Fantasy Football Intelligence: Cruel to Be Kind

While last week dealt with comings and goings, this week is more about commitment, planning a future together, managing expectations and whether or not you should be in it for the long haul. So…

(Footage from Nick Lowe’s actual wedding was included in the video.)

For Better or For Worse

For better – these guys are for real. They may not hold their current ranking, but they will meaningfully exceed expectations allowing you to count on their production. With this knowledge, you can trade from strength, or at a minimum, be secure plugging them in virtually every week and expecting a good result. Superstars doing what they should are not on the list. This is for a WR2 that will be WR1, etc.

1. Chris Godwin & Cooper Kupp: they may not stay top 5 WRs, but they should be top 15.

2. Aaron Jones: Will be top 12 RB as long as he stays healthy.

3. Amari Cooper looks like a top 10 WR and Dak a top 12 QB. Dak looks less perfect against real competition, but yesterday he showed that when not playing from ahead, he can make the most of garbage time and maybe even make a game of it.

4. D.J. Chark: Playing like a WR1 now, should settle as no worse than a high WR3 and likely a WR2 – not bad for a guy still only owned in 73% of Yahoo leagues.

5. Josh Jacobs and Chris Carson: both will maintain at least RB2 production. Game flow will hurt them sometimes, but both have tremendous opportunity share in their offenses.

6. Courtland Sutton: Should end as a reliable WR3. Doing better than that now. Only 76% owned in Yahoo.

7. Mark Andrews: If he can stay on the field, will end up no worse than top 6. If you are holding two good TEs and he is one of them, make a trade. There are no more than 8 (and probably less) owners in your league getting good TE production. Greg Olsen threw up a nothing burger yesterday.

8. Darren Waller has 37 catches and 359 yards on 42 targets. Zach Ertz has 29 and 312 on 45 targets and finally got his first TD yesterday. My money is on Ertz the rest of the way, but Waller, especially in PPR, is reliable target monster. He is bound to add a few TDs soon. Similar to Andrews, he is reliable enough to trade from strength if he’s your backup.

9. Lamar Jackson probably won’t stay QB2, but if he stays healthy he looks like a top 12 starter with his legs offsetting the mistakes he occasionally makes with his arm and his brain.

10. Tom Brady looks like he will end up somewhere between QB8-10. He also has a generally friendly schedule. He gets Buffalo’s defense again in pivotal week 16, but it is in Foxboro and his competitiveness won’t allow a repeat of week three.

Bonus – Jacoby Brissett – don’t hesitate to use him in a friendly matchup or if you lose your starter. Not a ton of yards, but he runs and throws in the red zone.

Extra MNF Bonus – As covered earlier, the Browns have unproven coaching and a brutal first half schedule. Watching them get smoked by the 49ers, I want to remind you that if you have the roster space and good enough standing to wait for some perfomance, Mayfield and Beckham are worth considering if you can get a bad start discount from someone who needs points now. Chubb is producing enough to command full price and he may get spelled some as the season goes on once Kareem Hunt returns. On the other side of the field, the Niners rushing game looks solid, as does the defense, and the pass game has had its moments. Having said that, Kyle Juszczyk was carted off in the third quarter and presuming he misses time, the running game will suffer in his absence. He is one of the best blocking backs in football.

For Worse – same idea. Don’t run out and cut all these guys, but don’t expect as much from them as you did when you drafted them.

1. Aaron Rodgers is currently sitting at QB19 behind luminaries like Gardner Minshew, Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton and Marcus Mariota. He is still a great thrower playing on a winning team. His production will improve, but the Pack are having red zone problems and their philosophy has changed from Rodgers high production years. GB used to pass more than anyone else in the red zone, but not so under Matt LaFleur. Rodgers upside goes from top 5 to top 10 the rest of the way, but with Aaron Jones cleaning up a lot of the < 5 yard TDs that Rodgers used to run or pass for, his floor is outside the top 12. Streaming better matchups or adding another QB are both viable options if you have the roster space. Rodgers is still too good to cut, but it would be pretty hard to get any trade value from him until he puts some good statistical performances together.

2. Adam Thielen and Stefan Diggs played against the Giants yesterday and it was enough to temporarily forget the structural problems they have in Minnesota’s run first offense. In our season preview we said to expect both to decline 20% in production from last year and it may be more than that. Diggs in particular is disgruntled and becoming a distraction. Other than a home game with Washington, the next six weeks don’t look like great matchups.

