Fantasy: Newton, Brees lead Week 3 Revelations
Here are the award-winning Fantasy Revelations from the Sunday portion of Week 3, with Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon and DeMarco Murray taking honors.
Last year at this time, it was easy to throw around the default response of, You never bench Cam Newton, given his unrivaled greatness from a rookie campaign of 4,700 total yards and 35 touchdowns.
But things aren't so clear-cut with the Panthers quarterback in Year 3. Yes, he has amazing athletic gifts and an offensive coordinator (Mike Shula) tailored to that skill set. But still, of his previous six non-divisional home games (prior to Sunday), Newton had meekly averaged 218 total yards and one touchdown per outing — the calling card of a backup QB in fantasy circles.
In other words, one could not fault the fantasy populace for benching Newton in Week 3, for Matt Schaub, Andy Dalton or even Carson Palmer — three QBs with attractive matchups, on paper.
Well, Newton (268 total yards, four TDs) recaptured his old fantasy dominance on Sunday, leading some to wonder what exactly caused the breakout?
The beautiful weather? The scatterbrain Giants? A comfort level with the Carolina offense? Riding a one-day tidal wave of positive mojo?
Frankly, the truth lies in all four explanations. The Panthers have most certainly improved their defense from last season; but the offensive playmakers remain a cast of good, but hardly elite talents like DeAngelo Williams (120 rushing yards), Brandon LaFell (three catches, 53 yards, two TDs), Steve Smith (three catches, seven targets, 40 yards), Ted Ginn Jr. (three catches, 71 yards, one TD) and tight end Greg Olsen (team-high eight targets).
In other words, until Newton (15 of 27 completions against New York) surrounds himself with more reliable weapons, his game logs for 2013 will likely represent the highest of highs (Sunday's 35-point day) and lowest of lows (possibly Week 10 at San Francisco).
In the meantime ... enjoy Newton's eminently doable slate of the Cardinals, Vikings, Rams, Bucs and Falcons from Weeks 5-9 (Carolina has a bye next week).
With all due respect to Jaguars wideout Cecil Shorts — the NFL leader in targets as of Monday morning — no other pass-catcher can match Graham (23 catches, 358 yards, four TDs) in the all-around realm of targets (31 for Weeks 2 and 3), yardage (313 for Weeks 2/3) and touchdowns (three Sundays, four TDs).
And given the disparity between Graham and the other tight ends (Jordan Cameron's Sunday heroics notwithstanding) ... he might be the most valuable asset in fantasy right now.
Do we really need to detail Brees's greatness here? Against the Cardinals, he amassed 342 yards passing and four touchdowns (one rushing). Dating back to November 2011, Brees has logged 16 home efforts of 300 yards passing and/or three touchdowns (17 tries).
Prescient is the fantasy owner who invested Round 1 and 2 picks on Brees and Graham. For various reasons, the handcuff movement of Brees/Marques Colston (five catches, eight targets, 71 yards vs. Arizona) or Brees/Darren Sproles (56 total yards) hasn't hit paydirt yet.
Of Murray's last 21 games (counting Sunday's 203-yard, one-TD demolition), both 200-yard plus efforts have come against the Rams, who hardly bear the look of a premier defense at this juncture. Not against the run. Not against the pass. And not always when rushing the passer (just seven sacks in three games).
But here's the downside: It's quite possible that Murray, as a core member of the Cowboys, would only see the Rams once from 2014-16, the result of Dallas taking on the NFC West next season. After that, it's a crapshoot for when Murray shall be guaranteed any other 200-yard gift over the next four years.
Sure, he's a reasonable bet for 100 yards/one TD against the Redskins, Eagles, Lions, Vikings, Saints, Giants and Raiders from Weeks 6-13 ... but that's child's play, compared to an afternoon with the Rams. (Ain't sarcasm grand?)
The only saving grace: Murray, who has notched 13 outings of 90 total yards and/or one TD since his original breakout against St. Louis (2011), is a must-start (RB2 or flex) in 12-team leagues for the foreseeable future.
I had public reservations of starting Wilson in three leagues Sunday morning, on the astute probability of him completing only 15 passes and engineering a big-time blowout of the Jaguars — leading to an early exit.
Well, imagine my chagrin at seeing Wilson complete only 14 balls against hapless Jacksonville ... and still tally four touchdown passes, a pair to Zach Miller (five receiving yards) and two for Sidney Rice (five catches, 79 yards).
As a fantasy GM in highly competitive leagues, it's natural to waffle on QB choices that don't involve Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers.
