THE WIRE TAP: WEEK 3
September 20, 2016 | Scott Cedar
A few months ago I was driving home when a car cut me off. I immediately reached for my horn. Not out of road rage, but a man got to have a code, and mine includes making sure other drivers know they’re driving like schmohawks. But before I could reach my horn, I saw his license plate:
My hand dropped. This guy clearly planned to drive around cutting people off with some frequency, so he went out and bought a customized license plate to let drivers like me know what’s up. Respect.
I bring this up because it’s exactly how I feel after Week 2. No matter what happens in Week 1, I’m generally pretty calm. Things happen, it’ll get better with a bigger sample size. But when it doesn’t get better the next week, I’m ready to start honking horns and going nuclear.
Fight the urge. Wherever you’re sitting after two weeks: U. Be. Fine.
I’m not recommending you “this is fine” yourself into a fiery grave—some of your draft day mistakes are starting to materialize, and you can’t ignore those concerns. My point is it’s still early. This time last year, Devonta Freeman had 22 carries for 43 yards and a whopping 16.6 fantasy points. He finished as RB1. On the other hand, Eddie Lacy sat one spot ahead of Freeman with 16.8 fantasy points and never turned it around, maintaining an 8.0 point per game pace en route to an RB25 finish. It’s a tough baby to split, but in any event, whatever problems your team is having are still fixable at this point in the season.
That’s good, because you should be having plenty of problems after every running back in the league got hurt in Week 2. As always, the focus is on players owned in under 40% of Yahoo or ESPN leagues, presented roughly in order of preference.
PAY THE IRON PRICE
(Pry these players from your leaguemates’ cold, dead hands. Figuratively.)
Jerick McKinnon (23% Yahoo, 24% ESPN)
Adrian Peterson was carried off the field Sunday night with a torn meniscus. Not the worst injury, but there’s currently no timetable for his return.
I expressed my love for McKinnon in the preseason with the help of an old 50 Cent lyric, and that analysis still stands. I’m a little concerned with how poorly the Vikings offensive line has been (AP was averaging 7 inches before contact, per Pro Football Focus), but I think McKinnon has the elusiveness to make it work. I was also pleasantly surprised by Sam Bradford; it’s been awhile since the Vikings could threaten defenses through the air the way he and Stefon Diggs did against the Packers. Before Teddy Bridgewater’s leg exploded, I wrote he was an Adrian Peterson injury away from being a top-12 quarterback. It won’t be Bridgewater taking advantage, but I would love to see the Vikings open up the offense without having to force-feed carries to AP.
Quincy Enunwa (10% Yahoo, 6% ESPN)
Enunwa graduates from last week’s Deep League Plays after a great performance in Buffalo, catching all 6 of his targets for 92 yards. He used his big body (6’2”, 225 lb) effectively against the Bills’, including jumping over Stephon Gilmore for a 34-yard grab early in the game. The only thing holding Enunwa back is his role as the 3rd receiver, but if Brandon Marshall (sprained MCL, not at practice after 3 days rest) or Eric Decker (sore shoulder) go down, he’d be an every-week starter.
Check Your Wire (players owned in <75% of leagues): It sounds like Doug Martin’s hamstring isn’t serious, but those injuries linger. Charles Sims didn’t do much Sunday as the Buccaneers were DOA, but he’s a top-12 RB play while Martin is out… last week Mike Wallace showed off his deep-ball game; this week it was his underrated red zone ability, with 7- and 17-yard scores… Tajae Sharpe was quiet, but once again tallied 7 targets to lead Titans receivers. Bigger days are ahead… Theo Riddick showed his ceiling Week 1, and his floor Week 2 (11 for 37 on the ground, 5-4-28 (targets-receptions-yards) in the air). With Ameer Abdullah in a walking boot, Riddick is lined up for a heavy workload in Week 3… Christine Michael vastly outplayed Thomas Rawls (although so did you; Rawls went for -7 yards on 7 carries). More importantly, Rawls left the game with a bruised leg, and while he’s supposedly fine, he won’t be long for this world if he keeps racking up lower leg injuries.
PRETTY-AY, PRETT-AY, PRETT-AY GOOD
(Should be owned in 10- and 12-team leagues, whether by you or someone else.)
Jay Ajayi (27%Yahoo, 46% ESPN)
Arian Foster left Sunday’s game after 10 plays with a groin injury. Let’s all take a moment to process this stunning development.
Thank you. It sounds like Foster will miss at least a game, and with him, the over is the safe bet. Ajayi got the bulk of the work as Foster’s backup against New England, looking every bit like the guy Miami spent all offseason trying to get away from (5 carries for 14 yards and a costly fumble). I doubt it’s his job for long, so don’t go crazy, but Ajayi figures to get the first crack at lead running back for Miami. Timing is everything, and in Week 3 Ajayi will have a great matchup at home game against the Browns.
