Fantasy & Reality: The power of trust
Some early-season mainstays are becoming lineup question marks at the worst possible time. Our Dave Richard breaks down which of these players can be trusted when it matters most.
The reason why over 30 percent of people sat Eric Decker last week was because they didn't trust him. They had a choice at receiver and went in another direction. Were they wrong to not trust Decker? In hindsight of course they were -- he had four touchdowns for crying out loud -- but in reality they weren't because he totaled 4, 5, 7 and ZERO points in his four previous games in standard leagues.
Go ahead and use the "always start your studs" argument with Decker. He averaged 4.0 Fantasy points per week heading into Week 13. So if he was still a stud then that must have made Brian Hartline, Doug Baldwin, Steve Smith and Rod Streater Fantasy legends since they averaged at least 5.0 Fantasy points over the same four-week span as Decker.
The issue here isn't to debate Decker's studliness but rather to bring up an important factor in setting your Fantasy lineups: Trust. It's one thing to completely trust the big-name, big-stat players you're accustomed to getting good production from, it's another to buy into the players who haven't always delivered. And there's a lot of them.
Sometimes you don't have a choice -- you have to trust a player because there's no one else to go with. It's when you do have a choice that makes the process more painful.
No one wants to bench the next player with a breakout game, but no one wants to trust an ice cold player. Let's go over some guys you might have some major debate over and figure out just how trustworthy they might be over the final few weeks of the season.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 19.0 (high of 33, low of 4)
As a passer, Griffin has meandered between efficient and awful over his last seven games. As a runner in that same span, he's been equally frustrating, gaining anywhere from 7 to 88 yards on the ground. It helped him that the Redskins ran an up-tempo offense last week, keeping him in rhythm and keeping the defense off his back. It hurt him that several receivers made some drops and he threw the check-down more often than not. But really his week was made because of the 88 rush yards he posted, a season high. It's hard to count on him for his rushing prowess, which makes him harder to count on in Fantasy because his passing has been so erratic. But if he gets Jordan Reed back and if he continues on this path of running the no-huddle and running when he doesn't have an open man, then Griffin should at least be in the ballpark of 20 Fantasy points. Two weeks ago the matchup against the Chiefs looked scary, but since then they've allowed eight passing touchdowns (five to receivers, two to running backs, one to tight ends). So there's stuff on film the Redskins could capitalize on.
Trust him? There's some confidence Griffin will have a shot at another 20-plus-point Fantasy game against the Chiefs but it's the game at the Falcons in Week 15 I'd rather save him for. I'd call RG3 a good, not great, option this week.
Andrew Luck/T.Y. Hilton,
Luck's Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 17.6 (high of 30, low of 10)
Hilton's Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 10.8 (high of 30, low of 3)
The last three games in particular have been a nightmare for both Colts. Luck has two touchdowns -- one passing -- in that span and Hilton has bottomed out with under 50 yards in each without a score. Defenses have learned quickly to focus their coverage on Hilton and force him to underneath routes (he's averaged less than nine yards per catch over the last three weeks). That forces Luck to throw to other players who just aren't very helpful. An offensive line thin on pass blocking talent also hurts. Hilton and Luck also don't seem to have the same kind of potential when playing outdoors on grass -- where weather impacts them and the surface is slower. Two of the Colts next three games are not only outdoors but against teams headed for the playoffs: The Bengals (turf) and Chiefs (grass).
Trust them? The Colts are in the unfavorable position of having their weaknesses known and there's nothing they can do about it. It's hard to trust Luck or Hilton outside of very favorable matchups indoors. That might not come until Week 17 vs. Jacksonville.
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 18.8 (high of 26, low of 11)
Romo's last three games have been especially disappointing. A scoring change took away a 20-point game against the Giants and DeMarco Murray took away touchdown opportunities from a sick Romo on Thanksgiving against the Raiders. He's still an effective passer in an offense that will let it fly. Maybe the biggest issue is that he doesn't have that second target at receiver beyond Dez Bryant, as Terrance Williams has fallen off with no one else to step up.
Trust him? It's a little iffy this week. Only one team in the last five weeks has thrown multiple scores on the Bears (Lions, Week 10). But to be fair, none of those weak passing teams have had a tremendous passing game that made the Bears susceptible to the pass, and none of them have needed to pass a ton because the Bears run defense is so awful. Romo is still starting material in Fantasy, but it might take the matchups in Weeks 15 and 16 to feel better about starting him.
Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals
Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 9.8 (high of 21, low of 1)
You would have thought that by now the Bengals would have made a serious commitment to Bernard in their ground game. Instead, we're seeing BenJarvus Green-Ellis still take significant reps when the game is in the balance and pretty much all the reps when the Bengals are locking up a win. Bernard's rushing average has been fine lately and he's had a play of 13 or more yards in each of his last five. It's just a lack of opportunities, be it as a ball carrier or at the goal line or in the passing game, that hinders him. He's clearly a good player who has averaged 13.5 touches per game this season (14.0 touches in his last five). He needs more work and there's no sign of it coming given the coaching staff's infatuation with Green-Ellis.
