For about three months, I was in full-on Hunter Pence propaganda mode. I promoted him, on the blogs and in the magazines, and tweeted about his sneaky, underrated game. If I wasn’t driving the Pence bandwagon, I at least had a seat near the front.
[Baseball 2015 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Today, he’s just another injured player who’s on my skepticism list.
You probably saw the news item come down Thursday night, but in case you missed it, here it is:
Pence non-displaced fracture in left forearm (Ulna bone). Expected out 6-8 weeks. #SFGiants— World Champs (@SFGiants) March 6, 2015
I was prepared to target Pence as a third or fourth-round pick in most of my mixers, but that goes out the window now. He won't be in my Top 100 when I re-rank the 2015 pool, and that probably means I won't get him in any of my upcoming leagues. I always assume someone will drink the optimism Kool-Aid before I will.
I tend to be highly cautious with the return timetables on any long-term injury, and I also refuse to expect immediate production from any player off a multiple-week injury. I also laugh when I read that a certain type of injury "tends to linger." Tell me what sort of 6-8 week injury doesn't have lingering or extended-rust potential.
I know some pundits still view Pence as a Top 75-100 guy. I view that as a grave error. Who's to say he's full-throttle upon return? I'm not happy about it, but I'm probably going to pass on Pence this month, unless I find myself in a room full of similar pessimists (I doubt it). It's nothing personal, just the way I do business.
To be blunt about it, I'm glad we'll never run out of best-case wishers for those long-term injured. It's the easiest thing to leverage against.
Feel differently? No worries. That's why we have a game. State your optimism case in the comments. Kale Shakes for everybody.
[Baseball 2015 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
FantasyPros aggregates and analyzes fantasy baseball rankings and projections from 100+ sites.
Many of you have been managing fantasy baseball teams for a decade or more, so you can remember a time when power stats were available everywhere, at all positions. Back in the day, we used to get 25 and 30-homer seasons from middle infielders who weren't even particularly skilled at hitting — like this guy and this guy.
Power was unavoidable. Everyone cleared the fences.
These days, however, power isn't so widely available.
The average major league team hit just 140 total home runs last season. In 2004, an average team hit 182. Only 11 players reached the 30-homer plateau last year, compared to 37 back in '04. Hitters are presumably less enhanced today, plus the called strike zone has dramatically expanded. All the fantasy benchmarks have changed. Run-scoring is down, Ks are up, batting averages haven't been this low since the Nixon administration and power is fading.
Today, if you don't receive significant contributions in home runs and RBIs from your corner infielders, then good luck competing. Of the 11 players who hit 30 or more bombs last season, eight are eligible at either first or third (or both). Twelve hitters topped 100 RBIs last year, and seven of them were corner infielders, led by Adrian Gonzalez (116). You won't find much speed on the corners — Paul Goldschmidt and Todd Frazier being notable exceptions — but these spots offer plenty of three and four-category fantasy assets. Thus, it shouldn't really surprise anyone to see six corner infielders ranked among the overall Yahoo consensus top-12 players. Fantasy is a numbers game, and the stats are stacked at first and third.
We should also note that last year's minor league home run leaderboard was dominated by corner infielders, including third base prospects Kris Bryant (43) and Joey Gallo (42), as well as 20-year-old first baseman Matt Olson (37). Miguel Sano is on his way, too, following a year lost to injury. And Yasmany Tomas has been known to reach the seats.
Simply put, the corners are where the power resides in 2015, and there's more on the way.
Position averages for the top-20 first basemen, last three years
2014 — 70.3 R, 23.5 HR, 84.2 RBIs, 2.7 SB, .273 AVG
2013 — 80.8 R, 24.7 HR, 92.7 RBIs, 5.5 SB, .289 AVG
2012 — 79.6 R, 28.0 HR, 95.1 RBIs, 4.0 SB, .288 AVG
FIRST BASE TIERS
Position averages for the top-20 third basemen, last three years
2014 — 65.6 R, 16.6 HR, 71.3 RBIs, 4.7 SB, .275 AVG
2013 — 74.5 R, 22.1 HR, 78.9 RBIs, 4.3 SB, .278 AVG
2012 — 80.0 R, 24.1 HR, 87.7 RBIs, 8.5 SB, .283 AVG
THIRD BASE TIERS
In leagues with standard Yahoo settings, there are basically two acceptable ways to address the position of catcher on draft day:
1) Get Buster Posey in the early rounds, or...
2) Wait it out and find a value — and when it seems like you've finally waited long enough, wait another round or two.
Seriously, with the exception of Buster, this position is really a minefield of uninteresting numbers and grossly inflated prices. Last season, Posey was the only catcher to finish among the top-50 overall fantasy assets in the year-end ranks (No. 42). In fact, over the past 15 years he's one of just four backstops to have delivered that sort of value. Here's the full list of the catchers who've achieved top-50 status in recent seasons:
2014 – Posey
2013 – none
2012 – Posey
2011 – none
2010 – none
2009 – Joe Mauer
2008 – none
2007 – none
2006 – none
2005 – none
2004 – none
2003 – Javy Lopez
2002 – none
2001 – none
2000 – Mike Piazza
That's it, that's all. No more. Four guys in a decade and a half. Victor Martinez had a couple close calls back in his catcher-eligible days, but he never quite cracked the overall top-50 until he became a DH.
The scarcity devotees may urge you snag a luxury catcher in the early rounds, but, generally speaking, that's a sure way to take a loss. Due to the physical demands of the position, it's rare for any catcher to appear in more than 140 games — only three exceeded that total in 2014. Counting stats will be low. Steals almost never happen. Injuries are incredibly common. No catcher has seen the 30-homer plateau since Lopez in '03. No catcher scored 75 runs last season.
[Related: Dishing on Gattis, and other catchers]
We can find low-level power among the backstops, and Evan Gattis gets a bump because he'll be out from behind the plate. But, again, this is not a spot where you'll want to spend big, unless you're eying Buster. (Or unless you're playing in a two-catcher A.L./N.L.-only league, which isn't the norm at Yahoo. There, you're trying to avoid getting Arencibia'd.)
Posey is the one player who might reasonably give us a 70-20-90-.320 season. Everyone else reeks of 60-14-65-.270. And if you don't believe me, just check last year's average stats...
Position averages for the top-15 fantasy catchers, last three years
2014 — 53.0 R, 15.7 HR, 68.5 RBIs, 1.6 SB, .270 AVG
2013 — 60.4 R, 17.2 HR, 71.9 RBIs, 2.1 SB, .279 AVG
2012 — 61.3 R, 19.8 HR, 73.6 RBIs, 2.9 SB, .278 AVG
The perfect sandwich, the perfect cocktail, the perfect design of a fantasy league, there are no obvious answers. These sorts of things are constantly debated and argued, with a consensus unlikely to be reached. One person’s mistake is another person’s perfect mix. (You really like mayo? Get the hell out of my kitchen.)
On my fantasy clipboard, there’s certainly room for both of the major formats – but I decisively prefer the auction game when push comes to shove. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with me, of course. Some of my oldest friends don’t agree with me.
To start off today’s debate, I’ve collected some reasons why you might prefer a Fantasy Draft or a Fantasy Auction. Sure, the auction section is longer. I can’t help what I love, what I prefer. I want you to love auctions, too. I want you to carry a gavel everywhere you go.
Why you might prefer a Fantasy Draft
- They’re unquestionably shorter than an auction, anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent shorter (depending on the specs of your room). In a world where everyone is busy, this is not an insignificant point.
- It’s the format most people grew up playing. It’s the known format.
- It’s less intimidating to new owners. It's simpler.
- It’s more user-friendly if someone gets bumped offline. Assuming the bumped party has a queue arranged, they’ll get players they want. I’ve yet to see a strong artificial intelligence offered by any auction software – the game is too dynamic to get it just right.
- The pricing is more likely to make sense in a draft room. This is not necessarily an argument I care very much about, but it’s been mentioned by people I respect.
Why you might prefer a Fantasy Auction
- Anyone can land Mike Trout, or Clayton Kershaw, or Andrew McCutchen. Heck, you could roster all three of them if you’re willing to accept scrambling elsewhere. The entire player pool is open to you.
You have significantly more structuring options at your disposal. You decide how you want to arrange the flow of your payroll. No one can run a stars-and-scrubs plan in a competitive draft, but it’s on board for an auction. More choices, more fun.
- You potentially have a say on every player who’s on board. Contrast this to a draft, where owners in different neighborhoods have little influence on each other’s decisions. You're truly opposing everyone in the room, directly.
You constantly need to monitor the resources of other owners, trying to get into their heads a bit as the evening moves on. You’re being challenged at the poker table. These elements exists in drafts, too, but to a far simpler degree.
- The flow of players can come out in any order. Have some fun with it. Nominate a popular closing handcuff before the incumbent closer. Get a hot sleeper on the table when people still have money. Play a game of chicken late, hoping your final targeted piece won’t be mentioned until the room’s financial structure is in your favor.
You have more opportunity to mess with your opponents. Bid someone up just for the fun of it. Of course if you take it one step too far and get left holding the bag, it can knock you off your game for a while.
- If you’re out of leverage late, you have to play a delicate guessing game with the burden of nomination. Propose a weak player and you’re likely stuck with him for the minimum. Select a bigger name and watch those with resources trample your bid. Can you find the right pocket of name when you’re tied to this position? Challenge is good.
- An auction will scramble your brain, and I say that in a good way. I’ve never walked out of any auction without notable regret, and a feeling that I probably missed out on several good pockets of opportunity. Again, these are things you’ll get from the draft, but it’s to a lesser extent.
Start your engines, gamers. Name your preferred format in the comments. Fill in the draft gaps that you feel I missed, or accept the inevitable – auctions are the best way to do business.
Nerlens Noel: Since the All-Star break, he’s averaged 12.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 3.7 blocks over six games, a span in which he’s been the No. 8 ranked fantasy player despite hitting zero three-pointers and shooting 42.3 percent from the floor. Noel is 20 years old and a rookie coming off missing an entire year while recovering from a major injury, so it’s impressive he’s been a top-10 fantasy player over the past month despite seeing a modest 31.5 mpg while playing for a Philadelphia team that has by far the worst Offensive Efficiency in the NBA (the 76ers come in at 92.0. The next lowest is Charlotte at 97.8). Noel is going to be drafted in the top 2-3 rounds next year.
Nikola Mirotic: He’s coming off a game in which he scored a career-high 29 points, which should be a sign of things to come with Taj Gibson out for at least another week with an ankle injury. Moreover, Mirotic is going to be asked to carry more of the offensive load (he attempted 23 field goals during Sunday’s game) with Jimmy Butler (and his 20.6 Usage Rate) sidelined for the next 3-to-6 weeks with a sprained elbow. Mirotic has been the No. 37 ranked fantasy player this season on a per-36 minute basis, so with a big increase in playing time forthcoming, he’s a must-add right now (he’s currently owned in just 26 percent of Yahoo leagues).
Jae Crowder: He’s averaged 15.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.6 3pt over the past five games, when he’s ranked as the No. 25 fantasy player despite shooting just 41.8 percent from the field while coming off the bench. Crowder has always been a streaky player lacking consistency, and he could lose some minutes once Kelly Olynyk returns, but Jared Sullinger is out for the season, and the Celtics have the fourth-highest PACE in the league. Crowder has attempted 6.8 3pt over the past five games, a mark that would rank eighth in the NBA this season, and he’s committed just 0.4 tpg over this span. It’s crazy he’s owned in only 18 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Andrea Bargnani: He’s somehow relevant again, averaging 16.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 0.8 blocks while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 82.1 percent from the line over the past five games, a span in which he’s gotten 29.0 mpg and has been a top-75 fantasy asset. He plays for a terrible Knicks squad that ranks in the bottom-three in both PACE and Offensive Efficiency, but on such a depleted team, he’s suddenly New York’s No. 1 scoring option. Who knows how long he can stay healthy, especially with this increased workload, but Bargnani is worth using in the meantime, and he’s currently owned in just 23 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Jeremy Lin: He’s really turned it on since the All-Star break, averaging 17.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.8 3pt while shooting 50.0 percent from the floor and committing just 0.6 turnovers over five games, a span in which he’s been the No. 36 ranked fantasy player despite seeing a modest 27.9 mpg that should only rise if he continues to play so well on such a depleted Lakers team. Lin has no doubt been a disappointment this season, but he’s been a top-100 player over the past month and is available in 32 percent of Yahoo leagues. That number should start declining soon.
Kyle Lowry: He’s rightfully owned in 100 percent of leagues, but after his biggest detriments always being either health or role, his problem lately has actually been performance, as Lowry has been in a prolonged shooting slump. After ranking as a top-20 fantasy player last year, he’s been outside the top-100 over the last two months and an abysmal No. 247 over the past month, thanks to an ugly 34.9 FG% (it’s dropped to 29.7 percent over the past two weeks). It’s probably best to recommend Lowry as a buy-low candidate as a result, but he was mysteriously rested during Monday’s game, which is something else to keep an eye on.
Rajon Rondo: Forget the recent drama fighting with Rick Carlisle, as Rondo’s demise has been long running before that. He had a nice game against his former Celtics team on Jan 2, but since then, the point guard has averaged 6.5 points in 26.5 minutes, shooting an ugly 36.9 percent from the field and an almost unfathomable 20.0 percent from the free-throw line (while committing 2.8 tpg). Rondo has done so while playing for a Dallas team that has the third-best Offensive Efficiency (108.2) in the NBA this season. He’s been the No. 336(!) ranked fantasy player over this 19-game span yet is still owned in 90 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Andrew Bogut: I’m a big fan and own him in a bunch of leagues, and Steve Kerr is utilizing him much better this year compared to last (his Assist Ratio has jumped from 18.3 to a career-high 27.6) on a Warriors team that ranks first in PACE and second in Offensive Efficiency. But Bogut’s Usage Rate is only marginally higher this year compared to last (13.1 vs. 11.9), and most importantly, his 23:49 mpg are a career-low, as Golden State is mostly concerned with Bogut being healthy during the playoffs, as the team owns the best record in the NBA. He’s owned in nearly 70 percent of Yahoo leagues but can only really help those in need of blocks while playing fewer than 24 minutes per game.
Dwight Howard: There’s no timetable for his return, and Houston has just 23 games left this season. Thanks to a 52.7 FT% and 3.1 tpg, Howard wasn’t even a top-200 fantasy player before going down. Admittedly, if you punted FT%, he’s been the No. 33 ranked player on a per-game basis this season. But unless you are unconcerned about that category and are waiting for him to return in a H2H format in the playoffs, it’s surprising to see the increasingly disappointing big man still owned in 82 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Aaron Brooks: A popular pickup after Derrick Rose went down with yet another unfortunate knee injury, Brooks has seen a minutes increase since then, albeit split with Kirk Hinrich at point guard. But Brooks hasn’t capitalized to say the least, as he’s shot 11-for-44 (25.0 percent) from the floor since then, a span in which his FG% has hurt fantasy owners more than any player other than DeMar DeRozan. In fact, over his last seven games, Brooks has shot an ugly 26.8 percent from the field.
Six free-agent pickup recommendations, that’s how we roll. We’ll try to offer something for every budget.
Andrew Hammond, G, Senators (28 percent): Sometimes you have to take a story and run with it, even when there’s no pedigree in place. That’s the case with Hammond, a 27-year-old non-prospect who’s been lights-out since getting his chance in the Ottawa cage (five straight wins, two shutouts, 1.31 goals-against, .957 save percentage). Maybe beating the Sharks in San Jose is no great feat these days – those guys can’t seem to play a solid game in front of their home folk – but bagels at Los Angeles and Anaheim need no qualifier, even if it never rains goals in Southern California.
Antoine Vermette, LW/C, Blackhawks (31 percent): Chicago obviously needs up-front reinforcements after the Patrick Kane injury, and the freshly-acquired Vermette should be good enough to hold a spot as a top-six forward. Sometimes there’s an emotional spike when you move from a losing club to a Cup contender. Grab him now, wait and see how the new line turns out.
Nick Leddy, D, Islanders (34 percent): He’s in the middle of a good-not-outstanding season, a quiet 8-18-26 line along with a plus-15 rating and 96 shots. The Islanders grasp his value, throwing a seven-year, $38.5 million extension his way a week ago. Shouldn’t a Top 50 defensemen (Leddy is No. 44 in Yahoo games to this point) be owned in all formats? A good player in a strong system is often a better fantasy bet than a more-talented option surrounded by problems.
Jordan Staal, LW/C, Hurricanes (14 percent): A broken leg ruined his first half, but Staal has a sneaky 4-12-16 line since coming back, and he’s been seeing regular work on the first line and top power-play unit. The Canes are starting to pick it up as well, going 5-2 (and scoring 22 goals) over their last seven games.
Andre Burakovsky, LW/C, Capitals (4 percent): If you’re looking for a speculative long-shot, this 20-year-old might be worth a chance. The Capitals are giving him some time on the big line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, and while it’s not going to carry over to specialty teams, at least some opportunity is there. Burakovsky collected three shots and was plus-two in Sunday’s victory over Toronto, though he didn’t factor in the scoring. Keep him on your radar.
Kris Russell, D, Flames (12 percent): He’s not the biggest name on this blueline, but he’s proven to be plenty valuable in most formats. A 1-20-21 line and plus-10 rating earns ownership in general formats, and Russell also leads all defensemen in blocked shots (195). The Flames are fighting for their playoff lives, which means their Top 4 blueliners will see all the ice they can handle.
This column will concentrate on borderline fantasy options who should get strong consideration to start/bench during the upcoming week based on schedules.
Avery Bradley: He’s been the No. 5 ranked fantasy player since the All-Star break, when Bradley has averaged 20.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.4 3pt and an NBA high 3.2 steals over five games. Bradley has been a top-25 player over the past month (the Rajon Rondo trade helped, and his Usage Rate will only rise now with Jared Sullinger out for the year). Boston has the fourth-highest PACE in the NBA and plays four games in Week 19, all against teams that rank in the bottom-10 in Defensive Efficiency (Cle, Uta, N.O., Orl), making Bradley, who’s still available in more than 30 percent of Yahoo leagues, a legitimate start this week.
P.J. Tucker: Since the All-Star break, he’s averaged 13.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.0 3pt while shooting 48.0 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the line over five games. Tucker has been the No. 20 fantasy player over this span despite going 0-for-10 from downtown over his past three games (he’s a career 36.2 shooter from beyond the arc). He’s somehow owned in just 42 percent of Yahoo leagues despite being a top-35 ranked player over the past month, and that was before the Suns traded away a couple of guys with high Usage Rates. All of Phoenix’s games in Week 19 are on the road, but all of its opponents rank in the bottom-11 in Defensive Efficiency (Mia, Cle, Orl, Bkn).
Markel Brown: Since entering the Nets’ starting lineup three games ago, Brown has averaged 10.7 points, 6.3 rebounds 2.3 steals, 1.7 blocks and 0.7 3pt. Despite shooting an ugly 36.4 percent from the floor over this span, he’s been the No. 45 fantasy player (he’s made all 11 of his free throws), and the most important takeaway is Brown’s 36.8 mpg, as he’s clearly going to see a major increase in playing time moving forward. He plays an NBA-high four games this week, all of which are at home. Brown is currently owned in two percent of Yahoo leagues.
Ray McCallum: He’s averaged 13.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks over his past three games. McCallum has shot 54.0 percent from the field over his past eight games, and his Usage Rate is going to see a big increase with Darren Collison out for the season. New Sacramento coach George Karl loves Andre Miller, but McCallum has impressed (he saw 35:37 mpg on Friday) and is owned in just six percent of Yahoo leagues despite now starting for a Kings team that plays an NBA-high four games this week.
Tony Parker: I’ve mentioned Parker as a downgrade before, but he’s still owned in 89 percent of Yahoo leagues and while the early narrative was him working through an injury, he’s been worse than ever of late, as he’s averaged 6.8 points while shooting 26.0 percent from the field over his past five games. To put this in perspective, Jeff Withey, who’s been given 4.3 mpg over this span, has been more valuable than Parker. The Spurs play just three games this week, but obviously there’s a much bigger concern than that when it comes to Parker (he’s been the No. 262 ranked player over the past three months).
Just get to the playoffs, then hope to catch lightning in a bottle once you’re there. That’s the wishing credo of your typical Wild Card team these days, and sometimes it turns into a shocking underdog story.
The 2014 Royals fit Cinderella’s slipper. With an ordinary plus-27 run differential, it’s amazing they qualified for the playoffs at all. They scraped together 89 wins (five more than the pythagorean formula suggested), then got hot in the AL playoffs. Thanks for coming east, Oakland. Have fun with your theme park, Anaheim. No need to be crabby, Baltimore.
The Royals eventually fell to the Giants in the World Series, but it took seven games to dispatch them. After 28 years of non-playoff baseball in the heartland, Kansas City's fanbase finally had an October story to rally around.
It takes a while to figure out what this team did well. KC was dead last in the majors in home runs, 14th in runs scored, 18th in weighted on-base average. The starting staff ranked 11th in ERA.
Ah, but there was valuable, if hidden, stuff in the crannies. The Royals ranked first in relief WAR, graded first in many defensive metrics, and were the AL’s best base-running team. You might not think to build a championship contender in this fashion, and it might not stand as a repeatable model, but it was a winning formula in 2014, especially in October. Bunting, baserunning, bullpen – the Ned Yost Triangle of Success.
The Vegas sharps aren’t buying into the narrative – KC’s over-under win total for 2015 (80.5 wins) pegs them to be a losing ballclub. Fantasy ballers are skeptical, too. Only six Royals are currently in the Top 200 for Yahoo ADP, and no one has a sticker price in the Top 60. If you want Kansas City players on your fake roster, you shouldn’t have to fight to the death for them. This isn’t a buzzy team.
That said, there are a few Royals you can talk yourself into. It’s not Brett, Otis, McRae and Wilson, but there’s a core of talent here. Let’s talk about the bigger-ticket items.
Q: Is Greg Holland worth his 67 ADP as a closer? What about saves on a budget and all that stuff?
A: While I’m not going to discount the volatility of closers and the saves chase, there’s something to be said for considering one or two of the Tier 1 closers – especially if your league uses some form of innings cap. When you’re playing with a finite number of innings, the strikeout category essentially becomes K/9, and you’ll need some relievers to move the needle.
Holland’s last two years jump off the page: 129.1 innings, 1.32 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 193 strikeouts against a reasonable 38 walks. The skills support the minuscule ratios – FIP suggests a 1.59 ERA. He also had dominant relief years in 2011 and 2012, though he wasn’t closing then. Hard-throwing relievers don't always have the longest of shelf lives, but I don't see any logical reason why Holland's game is headed for a dip. Every Yahoo pundit has Holland ranked third or fourth on this year's relief pitcher board.
Q: Wasn’t Alex Gordon supposed to be a game-changer by now? Is he worth the expected eighth or ninth-round ticket in a standard league?
A: Gordon’s career has produced a curious arc. Although he was tagged as a possible franchise player back in his draft class (he was the second overall pick in 2005), he eventually developed into a reliable but unexciting player who’s more stealth than superstar.
Consider what Gordon’s average season looks like, running the last four campaigns: .283-93-19-78-12. A .356 OBP is a plus, a .453 slugging percentage respectable. He’s also turned into a decorated defender in left field, not that we get any fantasy juice from that.
Gordon’s durability also comes into play: he’s averaged 156 games a year since the beginning of 2011. He’s taking things slow right now after off-season wrist surgery, but I believe Gordon when he assures us he’ll be ready to go on Opening Day. It’s another case of a well-rounded player who doesn’t have one offensive talent that leaps off the page – these types of players are often underrated. You might be able to land Gordon as your third or even fourth outfielder in some pools, and I can sign off on that.
Let’s just hope Yost doesn’t waste Gordon in the No. 6 slot again this summer.
Q: Do the Royals want to break Salvador Perez, their franchise catcher?
A: Sometimes it sure seems that way. It’s a shame the overworked catcher can’t get an overtime-based contract.
Perez led all backstops in games played last year, then tacked on 15 more starts in the playoffs, and then headed for the All-Star Series in Japan. The hellish workload taxed Perez at the plate; he slashed .229/.236/.360 in the second half, and didn’t do anything in the playoffs (.509 OPS). When Perez made the final out of the World Series, you were almost relieved for the guy.
The Royals have always valued Perez – remember, they signed him to a forward-thinking contract extension in 2012. But they need to recognize that they’re overworking their well-compensated star. General Manager Dayton Moore talked about Perez’s workload right after the Series loss to the Giants, but no one knows what Yost might do when the bullets are flying. Sometimes less is so much more; if Perez could get a week or two of extra rest this coming year, it would probably boost his slash numbers nicely. I’m not going to target him in standard one-catcher leagues, where his ADP is around 124.
Q: Where is the Eric Hosmer story headed? Here's another guy who was expected to be a star.
Now that Hosmer’s ADP has dropped into a cheap area (about 162 in Yahoo leagues), I’m considering him as a corner target (your third player between 1B and 3B). A bum hand had a lot to do with last year’s power collapse (just nine homers), and he was driving the ball with authority in September and October.
Hosmer has yet to give us a true breakthrough year, but he’s done some decent things in his four seasons. His rookie year featured 19 homers in just 128 games. He had three double-digit steal seasons before shutting it down last year, perhaps due to injury. He’s batted as high as .302 before. A few years ago, Hosmer versus Freddie Freeman was a legitimate debate; this year, I could see going after Hosmer as the poor man’s Freeman in the middle rounds.
Yes, Hosmer hits too many ground balls, and last year’s collapse in line-drive rate is worrisome. But again, the hand injury provides a convenient excuse, there’s a high-return pedigree here, and I think we’re in the post-hype portion of the program – a lot of fantasy players seem less than impressed by Hosmer now. It could be the right time to take him at the nice price. He's still just 25. I'm not giving up on the upside, and I love that the current ADP isn't forcing you to price in improvement.
Q: Young fireballer Yordano Ventura is now at the top of the rotation. Are we on board?
A: I’ll root for the Ventura story but I don’t think I’ll be drafting him this spring. A 97.0 mph fastball makes for appointment television, but I get nervous watching that kind of head coming from a pitcher with a modest 6-foot, 180-pound frame. And given his raw stuff, how to we reconcile the 7.82 K/9? Shouldn’t it be a lot higher than that?
I'll gladly watch plenty of Ventura this year, as a fan, but something doesn't quite add up here. And most gamers know from personal experience, young pitching – specifically sophomore pitching – can break your heart.
Rudy Gobert: He’s averaged 10.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 4.0 blocks over two games since Enes Kanter was traded to the Thunder. Gobert has been the No. 63 ranked player this season despite averaging a paltry 6.8 ppg and 21:55 mpg. The upside here is through the roof for the 22-year-old, as Gobert has averaged 4.0 blocks over nine starts, a role in which he’s now locked into in Utah as the future of the franchise. He’s been the No. 27 fantasy player on a per-36 minute basis this season and will only continue to improve. Gobert is going to be a fantasy monster.
Reggie Jackson: He’s averaged 20.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.3 3pt while shooting 85.7 percent from the line over 14 starts this season. Jackson will be starting over the rest of the year after getting traded to the Pistons, as his fantasy value has arguably taken the biggest leap among all players over the past week. Turnovers are likely to be a problem, but Jackson is clearly being handed the keys to the Pistons’ offense. Meanwhile, Brandon Jennings’ long-term role in Detroit is now cloudy, whereas D.J. Augustin’s recent run as a valuable fantasy contributor comes to an end.
Goran Dragic: After ranking as a top-30 player last season, Dragic checks in at No. 64 so far this year, including being outside the top-150 over the past month. He’s moving from a Phoenix team that ranked second in PACE to a Miami squad that ranks last, but it’s safe to expect a big increase in Usage Rate for Dragic. He’s gone from sharing a backcourt with Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas (who has the fourth highest Usage Rate in the NBA) to a Miami team badly in need of scoring, especially with Chris Bosh out for the season (not to mention Dwyane Wade constantly missing games). The trade to Miami should lead to Dragic going back to being an elite fantasy point guard, whereas Mario Chalmers (who’s quietly been a top-100 player over the past month) gets a downgrade.
Luol Deng: He’s played well over the last two weeks, getting 16.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.8 bpg and 1.8 3pt while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 88.9 percent from the line, a span in which he’s been a top-50 player. Deng could easily hold that value over the rest of the season, as Chris Bosh is out for the year and Dwyane Wade continues to battle injuries. Deng’s True Shooting Percentage (58.2) is a career high.
Terrence Jones: He got off to a fantastic start this year before suffering a leg injury, and then he found himself battling Josh Smith (among others) for playing time when he returned. But Jones has averaged 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks over the past three games, and he moved back into the starting lineup Monday. Houston has the third highest PACE this season, and Dwight Howard is sidelined indefinitely, so Jones has a nice opportunity to make a major impact. He’s still available in more than 30 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Patrick Beverley: He pulled off an upset and won the “Skills Competition” as a last minute replacement during All-Star Weekend, but Beverley is in the midst of an epic shooting slump. He’s shooting 28.6 percent from the floor over the past month, resulting in him being the No. 213 ranked player. Beverley looks like a nice buy low candidate, but it’s safe to say his owners have to be losing patience, as he’s shot 2-for-15 from the field over two games since the All-Star break.
DeAndre Jordan: He’s been the No. 42 ranked player so far this year, and with Blake Griffin out with an injury, Jordan has averaged 18.4 points, 12.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2.0 blocks while shooting 67.4 percent from the field and committing just 0.6 tpg over the past five games. Despite those ridiculous numbers, Jordan has been the No. 146 player over that span, thanks to him shooting 43.5 percent from the line on 13.8 attempts per game. Not every team will employ the strategy in which the Spurs did (sending DJ to the charity stripe 28 times), but Jordan’s FTA have increased every month this year, a trend that’s worrisome for his owners.
Evan Turner: He’s owned in every league I’m in despite shooting an ugly 30.8 percent from the floor while committing 3.5 turnovers per game over the past two weeks, when he’s been the No. 188 player. Isaiah Thomas (who currently sports a higher Usage Rate than LeBron James, James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant) is now a teammate, so feel free to drop Turner.
Jordan Clarkson: He looked like a must-add once he became the Lakers’ starting point guard, but Clarkson hasn’t recorded a single steal or block over the past four games, a span in which he’s shot 43.9 percent from the field. Clarkson has been the No. 180 player on a per-36 minute basis, so even if he continues to start, there’s not much upside here.
Chandler Parsons: He’s missing time with a sprained ankle, but the downgrade here has more to do with his performance on the court than a minor injury. Parsons has been in a shooting slump, as he sports an ugly 28.1 FG% over the last two weeks. That’s a small sample, but his FGA (11.8) have been down ever since Rajon Rondo joined Dallas, a 28-game span in which Parsons hasn’t been a top-80 fantasy player.
Six free-agent pickup recommendations, that’s how we roll. We’ll try to offer something for every budget.
Scott Darling, G, Blackhawks (9 percent): He’s been terrific at both levels this year, starring in the AHL (.927/.202) and coming through in seven spot-starts with Chicago (five wins, 1.97/.937). With Corey Crawford in a funk, the Blackhawks are giving Darling the Tuesday tap on the pads against Florida. Like most coaches, Joel Quenneville isn’t afraid to ride a hot hand in goal – perhaps Darling can get something rolling here. If he can just make the basic stops, Chicago's deep blue line should take care of the rest.
Francois Beauchemin, D, Ducks (6 percent): Perhaps the time he missed in November and December is the reason the 34-year-old vet is playing so well now. He’s collected six goals and 10 points over his last 22 games, and he’s a tidy plus-7 this month, skating next to emeging stud Hampus Lindholm. The Ducks know how much Beauchemin contributes at both ends of the ice; he’s wearing an A on his sweater for just reason. He was also given major power-play time in Monday’s win over Boston; Anaheim won’t have Sami Vatanen for another month or so.
Eddie Lack, G, Canucks (28 percent): The Ryan Miller injury sounds ominous on a name-brand level, but Lack’s percentages are just about identical this year (the goals-against is the same, and Lack’s save percentage is four points higher). Don’t let Lack's 6-7-2 record throw you; he should be owned in all goalie-for-blood leagues, and even in deeper formats where you’re just hoping to get lucky on an ascending backup. The Canucks are a top ten defense with respect to limiting shots on goal, which certainly helps.
Brendan Gallagher, RW, Canadiens (31 percent): Fantasy owners are hip to what Tomas Plekanec is doing this season, but don’t forget his speedy right wing. Gallagher isn’t giving us as many PIMs this year, but we’ll take the trade off – all of his scoring columns are on the escalator, including shots on goal, and he’s also seeing more ice time.
Antoine Roussell, LW, Stars (18 percent): If your league includes penalty minutes, a player like Roussell is solid gold. He hops into the sin bin plenty (126 minutes), but you don’t have to completely sacrifice offensive production (11-11-22, 81 shots). Mind you, he hasn’t scored a lot lately, but he’s made a penalty box appearance in eight of his last ten starts.
Darren Helm, C, Red Wings (6 percent): He’s no longer a worker bee on one of Detroit's lesser lines; he’s been playing inspired hockey on the Pavel Datsyuk-Tomas Tatar group of late. The speedy, heady Helm has a 5-4-9 line over his last ten games, along with a steady 24 shots – and most of that production came on the road. Head coach Mike Babcock is impressed with Helm, and that’s good enough for me.
