It isn’t too late, but for some teams in fantasy and the NFL, it is getting ugly early. If you are sitting at 1-5 or worse, you are just about cooked. You need to stay involved and keep trying to get better for yourself, your pride and the integrity of the league, but newsflash, it is a rebuilding year. If you are at the top of the league, bravo. You will get something out of this week’s blog, but we’ll be focusing more on championship fine points as the season goes on, making sure you are well positioned for a title run. Today though, I’m talking to “The Middle”. Teams between 2-4 and 4-2.
There is still time to make moves and improve your fate. Some teams need to do more than others. FFI’s general rule is that if you are not in the top 25% of the league in points scored by now, you don’t yet have a championship roster. You may need to take some risk, but philosophically and financially there is not much difference in missing the playoffs by an inch or a mile. If you make it into what Bill Parcells calls “The Tournament”, good things can happen. Below is a position by position look at where you might find some value to patch the holes so you can make a push for the playoffs. Later we will spend more time on how to do damage once you get there. But first, here’s a music video featuring the late, great Gerry Rafferty.
If you are starting Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff or Carson Wentz consider adding Philip Rivers (87% owned), Drew Brees (79% owned, expected back in a month or sooner) or Matt Stafford (59%) and playing matchups. Baker Mayfield (75%) is not playing well now, but as we’ve said many times, the Browns’ schedule eases in the second half. Not suggesting you cut Rodgers or Wentz (maybe cut Goff), but consider a “ride the hot hand” strategy. Josh Allen (50%) and Kirk Cousins (47%) have value with the right opponent. Three of Allen’s next five opponents are Miami (2x) and Washington. Jacoby Brissett is not throwing for a ton of yards but is active in the red zone so he has value and Andy Dalton will be playing from behind most of the time so unless he is playing a ballhawk defense he should be good for tonnage. If you are failing with Rodgers or Goff in your lineup, you don’t have much to lose. Aaron Rodgers was only started in 68% of Yahoo leagues this week. For the record, Rodgers still throws a beautiful ball, but he is learning a new offense and not quite in sync with his receivers. I think he will produce, but if you are in The Middle, you can’t afford to wait if he does not produce against Oakland next week. I don’t like any of these guys over Rodgers, Goff or Wentz next week, but after that, the matchups are fair game.
Leonard Fournette is playing as well as he ever has, but his value is depressed because he has only scored one TD. He has an injury history and Jax is 2-4, but he is scoring more points than Alvin Kamara, James Conner and Todd Gurley because he is north of 750 total yards. If he starts picking up more TDs, all of a sudden he is a success story. Le’Veon Bell is off to a slow start, but he just got his QB back and with C.J. Mosley nearing a return, I expect the Jets to be .500 the rest of the way if they stay healthy. If you can trade a Conner, Gurley or Lindsay for him, I would. Tevin Coleman has been seeing goal line work in SF lately and the team looks good. If available (83% owned) or if you can get him by trading from a strength elsewhere, he may pay dividends. The Niners have the look of a team that will spend a fair amount of time playing with a lead. Miles Sanders (76% owned) is starting to rise to the top of the committee in Philadelphia. Ronald Jones (61% owned) is also starting to flash in Tampa, but don’t play him against a good defense. In fact, I don’t think I would use him before 11/10 at home vs. Arizona, but keep him in mind if you need a spot start. He also has two games left with Atlanta. Carlos Hyde is getting a good run in Houston. He is currently RB20 in standard leagues and was on the waiver wire not long ago. He is still only 76% owned. Austin Ekeler is currently RB6, but with Melvin Gordon back and the team struggling, don’t count on him to stay anywhere near the top 12.
Shakespeare said, “The fault dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.” In the cases of Todd Gurley and Sony Michel, some of the fault lies in themselves, but a lot of it lies in their offensive lines, both of which turned over more than 40% of their starters from last year. Michel has had three goal line scores vultured in the last two weeks and Gurley is nursing a sore quad. There are a bunch of next generation stats that will tell you that Michel is not that good. Baloney. Last year he ran very well behind a strong fullback and a solid offensive line. He had six TDs in the postseason including the only one in the Super Bowl. Don’t overpay, but both of those backs stand to score a fair share of TDs when and if their teams pull their lines together. The Patriots lost their fullback and center for the season, but LT Isaiah Wynn has a good chance to return from IR, Dante Scarnecchia is amont the best offensive line coaches in the history of football and Josh McDaniels and that Belichick fellow know what they are doing. Sean McVay doesn’t have that pedigree, but he is among the best young minds in the game and after getting dismantled by the 49ers has a real gut check coming. I think he is going to figure something out. If Michel or Gurley come available at a discount because of the beating they are taking from the fantasy punditry, they are worth a chance.