Trust him? I'm still excited about Bernard's potential, so when I see favorable matchups in front of him I like his chances. Such is the case this week against a Colts defense that has slumped against running backs over the last five weeks (134.8 total yards allowed per game). Then I'd shy away from him until Week 16 when he plays the Vikings.
Frank Gore, RB, 49ers
Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 8.4 (high of 17, low of 3)
Anyone else starting to think we're starting to see the Niners pull back from using Gore? He continues to be involved minimally in the passing game but he's had 15 or fewer carries in each of his last three and is five games removed from his last 20-carry performance. Not helping his cause is an offensive line that could be without two very important starters -- left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Mike Iupati. In fact, since Iupati got hurt, Gore's numbers have taken a major drop.
Trust him? If the O-line isn't healthy soon, Gore could be a major problem for Fantasy owners from here on out. The matchup against Seattle this week is tough as it is, but without his best tackle and best pulling guard, he might as well be asked to scale Alcatraz. I'd be very leery of using Gore in Week 14 and beyond until his line got back at least one starter.
Bobby Rainey, RB, Buccaneers
Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 10.8 (high of 34, low of 0)
It seems like months ago when Rainey ran all over the Falcons, but really it was just two weeks. Since then he's been slammed by two very good run defenses in the Lions and Panthers. In those games he had plenty of opportunities -- 35 carries and two catches to be exact -- but he didn't go anywhere. Perhaps that experience will pay off beginning this week when he takes on the Bills and then finishes the season with the Niners at home, at the Rams and at the Saints.
Trust him? Take it one week at a time and trust him this week. Rainey isn't going to look like Chris Johnson on the field anytime soon but he'll put up numbers. He'll struggle for four carries and then start reeling off some long runs. And if there's anything we've learned from the Bucs last two games it's that they'll feed him the ball regardless of the score.
Ray Rice, RB, Ravens
Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 7.4 (high of 20, low of 3)
Rice has been bad for Fantasy but not bad enough for the Ravens to limit his workload -- he's had at least 15 touches in four straight games. That should tell you something about what his coaches think of him. He's also struggled in mediocre to tough matchups but has produced numbers in easier matchups for both him and his offensive line. Evidence of this comes in his game at Miami (terrible rushing average but two touchdowns) and at Chicago (a flashback performance if there ever was one). His rushing average has been at 3.0 or worse for seven of his last eight games. But now this: He finds himself with another good matchup in Week 14 vs. the Vikings, a defense that has allowed a running back to get at least 110 rushing yards in three of their last four and backs to average 4.6 yards per carry over their last five.
Trust him? Ugh. I want to trust Rice because running backs can put together good games against this deplorable unit. His offensive line should be OK in their matchup against the Vikings front and Rice can at least get decent numbers if he gets into space. I'm not going to reach and put him into lineups over obvious guys, but as a Flex or low-end No. 2 running back I think he'll be fine. If he does do well then I might be duped into rolling with him once more vs. the Patriots in Week 16.
Riley Cooper, WR, Eagles
Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 12.4 (high of 32, low of 1)
Cooper has had a dizzying four weeks. Against the Raiders and Packers he looked like Superman and against the Redskins and Cardinals he's looked like a garbage man. Nothing has changed in terms of his targets over those four games -- he's had anywhere from five to seven per game -- but over the last two weeks he hasn't caught them with the same frequency as he did in Weeks 9 and 10. But he has helped the team put points on the board over the last two weeks, either drawing a penalty, getting tackled at the 1 or getting a target inside the 5 before a Philadelphia touchdown on the very next play. He's also missed just five snaps over the last two weeks.
Trust him? With a matchup against a bad Lions secondary in Week 14 you could justify starting him. Detroit has allowed 16 touchdowns to receivers this year, including seven in their last four games. The Eagles offense tends to pay attention to favorable matchups like this (last week's dominance over the Cardinals with their tight ends is an example). I might not call Cooper a must-start receiver but he should be in the No. 2 receiver conversation.
Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 6.0 (high of 11, low of 0)
Cruz, along with pretty much every Giants receiver, has been dragged down statistically in large part to Eli Manning and an offensive line that struggles to protect. The Giants have had favorable matchups for six straight weeks and Cruz has been brutal. He's caught all but six targets thrown his way over his last three games but none in the end zone.
Trust him? Even though the Chargers have allowed seven scores to receivers over their last four games, there's no way. Not unless you have to. Manning simply hasn't been great and Cruz has seen a lot of coverage in his face. It's all added up to a horrible season.
