Can Big D’s O-Line Make a Mediocre Back Shine?

The Dallas offensive line will determine the success of Joseph Randle

The Dallas offensive line will ultimately determine the success of Joseph Randle

For years, there has been a great deal of debate on which factors or combination of factors drives a successful NFL rushing attack. Primarily, is it the running back or the offensive line that really leads the charge? The Dallas Cowboys will put that question to the test this season when the team’s vaunted offensive line attempts to push a middle of the road 5th round draft pick over the 1,000-yard mark.

Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said this week that Joseph Randle will start the season as the lead running back for Dallas. This is a significant downgrade from DeMarco Murray, but for all intents and purposes, Randle is really the only option for Big D. Of course there will be Darren McFadden sightings here and there, if he can get healthy enough to hobble onto the field. But the 23-year-old Randle will lead the charge.

The fact of the matter is that any lead back in the NFL is certainly worth a pickup. Behind the Dallas offensive line, Randle should be able to surpass other middle-of-the-pack backs like Isaiah Crowell or Chris Ivory, but that still may not be enough to make him a top-25 fantasy RB.

All shoplifting jokes aside, Randle’s role is much more befitting that of a backup running back, not the lead guy. During his career, he’s never had more than 54 carries in a season. While Randle has some speed, there’s no way to know how we will hold up as an every down back.

After relying on the run so often last season, Dallas will likely be forced to throw the ball again and again in 3rd and short situations. As we said earlier, Randle is worth a pickup only if you temper your expectations. However, there could be a surprise waiting for us later in the season: Maybe it is the Offensive Line that makes the man in the NFL.

Expect Big Things from Le’Veon Bell

Even though the NFL is dragging their feet, expect a reduced suspension for Bell

With his suspension reduced to just two games, expect Bell to be a Top-3 fantasy draft pick

The bell is ringing loud and clear for Le’Veon Bell fantasy owners this week after the NFL reduced his suspension to just two games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. The fantasy focus will now be on this powerhouse who is now easily expected to top fantasy draft boards with his rushing and pass catching prowess.

Bell scored 11 touchdowns last season while racking up more than 22-hundred all-purpose yards. During the 2014 season, he rushed for 1,361 yards and hauled in a staggering 83 receptions for 854 yards. There’s no reason to believe that the Steelers have any plans to do anything except maybe bump up Bell’s number of carries.

During the first two weeks of the season, it’s a good idea to avoid any fantasy RB wearing a Steelers uniform. Pittsburgh is basically stuck with DeAngelo Williams, Dri Archer and maybe even Josh Harris to fill the void at running back. The truth is that the Steelers early schedule is packed with teams that excel at shutting down the run. The Steelers first two games are against the Patriots and the 49ers and that’s two tough defenses that Bell gets to avoid altogether. (Think less wear and tear during a long 16-game season)

Fantasy Football Drafting 101: Wait on Wide Receivers

Unless you can grab a top five WR, don't burn an early draft pick

Unless you grab a Top-5 WR, don’t burn any early round draft picks on one

A starting fantasy RB obviously has the potential to rack up yards both on the ground and through the air on nearly every offensive play. However, when it comes to a fantasy WR, the window for scoring top fantasy points is much smaller. There’s no denying that there is an ELITE TIER of wide receivers that stands tall above the crowd, but after the top 5, there’s no reason BURN a pick when you should be concentrating on other players.

After the crème de la crème of wideouts, there is a massive logjam of wide receivers that can help you round out a fantasy team without wasting any high picks on average point producers. 21 wide receivers and two tight ends cracked the 1,000 yard mark last season while 13 WRs and 2 TEs scored at least ten touchdowns.

There’s no debate that every team needs wide receivers, but the list of elite players is very short.

  • Antonio Brown
  • Demaryius Thomas
  • Dez Bryant
  • Calvin Johnson
  • OBJ

This list of players all grabbed consistent points and lived up to the hype of their high ADPs. However, after this list of elite players, things begin to get interesting. Take Alshon Jeffery as an example. Last season Jeffery averaged only 10.4 points (in standard leagues) during the weeks he was active. He also hovered around the 25th pick in most leagues, as a late third round, early fourth round selection. That’s a bust for fantasy owners considering that 33 wide receivers averaged more than 7 points per week. Of these 33, 13 were available after the 100th pick.