Victor Cruz (37% Yahoo, 42% ESPN)
I wasn’t overly excited about Cruz last week, but feel better about him after his 8-4-91 performance against New Orleans, including a big catch late to set up the game-winning field goal. All 3 Giants receivers are virtually every-down players, and the 11-8-8 target share between Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Cruz feels more or less like the breakdown we should expect going forward. That makes Cruz a viable WR3 or flex play as long as he stays healthy.
Cameron Artis-Payne (1% Yahoo, 2% ESPN) and Fozzy Whittaker (5% Yahoo, 1% ESPN)
Jonathan Stewart was hurt early in the Panthers’ big win over the 49ers. Another stunner, right? With Cameron Artis-Payne a healthy scratch, Fozzy Whittaker capitalized on the opportunity, taking 16 carries for 100 yards (6.3 YPC). (As an aside, that can’t make Todd Gurley owners feel great about being shut down by the 49ers in Week 1. The Case Keenum effect…)
A great day for Whittaker, but let’s not overreact. Whittaker has averaged 4.44 YPC in limited carries since joining Carolina and would be serviceable while Stewart’s out, but Whittaker was presumably active ahead of Artis-Payne only because he plays on special teams. In the 3 games Stewart missed last year, Artis-Payne out-touched Whittaker 38 to 20. I’ll take CAP over Whittaker, but I’m not excited about either from a talent or situation perspective. Cam Newton is still the Panthers’ best goal line back, and Mike Tolbert gets in the way as well (taking 23% of the Panthers’ carries inside the 5 last year). Whoever takes the job is headed for a lot of ~60 yard, 0 TD performances—an RB2 fill in only.
Jamison Crowder (5% Yahoo, 3% ESPN)
Crowder was super-reliable in college, but at 5’8” and with only decent athleticism, I figured he’d bounce around the back-end of NFL rosters. His rookie season was surprisingly strong (78-59-604, all top 5 among rookie receivers), and he leads the Redskins with 18 targets through 2 games. Despite his size, Crowder got two red zone targets Sunday, converting one into this beautiful 11-yard touchdown. The Redskins are tied with Jacksonville as the pass-heaviest offense through two games, and have been making it a priority to get Crowder involved.
Dennis Pitta (10% Yahoo, 11% ESPN)
Pitta followed up a solid Week 1 with a 12-9-102 against the Browns. After Wallace, he’s been Flacco’s most reliable target. Pitta remains a starter the next 3 weeks, up against Jacksonville, Oakland, and Washington.
Kenneth Dixon (8% Yahoo, 12% ESPN)
Through 2 games neither Justin Forsett (3.3 YPC) nor Terrance West (3.2 YPC) have taken hold of the Ravens’ backfield. That makes Dixon, currently nursing a knee injury, an intriguing stash. Dixon was getting first team reps before spraining his MCL, and Peter King speculated he’d be the Ravens lead back by mid-October. That makes mid-September the time to buy—his return is a couple weeks away, but if you act now he won’t cost a thing.
Shane Vereen (19% Yahoo, 35% ESPN)
I talked about Vereen last week… he continues to be meh (14 carries, 42 yards; 3 receptions, 24 yards), but after Rashad Jennings fell flat in a cake matchup (13 carries, 27 yards), Vereen’s stock is up.
Torrey Smith (39% Yahoo, 66% ESPN)
Before trading away all of his good players for 2015, Chip Kelly’s top receiver finished as WR9 (Jeremy Maclin, 2014) and WR10 (DeSean Jackson, 2013). That made Smith—whose 62 targets last year were 30 less than his previous career low— a popular bounceback candidate this offseason.
Then we saw Blaine Gabbert play, and Smith’s ownership plummeted. Look, it’s not going to be pretty, and there will be days where you obsessively refresh the box score as Smith sits at 0 points well into the 2nd half. But the 49ers have put up 55 points in 2 games, 10th most in the league. The offense is working again, even if it’s ugly. With 10 targets on Sunday (going 10-3-55-1), Smith is on pace for 128 targets, and that kind of volume needs to be owned.
(Unless it’s coming from Case Keenum.)
Jesse James (5% Yahoo, 20% ESPN)
The outlaw. The Road Dogg. The guy who cheated on Sandra Bullock. Add Steelers tight end Jesse James to this prestigious list. James now has 12 targets over his first two games, and while the yardage hasn’t come yet, James is a better athlete than you think. More importantly, at 6’7”, he’s a red zone threat playing on a team in need of a big target while Martavis Bryant is out, and he’s playing with a quarterback who looks to the tight end near the goal line (last year Heath Miller earned 22.2% of the Steelers’ targets from inside the 10, compared to 13.6% otherwise).