Wes Welker, WR, Broncos
Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 5.8 (high of 14, low of 2)
What happened here?! Welker was rolling along as one of Fantasy's most stable receivers until the bye week. Since then, he's failed to score nine or more Fantasy points in four straight. He had at least nine Fantasy points in each of the Broncos' first eight games! He hasn't slowed down and he's still getting a good amount of targets, but we are seeing teams find ways to take him away from Peyton Manning. The Chiefs used cornerback Brandon Flowers for a lot of last week's game, the Patriots schemed to take Welker away with a lot of double coverage, especially across the middle and in the red zone. Up next: a date with the Titans, who have been the best in the NFL against receivers.
Trust him? Follow my logic here: The Titans sport two outstanding cornerbacks in Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner. Combined they've allowed just one touchdown. But they are outside cornerbacks and Welker is a slot receiver. That could mean he'll see a lot of Coty Sensabaugh, the Titans nickelback. If there's a weakness for Manning to attack in this secondary, Sensabaugh is it. Plus, it just so happens the Titans haven't taken on an offense this loaded with receivers, especially one that features such a menacing slot option. If you've gotten by this long with Welker in your lineup, I wouldn't turn your back on him now.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Browns
Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 3.4 (high of 8, low of 0)
Cameron's hot start keeps him in the Top 5 among tight ends on the season but he's seen fewer big games than the likes of Jared Cook, Delanie Walker and Brandon Myers. It's not for a lack of trying -- he has seen 33 targets in his last five games but has caught just 18 of them. He's even been targeted in the end zone only to come up short.
Trust him? You can wait him out and keep starting him hoping for him to connect in the end zone or you can move on. Considering the Browns quarterback situation is going from bad to worse, I wouldn't blame you for finding someone else, even with some particularly good matchups coming up for him.
And finally ... Eric Decker, WR,
Avg. Fantasy points last five games: 11.4 (high of 41, low of 0)
It's pretty clear from the tape that the Broncos had ideas of attacking the Chiefs downfield so long as their offensive line could contain the Chiefs pass rush. Anytime Manning recognized Decker in single coverage he fired at him. The results were an astounding 12 targets, most for him since Week 7 at Indianapolis. Why it didn't happen sooner or with more frequency until now are questions we can't answer, though some of Decker's occasional shortcomings as a receiver (incorrect routes, drops) might have been part of the problem.
Trust him? A lot of people will start Decker expecting him to repeat his performance from Week 13. It's definitely possible as he was quite streaky last year, scoring in bunches with streaks of five and three consecutive games. But let's not overlook the matchup -- the Titans boast a pair of cornerbacks that have been outstanding against receivers. I think Jason McCourty and/or Alterraun Verner could hang with Decker and keep him from scoring on long plays like the Chiefs last week. I wouldn't call Decker a slam-dunk since we're promised nothing from him statistically just because of what he did against a completely different opponent a week ago.
Fantasy & Reality
Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.
Fantasy: The Jaguars are pushovers. We're starting to notice progress by the Jaguars. Andre Branch has been evolving as a pass rusher, Sen'Derrick Marks has come along on the D-line and the team has been great against the run, allowing just 2.6 yards per carry to running backs over their last four games. Offensively, we've seen Maurice Jones-Drew stabilize himself for Fantasy purposes and Ace Sanders evolve into a regular target and PPR threat. I have a feeling they're going to try and light up the Texans on a short week.
Reality: Matt Flynn is a problem for the Fantasy owners of Packers receivers. Maybe it was the matchup -- at Detroit on a short week -- but on Thanksgiving the only turkey that got stuffed at Ford Field was Flynn. He looked scared and lost behind a very weak offensive line, a bad combination when you started Packers receivers in a favorable matchup. They'll get another good matchup this week against the Falcons; at least this time the pass rush won't be so unbearable. Hopefully Flynn makes some plays.
Fantasy: Buffalo's run game is a flash in the pan. Last week should be just the beginning for Fred Jackson and especially C.J. Spiller down the stretch. After destroying the Falcons we'll see the Bills finish the year at Tampa Bay, at Jacksonville, vs. Miami and at New England. The matchup against the Jaguars might be the toughest but all four suggest the Bills leaning on their ground game, which is their M.O. offensively. The Buccaneers may have allowed just two rushing touchdowns this year but they're also giving up nearly 5.0 yards per carry to backs over their last three games.
Reality: I might have given up on Matt Ryan and the Falcons too soon. You have to be impressed with how Steven Jackson has looked over the last few weeks -- he's salvaging his season with 33 Fantasy points in his last two games. He'll help pace a Falcons offense that isn't quitting on the season. Roddy White keeps looking better and better and Harry Douglas has established himself as a significant receiving threat. I wouldn't be surprised if the Falcons kept the positive vibes going against the Packers in Week 14.
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