This column will concentrate on borderline fantasy options who should get strong consideration to start/bench during the upcoming week based on schedules.
Alex Len: Fully recovered from his ankle injury, Len has averaged 10.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks over two games since the All-Star break. Most importantly, he’s seen nearly 35.0 mpg over this span, which is significant considering the young big man has gotten 1.6 bpg this season despite getting just 20:41 mpg. Staying out of foul trouble will remain key (Len is tied for the 10th most fouls in the NBA this year despite the low minutes played), but there remains clear upside for the 21-year-old. Not only is Miles Plumlee gone but so are Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, leaving a whole bunch of Usage Rates to be replaced. Len is owned in fewer than 30 percent of Yahoo leagues, although that number is sure to change, as he’s been the most added player over the past couple of days.
Isaiah Canaan: He’s averaged 12.6 points, 1.2 steals and 2.7 3pt over nine starts this season with Houston, and Canaan is now the 76ers’ starting point guard after getting traded to Philadelphia. It may take some time before he gets acclimated with his new team, especially as a raw player who’s seen just 13:13 mpg during his career while joining a 76ers squad that has by far the worst Offensive Efficiency in the NBA (Philly’s OFF EFF is 91.6, whereas the next worst Is 97.8). But Canaan should get a huge opportunity on a tanking 76ers team that ranks No. 6 in PACE and has produced two guards who were in the top-15 in Usage Rate this season (Tony Wroten and Michael Carter-Williams) before either going down with injury or getting dealt. Canaan is somehow still owned in just 26 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Jusuf Nurkic: Over his last five games, Nurkic has averaged 10.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 2.4 blocks while shooting 48.7 percent from the field and committing just 1.4 turnovers. He’s been a top-30 fantasy player over this span, one spot behind Anthony Davis despite seeing just 26.6 mpg. Nurkic is looking at a lot more playing time down the stretch as the key piece to Denver’s rebuilding plan. He also plays an NBA-high four games in Week 18 and is still available in more than 60 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Mo Williams: Brian Roberts was given a chance when Kemba Walker went down with a knee injury, but he’s been a huge disappointment, ranking as the No. 140 player despite seeing 34.0 mpg, thanks in no small part to shooting 36.6 percent from the floor. So it’s no surprise Charlotte traded for Williams, who erupted for 24 points, four rebounds, 12 assists and five threes during his first appearance with the Hornets on Saturday. Walker will eventually return, but Williams is owned in fewer than 50 percent of leagues and is a must-add right now despite Charlotte playing just three games this week.
Arron Afflalo: He’s been a top-100 player in three of the past four years, so it’s easy to see why owners have stuck by him despite a disappointing start to 2014/15 (he’s still owned in nearly 75 percent of Yahoo leagues). But Afflalo has been in a devastating shooting slump of late, sporting a 33.8 FG% over his last six games. Moreover, there’s far worse news than a small sample slump, as Afflalo has been traded to a Portland team that will decrease both his minutes and Usage Rate. To further emphasize benching Afflalo, the Trail Blazers play just three games in Week 18.
Although the Giants are coming off their third World Championship in five seasons, a glorious run by anyone's standards, last year's triumph wasn't like the first two. After a pair of front-door titles, the 2014 champagne run was a back-door job all the way.
San Francisco barely made the playoffs last year, ducking into the tournament as a wild-card entry with an ordinary 88 wins. The Giants finished 12th in scoring, 10th in ERA, eighth in differential. There was nothing particularly scary about these guys into October..
It doesn't make the bubbly taste any less sweet, of course. But it puts management in a curious spot – do you judge a team by its ordinary regular season or its glorious end result?
Expectations are lower for the Giants in 2015. Vegas opened their over/under at 85 wins, considerably behind the league favorites (Nationals, 93) and the NL West favorites (Dodgers, 91). The Cardinals (87.5) are projected to be better than the Giants, too, while the emerging Pirates (85.5) and upstart Padres (84) are in San Francisco's O/U neighborhood.
General Manager Brian Sabean didn't make any major additions to his roster, and the biggest news of the offseason was the departure of October hero Pablo Sandoval. But there's still plenty of fantasy juice left over; the three biggest names on this roster (Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence) carry Yahoo ADPs of 45 or under..
Grab your warmest hoodie (yes, it's freezing at AT&T Park, lovely as it may be) and let's try to figure it out.
Q: When we last saw Madison Bumgarner, he was mowing everyone down in October. What now?
A: I'll never say never, but I'm fairly confident Bumgarner won't be on any of my teams this year. He's a little too famous and popular after the October run. Recency bias on a star comes with a draft-day tax.
If the price comes down over the next month or so, okay, I'll reevaluate. But right now Bumgarner is trading at 20.7 in Yahoo leagues, a sticker I'm not willing to pay. He is coming off a monster workload season – including the playoff work, he threw 270 innings last year. His career ratios are good but not elite: 3.06 ERA, 1.135 WHIP. And heck, look at how deep the pitching board is. I'll let the position come to me; I don't need to elbow everyone out of the way for the shiniest names.
Q: So Timmy Lincecum is growing his hair out, working with his Dad, and making another run at the Giants rotation. Any interest?
A: Sure, as a fan, I have interest. It's a fun story. But I doubt I'll land any Lincecum shares in March. There's been too much bad work over the last three years, the two Padres no-hitters to the side.
Lincecum's funky career path is worth a deep inspection; it's trying to teach us a bunch of lessons. When do you throw a stat like xFIP in the trash? When the pitcher in question is allowing a ton of hard contact, like Lincecum has the last three years. Look at the bloated line drive rate, and please, stop excusing the homers.
Lincecum's average fastball was in the 92-94 range during his salad days; it's been between 89.6 and 90.4 during his three-year free fall. His K/9 has been dipping, but K-percentage actually describes a more significant giveback. If you want to talk yourself into Lincecum, be my guest. I'll watch this one from the sidelines.
I'll throw in one disclaimer before we close the discussion: I might have some Lincecum interest if the Giants converted him to a full-time reliever. Lincecum was a wipeout, shutdown reliever during the 2012 championship run, and there are endless examples of failed starters who make terrific short relievers. I'm surprised the Giants aren't going down that path already, but maybe they want to give Lincecum one more chance to make good (don't, don't, don't . . . let's start).
Q: Is there a Giants player you're actually targeting, or do you hate them all equally?
Oh hush, you. We're just in it for the numbers.
I'm one of the industry pundits who contributes to The Fantasy Baseball Guide, a nifty baseball preview edited and compiled by Peter Kruetzer. The scribes are invited to share pics and pans on whatever players they feel like discussing. Here's my "pick" (endorsement) for outfielder Hunter Pence.
One of the regional sports networks did a big piece on how Pence is a Kale Monster, to the point that the team chef cooks for him and there's some garden exhibit at the San Francisco park, in his honor. Now maybe some people need meat and maybe others don't, but look at the games played column with Pence: he's given you nine straight *full* seasons, which is immensely valuable. He's never going to win an MVP, but the floor you get with Pence is wonderful.
He's also a contributor in all five roto categories without being dominant in any single one, and that usually leads to a player being underrated. And heck, Pence's awkward gait and style on the field (which I feel guilty mentioning, as I recently discovered it's a physical issue and not his fault) might chop a few bucks off the price. I don't need shiny new toys. Give me a team full of Kale Monsters like Pence, I'll kick your meat-eating ass. (Okay, give me a steak, too, medium.)
Pence's boring but reliable consistency is once again getting overlooked in the early Yahoo draft season. He's currently the 14th outfielder off the board in the Y world (44.2 overall), going after players like Justin Upton (hello, Petco), Bryce Harper (still a speculation pick) and Billy Hamilton (so many things he can't do yet). You won't win the room with a Pence pick, and his auction nomination rarely causes a major donnybrook. These are good things. Kill them softly with a value play.
The Else: One-catcher strategy is a little like one-quarterback strategy, boring but reasonably effective. I'll avoid Buster Posey in basic leagues that don't require multiple starters, but I'll give him a little chase in a mixer if two backstops are needed. In the Norwegian Wood auction that went down Wednesday night (13 teams, $260 budget, two catchers), I price-enforced on Posey and was left with a perfectly acceptable $25 purchase. To put it in some context, Todd Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury also went for the same price, while catcher-eligibile Carlos Santana fetched $20 (the dinged Jon Lucroy ticketed at $17). Posey will also get occasional work at first base, which brings backup Andrew Susac into play as a streaming candidate in daily formats . . . Casey McGehee is an interesting replacement for Sandoval, another stocky corner infielder who will hit a bunch of line drives but not too many homers. Okay, Panda did sock 16 last year – Hits McGehee totaled just four in Miami. You need to be in a deeper mixed pool before McGehee offers much juice; I'll put him down for a .272-58-7-69-3 season . . . Man, there's a lot of older players carrying the skeleton of the roster. Every key reliever on the club is in his 30s. McGehee and Nori Aoki, the two biggest additions, are 32 and 33, respectively (everyone in the outfield is 31 or older). This team's window could be closing soon . . . Joe Panik's line-drive bat led to a surprising .305 average over 73 games as a rookie, but it came without any category juice (one homer, no steals). Even if he lands in the No. 2 position, I don't see enough to carry a mixed-league starting spot. Have fun with the puns, but aim for better numbers at second base . . . It might look like Brandon Belt's progress has stagnated some, but a busted thumb and a concussion mucked up his 2014 season. His slash line plummeted to .243/.306/.449, but he did clock 12 homers in just 214 at-bats. Entering his age-27 season, I still see plausible upside here. The Yahoo ADP of 188 is dripping with potential profit . . . Matt Cain is coming off elbow and ankle problems, not to mention two horrible seasons. He'll need to play his way back into my circle of trust, and if I'm beaten to the punch in March, that's fine. There's no guarantee he'll be at full throttle come opening day; he's yet to begin throwing in camp. I'll spend my speculation monies elsewhere.
Don’t look for Anders Lee in this space, we gave him to you last week. Onward and upward, here are six widely-available pickups to consider for your fake hockey squad.
Kevin Klein, D, Rangers (13 percent): He’s the No. 44 defenseman in the Yahoo game, a testament to a useful but fluky season. Klein’s somehow posted a 9-16-25 line despite little power-play time – he’s yet to register a man-advantage point in 2014-15. The nine goals are a mirage, coming off a modest 64 shots (his career shooting percentage is a mediocre five percent). And this isn’t some young up-and-coming talent; Klein’s in his age-30 campaign, and posted just nine points in the 77 games immediately prior to this year. All those caveats established, he’s getting regular ice with a decent team, so we can trust the hits, blocks and even the plus-minus (plus-22). In most pools, there’s a case for picking up The Big Chill.
Morgan Rielly, D, Maple Leafs (9 percent): While you generally want to avoid the train wreck that’s ongoing in Toronto, Rielly has been productive during his sophomore year (7-12-19) and he’s headed for loads of responsibility with Cody Franson traded and Dion Phaneuf still hurt. And heck, a minus-8 rating on this team is like a plus efficiency on a decent squad. Points are points, and Rielly has seven over his last 11 starts. The lightbulb is coming on for 2012’s fifth overall pick.
Mike Hoffman, C/LW, Senators (18 percent): For a while it looked like Hoffman was one of those Quad-A players, to steal a baseball term. Plenty of scoring in the minors, but not considered a true prospect. Nonetheless, the Senators gave the 25-year old a healthy role early in the year and he continues to run with it, making beautiful music with Bobby Ryan and Mika Zibanejad on the second line. Hoffman has a snappy 19-12-31 line over his past 46 games, and he’s been a plus player every month. If he were a player with a pedigree, his ownership level would be two or three times the current number.
Tyler Myers, D, Jets (23 percent): We’ll try to keep expectations in check; his terrific rookie season is now five years in the rear-view mirror, after all. But moving from the dormant Sabres to the up-tempo Jets is a boost to anyone’s value. Sure, Winnipeg’s power play is just middle of the pack, but Buffalo’s man advantage is dead last. Myers is off to a 1-2-3 start with his new club, over three games, and he’s been more assertive shooting the puck. Looks like a good fit. And we no longer have to be deathly afraid of a major minus rating (Myers was 15-under with the Sabres).
Mikko Koivu, C, Wild (45 percent): He couldn’t get out of his way in the early part of the season, but he’s in fine form now, like most of his mates (Minnesota has hockey’s best last-10 record). While playmaking centers aren’t that difficult to find for fantasy, anyone on a 2-11-13 stretch over 14 games is worth a fantasy pickup. Skating with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville is chicken soup for the hockey soul.
Travis Hamonic, D, Islanders (30 percent): The offense is humming on the Island (20 goals in five games) and Hamonic is coming along for the ride, racking up eight assists this month and skating with the top power-play unit. Just hang around John Tavares and friends these days, the puck will follow. Hamonic also throws his weight around, picking up 73 PIMs and 147 hits.
When the Chicago Cubs last appeared in the World Series, the team's pennant-winning roster included names like Dewey, Mack, Walter, Stan, Lon, Cy, Len, Lennie, Hank and Peanuts. The National League was composed of only eight teams. Baseball cards, discontinued during the war, generally featured painted images. Mordecai Brown was still alive, Bud Selig was 11 years old and Rob Manfred was not yet born.
Chicago lost the 1945 Series to the Newhouser and Greenberg-led Tigers, and so began one of the more remarkable periods of sustained non-achievement in the history of team sports. These past seven decades have been a little rough for the Cubs.
But today, the team is guided by a battle-tested manager and a collection of proven executives. Chicago's farm system is ridiculously talent-rich, featuring a trio of consensus top-20 prospects — Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler — plus another half-dozen young players with obvious potential. Things are suddenly looking up for the Cubs — so up, in fact, that the team signed a 31-year-old pitcher to a nine-figure deal in the offseason. When a franchise splurges like that, you know it expects to win, and soon.
Still, the range of possible outcomes for the 2015 Cubs is awfully wide, what with so many under-25 players expected to produce. But there's no shortage of optimism on the north side — and, finally, the hopefulness doesn't seem misplaced or insane. Chicago certainly offers plenty of interesting fantasy pieces this season, so let's field a few questions that press ...
Q: GIVE US BRYANT. NOW. MUST HAVE. URGENT.
A: I mean, that's not even a question. Please respect the Q&A gimmick.
Q: OK, fine. When will Kris Bryant arrive in the majors for keeps, and what will his early numbers look like?
A: Better. Thank you.
The first thing we need to say about Bryant, just so everyone's on the same page here, is that he's an exceptional prospect, a kid with upper-tier fantasy potential. Bryant was named Baseball America's 2014 Minor League Player of the Year, and it probably wasn't a tough call. He hit 43 bombs across two levels last season, driving in 110 runs, crossing the plate 118 times, swiping 15 bags and slashing .325/.438/.661. Bryant has plenty of swing-and-miss in his game (162 Ks), which is no small issue as he attempts to conquer big league pitching — it wouldn't be much of a surprise if he didn't hit for average as a rookie. But everyone expects immediate power contributions. At a time when home runs are increasingly scarce, Bryant offers them in abundance. He's quickly dominated at every stop, throughout his career. Prior to winning BA's Player of the Year award, he was named the Arizona Fall League MVP, plus he claimed the Golden Spikes Award in 2013.
Simply put, it's been quite a while since Bryant was anything less than the top player at his level. We shouldn't completely rule out the possibility that he may open the season as Chicago's starting third baseman, if he forces the issue this spring. Bryant isn't blocked by anyone notable. The Cubs' early-season placeholder options include Mike Olt (uninteresting) and Arismendy Alcantara (very interesting, extremely versatile). Clearly, Bryant's spring performance will be a huge storyline throughout March — arguably the biggest in fantasy. If he doesn't demolish Cactus League pitching, then the Cubs will have cover to do business-of-baseball things, perhaps stashing him at Triple-A until May. Whenever he arrives in Wrigley, Bryant figures to be a middle-of-the-order hitter with high-end power potential. Again, batting average is really the only mild near-term concern.
Bryant was drafted in Round 10 of the LABR mixed league earlier this week, a price that left plenty of room for profit. If you need a 5X5 fantasy projection from us right now, today, here you go: 71-26-77-5-.269.
Q: How 'bout the rest of Chicago's silly collection of prospects? Who are the names to know?
A: We really can't stress enough how deep and impressive this system is entering 2015. The Cubs have multiple prospects generally ranked outside the organization's top-10 — guys like 1B Dan Vogelbach and LHP Carson Sands — who would be viewed as seriously buzz-worthy commodities in other systems. Chicago has a terrific talent pool from which to deal, if the right vet becomes available at the right time. And, of course, the team can continue to promote young, cost-controlled weapons.
Beyond Bryant, the two most interesting names for 2015 are Soler and Russell. With each player, the primary concerns are injury history and ... well, not much else. If healthy, both guys figure to be very good major league ballplayers. Soler was terrific last season after the late call-up (24 games, 5 HRs, .292/.330/.573), and he's demonstrated power and on-base skills during his minor league career (lifetime .300/.375/.525). He could very well emerge as a star, plus he's set to open the season in the majors. Draft and enjoy.
Russell, at age 21, ranks alongside Bryant as a long term prospect. He plays a premium defensive position and does it reasonably well, but at the moment he's blocked in Chicago by Starlin Castro. One of those guys may eventually find himself at third (which would bump Bryant to left), or at second (if Javier Baez can't adjust), or perhaps at short for the Mets (Starlin-for-pitching has always made sense). When Russell makes it to Chicago, it will be an actionable fantasy event. He can hit for average with double-digit power/speed totals, not unlike Castro.
Chicago's prospect parade won't stop any time soon, not with C/OF Kyle Schwarber and RHPs Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards advancing steadily. Schwarber is a dynasty must-own.
Q: So what are the odds that Baez will be a total bust?
A: Total? Well, that seems unlikely. For all his faults, he still managed to belt nine homers in 229 MLB plate appearances last season. When Baez hits 'em, they stay hit.
The problem, obviously, is that he rarely hit anything last year when facing major league arms. Baez whiffed a remarkable 95 times over those 229 PAs, drawing just 15 walks. His swinging-strike rate was 19.1 percent, which of course is funny-bad — much higher than guys like Chris Carter (16.5), Tyler Flowers (16.4), Ryan Howard (15.5) and Mark Reynolds (15.3).
As general manager Jed Hoyer said back in January, "[Baez] is going to have to make more contact to stay in the big leagues."
With new coaches and new expectations in play, Baez will presumably need a strong spring to earn his spot in the opening day lineup. He'll then need to demonstrate in April that he's capable of adjusting to big league stuff. Baez's power ceiling remains extremely high, but his floor is Uggla-ish. If he fails to impress in February and March, Alcantara or new arrival Tommy La Stella can leapfrog him. Fantasy owners shouldn't ignore Baez, but you can't afford to draft your way into a spot where you need him to succeed. He's a lottery ticket, not a lock.
Q: What's the story with Jake Arrieta? Was he a fluke last season, or is he for real?
A: Legit. Solid. One hundred percent real — or at least greater than 90 percent. Draft with confidence. Arrieta's breakout was no accident of luck. He tweaked the pitch mix last year, threw as hard as ever, cut his walks, and missed a million bats (OK, hundreds of bats). Arrieta's swinging-strike percentage (10.2) placed him in the neighborhood of guys like Jordan Zimmermann (10.3) and new teammate Jon Lester (9.9). His ERA was 2.53 and his xFIP was 2.73. Again: Not some miracle of friendly bounces. Arrieta is entering his age-29 season, coming off a terrific campaign. If you don't want him, leave him for me.
Q: And this year's Cubs closer is the same as last year's Cubs closer, right?
A: Yup, Hector Rondon. He's coming off a quiet 29-save season, he posted useful fantasy ratios last year (2.42 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) and he whiffed 4.2 batters for every walk. This is a bargain closer, friends.
Q: Will they have an actual ballpark on the north side this season, or will it just be a deep crater surrounded by cranes and heavy machinery?
A: Renovations at Wrigley are ongoing, beset by legal challenges and not happening as fast as anyone would like. Bryant may arrive before the new bleachers, even if he opens the season at Triple-A. The park alterations are a strange sideshow in an otherwise exciting year. The expected changes are likely to have some sort of impact in the way the ballpark plays, but weather has always been the dominant factor. Wrigley can be uncommonly hitter-friendly one day, then overwhelmingly pitcher-friendly the next.
Weird, fun place. Weird, fun team. Let's play two.
Normally you walk into Petco Park and start thinking about a fish taco or a specialty beer.
This year, buy a scorecard first.
It’s been a while since the Padres were especially relevant. They haven’t had a winning record since 2010 and they haven’t seen the playoffs since 2006. Their last October series win dates back to 1998, when they hoisted the National League pennant before the Yankees swept them.
So no one can fault new general manager A.J. Preller for shuffling like a madman during his first Padres offseason. The Friars made three blockbuster trades (check out that snappy outfield, Upton-Myers-Kemp), then chased it with a late signing on a major free-agent pitcher, James Shields. It’s a new team, and it’s a fun team. And for the first time in a while, it's actually a buzzy, name-brand team.
Of course, the playability of Petco overwhelms any San Diego fantasy discussion. Although the fences were brought in two years ago, Petco has nonetheless taxed scoring by 17 percent and batting average by nine percent over that period. Left-handed power hitters do fine here, but right-handed power takes a 24-percent bath. It’s still the most pitcher-dominated park in the majors.
With that in mind, we open this Padres PQ at a logical place – the pitcher’s mound.
Q: What becomes of Shields at his new address?
First things first, let’s throw the Big Game James nickname in the shredder. When we last saw Shields in October, he was posting a messy 6.12 ERA over 25 innings for the Royals. His career playoff ERA is 5.46, covering 11 starts. Give James Worthy his nickname back for good and let’s call it a day.
Shields had to wait for his free-agent payday, but earlier this week he turned into Big Contract James. The Padres handed him a four-year, $75 million package, ready to park him at the front of the rotation.
Those fading Shields for 2015 will find some ways to support the argument. He’s entering his age-33 season and his strikeout rate has fallen two straight years (last year’s 7.14 K/9 is actually a negative in most capped leagues). San Diego’s freshly-assembled defense could be a mess, a far cry from the plus units Shields enjoyed in Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
That doesn’t mean the Padres threw their money away, of course. Shields also trimmed his walk rate down to 1.74/9 last year, his KC earned-run average never went past 3.21, and he’s one of the more durable pitchers around. He’s logged 932.2 innings over the last four years, easily the most in baseball, and he’s topped the 200 mark for eight straight years. If you’re in a deeper league where any muffed pick is especially hazardous, Shields brings an interesting floor.
The Yahoo fantasy crew has Shields slotted between 17th and 25th on the starting-pitcher board (my current rank: 19). At the end of the day, you can’t ignore the Petco float and the cushy womb of National League baseball. It’s a floor pick all the way, but that doesn’t make Shields a bad pick.
Q: Who looks good in the rest of the rotation?
When you consider the starters lined up behind Shields, the signature signing makes more sense. There’s plenty of talent in the group (audited smartly here by Paul Sporer of Fangraphs), but unlike Shields, the other primary starters come with more downside.
The risk-reward siren of Andrew Cashner sits in the No. 2 slot. Last year’s 2.55 ERA and 1.13 WHIP were lovely, but they came in spite of a tumbling strikeout clip (just 6.8/9, a silly-low number when you consider his raw stuff). A heavy ground-ball trend and Petco’s wide-open spaces make for a fun backdrop, but Cashner’s health is also a perennial concern. A shoulder problem cost him 12 starts last season, and he’s made four DL trips in his last four years. I never say never on most players, especially someone with this much talent, but I always assume someone in the room will want Cashner more than I do.
Tyson Ross is also coming off an outstanding year (2.81/1.21, 195 strikeouts), and he might have more upside than Cashner (Ross strikes out more batters and has an even loftier ground-ball rate). But Ross also had an elbow issue late last year, on the heels of a season that saw him throw sliders a ridiculous 41 percent of the time (far and away the most in the league). I realize most pitchers fall into two categories – those currently hurt and those soon to be so – but in the case of Ross, you can almost hear the ticking of the watch. With an ADP around 100, I’ll likely avoid him.
Ian Kennedy might turn into the value pick of the staff. His ADP is about 70 picks after Ross’s, probably because of Kennedy’s ordinary 3.63 ERA. But he’s coming off a 207-strikeout year, and he actually had the highest K/9 rate in last year’s rotation.
Kennedy’s peripheral-suggested ERAs were lower than the front door number last year, and it’s interesting to note his ERA was a lot higher at home (3.93 at Petco, 3.32 elsewhere). Write that off as a stone fluke. Kennedy looks like a nice foundation pick for the second half of your rotation.
There's not much of a mixed-league case for No. 5 starter Odrisamer Despaigne, but keep a couple of longshot tickets in mind behind him (Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow). Both of those star-crossed righties crash-landed in Toronto, mostly due to injuries, but there's no better park for a pitcher to rebuild his career.
Q: How about the outfield? We haven’t been this excited since Gary Coleman and Dave Winfield roamed the San Diego greenery.
The Padres picked an interesting time to buy on Myers (off a wrist injury) and Kemp (dealing with an arthritic hip, though he still played 150 games). Upton’s value has been stable in recent years, but the Braves might have been motivated to move him a year in front of free agency.
It’s a shame all of these sluggers are right-handed – a left-handed power hitter would play fine here – but Upton, Myers and Kemp certainly have enough brawn to keep themselves in fantasy relevance. Be careful not to pay for stolen bases – Upton hasn’t seen double-digits since 2012, and Kemp’s shut it down for three years.
Kemp and Upton both went in the third round of this week’s LABR mixed draft, though it was Kemp who surprisingly flew off the board first. I think that’s a mistake, given his medical file (one full year in three); I’d give him lukewarm consideration in the fourth round but probably talk myself out of it. Upton’s scan justifies a third-round tag in my book, at least to the later part of the proceedings. Myers at Pick 166 is delightful – he’s all upside at that price.
Defensive ability is always a secondary concern for fantasy purposes; obviously we're not being graded on it. So long as a player isn't going to kick his way out of the lineup, we generally don't sweat his glovework. But when you look at San Diego's defensive lineup in total, it's a red flag for the pitchers. There isn't a plus defender in the outfield – Myers in particular is an interesting question in center field – and the infield could be a mess, even if good-glove, no-hit Clint Barmes settles in at shortstop.
Bordertown Babble: I wouldn’t blame anyone (cough, Teddy Bell, cough) who swore off Jedd Gyorko after last year’s nightmare first half (.162/.213/.270), though a foot problem explained part of the slump. Gyorko did rebound in the second half, somewhat (.260/.347/.398), showing better patience, even if the slugging percentage still leaves us cold. Bottom line, he hit 10 homers in a terrible year and 23 in a solid rookie year. Second base is a rather thin position. You have to at least consider Gyorko in the Round 11-15 area . . . Maybe Will Middlebrooks is an offensive improvement over Yangervis Solarte at third base, maybe he’s not. Both guys are limited on defense, lining up with the team theme. Solarte's angle is versatility and line drives, while Middlebrooks offers some pop but with batting-average risk . . . Skipper Bud Black usually gets exceptional mileage from his bullpen, which means the Padres should be fine even if closer Joaquin Benoit struggles, gets hurt, or is traded. Handcuffing is one of the all-time overrated fantasy strategies, but if you’re in a league that puts value on non-closing relievers, be aware of Kevin Quackenbush (2.65/1.10, better than a strikeout per inning). Fun name, ownable game . . . With all the moving parts to the roster, somehow Yonder Alonso is still the first base option. That’s a shame. He’ll hit for a reasonable average and steal the occasional bag (a sneaky 12 over his last 181 games), but he’s never made it to ten homers in a season. He shouldn’t on the field against left-handed pitching (career .648 OPS).
The baseball season is fast approaching, so it's time to take a look at how the first round of fantasy drafts could play out by examining the Yahoo consensus top 12 players on the board.
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While Mike Trout still leads the way as the No. 1 ranked player, there are some fresh faces that should go early, including a pair of first basemen in Chicago. Meanwhile, some 2014 breakout players have something to prove before becoming first-round locks.
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Tyreke Evans: With Jrue Holiday sidelined, Evans has taken on a much bigger role as a facilitator in the Pelicans’ offense, averaging a whopping 9.4 assists over the past 10 games (only John Wall and Ty Lawson have averaged more over this span). Moreover, the career 27.4 percent shooter from downtown has hit a three in 13 straight contests, as Evans has been a top-50 fantasy player over the past two weeks. His Usage Rate (26.0) is the second highest of his career and would only rise if Anthony Davis were to miss time with his scary looking shoulder injury (get well soon Brow!).
James Johnson: He’s shot 15-of-17 from the field over the last two games, including Sunday’s 20-point effort in which he replaced Greivis Vasquez in Toronto’s starting lineup. Johnson has averaged 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.0 blocks over eight starts this season, so he’s well worth adding should his new role be permanent. Johnson is owned in just 14 percent of Yahoo leagues but has been the No. 60 ranked fantasy player on a per-36 minute basis, according to Basketball Monster. It also helps playing for a Raptors team that sports the fourth-best Offensive Efficiency in the NBA.
Gerald Henderson: He’s been a top-50 player over the past two weeks, when Henderson has averaged 16.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks and 0.7 3pt while making 90.9 percent of his free throws. He’s attempted 13.5 field goals over that span, as Henderson has become a much bigger part of Charlotte’s offense since Kemba Walker has been sidelined with a knee injury. Henderson is owned in just 28 percent of Yahoo leagues right now, but that number is climbing, as he was the third most added player Monday.
Mitch McGary: He’s gotten 18.0 ppg and 10.0 rpg over the two contests without Steven Adams, shooting 66.7 percent from the floor over that span. McGary is no lock to even enter the starting five, but Adams is expected to miss at least the next three weeks, so if you’re desperate for rebounds, it would make sense to take a flier on the rookie big man.
Ricky Rubio: He’s had modest production since returning from a severe ankle injury, averaging 10.8 points, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals, even resting during Sunday’s game. But the good news is Rubio is back on the court, and it’s hardly surprising it’s going to take a while before he’s back to his old self after missing so much time. Rubio was the No. 57 ranked player last season despite getting just 32.2 mpg, when he recorded the second most spg (2.3) in the NBA. Still just 24 years old, Rubio is averaging career highs in True Shooting percentage (50.8), Usage Rate (23.6), Rebound Rate (10.5) and PER (17.29).
Here’s Anthony Davis sinking an amazing double-pump game-winning three (his first made trey of the year) against the Thunder, becoming the only player with at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and a game-winning buzzer-beater in the last 10 seasons. He’s 21 years old.
Here’s DeMarcus Cousins with a nice game-winning buzzer-beater of his own. (Seriously though, what’s going on in Sacramento? How many coaches can one team fire in the same season?)
Goran Dragic: It’s not surprising he’s taken a step back with Isaiah Thomas joining Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix’s backcourt, but it’s been more of an efficiency issue than a problem with lack of volume of late. Dragic has been the No. 201 ranked fantasy player over the last two weeks, when he’s shot 44.7 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from the line. Dragic will bounce back, but this slump has been prolonged, as he’s been outside the top-170 for a full month now. His Assist Rate (20.0) this season is easily the lowest of his seven-year career. Meanwhile, Bledsoe is in the midst of his best fantasy campaign by far.
DeMar DeRozan: He flirted with a triple-double during Friday’s contest (24-9-8), but few players have hurt your field goal percentage more than DeRozan. Over the past 20 games, he’s shot an abysmal 38.2 percent from the floor on 14.4 FGA. He’s been the No. 233 ranked fantasy player over this span after finishing No. 56 overall last year. DeRozan has done so while getting the 17th highest Usage Rate (26.2) in the NBA on a Raptors team that has the fourth-best Offensive Efficiency in the league. The 25-year-old has been quite a disappointment.
Marcus Smart: I’m a fan of Smart’s game and long-term value in keeper leagues, but there are going to be serious growing pains. The rookie has taken on a much bigger role in Boston of late, but it hasn’t yet translated to fantasy value. Over the last two weeks, Smart has averaged 5.1 rpg, 5.6 apg, 1.3 spg and 1.4 3pt (only four players in the NBA currently average at least 5.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.0 3pt), yet Smart has been just the No. 188 ranked player over this span thanks to horrific scoring/shooting (7.4 ppg, 33.3 FG%, 55.6 FT%). Smart is averaging more three-point attempts (3.7) than two-pointers (2.1) this season, which is interesting for someone who has a ton of work to do to improve his shooting.
Enes Kanter: He’s a nightly double-double threat and somehow remains in the starting lineup over Rudy Gobert, but this is a 6-11 big man who has recorded one block over his past nine games combined (and zero over his last six), a span in which he’s produced a 3:18 AST:TO ratio. Kanter is owned in the majority of fantasy leagues, but he hasn’t been a top-200 player over the last two weeks and plays for a Utah team that has the third-lowest PACE in the NBA this season.
Deron Williams: Since returning from his rib injury, Williams has gone 11-of-42 from the field (26.2 percent) and 56.3 percent from the charity stripe, averaging 6.8 points over five games. Williams was the No. 24, 39, 24 and 55 ranked fantasy player over the past four seasons, respectively, and the hope was he entered 2014/15 healthier and finally over his recent ankle woes. Instead, he’s missed more time and hasn’t even been a top-100 asset when on the court. Williams is owned in 92 percent of fantasy leagues, and while he shouldn’t be dropped, owners have to be beyond fed up at this point.
