I'll start out this week looking at the quarterback position. Are things what you think they are at the position or are things less clear than expected? The answer may surprise you. In the backfield the Bills seem content to divide the work evenly with their two mainstays. In Carolina, is the balance of power shifting? What should we make of the Cowboys and Jags backfields given their injury situations? Out wide I will will highlight four receivers who you should be targeting for addition to your fantasy squad. Finally, Jermichael Finley and Dennis Pitta - should anyone care?
Some QB facts.
Drew Brees set an NFL record last year throwing for 5,476 yards. Amazingly he's on pace for 5,592 yards this season as he has thrown for at least 370 yards in each of his last three games.
Ryan Fitzpatrick started out on fire before turning into a blah QB2 option. Still, I bet you were unaware that he is third in the NFL with 15 passing scores. He's played one more game than Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan, but he's still thrown for one more score than each of those two fellas. He's also thrown for two more scores than Tom Brady, who has played seven games, and his 15 scores is one better than the combined total of the two rookie darlings – Andrew Luck (seven) and Robert Griffin III (seven).
Cam Newton (21.6) and Michael Vick (22.1), two QBs that most consider to be disappointments this season are averaging more points a game than Eli Manning (21.1).
Tony Romo, you know the guy who is such a huge disappointment to everyone, is third in the NFL with a 67.9 completion percentage. He's also on pace to throw for more than 4,300 yards.
Mathew Stafford another “failure,” is having a solid season in three respects. His 62.1 percent completion percentage is better than his 60.2 percent career mark and just off his 63.5 percent total from last season. Second, he's averaging 292.3 yards a contest. Some perspective. That's more yards per game than Aaron Rodgers (282.7) and Andrew Luck (279), and puts Stafford on pace for just under 4,700 yards. Peyton Manning has only bettered 4,700 yards... well never. He threw for exactly 4,700 yards in 2010. Third, Stafford is averaging one interception per game, exactly the same mark he had last season and better than his career 1.23 total.
The Bills have themselves quite the duo in the backfield in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. They are the best duo in football. The problem for fantasy owners is that there is no way to know which guy is the better play from week to week. If you ask their coach, that isn't a situation that is likely to change any time soon. “If we can let them touch it between 30 and 40 times a game, I think that’s pretty good for us,” HC Chan Gailey said. Obviously he is 100 percent right, and if the Bills actually stick to that plan, guess what, both guys are weekly plays. Spiller might be the better play maker, he's averaging an insane 7.3 YPC, 1.5 yards better than Frank Gore who is next in line at an impressive 5.8 YPC, but it's not like Jackson is chopped liver. With his knee seemingly back at 100 percent, Jackson averaged 7.9 yards per carry while hauling in eight passes against the Titans in Week 7. Both players keep the other from being a fantasy superstar but they are still likely to both be RB2's most weeks.
Maurice Jones-Drew has no announced timetable for his return with estimates ranging from weeks to months for his injured foot to return to the point that he will be able to play. What that means is that Rashad Jennings should be the #1 waiver-wire add in football this week. Not that it's exactly equivalent, but in 157 career carries Jennings averaged 4.8 YPC. MJD in 1,570 career carries he's averaging 4.6 YPC. Jennings can also haul in passes as we saw when he caught seven last weekend. Jennings is a weekly RB2 as long as MJD is out of the mix, an it could be a while since MJD is riding around the Jags' facility in a cart.
DeMarco Murray isn't likely to play in Week 8 as his foot injury, while improving, still isn't back to the point needed to play at a high level. The team is hopeful that he will be ready to rock in Week 9, but that's still not a certainty. Felix Jones is still the player to roll with here, but with two injuries suffered in Week 7, Jones continues to be one of the most brittle players in football. If indeed Murray misses the next couple of games as seems likely, and Jones continues to be somewhat hobbled with injury (he's fully expected to start and lead the backfield in touches in Week 8), Philip Tanner is worth a look. In fact, if you have a dead spot at the end of your roster, you might consider adding Tanner on the cheap as he could come into value this week or next for the 'Boys.