Look at the numbers for the two rookie receiving phenoms that broke out last year: Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin. Evans performed slightly better than Jeffery, averaging 10.5 points with an ADP of 101; Benjamin had an average of 9 points per week and was selected around the 106th pick. In most leagues, these rookies were still available in the 12th round in eight-team leagues. For an upside of one fantasy point per week (comparing Jeffery and Benjamin), Jeffery owners sacrificed the prospect of drafting a premier player like Le’Veon Bell or Rob Gronkowski.

Fantasy numbers can be unpredictable; players may explode for dozens of points per week, or underwhelm and disappoint a majority of their owners. Injuries can strike unexpectedly and deliver a swift end of the season to an unfortunate player. But the consensus is this: after the elite tier, receivers and tight ends are just a dime a dozen; consider carefully before you waste high picks for little upside.

 

 

Todd Gurley: Back on Fantasy Running Back Radars

Todd Gurley

Todd Gurley is a textbook example of a high risk, high reward player

In some unexpected RB Fantasy News, the announced that Rams RB Todd Gurley will begin training camp on the active roster. During the offseason, St. Louis insisted that the team would take things slowly with Gurley because of his ACL injury. This move means that Gurley can’t be placed on the non-football injury list, which would have caused him to miss the first games of the season.

Taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft, the St. Louis Rams knew exactly what they were getting with Gurley. The Georgia product missed a few games due to an ankle injury in 2013 and had his 2014 campaign cut short because of a torn ACL. However, there is a strong belief in many football circles that Gurley could be the best back to enter the NFL from college since Adrian Peterson.

Peterson (6’1”, 218lbs) runs a 4.40 40-yard dash. Gurley (6’1, 222lbs) also runs an estimated 4.40 40-yard dash. Peterson possesses the rare blend of power and speed, as does Gurley. Finally, Peterson is the only back in the league that can legitimately build a team around and still win games. That’s also exactly what head coach, Jeff Fisher, plans to do with this potentially explosive fantasy RB.

Fisher is a traditional ground-pound coach. While other offenses are transitioning towards airing out the football, Fisher will attempt to make Gurley the focal point of the offense. The Rams already have a solid offensive line and demolishing defense, all that is missing is a serviceable running back.

Gurley is currently being drafted in the fifth/sixth round while Tre Mason is being taken off the board four rounds later. Of course Gurley’s draft position will surge immediately now that he is expected back during the early weeks of the season.

Gurley is a textbook example of a high risk, high reward player. His health is a question mark, but risk tolerant fantasy owners may not be able to look away when his name comes up. If you’re a more conservative fantasy player, feel free to take a pass on a rookie who is only 8 months removed from ACL surgery.

Fantasy Football Drafting 101: Running Backs Still Rule

elite RB’s should be the staple of your team and should lead your team to a strong finish this upcoming year.

Top-Tier RB’s are the primary building blocks for carrying fantasy teams deep into the playoffs

Every fantasy football fanatic wants to know the secret strategy to rack up wins in order to acquire bragging rights, and, in some leagues, even a hefty sum of cash. Many people build fantasy teams that are designed to thrive in the fantasy regular season without considering the ramifications during the post season.

Historically, I’ve tried a bunch of multiple approaches in my quest to assemble the greatest fantasy team. Last year, my team boasted a miraculous implosion during the championship round, and I finished second with a very strong team featuring Andrew Luck, Jamaal Charles, and Calvin Johnson. The question that I am most often asked is what positional player to target first, and my answer has always been RBs.

Why? Wouldn’t you rather take an Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning who can get you a constant 25 points per week? Well, it depends. Of course if elite quarterbacks fall far enough, there is no choice but to pounce; however, your focus should be geared towards grabbing elite RBs with your first two picks. This strategy is just as sound in 2015 as it was in 2005. First, let’s examine the top six finishers last year in both the QB and RB positions, and then note their suggested ADP based on ESPN’s Top 300 rankings

Quarterback:                                                                             

  • Aaron Rodgers (ADP 12)                                        
  • Andrew Luck (ADP 45)
  • Russell Wilson (ADP 99)
  • Peyton Manning (ADP 8)
  • Ben Roethlisberger (ADP 123)
  • Drew Brees (ADP 17)

Running Back:

  • DeMarco Murray (ADP 13)
  • Le’Veon Bell (ADP 14)
  • Marshawn Lynch (ADP 5)
  • Matt Forte (ADP 4)
  • Arian Foster (ADP 9)
  • Eddie Lacy (ADP 7)

This list suggests that the top finishers at the QB position are wildly erratic, while all of the players in the elite RB tier all project to be taken by the end of the second round. A fantasy owner could have chosen Forte and Murray back-to-back and scooped up Roethlisberger in the eighth or ninth round, and would have boasted three of the top ten fantasy performers with those three picks alone. Thus, choosing to invest your first five or six draft picks in running backs and receivers is a sound strategy. Let us also note the marginal benefit in investing in backs and receivers first. Standard leagues have one slot for quarterback, while you play a total of five backs and receivers combined per week. What good is having Rodgers if half of your team is subpar? Numerically, picking up the biggest potential point-earners that you play the most often makes sense.