Clive Walford (17% Yahoo, 32% ESPN)
Coming into the year Oakland was desperate for a third receiving option behind Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Enter Walford, the 68th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Walford’s size/speed combo was on display on Sunday, going 7-6-50-1 in a shootout against Atlanta. Speaking of shootouts, the Raiders’ defense is getting torched, meaning Oakland won’t be able to slip into its preferred run-heavy approach. If your tight end has been disappointing: 1) you’re not alone; 2) Walford is worth an add. His Week 3 matchup at Tennessee (allowed 7th most points to tight ends last year) is another favorable one.
Bilal Powell (32% Yahoo, 56% ESPN)
Most people are going to go the other way after Matt Forte’s monster Thursday night game in which he scored 3 touchdowns and out-touched Powell 32-2. I think that’s a mistake. Forte was cruising through the first 2 games of 2015 too (5.18 YPC), but started to slow down under heavy workloads (3.57 YPC from Week 3 through Week 8), then sprained his MCL and spent the rest of the year in a timeshare.
Through 2 games, Forte’s on pace for 472 (!) touches. This is going to come down one way or another. I think the Jets start to shift touches to Powell sooner rather than later, but even if they don’t, Powell is worth stashing as Forte would never make it through the season on his current workload.
Jordan Howard (8% Yahoo, 6% ESPN)
Jeremy Langford was not good again, with just 28 yards on 11 carries. Outside of a 16 yard run, Langford was constantly getting bottled up at the line, as he doesn’t run through anyone or make anyone miss. The Bears seem to have noticed—after seeing nearly all of the Bears’ snaps in Week 1, his usage was down considerably in Week 2. Meanwhile, Howard had 3 runs for 10, 8 and 4 yards and looked more dynamic. John Fox has a reputation for burying rookies, but he won’t be able to keep running Langford out there if the performance doesn’t improve, and veteran Ka’Deem Carey is just a guy.
Matt Asiata (2% Yahoo, 0% ESPN)
I guess Asiata is worth an add, though if AP was struggling behind the Vikings offensive line, there’s little reason for optimism with a plodder like Asiata. He may be the goal line back based on (stale) 2014 usage, but McKinnon out-touched him in the red zone last year and isn’t really smaller (McKinnon: 5’9”, 205 lbs; Asiata:6’0”, 219 lbs). For what it’s worth, Vikings beat reporter Matt Vensel estimates a 65/35 split between McKinnon and Asiata.
Check Your Wire (players owned in <75% of leagues): Donte Moncrief left this week’s game with what’s described as a head or shoulder injury (his knees and toes are reportedly fine); with Denver’s elite cornerbacks in the rear view mirror, it’s time to pick up Phillip Dorsett… Tyrell Williams justified Philip Rivers’ offseason praise, going 6-3-61-1, including a 44-yard touchdown on a short slant showcasing his 4.43 speed and power. His primary competition, Dontrelle Inman was quiet with 3-1-7-0… Corey Coleman showed you both of his tricks, beating the defense deep for a 31-yard score, followed by an 11-yard screen pass where he broke a tackle to find the end zone. He’d be higher on the list if the Browns weren’t already on their 3rd quarterback… Dak Prescott was better in Week 2, relying less on dump offs to Cole Beasley and Jason Witten (combining for 16 fewer targets compared to Week 1) and more on Dez Bryant (7 more targets than in Week 1)… I’ve never been a big DeVante Parker fan—raw, athletic types have to prove it on the field before I assume the physical tools translate—but he went 13-8-106 in the Dolphins’ comeback effort and has the Browns looming… Coby Fleener now has 3 catches on 12 targets. It wasn’t all his fault—Brees missed him on a what would have been a touchdown (or just as likely, a horrific drop)—but if it doesn’t turn around quickly those targets are going to shift to rookie Michael Thomas, whose 6’3” 212 frame can provide a similarly large target in the middle of the field.
DEEPER LEAGUE PLAYS
(In no particular order.)
Danny Woodhead tore his ACL on Sunday, ending his season. Melvin Gordon is a capable of taking on his passing volume (33 receptions on 37 targets last year), but someone else will need to step into a supporting role. If it’s Andre Williams, we don’t care—he’s the worst. If it’s undrafted free agent Kenneth Farrow—tabbed a sleeper by Pro Football Focus—things gets more interesting. This is a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ recommendation, but in deeper leagues these speculative adds can pay off.
If Abdullah’s aforementioned foot injury keeps him out of Week 3, Dwayne Washington (4 carries, 31 yards against the Titans) gets a larger share of the carries, and retains his job as the goal line back.