3. James Conner: I’ve been ringing the alarm on him for a couple of weeks and the last two weeks were his best of the season, averaging ~100 total yards and a score in the two games. If we could count on that every week going forward it would be great, but Conner’s preseason rank was predicated on heavy volume in a strong offense. Pittsburgh may be down to their third QB next week and at 1-4 there is no doubt that the environment for Conner is nowhere near what was expected. At this point he is a mid-level RB2.

4. DeAndre Hopkins’ performance has not been bad unless measured against his ADP and consensus WR1 rank. He is still averaging nearly nine targets and has found the end zone twice, but Watson is spreading the ball around and Hopkins is not the only game in town. The Texans have had five rushing scores and Watson has been using his TE more than in the past around the goal line. Don’t make a rash move, but if your league has a Godwin or Kupp owner who loves name brands, I would consider offering up Hopkins and a lesser player for Godwin or Kupp and another player who represents an upgrade for you.

5. Brandin Cooks’ talent and situation often get him overdrafted. There are too many mouths to feed in LA for him to be a consistent every week contributor running outside routes and having an occasional run. He went out last week with a concussion and has a concussion history so that may be a factor as well. He may end up with ~1,000 yards and 6-7 scores, but you can also count on him for a 3-40 line when you can least afford it.

6. Dede Westbrook looked like Jacksonville’s #1 WR coming into the season. He averages over seven targets/game, but is only catching ~ four and dropping too many. D.J. Chark has become the go-to guy for Minshew Magic. Under the right circumstances, Westbrook can be cut.

7. Joe Mixon was banged up early, but even healthy he can’t outrun his crappy situation. He has too many bad matchups to justify his back end RB1 preseason rank. If you can live with him as a mid-level RB2 and he stays healthy until he faces Miami in week 16 (championship week for many leagues) he could pay dividends, but it is a long way from second round value.

8. Chargers WR Mike Williams looked like a breakout candidate heading into the season. He has been injured ,but even when on the field has not been what we hoped. The Chargers offense has run through Keenan Allen and the running backs and Williams has yet to make his presence felt in the red zone as he did at the end of last year. Watch him over the next few weeks; if he shows signs of breaking out hold on to him (or try to get him at reasonable value) otherwise be prepared to move on.

9. Corey Davis was Tennessee’s first round pick (5th overall) in 2017 but he is locked into a situation with an inconsistent QB and is in danger of being passed by this year’s draft choice A.J. Brown. Davis regularly flashes talent, but does not look like a reliable option until and unless he lands in a passing offense. He can be cut.

10. O.J. Howard was drafted somewhere in the TE6-8 range and he currently sits as Yahoo’s 290th ranked player. The Bucs are passing plenty, but Howard has only been targeted 14 times. He has caught 11 for 141 and has not scored. If Will Dissly is available (86% owned in Yahoo) go get him now. Jordan Akins (7%), Gerald Everett (9%) or even Jason Witten (54%) are better streaming plays at this point.

Bonus – Devonta Freeman finally found the end zone, but can’t seem to get untracked in the running game. The Falcons’ imbalance is part of the reason for their 1-4 record, but there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Freeman seems like a low end RB2 at best at this point unless the line play improves. The good news is he seems to be healthy and he still gets the majority of the snaps so he is still better than a secondary player in a committee.

In Sickness and in Health

1. We are about to see what Anthony Lynn and the Chargers are made of. After suffering through some debilitating defensive injuries, Melvin Gordon’s holdout and then offensive injuries to starting K Mike Badgley, TE Hunter Henry and WR Mike Williams, the Chargers sit at 2-3. They play 1-4 Pittsburgh at home next week before visiting 2-3 Tennessee. Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen (with help from Austin Ekeler) has kept the passing game afloat and the three losses were all by one score. Gordon still has rust to shake off, but this team was expected to make the playoffs and they are not playing like it…yet. They need to win the next two badly, so look for urgency from your Chargers players.

2. Tyreek Hill is nearing a return and it looks like it may be right on time. Detroit and Indianapolis both kept KC’s pinball machine offense in check with strong man coverage, double teams on Travis Kelce and ball control. Teams will have a harder time containing them once Hill returns to the lineup. Mahomes and his o-line have been banged up the last couple weeks and like more cowbell, Hill may be just what the offense needs. If you are a Hill owner who managed to keep it together through his injury, it looks like help is on the way, hopefully this week.

