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Thread: Fantasy Football News 2018

  1. #1 Fantasy Football News 2018 
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    Breaking down the film: Is David Johnson only an RB2 now?


    Matt Bowen
    ESPN PLUS

    On Sunday, Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson caught a touchdown pass in the loss to the Chicago Bears. But with only 10 receptions on the season and subpar production in the run game, is it time for fantasy managers to worry about Johnson's usage and overall fit in Mike McCoy's offense? Let's hit on Johnson's sliding value, the rising production of Falcons rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley, Kerryon Johnson's 100-yard night, Mike Williams in L.A. and more.

    Here are the Week 3 fantasy takeaways ...

    Should fantasy managers have legit concern over David Johnson's numbers?

    The route concept that produced the touchdown grab for Johnson was a smart call. Remove the outside cornerback on the post, send an underneath target to the flat and release Johnson -- out of the backfield -- on a corner route. That was good for a 21-yard score. However, Johnson's three other receptions went for a total of just 9 yards, and he was shut down by the Bears' nasty front seven, finishing with only 31 yards on 12 carries.


    Through three weeks, Johnson totaled 63 yards receiving, and he averaged a lowly 3.4 yards per carry. That's a problem. And I don't quite understand why McCoy hasn't featured Johnson more as a receiving threat in the game plan. I'm talking about isolation routes or concepts that use Johnson underneath to get those matchups versus linebackers in space. We know the skill set is there.
    With a Week 4 matchup against the Seahawks, the possibility of the Cardinals starting rookie quarterback Josh Rosen and running behind a below-average Cardinals offensive line, Johnson will slide in the ranks. Until we see a true effort from McCoy to script matchups for Johnson in the passing game, he's looking more like an RB2.

    Get Falcons rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley into your Week 4 lineups
    I talked about Ridley here last week, with the rook catching four of five targets for 64 yards and a score versus the Panthers' defense. That put him on the fantasy radar given the jump in target volume, along with the route running that popped on the film. But after Ridley roasted the Saints' secondary on Sunday for 147 yards receiving and three touchdowns? Yeah, it's time to get the former Alabama star into your lineup.


    Ridley caught seven of a team-high eight targets, and that route running was clean again. Just go back to the double move in the red zone -- stop-and-start speed there. Or the fade route for a 75-yard score -- shake and go.
    With 13 targets in the past two games, it's clear that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has developed some real trust with Ridley. And he'll continue seeing one-on-one matchups opposite Julio Jones -- especially inside the 20-yard line. That's why I'm moving Ridley up into the WR3/flex range this week with an upcoming matchup against the Bengals.

    Browns TE David Njoku back in the mix with Baker Mayfield at QB?
    I dropped Njoku down to the TE2 range heading into the Browns' Week 3 matchup with the Jets. And while Njoku caught only two passes for 36 yards, it's the offensive tempo generated by Mayfield, paired with a Browns game plan, that has me thinking about bumping the tight end back into the TE1 mix.

    With Mayfield, the Thursday night call sheet resembled his passing game at Oklahoma: the quick three-step routes, the inside vertical throws, play-action and a sprinkle of RPOs. More shotgun alignments too.
    Given Mayfield's ability to anticipate those throwing windows inside of the numbers, Njoku has more upside with the rookie QB running the show. Yes, the second-year pro can win underneath on option routes, stick-outs and shallow crossers. But it's the inside seam routes/verticals that can produce TE1 numbers with Mayfield throwing the ball.

    Rookie RB Kerryon Johnson starting to emerge in Detroit

    Running behind that upgraded -- and healthy -- offensive front in Detroit, Johnson looked every bit the part of the No.1 back in Detroit, totaling 110 yards on 18 touches. And his style matches what I saw on the college tape at Auburn. It's the natural patience to find running lanes, the smooth cutting ability and more finishing power that you would expect.
    I truly believe coach Matt Patricia wants to see run-pass balance with this Detroit team. The only thing holding me back on Johnson is the volume. With LeGarrette Blount in the mix and Theo Riddick as the passing down target, Johnson will be sharing the ball. But I also view the rookie as a potential three-down player in Detroit.

    For now, Johnson should give managers flex value in a Week 4 matchup with the Cowboys.

    The QB run game continues to boost Cam Newton's numbers

    When the Panthers hired Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator, there were some questions about the volume Newton would see on designed QB runs. However, through three weeks, Newton has already carried the ball 28 times for 136 yards and three touchdowns.
    Sure, Newton will always pick up some yards on the ground when he pulls the ball down to escape pressure. But I'm more focused on the QB run schemes that have shown up on the film in Weeks 1 and 2 and again on Sunday during the Panthers' win over the Bengals. Newton scored on a run/pass boot play in the red zone and then put up another touchdown run on a power-read scheme, with the backside guard pulling through the hole as a lead blocker.
    Based on the numbers we've seen to start the season, fantasy managers should bank on Newton carrying the rock. And when the Panthers push the ball into the tight red zone, why wouldn't Turner call on Newton? He's still the best goal-line runner in the NFL given his monster frame and body control on contact. Good luck stopping that.

    Chris Carson's volume tells the story in Week 3


    In Week 2, Seahawks rookie Rashaad Penny finished with 10 carries to only six for Carson. But after Carson piled up 34 total touches in the win over the Cowboys -- for 124 yards and a touchdown -- he looks like the guy for now.

    Yes, Carson produced a long run of just 13 yards, and he averaged only 3.2 yards per rush on a whopping 32 carries. But it's the volume we have to focus on with Carson, paired with a physical, no-hesitation running style that sells under Pete Carroll.
    I do believe Penny can develop into a No.1 for the Seahawks; the talent is there. But Carson can get downhill, he is powerful on contact and he has the vision to bend the ball back off the inside zone in the Seahawks' system. That works for an offense that has limitations in the passing game with Doug Baldwin's injury. Plus, with Penny seeing just three touches in Sunday's game, Carson is the play for fantasy managers in a positive Week 4 matchup against the Cardinals.

    Bump up Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams in the ranks

    After Williams caught four of seven targets for 81 yards and two touchdown grabs in the loss to the Rams, I need to give him a boost in my weekly ranks.
    The former first-round pick has the frame (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) to shield defenders from the ball. And that showed up on the deep post route he ran for a score against the Rams. Gain inside leverage and simply pin the defender to the outside.
    Now, Williams isn't seeing a ton of volume, with only 15 targets through three games. However, he's cashed in on those opportunities, catching 11 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns. And he will get more looks with Philip Rivers' aggressive style. The Chargers' quarterback will take shots and challenge tight windows. Williams should jump into that WR3 territory, with more value in non-PPR scoring formats.

    Stick with 49ers RB Matt Breida after the Jimmy Garoppolo injury

    The knee injury to Garoppolo will hit the value of the 49ers' skill players, but I'm sticking with Breida as a flex starter, with lower-tier RB2 value in deeper leagues. Breida posted 117 total yards on just 13 touches in the loss to the Chiefs. Plus, he's a really good fit for the 49ers' run game under Kyle Shanahan. Love the system too. Outside zone and old-school power schemes -- with some window dressing to spice it up.
    Going back to my tape study of Breida after Week 2, the running back has the wiggle to make defenders miss, and he can get through the hole when there is daylight to attack. I see some juice to his game, especially on those zone runs where he can press the ball to the second level.
    Yes, Alfred Morris will see his touches in the 49ers' game plan, but I'm looking at the explosive-play ability of Breida and the added numbers he can scoop up on screens/underneath routes.

    The upside of Bengals WR Tyler Boyd

    After catching six of nine targets for 91 yards and a touchdown on Sept. 13, Boyd racked up 132 yards and another score on Sunday versus the Panthers, hauling in six of seven targets.

    Look, he's a slick route runner. In and out of breaks with speed and finds the open windows too. With 15 grabs on 21 targets this season -- for 249 yards -- Boyd is becoming a consistent option for quarterback Andy Dalton in Bill Lazor's offensive system.
    With the injury to A.J. Green, Boyd could see a sizable jump in the ranks if the Bengals' No.1 can't dress in Week 4 against the Falcons. But even if Green is a go for Sunday, Boyd should start in all league formats in that WR3/flex range. And, like Ridley, when you play opposite a legit star at wide receiver, you avoid the bracket looks and combo coverages on money downs. Win the matchup.
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  2. #2  
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    Week 3 review: Should you be concerned about Tom Brady and Andrew Luck?

    KC Joyner
    ESPN PLUS

    This week's breakdown looks at whether pass blocking is to blame for Tom Brady's and Andrew Luck's woes; the state of the Saints' run blocking and how that impacts the rest-of-season value of Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram; whether Chris Carson can now be trusted as a weekly starter after his big game against Dallas -- and more.


    The Patriots have a disastrous downfield passing game, but don't blame the blocking

    Tom Brady had 7.5 fantasy points against Detroit, his fifth-lowest single-game fantasy point total since 2014, but what his fantasy managers should be more concerned about is the Patriots' complete lack of a vertical passing attack. Brady entered Week 3 ranked 20th among quarterbacks in vertical fantasy points (10.3) and fell to 27th after his 0.5 vertical fantasy points against the Lions.


    Brady's lack of production did not result from poor pass blocking; he had the fourth-highest average time in pocket on vertical passes in Week 3 (2.8 seconds on aerials thrown 11 or more yards downfield). It also wasn't due to a lack of aggressiveness, as Brady's 12.4 air yards per attempt was the highest mark in Week 3 among quarterbacks who started and finished their games.


    The real issue is that the team hasn't adjusted to losing Brandin Cooks. He accounted for 43 percent of Brady's stretch vertical attempts (aerials thrown 20 or more yards downfield) last season, and the Patriots simply don't have anyone to replace him.


    That could change, though, because the Patriots soon will have a receiving corps that consists of Rob Gronkowski, Josh Gordon, Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman to go along with James White and Rex Burkhead catching passes out of the backfield. If those players perform to their respective talent levels and Brady continues to get a ton of time in the pocket, this abysmal night will be an anomaly. Fantasy managers who can trade low for Brady should strongly consider doing so, while those with Brady on a roster should stay patient and await the many high-upside days on the horizon.

    Andrew Luck's shoulder might be the issue, but it might also be that he doesn't trust his offensive line to give him enough time to throw vertical passes


    When the Colts sent out Jacoby Brissett to throw the game-ending Hail Mary pass against Philadelphia, it was just another signal to Andrew Luck's fantasy managers that Luck's throwing power may have fallen off significantly after his shoulder injury. This apprehension is more than justified, with Luck having the lowest air yards per attempt this season (5.4) and the second-fewest vertical fantasy points among quarterbacks who have started all three games (5.3).


