Steelers'
WR early in his NFL career.