THE WIRE TAP: WEEK 4
September 27, 2016 | Scott Cedar
If you weren’t watching Monday Night Football, you were probably watching the first presidential debate.
I would’ve loved to combine the two. You can probably tell more about the candidates by their fantasy football strategies than anything else. Was there any doubt Jeb Bush was losing the GOP nomination when he bragged about having Ryan Tannehill as his quarterback? Trump definitely started his draft Gronkowski, Newton, Denver Defense, Gostkowski. I have the best players at every position. The best. But what about your running backs and wide receivers? I’m going to find the best running back and receivers. Believe me. As for Clinton, she’s definitely the person who talks nonstop about how her team has the most points, even though she’s sitting at 1-2. You probably didn’t even want her in your league to begin with, but needed a 12th.
In any event, I love the debates, but this year didn’t it ring kind of hollow? What is there to debate? Leaving your personal politics aside, the two parties and their candidates are polar opposites. Could not be more different. Are there really undecided voters who need to see Trump and Clinton debate before making a decision?
With three weeks now in the books, that’s where we are with fantasy as well. There’s no reason to be undecided on players; we’ve got plenty of information to take a stance and act accordingly. That means we can get more aggressive with drops, cut ties with some of our preseason darlings, and start to really hit the waiver wire.
After everyone got hurt last weekend, this weekend was relatively quiet, but there are still plenty of new names to discuss and holdovers from last week. 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.)
Dwayne Washington (23% Yahoo, 20% ESPN)
I was too low on Washington last week. The initial talk on Ameer Abdullah was a minor foot injury, but by Sunday morning Ian Rapoport reported Abdullah would be out until Week 11. Not to be outdone, 10 minutes later Adam Schefter reported Abdullah was likely to miss the entire season.
In either event, Washington will have ample opportunity in the Lions’ backfield. He and Theo Riddick each had 10 carries on Sunday. Riddick converted those 10 carries into 9 yards, including an 8-yard run. That is… not good. Washington didn’t light the world on fire, gaining 38 yards, but against a tough Green Bay run defense (giving up 1.6 YPC through the first 2 games) that’s not terrible. Up next week is Chicago, whose defense is a little more generous. Washington is a size/speed stud (87th percentile SPARQ score) with little competition for carries in a good offense. There’s league winning upside here.
Check Your Wire (players owned in <75% of leagues): Christine Michael ran all over the 49ers, going for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns. Not surprisingly, Thomas Rawls’ injury was more severe than first reported; he’ll return as Michael’s backup…Charles Sims showed his dual threat capabilities, with 55 yards rushing and 69 yards receiving. He remains the lead back for a few more weeks as Doug Martin nurses a hamstring injury… Despite Matt Asiata being named the starter, Jerick McKinnon outsnapped him and out-touched him, even in the red zone…John Brown’s ownership has dipped after a slow start, but he feasted with the Cardinals in comeback mode, going 11-6-70-0 (targets-receptions-yards-touchdowns). His snap count is still lagging, but I think a return to last year’s production isn’t far off… Zach Ertz’s ownership will continue to drop with the Eagles on bye. Add him if you can—I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you want Carson Wentz’s targets… Another injured tight end, Tyler Eifert, is apparently close to returning. Bet it’s still ~2-3 weeks away, but worth scooping him up if you have a spot… Eric Ebron is 6th among tight ends in targets (20) and fantasy points. The former 10th overall pick is living up to his draft position and has elevated himself into an every week starter.
PRETTY-AY, PRETT-AY, PRETT-AY GOOD
(Should be owned in 10- and 12-team leagues, whether by you or someone else.)
Jordan Howard (25% Yahoo, 16% ESPN)
Jeremy Langford had only 3 carries on Sunday night before leaving with a sprained ankle that’s expected to sideline him for 4-6 weeks. Ka’Deem Carey was already out with a hamstring injury, and appears set to miss at least a few more weeks as well. Howard subbed in with 9 carries for 45 yards (5.0 YPC), mostly on a 36-yard run where the Bears line opened up a huuuuuge hole. The Bears look like a mess, but Howard will be the feature back in that mess. Is that valuable?