    While it is possible that Luck's shoulder issues have caused this decline, at least some of the blame must go to the Colts' offensive line. At first glance, it looks like this group is doing its job; Luck has been pressured on only 22.7 percent of his dropbacks this season, a mark that rates seventh best per ESPN Stats & Information. Still, it should be noted that Luck's average of 2.1 seconds in pocket ranks 24th among qualifying quarterbacks. One of the main factors in the low time in pocket is the lack of time Luck has on vertical throws. His 2.3 seconds per vertical pass dropback is tied for third lowest in that category.


    Whether Luck has lost some on his fastball, he seems to be rushing some of his passes and may not be throwing deep because he isn't convinced the blocking will be there to allow him to do so. Until the Colts start showing improvement here, Luck may be stuck operating a passing offense that relies too heavily on dink-and-dunk throws. That means the days of Luck frequently contending for 20 or more fantasy points might not be in the cards for the foreseeable future.

    Consider accepting monster trade deals on Drew Brees because the Saints' run-blocking metrics indicate that a return to last season's run-heavy approach might be coming


    One of the most shocking findings in this year's run-blocking metrics is how poorly New Orleans fared through the first two weeks of the season. The Saints ranked last in my good blocking productivity (GBP) metric after Week 2, and their 1.7 mark in that category made them the only team in the league with a GBP lower than 2.0. That lack of quality run blocking was likely a major factor in the Saints giving Alvin Kamara a mere 21 carries in those contests.


    Kamara gained only 66 yards on 16 carries against the Falcons in Week 3, but the Saints' run blocking was actually a lot better than that number would suggest; they posted a 56.0 percent mark in my good blocking rate (GBR) metric and a 4.6 GBP. Some of those strong totals had to do with an Atlanta rush defense that was tied for 23rd in GBP after two weeks (3.6) and really doesn't effectively handle a power rushing attack. But it also could indicate that the Saints are finally hitting their run-blocking stride after two subpar games.


    If the latter is the case, Kamara's value could stay at its sky-high level even with the return of Mark Ingram, who should have RB2 value in many contests. If the ground game gets back to last season's level, New Orleans could return to its 2017 run-heavy formula, a factor that would drop Drew Brees' fantasy production back down to earth. That could make Brees a great trade option for fantasy managers who can get a monster trade offer for him.

    Chris Carson's fantasy managers should not yet buy into the Seahawks' run-game turnaround


    Carson's fantasy managers finally had a reason to rejoice. His 20.4 points against Dallas were nearly double the 11.3 combined fantasy points from Weeks 1 and 2.


    Before chalking that scoring pace as the new normal for Carson, it's worth noting that the Seahawks' blocking issues do not appear to have been resolved.


    Seattle graded out 31st in my post-Week 2 overall blocking grades, a
    nd its 2.1 GBP against Dallas was actually equal to the 2.1 season-long GBP mark the Seahawks had coming into that contest (which placed 31st in that category).


    So how did Carson do so well if the blocking was so terrible? A lot of it had to do with the scoreboard. The Cowboys' offense was so bad that Seattle never trailed in the contest. The Seahawks had nine drives with a lead, and seven of those drives occurred when Seattle was leading by 11 or more points. It's easy to be patient with the ground game with a double-digit lead, but Seattle's lack of blocking prowess, even in favorable game circumstances, strongly suggests the Seahawks haven't solved the blocking woes. It also makes Carson a potential candidate for a sell-high trade.


    Quick notes


    Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount are benefiting from top-10-caliber run blocking. The Lions' offense ranked 12th in GBP with a 3.7 mark after Week 2 and notched a 3.8 GBP against the Patriots, which should move Detroit into the top 10 in that category at the end of Week 3. This opened the door for Johnson to end the Lions' nearly five-year drought without a 100-yard rusher in a game. It also should mean that fantasy managers can count on frequent double-digit point totals from these two backs.


    The Falcons allowed a zero percent pass pressure rate on vertical throws against New Orleans, despite the Saints sending a blitz on 71.4 percent of Matt Ryan's vertical dropbacks. This caliber of pass blocking permitted Ryan to air it out to Calvin Ridley early and often and should keep Ryan in the QB1 discussion many times the rest of this season.


    The Patriots' rush defense has been abysmal. It came into this contest ranked 28th in GBP allowed (4.0) and had the aforementioned 3.8 GBP against Detroit. New England had this kind of problem early last season and turned the trend around. They could mimic that improvement again this season, but fantasy managers who have Dolphins or Colts running backs should still be happy to see the Patriots' rush defense on the schedule during the next two weeks.
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  3. #3  
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    Fantasy stock watch: Will Bengals continue to impress?

    Eric Karabell
    ESPN PLUS

    Despite coming off a Week 3 loss, things are going well for the Cincinnati Bengals and those who rely on them for fantasy purposes. The Bengals travel to Atlanta for an intriguing matchup with the Falcons on Sunday, and while most will dismiss their chances because of the way Matt Ryan and his weapons are performing, stock is definitely up.


    Quarterback Andy Dalton, running back Giovani Bernard, wide receiver Tyler Boyd and tight end Tyler Eifert are each among the most added players in ESPN standard leagues, which is a bit unusual for one team more than a few weeks into any season, especially when it did not win its previous game and their second-most rostered fantasy option is injured. Still, the Bengals are scoring nearly 30 points per game, and Joe Mixon could return next week.



    The Falcons, for all they do well offensively, permit the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks and third-most PPR points to running backs, so it makes sense why so many fantasy managers would flock to their players for this week, and the October schedule includes the Steelers and Chiefs too. Those defenses are permitting quite a few passing yards, as only the Saints permit more fantasy points to quarterbacks.


    Dalton might never return to top-10 fantasy status, as his 2013 campaign was the outlier, but he is fine as a QB2. Bernard keeps producing RB2 games with Mixon out. Boyd is blossoming, though I stop short of WR2 status. It might be coming, even with A.J. Green there. Eifert has not scored a touchdown yet, but with so many top-10 tight ends injured, he warrants interest when suited up, because touchdowns are likely pending.


    This week we combine our Stock Watch with thoughts on what to watch this weekend, and the Bengals certainly qualify for each angle. Four of their key players are rostered in at least 10 percent more standard leagues than a week ago, with Boyd the No.1 attraction, going from 18.3 percent to 60.6 percent. Green is still awesome, while Dalton, Bernard and Eifert have a history of relevance. Mixon is someone to trade for. Can the offensive numbers continue in Atlanta on Sunday? Time will tell, but I do not see why not!


    Stock up


    New Orleans Saints: Perhaps it is only the early schedule talking, but Drew Brees nearly saw his incredible run of 14 consecutive seasons as a top-10 quarterback end last season, and currently he is playing awesome football. He was ninth in QB scoring and 11th in touchdown passes. Now he has Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas each on pace to shatter the all-time record for catches in a season. Please do not forget about running back Mark Ingram II; this is the last week he serves a suspension, and he will play a key role in the offense when he returns and should be an RB2. He should not be a free agent in your leagues.


    Perception of more running backs catching passes: Well, Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley and Chris Thompsonare heavily involved in the passing game, and among the top 30 in overall receptions so far, but it is not as if some new league-wide trend has occurred. Those are the only four running backs with 18 or more catches. Last season, the four running backs in the top 30 of catches were Le'Veon Bell, Kamara, McCaffrey and the oddly absent Duke Johnson Jr. That is it. It is worth watching to see if James White, Jalen Richard, Javorius Allen and Nyheim Hines keep their pass-catching momentum going, but ultimately perception is not reality.


    Forgotten tight ends: Injuries to top-10 options Greg Olsen, Delanie Walkerand Evan Engram have forced fantasy managers to look elsewhere at the position, and luckily for us, Oakland's Jared Cook, Tampa Bay's O.J. Howardand Indianapolis's Eric Ebron have stepped up. Cook has disappointed before; in 2016 when paired with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, he was supposed to emerge, but managed three receptions per game, and one overall touchdown. Howard had a quiet rookie season but easily leapfrogged Cameron Brate on the depth chart this summer. Ebron has taken advantage of the Jack Doyle injury, though I remain skeptical this lasts. Howard should be a star and has top-five tight end potential. Get him now before another big game in Week 4.


    No. 2 receivers on teams with stars: Pittsburgh's JuJu Smith-Schuster is a WR2 and threatening for more, even though Antonio Brown is still great. Falcons rookie Calvin Ridley is scoring the touchdowns that Julio Jones is not. Boyd is rising in Cincy even with Green thriving, Mike Williams is playing like the top-10 NFL draft pick he was a season ago alongside Keenan Allen and Houston's Will Fuller V is a consistent scoring threat even with DeAndre Hopkins doing his thing. There is ample reason to think these young receivers continue to flourish, whereas in the past it sure was tough for wide receivers on teams with a bona fide top-10 guy to succeed in fantasy.


    Stock down

    San Francisco 49ers: The season-ending knee injury to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo should have fantasy managers concerned. Nothing against sophomore C.J. Beathard, but the same confidence does not exist, which is why receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin have taken their place on the most dropped list. It will be interesting to see what happens with running backs Matt Breida, currently tied with Ezekiel Elliott atop the rushing leaders, and Alfred Morris. Will the 49ers adopt a safe offensive philosophy and run the football? Can they pull it off?


    Dallas Cowboys not named Ellliott: Dak Prescott remains rostered in roughly a third of ESPN standard leagues despite averaging a woeful 184 passing yards over his past 13 games, with 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Say he simply lacks weapons, but this was a problem during the 2017 season when he failed to throw for 200 yards in seven of his final 10 games and had better options. Avoid Dallas receivers. Elliott is the lone Cowboy rostered in more than 31 percent of leagues for a reason, and he can still lead the NFL in rushing without the statistical aid of teammates.


    Chicago Bears passing game: A home game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers awaits, and one would think the Chicago defense will create turnovers, since Ryan Fitzpatrick is so eager to comply. That is how Fitz got his 400 passing yards last week, as the Steelers took a big lead on his mistakes, and he played catchup. The Chicago offense, however, is stagnant. It figures to step up this Sunday, but Mitchell Trubisky has not made stars out of Allen Robinsonand Trey Burton, while Tarik Cohen has done little in the passing game. I have to think that changes on Sunday, or Robinson falls from WR2 territory and Burton and Cohen show up on many fantasy free agent lists. Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, almost has to continue to play great now that Jameis Winston is off his suspension, and we know that is not likely.


    Additional players to watch this weekend

    Quarterbacks
    1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
    2. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
    3. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
    4. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
    5. Case Keenum, Denver Broncos


    Notes: Brady tends to torch the Miami defense whenever he wants, but the current Brady lacks weapons. Or does he? Even if Josh Gordon is not a factor, I cannot get too worried here, and Julian Edelman returns in a week. ... The Watson we saw dominate last season is not this one. He has not faced the Colts, but if he fails to produce big stats this weekend, many will look elsewhere. ... Luck, by the way, is No. 31 in yards per attempt, barely ahead of now-benched Sam Bradford in Arizona. I have to say this version of Luck is not at all impressive. ... Mayfield should tear up the Raiders, a team with no pass rush, even though it created that issue. Mayfield's popularity will continue to rise, and he is already the most added QB in ESPN leagues, but he is still a rookie.


