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When Two Is One Too Many – Stewart vs. Williams


By: — July 26, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

In my continuing quest to contribute to your draft-day domination, I will compose a series of blogs over the next few weeks that focus on players that are sure to create some hardship for fantasy owners: players on the same team who play the same position that will likely have a significant fantasy impact. For those of you who regularly read and contribute to the FF Today Forums, consider this short series a distant relative to “Look-Alike Players”. My goal is to create a compelling case for and against each player before handing down a final decision. Let’s get started:

The players in question this week: Running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams

The setup: Full-point PPR; 10 rushing/receiving yards equal one fantasy point; all touchdowns are worth six fantasy points.

Current ADP (courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator): Stewart – 7.05 Williams – 8.03

What’s at stake: Grabbing the better fantasy RB3 of the two the Carolina Panthers have to offer.

The case for Stewart: There seems to be very little argument that Stewart is the best “backup” running back in the league. Not only that, but Pro Football Focus has identified him as the NFL’s most elusive back in two of his four seasons in the league. And it isn’t hard to understand why: at 5-10 and 235 pounds, Stewart possesses the rare combination of power and speed that would make him the featured back on several teams around the league. When it became clear that QB Cam Newton was the real deal early last season, Stewart showed an ability in the passing game that few people knew he had simply because he had never really been asked to serve in that role in college (51 receptions in three years at Oregon) or the NFL (34 career catches prior to 2011). Stewart became the de facto third-down back when Mike Goodson could not stay healthy and, despite a career low in carries, managed his second-best fantasy season thanks in large part to a personal-best 47 catches.

The case against Stewart: Opportunity, especially now that “Double Trouble” may now evolve into “Triple Threat” with the addition of another capable big back in Mike Tolbert. Despite the Panthers’ assertion that Tolbert will merely serve as the fullback, most teams don’t feel compelled to dish out a four-year, $8.4 M contract to a player at that position when the combination of Stewart and Williams averaged nearly 5.4 yards per carry last season without him. In my opinion, Tolbert was signed for several reasons (in order): 1) serve as insurance against Jonathan Stewart leaving as a free agent after the season, 2) be the goal-line back in order to reduce the likelihood that Newton gets hurt, 3) act as the third-down back and 4) resume his role as a special-teams ace. Assuming any or all of the first three assumptions are correct, it is probably a safe to say that no player’s fantasy value is going up anytime soon. Additionally, OC Rob Chudzinski was on the Chargers’ offensive staff during Tolbert’s first three years in the league, including his 11-TD season in 2010. Stewart was already on the wrong end of carry split with Williams last year (155-142), so if Tolbert robs Stewart of a sizable portion of his work in the passing game and the carry split with Williams remains about the same, Stewart will have trouble maintaining any kind of relevance in fantasy.

Stewart saw action in 55.2% of the team’s offensive plays last season while Williams (pictured) took part in 42.7%.

The case for Williams: People have been quick to write off Williams because of the immense talent Stewart possesses, but the 29-year-old still has plenty of explosion left as his 69- and 74-yard touchdown runs from a season ago will attest. So will the fact that he’s averaged 5.0 YPC or better in four of the past five seasons. The fact the new coaching staff saw fit to give slightly more of the rushing workload to Williams, which may have simply been a coincidence or acknowledgement that since Stewart is a more trusted option in the passing game, Williams should receive a few more carries. Whatever the reason, Williams has held the edge in rushing attempts over Stewart in all three years the two have played together in which they both have been healthy, which includes a head coaching change and a two different offensive coordinators. And, of course, there is the huge contract Williams signed last off-season, which gives us a pretty good indication that Carolina expects at least 10-12 touches per game from him.

The case against Williams: Ironically, almost the same case that can be made against Stewart – opportunity. What was already an uncertain backfield picture got even messier with the addition of Tolbert, but the signs of Williams’ role decreasing were already present last season. According to ESPN, Stewart saw action in 55.2% of the team’s offensive plays last season while Williams took part in 42.7%. Furthermore, Williams handled just two carries inside the opponent’s five-yard line last season and only had 13 opportunities (12 rushes, one pass target) inside the 20. And despite a catch rate of 73.8% over the course of his career, Williams has never been a high-volume pass catcher with his 33 receptions as a rookie back in 2006 still standing as his career high. Add it all up and we’ve pretty much eliminated just about every way a running back can consistently score in fantasy.