He’ll get opportunities, but heading into Monday night the Bears were 30th in the league in rushing attempts, ahead of only the two teams playing Monday night. Their line was ranked 30th in the preseason by Pro Football Focus after signing pro-bowler Josh Sitton, and outside of the aforementioned run wasn’t doing much against a below-average Dallas defense. Howard’s worth an add, but as a bigger, slower back who fell to the 5th round in this year’s draft, expectations should be tempered. I think Howard’s primary value is as a warm body getting carries, which many need after the running back carnage of the past two weeks. I just wouldn’t go crazy in FAAB bidding; there will be better options in the coming weeks.
Terrelle Pryor (23% Yahoo, 29% ESPN)
I didn’t expect much from Pryor with Cody Kessler, who looked lost (and occasionally was lost) this preseason. Sunday erased all doubts, as Pryor was all over the field in a 23-point effort. He dominated Cleveland’s passing game with 14 targets (42% target share), hauling in 8 passes for 144 yards. He ran the ball 4 times for 21 yards and a touchdown. He threw 5 passes. He saved a child from a burning building. It was an awesome all-around performance.
Points of caution include: 1) Josh Gordon returns Week 5; 2) Corey Coleman should be back 2-4 weeks after that; and 3) the Dolphins’ secondary is terrrrible. Still, Pryor’s always been a playmaker, and now he’s playing with a creative coach who will put him in position to make plays for a team that desperately needs them.
Jamison Crowder (15% Yahoo, 11% ESPN)
Crowder must stare at his ownership percentages every Wednesday morning looking like the Indian from that PSA. Don’t worry Jamison, we’re here for you.
After a 7-4-78-1 line on Sunday, Crowder’s on pace for 85 catches and 933 yards. Washington is 3rd in the league in pass attempts, and Crowder leads all Washington pass-catchers in targets, catches, and touchdowns. This is valuable! If that weren’t enough, Josh Doctson was inactive with his Achilles injury, bothering him since May, popping up again.
Darren Sproles (39% Yahoo, 49% ESPN)
Wendell Smallwood (2% Yahoo, 1% ESPN)
Ryan Mathews is apparently on life support, which explains his low usage the last 2 weeks. That would’ve been helpful to know before the game… maybe they figured they only need to announce when Mathews isn’t hurt.
Sproles had a monster game on Sunday, catching all 6 of his targets for 128 yards and a touchdown. He only ran twice (for -1 yard), and most of his damage came on one play—a 73-yarder where the play broke down, Wentz did a great job getting out of the pocket, and Sproles slipped behind his man. Sproles is a tough player for me—both overrated and underrated—but with Philly’s offense clicking I’d roll with Sproles for now, a top-24 running back in both standard and PPR leagues..
As for Smallwood, he generated a lot of post-draft buzz before seemingly fading into oblivion in training camp. With Mathews severely limited, Smallwood had an impressive 17 carries for 79 yards (4.65 YPC) and a touchdown. Smallwood lead the Big 12 in rushing last year, and given Sproles’ limitations as a runner, is primed to take over the lion’s share of the rushing work for the Eagles. Sproles is solid, but I’d take the chance on Smallwood’s upside first.
Kenneth Dixon (12% Yahoo, 14% ESPN)
I talked about Dixon last week. Justin Forsett and Terrance West continued to underwhelm, combining for 17 carries and 60 yards (3.5 YPC) against the Jaguars. In a slow waiver wire week, inching closer to a return, Dixon’s a great add if you have an obvious drop.
Orleans Darkwa (3% Yahoo, 5% ESPN)
Paul Perkins (2% Yahoo, 1.9% ESPN)
Shane Vereen looked pretty good as the Giants’ lead back on Sunday, so naturally he popped up with a surprise injury the next day. Torn triceps, and though he appears to have avoided season-ending surgery, he’ll be out at least 2 months.
Rashad Jennings was also sidelined last week with a thumb injury, but it sounds like Jennings was close to playing, so I’d expect him back for Week 4. Even so, Jennings is injured often, and looks to be slowing down at age 31. That opens the door for Darkwa to get dangerous. Darkwa took 10 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown on Sunday and, while nothing special, sports a 4.1 YPC for his career in limited attempts. The Giants are 6th in yards per play, and that type of offensive efficiency will lead to scoring opportunities for a strong back like Darkwa. And if part of making your start/sit decisions Sunday morning includes asking your wife which name she likes best, Darkwa will be an instant contributor to your team.