    Running backs


    1. Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
    2. Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos
    3. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
    4. Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles
    5. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
    Notes: Johnson became the first Lions running back since prohibition to rush for 100 yards. OK, not that extreme, but we need to see another game in which the rookie is the main ball carrier before proclaiming him a safe flex choice. ... Lindsay earned an ejection from his Week 3 game, which might or might not have derailed his progress as the team's top option. Royce Freeman has not been awful. ... McCoy claims he will return from a rib injury, and now that a seemingly competent, albeit rookie, quarterback is in place, let us see how that helps him. Josh Allen is at least a threat to throw downfield. ... Ajayi also figures to suit up after missing a game, but note the Titans -- and the Eagles -- are among the stingiest teams in allowing fantasy points to running backs. This appears to be a low-scoring affair, with each club time-sharing at running back. ... Finally, Carson had 13 rushing attempts the first two weeks, then 32 in Week 3. Which is real?


    Wide receivers/tight ends


    1. Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
    2. Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles
    3. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
    4. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
    5. Name a New England Patriot


    Notes: Ridley has four touchdowns in two games. Of course, we have to watch. ... Jeffery figures to make his season debut, and while he might not be a safe WR2 anymore -- and he was not last season, although he was hurt -- he should matter. ... Fitzgerald will not avoid the most dropped list for long if he averages four catches per game. Rookie Josh Rosen should throw the ball downfield. ... Perhaps Doug Baldwin returns to the field this weekend, but Lockett has scored a touchdown in each game so far. That should count for something! ... Rob Gronkowski is in a tie for fifth among tight ends in catches and is seventh in yards. He should destroy the Dolphins. If not, it is a problem and we probably rank Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz ahead of him moving forward. In addition, does Josh Gordon play? What if the Patriots offense really is, well, simply average?
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    Fantasy stock watch: How Mark Ingram's return affects other Saints' values

    Eric Karabell
    ESPN PLUS


    New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram II returns from a four-game suspension for Monday's home game with the Washington Redskins and while he is rostered in nearly all ESPN standard leagues, and should be, I get the feeling fantasy managers do not have high expectations, and others, for selfish reasons, wish he would not return. After all, Alvin Kamara is the highest scorer in PPR formats, Michael Thomas is tops among wide receivers and sixth overall and quarterback Drew Brees, after a relatively disappointing statistical line last season, is back on pace for more than 5,000 passing yards and 32 touchdown passes. Why mess with a good thing, right?



    Stock is up for these and other Saints, as even kicker Wil Lutz and tight end Benjamin Watson make appearances on the most added list, and it should be as well for Ingram, who finished last season as fantasy's No. 6 running back in PPR formats. Kamara, of course, was third. The Saints run so many offensive plays in comparison to other teams and do so in such an efficient manner that two running backs can coexist and thrive, and it seems relevant to point out Ingram's season was not a fluke. In fact, he divided his 12 touchdowns equally among the final three months, and usage remained consistent.


    Ingram sure seems to me like a RB2 for Week 5 and in the end-of-season rankings, even though I see that I might be alone in that assessment. Sure, nobody is saying he finishes as the No. 6 running back again. Kamara has gotten even better this season, especially as a receiver, and so has Thomas, on pace to break records. However, entering Week 4, the Saints had failed to run the ball effectively, as Mike Gillislee was a bust. The offense really relied on the passing game, and then Kamara ran all over the Giants to upset that narrative. Still, Ingram is coming off consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and averaged 5 yards per tote in that span. Why would the Saints not use him? He might not approach 50 receptions, but he is going to matter.


    Some have noted that what Kamara and Thomas are doing statistically is going to be tough to sustain for four months and I tend to agree. That does not mean fantasy managers need to sell high on their value, however. Kamara probably cannot surpass 2,000 total yards and amass 24 touchdowns, with or without the presence of Ingram, but 1,800 yards and 16 scores, sure. Thomas seems unlikely to catch 168 passes, as the NFL record is 143 and that is a big difference. Brees, however, has done this before and that is why Ingram returning in Week 5 is a perfect fit. Sure, blame Ingram for why Kamara and Thomas slow their awesome statistical trends down if it makes you feel better. It was happening anyway. Kamara and Thomas can still end up the top PPR fantasy options at their positions.


    In fact, inclusion might be the word around the New Orleans offense moving forward, and the Week 6 bye should help in that respect. Ingram probably does not get a full workload this Monday. After the off week he should. Wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Cameron Meredith have something to offer. Ginn is an obvious deep threat who has scored two touchdowns, but is not seeing consistent targets. Meredith scored a touchdown on his only target of Week 3, and is slowly returning to full health after last season's ACL tear. He should cut into Kamara's catches as well and perhaps glean future WR4 value. Watson is a surprising vertical threat and should look like a top-10 tight end at times this season. I think the Saints will keep putting up numbers, but others will get in on the fun as well, so fantasy managers should prepare.


    Stock up

    Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots: The other high-profile player returning from suspension, Edelman was not Ingram during the 2017 season. In fact, he did not play after tearing an ACL in the preseason. The reason fantasy managers are so excited about getting Edelman back is obvious; Tom Brady has completed more than a quarter of his season passes to running back James White, whose stock is also up. Edelman caught 98 passes for 1,106 yards in 2016. He was not a touchdown maker, but was a WR2 for PPR anyway. I would activate him immediately and expect a key role.


    Pick a Los Angeles Rams wide receiver: Quarterback Jared Goff is playing no favorites among his trio of wideouts and while it can be frustrating in fantasy and especially DFS in guessing which one will have the big game at which time, do not fight it. Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are each on pace for target shares that would have ranked just outside the top 10 last season. Any or all of them could reach 100 receptions. Cooks has the most yards but, as the top vertical threat, the most risk of inconsistency, and has scored only one touchdown. Still, I rank each receiver at the back end of WR2 status each week and for the rest of the season and if you roster more than one, go ahead and activate them each week with confidence until something alters.


    Jared Cook, superstar tight end, Oakland Raiders: For a player who has never reached 100 targets, 55 receptions or six touchdowns in a season, Cook sure gets discussed quite a bit. He had chances to star as a Titan, Ram and notably with Aaron Rodgers as a Packer, and never secured safe top-10 tight end status. Well, entering Week 5 he leads all tight ends in PPR scoring. He has more catches and targets and 100 more receiving yards than heralded teammate Amari Cooper. No, this does not seem sustainable but in a bleak world of tight ends in which half the top-10 choices from draft day are injured, Cook has saved us. Finally.


    Baltimore Ravens passing game: You might not believe this but Joe Flacco, who only once has surpassed 4,000 passing yards in a season, is on pace for more than 5,000. I do not think he gets there but John Brown is doing all he can to help, as he is 14th in the league in receiving yards. Tampa Bay's DeSean Jackson and Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James (because, of course he is) are the only ones averaging more than Brown's 22.5 yards per catch. I like the schedule for this franchise, with December games looming against the Falcons, Chiefs and Buccaneers.


    Stock down

    Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: The No. 11 choice in ESPN ADP remains universally rostered only because he is featured on ESPN's undroppable list. Hey, complain about it all you like but there is a reason ESPN has such a list. You should not be dropping Fournette. It is annoying that he hurt a hamstring, missed a few games and then hurt it again, and we might not see him until November, but he is an obvious difference-maker. Add T.J. Yeldonand activate him. I grant you that Fournette showed signs of not being durable as a rookie when he missed a few games, but stuff happens. Keep him around.


    Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks: I noted several weeks ago that Wilson and a few other quarterbacks were not accruing rushing yards as expected, and how it is a big deal. Wilson has rushed for 42 yards after four games. One does not need to be a trained mathematician to realize he will not get to last season's 586 yards at this pace. In fact, Wilson has averaged more than 30 rushing yards per game in a season five of the past six seasons. He is currently at 10.5 rushing yards per game. The return of Doug Baldwin has not helped. This offense is 26th in total yards and team harmony appears to be a problem. Chris Carson cannot stay healthy and Mike Davis easily leapfrogged promising rookie Rashaad Penny on the depth chart. It seems unwise to covet Seahawks for fantasy at this point.


    The promise of other AFC East teams: How quickly things changed in this division, as if anyone really worried about Brady's Patriots. The Miami Dolphinsfizzled after a 3-0 start and could not move the football last week, and several of their players are on the most dropped list, starting with running back Kenyan Drake. New York Jets rookie Sam Darnold beat the Detroit Lions in Week 1 and his team scored 48 points! It has scored 41 points since and every Jet is on the most cut list. I cannot imagine any Buffalo Bills were popular in fantasy, but the franchise came down to earth after the Minnesota Vikings shocker. Brady and the Patriots should cruise to the division title and pile on the points when facing these "rivals."


    Additional players to watch this weekend

    Quarterbacks



    1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
    2. Alex Smith, Washington Redskins
    3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
    4. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
    5. C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers


    Notes: Fantasy's top quarterback faces the top defense. Fantasy managers who want to bench Mahomes for Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford or even his opponent Blake Bortles are not overthinking this. Bortles gets to face one of the worst defenses in the same game! I just cannot wait to see what Mahomes does next. ... Smith comes off the bye week for a nice matchup at New Orleans. Yes, everyone is underrating him, yet again. ... Rodgers is the No. 15 quarterback in fantasy scoring. Are people leaving him active due to reputation? His knee is clearly a problem and he has not reached 20 fantasy points the past three weeks. He has yet to throw for 300 yards. Another game like that and perhaps there will be panic. ... Mariota lit up the Eagles for 30 fantasy points. We know he is athletic and adds value with his feet. Do it again and keep Corey Davis well targeted, too. ... Beathard is far from the fantasy radar but it seems relevant that his first start resulted in more fantasy points than Jimmy Garoppolo was averaging. Those out on the 49ers offense might have erred.


    Running backs



    1. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
    2. Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
    3. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
    4. Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans
    5. Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos


    Notes: As with Fournette, Cook is still dealing with a hamstring injury suffered weeks ago and perhaps the Vikings should simply sit him, especially since the Eagles stop the run. I have little faith in Latavius Murray if he starts this week. ... We do not know for sure if Devonta Freeman is over his knee injury, but Coleman seems to have earned at least a timeshare. ... Speaking of, we must see something in Jones that the Packers personnel do not. Perhaps this is the week Jones is blessed with 20 touches. Yeah, right. ... Lewis is clearly the top Titans running back for fantasy purposes, but might not be worthy of more than flex attention. This week's foe is not great. ... Which Denver running back can you trust? This is not like Rams wide receivers, though both Lindsay and Royce Freeman are playing fine. Will someone emerge?


