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Luck rising up the fantasy boards
Though the calendar states Columbus Day as a time to venerate the maiden voyage to the Americas, the holiday receives little admiration. Banks are closed, but pretty sure the financial district gets respite for such “celebrations” as Oktoberfest and National Pancake Day. The Canadians think so little of the festivities that they coincided their Thanksgiving with the commemoration to Cristobal Colon. Besides, should we really revere a man, who by all accounts was a terrible person, for an accident?
The observance does serve one purpose, however: the perfect juncture for evaluating the early-season performances from the fantasy world, as all teams have at least four games under their belts with most squads competing in five contests. Here are the risers and fallers of the fledgling 2012 campaign:
QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos
The forecast looked rocky in Mile High following a forgettable foray in a Week 2 matchup with Atlanta, as the Broncos field general not only tossed three interceptions, but a majority of his flight attempts were so shaky and off-target that it drove me, an investor in Manning in multiple leagues, to visit the Denver team store to see if “McWobbles” could be printed on a No. 18 jersey. Nevertheless, the returns since the Georgia Dome Debacle have been prosperous, as the four-time MVP has racked up over 1,000 passing yards the past three games with eight touchdowns and zero picks. The rapport between Manning and his receiving corps is noticeably improving each week, and with a plethora of putrid passing defenses on Denver’s upcoming slate (San Diego twice, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Carolina, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Oakland), the 36-year-old arm could finish the season as a top-five fantasy entity at the position.
QB: Andrew Luck, Colts
Luck has posted 300-plus passing yards in three of his four outings, and after turning the pigskin over four times in his professional debut, owns a 7-2 touchdown-to-turnover ratio in the last three games. Flaunting a cannon and unparalleled command for a neophyte signal caller, Luck is a rookie in name only. The No. 1 overall selection has also displayed a set of wheels, evidenced in 95 rushing yards the past three contests. The Stanford product’s accuracy leaves much to be desired, though most of the misthrows seem attributable to the still-building affinity between Luck and his receivers. An ineffective defense and lack of running game will correlate to air excursions early and often for Indianapolis, meaning Luck should deliver dividends to his proprietors.
RB: Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
After amassing a whopping three yards against the Bills in Week 2, along with whispers of the Kansas City back dealing with lingering soreness from offseason knee surgery, my preseason prediction of Charles finishing as this year’s top fantasy back looked as promising as the prospects of the bad guys from Taken defeating Liam Neeson in a throat-chop contest.
Yet Charles has been lights-out since that Buffalo no-show, accumulating 461 yards on the ground, 99 yards through the sky and two trips to pay dirt in the last three weeks. The former All-Pro has run for at least 87 yards in four of five appearances, and with the inadequacy of the Chiefs passing attack (ladies and gentlemen, presenting your Week 6 Kansas City starting QB…Brady Quinn!) Charles will continue to see an elevated amount of touches.
Fellow freshman Robert Griffin III is garnering most of the attention in our nation’s capital, but the sixth-round rusher out of Florida Atlantic has taken the rotisserie world by storm, notching 491 yards and four touchdowns on 100 carries. He’s also been remarkably steady, gaining at least 78 yards in every game. Griffin III will be dealing with the fallout from a concussion in Week 5, so look for Morris to be featured to a heavier degree in the Washington offense in the upcoming weeks.
WR: Victor Cruz, Giants
Remember the overreaction from owners after Cruz’s drops in Week 1? The sanctimony was downright sickening, with a vociferous contingent claiming off-the-field endeavors had distracted Cruz’s concentration. Keep in mind, the Giants receiver still finished with six catches for 58 yards in the season opener, but the perceived opportunities left on the gridiron infuriated the fantasy forum. Even in this “haters gonna’ hate” Internet era, the vitriol was excessive.
Yet Cruz has answered, and answered with vigor, hauling in 31 receptions for 380 yards and five touchdowns in his last four games. Though he performed at an All-Pro level last season, Cruz’s routes have looked crisper, and he seems to possess a better wherewithal of the New York offense. The G-Men’s receiving crew is battered and bruised at the moment, meaning Cruz should endure as the primary target until Hakeem Nicks returns to full strength.
WR; Reggie Wayne, Colts
We highlighted Wayne in late August as a contributor falling through the cracks in fantasy drafts, with the venerable wideout holding an average draft position of 102.6, equating to a ninth-round choice in most formats. I’d say holders of the five-time Pro Bowler are getting their money’s worth, as Wayne is third in the NFL in receiving yards, fourth in catches and first in targets despite playing in only four games. Alluded to above, an amplified air assault from Indianapolis will equate to a statistical jackpot, and with the inexperience of other Colts receivers, Wayne should be the main benefactor from this offensive explosion.