Paul Perkins, the Giants’ 5th round pick this year, has been inactive for all 3 of the Giants’ games. If Jennings is back, I’d expect him to remain inactive behind Darkwa and Bobby Rainey. Perkins is a smaller, shiftier running back and would seemingly fill Shane Vereen’s role better than Darkwa, but until we actually see him active his upside is all theoretical.
Kenyan Drake (16% Yahoo, 31% ESPN)
The Miami running backs are apparently rebels without a cause. They make their own rules. After Jay Ajayi was inactive Week 1 due to anger issues, Damien Williams and Isaiah Pead were inactive Week 2 for missing a meeting. Only Drake has been behaving, leading to his surprise start in Week 3.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins handed out touches like Oprah hands out cars. You get a touch! You get a touch! Everybody gets a touch! Drake led the way with 9 carries for 37 yards (4.1 YPC, plus 2 catches for 11 yards). Ajayi got 7 carries for 28 yards (4.0). Pead got 5 carries for 17 yards (3.4 YPC). Damien Williams got a carry for 15 yards (plus 3 catches for 10 yards). Jarvis Landry even got in on the fun, taking 2 carries. The snap count broke down like this.
None of this is particularly useful, especially since Foster’s injury apparently wasn’t serious and he’s expected back any week (until the next soft tissue injury). If you’re desperate for a running back, Drake is the best bet. He got the start, the most work, and the Dolphins liked him enough to make him a surprise 3rd round pick. But he’s not an every-down back, and I wouldn’t expect his touches to increase much from this week, capping the upside in a Dolphins offense that hasn’t run well all year.
Carson Wentz (20% Yahoo, 19% ESPN)
Heading into the draft, I thought Wentz was about as obvious a bust as you could get. Oops.
Wentz looked the part in Week 1 and 2, but against the Browns and Bears it was tough to tell whether this was real or a product of soft matchups. His evisceration of the Steelers in Week 3 left no doubt. Wentz completed 23 of 31 passes for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s yet to throw an interception, which is no fluke—for a rookie, he’s shown an impressive ability not to force the action. Unfortunately Philadelphia’s on bye this week or he’d be higher, but if you have an extra spot and need help at quarterback, Wentz is worth an add. Otherwise, keep an eye on him for Week 5 when he returns to face a Lions team that just gave up 4 touchdowns to Aaron Rodgers.
Fozzy Whittaker (36% Yahoo, 42% ESPN)
Cameron Artis-Payne (23% Yahoo, 22% ESPN)
See last week. It more or less played out as expected: CAP lead in carries, Whittaker lead in targets, and neither was especially usable (5.8 points for CAP, 5.6 points for Whittaker).
Steve Smith (39% Yahoo, 52% ESPN)
After a slow start to the year, Smith put up an 11-8-87 line and looked closer to his pre-injury 2015. The Ravens threw 40 times yesterday and continue to run a pass-heavy offense (10th in passing attempts). Smith, Mike Wallace, and Dennis Pitta are clearly Flacco’s triumvirate; Breshard Perriman and Kamar Aiken (my preferred preseason receiver) have only 15 combined targets (12.8%) this year.
Hunter Henry (6% Yahoo, 12% ESPN)
Against my better judgment, I’m recommending Henry—a rookie tight end—as a pickup. “Rookie” is about the worst thing you can call a tight end, as they rarely produce. However, before fumbling the game away Henry caught all 5 of his targets for 76 yards. More importantly, he didn’t tear his ACL, a rarity for San Diego pass catchers. There isn’t much left for Philip Rivers, and with Antonio Gates seemingly not close to playing Sunday, Henry will have a lot of volume coming his way.
Check Your Wire (players owned in <75% of leagues): Tyrell Williams made his owners, especially the 13-year-old ones, happy by catching 6 of 9 targets for 69 yards, but against a bad Colts defense it looked like the Chargers were starting to feel life without Keenan Allen… Dak Prescott is adding something new every game; this week, it was rushing production (4 carries for 36 yards and a touchdown) … In a game where the Kansas City Defense was the Jets’ leading receiver with 6 catches, Quincy Enunwa was unsurprisingly quiet, but at least led the team with 11 targets. Brandon Marshall sounds like he’s really banged up, leaving the door open for Enunwa… … Zach Miller went 9-8-78-2 on Sunday, and gets Detroit (2nd most points allowed to tight ends heading into Monday Night) next week… Kyle Rudolph doubled his season catch total on Sunday with 10-7-70-1 and hasn’t had fewer than 8 targets in a game. With Laquan Treadwell barely playing and Charles Johnson picking up where he left off last year, that usage should continue
DEEPER LEAGUE PLAYS
(In no particular order.)