Get out your shopping lists and let's hit the waiver wire for some free stuff. As always, we'll focus on players owned below the 50-percent Yahoo Fantasy Hockey threshold, and we'll try to include players at a variety of ownership levels. Something for everybody.
Tomas Hertl, LW, Sharks (37 percent owned): The struggling sophomore was given a couple of AHL games during the All-Star break, and maybe that triggered a rebound in confidence. Hertl registered two assists in his Worcester action, and is on a 2-3-5 run in six San Jose games since. Hertl was the club's best forward in Saturday's loss to Carolina, burying two chances from the crease and adding an assist in the final minute, when San Jose was in desperation mode (merely being selected at that time is a vote of confidence). Hertl remains stuck on a third line for now, though he's seeing secondary power-play time – and the up-and-down Sharks could easily promote him if the stick stays hot. I'm expecting a strong push in the final third of the year.
John Klingberg, D, Stars (43 percent): Kindly do me a favor and push his ownership tag past 50 percent so we don't have to keep discussing someone this obvious. Most of Klingberg's early scoring came in 5-on-5 situations, but his snappy 5-8-13 line in January included four points on the PP, and he's been Dallas's main quarterback in February (the first unit in Big D features Klingberg and four signature forwards). It's not too late for the snappy Swede to make a run at the Calder Trophy.
Alexandre Burrows, LW/RW, Canucks (6 percent): He's seeing power-play run and he's getting time with the Sedin Brothers, two obvious selling points. You also love the dual-eligibility from a forward, and a handy two-point game from Saturday. Burrows's shot rate is the highest it's been in four years, and he'll throw in some hits and PIMs for those in dynamic leagues.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Lightning (13 percent): While Ben Bishop is the obvious No. 1 in Tampa Bay, the uber-talented Vasilevskiy could see a sneaky chunk of time over the final few months, especially when the schedule gets heavy. Vasilevskiy has the pedigree (the 19th overall pick from the 2012 draft) and he's looked ready through six NHL appearances (1.96 GAA, .934 SVP, 4-1-0 record). The Bolts play seven games over a 13-day period, beginning Tuesday, which means Vasilevskiy will be needed. Most of those matches come during a nasty five-game Western road trip, but Tampa Bay is capable of beating anyone, anywhere. (If you're in a non-competitive group, sure, grab Devan Dubnyk or Cam Talbot or Curtis McIlhinney. They should be long gone in any pool with a pulse.)
Marco Scandella, D, Wild (14 percent): It's a shame he's not receiving man-advantage time, but when I see 11 shots and two assists over a two-game period, I'll follow along for a while. Scandella was a PP staple during a snappy December before falling completely off the map last month. Let's see where the story goes.
Anders Lee, C/LW, Islanders (6 percent): Injuries have pushed Lee onto a line with John Tavares, and so far, so good (three goals in four games). Lee is also part of a power-play that has been clicking since the All-Star break. Good work if you can get it.
When last we saw Clippers big Blake Griffin, he was playing 36 minutes in a loss at Toronto, delivering a rich stat line (26-6-9-1-1). No obvious signs of trouble.
But on Sunday morning, bad news broke:
Clippers say All-Star Blake Griffin will undergo surgery in LA on Monday, Feb. 9 to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) February 8, 2015
Brutal. Just brutal.
We don't yet have a clear recovery timetable for Blake — could be two weeks, could be six or more — so let's simply say he's out indefinitely. The Clips currently occupy the sixth spot in the Western Conference standings, both Griffin and J.J. Redick (back) are sidelined, and the near-term schedule is a minefield: at OKC, at Dal, Hou, SA, Sac, Mem, at Hou, at Mem, at Chi. So things could certainly get rough for L.A.
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Fantasy-wise, a familiar vet (and respected fashion maven) figures to gain value...
PF/C Spencer Hawes, LAC (30 percent owned)
Hawes has been stuck at 17 minutes per game to this point in the season, averaging just 6.1 points and 3.9 boards, not really helping the fantasy community. But he drew the start on Sunday, and his minutes should jump to 28-32 during Blake's absence. With that sort of playing time, he's a decent bet to give us plenty of 13-and-7 games, with threes and blocks and acceptable percentages — not exactly Griffin-ish, but not bad. He needs to be added, today.
SG/SF Gerald Henderson, Cha (21 percent owned)
Henderson has scored 17 points or more in four of his last five games, so it's tough to argue with the recent production. We're not talking about an across-the-board contributor here (despite the 9-dime game on Saturday), and he's not a significant 3-point threat, but he can certainly help anyone who's scuffling in a points league. Charlotte is dealing with non-trivial injury issues at the moment (Kemba, MKG), so Henderson's minutes are safe for now.
PG Jordan Clarkson, LAL (18 percent owned)
Sure, Clarkson had the 0-for-4 clunker last Wednesday in a loss to Milwaukee, but the rookie has been mostly useful in recent days. He's starting, playing 30-plus minutes per night, typically scoring in the teens, with assists and steals. I'd added him in two leagues, dropped him for Hawes in one.
SG/SF Paul George, Ind (10 percent)
Yeah, it's merely a mid-season dart throw. A scratch-off ticket. Yet another injured player to manage around. If you're the owner of a middle-of-the-pack fantasy team, battling injuries, then George isn't worth the flier. But if your season has been smooth to this point ... well, it's probably time to take George's rehab seriously. (You've seen the post-practice clips, right?)
Few of us thought George would make it back in 2014-15 following the horrific summer injury, but he's hoping to return to full practices by March 1. Clearly there's no guarantee that he'll see game action in March or April, but it's at least a legit possibility. In the Eastern Conference, teams are finding it difficult to tank their way out of the playoff race, so the Pacers are in the mix, even at 19-32. If George returns for the closing weeks at limited minutes, that's a huge win for Indy.
Again, there are no promises being made with George. But I've picked him up in a pair of head-to-head/ weekly-lineup leagues, just in case. If nothing else, perhaps he can serve as a fantasy trade sweetener ahead of the deadline.
This column will concentrate on borderline fantasy options who should get strong consideration to start/bench during the upcoming week based on schedules. Something to note: Leading up to the All-Star Break, every team in the league plays either one or two games this week.
Wayne Ellington: He’s averaged 17.4 points, 1.0 steals and 2.4 3pt over the past five contests, when Ellington has been a top-75 player. While he’s shot poorly over that span, he’s also been given 39.0 mpg while getting 15.6 FGA. To put that in perspective, the former would be the second highest in the NBA this season, while the latter would be more than Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Dirk Nowitzki and John Wall. In fact, among the top-30 fantasy assets this season, only 12 have more FGA than Ellington has over this stretch. It’s a small sample, but it’s also clear he’s going to be the biggest beneficiary of Kobe Bryant’s season-ending injury. Both of the Lakers’ matchups in Week 16 come against teams that rank in the top-10 in PACE, but even for a season-long view, it seems crazy Ellington is owned in just 26 percent of Yahoo leagues.
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J.R. Smith: Over the last five games, he’s averaged 13.2 points, 2.2 steals and 3.2 3pt while committing just 0.8 tpg and shooting 47.2 percent from the field (which would easily be a career high). Smith was nothing short of a disaster with New York earlier this year, but since joining Cleveland, he’s been the No. 38 ranked fantasy player over 16 games. Still available in a quarter of Yahoo leagues, Smith is worth starting in all weeks, let alone ones in which the Cavs play an NBA high.
Devin Harris: With Rajon Rondo sidelined throughout the All-Star Break, J.J. Barea has moved into the starting lineup, but it’s Harris who gets the bigger fantasy boost. While the former has shot an ugly 37.0 percent (20-of-54) from the floor with just one steal in five games since Rondo went down, the latter has averaged 2.6 3pt and 0.6 blocks with a 4:1 AST:TO ratio. Harris has been the No. 53 ranked fantasy player over the past week yet is owned in only 12 percent of Yahoo leagues. Assuming his recent ankle tweak isn’t serious, he should continue to see a nice increase in minutes and Usage Rate in Week 16, when both of Dallas’ opponents rank in the bottom-half in Defensive Efficiency (moreover, the Mavs are one of only two teams to play an NBA-high three games in Week 17).
Markieff Morris: He’s owned in 88 percent of Yahoo leagues despite not being a top-150 player over the past month. Morris’ prolonged shooting slump will come to an end at some point, but the Suns play just one game in Week 16, and that’s against a Houston team that has third best Defensive Efficiency in the NBA.
Nicolas Batum: I’ve been on board with Batum as a buy-low candidate for some time, but it’s become increasingly hard to deny his struggles, as he’s shot an ugly 31.9 percent from the field over the last 16 games, a span in which he’s been the No. 162 ranked player. It’s clear his wrist injury has really hindered his shooting ability this season. Obviously don’t go dropping Batum, but Portland plays just one game next week (albeit in a favorable home matchup against a Lakers team that has the second worst Defensive Efficiency in the league), so he’s not exactly a must-start in shallower formats.
The waiting is the hardest part. The waiting is just about over.
Your 2015 present has finally arrived. Yahoo Fantasy Baseball is back.
In addition to all the established features that you know and love, here are some game enhancements to sink your teeth into:
• New draft client with better research tools, including player notes and projected standings.
(Everyone loves being graded, even if they want to complain about it later.)
• League chat that allows you to message your league mates across all devices.
(Talk trash on your tablet. Sound smack on your smartphone. Build your fantasy brand 24-7)
• Condensed games on video allowing users to scout players for adds, drops and trades through 8-10 minute videos of every game from the previous day. Exclusive to Yahoo Fantasy Baseball through our partnership with MLB.com.
(Admit it, there’s a scout inside you, fighting to get out. Game tape is your friend. Bring a clipboard everywhere you go.)
As usual, commissioners will have a bunch of customizable options to choose from. Draft or auction? Small rosters or large rosters? Roto scoring or head to head? Standard categories or funky ones? Have fun building your perfect sandwich.
You're now free to dance among the comments. As for who to pick, we'll work on that over the next two months. Welcome back, gamers.
Although it’s been 31 years since Detroit’s last World Series title, the Woodward faithful hasn’t had much to complain about in recent years. The Tigers are taking aim at their fifth consecutive AL Central title. The glorious run has been fueled by a mix of potent offense (no one has scored more runs since the beginning of 2013) and reliable pitching (Top 10 team ERAs for three straight campaigns). Detroit generally assembles a strong lineup and a formidable starting staff and dares teams to match it over the six-month marathon. Most opponents fall short.
To be fair, there are subtle areas where the Tigers routinely struggle. They’ve been one of the worst defensive teams in the majors for several years now, and the bullpen hasn’t been good for a while. Detroit fans become anxious whenever the opponent puts the bat on the ball, and there’s a collective Eight Mile shriek whenever the bullpen door opens.
Order up a hot and ready and let's try to figure it all out.
How do we price J.D. Martinez after that shocking monster year?
I understand why a lot of pundits will run from Martinez this year. His 2014 breakthrough took everyone by surprise, and sometimes the scribes hold a grudge for that sort of thing. And obviously no one wants to pay the freight on a career year; no one wants to be that sucker.
But remember “Regression!” should always be viewed as the start of a conversation, not the ending of one. Even if Martinez comes down notably from last year’s .315-25-76 line (and certainly no one expects him to bat .315 again), he has a chance to return you a fantasy profit. Sometimes you can cobble together a nifty profit simply by fading the Regression Police.
Keep a few things in mind as you try to digest last year’s emergence: Martinez consistently posted silly numbers in the Houston minor-league system; the breakout came during his Age 26-27 season; Martinez significantly altered his plate mechanics prior to last year; and he showed monstrous power to all fields (as opposed to being a pull-happy slugger). He also posted a line-drive rate over the league average. Attribution can be a tricky thing in the fantasy racket, but at least we have something we can hang our hat on.
Martinez’s 2014 stats were heavier in the first half, but it’s not like teams solved him after the break (.292/.342/.478, 10 homers). He’s working in a strong lineup, with some notable OBP monsters just ahead of him (okay, and hacking Yoenis Cespedes). Martinez is a Top 35 outfielder on my board entering the first days of draft season. I could live with him as my third outfield option, and I’d really love him as an OF4 or OF5, something you might be able to get.
Any interest in a Justin Verlander comeback season on the eve of his 32nd birthday?
Generally I never say never on anyone, assuming it's a draftable commodity in the first place. Maybe the price will be so cheap on game day, I’ll be tempted. But Verlander’s career trajectory scares the daylights out of me.
Anytime you see a name player – especially a name pitcher – performing like dirt, you worry about an unreported injury. Maybe Verlander pitched through problems in 2014 that no one knows about. But I can’t get past the fact that his ERA and WHIP have spiked for three straight years (bottoming out at 4.54 and 1.40 last year) while his fastball velocity has dropped five straight seasons. Verlander’s K/9 dropped below 7.0 in 2014, and his swinging strike number was the lowest it’s been since 2008.
Framed a different way, my problem with Verlander isn’t 2014 isolated, it’s the path his career is taking.
Verlander currently trades as the No. 47 starting pitcher in NFBC leagues, so not everyone has given up the ghost. Ian Kennedy, Mat Latos and Phil Hughes are a tiny bit pricier; Jose Quintana is cheaper. I have no problem talking myself out of Verlander at his current sticker.
Speaking of Age-32 seasons on the way, what do we do with Miguel Cabrera?
I don’t want to hear anyone bellyaching about Cabrera’s .313-109-25-101 haul from last year. Sure, it was a mild disappointment from the level of production we’re used to, but Cabrera was playing with a bum ankle through most of the year – and still gutted his way through 159 games. And heck, all you really want from a first-round pick is a cornerstone type of season – everything else is gravy. If your team finished under your expectations, it wasn’t Miggy’s fault.
Cabrera was hobbling around like Fred G. Sanford in September, on a crummy wheel that required surgery after the season – and somehow managed to bat .379 with eight homers that month. Tip your cap for that unreal performance.
We live in a world of shiny-happy surgery anecdotes, but the Tigers haven’t treated Cabrera’s situation that way. When Miggy had his October procedure, GM Dave Dombrowski frankly conceded the injury was “worse than what we ever would have anticipated.” Earlier this month, Dombrowski admitted the team isn’t certain Cabrera will be on the field for Opening Day.
With all that in mind, we’re presented with a risk-reward question for our draft seasons. I still view Cabrera as a first-round pick. He’s been durable through his career (averaging 157 games over the last 11 years) and he’s also shown that he can still produce when he’s not healthy. He wants to stay in the lineup, even when he’s not close to 100 percent. We’re not buying him for base running or defense.
If I were drafting tomorrow, I’d have no problem taking Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt or Giancarlo Stanton over Cabrera. After that, it’s a conversation. Is Carlos Gomez worth consideration in the middle of the first round? Is any pitcher worth that tag, even someone as dominant as Clayton Kershaw? Are you willing to spend a premium pick on someone who might not be ready in March or April? These are questions everyone has to answer for themselves. For the time being, I’m giving Cabrera the benefit of the doubt.
Tiger Tales: The club would like to see Joe Nathan take the closing job and run with it, though he’s 40 and is coming off a horrendous season (4.81 ERA, seven blown saves, five homers, 29 walks). Joakim Soria is a solid Plan B, albeit he didn’t pitch that well after his acquisition at the trade deadline . . . Rajai Davis has a sneaky way of playing more each season than anyone expects, but the Tigers might stop that trend now that Anthony Gose is on the roster. Goes is a better defender in center field, while Davis is the superior offensive player. The big concern with Davis: his career OPS is .804 against left-handers but just .645 versus the righties. If this turns into a straight platoon, Davis would be on the shallow end of it . . . If you need a Home Run Derby guy or someone to chuck a baseball 300 feet, Yoenis Cespedes is your man. But his offensive game becomes less interesting the closer you examine him (which might explain why he’s been traded twice in six months). A .263 average and .316 OBP isn’t what you expect from a corner outfielder making decent coin, and even his .464 career slugging percentage is a disappointment. Maybe leaving Oakland will push the numbers up, though Cespedes was comfortable enough at home to post a .277/.343/.490 slash there. Cespedes has the arm for right field but not the experience; thus, the Tigers will probably sink or swim with Martinez in that key spot . . . Alfredo Simon steps into the rotation as the Rick Porcello replacement, and both right-handers have the same game plan (throw strikes, rely on ground-ball outs). Your league format makes the call on Simon – he's not someone you can trust if K/9 is the golden goose, but he might be a sneaky, underrated commodity in deeper pools that have more liberal rules. Double-digit wins and an ERA under 4 seems within reach . . . I wish I saw Ian Kinsler's monster year coming. Oh, I thought he'd do fine in the womb of the Detroit lineup, but I also expected him to miss the Arlington undertow, and I didn't expect a full season, either. You could probably win a few bar bets centered on Kinsler's GP and RBI columns from last year. He was also one of the few Tigers who played acceptable defense. Sure, Kinsler's walk rate plummeted, but when the production is this good, I'm not going to sweat it. He looks like a solid option somewhere in the fourth, fifth or sixth round of your draft. He's currently No. 4 on my second-base board.
D.J. Augustin: With Brandon Jennings out for the season with an Achilles injury, Augustin becomes Detroit’s new starting point guard. Over four starts this season, he’s averaged 18.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.3 3pt while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 90.0 from the line. Three of those four starts came when Josh Smith was still on the team, while the other was Sunday’s huge performance (35 points, eight assists, 12-20 FG with five threes). Those numbers are obviously unsustainable, but Detroit has played far better since Smith’s departure, and Basketball Monster projects Augustin to be a top-100 player over the rest of the year. He’s currently owned in just 54 percent of Yahoo leagues, which should rapidly increase.
Nikola Pekovic: He returned from a two-month absence while recovering from an ankle injury last week, and while he struggled during Monday’s game, Pekovic is already back in the starting lineup, which was hardly a sure thing given Gorgui Dieng’s strong play (he's remained in the starting five, shifting to power forward). Dieng’s emergence should hurt his value some, but Pekovic has been a top-70 fantasy player each of the past two seasons and appears to be back to 100 percent healthy.
Brian Roberts: Kemba Walker will be sidelined for the next 6-to-8 weeks with a torn meniscus, resulting in Roberts becoming Charlotte’s starting point guard. He’s not going to be a star, but Roberts has averaged 13.0 points, 4.0 assists and 1.0 3pt in three starts this year and is a career 92.3 percent free throw shooter (although admittedly he doesn’t get to the line much). Roberts can be a useful player as long as Walker is out and is still owned in fewer than 20 percent of Yahoo leagues.
LaMarcus Aldridge: While it’s unusual to upgrade someone who’s now dealing with a torn thumb ligament, fantasy owners have to be ecstatic Aldridge is going to play through an injury that originally ruled him out for 6-to-8 weeks. He attempted 22 field goals and made all eight of his free throw attempts during his surprising return Saturday, and he plans to play through the pain over the rest of the season. It’s a pretty big turn of events for someone who was even briefly removed from Yahoo’s Can’t Cut List, as it’s rare to be given a timetable of missing possibly two months and then return to the court immediately. Aldridge has been a top-10 player so far this season.
George Hill: He’s back in action and should return to the starting lineup soon enough. It’s been a rough year in terms of health so far for Hill, but there’s quietly a lot of upside here if he can avoid injuries moving forward. With the Pacers so depleted this year compared to last, Hill should set a career high in Usage Rate by a wide margin. In fact, he’s averaging a career-best 14.4 ppg despite playing a lowly 23:50 mpg (he got 10.3 ppg in 32:01 mpg last season). It’s been a small sample (seven games), and there’s no guarantee Hill returns to full health and stays that way, but he’s been the No. 16 ranked fantasy player on a per 36-minute basis in 2014/15.
Dwyane Wade: He had a strong performance Sunday, but it marked the first time Wade shot better than 45.5 percent from the floor in 10 games, a span in which he’s gone 0-of-9 on three-point attempts. Wade’s mpg (32:28), rpg (3.9), spg (1.1) and bpg (0.4) are all the lowest of his career, while his tpg (3.3) are his most since 2009/10. This all despite Wade having the third-highest Usage Rate (32.2) in the NBA thanks to LeBron James leaving town. The concern with Wade has always been health, but he’s been just the No. 88 ranked player when on the court this season (and No. 263 over the past two weeks).
Roy Hibbert: He got off to a fantastic start to the year, and it was reasonable to expect it to continue considering the Pacers lost both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency) during the offseason. But since then, Hibbert has been nothing short of a disaster. Despite a nice game Sunday, the big man has averaged 7.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.0 steals and 0.5 blocks while shooting 43.3 percent from the floor over the past four games. Hibbert is seeing the fewest mpg (25:02) since his rookie campaign and has been the No. 163 ranked player over the past two months.
Kobe Bryant: Normally I shy away from downgrading injured players, since that’s so obvious, but there are two points to be made here. First, it’s sad watching how Bryant’s career is winding down (he’s going to miss a total of 123 games over these last two seasons, not to mention he wasn’t even a top-100 player this year despite owning the second-highest Usage Rate in the NBA). The second problem is unfortunately there really aren’t any obvious beneficiaries on the Lakers despite the team losing a player who nightly attempted 20.4 FG and 6.9 FT. A handful of Los Angeles players deserve a slight upgrade, but the loss of Bryant doesn’t move the needle on any specific one.
Mario Chalmers: With LeBron James out of Miami (and Dwyane Wade continuing to miss time), Chalmers has seen a big jump in responsibility on the Heat this season (his 19.0 Usage Rate is easily a career high), which resulted in a terrific start to the year. But it’s been downhill from there, as Chalmers has struggled mightily shooting, as he’s gone an ugly 38-for-112 from the field (33.9 FG%) over the past 15 games, including going 4-of-23 from downtown over the past nine contests. He’s shooting a career-low 27.3 percent from beyond the arc, which especially hurts owners since he attempts 3.0 per game. Chalmers has been the No. 199 ranked player over the last two months.
Lance Stephenson: Owners keep waiting for Stephenson to bounce back, which makes perfect sense considering he was the No. 111 ranked player last season and has moved to a Charlotte team in which he’s been given a much bigger role (his current 20.3 Usage Rate is a career high). But bad keeps going to worse, as he’s shooting a hideous 15.3 percent from downtown on the year and has been the No. 357(!) ranked player over his last 15 games. Stephenson is still owned in more than 75 percent of Yahoo leagues.
In most seasons, Fenway Park is a safe place to chase offensive production. The park is tiny and a bonanza for scoring, and the Red Sox usually have a stable of capable hitters.
Alas, 2014 wasn't like most years for the Olde Towne Team. A collection of slumps, injuries and mediocre players combined to torpedo the Boston offense, and with that, any hope of a championship repeat died quickly. The Red Sox finished 18th in the majors in scoring last year, a notable drop from their normal perch. Boston posted a Top 4 scoring offense in six of the prior seven seasons. (And to be fair, it hasn't been all Fenway Park; only the Yankees scored more runs on the road from 2007-2013.)
The fix-it plan is fairly simple if you're one of the "haves" in baseball – you throw money at the problem. Boston started that theme last August (landing Cuban outfield prospect Rusney Castillo with a $72 million package), and the spending continued over the winter (about $200 million went out for Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval). The Red Sox still have questions on the mound and with roster construction, but this team should be scoring plenty in 2015.
Let's load up some Ps and Qs and see where we get.
Q: Does a change of location help Ramirez and Sandoval?
I can't see how it won't. Obviously American League life has advantages for most hitters (the DH, more cycling through the order), and the ballpark change in particular is a daisy for both players.
Ramirez previously toiled in Dodger Stadium, where runs take a 12-percent dip (grading over the last three years, per the Bill James Handbook) and right-handed batting average drops seven percent. Fenway's float: scoring rises by eight percent, and batting average jumps six percent.
The run-scoring environment is even trickier in AT&T Park, Sandoval's prior stomping grounds. AT&T pushes average down by four percent, and crushes scoring by 16 percent. Sad Panda? Not in The Hub. (It's not just the tiny size of the yard, but also consider the minuscule amount of foul territory.)
Ramirez is also looking at a position change – after a career at shortstop and third base, he'll be Boston's left-fielder. I don't see any reason to dock Ramirez for that, and it might even turn out to be a positive. The middle infield is rife with collisions, but left field is a benign place to be. The Wall takes a bit of work at Fenway, but it's really not that big of a challenge defensively - and a postage stamp would cover the tiny amount of real estate in that park. Ramirez looks like a second-round fantasy play to me, given that he still carries the critical shortstop tag.
Q: Where else is the offense likely to be upgraded?
If you compare the 2014 Opening Day lineup with what’s likely this time around, Sandoval replaces Will Middlebrooks and Ramirez replaces Mike Carp. Everyone sees the upgrades there.
At shortstop, you’re comparing sophomore Xander Bogaerts to rookie year Bogaerts. A likely win. And while Castillo is shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, he should be a notable gain from the last days of Grady Sizemore.
Fantasy players get a bounce in their step when discussing Mookie Betts. Fun name, exciting game. Betts had a monstrous 99-game run in Double and Triple-A last year (.346/.431/.529, 11 homers, 33 steals), and did just fine in a third of a season with Boston (.291/.368/.444, five homers, seven steals). Heady stuff from a kid who turned 22 right after the season.
Betts finally had a job for good in the second half of August, and the fun really started when the team elevated him in the lineup for September. Betts slotted first in his final 21 appearances, scoring 15 runs, walking 10 times, slashing .305/.387/.439. He was a Top 10 middle infielder for the final month of 2014, and should be parked in the leadoff slot when the fresh season begins. Start your engines.
Although Betts is slotted for outfield duty in 2015, he'll qualify as a second baseman in many pools. That's the best place to deploy him. His current ADP is 108 in the NFBC draft world, but I expect the price to keep rising as we move closer to April.
Q: What about the pitching staff?
Three is the magic number for Boston’s starting rotation – you won’t find an ace on the roster, but there are plenty of guys who could be a No. 3 at their best, even on a contending club. The depth isn’t bad here. It’s just a matter of finding a horse or two between now and the dog days of August.
The Red Sox tried to make an offseason pitching splash, to be fair. GM Ben Cherington made an aggressive pitch for old friend Jon Lester, and they kicked the tires on Cole Hamels. If the club is contending come midsummer, you have to figure this team will explore a major deal, even as it would be costly from a luxury tax standpoint.
Clay Buchholz has toggled between overachieving and underachieving through his eight-year career. He’s been an All-Star twice, his two dynamic fantasy seasons (2010, 2013). Injuries have also been a big part of his story, though he was frustratingly healthy for most of 2014 (5.34 ERA, 1.39 WHIP). His FIP was over a run lower than his front-door number last year, if you wanted to know. He underwent knee surgery shortly after the year.
Boston was happy to scoop Rick Porcello in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes (square peg, round hole for the Red Sox), but Porcello is another tricky fantasy call. A 3.42 ERA and 15 wins, you like that, but his puny strikeout clip (129 over 204.2 innings) is a killer if you play in a format that caps innings or starts.
Porcello’s game is pitching to contact (most of it on the ground) and letting the chips fall where they may. You’ll have to earn your way on base against him; Porcello issued just 37 unintentional walks last year. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s just entering his Age 27 season.
If you want to talk yourself into lefty Wade Miley, look at the 2012 numbers. Justin Masterson's best showing came in 2013; same for Joe Kelly. In an AL-only format, they're worth exploration and consideration. In the mixers pools we tend to focus on, we'll ask them to force their way onto our rosters. Show us something first.
Hub Happenings: Although veteran closer Koji Uehara expired down the stretch, succumbing to fatigue, the Red Sox quickly resigned him in the offseason and plan to use him in the ninth inning again. Uehara remains in tremendous shape overall and I expect he'll be surprisingly affordable at the March tables. I'm not holding his final 2014 quarter against him . . . You have to get in line to bash Dustin Pedroia these days; he was panned four times in the 2015 Fantasy Baseball Guide (full disclosure: I didn't write on Pedroia but I did contribute to the magazine), and my friend D.J. Short recently offered his own thumbs-down on Pedroia. I'm not particularly bullish on Pedroia, either, after watching him suffer through a couple of injury-marred seasons. But he's going to slot No. 2 in a loaded lineup, and if the cost on him is reasonable (he might not be a Top 10 second baseman in some formats), I'll consider playing the contrarian card and hoping a fixed wrist will lead to a rebound season . . . We’ve seen plenty of Cuban imports produce right away in recent years (Cespedes, Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig), not that Castillo’s expectations should be in that realm. Nonetheless, we are talking about someone who’s already 27, a finished product, and Castillo hit the ground running in his 10-game September trial, homering twice and stealing three bases over 10 games. Every projection I’ve seen for Castillo calls for a double-digit year in homers and steals, along with an acceptable average . . . Brock Holt and Daniel Nava had some splashy moments with the 2014 team, but they're slotted as bench players entering the fresh season, which speaks to the improvement of the roster. Shane Victorino is also a man without a job, coming off an injury-riddled Age-33 campaign.
We're in the middle of a week in which every NBA team plays at least three games, which should make this a relatively low-stress time for fantasy owners. Perhaps you're not desperate for a pickup. Maybe you briefly freaked about Kevin Durant's dinged elbow, but, thankfully, that sounds like a non-issue.
Still, many of you treat your league's free agent pool like an all-you-can-eat buffet, so for you we offer the following options...
Langston Galloway, NYK, PG (9 percent owned)
Honestly, I really have no great sense for where the Galloway story will go, and New York's roster hasn't exactly been a fantasy gold mine. But he's found his way into the starting lineup — no small feat for a 10-day contract guy — and he's coming off a 21-point game against New Orleans and an 11-point, seven-rebound effort against the 76ers. In the D-League, Galloway piled up steals (2.7 per game) and points (16.5), and he'll clearly have an opportunity to do the same for the Knicks. I'm interested enough to have contributed to the adding binge, in a small way.
Marcus Smart, Bos, PG (39 percent)
Smart is playing 27-32 minutes per night of late, contributing solidly in steals, threes and assists. Check the per-36 numbers: 11.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 2.2 3PG. Smart's shooting percentages aren't stellar, but he's coming off his best game of the season (14-7, 4 threes) and his playing time is guaranteed. He also has a string of five games in seven days beginning Thursday, so you can leave him parked in your active lineup for the next week..
Ersan Ilyasova, Mil, SF/PF (44 percent owned)
Oh, hey, look who's back. No one's going to guarantee rest-of-season good health, necessarily, but Ilyasova is worth owning when he's right. He delivered a 14-7 game on Monday, playing just under 23 minutes. It doesn't sound as if Ilyasova will be starved for playing time...
Ersan Ilyasova likely to start at PF for Bucks on Thursday vs. Utah. Ilyasova worked with first unit in practice Wednesday.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 21, 2015
...which puts him back on the fantasy radar as a modest contributor across multiple categories.
And speaking of Bucks...
Khris Middleton, Mil, SF/PF (41 percent owned)
Middleton has been a steady source for points and threes, but he really distinguishes himself as a thief. Check out the January steals surge:
Anyone with a need for a category specialist should probably act now.
Courtney Lee, Mem, SG/SF (41 percent owned)
If you were worried that the Jeff Green deal would derail Lee ... well, no. Lee has scored double-digits in five straight games, hitting 11 threes during that stretch. He's an excellent percentage shooter (49.0 FG, 85.9 FT), offering low-level scoring, threes and steals. He also has a pair of 4-game weeks ahead. Lee isn't quite a must-own player, but I'd give him can't-hurt status.
Six pickups of varying availability levels, that's what we do here. Put some batteries in the cordless mouse or keyboard and let's get some new players for your roster.
Zach Bogosian, D, Jets (15 percent): The development curve is often a deliberate one for blueliners, especially the taller guys at the position. Even with that caveat out of the way, the waiting has been painfully slow on Bogosian, who was the third overall pick of the 2008 draft. Wasn't he supposed to be an impact player by now? It hasn't worked out that way. (Look at the two defensive superstars he was selected between.)
Nonetheless, Bogosian is still just 24, and he's been sizzling since he returned from his lower-body injury, ringing up three goals and two assists over his last six games. He's getting some trickle-down time on the power play, he's shooting the puck aggressively, and of course there's the pedigree to chase. I added a Bogie share in one of my pools; who's with me?
Justin Abdelkader, LW/RW, Red Wings (32 percent): We generally view Abdelkader as a physical winger, one of those guys who likes to hit and be hit. You don't think of him as a big scorer. But an 11-14-25 line through half of a season isn't too shabby, and he's been seeing plenty of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in recent starts. A traffic cone could score with those cagey veterans. Keep crashing into things, Abdelkader; those other guys will make sure you see the puck. The dual-wing eligibility is always a nifty selling point.
Sean Monahan, C, Flames (32 percent): Puckheads don't have a lot of trouble finding scoring up the middle, but nonetheless it doesn't make sense to see Monahan this widely available. A 14-15-29 line (with 115 shots) plays in just about any format, and remember we're talking about the sixth overall pick from the 2013 draft class, and someone who has steadily improved all season. He's comfortable on a line with two estimable veterans, Jiri Hudler and Curtis Glencross, and he's had the hot stick (three goals) during Calgary's stunning four-game road winning streak.
Jason Zucker, LW, Wild (5 percent): You have to accept some baggage on this one – Zucker's isn't getting any assists, his road stats have been mediocre, and he's buried in the minus. But 16 goals can't be ignored, and you like how he's shooting the puck more aggressively this month (28 SOGs in nine starts). The road schedule for the rest of the month could be hairy, but I still think he finishes with 25-30 goals. Note that all of his markers have come at even strength, but he's finally receiving second-unit power-play time. A few easier scores should follow in the second half.