    Wide receivers/tight ends



    1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
    2. Geronimo Allison, Green Bay Packers
    3. Will Fuller V/Keke Coutee, Houston Texans
    4. Larry Fitzgerald/Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
    5. Tyler Boyd/Tyler Kroft, Cincinnati Bengals


    Notes: Brown enters Week 5 on pace for barely 1,000 receiving yards and at 9.4 yards per catch. Yawn. Quincy Enunwa and Dede Westbrook have more receiving yards. We love JuJu Smith-Schuster but please bring the old Antonio Brown back! ... Allison is dealing with a concussion and he might sit this one out. The fact that he has reached 64 receiving yards in each contest is impressive. Allison and Randall Cobb could sit, making it Marquez Valdes-Scantling time. This seems like a problem. ... Fuller is a touchdown machine but he is also not guaranteed to play. Coutee put on a show in Week 4. We could predict more fun times but probably not if DeAndre Hopkins and Fuller are ahead of him. ... If the Cardinals acknowledge the rebuilding process at quarterback with Josh Rosen, perhaps Kirk emerges as well. I hate thinking Fitzgerald goes from three consecutive 100-catch campaigns to 50 in his final season. Yuck. ... Watch the Tylers on the Bengals. Boyd has more catches, targets and yards than A.J. Green. Kroft steps up, presumably because C.J. Uzomah is in play as well, now that another Tyler (Eifert) is done.
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    Fantasy stock watch: Should you keep waiting for Cook and Fournette?

    Eric Karabell
    ESPN PLUS


    It seems stock cannot drop much lower for the coveted second-year running backs selected with the Nos. 11 and 12 picks in ESPN average live drafts. Both the Jacksonville Jaguars' Leonard Fournette and the Minnesota Vikings' Dalvin Cook have seen their seasons greatly disrupted by hamstring injuries, and neither seems likely to play the next few weeks. As we enter Week 8, these are top-10 running backs who have combined for 40.5 PPR points! New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara scored 41.1 PPR points in Week 4 alone!


    No wonder so many are so desperately adding Kenjon Barnerand Raheem Mostert. Most fantasy managers in ESPN leagues have resisted the temptation to dump Fournette and Cook, since each remains rostered in more than 95 percent of leagues, and this is smart, but even I have to admit skepticism about their situations for November. The Jaguars traded for Carlos Hydejust last week, and T.J. Yeldon has become a valuable, versatile three-down option. That complicates matters for Fournette; the Jaguars can be extra patient with him thanks to their newfound depth.


    The Jaguars and Vikings offer myriad similarities, in theory. Each was a game away from the Super Bowl and got there mainly with defense, but quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Case Keenum played well and the teams were able to run the football. Bortles has struggled to the point where another rough outing in London against the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles this weekend could be the end for him as a starter, and his team's defense has not excelled. Keenum is currently struggling for the Denver Broncos. Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, has revitalized the Minnesota offense and ranks fifth among quarterbacks in fantasy points, and the team's defense has recovered from a slow September.


    The way I see it, stock is low on Fournette and Cook, and I cannot recommend fantasy managers actively trading for either fellow. It is odd what has happened to these players, as they returned soon when their respective hamstrings were injured, and then they hurt them worse and needed far more time away. Perhaps, like with other running backs lately, their teams simply send them to injured reserve at some point, which at least adds clarity. I doubt it. When Fournette returns, perhaps in Week 10 after the bye week, he should handle the main workload, but Hyde and Yeldon complicate matters, and defenses can dare Bortles or backup Cody Kessler to throw.


    When Cook returns, he might have to share time with Latavius Murray, who best I can tell is the only running back on these teams whose stock has risen lately. Murray ran well in the second half of last season, reaching double digits in PPR scoring in six of the final eight weeks, where he was a reliable RB2 option. If you used Murray in Week 17 -- yeah, some leagues play it out until the end! -- he won leagues for many. Murray becomes an RB2 again for the next few weeks, and after that, when Cook could return, who knows for sure.


    Still, at least Murray's stock is rising, because he has achieved 22.8 and 22.3 PPR points the past two games, so we have actionable results to rely on for a potential harbinger. I do not like the matchup with the New Orleans Saints so much this weekend -- a playoff rematch -- because the Saints permit the fifth-lowest fantasy points to opposing running backs (the Bears, Titans, Steelers and Ravens are better), but at least volume should be there. We are grasping at proverbial straws here looking for running backs, and years of participating in fantasy sports has proved that players do not always return when teams say they will, and to the same roles. In fact, one could argue, loyalty does not exist at all. Add Murray just in case, and Hyde as well, for the same reason.


    Stock up

    James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Nope, still no sign of Le'Veon Bell. For the same reasoning I used above, perhaps we should not be so quick to presume Bell returns to the Steelers as an active player anytime soon. After all, what shape is he even in? If he reported tomorrow, would he play in a week? Three weeks? I still would not trade a ton for Conner, but let us be clear that he is off to as good a start through two months as Bell has ever had. Conner is the No. 7 PPR running back for the season and already had his bye week.


    Real-life trading: Meanwhile, tanking teams in the Bay Area and the swamps of New Jersey alike are moving their players for whatever draft picks they can in what has been an active trade deadline. Expect more movement after the weekend depending on the latest injuries and needs, plus more teams might opt to give up like the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants. What if Barner does not run well on Monday night and Sony Michel is out another few weeks? The New England Patriots could get a running back. Half the teams in the league could. Watch out for more moves and remember you have roughly a month to trade in ESPN standard leagues. Do not wait until the last minute. Get help from the tankers now.


    Malcolm Brown, RB, Los Angeles Rams: Who? Why? Well, I think it is safe to say that as a Todd Gurley II investor, the latest article by colleague Bill Barnwell on the Los Angeles Rams potentially resting everyone but the janitor in December is scary for fantasy managers. Brown gets work in blowouts and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry. It is always good to plan for the future in fantasy, and Brown could be an RB1 option the final two games or more. This seems less of a problem in the AFC, by the way.


    Indianapolis Colts offense: Last season, the Colts were 31st in total offense and 30th in scoring. This season, with a healthier Andrew Luck, an emerging Marlon Mack, the shocking Eric Ebron and reliable T.Y. Hilton, this unit is 11th in yards and 10th in points per game. Things change quickly in the NFL.


    Stock down

    Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans: When Watson left us during the 2017 season, he was basically what Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomeswas today, providing amazing numbers each week. Everyone loved Watson. He was dominating. Watson looked good this September, but the past two weeks, albeit one of them in Jacksonville, he totaled 16.2 fantasy points. What concerns me more is the fact that the Texans would not allow Watson to take an airplane to Jacksonville last week, citing a partially collapsed lung that apparently was not serious enough to keep him from playing and having 350-pound behemoths falling on him. That makes no sense! Regardless, Watson can be awesome, but he is under constant pressure and sees more physical contact than any other passer. I think we should realize he is not likely to play all 16 games this season.


    Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins: Speaking of not playing all 16 games, this fellow has the audacity to actually stay healthy for the first two months, which is rare, yet produce middling fantasy numbers. Rare, indeed. Reed was supposed to be all or nothing, an awesome statistical provider when suited up. Instead, he has 100 receiving yards over his past three games combined and last scored a touchdown in Week 1. Moving on.


    Marvin Jones, WR, Detroit Lions: Stop activating Jones when he has yet to reach even 70 receiving yards in a game. It does not matter what round you acquired him in when he has 19 receptions in six games. Do the math.


    Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans: Unlike Jones, the clear No. 3 receiver on his own team, Davis is No. 1 for Marcus Mariota. It does not matter. Since lighting up the terrible Eagles secondary in Week 4 (he scored an overtime touchdown), Davis has eight catches and 83 yards in three games. Yawn.


    Additional players to watch this weekend

    Quarterbacks



    1. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
    2. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    3. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

    Notes: Trubisky is averaging better than 33 fantasy points per game in his past three, which is ridiculous. OK, so he has not faced a good defense, but he is not facing one this weekend, either. Now that we have ranked him top 10, it would be nice if he keeps going. ... Winston faces Dalton, proverbially, after each was a bit disappointing in Week 7. Winston salvaged his matchup with the Browns by running for a touchdown, but his passing was erratic. Yes, 365 yards is great, but if you watched it, and saw overtime, you know it was not pretty. Dalton was dreadful against the Chiefs, a team everyone throws on because of large deficits. Dalton did not. The Bucs permit the most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Investors of Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers, off this week, are watching.


    Running backs



    1. Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos
    2. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
    3. Isaiah Crowell, New York Jets
    4. Doug Martin, Oakland Raiders
    5. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers


    Notes: Lindsay earned high rankings from all because of the matchup with the Chiefs, which might not be fair. After all, if the Chiefs go up 21-3 early, only the Denver receivers will be running. Also, Royce Freeman is still a Bronco and this is a timeshare. I might be more skeptical than most. ... Chubb did fine in his first start. Perhaps the Browns use him on all three downs. ... Crowell would seem to get a big boost with Bilal Powell done for the season, but the smaller Trenton Cannon catches passes and should have a role. He could have a rather large role, if you get my drift. ... Martin and Jalen Richard handle things for Oakland with Marshawn Lynch done. I would prefer the pass-catching Richard, but Martin could have larger volume. ... #freeAaronJones.


    Wide receivers/tight ends



    1. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
    2. Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
    3. Jordy Nelson, Oakland Raiders
    4. Keelan Cole, Jacksonville Jaguars
    5. C.J. Uzomah, Cincinnati Bengals


    Notes: Baldwin likely avoids the coverage of Detroit's Darius Slay (poor Tyler Lockett), and fantasy managers would like to know if Baldwin is a top-30 WR. He boasts 25.3 PPR points in three contests. I think he is better than that. ... Robinson caught one pass in the most recent game and has 11 in his past four. That is not nearly good enough. Trubisky looks great, but Robinson needs to catch up. ... Nelson has actually been somewhat productive this season, and now with Amari Cooper gone he should handle more target share. In theory. ... Cole and his pals get to face the exposed Philly secondary, if Blake Bortles can find them. Intriguing! For what it's worth, and that is not much, Bortles has played well in London and he does play there each season. ... Uzomah faces a weak Buccaneers defense that just lost its top linebacker. Even with Kwon Alexander, the Buccaneers permit the most fantasy points to tight ends, and Dalton generally looks for his tight ends in the red zone.
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    Fantasy stock watch: What's ahead for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers?