On Sunday, I had the three-pronged decision of starting Cam Newton, Wilson or Eli Manning, who prior to the Giants' 38-0 meltdown against Carolina, had a two-week average of 406 yards passing/2.5 TDs.
Guess which QB I chose?
As for Wilson, it's hard to deify him in 12-team leagues, given the strength of Seattle rushers Marshawn Lynch (69 yards vs. Jacksonville), Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. The odds of the Seahawks replicating a single-game, receiving-to-rushing TD ratio of 5/0 anytime soon are extremely long.
Lest we forget ... Wilson has averaged only 223 yards passing this season.
Forget the sophomore slump talk. Or any condescending whispers of being a one-year wonder.
Martin (108 total yards vs. New England) has been an oasis for a Bucs offense that's in disarray, racking up either 100 total yards or one touchdown in every game. And yet, his fantasy prowess has gone largely unnoticed — due to the simmering feud between QB Josh Freeman (240 total yards, zero TDs on Sunday) and head coach Greg Schiano. Plus, Tampa Bay has just 34 points for the year. Ugh.
Am I worried about Vincent Jackson (three catches, 34 yards) and Mike Williams (five catches, nine targets, 65 yards) amidst Freeman's rough start? Absolutely.
But there no concerns with Martin. He has 20-plus touches in five straight games. He's been targeted six times apiece on the road this season. And as we saw last year, Martin has a higher ceiling than anyone on the planet (aside from Adrian Peterson), among the rushing circuit.
Do me a favor: Instead of staring blankly at some mindless YouTube clip at work on Tuesday or Wednesday, spend 15 minutes conceptualizing a landmark 1-for-2 trade with a fellow owner, surrendering something like DeSean Jackson/Matt Forte for Martin.
It'll be worth it.
Of his last 19 regular-season games, Manning has tallied zero or one touchdown a staggering 14 times.
Of his previous six outings (dating back to last year), Nicks has notched only 16 catches, 32 targets, 304 yards and one touchdown — a span that includes two zero-catch efforts.
The above stats should scare the you-know-what out of fantasy owners who view Manning (119 yards passing vs. Carolina) and/or Nicks as regular starters in 12- or 14-team leagues. Their ceilings against suspect opponents may be high ... but it cannot trump the duo's baffling capacity for god-awful outings against quality competition.
As such, their revised value lies with being bye-week fill-ins or serving as "throw-in" chips to eponymous trades.
Time will tell if the Browns' decision to ship Trent Richardson to Indy ranks as one of the worst trades in recent memory. But there is one immediate benefit to needlessly dismantling a roster and abandoning the running game in the process:
Regardless of who's directing the offense at quarterback (Brian Hoyer or Brandon Weeden), Cleveland essentially has to feed receivers Josh Gordon (10 catches, 19 targets, 146 yards, one TD vs. Minnesota), Davone Bess (seven catches, 10 targets, 67 yards) and tight end Jordan Cameron (six catches, 11 targets, 66 yards, three TDs) as much as humanly possible.
If the club really isn't "tanking" for the 2014 draft ... Gordon should be a reasonable lock for nine-plus targets every weekend. And if that strategy plays out, then Gordon immediately zooms into the regular rotation of top-20 assets in Points Per Reception leagues.
For standard-scoring leagues, a weekly top-20 ranking seems a little ambitious. Or have we already forgotten that Hoyer (321 yards passing, three TDs, three INTs) couldn't cut the muster on the 2012 Arizona Cardinals — quite possibly the worst single-season cadre of quarterbacks (Hoyer, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley) since the 1992 Seahawks?
(That Seattle team, uh, starred Stan Gelbaugh, Dan McGwire and Kelly Stouffer at the most important position in football.)
In one respect, Bell (132 total yards, one TD vs. Washington) deserves props for drawing a clear line of demarcation between himself and one-time golden boy Mikel Leshoure, in terms of being Detroit's No. 2 running back.
But it probably won't be enough to supplant Reggie Bush (sidelined Sunday with a minor knee ailment) for the next year or two, short of some kind of Arian Foster-esque reckoning, circa 2010.
And that's a shame, from Bell's perspective, because he possesses starter-grade talent with clubs that run hard between the tackles and use their tailbacks as regular screen-pass options.
Frankly speaking, Bell (18 targets through three games) might be the Lions' third-best receiver, after Calvin Johnson (seven catches, 115 yards, one TD) and the aforementioned Bush.