Jason Demers, D, Stars (29 percent): Believe it or not, he's been a Top 100 fantasy player over the last month, doing a little bit of everything (five points, 27 PIMs, two power-play points, 18 shots on goal). He's also seeing some secondary time on the man advantage. Demers needed a change of scenery and got it at the right time – the Dallas coaching staff trusts him considerably more than San Jose's did.
Joni Ortio, G, Flames (17 percent): He wasn't standing on his head with the Adirondack Flames of the AHL (2.52 GAA, .916 save percentage), but when the call came to the parent club, Ortio was ready. He's reeled off four straight victories with Calgary (1.23/.958), coming through splendidly while Karri Ramo deals with his upper-body injury. Ortio could be back in the minors before the month is out – Ramo's making steady progress with his rehab - but the move with goalies is to grab now, ask questions later. Someone's likely to post decent crease stats in Calgary, backed by an underrated blueline group.
DeAndre Jordan: Over the past month, Jordan has shot a hideous 34.8 percent from the free throw line. The only player to hurt fantasy owners in the category more over that span is Andre Drummond, yet despite this, Jordan has been a top-50 player during this stretch. That’s because he’s been so good on the glass, grabbing 13.9 rpg while swatting 2.3 bpg over this span. He leads the NBA in rpg (13.4), FG% (71.5) and ranks second in bpg (2.3). He also has 20+ more dunks than any other player in the league. If you’re punting free throw percentage, Jordan has been the third most valuable fantasy player so far this season.
Victor Oladipo: The sophomore has really turned it on over the past month, when he’s averaged 19.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.2 3pt over 15 games. Oladipo has been a top-30 fantasy player over that stretch, and while his Usage Rate has actually decreased this year compared to his rookie campaign, a big improvement in efficiency has more than countered that. Meanwhile, teammate Elfrid Payton has also shown marked improvement of late, and he’s available in more than 40 percent of Yahoo leagues. Tobias Harris will eventually return from his ankle injury, but Elfrid is must-own in deep leagues in the meantime, while Oladipo is a must-start even in shallow formats.
Alex Len: Over the past five games, Len has averaged 10.6 boards and 1.2 steals. Over the last nine contests, he’s averaged 2.9 blocks. Len’s playing time remains inconsistent, and the 21-year-old is hardly a volume scorer at this stage of his career, but those in need of rebounds and blocks should look no further.
Nerlens Noel: The rookie remains a problem at the free throw line (although at least there’s not huge volume there) but continues to impress in the defensive stats, as Noel has averaged 2.4 steals and 2.0 blocks over the past five games. Despite being a 20-year-old rookie coming off a major injury and barely seeing 30:00 mpg this season, Noel is one of only three players in the NBA to average both 1.5 spg and 1.5 bpg this year (the other two being Anthony Davis and Draymond Green). Noel has been the No. 41 ranked player over the past two weeks and should only improve from here on out.
Brook Lopez: He was the No. 28 ranked player in 2012/13 and No. 12 last season before his year was cut short by an injury, so Lopez has been one of the bigger disappointments so far, as he currently comes in as the No. 58 fantasy asset. Still, he’s played better lately, and there increasingly looks like a chance he gets traded. Wherever that’s to, it’s likely a safe bet his minutes increase, as he’s currently seeing a career-low 26:12 mpg while toiling on a Brooklyn team that sports the fifth-lowest PACE (94.2) in the league. Lopez’s stock is about to jump assuming he gets dealt.
Nicolas Batum: As someone who’s been a top-40 fantasy player in each of the past three seasons (including No. 21 in 2012/13), Batum’s current rank at No. 86 has been both disappointing and surprising so far this year. He’s struggled even worse of late, as he’s shot an ugly 28.8 percent from the field (and just 68.8 percent from the line) over the past two weeks, when he hasn’t been a top-200 fantasy asset. Maybe the wrist injury he’s been playing through is more severe than we were led to believe, but Batum has too strong of a track record to ignore, making him more of a buy-low candidate than anything else. His Usage Rate could soon see a big jump if the thumb injury LaMarcus Aldridge left with Monday proves serious.
Tony Parker: After finishing as the No. 27 fantasy player in 2012/13, Parker came in at No. 119 last season, but that looks like a huge profit compared to what he’s done so far this season, when he’s ranked as the No. 179 player. He’s been dealing with injuries all season, but Parker’s 4.7 apg are the lowest he’s gotten since his rookie season back in 2001/02, and this hasn’t really been a volume issue, as the point guard hasn’t been a top-250 fantasy player on a per-36 minute basis this season, which is pretty incredible.
Nikola Mirotic: His future looks extremely bright, but it’s clear when Chicago’s frontcourt is fully healthy, it’s tough for Mirotic to hold much fantasy value. If injuries strike, there’s a ton of upside here, but Mirotic is getting dropped in droves in Yahoo leagues right now for good reason.
Ryan Anderson: Here are his final fantasy ranks over the past three years, respectively: 8, 49 and 18. Anderson has been the No. 177 player over the past month, when he’s suffered through a major shooting slump (he’s shooting 31.8 percent from the floor over the past seven games). Anderson’s minutes have predictably taken a hit with his new role off the bench this season, but his Usage Rate has actually increased this year compared to last. The biggest problem has been his 34.8 percent shooting from downtown, which is easily a career worst.
Rajon Rondo: He’s always been a volatile fantasy player whose importance came down to format, and despite seeing his FGA jump from 9.1 to 12.5 after getting traded from a depleted Boston team to a loaded Dallas squad, it’s actually hurt his fantasy value, as the FG% hit has been bigger, and the point guard has also shot an insane 23.5 percent from the free throw line since joining the Mavericks. Rondo has combined that with grabbing fewer rpg and dishing out his fewest apg (8.1) since the 2007/08 season with his new team. He’s been the No. 288 most valuable fantasy player over the past two weeks.
With the fantasy gridiron game now on the backburner for at least a few months, the Yahoo fantasy crew decided it was a good time to take a preliminary stroll around the diamond in advance of the official opening of Fantasy Baseball '15. This particular drill consisted of six Yahoos tasked with drafting for two separate teams (to simulate a 12-team draft), with each team comprising a roster of 12 players - C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, OF, OF, SP, SP, SP, RP. Here's a round-by-round account of how our abbreviated mock exercise played out:
SCOTT PIANOWSKI 1 - Mike Trout, LAA, OF: Even if he doesn't feel like running too much, he offers the mix of upside and floor that you demand from this slot.
SCOTT PIANOWSKI 2 - Miguel Cabrera, Det, 1B: We'll see where his health is at in the spring. Nonetheless, he was hobbling in September but still mashing. He's had 11 straight dominant years. That means something.
BRANDON FUNSTON 1 - Clayton Kershaw, LAD, SP: Through age 26 season, he's picked up three Cy Young awards and has logged six straight seasons with an ERA under 3.00 (under 2.00 in each of past two) and five straight with 200-plus Ks.
BRANDON FUNSTON 2 - Andrew McCutchen, Pit, OF: Five-tool stud sitting right in the middle of his prime years - in PED-crackdown era, not too many left that have proven .300, 25/25 upside
BRAD EVANS 1 - Paul Goldschmidt, Ari, 1B: Admittedly, I have an unhealthy obssession for the guy. If not for broken hand, would've likely set pace at 1B. Finished top-6 in per game value among hitters with at least 100 games.
BRAD EVANS 2 - Jose Abreu, CWS, 1B: Power and persistent contact from Cuba translated beautifully to the bigs. Despite missing 18 games, still tallied a .317-36-107-80 line. 40-plus long balls a foregone conclusion.
ANDY BEHRENS 1 - Giancarlo Stanton, Mia, OF: We're not drafting a 2002 fantasy roster here. These days, power is a scarce commodity. No individual player possesses as much of it as Stanton. I'll gladly take the $325 million man.
ANDY BEHRENS 2 - Carlos Gomez, Mil, OF: Gomez has given us back-to-back-to-back seasons with terrific power and speed totals, plus he offers respectable contributions in runs, RBIs and average. At the top of a draft, you want bankable multi-category assets.
DALTON DEL DON 1 - Jose Bautista, TOR, OF: I'm not expecting him to hit .286 again, but Bautista was one of only seven players to hit 35 homers last season, as power continues to come at a premium.
DALTON DEL DON 2 - Adam Jones, BAL, OF: He had a 2.8 BB% last year and owns a career 48.0 FB%, but Jones has hit at least .280 with 25 homers or more in each of the past four seasons, so it's hard to argue with the results. He's yet to turn 30 years old.
MICHAEL SALFINO 1 - Edwin Encarnacion, TOR, 1B: Power is at a premium and he can't be lower than .270 with that K/BB profile. And he easily could be closer to .300.
MICHAEL SALFINO 2 - Michael Brantley, CLE, OF: He took me by surprise last year but I enjoyed the ride and it's really hard to find any red flags in his uniformly productive game. You strike out 56 times in nearly 700 PAs today and you're going to hit at least .310.
SALFINO 2 - Anthony Rizzo, CHC, 1B: The K/BB gap narrowed. Obviously this is a key consideration for me overall. The power hasn't peaked, I will wager. Lineup improvements will significantly boost RBI.
SALFINO 1 - Yasiel Puig, LAD, OF: Like the increase in walk rate. The Ks are manageable. So I expect a .300 average and the raw power can translate into an elite HR total at any time. Plus you can pick up 15 bags in the bargain.
DEL DON 2 - Anthony Rendon, WAS, 2B: He was the No. 12 ranked fantasy hitter last year as a sophomore and plays second base. There's an injury history here, but Rendon has a nice pedigree and is just 24 years old. He's the No. 1 second baseman on my board.
DEL DON 1 - Jacoby Ellsbury, NYY, OF: He's averaged 12.5 homers and 45.5 steals over the past two seasons while missing a total of 41 games. With Bautista and Ellsbury, this team (DD1) has a nice power/speed combo start.
BEHRENS 2 - Robinson Cano, Sea, 2B: Cano remains a reliable multi-category asset at a tricky position. I'm not ready to guarantee that Altuve can repeat his 2014.
BEHRENS 1 - Troy Tulowitzki, Col, SS: I can't quit him. It's a sickness. Help.
EVANS 2 - Chris Sale, ChW, SP: Trailed only Kershaw and Cueto on a per start basis last year. He's practically the AL version of Kershaw, a low ERA/WHIP, high-K hurler who's not yet reached his peak.
EVANS 1 - Madison Bumgarner, SF, SP: A true king of consistency, the World Series MVP is a top-shelf producer in every starting pitching category. Logging four straight seasons with 200+ IP, he's practically disaster resistent.
FUNSTON 2 - Ian Desmond, Was, SS: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the only 20/20 player in each of past three seasons and only top 5 ranked fantasy shortstop for each of past three seasons (h/t to Scott Strandberg of FanGraphs).
FUNSTON 1 - Josh Donaldson, Tor, 3B: He's been a top 30 fantasy commodity out of the hot corner each of the past two seasons (averaging 26.5 home runs) while playing home games in one of the tougher hitting environments. His home/road splits suggest he'll prefer the home cooking north of the border more.
PIANOWSKI 2 - Jose Altuve, Hou, 2B: Dominates two categories, not a zero in the power area, should score more runs with team on upswing, plays a scarce position.
PIANOWSKI 1 - Freddie Freeman, Atl, 1B: Probably a mistake given where similar first basemen landed in this mock, but I'm happy to pay for his floor (last year) or his upside (2013). And his best season still hasn't happened yet.
PIANOWSKI 1 - Buster Posey, SF, C: Doubtful I'd play this card if catchers weren't mandatory, but no one disputes Posey is the blue chip at the position. Chunk of 1B starts keep him in lineup but lessens wear and tear.
PIANOWSKI 2 - Ryan Braun, Mil, OF: He was hurt for most of 2014, so I'll throw those numbers in the shredder (along with giving him credit for sticking it out). Just 31, doubt the tank is close to empty.
FUNSTON 1 - Victor Martinez, Det, 1B: One of just two players (Jose Abreu the other) to hit .300 (.335) with 30-plus home runs (32) and 100-plus RBI (103). That's Round 3 gravy.
FUNSTON 2 - Adrian Beltre, Tex, 3B: Last season, Injuries and inexperience led the Texas offense to its fewest runs scored since '94, and that negatively impacted Beltre's counting stats (though he still posted a healthy .880 OPS and was ranked top 40 in fantasy). You have to figure the Rangers bounce back on offense, which should help Beltre deliver to the value of this draft spot.
EVANS 1 - Hanley Ramirez, Bos, SS: Han-Ram is heading back to where his career started. The friendlier hitting environment and league should only bolster already terrific across-the-board numbers. Something in range of .285-20-80-80-15 seems reasonable.
EVANS 2 - Billy Hamilton, Cin, OF: Draw a few more walks and he could flirt with 75 steals. His 83.0 contact rate was surprisingly solid last year. Chip in 80-plus runs and a handful of homers and he's worth every penny in Round 3.
BEHRENS 1 - Felix Hernandez, Sea, SP: Felix was under consideration for this team in Round 2, so I can't argue with landing him here. His ratios were silly last season (0.92 WHIP), he gives us 200+ innings per year, and his K% keeps rising.
BEHRENS 2 - Justin Upton, SD, OF: Upton is a high-end power source in a rebuilt lineup, heading into a contract year. He's cleared the fence 56 times over the past two seasons, and power ain't cheap these days.
DEL DON 1 - Stephen Strasburg, WAS, SP: He's failed to fully live up to the hype, but Strasburg did tie for the National League lead in strikeouts last year. His lack of wins over the past two years feels unlucky.
DEL DON 2 - Bryce Harper, WAS, OF: I'll continue to buy into his potential, although at least now his price tag isn't a first round pick. Harper owns a career .272/.351/.465 line, and he's still just 22 years old.
SALFINO 1 - Hunter Pence, SF, OF: ZeroSP rules in effect. I never take a pitcher before seven rounds are in the books. So I'm passing up values that I think I can make up later. Pence is durable and diverse.
SALFINO 2 - Corey Dickerson, OF, COL: How hard is it to hit in Colorado? Hiting everywhere else of course a problem for Dickerson thus far, as are the same-side splits, but the floor is always high with a Rockies regular with any pop.
SALFINO 2 - Evan Longoria, 3B, TB: Maybe I should have taken Frazier, but it just feels like Longoria's year was a bottom and Frazier's a peak. So perhaps the odds are in Longoria's favor. The pickings are slim and we're locked into limited positions.
SALFINO 1 - Kyle Seager, 3B, SEA: Coming off a career year and now I get the benefits of an age 27 season. Could not rationally separate him from Frazier, quite frankly. But had to pick someone.
DEL DON 2 - Max Scherzer, FA, SP: He's been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last two years and could flirt with 300 strikeouts if he signs with a National League team.
DEL DON 1 - Carlos Gonzalez, COL, OF: Obviously there's serious health concerns when it comes to CarGo, but that's why he's available in the middle of the fourth round. He's a top-five fantasy hitter when healthy.
BEHRENS 2 - Yu Darvish, Tex, SP: The fantasy ratios are going to be great, and Darvish's K/9 is ridiculous (11.35 last season). He's throwing, having received a clean bill of health.
BEHRENS 1 - Albert Pujols, LAA, 1B: At the top of a draft, you want reliable, elite performers. We aren't likely to see a vintage Pujols season, but I'll gladly take last year's numbers at this price.
EVANS 2 - Dee Gordon, Mia, 2B: The Billy Hamilton of middle infielders really came into his own in 2014. He greatly improved versus fastballs, cut down on the Ks and more often applied bat to ball. If that continues, he'll be a superb three-cat producer.
EVANS 1 - Yoenis Cespedes, Det, OF: After a disappointing sophomore season, Cespedes bounced back last summer clubbing 22 long-balls with 100 RBI and 89 runs. He isn't running as much, but similar production in a loaded Detroit lineup should be expected.
FUNSTON 2 - Adam Wainwright, STL, SP: There's some concern with his '14 peripherals (i.e., K rate, BABIP, LD%), but we're talking about a 20-win starter with a 2.38 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Even with some decline factored in, there's still a good chance he can be excellent.
FUNSTON 1 - George Springer, Hou, OF: Hit 20 home runs in less than half a season in his first taste of MLB pitching. His extreme strikeout tendencies make his batting average prospects pretty dismal, but he's got Mike Trout upside when it comes to the power/speed combo.
PIANOWSKI 2 - Jose Reyes, Tor, SS: You have to assume he'll miss a month at some point, but guess how many games he played last year? (Your guess is too low). Shortstop is shallow, and no one else jumps out at me here.
PIANOWSKI 1 -Todd Frazier, Cin, 3B: No one wants to pay freight on a spiky breakout year, but Pick 48 doesn't seem unreasonable to me. Maybe 20 bags won't stick, but 20-25 homers, double-digit steals, reasonable average, that's not asking too much.
PIANOWSKI 1 - Matt Kemp, SD, OF: His last high-profile breakup (Rihanna) was followed by monster numbers. Maybe that's pop-culture noise, or maybe he's getting a new setting at the right time.
PIANOWSKI 2 - Jonathan Lucroy, MIL, C: Not many catchers play close to a full schedule, and given that Lucroy is still in his 20s, I'm not worried about a breakdown yet. Also like how he occupies a premium lineup slot.
FUNSTON 1 - Starling Marte, Pit, OF: Needs to find his inner ironman as a laundry list of minor injuries have cut out a sizable chunk of playing time the past two seasons. That said, he enters his prime (26) as a strong 15/30 bet with proven .280 batting average upside.
FUNSTON 2 - Ian Kinsler, Det, 2B: Didn't expect a career-high 161 games from Kinsler (or a top 25 fantasy finish) in his first season in Detroit. Happy to let my bearish thoughts be water under the bridge given the modest price (No. 52 overall) for the leadoff hitter of the No. 2 offense in MLB last season..
EVANS 1 - Charlie Blackmon, Col, OF: Having at least one Silver Bullet in the arsenal is always highly recommended. Leadoff staple should contribute handsomely in all 5X5 categories. Very attractive option in Round 5.
EVANS 2 - Jason Kipnis, Cle, 2B: A myriad of issues contributed to sap Kipnis' power and overall value in 2014, most notably a bum oblique. Entering his Age 28 season, I'm banking on a strong rebound in range of .275-15-75-80-25.
BEHRENS 1 - Nolan Arenado, COL, 3B: At age-23, Arenado gave us 18 homers and 34 doubles over just 111 games, slashing .287/.328/.500. Love the player, love the park.
BEHRENS 2 - Adrian Gonalez, LAD, 1B: At a fifth-round price, I'll happily take 25-plus homers, 100-plus RBIs and a respectable average. Gonzalez hasn't played fewer than 156 games in any of the past nine seasons, so he earns durability points, too.
DEL DON 1 - Joey Votto, CIN, 1B: He's one of the very best hitters in baseball, owning a career .310/.417/.533 line. Injuries have disrupted two of his last three seasons, but Votto is still just 31 years old, so I like buying him low here.
DEL DON 2 - Prince Fielder, TEX, 1B: Speaking of buying low, Fielder has been a perennial first round fantasy pick for most of his career, and I'm not ready to write off the 30 year old who now calls Rangers Ballpark home.
SALFINO 1 - Alex Gordon, KC, OF: So boring, but another guy that just moves the categories forward incrementally, slightly above the expected average rate.
SALFINO 2 - Christian Yelich, FLA, OF: As an avid dynasty player, I'm long familiar with Yelich, who has Springer-like combo upside with a much higher floor given a more advanced approach to hitting (K/BB).
SALFINO 2 - Aroldis Chapman, CIN, RP: I don't really care about the saves. The category for closers is Ks minus IP. You use that surplus to boost your overall K/9 in leagues with innings caps.
SALFINO 1 - Brian Dozier, MIN, 2B: I hate average drags but his relatively narrow K/BB gap suggests that .270 should not be too heavy a lift. Elite combo upside in the middle excites.
DEL DON 2 - Matt Holliday, STL, OF: This is a boring veteran pick who's on the downside of his career, but Holliday is one season removed from being a top-15 fantasy hitter.
DEL DON 1 - Dustin Pedroia, BOS, 2B: His wrist is supposedly healthy, which could lead to a nice bounce back campaign. I strongly debated between Pedroia and Matt Carpenter here.
BEHRENS 2 - Carlos Santana, Cle, C/1B/3B: Santana offers premium power at a position that's tough to fill, plus he's the rare catcher-eligible player who will give us 150-plus games. It's nice to have the flexibility to slot him at the corner, as needed.
BEHRENS 1 - Craig Kimbrel, Atl, RP: Kimbrel's past four seasons have been absolutely obscene, as he's routinely topped 40 saves with eye-popping fantasy ratios (career 1.44 ERA, 0.91 WHIP). His K-rate is ridiculous, too. In Yahoo public roto leagues, where innings are capped, K/9 is king.
EVANS 2 - Matt Carpenter, StL, 3B: He isn't the sexiest name, but a hot corner with 100 run potential who also hits for a tidy average is quite useful. Runs have been, and always will be, the most overlooked stat in 5X5 fantasy baseball.
EVANS 1 - Nelson Cruz, Sea, OF: There's no way he'll sniff 40 homers playing half his games in Seattle, but the Caribbean Cruz is the best proven OF power source left on the board. The hope: .270-27-90-75.
FUNSTON 2 - Kenley Jansen, LAD, RP: How many closers with 40-save, 100-K upside are left? This guy ...
FUNSTON 1- Greg Holland, KC, RP: ... and this guy. Sure, there might be a couple more left on the board (Robertson, Allen), but Jansen and Holland feel like better bets, and the last two closers left in the top tier.
PIANOWSKI 2 - David Price, Det, SP: He's coming off his best season and supported by a strong cast, so I'm surprised the price is this reasonable entering his age-29 season. Speaks to depth of pitching and divergence of opinions on it.
PIANOWSKI 1 - Zack Greinke, LAD, SP: No longer the shiny toy with the glittering upside, but his floor is silly-high in that park and division. And his makeup seems to fit the No. 2 role best, with Kershaw the lead dog.
PIANOWSKI 1 Jay Bruce, Cin, OF: A last year's bum, simple as that. We all talk about power disappearing, so I'll take a stab at someone who was a very consistent power source for several years before one hiccup.
PIANOWSKI 2 Jason Heyward, STL, OF: When in doubt, assume the Cardinals know what they're doing. Still just 25. Maybe the contract year brings out his best, maybe that doesn't matter - I go case-by-case with those things. Doesn't make me want him less, that's for sure.
FUNSTON 1 - Corey Kluber, Cle, SP: Tidy getting both Cy Youngs from last season on the Fun1 squad. It also gives me the starters with the two lowest FIP marks of '14 (2.35 for Kluber), and two of the top 4 starters in K/9 rate (10.27 for Kluber).
FUNSTON 2 - Devin Mesoraco, Cin, C: Made a power play in '14 (25 HR) without crushing his batting average (.273). It's a good time to see what he has in store for an encore as he's just now entering his prime (age 26).
EVANS 1 - Josh Harrison, Pit, 3B: An unsung hero even in shallow mixers last year, Harrison emerged from the darkest depths of the woods to tally a .315-13-52-77-18 line. Entering his prime, it's unlikely he's a one-hit wonder.
EVANS 2 - Jon Lester, ChC, SP: The North Side's supposed savior should deliver on his exorbitant contract. He's the definition of a workhorse, logging at least 191 IP in seven straight seasons. The southpaw is a highly reliable No. 2.
BEHRENS 1 - Jordan Zimmermann, Was, SP: It was just a pure fantasy pleasure to own Zimmermann in the second half last year. The post-break numbers were silly (2.18 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 8.4 K/9), plus he capped his fantasy season with a no-hitter.
BEHRENS 2 - Elvis Andrus, Tex, SS: Andrus is hardly an exceptional value in Round 7, but he offers 30-something-steal speed at a talent scarce spot. The pick works for this team's roster.
DEL DON 1 - David Wright, NYM, 3B: Injuries have no doubt been a problem, but Wright is just two seasons removed from a .306-91-21-93-15 campaign and only recently turned 32 years old.
DEL DON 2 - Cole Hamels, PHI, SP: He had a 2.46 ERA over 204.2 innings last season, so it's safe to say Hamels' nine wins was unlucky. He'll be a great pitcher anywhere, but his fantasy value will hinge somewhat on where he gets traded to.
SALFINO 1 - Yan Gomes, CLE, C: I like the power and hope he can defy his terribe K/BB splits to post a decent batting average, for the third straight year. The fact that he's held his head above water in BA two years running is encouraging.
SALFINO 2 - Yadier Molina, STL, C: Was last year's offensive decline just a random off year or the first part of the decline phase of his career? I have no idea. He's 31 with a ton of catching miles and nowhere else to play in the NL.
SALFINO 2 - Daniel Murphy, NYM, 2B: He needs 30 homers-plus-steals for this pick to make sense. Last year, he had 22. The year before 36. But the SB% last year was good enough. And the fences have come in again at Citi Field.
SALFINO 1 - Alexei Ramirez, CHW, SS: 36 homers plus steals the past two years, though the distribution is inconsistent. He's playing his age 33 season, which is troubling. Have to hope for one more near-peak performance.
DEL DON 2 - Johnny Cueto, CIN, SP: I normally don't love buying players coming off career years, but Cueto just finished with a 2.25 ERA and the lowest BAA (.194) among all starters in baseball, and this is the eighth round. He can regress plenty and still provide a lot of value here.
DEL DON 1 - Matt Harvey, NYM: SP: This is a gamble with him coming off Tommy John Surgery, but Harvey was arguably the best pitcher in baseball in 2013, when he easily led MLB in FIP (he had a 2.00 mark and the second best was Clayton Kershaw's 2.39).
BEHRENS 2 - Kole Calhoun, LAA, OF: Calhoun is a power/speed combo player who owns a privileged spot in an impressive lineup. If he gives us 145 games, he'll produce an easy 100-plus runs.
BEHRENS 1 - Salvador Perez, KC, C: He offers above-average power, RBIs and batting average for his position, plus the Royals never let him rest. Perez is only 24, so there's growth potential here.
EVANS 2 - Javier Baez, ChC, SS: Reach? Potentially, but Baez is a dazzling prospect with superhuman power and plus speed. His wretched 41.5 K% in 213 at-bats last year obviously projects an unsightly BA in '15, but a 25-15 contribution is entirely possible. If you stack quality contact hitters early, he's worth the gamble in the middle rounds.
EVANS 1 - Evan Gattis, Atl, C/OF: A breakout performer last year, Gattis clubbed a homer once every 16.7 at-bats. He was often injury-ridden, but with Justin Upton now swinging it in SoCal, Gattis should see more action in the outfield, a move that could keep him healthier. With 500 at-bats ... 30-35 HR.
FUNSTON 2 - Mookie Betts, Bos, OF: Alas, a Mookie that Boston fans can embrace. And fantasy owners should want to make it a group hug for the now BoSox leadoff hitter who swiped a combined 40 bases at three different levels in '14 and hit at least .291 at each stop (including his 52-game MLB debut).
FUNSTON 1 - Marcell Ozuna, Mia, OF: After just three home runs in 70 games in his '13 Marlins debut, his power finally came online last season (23 HR). His batting average could be a rollercoaster ride given his whiff rate, but there's clear-and-present potential for 30 bombs here.
PIANOWSKI 2 - Pablo Sandoval, Bos, 3B: My two favorite parks are Fenway and AT&T, but if I'm going there with a bat in my hand, take me to The Hub. No Sad Panda here.
PIANOWSKI 1 - Julio Teheran, Atl, SP: I love how he crushed the "must have proof first" dinosaurs all last year. What does knowing how to pitch mean? It speaks to getting outs without max effort, then dialing up heat later if you need it. That's Teheran's game.
PIANOWSKI 1 - David Robertson, CHW, RP: Big K/9 rate, closer contract and leash. Lacks elite control but seems good enough.
PIANOWSKI 2 - Alex Cobb, TB, SP: Change-up makes the angels weep. Better numbers under the catwalk, but the splits aren't ridiculous.
FUNSTON 1 - Starlin Castro, ChC, SS: He's not for everyone, but he's averaged 12 home runs over the past four years and has finished .283 or better in four of his five seasons. He's also only 24, which is to say that his best may still be yet to come.
FUNSTON 2 - Hisashi Iwakuma, Sea, SP: With this pick, you know you're going to get serviceable strikeout numbers and solid ratios (aided by one of the friendliest home parks in the league).
EVANS 1 - Jeff Samardzija, CWS, SP: Don't like the thought of two Chi-Sox pitchers on the same team, but Samardzija was my top SP left on the board. ERA is sure to rise into 3.40-3.60 range, but 200 Ks with 15 wins within reach in South Side digs.
EVANS 2 - Wilin Rosario, Col, C: The Baby Bull was more ground chuck last season as his power numbers dropped off precipitously. Righties, road woes and a GB spike plagued him. Still just 25, a bounce back campaign seems likely, making him a nice discount buy in the later rounds.
BEHRENS 1 - Jorge Soler, Chc, OF: To me, Soler simply looks like a star. He was tremendous at the big league level in last year's cameo, and his minor league numbers were terrific. Over 621 career plate appearances in the minors, he hit 28 homers, 43 doubles, swiped 17 bags in 20 attempts, plus he slashed .307/.383/.551. He's ready.
BEHRENS 2 - Jake Arrieta, Chc, SP: Not only were last season's numbers beastly -- 9.6 K/9, 2.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP -- but he wasn't unusually lucky (2.73 xFIP). Arrieta's K-rate jumped and his walk-rate dropped. He was simply dominant.
DEL DON 1 - Sonny Gray, OAK, SP: He has a 2.99 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over the first 283.0 innings of his career and benefits from playing in a stadium that's decreased homers by 15 percent over the past three years, which is the second most in the American League.
DEL DON 2 - Dellin Betances, NYY, RP: He's coming off one of the best seasons you'll ever see by a relief pitcher, when he posted a 1.40 ERA and 0.78 WHIP with 135 strikouts over 90.0 innings. Betances led all relievers in WAR (3.2) and should slide seamlessly into the closer's role.
SALFINO 1 - Gerrit Cole, PIT, SP: Everyting is lined up for a breakout. Top flight stuff. And finally a desire to pitch with both verocity and economy off his DL stiint (60 Ks, 11 BBs in 52.1 IP). My sleeper Cy Young candidate. But he's still 30 percent projection.
SALFINO 2 - Jacob deGrom, NYM, SP: Lowly regarded as a prospect due to position change from shortstop. Discount the minor-league numbers. Passes every eyeball test. Given his relative inexperience, there's a good chance deGrom will be better in 2015.
SALFINO 2 - Phil Hughes, MIN, SP: You can wait forever for Hughes, who people refuse to believe. He had more than 11 times as many Ks as BBs and clearly fearlessly challenged hitters after escaping the homer-haven in the Bronx.
SALFINO 1 - Sean Doolittle, OAK, RP: The best Ks minus IP closer on the board. So he's mine. I doubt the Moneyball A's will be hung up on him being a lefty. And righties are no touble for him anyway.
DEL DON 2 - Kris Bryant, CHI, 3B: I'm not sure when he'll get a full-time job with the Cubs, but Bryant led the minors last season in homers (43) and OPS (1.098). Steamer currently projects him to hit 16 homers with 42 RBI and five steals this year... in 73 games.
DEL DON 1 - Brian McCann, NYY, C: His batting average has really fallen off over the past few years, but McCann still managed 23 home runs and 75 RBI over 140 games last season. He's still just 30 years old and plays in a home park that increased homers by 61 percent for left-handed batters last season, which was by far the most in MLB.
BEHRENS 2 Tyson Ross, SD, SP: Ross posted outstanding ratios last season somewhat quietly, and he piled up 195 Ks. The Pads have improved the lineup, so I'm expecting something better than 13 wins in 2015.
BEHRENS 1 - Leonys Martin, Tex, OF: This fantasy roster needed speed in the worst way, so Martin fits perfectly. He's swiped 30-plus in back-to-back seasons.
EVANS 2 - J.D. Martinez, Det, OF: The former 'Stro was a fantasy bro in his first season with the Tigers developing into one of the AL's best fastball hitters. It's hard to imagine he'll duplicate a .315 BA, but a final line around .280-23-80-75 is attainable.
EVANS 1 - Mark Trumbo, Ari, OF: Injury limited him to just 328 at-bats in '14, but he did reach the bleachers 14 times and drove in 61. A sub-.250 BA is always a concern, but he should be a 30-100 producer in his Age 29 campaign. Arizona is an awfully attractive home environment.
FUNSTON 2 - Alex Wood, Atl, SP: I love this funky lefty. He's been fanning a batter per inning since he arrived in Atlanta, and he posted a 2.20 ERA in the second half of '14. And unlike the past two seasons, he heads into '15 with a rock-solid spot in the rotation from the get-go.
FUNSTON 1 - Kolten Wong, StL, 2B: You have to worry a bit about his K/BB percentages, but if you count the postseason, he went 15/21 over 121 games in his rookie campaign.
PIANOWSKI 2 - Ben Revere, Phi, OF: Hate spending premium picks on speed, but at least the average is bankable. Hard to sell to the investors, though.
