Thomas Rawls Forever, the Return of Sammy Watkins, Jared Cook Unleashed
Plus the waiver wire and other fantasy football stuff heading into Week 12
The MMQB's Gary Gramling takes a look at the fantasy prospects of Sammy Watkins, Thomas Rawls and Jared Cook as they all return to the field.
It’s Thanksgiving this week, and I’d like to do something no one in the media has ever done: Take a brief moment during the show to give thanks for things that are dear to me. And as we head into the stretch run of another NFL season, the thing I am most thankful for is the moon’s gravitational pull. It keeps our planet’s axis at a relatively steady 23.5-degree tilt, and slows the spinning of Earth so that a full rotation takes 24 hours, lending stability to the clock- and watch-making industries. And as someone who lives in a coastal town, the moon’s pull on the ocean creates waves that appeal to water sports enthusiasts, helping property values.
So a heartfelt thanks to the moon’s gravitational pull. And that is literally all I am thankful for. Here are fantasy football things…
Rishard Matthews: He has emerged as king of the kinda crappy receivers in Tennessee, and Matthews is certainly going to be worth a starting spot most weeks. But keep in mind that the Titans’ passing game production still relies heavily on individual game flow. They’d prefer to play their two- and three-tight end sets and throw it no more than 25 times per week. But when they fall behind, as they did in Indianapolis last week and in San Diego two weeks ago, that’s when Matthews (and, to a lesser extent, Kendall Wright) will become heavily involved. Matthews had 6-63-2 on 10 targets against the Chargers and 9-122-0 on 13 targets against the Colts, his only double-digit target games of the year. So when making the start/sit decision with Matthews going forward, a good rule of thumb is to simply look at whether Vegas has the Titans getting or giving points.
Todd Gurley: It was nice to see him score a touchdown for the first time in six weeks, but all the same problems remain for Gurley. His offensive line is crud, and opponents continue to point and laugh at the Rams’ collection of passing game weapons. And while Jared Goff obviously has immense long-term upside, he can’t make this passing game much more threatening than Case Keenum did.
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Steve Smith Sr.: He’s back at full strength and clearly Joe Flacco’s preferred option. Consider him a top-25 WR from here on in, with a little more value in PPR leagues.
Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles: I told myself I’d never write about the Eagles’ backfield again. Yet, here we are. If Mathews misses time, Smallwood becomes a fantasy starter. Aside from Mathews, he’s the best between-the-tackles option on the roster. If Sproles is out it’s even better news for Smallwood, who really isn’t that far off Barner as far as passing-down skills go. (My early guess is that Sproles plays on Monday and Mathews does not.) As for Barner, if Sproles doesn’t play you can spend Sunday morning rubbing your chin while contemplating whether or not to pick him up before deciding no, you shouldn’t.
Andy Dalton: Hmmm… how to sum up Dalton sans A.J. Green…
Yeah, Dalton has played five career games without his all-world receiver, in which he’s averaged 248.6 yards with a 3-to-6 TD/INT ratio. So no, don’t start Dalton while Green is out.
Michael Floyd: Apparently he was in and out of the lineup because of the flu on Sunday; unclear if that’s the actual flu or a stomach flu that isn’t really the flu and just causes a lot of puking and pooping. (Can I say pooping on this show?) But anyway, for those of you started that Floyd last week, it’s further proof that God dislikes you. It really doesn’t affect his long-term stock though. He’s a boom-or-bust start every week with an increasingly good chance of “boom” down the stretch. And he’s the second-best fantasy option among Cardinals receivers.
Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins: Suddenly rejuvenated, the past two weeks Jennings has run like a slightly improved version of Rashad Jennings. It’s enough to keep Jennings running ahead of Perkins for at least another week. And even if Perkins overtakes Jennings, it looks like the veteran will retain the goal-line role regardless.
Ben Roethlisberger: Looking at Roethlisberger’s home/road splits is truly staring into the face of madness. Since the beginning of 2014, according to you losers who use standard scoring, Roethlisberger is averaging 22.4 fantasy points at home, 12.9 on the road. I’m going to break down the film and see if maybe he’s throwing with his left hand when they play outside of Pittsburgh. I’d be too much of a coward to bench him Thursday night at Indy, but I’d make alternate plans for Week 14 (at Buffalo) and Week 15 (at Cincinnati), his last two road dates of the season.