As I write this, Chris Godwin is WR1; I hope you drafted him as we advised in August. While it is too late to jump on that bandwagon, here are some other places you may find help. D.J. Chark is still only 89% owned. If you are in the 11% of leagues where he is a free agent, claim him.Similarly, Terry McLaurin and his 5 TDs are only 80% owned. He will have quiet weeks, but against everyone but top passing defenses he is a must start at WR9 despite missing time with an injury. Courtland Sutton (84%) is currently WR12 in standard leagues and isn’t a blue chip play, but with Emmanuel Sanders in and out of the games with leg injuries and over seven targets/game on average, he’s a good start and might be available at a modest price. DeAndre Hopkins is currently WR19, but he is still getting a huge target share and the team is top three or so in the AFC. If he is owned by a team with a bad record, maybe you can pry him loose at a slight discount. If you own Stefan Diggs, maybe try putting together a package while the bloom is still on Diggs’ 3 TD performance yesterday. The corollary is don’t buy high on the Vikings atypical passing performance this week. Philly is strong against the run so Minnesota had to throw; that is not their preferred strategy. Don’t chase Will Fuller’s stats from two weeks ago. He may end up with good numbers but is very boom or bust. Despite missing time, Marquise Brown is still WR21 in standard leagues and is only 86% owned. Lamar Jackson’s throwing has its limits, but the target tree supports Brown as a fantasy starter most weeks. Tyler Boyd has only one TD and A.J. Green is nearing a return. Boyd has had 60 targets – good for #3 among all WR. If you can acquire him, he may have some upside. Cincinnati will be playing from behind most of the year so there will be plenty of passing. If you are in a PPR league, veterans like Edelman and Fitzgerald have been steady contributors and are positioned to rack up a lot of catches. If you are looking for a waiver wire special, Jamison Crowder is only 42% owned and Sam Darnold is back. He could be a source of cheap PPR points. JuJu Smith-Schuster is currently WR39. It may not get any better. The last two weeks the Steelers beat the Bengals and Chargers with runs and short passes to running backs. It may get a little better when Mason Rudolph returns, but JuJu does not look like a consistent contributor this year. File him away as someone who may slip more than he should next year when Roethlisberger gets back.
Sterling Shepard (78% owned) is still in concussion protocol but had some nice chemistry with Daniel Jones before he got hurt. If he returns soon, he may be a great bye week fill in with potential for something more. Depending on how long Davante Adams is out, Marquez Valdes Scantling (66%) and even Geronimo Allison (30%), if he wasn’t hurt badly on MNF may have value if either one can reliably catch. The Pack faces Oakland in week 7 and there are a lot of WRs on byes.
Last week we recommended Will Dissly just in time for what looked like a season ending Achilles injury. He went down on a pass when Wilson was trying to hit him for a TD, so he went out on his shield. If you are back on the market, Hunter Henry is only owned in 63% of leagues after getting injured in week one. Act fast though, with two TDs on national TV, he will be gobbled up this week. In the bargain bin, Houston has been using their TEs around the goal line with both Darren Fells (TE10, 4% owned) and (Jordan Akins (TE13, 9% owned) widely available. Both are touchdown dependent, averaging about three targets per game, but Fells has three scores and Akins two so it is a fair bet that one or the other will score. If you are looking for more target opportunities, Gerald Everett (77%), Jason Witten (60%) and Jared Cook (70%) rank 10-12 in targets among TEs. One may be available in your league.
If you have the Patriots, Bears or 49ers on your roster, great. You can use them a fair amount of the time and other than certain weeks you can set it and forget it. If you are not using those teams, you should be streaming defense. At this point we know who the usual suspects are and you should be looking at the best defense available playing the following teams: Miami, Washington, Cincinnati, NYG, Tampa, Buffalo and Tennessee. Keep an eye on Arizona, they look better but still have a weak line. The Jets gave it away like crazy the first month, but see how they do with Darnold back. Pittsburgh, Oakland, Denver and Jacksonville are also vulnerable on the road. The same is true with Buffalo even though they are currently 4-1. Baker Mayfield is creating more turnovers than the Pillsbury Dough Boy, but their schedule is going to lighten up. When ranking your choices each week, favor teams that are playing at home, especially if their opponent has to cross the country. Make sure the team you choose has at least a decent offense so that your defense doesn’t spend too much time on the field or have to defend too many short fields. Choose a team that has a good pass rush (look at sacks and pressures) because that is what forces a bad team to make mistakes. Be sure to pick at least a top three or so if you are trying to claim them on waivers the week you need them. If your roster is big enough, I strongly recommend planning your defense a few weeks ahead if you can.
Unless you have a top kicker that you really like (Tucker, Zuerlein, Lutz or this year’s new flavor Joey Slye) when your kicker is on a bye, you can cut him and find another just as likely to produce points. Kickers are tough to predict. Last year’s #1, Kaimi Fairbairn, is K21 this year and has already missed four extra points. Tucker, Lutz and Zuerlein are the exceptions, all ranking in the top five for 2017, 2018 and season to date. The rest will move up and down the list. So if you are on the market, consider the following factors. Are they tied to a good or great offense? Do they kick indoors? Do they make ~90% of their FGs and 95% of their XP? (Depending on your league, some penalize for misses.) Do they kick long FGs (if you get a bonus for 50+ yarders)? Are they scoring consistently each week? As with QBs, there are 32 Kickers in the NFL and only 10-12 are starting in fantasy, so you can always find one.
Okay middle folks, take the knowledge from here and attack the areas that aren’t working for you; fix it now before it is too late. Here’s another video to pump you up. As a warning or a bonus, it contains people dancing around in their underwear.