PIANOWSKI 1 - Ben Zobrist, Oak, SS: For a while it was so-underrated-he's-overrated, but maybe the pendulum has swung back. Covers three positions, which is always lovely.
PIANOWSKI 1 - Jose Quintana, CHW, SP: Pitched considerably better than the W-L and front-door ERA suggested last year. Safe investment for strikeouts, and in pocket where players often take a step forward.
PIANOWSKI 2 - Trevor Rosenthal, Stl, RP: He closes. The Cardinals win games. Was on fumes late in 2014, but I expect a fresh start and reasonable leash when things start up.
FUNSTON 1 - Gio Gonzalez, Was, SP: Was up-and-down in '14, but his FIP (3.03) was a half run better than his ERA (3.57) and he closed out the final month on a roll (2.48 ERA). He's a pretty safe play at this point in the draft.
FUNSTON 2 - Shin-Soo Choo, Tex, OF: Plenty went wrong in Texas last season, including Choo's campaign. In Round 11, I'm willing to issue a do-over for a .282 career hitter who has gone 20-20 in three of his past four full seasons (and 16/21 in the other).
EVANS 1 - Hyun-Jin Ryu, LAD, SP: The third-year hurler doesn't hurt you anywhere. He's good for double-digit wins, a profitable ERA/WHIP and above average strikeouts. In other words, he's a terrific complement to a pair of SP cornerstones.
EVANS 2 - Carlos Carrasco, Phi, SP: His stirring second half (78.2 IP, 1.72 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 86 K) will drive his value through the roof in auctions, but this is where he should go in mixed snakes. He's a SP3 with considerable upside, but not much more.
BEHRENS 1 - Howie Kendrick, LAD, 2B: As a few of you probably know, I'm a longtime Kendrick supporter. No, he's never quite delivered on the future-batting-crown hype, but he's setteled in as a useful double-digit power/speed guy who hits .285-.295. That will play in Round 11.
BEHRENS 2 - Manny Machado, Bal, 3B: Health is no small concern (knee), but, as of this writing, he still seems on track for spring training. Machado is still just 22, far from a finished product, and he's done much better than tread water in the bigs. In a healthy season, he can go 90-20-90-.285.
DEL DON 1 - Jimmy Rollins, LAD, SS: He moves to a tougher park for hitters but also to a much better lineup. I waited on shortstops yet ended up with Rollins, who finished as the No. 7 fantasy SS last year, ahead of Hanley Ramirez.
DEL DON 2 - Jhonny Peralta, STL, SS: He had 21 homers and 75 RBI last season, which isn't bad for a late pick at shortstop. It's also nice that he had the majority of his at-bats come hitting fifth in St. Louis' lineup.
SALFINO 1 - Masahiro Tanaka, NYY, SP: I have no idea whether his partially-torn elbow will hold up like it did for years with Adam Wainright and even longer Felix Hernandez. But I also have no fear of finding starters later and on waivers. Tanaka if healthy is top shelf.
SALFINO 2 - Garrett Richards, LAA, SP: Great velocity but a very high slider percentage. Doesn't have bad platoon splits. Could get better. Wish he had a change, but I'll make a one-year commitment.
SALFINO 2 - Alcides Escobar, KC, SS: Needed steals and feel pretty good about him grabbing 30-plus bags. No pop. Not likely an average drag. Wish I did better at short than him but he does do something useful.
SALFINO 1 - Matt Shoemaker, LAA, SP: He's basically Iwakuma without the respect. Same devastating splitter. Same elite walk rate and better than average Ks. Velocity is a question but he doesn't need much given the split.
DEL DON 2 - Matt Wieters, BAL, C: He slugged five homers over 26 games with a career best .308/.339/.500 line before suffering a season-ending elbow injury. Wieters was primed to finally live up to the hype (at least to some extent), and the 28-year-old should be good to go at the start of this season.
DEL DON 1 - Mark Melancon, PIT, RP: He plays in an extreme pitcher's park and sports a 1.65 ERA and 0.92 WHIP with a 7.4 K:BB ratio over the past two years. In other words, he's been one of the best relievers in baseball.
BEHRENS 2 - James Shields, FA, SP: This seems like a long fall for a guy who delivers 200-plus innings with solid ratios and a respectable K-rate. When he has an employer, expect the price to increase.
BEHRENS 1 - Cody Allen, Cle, RP: Allen fanned 91 batters in just 69.2 IP last season, delivering 24 saves with useful ratios (2.07 ERA, 1.06 WHIP). If you tend to avoid the luxury closers in fantasy drafts, he's a nice foundation piece for your 'pen.
EVANS 2 - Joaquin Benoit, SD, RP: Sure he's getting up there in age, but he's still popping the mitt in the mid-90s and was effective as a closer when healthy in '14. On an improved roster and generating better than a K per inning ... 30-35 saves.
EVANS 1 - Steve Cishek, Mia, RP: The underappreciated reliever has accounted for 75 saves the past two seasons. His job security is very, very safe. And he's usually good for over a K per inning.
FUNSTON 2 - David Ortiz, Bos, 1B: He's the Mariano Rivera of sluggers. You can try to predict when his bottom will fall out, but you'll most likely be wrong. He's coming off back-to-back 30-home run campaigns (in his age 37 and 38 seasons!).
FUNSTON 1 - Yasmani Grandal, LAD, C: He showed some pop last season (15 home runs), and he has hit for average in the past. Now 26 years old, and playing in a fairly loaded Dodgers' offense, it's worth rolling the dice to see if he can finally put those two skills together.
PIANOWSKI 2 - Ian Kennedy, SD, SP: Nice depth in this rotation and obviously the lineup has been upgraded. Petco Park not only hides mistakes, but it allows pitchers to work more aggressively, knowing they can get away with more. Good for the psyche.
PIANOWSKI 1 - Neil Walker, Pit, 2B: His 2009-2012 returns justify this spot, and last year's pop (if he can keep it) would make him a bargain. When he makes contact, it's usually hard contact.
Here's a final look at each team's roster:
Andrew Wiggins: The No. 1 overall pick wasn’t even a top-200 fantasy player over the first two months of the year but has turned it on of late, averaging 21.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 84.4 percent from the line over the last seven games, a span in which he was the No. 17 ranked fantasy player while becoming just the third teenager in NBA history to score 20 points in six straight contests. Minnesota has the sixth-highest PACE in the league, and Wiggins has clearly turned it around after a rough start to his NBA career.
Rudy Gobert: Over the last six games, he’s averaged 8.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals and a whopping 4.7 blocks. The 22-year-old isn’t yet much of a scorer, but Gobert is quickly establishing himself as one of the best rim protectors in the league. In fact, his 2.18 bpg this season ranks fifth in the NBA, and that’s with him seeing just 20.7 mpg (no one else in the top-10 has averaged fewer than 25.7 mpg). Gobert has been the No. 21 ranked fantasy player over the past month, and it’d be a shame if he doesn’t continue starting despite the return of Enes Kanter. Gobert is currently owned in only 54 percent of Yahoo leagues, which is a number that’s surely to climb soon.
Jusuf Nurkic: His propensity to foul is going to limit his playing time, but Nurkic looks like Denver’s new starting center now with Timofey Mozgov traded to Cleveland. Nurkic was selected with the No. 16 pick of last year’s draft and is just 20 years old, and he’s averaged 12.0 ppg, 1.0 spg and 2.5 bpg over two starts (in just 21:52 mpg). He’s been the No. 13 ranked fantasy player over the past two weeks yet is owned in only 45 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Jae Crowder: He scored a career-high 22 points with four steals and two blocks Monday, and while it’s never a good idea to overreact to one game, he’s currently starting for Boston after the team traded away Jeff Green (as well as Rajon Rondo and Brandan Wright). The Celtics have the second-highest PACE in the NBA, and Crowder has averaged 13.1 points, 5.0 boards, 2.1 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.4 3pt on a per-36 minute basis this season, so he’s worth a flier in deeper leagues. Evan Turner has also become someone worth watching, as he’s taken over as Boston’s starting point guard, but he’s shooting an ugly 29.3 percent (12-for-41) over the past four games.
Eric Gordon: Back in action for the first time since November, Gordon has immediately been reinstated into New Orleans’ starting lineup, and he’s hit three three-pointers in each of the past three games. Gordon is worth an add if you need help in treys, and his value would further increase if Jrue Holiday’s recent ankle injury proves serious.
Mark Jackson’s commentary while announcing the Warriors game Friday night was fascinating, highlighted by this.
Dwight Howard: He’s always the toughest player to evaluate, as Howard’s fantasy value relies so heavily upon format, as he can be plenty useful in points leagues or even head-to-head if you choose a punting strategy. But despite claims before the season he felt healthier than he has in years, he’s actually having arguably the worst fantasy campaign of career. He’s the No. 234 ranked player in nine-cat leagues (this drops to No. 286 over the past two months), and this is on a per-game basis, so his 12 DNPs aren’t even factored in here. Howard’s rpg (11.3), spg (0.7), bpg (1.6) and PER (19.22) are all either the lowest or second-lowest marks of his career while his free throw shooting remains an abomination (50.0%). Howard averaged 3.5 blocks/steals during his one year in Los Angeles that was generally considered a pretty big disappointment. Now two more years removed from back surgery, he’s averaged 2.3 blocks/steals this season.
Jeff Green: While everyone is applauding Memphis trading for Green, he’s actually been outside the top-200 in fantasy ranks over the past month. He also now goes from a Boston team that’s ranked No. 2 in PACE this season to a Memphis squad that ranks No. 27 and has many more scoring options, so Green better quickly become a lot more efficient if he wants to be fantasy relevant.
Tristan Thompson: With the Cavs trading for Timofey Mozgov, Thompson has moved to a bench role, and if the early returns are any indication, it’s going to be a big hit to his minutes. Add in the imminent return of LeBron James, and Thompson’s Usage Rate is also about to plummet. The former top-five pick continues to disappoint.
Lou Williams: He’s been a top-100 fantasy player this year but has been mired in a bad shooting slump of late, going 28-for-79 (35.4 percent) from the floor over the past six games, a span in which he’s been the No. 245 ranked fantasy player. Moreover, DeMar DeRozan’s return from a groin injury appears imminent. Williams’ minutes were way down earlier this year before DeRozan got hurt, although it’s worth noting Toronto sports the second-best Offensive Efficiency in the NBA.
Wilson Chandler: Like Lou Williams, Chandler has been a top-100 fantasy player this year but has been dealing with an even more prolonged shooting slump, as his FG% is just 38.1 over the past month, when he’s ranked as the No. 188 player. He’ll likely soon bounce back, but Chandler has been dealing with a nagging quad contusion and recently missed a game thanks to a knee injury, so maybe his health has been affecting his play more than we’ve been led to believe.
With only seven months until draft season kicks in, we better get some rankings out to the people. In this edition, we'll tackle the wide receivers. (Don't tackle too hard, those zebras sure are trigger-happy.)
I'll be shuffling all the major positions out the door, one at a time, just to give us something to talk about. I'm not in any way married to these 2015 ranks or opinions; surely I'll forget many (most) of them by the time pitchers and catchers report, if not sooner. But lists are fun, rankings are fun.
A few rules: players at the same price are considered even; the dollar values are merely comparison tools and are arrived at unscientifically; and I refuse to rank rookies before the NFL draft. We have to draw the line somewhere.
Marinate on the wideout prices through the overnight. I'll add commentary Wednesday, and maybe move a few things around.
$33 Antonio Brown
$32 Demaryius Thomas
$31 Dez Bryant
$30 Jordy Nelson
$29 A.J. Green
$29 Odell Beckham Jr.
$28 Calvin Johnson
$27 Julio Jones
$26 Mike Evans
$25 Randall Cobb
$24 Alshon Jeffery
$23 T.Y. Hilton
$23 Brandon Marshall
$22 Kelvin Benjamin
Look how much fun the top of the receiver board is. There's something for everybody. Young players, familiar veterans, taller wideouts, smaller wideouts. You're going to want some of these guys. You'll be spending premium picks and dollars on them.
You can rank Beckham anywhere you want and I won't really argue with you. He's proven to be an uncoverable freak, and we've seen what his theoretical upside is - top receiver in fantasy. That's what he became over the final two months of 2014. Ultimately I dinged him every so slightly because he's only done it once, and he's tied to an ordinary quarterback. The expected return of Victor Cruz doesn't bother me for Beckham, though, and the presence of Rueben Randle - pshaw.
Jones and Johnson had to come down a little bit in price given their injury histories. That said, they could easily make someone very happy in the second round of a 2015 draft.
Here's a list of all of Hilton's touchdowns by length, covering his three-year career: 75 (punt return), 73, 73, 70, 61, 58, 43, 42, 40, 36, 33, 31, 29, 28, 14, 10, 9, 8, 3, 1. At least the two shortest scores came this year (and both after Thanksgiving); long touchdowns will come and go, but the ability to score from short distances is critical for any big-ticket wideout. Hilton saw just three inside-10 targets in his first two years, and nothing at the goal. This year those numbers crept to six and two (with the two scores). Sure, a 5-foot-9, 178-pound player isn't ideally suited for the design teams favor around the stripe, but there's always a place for lateral agility, a guy who can get open.
$21 Josh Gordon
$21 Jeremy Maclin
$21 Emmanuel Sanders
$20 DeSean Jackson
$19 Mike Wallace
$19 Keenan Allen
$18 Sammy Watkins
$18 DeAndre Hopkins
$18 Golden Tate
$17 Torrey Smith
$16 Jordan Matthews
$15 Michael Floyd
$15 Eric Decker
$15 Julian Edelman
$14 Martavis Bryant
$13 Vincent Jackson
$13 Roddy White
$13 Andre Johnson
$12 Kenny Stills
$11 Donte Moncrief
$11 Victor Cruz
$11 Percy Harvin
$11 Brandon Cooks
$10 Brandon LaFell
$10 Larry Fitzgerald
Jackson's year in Washington flew a little under the radar. Despite the team's rotating and mediocre play at quarterback, Jackson led all league qualifiers in yards per target and yards per catch. He snagged 13 passes of 40 yards or more; no one else had more than eight. And he did all of this on a piddly 95 targets, just 17.6 percent of Washington's passing game. Start pumping the ball Jackson's way, Jay Gruden. Find more ways to use your most dynamic weapon.
Jordan Matthews and Riley Cooper both saw more red-zone targets than Jeremy Maclin. One of those is fine, one of those is a joke . . . We're used to Andre Johnson not scoring much, but it's interesting to note he had the highest market share inside the red zone last year (his targets against his team's overall targets) and still scored just three times. Some other players with heavy share of red-zone targets but low touchdown counts: Cecil Shorts, Vincent Jackson, Julian Edelman, and Ruby Tuesday of course. On the flip side, here are some names who scored plenty despite ordinary red-zone market share: Jeremy Maclin, Emmy Sanders, Martavis Bryant, T.Y. Hilton, Michael Floyd . . . I originally had Cooks over Stills, then I thought of who would scare me more if I were an opposing defensive coordinator. Flip-flop. I'd make the gap larger if I knew the Saints were 100 percent on board.
$9 Jarvis Landry
$9 Kendall Wright
$8 Allen Robinson
$8 Michael Crabtree
$8 Anquan Boldin
$7 John Brown
$7 Davante Adams
$7 Pierre Garcon
$7 Justin Blackmon
$7 Cecil Shorts
$7 Charles Johnson
$7 Steve Smith Sr.
$6 Cody Latimer
$6 Justin Hunter
$6 Marqise Lee
$6 Robert Woods
$6 Terrance Williams
Two things I want from all of my fantasy commodities, in any sport: talent, and an obsessive desire to be great. With that in mind, I'm still willing to chase Smith Sr. and Boldin a little bit next year, perfect WR4 (or maybe even WR5) types. If they add something to my roster, prove playable regularly, great. If they finally hit that cliff season, no big deal, the price was probably right. It's a shame you can't take the internal motor with these guys and give it to someone with insane natural gifts and a laissez-faire attitude - looking at you, Josh Gordon . . . I expect Randall Cobb will return to the Pack, so I'm not getting frisky for any of Green Bay's support receivers just yet . . . Terrance Williams started off as one of those low-volume touchdown flukes, and then things really fell apart when Jason Witten woke up and Cole Beasley emerged. I'm not confident he'll ever be a Top 30 fantasy receiver so long as Bryant is in town.
$5 Brian Quick
$5 Cordarrelle Patterson
$5 Marques Colston
$5 Stedman Bailey
$5 Rueben Randle
$5 Paul Richardson
$5 Doug Baldwin
$4 Mohamed Sanu
$4 Dwayne Bowe
$4 Marquess Wilson
$4 Andrew Hawkins
$4 Jermaine Kearse
$3 Marvin Jones
$3 Andre Holmes
$3 Kenny Britt
$3 Greg Jennings
$3 Allen Hurns
$3 Harry Douglas
$3 Malcom Floyd
$2 Markus Wheaton
$2 Reggie Wayne
$2 James Jones
$2 Hakeem Nicks
$2 Taylor Gabriel
$2 Jarius Wright
Patterson's skills remain as raw as ever, but a major thumbs down to the job Norv Turner did with Patterson. Do the Vikings remember what Patterson did in St. Louis on opening day, with three crummy handoffs? It's frustrating to see talent wasted like this. Minnesota has some interesting talent elsewhere at the position (Charles was in charge late in the year), but that doesn't excuse Turner for his mess . . . Everyone knows the Chiefs wideouts didn't score any touchdowns, but they were a joke everywhere on the field. The KC wideouts were also last in catches (129) and yards (1,588), trailing the Rams by 32 grabs and 504 yards. That's not easy to do. And this freaking team was in playoff contention in Week 17 . . . Douglas is a between-the-20s hero, but he doesn't break enough long catches and he doesn't do much in the red area. The last two years: 136 catches, 206 targets, four piddly touchdowns. He didn't even make it to 11 yards a grab last season. And he has a mere eight scores on 419 career targets (258 receptions). Feel free to acquire him when Jones or White gets hurt next year, and then ship him in trade before everyone remembers how ordinary Douglas is. There's no upside worth chasing here . . . I panned Colston before the year and he looked like toast midway through 2014, but quietly he scored four times in his last six games and he also pushed his YPC back up to 15.3. Maybe he'll be an Ibanez All-Star next summer. I'll revisit his case in a few months.
$1 Tavon Austin
$1 Riley Cooper
$1 Nate Washington
$1 Jeff Janis
$0 Stevie Johnson
$0 Rod Streater
$0 Eddie Royal
$0 Bruce Ellington
$0 Andre Roberts
$0 Nick Toon
$0 Brian Hartline
$0 Cole Beasley
$0 Jeremy Kerley
$0 Brice Butler
$0 Aaron Dobson
$0 Josh Huff
$0 Albert Wilson
$0 Wes Welker
$0 Jarrett Boykin
$0 Kamar Aiken
On Monday, the Knicks, Thunder and Cavs managed to complete a three-team trade in which no player involved gained fantasy value. In a way, that's really a remarkable achievement. So kudos to those franchises. If you're still having trouble wrapping your head around the fact that J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters were both flipped in the same deal ... well, yeah. It all seems wonderfully insane.
In New York, a whole pile of (regrettable) minutes and (probably bad) field goal attempts are suddenly up for grabs, so let's review a few widely available options...
SG Tim Hardaway Jr., NYK (28 percent owned)
Yeah, this add might feel awful. It's not for everyone. Hardaway has been shooting poorly in recent weeks, and shooting frequently. That's generally a terrible combination. But I can't believe this sub-40-percent terror will continue indefinitely; he was better than this as a rookie (42.8 percent). He won't lack for opportunities in the near-term, with Smith and Shump shipped and Carmelo Anthony headed for a seemingly inevitable shutdown...
Carmelo says he's not shutting it down "yet." I guess that means he's still on pace to be All Star Game MVP at MSG. But the following day...— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) January 7, 2015
Hardaway offers threes and points, with the occasional defensive goodie. And that's about it. He clearly can't be ignored in fantasy right now, but he's much safer in a points-league (a format no one should play). In deep-ish leagues, rookie wing Cleanthony Early could get interesting as well. He's played 51 total minutes over New York's last two games, shooting poorly but delivering four steals.
C Cole Aldrich, NYK (20 percent owned)
New York just waived Samuel Dalembert, and both Amare Stoudemire (knee) and Andrea Bargnani (calf) are dinged, shockingly. So Aldrich is gonna play. This is a large dude who's delivered a few useful games lately, and his per-36 numbers are encouraging: 13.2 PTS, 10.8 REB, 2.1 BLK, 52.4 FG%. Thus, he's on the radar if you're looking for a big. He offers low-level double-double potential, plus blocks. Jettison at the first sign of trouble.
OK, we're done with Knicks here, for at least the next month. Look elsewhere for Quincy Acy propaganda. Moving on...
PG/SG Mo Williams, Min (21 percent owned)
You've no doubt seen a few promising notes on Ricky Rubio's player page lately, so there's no need to get too excited about Mo. Also, this isn't 2006. Williams is hardly a golden ticket. But for however long Rubio remains on the shelf, Mo can help the fantasy community. He's scored 37 points over his last two games, with six threes and 10 assists. He has some fantasy relevance. Mo is also a fragile player on the wrong side of 30, with trade risk attached. Don't get too comfortable.
C Jusuf Nurkic, Den (25 percent owned)
So this might be nothing more than a big man on a hot streak...
...but still, it's pretty great. That's 14 blocks over four games, with points and boards and non-terrible shooting. And some of these blocks are high-quality denials. I'm in. Let's see where the rookie's story goes from here. If the long-rumored Timofey Mozgov-to-Cleveland deal ever materializes, minutes shouldn't be an issue for Nurkic. He's a terrific speculative pickup.
Jeff Teague: He’s been on fire of late, averaging 23.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.4 3pt while shooting 52.1 percent from the field over the past five games. Teague has improved his PER in all six years he’s been in the NBA, including a 22.31 mark this season that ranks No. 16 in the league. That’s a trend going in the right direction, as his True Shooting Percentage (59.5) is a career high as well. The point guard has helped lead the Hawks to an impressive 26-8 record, as Teague has been a top-20 fantasy player over the past two weeks, and there’s little reason to sell high here.
Tyson Chandler: Over the last 10 games, he’s averaged 11.3 points, 13.1 rebounds and 1.0 blocks while shooting 62.9 percent from the floor and 79.6 percent from the line. At age 32, Chandler’s 12.1 rpg this season are the second most of his career, while his 1.2 apg are a career high. His 67.3 FG% is the second best in the NBA, and it helps playing for a Dallas team that has the best Offensive Efficiency (112.7) in the league. Despite an extremely modest Usage Rate (12.5), Chandler has been the No. 21 ranked player over the past two weeks.
Zaza Pachulia: He’s averaged 12.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals while shooting 55.5 percent from the field over the past six games. Pachulia has moved into Milwaukee’s starting lineup, and it could last for the foreseeable future, as Larry Sanders’ status is up in the air. Pachulia isn’t much of a shot blocker, but he’s a decent free throw shooter and an above average passer for a center. As long as he’s starting, he’s worth owning in fantasy leagues.
Tim Hardaway Jr.: He’s hardly been the most efficient 9-cat player, to say the least, but those in need of scoring and/or three-pointers should look toward Hardaway, who’s attempted a whopping 6.6 3pt per game over his past 11 contests, a mark right in line with what James Harden, Klay Thompson and Ryan Anderson have on the year. With Carmelo Anthony (knee) a serious candidate to be shut down for the season, and the Knicks shipping away J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, Hardaway’s volume is likely to go up even further moving forward.
Kenneth Faried: After finishing as a top-60 player in each of the past two seasons, including a monster second half last year when he got 18.8 ppg and 10.1 rpg, the 25-year-old Faried was expected to take yet another leap in 2014/15. Instead, he was one of the bigger disappointments early on (he averaged 10.7 points and 6.5 boards in November). But Faried has really turned it on of late, averaging 16.1 points and 14.4 rebounds while shooting 55.5 percent from the floor over the previous seven contests. Faried has been the No. 31 ranked player over the past two weeks and any window to buy low has likely passed.
Here are the best bloopers from December, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Derrick Rose: This isn’t the first time Rose has appeared as a downgrade here, but the criticism isn’t even about his durability this time. Rose is owned in 99 percent of Yahoo leagues, yet he’s been the No. 215 ranked player (on a per-game basis!) over the last two months. Over the past five games, the former MVP has shot an ugly 26.3 percent from the field (25-of-95), including a 4-of-23 mark from behind the arc. Rose’s Usage Rate (31.0) is the second highest of his career, while his Assist Ratio (19.1) is the second lowest of his career. Forget all the injuries, his performance when on the court has been even more troubling.
Dion Waiters: As a former top-five overall pick entering his third year in the league, Waiters appeared to be a breakout candidate, although it wasn’t exactly surprising to see him take a step back in scoring with LeBron James and Kevin Love joining him in Cleveland. Waiters’ Usage Rate (22.9) actually hasn’t taken a major hit, but his ability to shoot has, despite the fact defenses have been focusing on stopping his teammates. He’s shot 12-of-35 over the past two games and 2-of-18 from downtown over the past seven contests. In an effort to improve a defense that ranks No. 23 in efficiency this season, the Cavaliers traded Waiters to the Thunder, where he’ll join a team that has two players who rank in the top-five in Usage Rate. There’s still plenty of time for the 23-year-old to improve, but the move to Oklahoma City is a lateral one at best when it comes to his short-term fantasy value.
Josh Smith: Already in the midst of the worst fantasy season of his career, Smith’s value has taken an even bigger hit since getting traded to Houston, where he’s averaged a paltry 9.0 ppg while somehow posting a 1.8/3.0 AST/TO ratio (the only other time he’s gotten more turnovers than assists was his rookie year). Smith has been the No. 230 ranked player over the past month, so it’s perplexing he’s still owned in 82 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues.
Jose Calderon: He’s just one season removed from averaging 7.4 apg (with just 1.7 tpg), but despite averaging three-plus more minutes per game this season compared to then, Calderon has gotten just 4.3 apg while shooting a career worst 40.1 percent from the floor. Here are his fantasy ranks over the past four years, respectively: 81, 60, 50 and 69. He’s currently ranked No. 137, including being No. 199 over the past two weeks. It doesn’t help playing for a dysfunctional Knicks team that has the second lowest PACE (92.4) in the NBA this season.
Reggie Jackson: He’s been a top-90 player over the past two months and is owned in 80 percent of Yahoo leagues, but Jackson has been in a big shooting slump of late, as he’s sporting a 36.6 FG% (26-of-71) over the past six games. Moreover, not only has his fantasy value taken a hit with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook now finally healthy together, but also with the addition of another wing shooter in Dion Waiters, Jackson’s Usage Rate should continue to fall.
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With only seven months until draft season kicks in, we better get some rankings out to the people. In this edition, we'll tackle the running backs.
I'll be shuffling all the major positions out the door, one at a time, just to give us something to talk about. I'm not in any way married to these 2015 ranks or opinions; surely I'll forget many (most) of them by the time pitchers and catchers report, if not sooner. But lists are fun, rankings are fun.
A few rules: players at the same price are considered even; the dollar values are merely comparison tools and are arrived at unscientifically; and I refuse to rank rookies before the NFL draft. We have to draw the line somewhere.
$34 Le’Veon Bell
$32 DeMarco Murray
$31 Jamaal Charles
$30 Matt Forte
$30 Eddie Lacy
$29 Marshawn Lynch
$27 Arian Foster
$26 LeSean McCoy
$25 C.J. Anderson
For two months, Anderson was an afterthought in the Denver offense. As a third-stringer and an undrafted player to begin with, the second-year back hardly played. Anderson had a mere 21 touches through the first nine weeks of the year.
But when the Ronnie Hillman injury piled on top of the Montee Ball injury, the Broncos had no choice. Anderson had to play. And man, did he go ballistic over the last two months.
Consider what Anderson accomplished from Weeks 10-17, an eight-game sample:
- Anderson led all backs in fantasy points. Only Le'Veon Bell outscored him on a game-by-game basis.
- Only Matt Forte, Bell, and Fred Jackson had more receptions.
- Only DeMarco Murray had more carries. Only Jeremy Hill had more rushing yards.
- Check out Anderson's weekly Yahoo rank at running back over the final eight weeks: 3rd, 10th, 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 16th, 4th, 1st. This guy won leagues for so many people.
The efficiency numbers were strong, too. Anderson averaged 4.7 yards a carry, caught 30-of-39 targets. The tape backed him up; he ran inside and outside, secured tough yards and broke some long-distance runs, too. Third dow, no problem. Goal-line, no problem. Heavy workload, no problem.
Pedigree means something at all positions, but there are plenty of star running backs who were drafted late or not at all. Two months is too long a sample, 192 touches is too much of a sample. Heck, Anderson is too good at too many things. This isn't a case of a running back simply producing because everyone is afraid of his team's passing game; remember, Peyton Manning hasn't been sharp for a couple of months.
I think Anderson is the real deal. I can't wait to watch him in January, and I hope he's on some of my 2015 teams.
$24 Adrian Peterson
$23 Jeremy Hill
$20 Alfred Morris
$20 Lamar Miller
$17 Mark Ingram
$16 Andre Ellington
$16 Joique Bell
$15 Tre Mason
$13 Giovani Bernard
$12 Chris Ivory
$12 Isaiah Crowell
$12 Latavius Murray
$12 Ryan Mathews
$12 Jonathan Stewart
Hill and Bernard basically had the same yards per reception, and Hill had a much better catch rate (27-for-32). It's a shame Bernard is around to complicate Hill's upside, but I'd be shocked if Hill wasn't the primary horse in this backfield next year . . . The Dolphins were careful not to run Miller into the ground – he never had a game with more than 19 carries – but a sneaky floor was also at play. He made it to 11 carries in 15 of 16 games, and he wasn't a total zero in the passing game (38-275-1) . . . The Browns threw to their running backs less than any team last season, and both Crowell and West had limited pass-catching experience in college. Although the last thing fantasy owners want in Cleveland is another three-headed backfield, this team desperately needs to find a pass-catching back, or develop someone in that area.
$11 Carlos Hyde
$11 Denard Robinson
$11 Devonta Freeman
$10 Shane Vereen
$10 Ahmad Bradshaw
$9 Frank Gore
$9 Rashad Jennings
$9 Reggie Bush
$8 Justin Forsett
$8 Fred Jackson
$8 C.J. Spiller
$8 Dan Herron
$7 Darren Sproles
$7 Terrance West
$7 LeGarrette Blount
$7 Bishop Sankey
Hyde is going to be one of the trendiest breakout picks next year, and I might get on board if the team does something with Frank Gore. But knowing how well Gore takes care of his body, I'm not going to assign him a standard age and workload downgrade. I still think he'll be a useful, and regular, player for someone, probably San Francisco. And Hyde owners might be in for the same type of frustrating waiting game they withstood through his rookie season . . . The Patriots will have plenty of rushing production in a season, but most of their big games are impossible to project ahead of time. And often a big New England game will lead you down the rabbit hole for future weeks, chasing points. I hate to toss out absolutes in our numbers racket, but I don't think it's a bad idea to never draft a New England running back so long as the current regime is running things. Also consider how often the Pats will likely play in prime-time games – those are always trickier calls for fantasy purposes. (If I didn't downgrade the Pats enough for you, keep subtracting their dollar-figures until they're in your no-fly zone.)
$6 Steven Jackson
$6 Jerick McKinnon
$6 Andre Williams
$5 Trent Richardson
$5 James Starks
$5 Stevan Ridley
$5 Doug Martin
$5 Christine Michael
$5 Knowshon Moreno
$5 Matt Asiata
$5 Roy Helu
$4 Chris Johnson
$4 Branden Oliver
$4 Pierre Thomas
$4 Bernard Pierce
$4 Toby Gerhart
$3 Lorenzo Taliaferro
$3 Ronnie Hillman
$3 Jonas Gray
$3 Kerwynn Williams
$3 Charles Sims
$3 Alfred Blue
$3 Ben Tate
$3 Knile Davis
Asiata basically is this generation's Leroy Hoard, a touchdown gobbler. And hey, he can catch the ball, too. He might wind up being a sneaky (if ugly) deep-league flex option again next year. He was the only Minnesota running back who scored a touchdown last year . . . It's like the fifth Dentist coming around the recommending Trident; the Colts have finally accepted that Richardson can't play – at least, their recent ball distribution suggests that. Herron is a better player, and everyone knows a healthy Bradshaw is, too. It was cute to watch some pundits make excuses for Richardson all through 2013, but mercifully that music has stopped now.
$2 Theo Riddick
$2 Chris Polk
$2 Bobby Rainey
$2 Lance Dunbar
$2 Robert Turbin
$2 Khiry Robinson
$2 Zac Stacy
$2 Danny Woodhead
$2 Darren McFadden
$2 Ka'Deem Carey
$2 Joseph Randle
$2 Montee Ball
$1 Benny Cunningham
$1 Bryce Brown
$1 Storm Johnson
$1 James White
$1 Kendall Hunter
With only seven months until draft season kicks in, we better get some rankings out to the people. In this edition, we'll tackle the tight ends.
I'll be shuffling all the major positions out the door this week, one at a time, just to give us something to talk about. I'm not in any way married to these 2015 ranks or opinions; surely I'll forget many (most) of them by the time pitchers and catchers report, if not sooner. But lists are fun, rankings are fun.
A few rules: players at the same price are considered even; the dollar values are merely comparison tools and are arrived at unscientifically; and I refuse to rank rookies before the NFL draft. We have to draw the line somewhere.