Some people are still concerned, stating that the only quarterbacks left by the sixth and seventh round are lower-tier and poor quality players in terms of consistent point production. I know that I was a bit hesitant when the best QB left in the draft two years ago was one Eli Manning. However, I got some inspiration from my similar Fantasy Premier League strategy, where I was forced to rotate two subpar goalkeepers based on matchup, which resulted in overwhelmingly positive results. So, after picking up a solid core of WRs and RBs, shift your focus to picking a one-two punch of historically solid quarterbacks to round out your team, and then rotate them based on who they’re up against in a specific week. The owner that bested me last year did particularly well with a combination of Nick Foles and Carson Palmer (until they both got injured).

Obviously, use common sense while drafting. If your league puts more weight on the QB position (say, six points per passing touchdown) then it would be in your best interest to invest heavily in that position; same with all other positions. Also, if a solid quarterback falls drastically past his ADP for no significant reason, then it would be wise to pick him up. However, elite RB’s should be the staple of your team and should lead your team to a strong finish this upcoming year. Good luck, happy drafting, and let the season begin.

Stevie Johnson Charged Up for the Bolts

Johnson believes Philip Rivers is just what he needs to jolt his career

Johnson believes Philip Rivers is just what he needs to revive his career

After an abysmal season in San Francisco, Stevie “Why So Serious?” Johnson, has found himself in an optimal situation with the San Diego Chargers. It’s almost like a dream come true for Johnson who admitted he had watched Philip Rivers highlights in hope the team would sign him after a fall out with the 49ers. Now Johnson will get the chance to play with the best quarterback he’s ever had in his 8-year career.

Taken in the seventh round of the 2008 draft by the Buffalo Bills, Johnson still made a name for himself in the league by being a productive receiver on a mediocre team. From 2010-12, Johnson strung together three straight 1,000-yard seasons in Buffalo, the first player in Bills’ history to do so. Johnson’s following two seasons pale in comparison with only 87 receptions for 1,032 yards and six touchdowns.

Now with the Chargers, Johnson’s career flashes potential to be revived. As the third receiver in the Bolts offense, Johnson will work primarily out of the slot. Eddie Royal filled that position the past two years. Just in case you forgot how impactful Royal was on the field and in fantasy, he caught 109 passes for 1,409 yards with 15 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

Johnson will also get looks as the X receiver filling in for an aging, Malcom Floyd. Floyd turns 34 in September and just completed his first 16-game season since 2009. Floyd is on the wrong side of 30 and to say the receiver is injury prone would be putting it modestly. If (when) Floyd goes out, Johnson will step into a primary role in a potent passing offense.

ESPN staff writer, Eric D. Williams, appointed Johnson as the “X-Factor” in the Chargers’ receiving core. However, Johnson is being taken, on average, as the number 74 receiver off the board. Johnson is worth a late-round flier, if not, a second look on the waiver wire. Just make sure to grab this Joker sooner rather than later, that way your fantasy team can have the last laugh.

Take Wait and See Approach on Carson Palmer

No reason to put Palmer on  your fantasy radar before the 10th round

At 35-years-old, Carson Palmer should NOT really be on your fantasy radar

Can Carson Palmer lead the playoff hungry Arizona Cardinals after an ACL tear at age 35? It was just last November when Carson Palmer suffered a torn ACL against the St. Louis Rams. Before Palmer went down for the Cardinals, he was averaging 271 passing yards per game, had 11 touchdowns 3 interceptions with a 6-0 record. Coming into 2015, can Palmer continue the success he had before his season-ending injury?

Palmer, now 35, is coming off his second major injury coming into the 2015 season. Before his injury, he was playing phenomenal football under center. Palmer has mentioned many times this summer that he is no longer even thinking about his knee anymore and that continuing rehab is only cautionary.

The fact is, Palmer can probably take the birds to the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean you should draft him for your fantasy team. Palmer is a system guy, he’s not Michael Vick or Cam Newton, he’s going to sit in the pocket and believe in Head Coach Bruce Arians system. Regardless of who is the quarterback for Arizona this season, the Cardinals are going to be a good team again this year. Palmer is more than familiar with Arian’s system, has plenty of experience with Arizona’s receiving Corps and still has a good enough arm.