    Eric Karabell
    ESPN PLUS


    Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered an ominous sprained left knee in the very first game of the regular season and there was ample concern that some missed time would accompany the injury. After all, Rodgers missed more than half of last season with a broken collarbone. In the weeks that followed Week 1, both player and team admitted that knee soreness was getting worse, which raised further concerns. What was not concerning, of course, was the play of the future Hall of Famer: Rodgers might not be having quite the awesome statistical season many expected, as he is 10th in quarterback scoring and eighth on a per-game basis, but honestly, as a Rodgers investor, I was worried I would not have him around at all.


    Rodgers is one of the forgotten positive stories of the season, as the somewhat perilous post-opening week stock pertaining to the first quarterback chosen in ESPN average live drafts has remained stable. Sure, Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and a host of others has outscored Rodgers, but he remains a QB1 for sure, with no end in sight. Rodgers is on pace for more than 5,000 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The Packers might not make the playoffs, through no fault of Rodgers, but it is easy to be confident that the quarterback, at this point, will participate in all 16 regular-season games, even if he barely practices during the week.


    His main weaponry has seen its stock rise as well, and perhaps that is the underlying story. Davante Adams had been a valuable touchdown option in recent seasons but had fallen short of 1,000 receiving yards and the consistency we covet, and we cannot blame it all on the presence of once-teammate Jordy Nelson. Now Adams enters Week 9 on a three-game stretch of topping 130 receiving yards and is on pace for more than 1,500, plus 14 touchdowns. Adams has pilfered the top tier of receivers in my end-of-season rankings, trailing only Adam Thielen and Antonio Brown, and again, it hardly seems fluky. Methinks this would not be happening with DeShone Kizer leading the way.


    Meanwhile, running back Aaron Jones served a suspension the first two weeks of the regular season, and seemed further punished more than a month later as he continued to split touches with inferior Jamaal Williams, who remains a strong blocker/protector for the franchise passer, but cannot match his other skills as a running back. Jones is, quite simply, a superior running back, and who knows where Coach Mike McCarthy truly stands on the subject. Still, Jones broke a 33-yard touchdown run and received a career-best 12 rushing attempts in Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Rams, and stock continues to rise.


    The 12 carries is certainly not Todd Gurley II territory, but it is merciful indication we can view Jones as an RB2 after wondering for so long what was taking so long. Jones breaks tackles. He is among the best in yards after contact. His presence might lower the ceiling for short Rodgers touchdown passes, but we can live with that. Do not expect Jones to run all over the New England Patriots this Sunday night, as their defense has permitted 100 rushing yards total the past two games, but volume is king and Jones is getting volume. The trade of Ty Montgomery to the Baltimore Ravens is minor in scope, and perhaps driven by non-statistical means, but also means there is one less running back to share touches.


    As for other Packers wide receivers and tight end Jimmy Graham, I find it hard to generate much interest. I would argue Graham's stock has fallen the past two months. After all, so many viewed his acquisition as some elixir for Rodgers and precursor for a 10-touchdown campaign, because he had never had such a skilled tight end. Please. Rodgers is not Graham's problem. Graham simply does not get open enough and now he might fall from the top 10 at his position. Adams is not sharing much, earning more than 27 percent of the Rodgers targets. Graham might catch 60 passes if he can remain healthy, but he is barely a factor near the goal line. In addition, I simply do not see enough targets going the way of precocious Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Geronimo Allison, though it hardly means a big performance or two is not lurking.


    Stock up

    Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans: There is a reason we kept recommending fantasy managers stash away injured D'Onta Foreman, and it was not because Foreman is the next Gurley, either. Miller failed to reach 100 rushing yards in a game last season and started this season, well, quietly. Then, sans warning, he achieved the 100-yard mark in consecutive weeks, including a road game at Jacksonville. He is -- in part due to attrition from six teams on a bye -- a strong RB2 option for Week 9.


    Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens: No, I do not think Joe Flacco is going to lose the starting job, but watching Jackson trickle in for a play here and there we have to wonder what would happen if he played regularly. Could he be, statistically, like Deshaun Watson? Well, I am intrigued and the Ravens have lost two straight games. If they keep losing, perhaps change occurs in December.


    Healthy tight ends return to glory: I did not think we would see Carolina's Greg Olsen return so quickly after busting his foot again, a repeat malady from 2017. He has scored in consecutive games. In addition, fellow top-10 tight ends Evan Engram and Jack Doyle are playing and each found the end zone in Week 8. Welcome back. Wish you could bring Delanie Walker with you.


    Wide receivers left behind in Tuesday trades: Perhaps it is folly to presume Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton outscores former teammate Demaryius Thomas the rest of the season, but ... is it? Sutton can play. Thomas has to fight for targets in Houston with DeAndre Hopkins, and the team has a running game. Meanwhile, Kenny Golladay had been quiet lately in Detroit. Not anymore with Golden Tate gone to Philly! Again, Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. could each outscore Tate the final two months.


    Stock down

    Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Not that this is surprising news, since Winston has always been a turnover machine, but Ryan Fitzpatrickstarts this week. If we had "team quarterbacks" then the Buccaneers would be valuable, despite the turnovers. You know Fitzpatrick is going to give the ball away several times per game.


    Kenjon Barner, RB, New England Patriots: We had to know it was too good to be true that this journeyman would suddenly replace Sony Michel and rush for 100 yards each week. For all we know Barner, who barely saw the field in Week 8, returns to real-life free agency next week if/when Michel is healthy. Cordarrelle Patterson somehow got 10 rushing attempts last week.


    Clarity with San Francisco 49ers weapons: I like Matt Breida and think 49ers personnel does as well, but it sure seems like he will be constant risk of leaving a game early with injury. The 49ers have not made things easy for fantasy managers, with tight end George Kittle the lone exception. Alfred Morrisand Raheem Mostert cloud things for Breida, neither worth our attention at this point. Marquise Goodwin could be DeSean Jackson, but so far has been inconsistent. Pierre Garcon is a nonfactor, but it hardly means Kendrick Bourneis a factor. Even at quarterback, things are quite muddled.


    Additional players to watch this weekend

    Quarterbacks



    1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
    3. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Notes: Of course we must watch for more FitzMagic, though I still would stop short of trusting him for fantasy purposes. Nobody is just as likely to have 4 touchdowns and 400 passing yards, as they are four interceptions and 100 yards like Fitzpatrick. I am all for risk/reward but this is crazy. ... Brees has failed to pass for more than 217 yards in three of four games. Sure, a few were tough matchups, but is not this one? Remember, Brees was barely a top-10 fantasy QB last season. We might be overrating him statistically. ... Roethlisberger busted a finger on his non-throwing hand and everyone that likes him apparently ignores the fact that his past four appearances at Baltimore have not come close to top-10 fantasy outings. Not even close.


    Running backs



    1. Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings
    2. Mark Ingram II, New Orleans Saints
    3. Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
    4. Trenton Cannon, New York Jets
    5. Duke Johnson Jr., Cleveland Browns

    Notes: Murray gets, in theory, one more shot as the starter before the bye week and rumored return by Dalvin Cook. Then again, what if Murray runs all over Detroit and keeps the job? Is everyone sure Cook is a top-10 option? ... Ingram saw large decline in snaps last week and has caught only seven passes in three games. Is he still a RB2? ... Coleman sure has not played like a RB2, and Washington is better defensively than most realize. Ito Smith might not be any more successful than Coleman, but he might earn a larger share of touches. ... Cannon backs up Isaiah Crowell until Elijah McGuire returns from injured reserve, but then again, it is possible nobody cares about Jets running backs or wide receivers. ... Speaking of not caring, I might be the biggest Duke Johnson fantasy supporter out there, but even I have limits. Perhaps something changes with new coaching but it is tough to be optimistic. Why does it matter? Well, Johnson can be Tarik Cohen, whom we rank nicely. Johnson was Cohen last year, when he had the same numbers as Christian McCaffrey, and finished No. 11 in PPR scoring at RB. Through seven weeks, 40 running backs have outscored Johnson in PPR. It is mystifying.


    Wide receivers/tight ends



    1. Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
    2. Demaryius Thomas, Houston Texans
    3. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
    4. Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
    5. Hayden Hurst, Baltimore Ravens

    Notes: Wide receiver is the fantasy position affected most by recent trades. Cooper and Thomas debut for new franchises, and boy, it looks strange typing those franchises after their names. Should be interesting and obviously we watch what remains on the Broncos, Raiders and Lions as well, the teams that sent receivers packing for draft picks. ... Allen ranks No. 27 in WR PPR scoring, and it cannot be all because of Mike/Tyrell Williams. Not exactly what we expected, and a road tilt in Seattle hardly seems like the right spot for him to turn things around. I am sitting him in one league. ... Kupp returns from a knee injury and I wonder if he gets full snaps, especially since Josh Reynolds comes off a multi-touchdown performance. ... Finally, there is Hurst, the lone first-round pick from the position and coming off his first game with a touchdown, albeit during garbage time. The Steelers permit the second-most PPR points to tight ends. It would be nice if Hurst sees some volume.
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    Fantasy stock watch: Time to move on from Matthew Stafford?

    Eric Karabell


    The Detroit Lions last won a division title in 1993, so we should not be too surprised that Matthew Stafford and his pals enter Week 10 in last place in the NFC Central. However, Stafford and his pals have generally supplied fantasy-relevant statistics much of the past decade, with the quarterback finishing as the No. 7 option at his position the past two seasons, and top 10 in four of five. There is rarely a running game here but Stafford tends to make a receiver or two, perhaps a tight end and a running back catching passes valuable, and fantasy managers, of course, enjoy this.


    Times have changed and now Stafford, who enters the week 20th at his position in fantasy points, behind luminaries like Case Keenum, Joe Flacco and Blake Bortles, is among the most dropped quarterbacks, and for good reason. His best receiver, Golden Tate, recently became a new member of the Philadelphia Eaglesand matchups with the Chicago Bears, with or without mighty Khalil Mack, loom in two of the next three games. We want to rely on rookie running back Kerryon Johnson and receivers Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay, but they have not made it easy lately.


    Stafford is the face of Detroit's sudden offensive struggles. Only six teams outscored the Lions last season and Stafford threw for 4,446 yards and 29 touchdowns. The current Stafford is actually on pace for similar numbers, with 14 touchdown passes through eight games, but the league's other quarterbacks and offenses have improved. Jones and Tate each topped 1,000 receiving yards last season. Golladay is on pace to do so, but he has totaled 95 receiving yards the past three games. Johnson has run for 59 yards the past two weeks as an ankle injury costs him valuable practice time.


    Fantasy managers can probably move on from Stafford at this point, although with 12 teams still yet to serve their bye week it might be tough. Then again, who is relying on this version of Stafford against the Bears, or against the Panthers and Rams? It is a tough month and while the dreadful Cardinals and Bills loom for playoff Weeks 14 and 15, note those clubs rank second and third in the league in preventing fantasy points to quarterbacks. Johnson and his top receivers should remain rostered, but again, one might find those are merely flex options at best the next month.