Thomas Rawls, Alex Collins and Troymaine Pope: With C.J. Prosise out for the year, Rawls just became a RB1 for the rest of the year (he even looked kind of O.K. on passing downs on Sunday). My guess is that Collins, a (healthy?) scratch last week, becomes the No. 2 back and handcuff to have for Rawls owners, with Pope, who is not affiliated with the head of the Catholic church, merely sprinkled in (if healthy; he suffered an ankle injury on Sunday).
Dion Lewis and James White: This is not going to go well in the short-term. The two played a nearly 50/50 split in Lewis’s season debut on Sunday (24 snaps for White, 21 for Lewis). Lewis had five carries and three catches. White had no carries and six catches (including a TD on a neat little design). If I had to choose one going forward, it’d be Lewis. But I think the Patriots will find time for both of them going forward, ruining everyone’s life (from a fantasy perspective).
Zach Ertz: A glimmer of hope last week, as the Eagles finally got Ertz heavily involved. The 6-35-1 line isn’t particularly eye-popping, but he was targeted 11 times and also had a 57-yard screen pass TD called back by an illegal formation flag away from the play because Nelson Agholor couldn’t get lined up correctly even with a coach and an official yelling at him (in another instance that proves the Eagles are better off playing 8-on-11 than trotting their wide receivers out there). You should get butterflies plugging Ertz into your lineup going forward, but if you need a solution at tight end I’d recommend taking the plunge.
Braxton Miller and Will Fuller: Miller played ahead of a hobbled Fuller on Monday night, and actually ran a great route on a touchdown that saved Bill O’Brien’s butt (after the coach, rather than hand the ball to Lamar Miller on first-and-goal from the 1, opted to do some stat-padding on behalf of his beleaguered QB, only to have Brock Osweiler exercise his comedic genius by catching a pass batted at the line for a six-yard loss, but that’s neither here nor there). We’re looking forward to 2017 with both these guys (and especially 2018, when Osweiler will surely be gone), but the fact that Miller has made some nice strides shouldn’t be overlooked. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pushed even a healthy Fuller in two-receiver formations.
Carson Palmer: Indeed, Palmer has taken a step back this year. But in his defense, much like it’s difficult to write this column while a colleague is punching me in the face (it happens upsettingly often), it’s difficult to operate this passing game with pass rushers immediately on top of you. The Cardinals’ O-line has been positively Rams-like over the past few games, and that’s especially problematic considering how badly the Cardinals want (and need) to get the ball downfield. The schedule isn’t particularly daunting in terms of opposing pass rushes down the stretch, but Palmer is awfully difficult to trust as a fantasy starter.
Malcolm Mitchell: From everything I’ve ever heard, Mitchell is just a swell guy. So good on the rookie for his first big day, 4-98-1 in San Francisco. Of course, with Chris Hogan likely returning, along with Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots get their top two field-stretchers back in the lineup, relegating Mitchell to a bit role for the foreseeable future.
A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell and Tyler Efiert: It looks like Green will be week to week rather than IR with his hamstring injury, but he’ll surely miss Week 12 and there’s a good chance Week 13 is in question too. After a good cry, I would guess the Bengals will start using Eifert deep up the seams more often, giving him a slight boost. Ditto LaFell, the team’s only legitimate outside receiver now. Boyd picks up more playing time, but he’s a possession guy, more of a low-end PPR option.
Christine Michael: He joins the Packers’ roving band of street free agents in the backfield. I’d expect Michael to see some work in Week 12, but he’s not a fantasy option unless James Starks gets hurt. And even then, I’d guess he’d be looking at a 50/50 timeshare at best with Ty Montgomery.
DeVante Parker: He was outstanding on Sunday, a reminder that he’s a special talent. The problem is, the Dolphins never want to throw that ball that often again. They’ve stuck to the ground game as long as they could over the past two months. Parker is a risky fantasy start unless they’re facing a very good opponent with a very good offense, and that might not happen again until Week 17 against the Patriots.