TE: Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
For seemingly the fourth consecutive season, the fantasy community had written off Gonzalez due to his rising age. While Gonzo has endured as a formidable contributor, Atlanta’s new up-tempo offense has translated to a total rejuvenation for the 36-year-old tight end, as Gonzalez is blowing away the competition at the position this season with 39 receptions, 388 yards and four scores. Expect a slight regression in production, though with exploitable opponents in the pipeline, envision Gonzalez to keep on keepin’ on.
DEF: Seattle Seahawks
A resolute front four, a solid group at linebacker and a secondary with supreme strength and height. Oh, and the Seahawks have one of the easier second-half schedules in the NFC. What’s not to like?
Despite the turnover troubles, I still believe in Vick. Granted, at times he’s looked like Adam Sandler in The Longest Yard, but the defensive units of Arizona, Baltimore and Pittsburgh will do that to many a quarterback. Philadelphia’s schedule is filled with less-than-daunting adversaries the rest of the way home, with a Week 8 date with Atlanta the lone monster. His prowess on the soil always makes Vick a threat to blow up the box score, and he is blessed with endowed recipients in LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek and, when healthy, Jeremy Maclin. With his recent woes, Vick can be had at a bargain price, and with the abundance of ample arms, teaming Vick with, say, Carson Palmer, could be a winning formula. And yes, seeing “Michael Vick, Carson Palmer and winning formula” is a combination you will only see in fantasy football.
QB: Cam Newton, Panthers
The bye week could not come at a better time, as Newton is coming off a career-low 141 passing yards in Week 5. However, the word seems to be out on the Carolina QB, as Sunday’s soiree marks the third disappointing display on the season. His harvest in the running game has underwhelmed, yet I believe that part of Newton’s repertoire will return. The miscommunication and accuracy, or lack thereof, with his receivers are the Newton issues that are disconcerting, as those two facets are far from quick-fixes. Keep him on your roster, though the former Heisman winner probably needs to marinate on your bench the next few weeks.
RB: Chris Johnson, Titans
Johnson has failed to cross that ever-elusive 25-yard barrier in four of five games in 2012. Though Javon Ringer shouldn’t steal touches anytime soon and Johnson’s capability in the receiving game retains his PPR worth, sometimes you need a clean break from a player. Johnson, in the words of almost every girlfriend I’ve ever had, “It’s not me, it’s you.”
RB: Fred Jackson, Bills
Dude has received a bum rap for his injury in Week 1, and his comeback effort has fallen against arduous challengers in New England and San Francisco. Alas, it appears the Bills are set to split the work allotment between Jackson and C.J. Spiller, which encumbers Jackson’s worth from low-end No. 1 RB to a No. 3-4 back. Unless Spiller goes down or they augment his workload, Jackson is a backup fantasy back.
WR: Greg Jennings, Packers
I try to prohibit off-the-gridiron hearsay affecting my advocacy of fantasy players, which is why I wasn’t buying the Wes Welker contract conspiracy theory after the New England wideout’s slow start. However, I cannot say this sentiment applies to Jennings. Dealing with a groin ailment is a red flag in itself; the fact that Jennings has mentioned he doesn’t want to rush back and reinjure himself in a contract year has me thinking, “Uh-oh.” Throw in the plethora of serviceable receiving options in Green Bay’s arsenal and I wouldn’t blame Jennings owners for dealing the receiver for half his drafted value.
Unfortunately, the early returns from top-10 draft picks A.J. Green and Julio Jones in 2011 placed unfair expectations on Blackmon, hopes that have been unfulfilled through the first five weeks. On the bright side, the All-American leads the team in targets, yet one would never surmise as much when looking at Blackmon’s stat line of 13 catches, 119 yards and zero ventures to the Promised Land. Unless participating in a deeper league, Blackmon does not warrant a roster spot at this time.
TE: Antonio Gates, Chargers
Odd that, in a time of incomparable depth at the tight end position, one of its patriarchs is having one of his worst campaigns, as Gates has just 13 receptions for 143 yards and zero touchdowns. A ribs injury does not seem to be ailing Gates, and he’s still seeing a serviceable amount of targets. However, with red-zone bull’s-eyes like Kyle Rudolph, Scott Chandler and Heath Miller available in the majority of leagues, Gates may have a hard time validating his roster implementation.
DEF: Buffalo Bills
Believed to be a top-10 defense, Buffalo has surrendered the most points through five weeks. So much for Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and Stephon Gilmore transforming the Bills into one of the NFL’s intimidating units, eh?