    Stock rising

    Dez Bryant, WR, New Orleans Saints: Among the most added players in ESPN standard leagues earlier this week based on name value and the possibility he would get to play with an elite quarterback like Drew Brees, I still remain skeptical this veteran can help a fantasy team even as he officially joins up with Brees. I suppose stranger things have occurred, but Bryant looked awful the past two seasons in Dallas, and I do not blame Dak Prescott. Bryant was rarely open. He could not create separation. Brees and the other weapons should help, but remember Bryant will hardly see his typical target share. Still, at least now he is employed and the situation is a positive one, but if you ask me Bryant versus Tre'Quan Smith the rest of the way, I have to think hard about it.


    Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What a weird season for this team. The Buccaneers may or may not have decided they have had enough of Jameis Winston, but who can tell? Fitzpatrick makes plenty of mistakes, but because his defense is so awful, he gets to pile up numbers. Just do not presume he gets to do it indefinitely. Oh, and c'mon Mike Evans, get some.


    Nick Mullens, QB, San Francisco 49ers: Hard to tell if his fantastic debut was legit or simply because the Oakland Raiders are just that terrible, but we should get some answers Monday night against the New York Giants. Oh wait, they are awful, too. Then comes the bye week and the pitiful Buccaneers defense. Shootout! OK, add Mullens but do not presume he carries your fantasy team into December, where a pair of Seattle games loom. Frankly, we just cannot tell yet what we have, so adding him and cutting Stafford or Andy Daltonremains, I think, risky.


    Tyler Boyd/John Ross, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: The absence of A.J. Green for at least the next fortnight with a toe injury places Boyd in the spotlight. He is already among the top-20 in wide receiver scoring this season, but things could change as defenses pay more attention to him. Ross, meanwhile, looks like a bust of a top-10 real-life draft pick from 2017, but now comes his big chance, if he is healthy. Ross missed most of his rookie season with injury and this season has not gone much better.


    Stock falling

    Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: Hey, the numbers do not lie. Mitchell Trubisky and 11 other passers boast more fantasy points, and several have already served bye weeks. Brady is no lock as a fantasy starter for Sunday's matchup in Tennessee, and it is hardly a guarantee that tight end Rob Gronkowski returns to his former level of play. Sure, having Josh Gordonaround helps, but so much of this offense is Brady throwing short to James White. It works, but only the running back piles on the fantasy points.


    Baltimore Ravens offense: Quarterback Joe Flacco has lost three games in a row and in four of the past five games he has failed to reach even the paltry fantasy total of 12 points. Nobody knows if rookie Lamar Jackson is a future star, but I would not be surprised if he is the new quarterback coming off the bye week. Let us just say I am more interested in Jackson, a former Heisman trophy winner who will add value with his legs, than Mullens and Fitzpatrick. Meanwhile, running back Alex Collins has yet to top 70 rushing yards in a game and has 15 catches all season. Receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree each boast one decent statistical game the past month. There is not much here.


    Jared Cook/Jordy Nelson, Oakland Raiders: We have picked on this nightmare of a team plenty this season, but at least Cook looked like a top-5 tight end for a while, thanks to a pair of monster September games. Well, he has topped 20 receiving yards once since Week 4. Nelson should have gotten a boost from the Amari Cooper trade, and he caught two passes last week. Jalen Richard is underrated but after that, avoid the Raiders.


    Additional players to watch this weekend

    Quarterbacks


    1. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
    2. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
    3. Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals


    Notes: Trubisky still has not convinced us he is a reliable fantasy option, and he did next to nothing last week in Buffalo. He did not need to. Will the Lions make him work harder? Can Trubisky make Allen Robinson relevant? ... Luck hosts the Jaguars and Titans the next two games, each in the top 5 for preventing fantasy points to quarterbacks. I am curious. ... Rosen accrued 19.3 fantasy points in Week 8, then served his first bye week, and now gets the Chiefs. One presumes the Cardinals will trail and Rosen will be throwing. I cannot make a case to rely on this or any of the first-round rookies, but still, Larry Fitzgerald looks healthy, so I am intrigued.


    Running backs


    1. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
    2. Sony Michel, New England Patriots
    3. Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
    4. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
    5. Duke Johnson Jr., Cleveland Browns


    Notes: Fournette likely returns from a multiple-week absence for his hamstring injury and of course questions remain about his workload, especially with T.J. Yeldon and Carlos Hyde healthy. Yeldon was putting up numbers in September when Fournette was playing, by the way. ... Michel likely returns from his knee injury just as Cordarrelle Patterson is one of the most added running backs -- yep, he has dual-eligibility now! -- in standard leagues. Strange. Michel can be a star. ... Coleman has to keep playing well after his big Week 9. ... Carson has to learn how to stay healthy. Keep Mike Davis rostered. ... Johnson has to keep getting volume. He comes off the best fantasy outing of his career. You know I want to believe. I have shares everywhere.


    Wide receivers/tight ends


    1. Golden Tate, Philadelphia Eagles
    2. Marquez Valdes-Scantling/Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
    3. Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
    4. Maurice Harris, Washington Redskins
    5. Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts


    Notes: Tate debuts with the Eagles and we assume most of his time will be spent out of the slot. What does that mean for Nelson Agholor? Can Agholor still matter in fantasy? ... Valdes-Scantling should see more volume now that Geronimo Allison is done. As for slot man Cobb, still trusted in so many leagues, are you even aware he last topped 40 yards in a game or scored a touchdown in Week 1? ... Well, the Chargers play the Raiders so Philip Riverscan throw touchdown passes to anyone and everyone. Or the Chargers could run the ball all day and Austin Ekeler scores 25 PPR points. Williams/Williams combined have 40 catches and 10 touchdowns. Keenan Allen has 47 and 1 score. Weird. ... Harris saw tons of volume last week, with 10 catches on 12 targets. Alex Smith needs weapons. Add Harris in case this is real, though against Tampa Bay, everyone wins. ... The No. 4 tight end in season scoring achieved quite a bit of this with Jack Doyle out of the lineup. Doyle returned with big stats last game. Can Luck support multiple tight ends to top-10 fantasy goodness?
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    Fantasy stock watch: Is Lamar Jackson the answer in Baltimore?

    Eric Karabell
    ESPN PLUS

    The Baltimore Ravens enter their Week 11 home game with the Cincinnati Bengals on a three-game losing streak and perhaps ready to transition from longtime quarterback Joe Flacco to enticing rookie Lamar Jackson. This is, of course, of great interest in the fantasy football world. Flacco is no statistical savior, having thrown for more than 4,000 yards once in his 10 seasons and never reaching 30 touchdown passes. He is not an effective runner, either. Oh, he won a Super Bowl a long time ago, but this is fantasy football, and Jackson, a pure unknown but magical in college, is what we want.


    Heck, I might even go so far as to state that if Jackson starts Sunday against a team that just permitted 51 points in a home game, I would do more than just add the rookie: I might start him, too. Sure, I have been writing about having caution for all rookie quarterbacks this season, and best I can tell I have yet to rely on one, though the Cleveland Browns' Baker Mayfield looks promising. Jackson is different because he is a monster athlete who would not need to throw for 250 yards to pique our interest. (Also, there are six teams on bye this week.) Check out Cam Newton, a cool fifth in fantasy points per game at quarterback but a mere 22nd in passing yards. Who cares how we accrue the points?


    Flacco is 11th in passing yards, but he has failed to top the low threshold of 12 fantasy points in four of five games, and now he has a hip injury. The Ravens are not winning. Wide receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree are silent. Running back Alex Collins scores touchdowns but has yet to reach 70 rushing yards and bears no role in the passing side of things. Javorius Allen was fun in September. Nothing is happening here, and every Ravens player -- and the defense -- is being dropped, to varying degrees, in ESPN standard leagues, except the backup rookie quarterback. It is no coincidence. Perhaps he can raise the stock of everyone around him ... if he plays. I would like to see it.


    Stock rising

    James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: My question is about who will rank better in 2019 drafts: Conner with the Steelers or Le'Veon Bell, after missing a season, with the New York Jets or Tampa Bay Buccaneers or whoever. Today, in your biased anger, you say you will never consider Bell again. OK, whatever. You are lying. Could both these fellows be top-5 running backs? I think so. Anyway, good for Conner. Third in PPR points among flex-eligible options behind Todd Gurley II and Alvin Kamara, he deserves to keep playing. Kudos to those who invested, even if you had no idea it would play out this way, and let's be real, nobody did.


    Josh Reynolds, WR, Los Angeles Rams: Nobody is saying he will produce exactly like injured star Cooper Kupp, now done for the season after shredding a knee, but Reynolds scored twice in Week 8, and this offense is constantly in three-receiver sets. Invest now before he has a big Monday night performance.


    Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans: We have to be skeptical about his health and performance, but at least today he appears healthy and is playing well, having topped 22 fantasy points in consecutive games. He last played this well in 2016. Dion Lewis is seeing uncommon usage, and Corey Davis is showing he just needs someone to throw him the darn football. The Titans D/ST might be the most valuable AFC version in the league. Then again, would I play Jackson if he starts or Mariota this week? Probably Jackson.


    Stock falling

    Jacksonville Jaguars/Philadelphia Eagles D/ST: Look, things just are not working out for half the teams that made the final four last season. The Jaguars' offense, at least sans Leonard Fournette, was inefficient, and with time of possession flipped, the overworked defense has struggled. It is one of the worst D/ST units in fantasy since October began and Ben Roethlisberger, Conner and pals will destroy it on Sunday, so stop relying on it just because you overspent with a ninth-round draft pick. (Try to get it for Week 12 against the Buffalo Bills, however.) The Eagles have lost most of their secondary, supply little pass rush and have little chance to stop Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The Eagles' D/ST last reached seven fantasy points back in Week 1. Move on, people! Nobody cares about the August rankings anymore!


    Washington Redskins: Give the franchise credit for a likely pending NFC East title, but man, it is tough to rely on individual players here. I was completely wrong about quarterback Alex Smith providing worthy statistics like last season. His goal is back to avoiding mistakes, and he has done it well. Adrian Peterson is all or nothing. He has three games with more than 12 PPR points, but those were great games. Everything else has disappointed. That is a huge risk to rely on. Chris Thompson cannot stay on the field. Jordan Reed can, oddly enough, but below-average numbers result. He last scored in Week 1. What wide receiver do you want here? Maurice Harris, even in a week with six teams on bye? It is tough to remember a division winner with so few fantasy assets.