From a fantasy perspective, Palmer is obviously not a #1 quarterback heading into the season. If he can ease past his health concerns, he could be a borderline #1 quarterback by season’s end. Palmer is not someone to target anywhere during the first ten rounds of your fantasy draft, but he could be worth a stash for later in the season.

2015 Quarterback Sleeper Guide

Teddy

Teddy Bridewater could break out as a fantasy game changer this season

Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings:  

After an impressive rookie season in which he completed 64.4% of his passes for 2,919 yards and 14 passing touchdowns, Bridgewater is the go-to quarterback for the Vikings and looks comfortable taking on his role as the leader of the Minnesota offense. This fantasy QB has the benefit of a rapidly improving receiving corps with the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson and tight end Kyle Rudolph. The second-year quarterback is a decent QB2 option with the probable return of Adrian Peterson. Bridgewater is only one spot ahead of the embattled RGIII (according to ADP) so he is basically a steal at this position.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins:     

Finishing as the 10th overall quarterback in fantasy points, Tannehill signed a six-year, $96 million contract extension that should put him as the Dolphins undisputed starting quarterback for the near future. Throwing for 4,045 yards and 27 TDs last season, the fourth-year dual threat out of Texas A&M will work with a revamped offense, boasting the likes of Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings and Jordan Cameron. Another solid QB2 option, Tannehill will definitely provide a safe amount of points on a weekly basis.

Derek Carr, Raiders:

Carr was the most successful of all of the rookie quarterbacks last season, showing miserable Raiders fan a glimpse of hope in a constantly bleak situation. Amassing 3,270 passing yards and 21 TDs on 12 interceptions, Carr will benefit from a bolstered offense due to the addition of stellar college wideout Amari Cooper as well as esteemed coach Jack Del Rio. Combine that with the newly acquired Michael Crabtree and Andre Holmes, and Carr could put together a surprise season for fantasy owners.

Sam Bradford, Eagles:

Though Bradford has struggled mightily for the majority of his career, his draft stock must be trending up simply because of the offense he is playing for. Chip Kelly made a flurry of acquisitions during the offseason, adding Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray and drafting Nelson Agholor to an already dangerous receiving squad. And let’s also not forget that Coach Kelly led the Eagles to be the 13th most efficient passing offense with Nick Foles and one Mark Sanchez. Scoop up Bradford with confidence.

Blake Bortles, Jaguars:

After a slightly down rookie season for the 3rd overall pick last year out of UCF, Bortles featured both flashes of potential as well as sloppy play. He possesses the league’s worst completion rate while under pressure at 36.4% and only threw for two or more touchdowns twice. So why does he make this list? Not only did the Jags’ weapons improve with the additions of Julius Thomas and T.J. Yeldon as well as the developments of Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, but the Jags will get Luke Joeckel back, who missed the majority of the season and was a huge piece missing from an offensive line that allowed 71 sacks on the season. Look for the situation in Jacksonville (as well as Bortles’ numbers) to improve this season.

2015 Wide Receiver Sleeper Guide

Martavis

Playing opposite Antonio Brown, Bryant will continue to get open looks this season

Martavis Bryant, Steelers:

Bryant has the potential to be a fantasy steal in the upcoming season after exploding for eight touchdowns in ten games as a rookie last season. Scoring a touchdown once every six times he was targeted, the former fourth-round selection out of Clemson projects to be one of Big Ben’s favorite red-zone targets. Only five players saw more targets in the ten games that Bryant played. He’s a touchdown machine with tremendous upside and is a comfortable regular WR2 play.

Kevin White, Bears:

Perhaps the most talented receiver out of this year’s stacked wideout corps, the former West Virginia superstar could make the perfect compliment to playing alongside Alshon Jeffery, since Brandon Marshall is now playing for the Jets. While fantasy owners should worry about the inconsistencies of Jay Cutler, Jeffery has had no problem posting extraordinary numbers during the past two years. White’s athletic prowess—towering at 6’3 while running a 4.35 40—combined with his good hands make him an attractive target. He should be the first rookie receiver taken off of the boards. Look for White to get a good amount of targets and reel in touchdowns as well.

Victor Cruz, Giants:

The former fantasy star, whose season was cut short by a torn patellar tendon, has solid potential to have a rebound year. Projected as the 50th receiver to be taken off of the boards, Cruz’s production has slowly deteriorated year by year since 2011, and his ceiling is even further limited by the rising stardom of one Odell Beckham Jr. However, if he stays healthy, Cruz is a solid target for Eli Manning as a #2 receiver. Though he is questionable to return by the start of the season, fantasy owners can hope that Cruz can remain healthy for the entirety of the season; if so, Cruz will be a steal.