First round pick Josh Doctson fell behind after missing the preseason with an Achilles injury, but was more involved in the offense against Dallas with 5 targets. He only caught 1 of them (for 57 yards), but 3 of his targets were in the red zone. For now the Redskins’ pass-catching corps is crowded, leaving him a deep league play.
I talked about Damien Williams last week as the potential beneficiary if (i.e., when) Foster got hurt. Ajayi sorted out his anger issues and jumped back to the front of the line, but expect Williams to be active and steal carries (and possibly the job) in Week 3. Kenyan Drake is in the mix as well—he had 2 carries for 6 yards and a touchdown—but was never the guy even in college, and fared poorly in Graham Barfield’s closer examination.
I can’t say I love the idea of investing in the Dolphins’ passing game, but Kenny Stills was hyper efficient in New Orleans and would have 2 touchdowns in 2 games if not for that huge drop in Seattle. Starting the year at Seattle and New England, we may look back and realize these were 2 of the top passing defenses in the league. That also makes Ryan Tannehill worth considering, at least for Week 3 against Cleveland.
I wasn’t high on Tyler Boyd this offseason—Andy Dalton isn’t a multitasker, so I didn’t want to bank on his secondary targets—but his 8-6-78 line was pretty good against an improved Steeler defense. It’s no surprise he’s already out-producing Brandon LaFell (8-3-39).
No doubt a few John Brown owners were excited to see 2-2-78-1 in the box score. Unfortunately, “J. Brown” referred to Jaron Brown, who’s carried over his strong offseason while John’s been slow to get going after a lingering concussion kept him out most of the preseason. Jaron would be interesting if any of Arizona’s top-3 receivers go down.
Trey Burton, a top performer at the 2014 combine, caught 5 passes for 49 yards in Zach Ertz’s absence, including a touchdown on a goal line screen out of the backfield. He out-targeted Brent Celek 7 to 1, and with Carson Wentz rolling, Burton looks like a viable fill in while Ertz is sidelined.
THAT DON’T IMPRESS ME MUCH
Greg Roman was the fall guy following the Bills 37-31 loss to the Jets, despite leading a team with limited talent to 14th in points per drive last year. With Roman out, Sammy Watkins gimpy, and Tyrod Taylor playing quarterback the way Happy Gilmore played golf, this situation is quickly devolving into a wasteland.
Vernon Davis dead cat bounced for a 5-5-51 line—he hasn’t topped 400 yards since 2013 as his yards per reception (and athleticism) have cratered.
Last week Spencer Ware had twice as many touches as Charcandrick West despite Ware and West splitting snaps 50-50. So it should’ve come as no surprise to see their production even out a bit in Week 2 (6.3 points for West, 8.5 for Ware). With Jamaal Charles supposedly ready to return next week, I’m not sure what you’re hoping for by rostering West.
I’ve always liked Danny Amendola, but his 4-4-50-2 explosion would be easy to ignore even if the Patriots weren’t on their 3rd string quarterback in a short week against Houston’s pass defense (allowing 4.8 net yards/attempt, 2nd only to Denver). Chris Hogan (6-4-59-0) once again played the vast majority of Patriots’ snaps; he’s the outside receiver you want.
Kenny Britt had so much promise early in his career. It’s a shame what injuries, off-field problems, and Jeff Fisher can do to a career. Don’t let his 10-6-94 line against the Legion of Boom cloud your memory of what the Rams’ passing game looked like last week. Or last year. Or the year before that.
Against Oakland, both Atlanta tight ends were productive as Austin Hooper went 3-3-84-0, while Jacob Tamme went 8-5-75-1. Rookie tight ends have a long history of not producing, as does Tamme, so for now I’m writing these off as fluke performances against a Raider defense that has given up 808 total passing yards, worst in the league. Given the lack of receiving options behind Julio Jones (who left Sunday’s game early) and Mohamed Sanu, this situation might be worth revisiting next week.
My first drop for free agent pickups is usually my kicker, giving me the benefit of a full week of practice news and information before I have to sort out who my real drop will be. That means on Sunday morning, instead of playing with my kids, I’m scouring the waiver wire for a kicker. Chris Raybon at 4for4 has done some great research on kicker scoring, finding that your dart is best thrown at kickers whose teams are favorites with an implied team total of 24+ points, ideally playing at home. This week our options from the wire (<40% ownership) are:
Wil Lutz (vs. Atlanta, implied team total 28.5)
Josh Brown (vs. Washington, 25.75)
Andrew Franks (vs. Cleveland, 25.75)
Ryan Succop (vs. Oakland, 24.5)
Any questions, hit me up on Twitter, @scedar015. Be sure to check out Chris Manni’s Streaming Spotlight and Adam Cook’s Field of Streams for weekly quarterback, tight end, and defense pickups.