The verdict: Hung jury, anyone? While Chudzinski has already proven himself to be a brilliant offensive mind, it will be nearly impossible for him to keep everyone happy. In all my years of playing fantasy football, I cannot recall a situation in which three running backs were able to maintain fantasy value at the same time, especially in one where the quarterback is a big part for the rushing attack. With that said, the Panthers’ running backs still finished 13th overall in PPR scoring last season even though Newton stole much of the goal-line work. So it is safe to say the idea this backfield doesn’t have much to offer in way of RB fantasy points is an illusion despite Newton’s 14 rushing scores. Since I am being asked to rule in favor of one of the men on trial here, I will lean slightly towards Stewart, but don’t make the mistake of underestimating the impact Tolbert will have on this backfield.


When Two Is One Too Many – Austin vs. Bryant


By: — July 19, 2012 @ 10:10 pm

In my continuing quest to contribute to your draft-day domination, I will compose a series of blogs over the next few weeks that focus on players that are sure to create some hardship for fantasy owners: players on the same team who play the same position that will likely have a significant fantasy impact. For those of you who regularly read and contribute to the FF Today Forums, consider this short series a distant relative to “Look-Alike Players”. My goal is to create a compelling case for and against each player before handing down a final decision. Let’s get started:

The players in question this week: Wide receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.

The setup: Full-point PPR; 10 rushing/receiving yards equal one fantasy point; all touchdowns are worth six fantasy points.

Current ADP (courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator): Austin – 5.02; Bryant – 4.06

What’s at stake: Grabbing the better fantasy WR2 of the two the Dallas Cowboys have to offer.

The case for Austin: Of all the Cowboys’ receivers, Austin is certainly the most dependable. By “dependable”, I mean Austin can be counted on to show up each game and be where he is supposed to be (on and off the field). Prior to last year’s injury-marred campaign – which the seventh-year pro admitted happened in part because he wasn’t in the kind of condition he needed to be in following the lockout – Austin had just completed consecutive 16-game seasons; Bryant has yet to play in all 16 games since he became a Cowboy in 2010. T0 his credit, Austin is reportedly in “outstanding shape” this off-season according to Cowboys website writer and former NFL scout Bryan Broaddus. As for his actual ability as a receiver, Austin has very few holes in his game. Austin does a fine job of using his 6-2, 215-pound frame to shield off defenders and is very good once he gets the ball in his hands. Austin is equal parts possession receiver and big-play threat all wrapped up in one package. Were it not for Jason Witten, Austin would easily be considered QB Tony Romo’s favorite target.

The case against Austin: Some may suggest that he lacks durability since he missed six games last year with hamstring injuries and parts of a few other contests, but we’ve already addressed why that probably isn’t a long-term concern for him. Compared to most NFL receivers, Austin is a special talent. Next to Bryant, however, his talent seems rather ordinary – which is really saying something. Despite being the same height (and separated by just three pounds), Bryant is a superior option once the ball is in his hands in part because he runs tougher than some NFL running backs after the catch. (Truth be told, there are very few pro receivers that can match Bryant in that area.) Consider for a second that Bryant has yet to show the league – or his team, for that matter – that he can consistently run more routes than a quick screen or a fly pattern and it seems rather amazing that he is still challenging Austin for the title of the Cowboys’ best fantasy receiver. In short, it seems like everyone knows Austin will eventually become the second option in this offense, but no one seems to have a good idea when that might happen as Bryant continues to struggle off the field.

Bryants work habits have improved but off-field issues remain.

The case for Bryant: Dependability…in one key area. Austin has been in the league three years and dropped a total of four “catchable” balls, according to Pro Football Focus. Question him all you want in other areas of his game, but those numbers suggest that he does what any fan or fantasy owner wants his/her receiver to do when he has an accurate throw come his way – catch it. Bryant’s physical talent is obvious, which is why many have labeled him a disappointment to this point in his career despite posting 108 catches for 1,489 yards and 15 touchdowns over the first two seasons of his NFL career. And up until a recent incident – which we’ll get to in a bit – Bryant was enjoying perhaps his quietest and most positive off-season as a pro, drawing high praise for the improvements he made in terms of his work habits and mental approach (specifically as it related to finally learning how to run consistent routes). Even as he struggles to leave his past in the past, it is clear that he is starting to “get it” in other areas, which means there is hope. Maturity is almost always a gradual process, so the new-found devotion to his craft is definitely a step in the right direction for him.

The case against Bryant: More than anything, his on- and off-the-field demons. On the field, his work ethic and grasp of the complexity of the passing game has been questioned on multiple occasions. Off the field, he just cannot seem to stay out of trouble long enough to build any kind of trust with his team and coaches, the latest of which came this past weekend when he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his mother. (Since both parties have “earned” their reputations as questionable decision makers, we’ll just stop the conversation about this incident right here and let the story play out.) Whether this latest poor decision is his fault or not, he seems to be a magnet for trouble and, from a fantasy perspective, that is obviously a problem for any owner who values as many “safe calls” when setting a lineup as possible. Is this week the week Bryant puts it all together or is it the week he misses the first half of the game because HC Jason Garrett suspended him for being late to a team meeting? Will he be focused on running his dig route at 12 yards or will he be thinking about another pending lawsuit (like the ones he was still dealing with at the end of last season)?