Rob Gronkowski $33
Jimmy Graham $28
Julius Thomas $27
Greg Olsen $23
Travis Kelce $22
If we ignore Gronkowski's messed-up 2013 season, here are his TE ranks for his career: fifth, first, third (despite 11 games) and first. He was the sixth overall scorer in the Value Based Drafting rankings for 2011 (we're talking about all positions here), and 11th this season. You've seen the numbers and you've definitely seen the tape. How do you cover this guy? How do you not consider him with a first-round pick next year? Age is on his side; he turns 26 in May. And Tom Brady is still playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Everyone can see Kelce's gross underuse - everyone but the Chiefs, that is. He led the position in yards per target, and he was third in catches of 20 yards and up, despite ranking just 14th in overall looks. Surely a larger market share is on the way next season . . . The underrated Olsen bit was fun while it lasted; that probably evaporates next year. His EOS rank the last three years: 4th, 8th, 7th. Carolina's passing game basically had two options in 2014.
Martellus Bennett $20
Dwayne Allen $19
Jordan Cameron $17
Zach Ertz $17
Delanie Walker $17
Jordan Reed $16
Antonio Gates $16
Charles Clay $14
Although Clay missed two games and wasn't at full throttle for many others, he still received plenty of use, especially around the scoring area. His 20 red-zone targets ranked second at the position, and his 13 looks inside the 10-yard line were tied for first. Miami obviously doesn't have a freakish wide receiver talent for those shorter looks around the scoring stripe, and while Clay isn't gigantic by TE standards (he's 6-foot-3), he's a monster compared to the other receiving options here . . . Gates is a lot like Tony Gonzalez, one of those aging-gracefully players who's going to be fantasy relevant until the day he retires. Nonetheless, Gates turns 36 in June, something we can't ignore. And I doubt Keenan Allen will score just four touchdowns in 2015. Keep in mind Gates scored 7, 7 and 4 touchdowns before exploding for 12 spikes this year.
Kyle Rudolph $12
Jason Witten $12
Larry Donnell $10
Coby Fleener $8
Mychal Rivera $8
Austin Seferian-Jenkins $7
Jace Amaro $7
Dennis Pitta $7
A lot of sunshine was sent Rudolph's way before 2014, but injuries wrecked the story. Teddy Bridgewater was playing some snappy football at the end of his rookie year . . . Rivera would be near the bottom of the list if we were picking Olympic decathletes, but he understands how to get open in tight spaces and he's established some rapport with Derek Carr. And there's nothing special on Oakland's wide receiver depth chart.
Eric Ebron $6
Ladarius Green $6
Luke Willson $6
Heath Miller $5
Tyler Eifert $4
Vernon Davis $4
Tim Wright $4
Perhaps it's better to be a year late than a year early with respect to the Green-type breakouts. His emergence might not completely happen until Gates walks away from football . . . Maybe I'm overreacting to what Willson's shown the last two weeks, but the Seahawks have always raved about his raw abilities, there's a star quarterback in-house, and nothing special at the other receiving spots. Go look at that Week 16 tape again, tell me it's not gorgeous . . . I'll admit I have no idea what to do with Davis. Like Colin Kaepernick, at least he's getting a coaching reboot at the right time.
Richard Rodgers $3
Jared Cook $3
Jermaine Gresham $3
Brent Celek $2
Owen Daniels $2
Scott Chandler $1
Niles Paul $1
Gavin Escobar $1
Crockett Gillmore $1
C.J. Fiedorowicz $1
Andrew Quarless $1
Troy Niklas $1
With only seven months until draft season kicks in, we better get some rankings out to the people.
I'll be shuffling all the major positions out the door this week, one at a time, just to give us something to talk about. I'm not in any way married to these 2015 ranks or opinions; surely I'll forget many (most) of them by the time pitchers and catchers report, if not sooner. But lists are fun, rankings are fun.
Have a safe holiday and we'll talk soon, Yahooligans.
$31 Andrew Luck
$30 Aaron Rodgers
$27 Drew Brees
$25 Peyton Manning
$25 Matt Ryan
$25 Russell Wilson
$24 Tom Brady
$23 Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben's year-end position rank: 20, 19, 14, 4, 18, 9, 17, 13, 19, 12, 5. Usually better real-life over fake game; not so in 2014. This Roethlisberger rank comes with the assumption that Martavis Bryant takes a step forward next year . . . Wilson's road fantasy haul was miles ahead of home production this year. That stuff often vanishes; no bias in 2012 or 2013. It would be nice if the team added him an elite weapon, something he's never had through three seasons (Golden Tate was fine, but you can do better than that, Seattle. Obviously the Percy Harvin experiment did not work out) . . . By indexed rating, Brady just had his eighth-best season. Nice comeback, but he's not anywhere close to the MVP. Stop it. His 2014 season underscored just how critical a healthy Rob Gronkowski is to the Patriots offense.
$22 Cam Newton
$21 Tony Romo
$21 Eli Manning
$20 Philip Rivers
$20 Matthew Stafford
$18 Ryan Tannehill
If we draw the line when Odell Beckham started to go ballistic, Eli Manning was fantasy's No. 7 quarterback (Weeks 9-17). These ranks have him T-10 entering 2015. I fully expect Beckham to be a monster in Year 2, but remember Manning brings nothing on the ground, he has to deal with an outdoor schedule, and there isn't a dominant second option in the passing game (I'll believe Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle when I see it. A ranking that puts him just on the borderline of QB-1 value feels right.
$14 Jay Cutler
$14 Teddy Bridgewater
$14 Nick Foles
$12 Joe Flacco
$12 Andy Dalton
$11 Colin Kaepernick
$10 Carson Palmer
Kaepernick is getting an organizational change at the right time . . . Palmer might not have Larry Fitzgerald next year, but Michael Floyd is ready to be a star if the Cardinals can get the ball to him . . . The Eagles Team Quarterback finished 15th in scoring this year, after ranking third the previous season. It's still difficult to say what, exactly, Foles is, but his upside certainly looks higher than Sanchez's.
$8 Alex Smith
$7 Blake Bortles
$6 Robert Griffin III
$6 Sam Bradford
$5 Mark Sanchez
$5 Zach Mettenberger
Bortles might be working with Marc Trestman next season? Yes, please . . . Smith was barely on the QB2 radar for 2014, despite solid rushing production and an emerging star at tight end. Of course you know all about the WR touchdown drought, and while Smith avoided negative plays (six interceptions), he simply didn't make enough big ones.
$4 Derek Carr
$4 Ryan Mallett
$3 Brian Hoyer
$2 Geno Smith
$1 Johnny Manziel
$1 Mike Glennon
What does a restless fantasy scribe do when the NFL season ends? Well, among other things, he assembles his flatliner roto friends and does a playoff draft.
That's what the Yahoo Fantasy Five (plus honorary member Chris Liss) did on Monday. The playoffs make for a tidy six-team league, since 12 teams go to post and all positions will be drained by the end of the proceedings.
Consider our specs, and then dive into the results, if you care to.
- Rosters: 2 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 2 TE, 4 Flex (limited to RB/WR/TE), 2 PK, 2 DEF
- No weekly lineups, no pickups, no further moves: everyone counts when they're on the field.
- Scoring: Mostly standard, though TD passes are 4.5 points, receptions are .75 points, and defenses get a mild gain for incomplete passes against and third-down stops.
Some general strategy considerations and other points of interest:
-- You're drafting teams and scenarios as much as players in this sort of league. In-season, no one would ever start Doug Baldwin over Calvin Johnson. In a pool like this, it's something to consider. The first thing you calculate in playoff leagues is this: how many games is each team likely to play?
-- Your early picks (especially your first pick) declare a path that needs to be followed to some degree. If you draft one of the designer (and favored) quarterbacks, surely you will revisit that roster and pluck several additional players, if possible. You want the most plausible winning scenario you can build.
-- Because each fantasy roster is capped at two quarterbacks, two kickers and two defenses, it makes sense to wait on those positions if you haven't filled them and the pickings get slim. The other side of it: some owners might consider it critical to fill those postions early, with the expected games-played factor coming largely into play. I knew one thing coming into this year's dance: I wasn't going to get stuck with the Arizona QB situation.
-- In a playoff draft, a PK or D/ST pick in the middle rounds can be justified, since the position is now a finite resource. With the overflowing selections you're afforded in standard fantasy, that isn't the case.
-- Once you get locked into some teams, you're probably locked out of other teams who have opposing scenarios (though in some cases someone might justify loading up on opponents if you see a ton of scoring possible in a specific matchup).
Here's how the draft went down, pick by pick:
Breezy round-by-round analysis? Sure, I can provide that.
Round 1: The four quarterbacks felt standard, but the interesting picks are Rob Gronkowski at 4 and Marshawn Lynch at 5. I could see someone going Tony Romo over Russell Wilson at 2, theoretically, because Romo is easier to pair with notable teammates, and more likely to throw up a monster passing game or two. That said, just riding shotgun with Wilson puts me in a good place. And I feel confident Seattle is making another deep run.
Round 2: Five of the six teams go with a cross-conference pick, opening up the second front, as it were. And as you'd expect, the one same-conference pick is a double up, Funston taking a second Cowboy. I regret not adding more Broncos to go with the dynamic Anderson, a mistake. I misjudged the markets for Emmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas later on.
Round 3: Two of us opt for a second quarterback from a favored-team position, while the other four teams stock up with a star receiver (interesting that none of those four wideouts are linked to their quarterbacks). I felt wide receiver was one of the deeper positions, as a name-brand talent was available into Round 8, depending on how much team and physical risk you were willing to accept.
Round 4: I need to start pairing my two quarterbacks with some teammates, but I misjudged the Doug Baldwin market and got sniped at 24. I also took the first flier on a non-favored player, thinking Jeremy Hill will run wild at Indianapolis, and perhaps the Bengals can squeeze into a second game. I also think the RB board is absolute skank, so I made it more of a priority than perhaps some other teams did. Interesting to see Evans opt for Sanders (Round 3) and T.Y. Hilton (Round 4) over a Rodgers playmate in Randall Cobb. But some prefer diversification in this format.
Round 5: Behrens takes the second underdog player, Matthew Stafford up against Dallas, and Calvin Johnson falls later in the round to Del Don. I think upsets are far more likely in the AFC Wild Card round, but no team is a prohibitive favorite this weekend. Funston takes an early stab at the Seahawks defense, perfectly reasonable in this format (though it might be hard to back it up with many teammates).
Round 6: I give Baltimore the best chance to win of the four Wild Card underdogs, so I can get behind Del Don's pick of Flacco, despite the modest scoring expectations I hold for their initial draw. And with that pick, Liss is completely in punt mode at quarterback: he'll take the final two QBs with his last two picks.
Otherwise, it's a tight-end heavy round, with Olsen (Round 5 wheel), Fleener, Thomas and Willson all going. I would have preferred several of those players to my Willson selection at No. 35, but at some point I need to link Russell Wilson up to someone. I have my eye on Paul Richardson later on (spoiler: it doesn't work).
Round 7: Pricy defenses can work in this format, which justifies the Patriots pick to Behrens. He now has three New England pieces (Brady, Vereen, Pats defense). Liss is the other man stockpiling Pats, selecting Stephen Gostkowski to go along with Julian Edelman and LeGarrette Blount. I added Stephen Hauschka as a third Seattle piece, and make a joke about his Arizona kicking chops (he went John Starks 1994 on us in Week 16, missing from all over the joint).
Rounds 8-9: So much for my Richardson hopes; Evans snaps him up at pick 43 (after a Martavis Bryant hookup with Big Ben). I guess I'll gamble with the Jermaine Kearse hamstring. Del Don didn't chase Manning interests heavily, but he did opt for the Defense and Kicker in this sequence. No one really knows what to expect with A.J. Green (Pick 45) and especially Le'Veon Bell (Pick 51). Remember, we drafted Monday. I grabbed Heath Miller and no other Steeler - in fact, I went Ravens heavy later - a strategy which might not make sense out of the moment.
Round 10-11: The Patriots and Colts can be dodgy with their backfields, which is why you see Jonas Gray and Boom Herron drafted now. Baltimore's possible upset picks up some steam, with the Smith receivers getting selected.
Round 12-13: After punting several rounds at tight end, Behrens finally steps in with Tim Wright and Andrew Quarless. Two teams that could go deep, certainly, and the QBs throw flips to almost anyone at the goal. Robert Turbin is another Seattle piece for Funston, even as he entered that fray a little later. Liss shows his affinity for small receivers, pairing Welker with Edelman.
Round 14-16: Behrens opts for three straight Cardinals . . . My Donte Moncrief pick makes little sense to my roster composition; I usually am more scenario-driven and less talent-focused in my playoff leagues. I also have the most underdog players (six) in the league, compared to just one for Funston (Behrens 4, Liss 5, Del Don 6, Evans 4) . . . Nifty of Funston to get so many favored players, and to link up Wayne (Pick 87) with his uniform number . . . Liss preferred the Bengals defense over the Lions and Cardinals defenses, which I think is the right call, more upset potential . . . Although Del Don matched my six underdog players, he streamlined his picks, limiting them to just two teams, Baltimore and Detroit . . . Evans used traditional drafting theory with his kickers and defenses, selecting them with his 12th, 14th, 15th and 16th-round picks.
Here's what the final rosters look like:
Just 11 games left to digest and savor, amigos. Enjoy the playoffs.
Kemba Walker: After taking a huge leap during his sophomore campaign (going from being ranked No. 173 as a rookie to No. 32), Walker took a step back last season (when he ranked No. 60), but he’s rebounded nicely so far this year, once again coming in as a top-50 player (No. 23 over the past month). Over the past two games, Walker has averaged 35.0 points, 5.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and 3.5 3pt, so few players are currently hotter. His 3.7 AST:TO ratio is second only to Chris Paul (minimum 20:00 mpg), and his Usage Rate will sky rocket as long as Al Jefferson is out with his groin injury (Walker has attempted a whopping 53 field goals, including 20 from downtown as well as 22 free throws, over the past two contests). Despite the shaky shooting, Walker is throwing his name in as one of fantasy’s elite point guards.
Alex Len: He’s really thrived since being inserted into Phoenix’s starting lineup, averaging 7.4 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 2.7 blocks while shooting 56.5 percent from the field. His playing time has remained limited (22:40), which reveals the kind of upside Len has should he learn to curtail all the fouling (he’s recorded the fourth-most fouls in the NBA this season despite playing 19:10 mpg). In fact, the 21-year-old has been a top-10 player on a per-36 minute basis over the past two weeks (and No. 54 over the past month). Len isn’t a bad free throw shooter for a big, is putting up dominant block numbers and should only continue to improve the more experience he gets. He looks locked into the role as the Suns’ starting center moving forward.
Tristan Thompson: With Anderson Varejao out for the season, Thompson looks like the Cavs’ new starting center and since being placed in the starting five, he’s grabbed 24 boards over two games. Cleveland has been highly disappointing so far and may eventually trade for a true rim protector, but Thompson needs to be added in fantasy leagues right now, and he’s owned in just 52 percent of Yahoo leagues. Thompson isn’t much of a shot blocker, but he rarely turns the ball over and should be an asset in rebounds.
Cory Joseph: He’s averaged 12.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.4 blocks while shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 79.3 percent from the line over 11 games when starting this year. Tony Parker is without a timetable for a return from his hamstring injury, so Joseph needs to be owned. He’s been the No. 85 ranked player over the past month.
Brandon Knight: Here are Knight’s final fantasy ranks from 2011/12-2013/14, respectively: 194, 230, 103. Still just 23 years old, the point guard has been a top-50 player this season, thanks to averaging career highs in rpg (4.5), apg (5.2), spg (1.3) 3pt (1.9), FG% (44.1) and FT% (90.2). His Usage Rate (25.6) is tied for No. 25 among all players in the NBA, so Knight’s hot start doesn’t look like a fluke.
This fast break by the Suns was nice, culminating with the aforementioned Alex Len dunking.
Jimmy’s gonna put the moves on Elaine (and the rest of the NBA, apparently).
LeBron James: I made a bet with Chris Liss about five years ago that James would win more than 3.5 titles, and I own The King in my home league this year, so I really hope this is just small sample size noise. But James is currently averaging the fewest ppg (25.2) and rpg (5.3) since his rookie season, and his 1.3 spg are the lowest of his career. James is shooting 65.0 percent from inside five feet this year, and while that’s not bad, it’s a noticeable slip in a category in which he’s led the NBA in each of the past three years (minimum 3.5 attempts), when he’s converted 78.2%, 74.4% and 73.7%. In fact, it’s the lowest mark since his rookie season. James’ PER still ranks eighth in the league, and it’s not like anyone would argue he’s still not the best player in the NBA, but he’s already eclipsed 1,000 games played (James will soon accrue more minutes played throughout his career than Michael Jordan totaled during his tenure with the Bulls. LeBron turned 30 years old Tuesday). James is playing for a Cleveland team that ranks in the bottom five in PACE, and he hasn’t been a top-25 fantasy player over the past month.
Brook Lopez: Since returning from a back injury in which he now proclaims he’s fully recovered, he’s seen fewer than 15 minutes in all four games, averaging a paltry 6.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.5 blocks. After getting to the free throw line 6.8 times per game last season, Lopez has done so 2.9 times this year. He was the No. 28 ranked player in 2012/13 and No. 12 before suffering a season-ending injury last year, but he hasn’t been a top-150 asset over the past month, as something appears fundamentally wrong in Brooklyn.
Terrence Jones: He was a top-25 player before suffering an injury early on, and while his upside meant many fantasy owners held onto him, Jones is going to come back with a lesser role once he returns after the acquisition of Josh Smith. Donatas Motiejunas takes a similar hit in value and both can be dropped.
Arron Afflalo: He was a top-100 player in three of the past four seasons but has struggled badly during his return to Denver, especially recently. Over the past six games, Afflalo has shot an ugly 30.7 percent from the floor (23-for-75), and over his past 13 games, he has a 23:30 AST:TO ratio. He’s been the No. 231 ranked player over the past month despite getting 35.3 mpg on a Denver team that ranks fifth in PACE and desperate for a scorer.
Joakim Noah: He’s been a top-20 asset in each of the past two seasons (and top-50 in the prior two years before that) but hasn’t been a top-100 player in 2014/15, including ranking No. 186 over the past two weeks. Normally injuries are the problem with Noah, but over his last seven seemingly healthy games, he’s averaged a modest 7.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks while shooting 37.5 percent from the floor. With Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and the emerging Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls have a loaded frontcourt.
The Big Board takes into consideration past returns, current performance and expected future gains in determining who should be included among the top 50 fantasy football players. Essentially, the Big Board is a cheat sheet designed for an owner who is planning to participate in a draft today. Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football default scoring settings are used as the baseline for the Big Board, which is updated on a regular basis during the season.
Note: "Rank" shows where a player was ranked at his position in '14 in terms of fantasy points per game (min. 6 games).
|Big Board 2015: Football|
|1. Le'Veon Bell (PIT)||RB||2||Has Forte-like versatility and Arian-like patience/vision - saved his best for the fantasy playoff run (27.6 FPPG from Weeks 11-16)|
|2. DeMarco Murray (UFA)||RB||1||After epic No. 1 fantasy RB run in '14, heads into offseason as a free agent - '15 value dependent on his landing place, but none would likely be better than a DAL return|
|3. Jamaal Charles (KAN)||RB||7||2014 didn't start well (4.6 FAN PTS combined in Weeks 1-2) or end well (19.2 FAN PTS combined in Weeks 15-17), but from Weeks 4-14, no RB scored more FAN PTS|
|4. Eddie Lacy (GNB)||RB||6||After a bumpy start to '14, Steady Eddie settled into a groove in which he scored 11.5-plus FAN PTS in 12 of 13 games from Week 4 on - has low mileage and a great offense on his side|
|5. Marshawn Lynch (SEA)||RB||4||Cap number/age makes return to SEA uncertain, but after blowing away RB competition in Missed Tackles en route to best FAN season yet, hard to imagine SEA letting Beast-Mode go|
|6. Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG)||WR||1||Yep, my No. 1 WR for '15 (and the top FAN WR from Weeks 5-17) - plays the game on a Neo/Matrix-like level|
|7. Demaryius Thomas (DEN)||WR||5||Has 90+ catches, 1,400+ yards, 10+ TDs in 3 straight seasons, and the only way he doesn't get add a 4th straight season is if Father Time swallows QB Peyton Manning whole in '15|
|8. Antonio Brown (PIT)||WR||2||Top WR of '14 was a PPR dream, and his worst standard scoring effort (8/74/0 in Week 10) wasn't too shabby - lacks great size, but that is about the only attribute that isn't off-the-charts|
|9. Calvin Johnson (DET)||WR||10||From a combine perspective, he still stands out in the WR crowd, but he hasn't finished 1st among WRs in FAN PTS or FAN PPG in either of past 2 years - 2-3 DNPs has become the norm|
|10. Matt Forte (CHI)||RB||5||Will hit 30 years old in December of '15, so mileage becoming a factor - so is loss of HC Trestman, as Forte enjoyed best 2 fantasy seasons of career in his pass-happy system|
|11. Dez Bryant (UFA)||WR||4||Jerry Jones says there's no way Dez will hit '15 free agency, which is smart considering (at age 26) he's in his prime and coming off 3rd straight season of 1,200+ yards, 12+ TDs|
|12. Julio Jones (ATL)||WR||6||Battled through ankle and hip issues (not his surgically-repaired broken foot) but still a top 6 WR in FAN PTS despite mid-season 7-game TD drought - has No. 1 WR upside going into '15|
|13. Jordy Nelson (GNB)||WR||3||Topped 90+ catches for 1st time in '14 as he's becoming more a true go-to guy for QB Rodgers, but big play still a major part of arsenal (led NFL w/ 5 catches of 60+ yards)|
|14. Arian Foster (HOU)||RB||3||Vintage form in '14, finishing 2nd to Murray at RB in FAN PPG (18.1) and also missing 3 games because of injury - odometer/health history makes him very high-risk/high-reward pick for '15|
|15. Rob Gronkowski (NWE)||TE||1||54 career TDs and he's still only 25 years old - if you could guarantee 16 games from Gronk in '15, he'd justify a high Round 1 pick, but can you really count on 2 straight healthy campaigns?|
|16. Adrian Peterson (MIN)||RB||NA||He'll likely be somewhere besides MIN in '14, but there's no such thing as a bad fit for AP's talents - if he's in uniform, you're most likely going to be happy with his fantasy results|
|17. A.J. Green (CIN)||WR||13||Injuries cost him a few games in '14, but when healthy, he belongs in an upper class w/ WRs like Dez and Julio - a slam dunk top 8 WR pick for '15|
|18. LeSean McCoy (PHI)||RB||17||TDs and receptions were elusive for Shady in '14 and his 4.2 YPC nearly a career low - capable of big rebound in this high-powered offense, but not if goal line and passing downs out of picture|
|19. Jimmy Graham (NOR)||TE||3||Injuries derailed Top Jimmy's hopes of being TE king in '14, but will go into '15 drafts looking like his usual 1,000-yard, 10-TD self, which makes him once again a Round 2 consideration|
|20. Jeremy Hill (CIN)||RB||13||Ran away with the CIN backfield lead role after teammate Bernard suffered hip injury - was 1 of 4 RBs (J. Charles, L. Miller and Justin Forsett) to avg. 5+ YPC (min 100 carries)|
|21. C.J. Anderson (DEN)||RB||8||Fire plug was a revelation in DEN backfield and really helped pick up offense down stretch - strong, versatile back sitting in a RB catbird seat, but Hillman/Ball could figure in mix a bit|
|22. Andrew Luck (IND)||QB||1||Had a lot of garbage time help in '14, but can't turn nose at his easy No. 1 fantasy QB finish - Indy led NFL w/ 660 pass attempts - hitting his prime, has good shot at No. 1 repeat|
|23. Aaron Rodgers (GNB)||QB||2||Fizzled in Weeks 15-16 w/ fantasy titles on the line, but had epic run to carry owners into fantasy postseason (avg. 289 pass and accounted for 35 TDs to just 2 INTs from Weeks 2-14)|
|24. Emmanuel Sanders (DEN)||WR||8||Yards have tapered off down stretch in '14 as QB Manning struggled - it's of concern for '15 drafts, but as a top 7 fantasy WR in '14, there's too much upside to ignore for too long|
|25. Drew Brees (NOR)||QB||5||NOLA was a hot mess in '14, losing 5 homes games, and the stink sometimes emanated from Brees, but the fantasy was better than the reality as he was once again a top 4 QB|
|26. Jeremy Maclin (UFA)||WR||9||Big plays led to top 10 fantasy WR campaign in '14, though he was better off w/ Foles at QB (top 5 fantasy WR) than with Sanchez behind center (No. 19 fantasy WR)|
|27. T.Y. Hilton (IND)||WR||12||Being QB Luck's go-to guy has its privileges - led NFL with 17 catches of 25+ yards|
|28. Kelvin Benjamin (CAR)||WR||19||Next year's drafts could be a splitting hairs exercise between the 2 top monolithic rookie WRs of '14 (Benjamin and Mike Evans) - I'll lean Benjamin since he's tied to the better QB arm (Newton)|
|29. Mike Evans (TAM)||WR||11||Even w/ messy QB situation that saddled Evans w/ lots of 40-60-yard receiving days, the rookie still tallied 12 TDs - given jump-ball talents, a sure bet for 10+ TDs again in '15|
|30. Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)||QB||6||Probably not a coincidence that Big Ben was No. 2 fantasy QB from moment rookie WR Bryant hit the field (Week 7) - offense (w/ RB Bell, WRs Brown, Bryant) extremely QB-friendly|
|31. Tom Brady (NWE)||QB||9||Lots of mileage (37 years), but he just turned in the 5th-best fantasy season of career, and injuries (other than '08) still a non-issue - have Gronk, will travel back into QB1 upper class in '15|
|32. Russell Wilson (SEA)||QB||3||56 (often jaw-dropping) YPG on the ground helped offset modest pass numbers - considering he takes bigger hits in the pocket than on the run, count on the rush to be there again in '15|
|33. Peyton Manning (DEN)||QB||4||Going to be a lightning rod on draft day in '15 as he looked every bit his age (38) down stretch in '14 - while his numbers were still elite, the career cliff feels like it could be just around the corner|
|34. Lamar Miller (MIA)||RB||12||MIA led NFL in RZ trips in '14, which helped propel Miller into RB top 10 - return of HC Philbin negates concerns of how a new coaching regime might impact Miller Time|
|35. Alshon Jeffery (CHI)||WR||14||Left his owners smiling in '14 w/ a top 5 fantasy WR run from Weeks 11-16, and likely passed B-Marsh as CHI go-to WR, but loss of pass-friendly Trestman system is a downer|
|36. Randall Cobb (UFA)||WR||7||Given size, surprise among RZ target leaders in '14, though he wasn't able to cash in from Week 11-16 (0 TDs vs. 10 TDs from Weeks 1-10) - a borderline WR1 assuming GB return|
|37. Brandon Marshall (CHI)||WR||25||Until injuries (ankle/lung) took him out, appeared headed for another 1,000-yard, 10-TD season - even at 30, and giving up go-to role to Jeffery, still 1000/10 upside here (health permitting)|
|38. Melvin Gordon (TBD)||RB||NA||Expected top RB pick in '15 NFL draft reminds of Jamaal Charles, and he comes from a zone-blocking scheme that so many NFL teams run - should be top 50 pick no matter where he lands|
|39. Carlos Hyde (SFO)||RB||65||Entire fantasy community wanted to see more of Hyde's special (Lacy-like) talents in '14 - with Gore another year older, and HC Harbaugh gone, we're likely to finally get our wish|
|40. Matt Ryan (ATL)||QB||7||Was a top 7 fantasy QB despite rarely having both WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White healthy - upgrade at TE and a youth infusion at RB (more Freeman) in '15 should only help|
|41. Alfred Morris (WAS)||RB||18||The Butler served his owners much better w/ RG3 (and the read option) in play in '14, which bodes well for '15 as RG3 is expected to return to his lead role behind center in WAS|
|42. Sammy Watkins (BUF)||WR||31||All-or-nothing rookie campaign w/ messy BUF QB situation in '14 (8 games under 4 FAN PTS) - any kind of upgrade at QB should propel game-breaking talent into WR top 15 in '15|
|43. Martavis Bryant (PIT)||WR||15||Given size/athletic ability, has upside (in a vacuum) of fellow rookie WRs Evans & Benjamin, but unlike those two, he'll be playing third fiddle in offense behind RB Bell and WR Brown|
|44. DeSean Jackson (WAS)||WR||16||Proved that his elite speed plays anywhere as he eclipsed 100-yards 6 times in 1st season w/ WAS|
|45. DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)||WR||18||Wilted down stretch as HOU replacement QB Keenum ill-fitted to Hopkins' down-field, big-play strengths - w/ QB upgrade in '15, Hopkins should enjoy true 3rd-year breakout|
|46. Golden Tate (DET)||WR||17||Will have to fight for RZ looks when Megatron is healthy, but he's a great complement to Calvin between the 20s and ample yardage should be key to another top 20 fantasy WR finish in '15|
|47. Andre Ellington (ARI)||RB||15||Averaged 94.8 YFS before foot injury derailed his season - ARI likely to draft a RB, but Ellington likely to open as starter, and should have prominent role again alongside QB Palmer|
|48. Latavius Murray (OAK)||RB||40||Got chance to flash his freaky athleticism down the stretch (95.6 YFS from Weeks 12-17), and is likely to get 1st shot at lead RB role for the new OAK coaching regime|
|49. Joique Bell (DET)||RB||16||Opportunity is king for Bell in DET as he's not a special player, but his versatility and tough between-the-tackles talents adds up nicely in fantasy, especially in a potent offense like DET|
|50. Josh Gordon (CLE)||WR||NA||After No. 1 fantasy WR run in '13, proved to not be worth wait coming off suspension in '14 (out of shape, QB issues, party issues) - huge talent, major question mark - stay tuned|
ON THE BUBBLE:
(QBs) Eli Manning, NYG; Tony Romo, Dal; Cam Newton, Car; Matthew Stafford, Det; Philip Rivers, SD; Ryan Tannehill, Mia; Nick Foles, Phi
(RBs) Mark Ingram, FA; Giovani Bernard, Cin; Justin Forsett, FA; Rashad Jennings, NYG; Tre Mason, StL; Jonathan Stewart, Car; Terrance West, Cle; Ryan Mathews, FA
(WRs) Jordan Matthews, Phi; Kenny Stills, NO; Brandin Cooks, NO; Mike Wallace, Mia; Jarvis Landry, Mia; Brandon LaFell, NE; Roddy White, Atl; Andre Johnson, Hou; Anquan Boldin, SF; Julian Edelman, NE; Eric Decker, NYJ; Torrey Smith, FA; Steve Smith, Bal; Vincent Jackson, TB; Michael Floyd, Ari; Keenan Allen, SDG; Victor Cruz, NYG
(TEs) Antonio Gates, SDG; Julius Thomas, FA; Martellus Bennett, Chi; Greg Olsen, Car; Dwayne Allen, Ind; Travis Kelce, KC
Note: You can check out where the rest of the fantasy expert community ranks players on the Big Board at FantasyPros.
Someday, Zach Randolph, DeMar DeRozan and Ricky Rubio will return from injury, and there will no longer be any need for me to max out my weekly pick-ups. But that day has not yet arrived, so...
PG/SG Jarrett Jack, Bkn (38 percent owned)
Deron Williams has been kinda/sorta injured and mired in a deep malaise, plus he's on the trade block. Meanwhile, Jack has been starting for the Nets, and he's been terrific over his last four games (three of which were Brooklyn wins). Details here...
The minutes obviously won't hold steady at 35-plus, but we shouldn't expect a total collapse, either. Again, a Williams deal would be a big win. For now, Jack offers the usual PG stats, and you'll note he has a four-game week ahead. Do what needs doing.
SG/SF Jared Dudley, Mil (12 percent owned)
Dudley's role is relatively secure following the Jabari Parker injury (knee), and he's reached double-digit points in four of his last five. He was ridiculous on Friday at Atlanta, going a perfect 10-for-10, including 4-for-4 on threes. Dudley doesn't offer unlimited fantasy goodies, but he's capable of a steal per game, plus he's draining shots from the arc — he's hit 11 threes over his last five games. I'm using him as a deep-league placeholder for DeRozan somewhere, which is ... well, it's sorta terrible. But the past week hasn't been so bad.
SF/PF Nikola Mirotic, Chc (23 percent owned)
OK, so it's been 10 days (and four games) since Nikola has given us 20-plus minutes. But even with minimal burn the dude is still scoring, rebounding, knocking down threes, and getting himself to the line. And when you consider his minutes in context, it's much easier to get excited. Mirotic has seen a few end-game fourth-quarter minutes lately, and that playing time is sacred to Thibs. All it would take for Niko to blow up is an injury to one of Chicago's injury-prone bigs (Jo, Taj, Pau). Mirotic is a terrific stash. He's also your frontrunner for Rookie of the Year.
C Alex Len, Phx (23 percent owned)
Len has started the last seven games for Phoenix, and his numbers have been stellar: 9.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.7 BPG, 56.5 FG%. For the blocks alone, Len is worth an add. He's a foul-machine, so you probably won't get many 35-minute efforts, but he's been plenty useful in the non-scoring big-man categories.