3. Davante Adams foot injury hurts his owners and Aaron Rodgers owners, but it looks like a boon for Aaron Jones owners. Many have rostered Valdes-Scantling and Allison in hopes of picking up Adams’ targets, but in addition to the four rushing TDs, Jones started picking up more passes too. Rodgers tried to get the ball to the WRs yesterday, but it wasn’t clicking as neither caught more than two balls. Adams may be out another couple of weeks; turf toe is a difficult injury to predict.

4. Drew Brees is throwing again. If he is on the wire in your league and your QB has a bye in week 10-12, think about stashing him if you have room. New Orleans is once again looking solid.

5. Todd Gurley is still a question mark, but I think his offensive line and game flow are bigger issues than his knee at the moment. McVay had no problem deploying him heavily on a Thursday following a Sunday game and he paid dividends in the red zone. Roster Malcolm Brown to be responsible, but Gurley feels like a low end RB1/high end RB2 for the foreseeable future. With all the “Gurley is a shadow of himself” talk out there, maybe you can get him for what he is now if he is owned by a risk averse owner.

6. Cam Newton remains out with a Lisfranc injury, likely for another month or so. Kyle Allen hasn’t played great, but he has played well enough to win behind CMC and a solid defense. If they continue to win without Cam, things could get uncomfortable when he returns. Unlike Brees, fantasy owners should stay away.

7. Not sure if this counts as sickness, but Washington’s play has been anemic and Jay Gruden has been fired. Other than Chris Thompson for PPR or maybe AP, the only Redskins player worth owning is Terry McLaurin (76% owned in Yahoo). He has 31 targets, 19 catches, 308 yards and 3 TDs in four games. He returned from a hamstring injury and managed three catches for 51 yards against the Patriots – not a terrible performance. The Skins have had three different QBs and the situation is likely to only get more chaotic. I like McLaurin as a WR3, but be prepared to cut bait if the QB play becomes unbearable. If McLaurin is on the wire in your league, he is worth a flyer. Incidentally, with Jay’s ledger closing at 0, my Gruden brothers bet looks good. (At least two coaches win more games than the Gruden brothers combined.)

8. Nick Foles sickness has not seemed to hurt the Jags. After New Orleans this week, rookie QB Gardner Minshew faces the Bengals and Jets. If you have a QB with a bye in week 7 or 8 (Mayfield, Winston, Jackson, Prescott), you might want to “stash” Minshew.

9. Indianapolis went into last night’s game with two key players nursing injuries and listed as questionable. The good news is that T.Y. Hilton and Marlon Mack both played and seem to have come through the game healthy. Now they have a bye that will help even more. At 3-2 and with a win over KC, Indy is showing their testicular fortitude and putting themselves in a tie with Houston for first in the division. They should remain in the playoff hunt and both Mack and Hilton should remain useful starters, back end RB1 and WR1 respectively. Mack’s performance is better than his brand if you can get him in the right deal.

10. Philadelphia got healthy against the Jets and they are once again tied with Dallas atop the division at 3-2. The defense had ten sacks and two scores and told the Patriots and Bears, the star fantasy defenses so far this season, to hold their beer. On offense, they have battled through WR injuries. From a fantasy standpoint though, the production has been spread around quite a bit. Depending on the rules of your league, Jordan Howard or Miles Sanders would be a solid RB3 or flex consideration. Zach Ertz targets have been there and he finally caught his first touchdown, so he should be fine going forward. That said, the next four weeks are tough for the offense: @ Minn, @ Dallas, @Buffalo, vs. Chicago.

Bonus: A.J. Green is still not practicing. If his owner gets impatient and cuts him, and you have room to stash him, as with Mixon, the week 16 Miami game could be transformative.

Sterling Shepard has been diagnosed with a concussion and is likely looking at a multi-week absence. D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Michael Gallup are all less than 75% owned and are worthwhile. In deeper leagues, Westbrook is less than 60% owned and Mohammad Sanu is less than 50%. If you are in PPR, there are generally some volume guys on the wire and you will get more consistent production from them than someone more dependent on finding the end zone. If you are looking for another flyer, the Raiders traded with the Bills for Zay Jones. Gruden may feel that he is better suited for certain elements of his passing game than Tyrrell Williams. Keep an eye on how quickly he is integrated into the offense.