That's a direct knock on Brandon Pettigrew (zero catches, two targets), Ryan Broyles (three catches, 34 yards) and Nate Burleson (six catches, 116 yards, one TD) being consistently viable targets for QB Matthew Stafford (385 yards passing, two TDs).
Yes, Burleson looked amazing against the Redskins. But then again ... everyone looks great against 'em. Without hyperbole, in the NFL's modern era, Washington stands as the worst defensive club after three games, surrendering more than 1,300 total yards. Yikes!
At this stage of his career, Burleson is a "volume" guy, meaning that in this decade, he hasn't registered a touchdown or 100-yard receiving game from outings of six or less targets.
Counting their last seven games (including last year's playoffs), Jones enjoys advantages with catches, yards and targets, with Brown only taking honors for touchdowns (6-5 in that span).
But with the Steelers' depleted running game, featuring barren options like Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer or Felix Jones, Brown may be holding the more fantasy-friendly position of playing from behind this year, collecting target after target during must-pass situations.
And that could be enough to close the gap on a no-brainer stud like Jones (four straight outings of 100-plus yards and/or one touchdown), who had to share the wealth with backup rusher Jason Snelling (111 total yards, one TD) against the Dolphins.
On the flip side, Brown netted six of his game-high 13 targets in the fourth quarter Sunday — after he had already scored touchdowns of 21 and 32 yards against the Bears.
The box score only has Miller down for 64 total yards against the Falcons (62 rushing), highlighted by a 49-yard scamper in the first quarter.
But for the fantasy GMs watching the action live in the final minutes (NFL Red Zone included), they're undoubtedly lamenting how Miller came thisclose to hauling in a wheel-route pass for an easy 33-yard touchdown.
But instead of giving the Dolphins a sterling, go-ahead TD, while also boosting his fantasy tallies to 15-plus points, Miller booted the well-designed pass from QB Ryan Tannehill (243 total yards, two TDs) ... before ultimately playing a supporting role in Miami's game-winning score — a Dion Sims 1-yard catch with 38 seconds left.
So, what does this mean for Miller going forward, especially if Daniel Thomas (37 total yards, one TD) appears to be the primary goal-line back? This is not the time to panic on the Dolphins' only Chris Johnson-esque talent in their backfield.
Two quick positives: Miller's receiving targets have incrementally improved each week ... and the Dolphins draw the Saints next week.
The above statement has nothing to do with Franklin's game-changing fumble-turned-defensive-touchdown in the fourth quarter ... and everything to do with the Packers being a pass-first, pass-second team built around Aaron Rodgers (268 total yards, one TD) and three top-shelf receivers.
Yes, Green Bay has had two rushers roll for 100-plus rushing yards in consecutive weeks, but this reeks of fad more than trend.
That isn't to say Franklin (126 total yards, one TD on 16 touches) is a fraudulent asset. At this point, he's just a flex option in 12-team leagues, standard-scoring or PPR.
After all, it's not like the Packers operate a Chip Kelly-style offense that lives by the weekly quest of 90 offensive plays. Rodgers attempted 43 passes, and Nelson (eight catches, 93 yards), Randall Cobb (five catches, 11 targets, 54 yards) and James Jones (four catches, 34 yards, one TD) totaled 28 targets in a game where Green Bay held the lead for a majority of time.
Lest we forget Brandon Jackson's 140-yard explosion from 2010 (Week 5), prompting an absurd surge of free-agent buyers the following week. (Jackson did very little afterward.)
While partaking in a slew of sports-radio interviews for Thursday, Friday and Sunday, I likened the Colts' weekend plans for Trent Richardson to the iconic scene in The Lion King, when (king) Mufasa held Simba above his head — for all to see — along the hillside.
From a football standpoint, Indy didn't have any grand expectations of Richardson (acquired midweek in a blockbuster trade) for Sunday, given the logistics of mastering a new playbook in three days' time.
However, on the air, I proclaimed the franchise would jump at the chance to give him a goal-line carry, if possible, as a means of showcasing their new prodigal son to the NFL universe.
Sure enough, Richardson converted his inaugural Colts carry into a 1-yard touchdown run.
Bottom line: It's great that Ahmad Bradshaw (111 total yards, one TD) had a stellar outing against the 49ers, helping his team solidify a 20-point victory and compensate for QB Andrew Luck's pedestrian day (164 yards passing, one rushing TD).
But the prodigal son, the new shiny toy in the Colts' lair — Richardson — should be ready for a full workload next week against the Jaguars.