C Rudy Gobert, Uta (32 percent owned)
Just check out these per-36 numbers: 11.0 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 3.5 BPG(!), 1.5 SPG, 61.3 FG%. I'm in. Gobert is basically a double-double waiting to happen, with silly defensive upside. He's a recommended add on the possibility/probability that his minutes take a leap in the second-half.
Normally we go Booms and Busts in this space, a story of highs and lows from the day. But with it being Week 17 and the holiday season, you're only going to get the Booms today, the happy stories. You're free to kick rocks at your frustrating Week 17 busts; please do that in the comments. Have a safe and happy New Year, Roto Arcadians.
Eric Decker was one of my target players in August, an affordable wide receiver I regularly scooped up in the middle rounds.
Four months later, thanks for the validation, big guy.
The Jets took to the air for their season-ending 37-24 victory at Miami on Sunday, with Decker and quarterback Geno Smith leading the way. Decker posted a monster 10-catch, 221-yard afternoon (on just 11 targets), and Smith was letter-perfect most of the day (20-for-25, 358 yards, three scores, maximum QB rating). The duo hooked up on a 75-yard touchdown in the third period, and made several downfield connections. No dinking and dunking on South Beach.
The aggressive play calling was a shocking turnaround from a coaching staff that didn't trust Smith at all earlier in the season. After Smith played one awful quarter against Buffalo in Week 8, the Jets basically wrote him off. He was benched at that time – for retread Michael Vick – and when Smith eventually got back on the field, he was given shockingly little responsibility. Heck, Smith attempted a scant 13 passes (good for a piddly 65 yards) when the Jets and Dolphins played the Monday Night capper in Week 13. The game plans were so dated, you expected the players to be running around in leather helmets.
As always, fantasy owners know the story. It's the ebulient dance of the recently eliminated. Nothing is as bittersweet as a bushel of fantasy points that arrive too late to help us.
Decker became the eighth player to top 200 yards receiving on the year. Surprisingly, Odell Beckham Jr. is not on that list, though he gave it a helluva run. The likely Rookie of the Year went for 12 catches and 185 yards on the Eagles secondary Sunday, including a 63-yard touchdown. The Giants looked Beckham's way early and often, pepping him with a whopping, and league-high, 21 targets. (It wasn't enough for a Big Blue win, but hey, we're just in it for the numbers.)
Beckham's seasonal game logs read like a misprint. Check his yardage totals from Week 9 to the finale: 156, 108, 93, 146, 90, 130, 143, 148, 185. He scored 10 touchdowns over his last six games. Beckham appears to be uncoverable, a mix of speed, lateral agility, and cutting ability. If you want him for your 2015 fantasy squad, you're going to need a first-round pick.
Sticking with the Giants, put Rueben Randle on list of late-arriving producers. The buzzy August pick had a dreadful season, but he went for 158 yards on six catches Sunday. It wasn't the most efficient of days, on 13 targets, but it's encouraging to see Randle making a few plays downfield. He also had a 6-132-1 line in last week's victory at St. Louis; maybe he'll become a double-down fantasy commodity next summer.
Also Booming in Week 17 (early games):
-- Andre Johnson, WR, Texans: Houston's AJ plays a lot like the AJ hand in Hold Em – looks great, seldom hits paydirt. But he had little trouble negotiating the Jaguars on Sunday, rolling up 10 grabs for 134 yards and a touchdown (his third of the year). Johnson turns 34 in July, but the tank doesn't appear empty yet.
-- Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins: The Miami coaching staff is judicious with his touches (Miller never topped 20 rushes in a game this year), but sometimes less is more. His 97-yard touchdown jaunt agains the Jets highlighted a snappy 19-178-1 afternoon. His two targets fell incomplete, but he's not a zero in the passing game (38 catches). We might have to view him as an RB1 in 2015.
-- DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys: Busted hand, no problem. Murray collected 100 rushing yards and a score on 20 totes at Washington, taking down Emmitt Smith's franchise rushing record in the process. The Pokes didn't seem worried about their dinged up skill guys; Murray and Tony Romo went the route.
-- Other Early Boomers in Week 17 (1 pm ET slate): Eddie Royal, Eli Manning, Dez Bryant, Justin Forsett, Doug Martin, Joe Flacco.
Final darts of the season, throwers. Let's try to make them count.
This week's order will be the Colts -7, Panthers +4, Ravens -10, Broncos -14 and Steelers -3.5, using the numbers from Yahoo Pro Football Pickem, as we always do.
I know we're guessing on Colts level of urgency, but I expect them to want to wash out the bad taste from the Dallas blowout. The Titans rarely get in anyone's way.
In the ugly NFC South, I want to take the points whenever possible. Jonathan Stewart's rebirth gives the Panthers a nifty, balanced offense. I trust Carolina's defense more than I do Atlanta's.
I love zig-zagging in a game where both sides are coming off results I want to fade. Meet me in Denver. Sure, Oakland's had some nice second-half wins, but they all came at home and against non-playoff teams (unless KC sneaks in on a miracle). Denver has its own fleas, but it's not the team we saw in Week 16. Broncos need this game and although sometimes that comes with a tax (which I will often fade), minus-14 doesn't feel like one to me.
Expect John Harbaugh to have his team ready after last week's nightmare. The Browns are still cleaning up the cups from the Manziel party. You can't make this line high enough for me.
And you better believe I'm fading Cincinnati after they had an everything-break-right kind of week. A.J. Green isn't right, and the Bengals can't mark all of Pittsburgh's weapons (remember the 235 & 3 Le'Veon Bell threw at them in the first meeting?). I really hope we see a Pittsburgh-Denver match in the second round of the playoffs.
Last Week: 3-2
All in all, it was a fun year with the tight ends. Antonio Gates defied father time. Greg Olsen turned in another rock-solid season. Travis Kelce gave us a splashy breakthrough, when Alex Smith and Andy Reid would allow it. And then we had that Rob Gronkowski fellow, destroying everything in his path over the final three months. What does it all mean going forward? Break it down, amino acids.
After watching Rob Gronkowski destroy all other tight ends in 2014, how early should we take him in 2015? Where is he on your preliminary Big Board?
Brandon — AT THE TURN. Realistically, I'm probably not the guy who ends up getting him in the draft. I feel like, after he played a full season in '14, it would be pressing your luck to try to get another 16-game run out of him in '15. That said, 1,000-plus yards and 12-plus TDs is his floor if he does go the distance again next season, and that warrants consideration in that 10-15 overall range.
Andy — Realistically, I doubt I'll ever get him. There seems to be at least one insane Pats fan in all of my leagues. But I think the right price is probably PICK SIX in Round 1, because A) he scores like an elite wide receiver and B) he figures to outscore the average fantasy TE by like 100 points.
Brad — The latter half of Round 1 is completely permissible to target everyone's favorite kitten cuddler. His 12.3 points per game output mirrored what Randall Cobb achieved this year. Given the position's lack of dependable options, entertaining his services anytime after the No. 7 overall pick sounds right.
Rookies often emerge quickly at the other positions (and wide receivers went bonkers in 2014), but the tight end position seems to lag far behind. Is there a sweet spot (second year, third year, etc) for tight ends to emerge in the pro game? What's your general rule with tight end fantasy scouting?
Dalton - There’s not much scouting for me, as this position continues to be dependent upon situation as much as any other, and there’s rarely a rookie I’m excited about. I was very high on Jordan Cameron entering the year, and there’s an argument pretty much every tight end was a disappointment relative to their ADP other than Rob Gronkowski.
Brandon — I think you're looking for the right combination of experience and opportunity. You certainly wise to shy away from rookie TE targets. But I look at recent breakouts like Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron, who both had a couple seasons under their belts before breaking out in YEAR 3. Who might be the YEAR 3 breakouts in '15? How about Luke Willson, Gavin Escobar or Tyler Eifert? Each of those guys could find the experience/opportunity sweet spot next season.
Scott - For the most part I treat the young players as irrelevant until proven otherwise, unless they do something Kelce-like in the preseason. Past that, I want someone who's near the front of the line in his team's passing tree, even if he's not a monumental physical freak. Recall that Greg Olsen was criminally underrated in a lot of pockets last year when the setup was so obvious, and he already had a resume of consistent production.
Pick out a breakout star, Bobby. Who's the Travis Kelce of 2015?
Brad — MYCHAL RIVERA. The Raider ransacked opponents only over short stints in 2014, finishing just outside the top-15 in total points at the position. However, in his third year, Rivera should offer more consistency, especially given the expected growth and development of Derek Carr in Year 2. A 65-700-7 campaign could be on the horizon.
Andy — I'll go ZACH ERTZ, a player who's at least as talented as Kelce. We saw Ertz's potential in Week 16, when he caught a billion passes for a zillion yards. He's a serious threat, tied to a terrific offense.
Scott — My buddy Brandon Funston knows the Seahawks as well as anyone, so I'll tag along with his LUKE WILLSON endorsement. We finally saw some of Willson's potential flash in the Week 16 beatdown at Arizona, and obviously he's tied to a superstar quarterback. Better yet, there's no dynamic wide receiver on the roster to soak up targets in Seattle.
Let's save owners some money and aggravation. Which tight end will be the biggest disappointment of 2015?
Dalton — JIMMY GRAHAM. I can fully see people talking themselves into making him another high pick, but Graham can’t stay healthy, and Drew Brees might very well be entering his decline phase for good now. I wouldn’t take Graham anywhere near his 2014 ADP next year.
Scott — Good luck to JULIUS THOMAS if the Broncos don't write the check. I'm also skeptical about JORDAN REED (how many times will we fall for the same setup?) and MAXX WILLIAMS (general TE rookie skepticism).
Brad — JULIUS THOMAS. There's no guarantee he'll be back with the Broncos next year. Internal rumblings and rumors floating around the greater Denver suggest John Elway is unwilling to stack greenbacks to retain the tight end. If that's the case, severing ties to Peyton Manning could greatly reduce his value. However, landing spot means everything. The free-agent-to-be is definitely a player to monitor closely this offseason.
Tomorrow's news today: give us your Top 15 tight ends of 2015.
Brandon — 1) Gronk, 2) Jimmy Graham, 3) Julius Thomas, 4) Greg Olsen, 5) Martellus Bennett, 6) Travis Kelce, 7) Dwayne Allen, 8) Antonio Gates, 9) Jordan Cameron, 10) Delanie Walker, 11) Mychal Rivera, 12) Jordan Reed, 13) Larry Donnell, 14) Kyle Rudolph, 15) Coby Fleener
Andy — 1) Gronk ... 2) Graham ... .... ... 3) Olsen, 4) Thomas, 5) Allen, 6) Bennett, 7) Walker, 8) Gates, 9) Ertz,10) Reed, 11) Clay, 12) Rivera, 13) Maxx Williams, 14) Heath, 15) Fleener
Brad — 1) Gronk, 2) Graham, 3) Kelce, 4) Olsen, 5) Bennett, 6) Thomas, 7) Allen, 8) Gates, 9) Cameron, 10) Walker, 11) Rivera, 12) Reed, 13) Ertz, 14) Fleener, 15) Maxx Williams
Dalton — 1) Gronkowski 2) Graham 3) Thomas 4) Olsen 5) Kelce 6) Cameron 7) Bennett 8) Allen 9) Witten 10) Walker 11) Gates 12) Davis 13) Reed 14) Fleener 15) Clay
Scott — 1) Yo Soy Fiesta, 2) Graham, 3) Olsen, 4) Kelce, 5) Allen, 6) Bennett, 7) Thomas, 8) Gates, 9) Ertz, 10) Clay, 11) Fleener, 12) Rivera, 13) Walker, 14) Reed, 15) Miller
The running back position was a minefield of injuries, suspensions and disappointments in 2014. So, basically, it was a typical year. If you were one of the Zero RB zealots back in August, let's hope you drafted Jeremy Hill late and snagged C.J. Anderson off the wire. Otherwise, you were probably pummeled by Le'Veon, DeMarco or Marshawn at some point, just like the rest of us.
If we exclude free-agent-to-be DeMarco Murray from the discussion, name the one running back who's unattached in 2015, poised to make the biggest fantasy splash next season.
Brandon — RYAN MATHEWS. He's been dogged by injuries throughout his career, but you can't deny that he's talented - he's averaged a rock solid 4.4 YPC in his career despite San Diego grading out as subpar in run blocking for the majority of his NFL tenure. I'll be very interested to see where he winds up in '15.
Dalton — This truly matters 100% on where these players land, but I’ll say JUSTIN FORSETT, who will likely enter 2015 as a top-20 ranked fantasy RB (at minimum) if he re-signs in Baltimore. Pro Football Focus has Forsett ranked as the No. 6 ranked running back this season.
Scott — My guess is that the Seahawks will move on from MARSHAWN LYNCH, and he'll have at least one more dynamic year with a new team. (Hey, this entire series is about speculation; you can't knock me for taking it a step further). Head East Mode.
So the 2014 rookie class of running backs was, um ... well, Jeremy Hill was very good. The rest of 'em, not so much. Every rookie back except Hill was outscored this season by Matt Asiata. Looking ahead to the 2015 class, which rookie-to-be interests you most?
Brad — Without a doubt Melvin Gordon will be the most desirable rookie in 2015, but don't overlook Nebraska's AMEER ABDULLAH. The 5-foot-8, 195-pound dynamo is an Andre Ellington-type who's outstanding low pad level allows him to pounce off would-be tacklers routinely. Deceptively powerful, versatile and durable he's a future workhorse back. The past two seasons in Lincoln he averaged 6.2 yards per carry.
Andy — I think it's fairly clear that Melvin Gordon has the potential to be a star, but I'll throw TODD GURLEY into the mix, too. That kid was obscene this season, in limited duty. He appeared in just six games, yet ran for 911 yards (7.6 YPC) and nine TDs. No doubt the ACL injury will impact his draft spot, but with a smooth recovery he should be clear for the opening weeks of 2015. Gurley's highlights are of the highest quality, in case you'd forgotten.
Brandon — MELVIN GORDON. The Badgers product runswith the kind of effortless speed that invites comparisons to Jamaal Charles. The leading rusher in the FBS in '14, Gordon had four games with 200-plus rushing yards, including a 408-yard effort against Nebraska. He also had a run of 40-plus yards in nine different games. With all the physical tools, Gordon could be the rare RB (at least for this day and age) that finds his way into the NFL draft's first round.
OK, expert, which running back is set to make the greatest value-leap from this year to next? That is, who's going to be the Mark Ingram of 2015?
Dalton — CARLOS HYDE. I want to make two things clear, I’m a 49ers homer and Andy wrote in his answer below before I did. But San Francisco theoretically should bounce back next season, and there’s a real chance Frank Gore isn’t even on the team. Hyde could have a nice path to a big fantasy performance in 2015.
Andy — For me, the player with the clearest path to a massive value leap is clearly CARLOS HYDE. He's a kid with full-workload ability, and he could very well be the lead back in San Francisco next season if Frank Gore relocates. Hyde was a terror at Ohio State, and he's had some impressive moments in limited duty this season (4.0 YPC, 4 TDs).
Scott — I'd probably go with Carlos Hyde, too, but just to give you a different answer, how about LATAVIUS MURRAY in Oakland? He offers an interesting mix of size, lateral shiftiness, and home-run ability, and he also does well in the passing game. Oakland will have a new head coach next year, and hopefully the collection of veteran backs will be cleaned out as well.
Just as important: Who's going to be the Zac Stacy of 2015, the early-round running back we should all avoid as if he were a pool of toxic sludge?
Andy — Well, I'm not going to go so far as to call him toxic, but MATT FORTE certainly carries bust potential. He's been a tremendous featured back during his seven years with the Chicago Bears, but he'll turn 30 near the end of next season, and the mileage is high. We also have the strong possibility of total regime change in Chicago, complicating the outlook for all skill players tied to the offense.
Brandon — ARIAN FOSTER. I have nothing but good things to say about his skills. But he's going into his age 29 season in '15, and he's going to be coming off a season in which he missed three games because of groin and hamstring injuries - he also blamed a his 61-yard, 0 TD effort vs. Buffalo (his worst fantasy line of the year) on not being healthy. He's going to likely demand a Round 1 pick given the impressive totals he posted this season, but health concerns are likely going to push me in a different direction.
Brad — DEMARCO MURRAY was one of the biggest profit turners in fantasy this season, but he could leave prospective buyers deep in the red next year. The free-agent-to-be was a throwback in a timeshare age, routinely eclipsing 25 touches in a game. That rigorous workload combined with an injury-plagued past don't bode well for a repeat. His possible change of venue is also a concern. Dallas boasts arguably the league's best offensive line. Be wary. Be very wary.
Give up the new leads, guru. Please rank your top-15 running backs for 2015, if we were drafting today...
Dalton — 1) Le’Veon Bell 2) DeMarco Murray 3) Jamaal Charles 4) Eddie Lacy 5) Matt Forte 6) Marshawn Lynch 7) Arian Foster 8) C.J. Anderson 9) LeSean McCoy 10) Jeremy Hill 11) Adrian Peterson 12) Carlos Hyde 13) Melvin Gordon 14) Tre Mason 15) Alfred Morris
Brandon — 1) Le'Veon Bell, 2) Jamaal Charles, 3) Eddie Lacy, 4) DeMArco Murray, 5) Adrian Peterson, 6) Marshawn Lynch, 7) Matt Forte, 8) C.J. Anderson, 9) Arian Foster, 10) LeSean McCoy, 11) Jeremy Hill, 12) Carlos Hyde, 13) Melvin Gordon, 14) Alfred Morris, 15) Lamar Miller
Scott — 1) Le'Veon Bell, 2) DeMarco Murray, 3) Jamaal Charles, 4) Eddie Lacy, 5) C.J. Anderson, 6) Marshawn Lynch, 7) Matt Forte, 8) Arian Foster, 9) Jeremy Hill, 10) LeSean McCoy, 11) Adrian Peterson, 12) Alfred Morris, 13) Melvin Gordon, 14) Lamar Miller, 15) Joique Bell
Andy — 1) Le'Veon Bell, 2) Adrian Peterson (could be as high as No. 2, could be off the board), 3) Eddie Lacy, 4) DeMarco Murray, 5) C.J. Anderson, 6) Jamaal Charles, 7) Marshawn Lynch (they wouldn't really let him walk, would they?), 8) LeSean McCoy, 9) Matt Forte, 10) Arian Foster, 11) Jeremy Hill, 12) Alfred Morris, 13) Melvin Gordon, 14) Carlos Hyde, 15) Tre Mason.
Brad — 1) Le'Veon Bell, 2) Eddie Lacy, 3) Jamaal Charles, 4) C.J. Anderson, 5) Adrian Peterson, 6) Matt Forte, 7) Arian Foster, 8) Marshawn Lynch, 9) Jeremy Hill, 10) Carlos Hyde, 11) Melvin Gordon, 12) LeSean McCoy, 13) Tre Mason, 14) DeMarco Murray, 15) Ameer Abdullah
The '14 fantasy receiver class will forever be linked to one of the greatest infusions of rookie talent that the NFL has ever seen at the WR position. Instant stars like Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin, to name just a few, helped propel many fantasy owners into their league's postseason. So as we put a bow on top of the season that was, and start formulating early ideas about the '15 camapign, it only makes sense to start with the young ones:
Among the vaunted '14 rookie receiver class, what does your top 10 (in order) of '15 look like?
Andy– 1) Odell, 2) Benjamin, 3) Evans, 4) Watkins, 5) Cooks, 6) Bryant, 7) Matthews, 8) Landry, 9) Moncrief, 10) Brown
Brandon – 1) ODB 2) Kelvin Benjamin 3) Mike Evans 4) Sammy Watkins 5) Martavis Bryant 6) Donte Moncrief 7) Brandin Cooks 8) Jordan Matthews 9) Jarvis Landry 10) Marqise Lee
Brad – 1) Odell Beckham, Jr. 2) Mike Evans, 3) Kelvin Benjamin, 4) Sammy Watkins, 5) Martavis Bryant, 6) Brandin Cooks, 7) Donte Moncrief, 8) Jordan Matthews, 9) Jarvis Landry, 10) Allen Robinson
Dalton – 1) Odell Beckham Jr. (by a wide margin) 2) Mike Evans 3) Sammy Watkins 4) Kelvijn Benjamin 5) Jordan Matthews 6) Donte Moncrief 7) Brandin Cooks 8) Martavis Bryant 9) Jarvis Landry 10) Marqise Lee
Scott – 1) Beckham, with zero hesitation of course, 2) Evans, 3) Benjamin, 4) Watkins, 5) Matthews, 6) Bryant, 7) Moncrief, 8) Landry, 9) Cooks, 10) Lee
Among the non-rookies, Jeremy Maclin, Emmanuel Sanders, DeAndre Hopkins and Brandon LaFell ranked among the best draft-day values in '14. Looking ahead, what WR do you project to be among the best value picks of 2015?
Brandon – KENNY STILLS. He flashed a bit in '14 with two 100-yard, TD efforts, and his 80.6 catch percentage ranks second among all receivers, behind only injured teammate Brandin Cooks. That said, the return of Cooks and the fact that Stills' overall '14 line won't knock anyone's socks off has me thinking that he won't be an exhorbitant cost in '15 drafts. In what I expect to be a classic Year 3 receiver breakout for Stills, look for him to turn a nice fantasy profit next season.
Brad – KEENAN ALLEN. He experienced a classic sophomore slump over the season's first half, but charged hard before exiting with a broken collarbone in Week 14. From Weeks 8-13 he was the 12th-best wideout in the virtual game. Still, his unattractive surface numbers (77-783-4) are sure to turn off many. Likely available after Round 6 next summer, he's a post-hype player to target.
Dalton – DONTE MONCRIEF. Reggie Wayne looks to be winding down, and there’s a real chance Andrew Luck is the unanimous No. 1 fantasy QB entering 2015, so Moncrief looks like one of the biggest possible breakout performers next year.
Keenan Allen and Cordarrelle Patterson turned strong finishes in '13 into top 20 ADP landing spots among receivers in '14 drafts. Unfortunately, their '14 campaigns took a nose dive as they both finished well outside the top 30 fantasy wideouts. Like Allen and Patterson, who is the one WR that you think could fail to meet high expectations in '15?
Dalton – KELVIN BENJAMIN. He has an impressive nine touchdowns as a rookie, but Benjamin has secured just 51.4 percent of his targets while getting 7.1 YPT on the year. The volume has been great, but the efficiency has been brutal.
Scott – I doubt I'll pay the ticket on EMMANUEL SANDERS. He's the No. 5 receiver in Yahoo scoring as we go to press, but he could easily be the fourth option in the Broncos offense next year, and Peyton Manning's age is starting to become a concern.
Andy – If I were to pick a sophomore receiver for this spot (like Allen and Patterson this season), it would probably be DONTE MONCRIEF. He's a terrific young player, but there's little chance he'll be the team's No. 1 target in 2015, and a very good chance he won't be the No. 2 (or 3). I feel as if there's a very good chance we'll be paying a top-30 price, assuming a value leap.
Alabama standout wideout, and Heisman Trophy finalist, Amari Cooper, is a sure bet to be the top WR chosen in the '15 NFL draft. After Cooper, who is the one collegiate receiver that you expect to make the biggest fantasy impact next season?
Scott – DEVANTE PARKER. His senior year has been messed up a bit by injuries, but he's nonetheless shown he can dominate without Teddy Bridgewater. Parker offers a nifty combination of size, route skills and quickness, and probably won't make it out of the first round.
Brad – JAELEN STRONG. The Arizona St. product is an imposing, powerful figure standing at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. His ability to beat press coverage should translate smoothly to the next level. He needs to improve in the route-running department, but, assuming he declares, Strong could pay an instant dividend next season. In just 11 contests, the youngster hauled in 75 catches for 1,062 yards and 10 TDs for the Sun Devils this year.
Brandon – JAELEN STRONG. Strong posted some impressive numbers at Arizona State, catching 75 passes for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons. This season, he had 100 yards and/or a TD in every game for the Sun Devils. We saw Towers of Power like Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans and Martavis Bryant have a sudden impact on the fantasy game this past season. Strong, at 6-foot-3, blessed with good speed, reliable hands and an ability to make plays in traffic, could very well follow in their footsteps.
List your top 15 wide receivers for '15.
Andy – 1) Demaryius Thomas, 2) Calvin Johnson, 3) Antonio Brown, 4) Dez Bryant, 5) Jordy Nelson, 6) Odell Beckham, 7) Julio Jones, 8) A.J. Green, 9) T.Y. Hilton, 10) Kelvin Benjamin, 11) Randall Cobb, 12) Mike Evans, 13) Jeremy Maclin, 14) Emmanuel Sanders, 15) Sammy Watkins
Scott – 1) Antonio Brown, 2) Demaryius Thomas, 3) Dez Bryant, 4) Jordy Nelson, 5) Calvin Johnson, 6) Odell Beckham, 7) Julio Jones, 8) A.J. Green, 9) T.Y.Hilton, 10) Josh Gordon, 11) Mike Evans, 12) Randall Cobb, 13) Alshon Jeffery, 14) Jeremy Maclin, 15) Sammy Watkins, 75) Rueben Randle
Dalton – 1) Antonio Brown 2) Demayrius Thomas 3) Odell Beckham Jr. 4) Dez Bryant 5) Jordy Nelson 6) Calvin Johnson 7) Julio Jones 8) A.J. Green 9) Josh Gordon 10) T.Y. Hilton 11) Jeremy Maclin 12) Brandon Marshall 13) Alshon Jeffery 14) Randall Cobb 15) Mike Evans
Brandon – 1) Odell Beckham Jr., 2) Demaryius Thomas, 3) Antonio Brown, 4) Calvin Johnson, 5) Dez Bryant, 6) Julio Jones, 7) Jordy Nelson, 8) A.J. Green, 9) T.Y. Hilton, 10) Kelvin Benjamin, 11) Josh Gordon, 12) Mike Evans, 13) Jeremy Maclin, 14) Emmanuel Sanders, 15) DeAndre Hopkins
Brad – 1) Antonio Brown, 2) Odell Beckham Jr., 3) Calvin Johnson, 4) Demaryius Thomas, 5) Dez Bryant, 6) Jordy Nelson, 7) Julio Jones, 8) A.J. Green, 9) T.Y. Hilton, 10) Mike Evans, 11) Kelvin Benjamin, 12) Jeremy Maclin, 13) Emmanuel Sanders, 14) Randall Cobb, 15) DeAndre Hopkins
Entering the season, two different schools of thought dominated how drafters should approach the quarterback position. Streaming advocates preached patience. High-floor seekers stressed early-round. Sadly, due to the untimely downfalls of Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, the latter group likely experienced an early exit. To put a bow on top of the season and with an eye toward 2015, here are our prevailing feelings about signal-callers in the New Year.
Much has been made about the potential death of the multidimensional quarterback. Although Russell Wilson proved skeptics wrong, others only fueled the fire. Out of fantasy failures Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, who has the best chance to right the ship in 2015?
Andy – For me, it's GRIFFIN. He's closing this season on a decent note (unlike Manziel), and he'll presumably benefit from year-to-year system continuity in 2015 (unlike Kaepernick). RG3's cast of receivers is excellent as well. I have to think the 2012 version of Griffin will make another appearance someday.
Brandon – KAEPERNICK. The 49ers' QB regressed this season, as his (mostly errant) passes lost any semblance of finesse. And, for most of the season, he stuck to trying to be a pocket passer, going through a 10 game stretch in which he failed to reach 50 rushing yards. Like Russell Wilson, Kapernick actually does a pretty good job of self-preservation in the running game, and any new head coach would be wise to not mitigate that aspect of his game. He'll never likely be a great passer, but a fresh start could very likely return him to the QB1 level he finished at in '13.
Brad – Give me KAEPERNICK. No doubt, he regressed in 2014. Persistent misreads and misfires reduced his value to rubble in many leagues. However, it's important to understand he'll only be entering his fifth season. He'll likely have to learn a new system with Jim Harbaugh expected to go elsewhere this offseason, but, as witnessed against San Diego Week 16, he remains one of the virtual game's best dual threats. Buy on the bear next August.
Among majority drafted passers, Ben Roethlisberger was arguably the most profitable. Taken on average at pick No. 114 (QB16) in Yahoo drafts, the Steeler finished inside the position's top-five on a per game basis. It's crazy early, but what QB will likely be the best value pick in 2015?
Brandon – CAM NEWTON. Injuries sunk his fantasy value in '14, and I expect that his resulting fantasy line will be a drag on his '15 ADP. And if that's the case, I'll be a happy buyer. Newton is a proven top 5 fantasy QB asset, which is where he finished in each of his first three seasons in the league. Health prevented him from running like he has in the past, but I'd expect him to be in much better shape heading into next season. And with likely improvements in the offensive line in the offseason, not to mention a year of seasoning under the belt of his sensational go-to rookie Kelvin Benjamin, Newton could very well have that upper level QB1 look once again.
Brad – RYAN TANNEHILL. He finished erratically down the stretch, including letdowns against the pass D soft Jets and Ravens. Still, he showed major improvements across the board, has a better-than-advertised arsenal and contributes meaningful stats on the ground. Joe Philbin apparently won't get canned, but one would think the 'Fins would bring in a pass-minded guru who can continue to develop Tanny. Roughly 4,200 combined yards with 25-plus touchdowns are in his immediate future.
Dalton – WHOEVER STARTS FOR THE EAGLES. Philly’s QBs managed a modest 7.3 YPA this year, but Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez were both QB1s when starting. The Eagles have averaged 29.3 points this year, which is the third-most in the NFL, and while some of that can be attributed to the team’s defense, that actually hurt the team’s signal callers' stats this year and shouldn’t be expected to repeat in 2015. I remain a believer in Chip Kelly’s offense.
Alongside Kaepernick and RG3, Nick Foles, primarily due to injury, left investors high and dry. Though bust rates at the QB position are considerably smaller compared to RBs and WRs, what is the one QB you will avoid like the plague in 2015 drafts?
Dalton – I will avoid any quarterback who costs a pick inside the top six or seven rounds. I just don’t see the point of taking one before then unless it’s a 2QB league. If forced to pick a specific name, I’ll say MATTHEW STAFFORD, who has a 6:6 TD:INT ratio over seven road games this year, and Calvin Johnson looks continually tough to rely upon.
Andy – Honestly, I don't see any names in the likely consensus top-12 that I'm determined to avoid. But I can tell you that it's gonna be a long while before I trust KAEPERNICK again, even in two-QB leagues. He's a reckless thrower, off-target way too often, and the rushing stats don't make up for his passing deficiencies.
Scott – I have zero faith in MATTHEW STAFFORD, I don't care who he's throwing to. He trusts his arm too much, throws from bad platforms, doesn't add a thing on the ground. I'm confident I will rank him lower than anyone else on staff. (Note: I didn't consider Kaepernick. When even Dalton Del Don ranks him out of the Top 12, you know the stock has flatlined.)
Marcus Mariota, pending landing spot, will likely be the most desired first-year passer in dynasty league drafts next summer. Who do you feel should be No. 2 on owner big boards?
Brad – BRYCE PETTY. Many will be turned off because he's a shotgun quarterback from a one-read spread system, but the Baylor product moves around the pocket well, sports plus arm strength, possesses NFL size (6-foot-3, 230-pounds) and is deadly accurate downfield. No question he has warts, but if thrust into the right system (Philly anyone?) he'll likely be incredibly productive. Look for him to land a home somewhere in the Round 3-4 range in this spring's draft.
Brandon – BRETT HUNDLEY. I want no part of Jameis Winston. I can't stand his mechanics, and it doesn't look like he'll consistently pad his numbers on the ground. With eight rushing TDs and five games of 72-plus rushing yards, that is an area where Hundley should definitely contribute. And he can spin it pretty well, too, completing 70 percent of his passes and delivering a 21:5 TD-to-INT ratio this season at UCLA.
Scott – I'm another Jameis Winston skeptic, so my answer here is really NOT WINSTON. For now, I'll lean with BRETT HUNDLEY, who has the size, arm strength and accuracy you want in your franchise player. A lot of his college value came through his running ability, but I have little doubt he can adopt to a heavier dose of pocket life in the NFL.
List your top 15 quarterbacks for '15.
Andy – 1) Aaron Rodgers, 2) Drew Brees, 3) Andrew Luck, 4) Tom Brady, 5) Peyton Manning, 6) Russell Wilson, 7) Ben Roethlisberger, 8) Tony Romo, 9) Matt Ryan, 10) Cam Newton, 11) Matthew Stafford, 12) Ryan Tannehill, 13) Eli Manning, 14) Philip Rivers, 15) Robert Griffin III.