Jared Cook: How much do I love Jared Cook? In the lead up to my wedding, I convinced my wife to take his name. (Introducing, for the first time anywhere, Mr. Gary Gramling and Ms. Eliza Jaredcook!) But I’ve always felt Cook could be a monster if he got the chance on a team that wasn’t the Titans or Rams (which is why I ranked him 11th among tight ends coming into the year). He was a bit player in the season’s first three games before missing two months with an ankle injury, but during his absence the Packers figured out they had to do something different. So enter Cook, who had his ups and downs on Sunday night (including losing the game-clinching fumble and a Fleener-like inability to find the ball on what would have been a walk-in TD) but still managed to lead the Pack in targets (11), catches (6) and yards (105). He played 43 snaps to Richard Rodgers’ 21. Cook is still a rocky option going forward, but if you’ve been playing tight end roulette the past few weeks, Cook is as good as any of the high-risk, high-reward options out there.
Jeremy Hill: With Giovani Bernard out for the year, it’s now Hill’s backfield alone. He had received 51 carries over the past three weeks, so his ground-game workload doesn’t have a lot of room to grow. He could see a few more looks in the passing game though. He’ll never be a guy they design plays for, but two or three checkdowns every week, to go along with 20 carries, make him a starter in PPR leagues.
Dak Prescott: With opponents doing everything they can to contain Ezekiel Elliott, an offensive line that consistently gives him eight seconds to scan the field, and an all-world receiver and Hall of Fame tight end to target, it really is only a matter of volume for Prescott. He threw 30-plus times three of the past four weeks as the Cowboys played from behind. I’m not sure that’s the norm going forward. However, the Cowboys are trusting him with the ball in the red zone, and that is enough to push him into low-end QB1 territory down the stretch.
Sammy Watkins: Linebacker Preston Brown, M.D. said Watkins would “probably” be back for Week 12. We’ll see about that, Dr. B., but it’s looking increasingly likely that Watkins will return to the Bills before the fantasy season is done. Obviously, you’d like to see him back on the field for a week before you start him, but the Weeks 14-16 schedule is home dates against Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Miami, three tasty matchups for the fantasy postseason.
Latavius Murray and Jamize Olawale: The Olawale on the goal line madness may have finally come to an end after he chose to run into the back of a lineman rather than walk in for a goal-line score on Monday night, then later went backwards three yards on a third-and-1 carry. He does many things well in the passing game, as a protector and a receiver, but he continues to be unfeasibly shaky in short yardage for such a big back (well, it is feasible, he doesn’t have the vision or decisiveness needed to be a ballcarrier). Considering Murray is spelled often over the course of most games, I can’t imagine the Raiders will hesitate to use Murray in short yardage going forward, cementing him an every-week starter.
Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon: Yeldon is likely going to miss at least Week 12 with an ankle injury, opening up an extended role for Ivory. The likely workload for Ivory makes him a fantasy starter in standard leagues and even an option in PPR. Though I’m not crazy about the next three matchups (at Buffalo, Denver, Minnesota), and let’s face it: Opponents are going to stack the box. The greatest sight for any defense right now is Blake Bortles dropping back.
LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee: Sounds like McCoy might avoid missing any time with his broken thumb, but Sunday was a reminder that Gillislee (who picked up 14 carries after McCoy went down) is the clearcut No. 2 back in Buffalo.
Austin Hooper: With Jacob Tamme hitting IR, Hooper becomes a decent option considering the offense he’s in. He has a shot to score a touchdown every week, as the Falcons are always willing to go away from Julio Jones in the red zone (Jones only has nine red zone TDs in in 46 games over the last four seasons!).
Adrian Peterson: Huh. So there are hints that Peterson could return Week 15 or 16. He’s worth a speculative add, though it’s hard to believe he’s (a) going to be 100% healthy, or (b) will have any more success running behind football’s worst line than he did early in the year (when the line was in slightly better shape pre-rash of injuries). I’d stash Sammy Watkins or Alshon Jeffery before I stashed AP.
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