We thought Dwayne Allen would be the primary beneficiary of Rob Chudzinski’s tight-end friendly offense, but it’s been Jack Doyle who’s shined. Doyle caught all 6 of his targets for 65 yards, and now has as many targets as Allen (15), with more receptions, yards and touchdowns. . While Donte Moncrief is out the Colts don’t have many pass-catchers, so expect Doyle to continue to get opportunities.
Latavius Murray continues to lose work. He saw fewer than 50% of the Raiders snaps on Sunday as the three-headed committee all got fed. In addition to selling Murray ASAP, you can consider DeAndre Washington (6 carries, 57 yards) and Jalen Richard (6 carries, 28 yards) with byes starting up. Their limited carries count for a little more behind Oakland’s excellent offensive line.
I’m all about that Jace. ‘Bout that Jace. Amaro. Ok, they can’t all be winners… I like Jace Amaro. A 2nd round pick in 2014 after a productive college career, Amaro missed all of last year with a torn ACL and returned to an offense that had no need for pass-catching tight ends. Landing in Tennessee, Amaro led the Titans with a 4-3-59 line while Delanie Walker sat with a hamstring injury. He’s only useful while Walker is out, and has limited upside as Mike Mularkey’s “exotic smashmouth” offense has been “predictably terrible,” but I like the talent.
Trevor Siemian had the best game of any Northwestern quarterback since Otto Graham, a stat that: 1) will impress your grandpa, if he knows what fantasy football is; and 2) I just made up, and have no plans to verify, but am pretty sure it’s true. Siemian went 23/35 for 312 yards and 4 touchdowns against a good Bengals defense. Siemian gets Tampa Bay in Week 4, who’s strong against the run but weak against the pass. They just let the Rams put up 37 points, including 2 touchdowns from Case Keenum.
Cameron Brate had a big weekend. He caught 5 of his 10 targets for 46 yards and 2 touchdowns. He survived Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who got himself kicked out of Tampa Bay for a DUI on Friday morning (Google the TMZ video…). And he became the best Harvard player in the NFL after Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 6 INT abomination. Brate isn’t exciting, but he’s efficient (Jameis Winston had a 9.2 AY/A throwing to him last year) and could be a back-end fantasy starter.
If you can burn a roster spot for a week, it’s not a bad idea to jump on Malcolm Mitchell (and Chris Hogan, if available). Tom Brady returns Week 5, and you’ll be rewarded with a matchup against the Browns.
I ignored Adam Humphries after last week’s 6 catch, 67 yard performance. He’s on our radar now after going 12-9-100 in Week 3. Humphries never topped 500 yards in college, so I’m inclined to say this is a blip, but I agree with Adam Levitan that Vincent Jackson is cooked. The Buccaneers don’t have much other competition for targets behind Mike Evans.
THAT DON’T IMPRESS ME MUCH
I wouldn’t run to add Dexter McCluster. He takes Danny Woodhead’s roster spot, but is hardly a replacement. McCluster averaged 6.6 opportunities/game under Ken Wisenhunt in Tennessee, scoring 5.8 PPR points per game. He was targeted just three times in his first game as a Charger, catching 2 of them for 9 yards.
Brian Quick’s 53 yards and a touchdown was big for all of my 2015 fantasy teams that drafted him. Even in a win where the Rams put up 37 points, Case Keenum was atrocious (34.2 QBR) against a bad pass defense. Continue to ignore the noise.
Kevin White had 14 (!) targets, but caught only 6 of them for 62 yards. He’s actually out-targeting Alshon Jeffrey, but not doing enough with them to matter.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins landed with the Jets. You know what’s probably not a great fit? This knucklehead living in New York City, fresh off a DUI. On the field, his talent is intriguing, but it’s never converted to anything more than his annual early-season 2 touchdown game. He’s at best the 5th option in New York, and probably has a few weeks before he gets up to full usage. Pass, for now.
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.