    Jarvis Landry, WR, Cleveland Browns: The running game is working. The rookie quarterback looks better. The expensive wide receiver leads the NFL in targets, but he has reached 12 PPR points -- he averaged 16.5 PPR points per game in Miami last season -- in one of the past six games. Stick with Landry as a WR2 after the bye week but have options available if it is all Nick Chubb from here on out.


    Additional players to watch this weekend

    Quarterbacks



    1. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
    2. Eli Manning, New York Giants
    3. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

    Notes: Well, why do we need to watch the top-10 quarterbacks, right? We know they are great, and even with six teams on bye, none boast top-10 passers (including Tom Brady). We want Lamar Jackson! ... OK, Rivers is frustrating me a bit and making me reconsider his place as a playoff option, I guess because of his own efficiency and that of Melvin Gordon. Rivers has scored in the teens for fantasy three of four games, which is not good enough. He has no big fantasy games since Week 1, despite two or three touchdown passes in each. Can he light up the Broncos please? ... Manning and Prescott seem far from fantasy relevancy, but each did play well in Week 10, and each has another pending matchup with the shell of what was a solid Eagles defense. At least it appears no jobs will be lost for the Giants and Cowboys. Yet.


    Running backs



    1. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
    2. Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
    3. Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos
    4. Doug Martin, Oakland Raiders
    5. Josh Adams, Philadelphia Eagles


    Notes: Cook comes off the bye week presumably as healthy as he's been in a while. We enjoyed his 70-yard scamper in Week 9, but to be fair, his other nine rushes accumulated 19 yards. We all want to count on him as an RB2, but the truth is that Latavius Murray could split the touches. ... Cohen does his magic through the air and has to be viewed as more valuable than Jordan Howard. However, there is some concern that Mitchell Trubisky has been providing these great numbers against bad teams/defenses. The Vikings are good. ... Lindsay comes off a bye seemingly underestimated by fantasy managers. He looks like an RB2, and a Chubb-like game would solidify it. ... Do we care about the Oakland/Philly running backs? Timeshares are a bummer if the offense stinks, or in Philly's case, if it's inefficient and throws at a crazy percentage. Adams could be an RB2 with 20 touches, but that workload seems unlikely.


    Wide receivers/tight ends



    1. Golden Tate, Philadelphia Eagles
    2. Demaryius Thomas, Houston Texans
    3. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    4. Tre'Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints
    5. Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts


    Notes: Tate led this section last week, and then he got a mere 18 snaps and four targets. Not so golden! Carson Wentz might need to score 40 to keep this competitive, and one assumes Tate is more involved. ... Thomas should also see his role with his new team expanded. We care because Tate and Thomas could be WR2 options, but nobody ranked them as such for this week. ... Evans should be a safe WR1, but four catches for 67 yards combined the past two games is a true bummer. We knew Ryan Fitzpatrick would throw the ball to the other team, so we cannot blame him. ... Smith should get deep chances this week against the cornerbacks Philly signed off the street recently. I still think the hype over Dez Bryant was unwarranted, and I doubt Brandon Marshall is more than a goal-line option. ... It is not fair, but one bad game from Ebron will alter the perception of him. I argue it should not. Sure, he can't keep scoring at this rate with low usage, but I'm also probably alone in thinking two Colts tight ends can remain top options.
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    Is it time to sell high on David Johnson?

    kc Joyner
    ESPN PLUS


    The fantasy blocking breakdown series reviews the impact that run and pass blocking have on fantasy football performance, using methodologies detailed here.


    This week's fantasy blocking breakdown looks at whether it's time to move on from Alex Collins, what fantasy managers should make of the debacle that was the Vikings' rush attack against the Bears, which direction David Johnson is trending and if James Conner's fantasy managers should be concerned with his recent production decline.


    Is it time to sell high on David Johnson?

    After Johnson posted 37.3 points against the Chiefs in Week 10, his fantasy managers had visions of him returning to consistent RB1 status. However, that did not take place in Week 11. While Johnson did manage his first triple-digit rushing yardage total with 137 yards against the Raiders, his 16.4 fantasy points placed him in the middle of RB2 territory for the week.


    This decline might have his fantasy managers considering a potential sell-high pitch in an effort to capitalize on his Week 10 production, but the metrics indicate that Johnson is still a definite hold. Arizona started the season on a down note in my good-blocking rate metric (GBR), with only one game above the league average of 47.0 percent in Weeks 1-7. In the three games since then, the Cardinals have posted a 47.4 percent or higher in each contest. Johnson has also been able to fully capitalize on this blocking prowess, as his 8.6 GBYPA (my good-blocking yards per attempt metric, which measures how productive a ball carrier is when given good run blocking) against the Raiders was tied for his high mark of the season in that metric.


    The Cardinals also have a highly favorable rest-of-season schedule, as they ranked fifth in my fantasy playoff schedule strength rankings for Weeks 14-16. Add it all up and Johnson should have more RB1 contests than RB2 contests over the remainder of the season. This means that any fantasy managers who currently have him on their roster should keep him. He should absolutely be acquired in leagues where he ends up on the trading block.


    Is it time to throw in the towel on Alex Collins?

    Collins was Baltimore's go-to ball carrier for most of this season. At one point, he posted 11-plus rush attempts in six straight games and had recorded nine-plus carries in all but one contest this season prior to the Week 11 matchup against Cincinnati. Given that, it had to baffle Collins' fantasy managers that even though Baltimore ran the ball 54 times against the Bengals, Collins garnered only seven carries -- and only two after the first quarter.


    A likely reason that Collins seemingly has lost his gig is his recurring inability to register sizable gains when given quality run blocking. Collins has posted a 6.9-yard GBYPA this season. That is nearly a full yard below the 7.7-yard league average. Collins has been below the league-average GBYPA seven times this season, including in four of the past five games.


    The Ravens finally ran out of patience with Collins and his inability to make the most of his opportunities, so they gave rookie Gus Edwards a chance. He responded with an 8.4 GBYPA against Cincinnati -- a total that is higher than Collins posted in nine of his games this season. To be fair, it is a relatively small sample size, but with every contest now being a must-win for Baltimore, look for them to give Edwards every opportunity to keep his production pace going.


    That's likely to result in a significant decline in Collins' carry volume, so fantasy managers should be working on potential replacement plans and slotting Edwards very high on the waiver priority list this week.


    What should fantasy managers make of the disaster that was the Minnesota rushing attack against Chicago?

    Wise fantasy managers would have viewed Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray as having some level of starting risk heading into a matchup against the powerful Chicago defense, but no one would have expected the duo to rack up only 2.5 fantasy points between them. It was so bad that Ameer Abdullah, the ex-Lion who hasn't even been on the Vikings' roster for two weeks, had nearly as many points (2.0) as Cook and Murray.


    The bad news here is that the Vikings' atrocious run blocking this season indicates that more bad days could be ahead for this pair. Minnesota came into this contest ranked 27th in GBR from Weeks 6-10. Their 41.4 percent GBR in this time frame is skewed by a 54.6 percent GBR outlier in Week 9. In truth, the Vikings have posted a GBR of under 40 percent in all but two games this season.


    Minnesota's high-powered passing attack was able to set up enough scoring chances for Murray and Cook to post a double-digit point total on five occasions from Weeks 6-9, but the lack of quality run blocking is very likely to be a hindrance on Cook's and Murray's fantasy production for the rest of the season. For this reason, they should both be considered trade-away options this week.


    Don't ignore the warning signs in the Pittsburgh ground game.

    James Conner's fantasy managers aren't likely to be all that concerned about the 10.9 points he posted against Jacksonville on Sunday, as Pittsburgh is only one week removed from scoring 52 points against the Panthers. Still, it would be prudent to note just how inconsistent the Steelers' run blocking has been this season.


    Pittsburgh has posted a GBR of 36.4 percent or lower in five of 10 contests this year, with four of those games occurring since Week 4. By contrast, the Steelers had only four games with a GBR of 36 percent or lower in the entire 2017 season. This blocking inconsistency is a big reason for Conner's highs and lows. He had a dominant production streak (28-plus points in four straight games from Weeks 5-9) but has mixed in fewer than 15 points in three games where he played the entire contest (Weeks 3, 4 and 11).


    The Steelers have a mid-tier fantasy playoff matchup ranking, as their 58 matchup points ranked them in a tie for No. 13 in the aforementioned article. Conner's fantasy managers should consider trade offers if the player or players coming back are more likely to return the type of elite (and consistent) performance that separates the teams merely making the fantasy playoffs from those who actually win fantasy titles.
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    Fantasy film breakdown: Are Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards to be trusted in Week 12?

    Matt Bowen
    ESPN PLUS


    In Lamar Jackson's first NFL start, the Baltimore Ravens' rookie quarterback produced 267 total yards. And in a game plan loaded with designed QB runs, Jackson racked up 117 yards on the ground -- on 27 carries. With a Week 12 matchup against the Oakland Raiders' defense, Jackson could make the cut as a QB1 if Joe Flacco is still down with an injury.


    Let's discuss how the Ravens adjusted the call sheet for Jackson and what to expect next from the Louisville product. Plus, we will look at the sliding production of Deshaun Watson, along with the breakout games from rookie wide receivers DJ Moore and Tre'Quan Smith.


    Here are the Week 11 fantasy takeaways.


    Should fantasy managers start Lamar Jackson in Week 12 vs. the Raiders?


    With Joe Flacco possibly sitting again in Week 12, Jackson could be in line for another start. And that Raiders defense? Yeah, this is the matchup fantasy managers want with Jackson running the show in a Ravens offense that has adjusted to cater to the rookie.


    That game plan on Sunday against the Bengals was a mix of the modern college spread and the old-school downhill run game. Baltimore ran the ball 54 times for 265 yards. Crazy. And, as expected, the designed QB runs were at the top of the call sheet for Jackson.



    From the zone-read to QB counter and the draw scheme, Jackson flashed his immediate speed, the natural body control to slip tackles and the vision to produce off-read concepts. And that's extremely hard to prep for from a defensive perspective.


    In the passing game, Jackson's numbers didn't exactly pop, as he went 13-of-19 for 150 yards with a pick. And while this run-heavy offense is going to seriously lower the fantasy expectations for John Brown, Michael Crabtree and the tight end position in Baltimore, I expect the Ravens to build out on the passing attack after Jackson's first start.


    Along with the boot and play-action pass we anticipate with Jackson, think more of the inside verticals, run-pass options and some traditional West Coast passing. That's the three-step passes and the quick five-step routes. Again, I'm not looking for the Ravens to completely flip the script from what we saw on Sunday. But can Baltimore create some windows for Jackson to attack vertically inside of the numbers, especially off the QB-run looks? Sure it can.


    Now, we have to wait on Flacco here. But if the vet is out for the second straight week, I'm looking at Jackson as a fantasy starter for 12-team leagues. The rushing numbers are a major boost, and with a slight uptick in aggressive throws in the passing game, Jackson would be in line to produce again versus a subpar Oakland defense.