The verdict: Austin. Up until a week ago, my answer to this question would have been Bryant as it appeared his life was starting to move in the right direction, but this most recent incident will almost certainly lead to a multi-game league suspension. If Austin was a clear second receiver in this offense, owners could still justify taking Bryant over him. However, Austin has more than proved he can handle being the main receiver in this passing game, meaning it doesn’t make a lot of sense to wait 2-4 games for Bryant when you could probably get the same production during his absence from Austin.


When Two Is One Too Many – Nicks vs. Cruz


By: — July 12, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

In my continuing quest to contribute to your draft-day domination, I will compose a series of blogs over the next few weeks that focus on players that are sure to create some hardship for fantasy owners: players on the same team who play the same position that will likely have a significant fantasy impact. For those of you who regularly read and contribute to the FF Today Forums, consider this short series a distant relative to “Look-Alike Players”. My goal is to create a compelling case for and against each player before handing down a final decision. Let’s get started:

The players in question this week: Wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

The setup: Full-point PPR; 10 rushing/receiving yards equal one fantasy point; all touchdowns are worth six fantasy points.

Current ADP (courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator): Nicks – 4.01; Cruz – 3.09

What’s at stake: Grabbing the better fantasy WR1 of the two the New York Giants have to offer.

The case for Nicks: As the Giants’ top receiver with two 70+ catch seasons under his belt and incredible talent, Nicks represents the safer pick – from a year-to-year consistency standpoint – of the two New York wideouts. Nicks has also been an impact player since his rookie season in 2009 and as he proved throughout the playoffs last season, he can often be virtually unstoppable at times, even when he isn’t healthy. Five of his 11 touchdown receptions last season (including the playoffs) were less than five yards, meaning QB Eli Manning has a great deal of trust in him to make the necessary catch in tight quarters, be it a diving catch on a low throw by the front pylon or a fade pattern near the back of the end zone. With 28 touchdown catches in his first three seasons, Nicks is unquestionably a fantasy WR1 in PPR and non-PPR leagues when he is on the field.

The case against Nicks: Durability. Few will argue that Nicks is not or cannot be an elite fantasy receiver. (In full-point PPR leagues, he has scored less than 10 fantasy points just nine times in 46 career contests, including the playoffs!) The problem is that he almost always seems to be playing in pain and has yet to make it through an entire season. And when owners are trying to build the foundation for their fantasy team in the first few rounds, they want high-scoring players who they can plug into their lineups every week without fail. To further support the durability claim, Nicks is recovering from offseason foot surgery and appears to a question mark for the start of training camp, if not the season opener. This comes after a season in which he battled a string of nagging shoulder, knee and hamstring issues.

The case for Cruz: It’s hard to put into words the leap the former undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts made in his second season. After not catching a single pass in three games during his rookie year, Cruz exploded on the scene in his sophomore campaign with 82 catches for a franchise-best 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. To put that team record into some perspective, Cruz joined elite company as only the fourth post-merger receiver to go over the 1,500-yard receiving mark in his second season, joining the likes of Jerry Rice and former Rams teammates Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. While stats can often be deceiving, it’s hard to dispute that Cruz’s 2011 season just landed him alongside the receivers who currently occupy first, third and tenth place on the league’s career receiving yards list. Also working in the favor of Cruz is the success former Giant receiver Steve Smith had in Nicks’ rookie season. Playing the same kind of hybrid outside/slot role that Smith did back then, Cruz averaged over nine targets per game over the final 14 regular-season contests (when he became a bigger part of the offense), less than a target per game less than what Smith averaged during his breakout campaign.

Injury concerns with Nicks point the arrow in Cruz's favor.

The case against Cruz: The questions that any undrafted small-school player who seemingly comes out of nowhere typically gets, such as “Can he do it again?” and “Will he be content resting on his laurels now that he has proven himself on the big stage?”. Was his playoff showing – which was still impressive by all accounts yet slightly disappointing based on the standard he set during the regular season – a sign of things to come when defenses made more of an effort to stop him and let an injured Nicks beat them instead? They are fair questions and ones that we have to let play out, especially in his case since the only true hint he provided us that he was capable of this kind of performance before last season was during a three-touchdown game against the Jets during the 2010 preseason.