Jonathan Stewart has the talent to be a top-10 runner in the NFL. Unfortunately he is more likely to get 10 carries than 20 as the Panthers have always found some reason to give the ball to another back (or simply let Cam Newton carry the ball, especially near the goaline). Given that, it was very interesting to hear Panthers HC Ron Rivera say that the Panthers plan in their last game was to feature Stewart. "We wanted to come out in a different personnel group, and then we tried to get a rhythm going with one guy. We came out with that specific group and Jonathan (Stewart) was that guy, so we tried to stick with that and see how it would go," Rivera said. This news sent the Twitterverse on fire with reports of Stewart potentially becoming the lead dog in the backfield. I'm not buying it – and to be clear, there has been no definitive statement from the team that there plan moving forward is to have Stewart be the runaway touch leader out of the backfield. The team still has Newton who is going to keep running, especially at the goaline. Mike Tolbert has only 11 carries the past four games, but even with Stewart leading the way in Week 7 it was Tolbert who got the short score against the Cowboys. DeAngelo Williams has looked washed up the last two weeks with eight carries for 10 yards, but that's taking things far too far considering that he averaged 4.5 YPC in the previous two games while scoring a touchdown. As for Stewart, even though he was the “lead” back last week he still got only 10 carries against the Cowboys. In four games this season he is averaging nine carries a week – half of a “lead” backs workload. Until the Panthers commit to giving him 15+ touches a week, Stewart is nothing more than a flex option most weeks.
Guys to target on the market...
Brandon Lloyd was supposed to take off in New England, right? Well, as I repeatedly said all preseason, the Pats have like 13 weapons on each play which is hard to do given that there are only 11 players on the field. At this point Lloyd has one flipping score and less fantasy points than than Danny Amendola who hasn't played in two weeks. So why suggest anyone target Lloyd? Because Tom Brady is still targeting Lloyd. In fact, Lloyd leads the Pats in targets with 65, the 10th highest total in football. Lloyd is also on pace for 80 receptions and 930 yards, and remember that is while he is performing at less than hoped for levels. Add him on the cheap – you have to think the touchdowns will come.
Hakeem Nicks is one of those players that has dealt with injury, an as a result his effort looks much worse than it should, so let me lay it on you. Nicks is an elite talent. Period. He's a WR1. Period. If you need proof look no further than his Week 2 effort of 10 receptions for 199 yards an a touchdown. Because of foot woes he's currently just outside the top-50 in fantasy points at WR in a PPR setup, but that's as deceiving a number as you will find this year. Even with the injury Nicks is posting 15.4 points a game which is more than Antonio Brown (14.8), Miles Austin (15.3) and Julio Jones (15.3). Practicing fully since last week, now might be the last chance to add Nicks at a reasonable price.
Jeremy Maclin says his hip is back to 100 percent. Bout time. Maclin has a missed game and has a Bye on his resume, and he also caught just one ball for seven yards in Week 4 as he was clearly playing when he should have been. It's almost like people have forgotten that in 2010-11 Maclin averaged 67 receptions, 912 yards and eight touchdowns a season. I know that Maclin has been limited this season, and that Michael Vick is a turnover machine, but Maclin is still someone you should consider as a weekly play as long as he's healthy.
Steve Smith had a down season in 2010 with 46 receptions and 554 yards. Given that, his 79 reception, 1,394 yard effort last season was a bit out of nowhere for the aging receiver (33 years old). Smith has looked much more like the 2010 version than the 2011 version if you ask around, but is that actually accurate? Even with all his struggles working with Cam Newton this season, Smith is still on pace for 75 receptions, four fewer than last season, and his current pace would also net him more than 1,250 yards. Is that really a down effort? Not even close. The issue in fantasy is that Smith hasn't scored a single time. Without end zone celebrations a guy who is on pace to pretty much kill it in receptions and yardage is merely the 37th ranked receiver in football. He could cut that number in half the rest of the way. Remember that.
Jermichael Finley has been a disaster all season. He sometimes blames the coaches, often hints that it might be Aaron Rodgers, and rarely looks inward. But at least his QB has his back (Rodgers supported Finley saying that the end is playing through a painful shoulder injury as well as trying to overcome double-teams). Through seven weeks of the season Finley is just 19th at the position in points in PPR setups with fewer points than Fred Davis, Brandon Myers, Scott Chandler... stop me if that makes you nauseous after what you spent on Finley on draft day.
Dennis Pitta was a star the first three weeks of the season as the #6 tight end in fantasy football. Pitta recorded at least 14.5 points in each of those games (PPR). Since that time his production has caved. Over the past four games he has totaled 20.8 points (an average of three receptions for 20 yards the last four games). He's still getting targets, his total of 49 is tied with Mike Wallace and Torrey Smith for 30th in the NFL, but there just isn't any production being offered by Pitta. It's hard to just give up on him, but at the same time you know that you cannot trust him at this point.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Thursday at 7 PM EDT and Friday's at 9p-12a EDT. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account Twitter account.