    DJ Moore's breakout game pushes the rookie into WR3/flex discussion


    The 82-yard catch-and-run brought me back to Moore's college tape at Maryland. That's natural talent there to high-point the ball and then rip off a chunk play after the catch. Playmaker. But on a day when Moore posted season highs in receptions (seven), targets (eight) and receiving yards (157), it was the touchdown catch that jumped out.


    Working against Lions cornerback Darius Slay -- one of the top coverage guys I watch on tape -- Moore sold the route at the break. That's where the rookie showed Slay he was running an inside cut on the back line of the end zone, only to break back to the boundary. That was a veteran head fake to shake coverage. And the finish -- to get the feet down -- was pretty slick. High-level stuff for a rookie who is really starting to develop at the position.


    The question for managers here: Can Moore string together back-to-back productive days? We wrote about Moore after he caught five passes for 90 yards in Week 8 versus the Ravens as a player who needed to be rostered at that point. However, in Weeks 9 and 10, Moore caught a combined five passes for only 36 yards. Kind of expected with a rookie, right?


    However, for managers who want to take the upside of Moore -- an explosive-play talent who can produce on high-percentage throws from Cam Newton -- the rookie has WR3/flex value in deeper leagues with a Week 12 matchup against the Seahawks.


    Legit concerns with Deshaun Watson's production?


    Remember that Thursday night game against the Dolphins in Week 8 when Watson tossed five touchdowns? Yeah, he was dialed in. However, in his past two starts, Watson has thrown for just 421 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The rushing numbers: 10 carries for 45 yards.


    So why has the production dipped and leveled off here for Watson? I look at the injury to wide receiver Will Fuller V, because it severely impacts the ability of the Texans to vertically attack and open up intermediate throwing windows.


    Just think about the Houston play-action passing game with Fuller. Pair the post with the deep over. A two-man concept. Fuller could take the top off the defense -- presenting Watson with a big-play shot -- or simply clear space for the intermediate over route (deep crosser). There's the window for Watson, off creative backfield movement, to make a high-percentage throw. And if the safety sits low? Then call up the deep ball to Fuller with his blazing speed.


    That's one of the main reasons I questioned the move to trade for Demaryius Thomas. While the veteran has the big-body frame and route-running skills to win on isolation routes, his skill set doesn't replicate what Fuller brought to this offense. Keke Coutee? He's a slot man. And that, in my opinion, has put the Texans in a position where the game plan focuses on offensive balance to create more efficient passing. Good for winning pro football games, but it also leaves fantasy managers wanting more out of Watson.


    With upcoming matchups versus the Titans, Browns and Colts, I believe managers should temper their expectations with Watson a bit. And until the rushing numbers spike, Watson has to operate in an offensive system that is going through a transition right now.


    Ravens rookie RB Gus Edwards should be rostered in all leagues


    Seeing game action for the just the fifth time this season, Edwards produced season highs in carries (17) and rushing yards (115). The undrafted rookie out of Rutgers has the big-boy size at 6-foot-1, 238 pounds to push the ball between the tackles. He hits the hole with some burst, too. And he also found the end zone on Sunday. Zone scheme there, off the jet sweep action. Create some misdirection for the defense and give the ball to the rook so he can get downhill.


    With Alex Collins seeing limited production early versus the Bengals (seven carries, 18 yards, one touchdown), the Ravens turned the ball over to Edwards as the lead back. And that's what we have learned in Baltimore. This team will ride the guy who gets hot.


    This puts Edwards in a spot where he could see the majority of the run-game touches in Week 12 versus Oakland. Plus, with the Ravens' offensive structure we talked about above, the running game isn't going anywhere.


    That, to me, is worth a roster spot for managers looking for a possible late-season boost to the lineup. Put in the waiver claim this week and think volume with Edwards in a game plan that leads with the run.


    Tre'Quan Smith jumps into the WR3 mix


    Smith wasn't even targeted in the Saints' Week 11 win over the Bengals. And that Monday night performance against the Redskins, when Smith racked up 111 yards and two scores on just three grabs, happened way back in early October.


    However, the rookie lit up the Eagles' secondary on Sunday, seeing a team-high 13 targets and catching 10 passes for 157 yards and a score. He can fly, as we saw on the deep post. And he can also make a play in traffic. Just go back to the "glance" route (skinny post) in the red zone. That ball is being thrown at the break from Drew Brees. Secure the catch, take a shot from the safety and get the six.


    That Eagles secondary? Yeah, tough year for that unit. Lot of injuries, too. So matchups did play a role here for sure, and Brees is operating at an MVP level. Ball placement, anticipation, timing. The veteran QB is on point right now, dropping dimes and threading the ball at all three levels of the field. Give Smith true one-on-ones and he is going to have opportunities to make plays.


    The tough part for managers is trusting that Smith can continue posting quality numbers. With Michael Thomas' target volume sure to climb (he had only four targets on Sunday), I don't anticipate Smith seeing 10-plus targets when the Saints host the Falcons on Thanksgiving night.


    However, for a receiver who just came off a monster day and who plays in one of the NFL's most aggressive offenses, I would put him in the WR3 mix this week. The matchup is right, and this offense under Sean Payton doesn't let up -- ever.
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    Fantasy blocking matchup grades: Falcons up, Bucs down

    KC Joyner
    ESPN PLUS


    The fantasy football world has lagged behind when it comes to effectively measuring the impact blocking has on fantasy production, so last year I devised a grading system that uses multiple advanced metrics to project how blocking matchups will impact fantasy football performance in the upcoming week's contests. The details of the system can be found here.


    The entire list of the Week 13 overall matchup grades are posted below, along with a detailed look at how those blocking grades could impact certain start-sit decisions this week.


    (Note: Unless otherwise stated, the metrics and rankings listed below are for Weeks 8-12).

    Most favorable matchups

    Green Bay Packers (vs. Arizona Cardinals)


    A primary reason for Aaron Jones being one of 11 running backs to average 20-plus points per game since Week 8 has been the Packers' superb run blocking. Green Bay rates first in my run blocking grades in that time frame due to placing first in rush yards per carry before first defensive contact (YBCT, 3.9), third in my good blocking rate (GBR) metric that measures how often an offense gives its ball carriers quality run blocking (58.9 percent) and first in my good blocking productivity (GBP) metric that gauges overall rushing production (5.3).


    Those metrics alone would keep Jones at the border of RB1/RB2 level, but facing a Cardinals defense that ranks 23rd in GBR (51.8), 20th in GBP (4.1) and 25th in YBCT (3.2) should vault Jones to the upper-tier of the RB1 level.


    Atlanta Falcons (vs. Baltimore Ravens)


    The Falcons' ground game has been something of a disappointment to fantasy managers this year, as Tevin Coleman hasn't made the jump to RB1 status despite being the lead back in this offense for most of the 2018 season.


    Coleman has a tremendous opportunity to make up for some of that frustration due to this week's favorable matchup grade. The Falcons rank second in GBR (60.3), third in GBP (4.6) and eighth in YBCT (3.0), but where they really have a significant edge is in pass blocking. Atlanta's No. 15 ranking in pass pressure rate (PPR) allowed (27.8 percent) and No. 10 ranking in quarterback contact rate (QCR, 11.0 percent) are both solid enough, but they fare quite well against a Baltimore defense that ranks 24th in PPR (26.4), 27th in QCR (11.4) and 30th in sack rate (3.1 percent).


    The disadvantage that this pair of blocking matchups will give Baltimore's defense should give Coleman a high percentage chance of posting his second 20-plus-point game of the season. It should also give Matt Ryan his fourth 20-plus-point game in five weeks, vault Julio Jones to another 20-plus-point game and allow Calvin Ridley to rack up a second consecutive double-digit-point game for the first time since Week 4.


    Baltimore Ravens (at Atlanta Falcons)


    The blocking grades indicate that the Ravens' offense will be more than capable of keeping up with the Falcons' high-scoring attack.


    Baltimore has posted some of the best run blocking numbers in the league during the past five weeks, ranking first in GBR (60.5), fifth in YBCT (3.2) and seventh in GBP (4.3). Those should come in quite handy against an Atlanta rush defense that placed 25th in GBP (4.4) and 29th in YBCT (3.4).


    The Ravens' passing attack could also be propelled to a higher level due to Atlanta's defense ranking last in PPR (18.2) and 23rd in sack rate (5.3).


    Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson rank fourth and sixth, respectively, in the league in rush attempts during the past two weeks. They should be able keep those elite carry volumes going, so rate Edwards as a strong RB2 with RB1 upside. Jackson should once again contend for a 100-yard-rushing day, which when added to the increased production brought on by the subpar pass rush gives him a very good chance of posting a second straight 20-plus-point game.
    Least favorable matchups

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Carolina Panthers)


    For most of this season Peyton Barber was a leading candidate for the lowest fantasy points per carry total. He had a double-digit carry volume in seven of his first nine games this year yet posted only two games with a double-digit fantasy point total and six games with six or fewer points. Barber finally turned that trend around during the past two weeks, as his 33.3 fantasy points in that span ranks 11th among running backs.


    This recent upswing may convince fantasy managers to start Barber as a flex candidate in Week 13, but the blocking metrics suggest that this might not be as good of an idea as it seems at first glance.


    Tampa Bay's run blocking is still among the worst in the league of late, as they rank 31st in GBR (37.8), 27th in YBCT (2.2) and still haven't posted a single game at or above the 45.6 percent league average in GBR this season. That is almost certain to not change against a Carolina defense that ranks fifth in GBR (41.0) and third in YBCT (1.5).


    This means that Barber should not be thought of as a definite flex option, but rather as a touchdown-dependent flex candidate with a single-digit-point downside if the blocking trends continue in this matchup.


    Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Indianapolis Colts)


    The Jaguars fired their offensive coordinator and demoted Blake Bortles this week, but the reality is their major offensive issue this season has been atrocious blocking.


    During the past five weeks, Jacksonville's offense ranks last in good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA, 6.0) and GBP (2.5), 29th in GBR (41.0), 25th in YBCT (2.3), 26th in PPR (36.2), 28th in QCR (20.0) and 24th in sack rate (8.7).


    Those run blocking metrics are almost certain to get worse against a Colts defense that ranks first in GBR (37.0), fourth in GBP (2.7) and fourth in YBCT (1.8).


    The Jaguars were able to hit a few big plays in the ground game last week, so it might be tempting for fantasy managers to automatically start T.J. Yeldon or Carlos Hyde in place of the suspended Leonard Fournette, but the reality is any Jaguars running back should be considered a risky start option given the unfavorable matchup. The pass-blocking woes and switch to a backup quarterback should also put every Jaguars passing-game player on the bench.





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