Donte Moncrief, Colts:

Averaging 306 passing yards per game, the Colts flash a talented receiving corps, and Donte Moncrief is no exception. Bolstered by the addition of the versatile veteran Frank Gore, the Colts will feature an elite passing game as they try to make another deep run into the playoffs. Moncrief collected a modest 444 yards as a rookie, but has a high ceiling due to his solid frame and speed. Though playing time will sometimes be hard to come by after the Colts signed Andre Johnson, Moncrief’s flashes of potential will make him a solid WR3 that will reel in big points by surprise.

Nelson Agholor, Eagles:

Taken 20th in this year’s draft, Agholor, according to some NFL executives, already shows potential to start as the Eagles’ top receiver. In a dangerous Chip Kelly offense, Agholor will take the helm of a deep receiving corps. Collecting 1,313 yards and 12 TDs at USC last year, the rookie will provide fantasy owners with a solid point production, getting a good amount of targets week-by-week. Projected as the 34th receiver to be drafted, Agholor is an absolute steal.

2015 Running Back Sleeper Guide

CJ Spiller

CJ Spiller should benefit greatly playing under a top-notch quarterback

C.J. Spiller, Saints:

After a surprising and successful 2012 season in which he amassed more than 1200 yards on a blistering 6.0 YPC, Spiller was seldom used by the Bills last year, who preferred to lean on veteran Fred Jackson. With the acquisition of LeSean McCoy in the offseason, the 27-year-old signed with the Saints, who had a solid running game headed by Mark Ingram. Spiller gets an automatic boost playing alongside a top-flight quarterback like Drew Brees. With coach Payton favoring a running back-by-committee approach, look for Spiller to share the workload with Ingram on a weekly basis. After seeing flashes of his potential simmer down, Spiller will do well in a run-emphasized offense, even if his playing time is significantly less than other starting backs.

Charles Sims, Buccaneers:

Sims did not see playing time until December last year, as the Bucs went with the injury-prone Doug Martin. However, as trade rumors revolving Martin persist, it’s impossible to ignore Sims’s potential as a number one back, even if it’s on a team that struggles to block efficiently for their backs. Sims averaged 2.8 YPC with a tiny sample size, which initially does seem discouraging. However, starting back Doug Martin did not fare much better, with a 3.7 YPC. As the 39th running back in terms of draft placement, the second year back shows potential and has a high ceiling. I could see him going a couple of rounds early as a safe, low-risk selection.

David Johnson, Cardinals:

While I typically avoid drafting lower-hype rookies, it is easy to be attracted to Johnson simply because of his physical attributes. Boasting a 6’1, 225 pound frame paired with a 4.5 40 yard dash and a 41.5” vertical, the 23-year old out of Northern Iowa has a solid chance to supplant Andre Ellington as the Cards’ starting back. Reputed as a bigger Charles Sims, Johnson can wreak havoc in the backfield and steal more touches from Ellington if the latter’s injury woes persist. Projected as the 59th running back off the board, the rookie is a steal if he indeed falls after the 11th round.

Justin Forsett, Ravens:

After a stunning season in his first year with the Ravens, Forsett transformed Baltimore’s running game, launching them from the 30th rushing offense in 2013 to the 8th spot last year. The 29-year-old finished eighth in fantasy points among RBs and is a feature component of a strong running core. His ADP places him 16th among backs, which is a surprise after he torched defenses for 1,266 yards last season. He is a capable back with excellent vision and hustle; he will be a strong candidate to finish as an elite, top-5 RB this year.

Melvin Gordon, Chargers:

The most hyped rookie coming into the 2015 season, Gordon is a proven superstar at the college level, collecting 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns last year for the Wisconsin Badgers. As receiving back Danny Woodhead is returning from a leg injury, look for Gordon to be the focus of the Chargers’ run game, as Ryan Mathews signed with the Eagles in the offseason. Compared to Jamaal Charles and showing hot flashes of potential, Gordon will pair up nicely with Woodhead to take pressure off of the inconsistent Rivers; the 22-year-old has a lot of upside and will be a workhorse for the Chargers this season.

Honorable mentions: LeGarrette Blount, Patriots; Khiry Robinson, Saints; Ronnie Hillman, Broncos; Lorenzo Taliaferro, Ravens.