The verdict: Cruz. In a perfect world, this would be an apples-to-apples comparison in which we could discuss talent vs. opportunity vs. role. But the fact of the matter is that until Nicks can get healthy and stay that way, fantasy owners would be advised to select a more durable receiver as their top receiver option or hope that Nicks somehow slides in the draft enough to be a fantasy WR2. If injuries were not a consideration,then I would lean slightly towards Nicks. Furthermore, Cruz has locked down his role in the slot, which Smith has already proven can provide a windfall of fantasy points. The truth of the matter is that both players should benefit from the other’s presence – in reality as well as fantasy – since most defenses cannot realistically expect to slow both receivers down for an entire game. Both Nicks and Cruz should be viewed as solid foundation pieces for any fantasy team with top-five upside at their position.


NFL Draft – Instant Fantasy Analysis: David Wilson


By: — April 27, 2012 @ 1:21 am

1.32 Giants – RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech

GM Jerry Reese subscribes fully to the “best player available” theory and it is hard to fault him with this pick, in part because Wilson is the closest thing this draft has to Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw may have a bit more burst initially, but Wilson is more durable and has some sleeper fantasy potential in this situation considering the Giants want a back to split carries with Bradshaw. As a result, he should be in line for 8-10 touches/game on a regular basis right away, with the added benefit that he could easily carry the load should Bradshaw miss a game or two. Wilson should be one of the more sought-after handcuffs in fantasy for redraft purposes, but New York wasn’t his best landing spot for dynasty purposes since Bradshaw is under contract through 2014.


NFL Draft – Instant Fantasy Analysis: Doug Martin


By: — @ 1:20 am

1.31 Buccaneers – RB Doug Martin, Boise State

Despite the fact Cleveland likely stole the player they wanted the most at the top of the first round in Trent Richardson, the Bucs recover nicely by trading back into the first by selecting Martin, likely stealing him from the Giants. In the end, the draft’s top two RBs end up in two of the best fantasy situations they could have asked for. The Ray Rice comparison is apt in terms of size, although Rice wins the battle of explosiveness while Martin is slightly more powerful. Martin is a three-down back and should make LeGarrette Blount into nothing more than handcuff for fantasy purposes. Martin’s dynasty value is sky high. His redraft value is certainly on par with Richardson. Given his supporting cast and the division he plays in, one could easily argue Martin is the more desirable fantasy RB in 2012.


NFL Draft – Instant Fantasy Analysis: A.J. Jenkins


By: — @ 1:12 am

1.30 49ers – WR A.J. Jenkins, Illinois

Although he was of my favorite “second-round” WR prospects, I’m having a hard time understand why the Niners used the No. 30 overall pick on him. What this picks suggests is that SF is not counting on much production from Randy Moss at all. Jenkins doesn’t stand out in one particular area, but his best football is probably ahead of him. With Mario Manningham, Moss and Michael Crabtree ahead of him, Jenkins will probably “enjoy” a redshirt year and contribute on a more regular basis in 2013. As a result, he should go undrafted in redraft leagues. His dynasty stock is also very low as the Niners do not figure to throw the ball around a lot anytime soon.


NFL Draft – Instant Fantasy Analysis: Brandon Weeden


By: — @ 1:10 am

1.22 Browns – QB Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

Weeden seemed like a lock to end up with the Browns, whether it was at 22 or early in the second round. Ultimately, team president Mike Holmgren played the draft game right and went with the last “pro-ready” QB in the first since the draft is so deep at WR. What the first-round selection on Weeden suggests is that he will have a significant upper hand on Colt McCoy in training camp this summer, especially considering Weeden’s “advanced” age. Weeden has a stronger arm than McCoy and should have significantly more weapons (Stephen Hill?) than McCoy ever did as a Brown. As of this moment, Weeden should probably go undrafted in most 12-team fantasy leagues. However, with Trent Richardson, Greg Little, Evan Moore, Ben Watson and a second-round addition in this draft, he’ll have a chance at being a bye-week fill-in.


NFL Draft – Instant Fantasy Analysis: Kendall Wright


By: — @ 1:07 am

1.20 Titans – WR Kendall Wright, Baylor

Due to his lack of ideal size (and his surprisingly slow times at the Combine), there was some thought Wright would fall into the second round. On the surface, the fit isn’t all that great in Tennessee initially because he will be hard-pressed to be anything more than a WR3 for the Titans right away. However, the team wants to give Jake Locker every chance to succeed and protect itself against another Kenny Britt injury. I don’t like Wright’s redraft prospects in redraft leagues, but he should have a long successful future in the NFL in the slot (initially) and as a solid deep-threat complement to Britt once Nate Washington moves on.


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