Scott – 1) Aaron Rodgers, 2) Andrew Luck, 3) Tom Brady, 4) Russell Freaking Wilson, 5) Drew Brees, 6) Peyton Manning, 7) Ben Roethlisberger, 8) Matt Ryan, 9) Tony Romo, 10) Cam Newton, 11) Ryan Tannehill, 12) Eli Manning, 13) Phil Rivers, 14) Nick Foles, 15) Matthew Stafford
Dalton – 1) Aaron Rodgers 2) Andrew Luck 3) Peyton Manning 4) Drew Brees 5) Russell Wilson 6) Tom Brady 7) Tony Romo 8) Nick Foles 9) Matt Ryan 10) Matthew Stafford 11) Cam Newton 12) Philip Rivers 13) Ben Roethlisberger 14) Colin Kaepernick 15) Robert Griffin
Brandon – 1) Andrew Luck, 2) Aaron Rodgers 3) Drew Brees, 4) Ben Roethlisberger, 5) Tom Brady, 6) Russell Wilson, 7) Peyton Manning, 8) Matt Ryan, 9) Cam Newton, 10) Tony Romo, 11) Matthew Stafford, 12) Eli Manning, 13) Philip Rivers, 14) Ryan Tannehill, 15) Nick Foles
Brad – 1) Aaron Rodgers, 2) Andrew Luck, 3) Drew Brees, 4) Peyton Manning, 5) Tom Brady, 6) Ben Roesthlisberger, 7) Cam Newton, 8) Russell Wilson, 9) Matt Ryan, 10) Tony Romo, 11) Matthew Stafford, 12) Ryan Tannehill, 13) Eli Manning, 14) Philip Rivers, 15) Nick Foles
Blake Griffin: After a slow start to the year (partially due to an illness), Griffin has been on a tear, averaging 22.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals and a whopping 6.3 assists over the past six games. Those 6.3 dimes are more than Damian Lillard, Mike Conley and Kyrie Irving have averaged this season. Griffin currently sports career highs in apg (4.4), FT% (73.1) and Usage Rate (28.3) with a career-low Turnover Ratio (8.1), as the 25-year-old continues to improve (although to be fair, his Rebound Rate has dropped every single year of his career). The Clippers have the third-best Offensive Efficiency in the NBA to go along with the No. 1 Effective Field Goal Percentage and No. 1 True Shooting Percentage, so this offense is arguably the best in the league, thanks in no small part to Griffin. His fantasy value is only going to continue to climb from here on out.
Marcus Smart: With Rajon Rondo shipped to Dallas, Smart is going to see a big opportunity. He recently returned from an Achilles injury, making his first career start Sunday. Smart hasn’t exactly lit it up in fantasy terms so far during his rookie campaign, but he’s averaged 1.1 3pt and 0.9 spg in just 18:15 mpg, so there’s some upside here. Boston has the second-highest PACE in the NBA, and there’s no reason for the 10-15 team not to give its young players all the run they can handle. Smart should be added in all but the shallowest of fantasy leagues, while Avery Bradley’s value also gets a boost.
George Hill: He hasn’t played this season, which is why he's owned in just 68 percent of Yahoo leagues. But Hill might return from his knee injury as soon as Tuesday (or shortly thereafter), so he should be added in all formats. With no Paul George, Indiana is desperate for help (they rank second to last in Offensive Efficiency, behind only the 3-23 76ers), so Hill could immediately step into a big role. He was the No. 42 ranked fantasy player just two years ago, and it’s not out of the question he sees his highest Usage Rate over the rest of the year because of the Pacers’ lack of scorers.
Chandler Parsons: After a slow start during his tenure with Dallas, Parsons has been the No. 13 ranked fantasy player over the past two weeks, when he’s averaged 23.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 3.5 3pt over six games. The Mavericks own the best Offensive Efficiency (113.3) in the NBA, and Parsons has career highs in ppg (16.7), 3pt (2.2), FT% (74.4), Usage Rate (20.1) and PER (17.71), with a career-low Turnover Ratio (6.4).
Andre Drummond: He’s averaged 16.2 points, 15.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.8 blocks while shooting 55.1 percent from the floor over the past six games. Drummond has been a top-50 player over the last two weeks despite shooting 44.1 percent from the free throw line. He’s quickly gone from being one of the bigger fantasy busts early in the year to back looking like one of the more promising young big men in the league, and with Josh Smith released, coach Stan Van Gundy has admitted it’s all about the future for the Pistons, so Drummond is going to be featured heavily from here on out.
Here’s a sick Rudy Gay dunk over Serge Ibaka. “If you don’t like that, you don’t like NBA basketball!”
I hyped Andre Drummond earlier, but he got absolutely posterized here.
Carmelo Anthony: After a rough start, he’s been a top-25 player over the past month, and while Anthony has still been a disappointment (his ADP was top-10), it’s not like his performance this season has been a total disaster. However, Anthony is clearly dealing with a knee injury that’s not going away anytime soon, and the 5-25 Knicks are already out of the playoff picture even in the East, so there’s a real chance he shuts it down at some point. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to shop Anthony and try to get something like 80 cents on the dollar at this point.
Corey Brewer: He’s been the No. 31 ranked player over the past two weeks, averaging a ridiculous 3.7 steals over the past seven games. But him getting traded to Houston should result in a major decrease in Usage Rate, so while Brewer managed five steals and 10 field goal attempts (more than any in his last three games with Minnesota) during his first game with the Rockets on Monday, he saw just 22:51 minutes, so don’t expect those stats to continue in his new role off the bench on a much more loaded team.
Lance Stephenson: Over his last 11 games, he’s made 1-of-21 shots from downtown and owns a 38.6 FG percentage on the year. Stephenson has the highest Usage Rate of his career after signing a big contract with Charlotte, but that’s resulted in him being the No. 247 ranked fantasy player this season. He’s currently dealing with a hip injury as well as locker room issues with his team. The Hornets would be thrilled to trade Stephenson, as would his fantasy owners.
Deron Williams: He’s shooting 28.2 percent (24-of-85) from the field over his past eight games, failing to score 20 points in more than a month. Williams will improve once he recovers from his recent calf injury, but it’s always something with the point guard. He hasn’t been a top-100 player over the past month, as he continues to disappoint.
Kobe Bryant: There was some optimism for Bryant’s fantasy value this year when he proved to be healthy early on, and his current 22.4 field goal attempts per game are actually the fifth highest of his career despite his advanced age (and his 5.4 3PA are the third most of his career). Unfortunately, that’s resulted in him shooting 33.5 percent (71-of-212) from the floor over the past 10 games. Bryant’s Usage Rate this season (34.4) is actually the second-highest of his career, but it’s outcome has been a bunch of FG misses and a ton of turnovers, as the former star has been the No. 177 ranked fantasy player over the past two weeks.
Andrew Luck might very well be listed as the No. 1 QB by most entering 2015, but he finished with 109 yards and a 0:2 TD:INT ratio in the fantasy championship before getting benched in a game that had an O/U of 55+ points. It was actually fitting for Week 16, when many fantasy “stars” struggled, as the finals became something of a battle of attrition...Give DeMarco Murray credit for playing through pain, even if he gained just 58 yards on 22 carries (he at least scored)...The fake punt called by Indy was brilliant. The execution, not so much...With T.Y. Hilton inactive and Reggie Wayne one step from retirement, Donte Moncrief looked like a great sleeper in Week 16. Instead, he totaled five yards on three targets (which was still better than Dwayne Allen, who pulled down zero of his three targets)...Tony Romo threw four touchdowns on 20 attempts (Brandon Weeden added another on one throw), completing a remarkable 90.0 percent of his passes while getting 10.9 YPA. Romo has an 18:1 TD:INT ratio over seven games ON THE ROAD this season, and Dallas held the Colts to one rushing yard Sunday. The Cowboys are no joke and are a threat to come out of the NFC.
Mike Evans has had a great rookie season, on pace to finish with 12 touchdowns. He’s also failed to reach 50 receiving yards in any of his past five games...Josh McCown had nearly as many sacks (seven) as he did completions (12), while Doug Martin and Charles Sims combined for 16 rushing yards on 14 carries...Eddie Lacy’s 44-yard TD run was his longest carry of the season.
Before leaving with an injury, Johnny Manziel managed just 4.0 YPA, once again looking overmatched...Jonathan Stewart has averaged 52.9 rushing yards throughout his career. Over the past four games, he’s averaged 109.3...Kelvin Benjamin is a candidate to win Rookie of the Year, but it’s worth mentioning he’s gotten just 7.1 YPT this season, including 47 yards on 12 targets Sunday...Greg Olsen entered as the No. 3 scoring fantasy tight end yet managed just one catch for 21 yards in the fantasy championship week. Meanwhile, one of the biggest tight end busts, Jordan Cameron, caught an 81-yard touchdown.
The Lions still somehow won, but facing a Chicago defense that’s allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season, Matthew Stafford got 6.2 YPA while throwing two picks with no TDs and produced a 53.7 QB Rating. Stafford has a 6:6 TD:INT ratio over seven road games this season...Who would you take first next year, Calvin Johnson or Odell Beckham Jr.? I’d lean toward the latter...Well this wasn’t very nice...Alshon Jeffery had 72 yards and a score, but it required 15 targets, and he had a handful of horrible drops...This Joique Bell touchdown run was one of the best of the season...Through 16 weeks, Matt Forte has fewer than 1,000 rushing yards and a modest six TDs on the ground, but thanks to 94 catches, 785 receiving yards and four TD receptions, he’s been a top-five fantasy commodity.
Tom Brady led the Patriots with seven carries...Facing a Jets front seven that’s allowed the third-lowest YPC (3.5) in the NFL while missing Julian Edelman, it was surprising Shane Vereen saw just two targets...Percy Harvin left with an injury. Do yourself a favor and ignore him at draft tables next year....The 12-3 Patriots beat the 3-12 Jets twice this year by a combined three points...Would love to hear an explanation why the Jets didn’t let Brandon Bolden score after he got a first down with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter with no timeouts left in a one point game. Baffling.
After helping many teams reach the playoffs, it’s safe to say Jamaal Charles has been the biggest fantasy disappointment when it’s mattered most...Le’Veon Bell has 110 rushing yards on 40 carries over the past two games, although that’s also come with three TD runs...The Chiefs still don’t have a touchdown to a wide receiver this season. In fact, Antonio Brown entered with more catches, yards, TDs and first downs than the Kansas City wide receivers combined.
The six-win Saints entered having the chance to secure the division title, with the possibility to rest their players in Week 17. Instead, they are now officially eliminated from the playoffs...After beating the Packers 44-23, New Orleans has lost five straight games at home...Jimmy Graham scored, but he also got 5.3 YPT and lost a fumble at the goal line. He’s been a major disappointment while once again playing through an injury...The last play of this game was pretty fitting.
Lamar Miller has seven rushing touchdowns while getting 4.7 YPC on 197 carries. Meanwhile, Matt Asiata has nine rushing touchdowns on 3.3 YPC over 145 carries...Minnesota scored 14 points in an 11-second span late in the fourth quarter, which was brutal for me (I not only have the Vikings’ UNDER but I also had the Dolphins in a four-team money-line parlay with the Patriots, Packers and Lions. Miami’s unlikely comeback win almost made up for the debacle in which I witnessed in person that was the 49ers blowing a 28-7 halftime lead. Almost.) Here’s an attempt at an onside kick via a punt...Ryan Tannehill threw for the most yards (396) in the NFL this week, completing 74.5 percent of his passes with a career-high four scores.
Headlines of the Week: First-Time Flyer Opens Emergency Exit On Plane To ‘Get Some Air’...School Punishes Blind Child By Taking Away Cane And Replacing It With A Pool Noodle...Cat Breaks Into Fish Store, Goes Through Over $1,000 Worth Of Seafood...Goodwill Workers Find Cremated Remains In Donation..More Than Half Of Medical Advice On ‘Dr. Oz’ Lacks Proof Or Contradicts Best Available Science...Woman Finds Husband Cheating With Her Twin Sister, Strands Them Naked In Parking Lot...Jim Harbaugh Destroys 10-Year-Old During Laser Tag At His Bachelor Party.
Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins combined for just 103 yards on 25 targets, while Case Keenum got 4.4 YPA without a touchdown during a game in which the Texans beat a 9-5 Ravens team by 12 points...Justin Forsett has been the No. 8 ranked fantasy back this year, ahead of LeSean McCoy by a comfortable margin, yet he’s gained just 67 yards on 26 carries with no scores over the past two games...Here’s a pretty sick Arian Foster touchdown pass...The announcers actually questioned John Harbaugh going for two down 25-13, saying “now it takes away the ability to kick a FG and go for two.” You can’t make this stuff up.
Here’s Colin Kaepernick running for the second longest touchdown by a quarterback in NFL history.
The Rams had allowed a total of 12 points over their past three games. Facing a 5-9 Giants team at home, they gave up 37 points Sunday...Over his last five games, Odell Beckham Jr. has 657 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, including yet another impressive one Sunday. The rookie totaled 357 yards over the three games before this span, and he scored two times in the game before that. ODB has reached 130 yards in three consecutive games, and his streak of eight games with at least 90 receiving yards is just one short of the NFL record (set by Michael Irvin in 1995). Beckham’s case to be taken in the first round in 2015 is growing stronger.
Police Blotter: Police Tase Chocolate-Crazed Monkey In France...Man Fakes Heart Attack To Steal Barbie Car From Walmart...Man Without Use Of Arms Facing Gun Charge Released ...Fugitive Killer Mocks Judges From Caribbean.
C.J. Spiller’s return resulted in four carries for minus-four yards...Sammy Watkins scored for the first time since October, as Kyle Orton threw more touchdowns Sunday than he did during his previous three games combined...The Raiders have won each of their past three home games, beating two teams that combined for a 23-9 record last season before defeating an 8-6 Buffalo squad Sunday.
Longread of the Week: “What’s So Bad About Gluten?”
The Seahawks have the most penalties in the NFL, while their opponents have committed the fewest, yet once again they look like the favorite to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC...It required 19 targets for Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd to total 74 yards...Seattle’s 596 yards was a franchise record, as they beat a team that entered 11-3 by 29 points on the road while missing three field goals...Ryan Lindley owns the longest passing attempt streak to start a career without a TD pass in NFL history...This Russell Wilson touchdown run was ridiculous...Marshawn Lynch sat out the beginning of the game while dealing with an illness, but he more than made up for it with this career-long run.
Follow Dalton Del Don on Twitter.
More on Week 16 in the NFL from Yahoo Sports
If you didn't have Ryan Tannehill in your Circle of Trust entering Week 16, you certainly weren't alone.
Tannehill threw just two touchdowns in his previous three games, doing little with some prime passing matchups (Jets, Ravens). And the entire Miami offense dropped the ball in the second half of last week's loss at New England, scoring zero points. No one on the Yahoo staff considered Tannehill a Top 10 quarterback for fantasy's championship week.
So much for all that. Sunday's home game against Minnesota turned into an afternoon of pinball.
Tannehill posted the game of his short career in the 37-35 victory, and Miami needed every last bit of the production. The third-year quarterback completed 35-of-47 passes for 396 yards, with four touchdowns against one interception. It's a personal best for completions and touchdowns, while the yardage was his second-best mark ever.
A bunch of Miami players came along for the ride. Tight end Charles Clay, missing in action for much of the season, rolled up a 6-114 line on 10 targets. Mike Wallace snagged a couple of touchdown passes. Underrated back Lamar Miller posted 19-92-1 on the ground, and added 5-58 through the air. Crooked numbers everywhere. Fins to the left, fins to the right.
The high-scoring win made an impression on Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. After the victory, he announced head coach Joe Philbin will return for the 2015 season. Maybe it's not the right time to make these proclamations, but it's his multi-million investment, not ours.
The fourth period was especially crazy, when the Vikings and Dolphins combined for 41 points. Heck, there were four touchdowns in the final 6:39, in addition to Miami's game-winning safety. Teddy Bridgewater had some fine moments for the Purple (19-26-259, 2 TDs), and Matt Asiata continued his Hoard Tour (two short touchdown rushes, plus a conversion rush). Greg Jennings made good on his three targets (3-56, with a 21-yard touchdown).
It was fun to see all the scoring in South Florida, because a bunch of offenses mailed it in for the 1 pm ET wave. The Miami-Minnesota game was the only one that sailed over its posted total; the other seven games fell under.
If your league uses Week 17 for fantasy purposes, Tannehill and Bridgewater deserve consideration. Miami hosts the Jets, while Minnesota entertains the Bears. Good work if you can get it.
Also Booming in Week 16 (early games):
-- Packers Passing Game: OK, we'll be fair, you probably expected more than two offensive touchdowns (and one passing touchdown) at Tampa Bay. But Randall Cobb's 11-131-0 line was just fine, especially in PPR formats, and Jordy Nelson paid the bills with a 9-113-1 haul. The Pack seemed intent on getting Aaron Rodgers a touchdown toss, going pass-heavy in their goal-line packages. Rodgers turned in a solid line (31-40-318-1-0), then celebrated with his playoff-bound teammates. The Pack and Lions play for the NFC North title next week.
-- Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: The Carolina rushing game was fantasy quicksand for many years, but Stewart has taken over nicely in the absence of DeAngelo Williams. He ran over and through the Browns all afternoon (122 yards, 5.1 a pop), and added a short touchdown catch, just for fun. Boogie With Stew, indeed. Carolina and Atlanta have an NFC South Championship Game set for Week 17.
-- Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: He missed practice all week and obviously the hip isn't close to 100 percent. So let's tip the cap to Jones for collecting seven catches for 107 yards in a critical victory at New Orleans.
Other Booms (early games): Torrey Smith (thanks, garbage time), Arian Foster, Eddie Lacy, Jordan Cameron
Unfortunately Busting in Week 16 (early games):
-- Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions: The Bears defense is supposed to be the gift that keeps on giving, but Stafford never got comfortable in Sunday's victory at Soldier Field. Stafford was intercepted twice and sacked four times, and he didn't manage a touchdown pass.
-- Tom Brady, QB, Jets: Say this for Rex Ryan, he often knows how to get under Brady's skin. He did that early and often Sunday, forcing Brady into a mediocre game by anyone's standards (76.1 rating, 182 yards, one TD, one pick). New England was fortunate to escape with a one-point victory.
-- Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: A couple of scores in garbage time massaged the bottom line, but for the most part Flacco was confused and inaccurate in an upset loss at Houston. The final line looks bad (21-50-195-2-3) but it doesn't reflect just how terrible Baltimore looked for the majority of the day.
Other Busts (early games): Jamaal Charles, Justin Forsett, Greg Olsen, Buccaneers passing game, Josh Gordon
Here's the plan for this week, all numbers against the Yahoo Pro Football Pick'Em Line: Patriots -10, Broncos -3, Oakland +5.5, Houston +5, Redskins +7.5 (released Saturday).
Can't see the Patriots taking the Jets lightly given what's at stake (they're protecting the No. 1 seed in the AFC). The first meeting was close, to the point that this is almost a revenge spot (consider how the Pats crushed Miami in the rematch). And surely Geno Smith will be good for a couple of turnovers. Lay the wood.
When's the last time Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton came through in a big prime-time spot? I know Peyton Manning doesn't look sharp right now, but Julius Thomas is back, C.J. Anderson is a horse, and the Broncos defense is one of the underreported stories of the second half..
We'll fade the Bills after last week's surprise upset victory, a game that was more fluky than the final score indicated. Oakland hasn't packed it in: its last two home games were victories over the Chiefs and Niners.
Case Keenum has shown occasional flashes as a starter – recall his turn at KC last year. It sounds like DeAndre Hopkins will go, and he'll find space against this leaky Baltimore secondary (so will Andre Johnson). Texans hang around.
Last Week: 3-2
This Week: 1-0
If you're still reading this, congratulations – you made it to championship week. Let's take a good look around the injury report, starting with the wide receivers.
• It comes down to a game-time decision for Julio Jones (hip), so we'll have to sweat it out into Sunday. At least the Falcons have a 1 pm ET start at New Orleans. Jones didn't work in practice all week.
• T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) was a non-participant all week and it sounds like he probably won't go at Dallas. The Colts already have their division won, but it would take a miracle to get an AFC bye, as they already trail the Broncos and Patriots and have head-to-head losses against both clubs. Thus, it's easy to imagine the Colts resting their star wideout.
• Keenan Allen (collarbone) won't play Saturday at San Francisco, and Week 17 seems like a stretch, too. Eddie Royal and Seyi Ajirotutu are the candidates to step up in his absence.
• Andre Johnson (post concussion) is expected to go, but it looks doubtful for DeAndre Hopkins (ankle). The Texans have little depth behind those two, so Johnson might see a bunch of targets against the Ravens. Unfortunately, they'll be thrown by Case Keenum.
• Dwayne Bowe (illness) missed the full practice week. He's dealing with a flu bug. You'd expect him to play at Pittsburgh, but his production this year pushes him off the fantasy radar.
• The Patriots are listing two of their skill guys as questionable: Brandon LaFell (ankle), and Shane Vereen (ankle). But we already know the status on Julian Edelman (thigh/concussion) and LeGarrette Blount (shoulder): they didn't travel with the team to New York, so count them out. Jonas Gray and Shane Vereen become more interesting with the Blount news.
• DeMarco Murray (hand) had a week of limited practice and is listed as questionable. Murray owners need to have a late-game caddy in place, as the Cowboys are a second-wave kickoff. Joseph Randle would likely take the heavy share of the load if Murray were to sit out, or leave the game in progress.
• With Ryan Mathews (ankle) out for Saturday, the Chargers have Branden Oliver and Donald Brown set to carry the ball at San Francisco.
• DeAngelo Williams (hand) is listed as questionable, though he seems closer to doubtful based on the context clues. Look for Jonathan Stewart to get most of the work against a Browns front seven that is struggling (Jeremy Hill absolutely trampled it last week).
• Frank Gore (post concussion) is expected to play against the Chargers, but until he's officially announced as active, I wouldn't count on anything. Carlos Hyde (ankle) will not play.
• Rashad Jennings (ankle) won't go in Week 16, so Andre Williams gets the tough assignment at St. Louis.
• The Bills list C.J. Spiller (collarbone) as active for the game at Oakland, if you need a Hail Mary. I'd be shocked if Spiller received a lot of touches, but it's your team.
• Cam Newton (back) returned to the final two days of practice and looks ready to go against Cleveland.
• As you've surely heard by now, the Bears have benched Jay Cutler in favor of Jimmy Clausen. I nudged the Chicago skill players down an eyelash, but nothing significant. No matter who plays QB for the Bears, they'll get a stern challenge from the Lions defense. Detroit is first in lowest YPC allowed (3.1, best NFL mark in four years) and fifth in lowest QB rating allowed.
I wish I could say I was among those still working towards a fantasy title this week, but, alas, I was knocked out in a couple leagues in the aftermath of a bloody Sunday in Week 15 in which many big names came up short (Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Josh Gordon, I'm looking at you). That said, I still have some scratch on the line in some consolation contests, which means I'm still working hard to uncover this week's likely booms and busts. So, for the final time this season I offer you the players that jump out to me for looking better or worse than usual this week. Best of luck in your championship matchups, and happy holidays!
QB – Joe Flacco, Bal at Hou – If I somehow found myself in need of a QB in this fantasy championship week, I'd feel comfortable streaming Flacco (40 percent available) against a Houston defense that has allowed the sixth-most passing yards and the ninth-most passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks - that looks a lot worse when you factor in how many "non-threatening" quarterbacks the Texans have faced (E.J. Manuel, Derek Carr, Titans QBs twice, Brian Hoyer, Blake Bortles, RGIII). Considering the matchup, and the fact that Flacco has been a top 5 fantasy QB over the past three weeks, he's a pretty safe play this weekend.
RB – Tre Mason, StL vs. NYG – Mason has been quiet the past two games, but expect him to make some noise this week against a Giants defense allowing 4.8 YPC to the RB position. Also, the G-Men's ability to get after the QB is among the best in the league, which poses a potentially serious problem for the immobile Shaun Hill. It makes a lot of sense for the Rams to go ground-heavy and exploit the Giants run defense as opposed to putting Hill in harm's way via the passing game. Mason has 100 yards and a TD written all over him.
RB – Lamar Miller, Mia vs Min – No running back has faced a tougher schedule than Miller over the past six weeks, which explains why he has just two touchdowns and has failed to reach 100 yards from scrimmage in that span. This week, though, the schedule finally turns soft, as the Vikings have allowed 4.5 YPC to opposing backs. They also allow the eighth-most yards from scrimmage to the RB position. With Minnesota exceling in pass defense, look for QB Ryan Tannehill to hand the ball off to Miller early and often on Sunday.
WR – Andre Johnson, Hou vs Bal – Things are lining up for Johnson to have a big day in Week 16. Teammate DeAndre Hopkins is looking very iffy to play because of an ankle injury, so Johnson's status as this week's go-to guy is unquestioned. And with QB Case Keenum expected to start, the history card reads very well for the veteran wideout - Johnson averaged 100 yards and scored all five of his touchdowns in '13 in the eight games in which Keenum was Houston's QB. Against a Baltimore defense allowing the second-most fantasy points to the WR position, Johnson needs to be deployed for your fantasy championship.
WR – DeSean Jackson, Was vs Phi – Thank you very much, Jay Gruden. The Washington head coach called out his receiver this week, saying that he's a "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" coach, and that Jackson hasn't delivered in that respect. It's a perfect lead-in scenario for Jackson, as he faces his old team, the Philadelphia Eagles, this week. In Week 3, he went for five catches, 117 yards and a TD against the Eagles. And Philly hasn't improved much in pass defense since then as it currently sits as the most generous unit in fantasy to the WR position. Look for Jackson to answer Gruden's call to action.
TE - Jason Witten, Dal vs Ind – It's hard not to like Witten this week coming off a solid 7-69 line in Week 15 and now facing Indy's defense that is the fifth-most generous in fantasy to the TE position. With DeMarco Murray dealing with a broken hand, that should curb his participation in the passing game, which could lead to a few more looks for Witten. And when Colts CB Vontae Davis is lined up against Dez Bryant, that's also a scenario that could force QB Tony Romo to look Witten's way. And, of course, it doesn't hurt Witten's cause that Indy has little to play for given that its playoff situation is pretty much set.
QB – Philip Rivers, SDG at SF – I'm sure a lot of Rivers owners already had their fantasy championship hopes dashed, thanks to a six-game slump in which Rivers has averaged 237.6 passing yards and has posted a 7:8 TD-to-INT ratio. Still, Rivers currently sits as the 11th-most started QB this week. If you're a Rivers owner, you should do your part to reduce that Start% number. Go with Flacco (above) if you can. I'd even roll the dice on RGIII in an advantageous matchup against Philly. With Rivers' go-to receiver Keenan Allen out (ankle), and traveling to face a San Francisco defense allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, you'll want nothing to do with Rivers this week.
RB – LeSean McCoy, Phi at Was – Most everyone who owns Shady is currently starting him (94%). Not sure how that can be justified considering he ranks No. 35 among running backs in total fantasy points scored over the past two weeks - he was a big reason why my team in which I own McCoy was bounced from my league's playoffs. Also, McCoy put up just 22 yards on 20 carries in Week 3, when last he faced Washington, a defense that ranks among the very best at defending the run. McCoy is not getting goal line carries nor opportunities in the passing game. His ceiling this week is about as high as that of LesterCorp's seventh-and-a-half floor.
RB – Isaiah Crowell, Cle at Car – Don't let anyone convince you that Crowell has RB2 upside this week. He's barely a top 30 RB option, in my opinion. First of all, Carolina has tightened things up quit a bit in run defense compared to early in the year. Over the past five weeks, the Panthers are allowing 30 percent fewer fantasy points to the RB position than the league average. And considering how awful rookie QB Johnny Manziel was last week in the passing game, count on Carolina overplaying the run in an effort to force Manziel to throw the ball, where tunrover opportunities abound. Crowell could very well finish with his third sub-5 point fantasy line in the past four games.
WR – Sammy Watkins, Buf at Oak – Watkins is currently sitting among the top 25 most started wide receivers, which simply should not be the case. Unless you are a major underdog in your championship matchup and need a high-ceiling, swing-for-the-fences type, Watkins is best avoided. He's finished under 4.0 fantasy points in eight games this season, which means he's more likely to give you that kind of tally than one that you'll be excited about. Oakland isn't much to fear on the defensive side, but it has been so bad against the run that that (the ground game) is where teams usually attack it most, which certainly limits Watkins' upside.
WR – Alshon Jeffery, Chi vs Det – If you watched Johnny Manziel's NFL starting debut last week, you should have a pretty good idea of what Bears QB Jimmy Claussen looked like on a regular basis the last time he was allowed to start NFL games (2010) - let's just say, it wasn't pretty. If Claussen was the QB last week, Jeffery doesn't score that back-shoulder garbage time TD against the Saints, because he wouldn't have been able to make the throw that Jay Cutler did on that play. Simply put, I have no faith in the Bears passing game this week, especially against a Lions defense that has allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to the WR position.
TE - Larry Donnell, NYG at StL – I thought Donnell would be a solid play last week against a Washington team that he scored three touchdowns against in the first meeting. I was wrong. Donnell managed just two catches for 11 yards in the rematch, and he's now gone four straight games without a TD catch. Against the Rams superb defensive front this week, don't be surprised if Donnell is held out of the end zone yet again. With Donnell being ranked (by ProFootballFocus) as one of the best pass blocking tight ends in the game, I expect that role to be enhanced in an effort to keep Robert Quinn, William Hayes and company at bay.
Fantasy is a speculative game. Predict the future, and you look like a genius. Don't, and you're painfully human. Gazing into the crystal ball, here's our view on 10 intriguing over/unders for Week 16.
Assuming he's active, project DeMarco Murray's line (atts-rush yds-recs-receiving yds-tds) at home vs. Indy.
Dalton – 19 attempts, 90 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 12 yards, 1 touchdown
Scott – 17 attempts, 83 rushing yards, 1 reception, 7 yards, 1 touchdown
Brad – 15 attempts, 79 rushing yards, 0 receptions, 0 touchdowns
Ben Roethlisberger, who's averaged an otherworldly 373.3 passing yards per game and totaled 20 touchdowns in six home games this year, fantasy points scored vs. KC 17.5.
Andy – OVER, barely. It's not the greatest of matchups, as the Chiefs defense ranks second in the league in terms of passing yards allowed. But KC has also given up 21 touchdown passes while only collecting four interceptions. Ben has so many weapons at his disposal and he's been a monster at home, so I'll trust him here.
Brandon – UNDER. In Yahoo default scoring, Big Ben has topped this number five times while the KC defense has allowed this number just three times. In fact, KC hasn't let a QB reach 270 passing yards, and it has faced six top 10 fantasy QBs, to date. If I'm playing the odds, they are telling me, in no uncertain terms, to take the under.
Dalton – OVER. You’ve already pointed out how good he’s been at home this season, and while Kansas City has yielded the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs this season, that’s been accompanied by a 21:4 TD:INT ratio. KC has countered that by allowing an NFL-low two touchdowns on the ground, which should result in a nice game from Big Ben.
Saturday Special. Coming off an inexplicable zero-catch game against Dallas, Jordan Matthews receptions against woeful Washington 5.5.
Brandon – UNDER. I can see him catching four or five passes, but six is a bit of reach given that Philly has really dialed down QB Mark Sanchez's pass attempts (under 30 in each of the past three games). While Washington's secondary is exploitable, I'm not sure it's going to be that lucrative for Philly given that it's a road game against a divisional foe that can put serious pressure on the QB. I'm guessing Chip Kelly will once again try to keep things conservative for Sanchez.
Dalton – OVER. Since Mark Sanchez took over QB duties (when Mathews became fantasy relevant), the rookie wideout has averaged 5.2 catches while hailing in four scores, and that modest reception average comes with him totaling just two over the past two contests combined. This week he’s facing a Washington secondary that’s surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing WRs this season, so expect him to bounce back from the recent slump.
Brad – OVER. Last week was a fluke fanatics. Washington is dreadfully, woefully, terribly bad against the pass. Would be no shocker if the rookie duplicated his 8-59-2 line against 'Skins back in Week 3.
Julius Thomas, who has one catch to his name since Week 12, receiving yards on the road in Cincinnati 44.5. BONUS: Will he score a TD YES or NO?
Dalton – UNDER. Even over the first five games in which he scored a remarkable nine touchdowns, he averaged just 55.4 receiving yards. Thomas has averaged 29.8 yards in the six games he’s played since, and now he’s also dealing with a hobbled Peyton Manning. Still, despite playing in just 11 games (and being extremely limited in others), he’s somehow still tied for second in the NFL with 12 TD catches, so I’m saying YES he scores Sunday.
Andy – UNDER and YES. I'm not expecting heavy usage from Thomas, a player whose value is almost exclusively tied to touchdowns. He's caught just 41 balls for 456 yards on the year, yet he's given us 12 spikes. In a tricky matchup at Cincinnati, I'll give him four catches for 41 yards and one score.
Scott – I'm not a fan of expecting much from injury returnees, but Thomas had his feet-wet game last week, This week, back to full deployment. The Bengals pass defense is better on the flanks against the wideouts; I'll give Thomas an affirmative OVER and YES to these assignments.
Josh Gordon, who hasn't rewarded the patient, receiving yards with Johnny Failure Football under center in Carolina 64.5.
Andy – Um ... no. No. UNDER. I just can't do it, not after last week's Manziel meltdown. If you're starting Gordon, you're simply hoping for a score. Within the context of last week's game, it's plenty impressive that Gordon delivered 48 receiving yards. I don't think I can make myself project more than 60 at this point.
Scott – Have to take the UNDER. Johnny Football didn't look close to ready last week and Gordon isn't in top form yet, either.
Dalton – OVER. Johnny Manziel’s first game was one of the worst I’ve ever seen, yet Gordon somehow managed 48 receiving yards against a Bengals team that’s allowed the second fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts this season. Johnny Football gets another week of first-team practice reps, and Gordon gets an easier matchup. But I have to say I’m not optimistic about JFF’s future.
Marshawn Lynch, who hasn't eclipsed the century mark in combined yardage in four straight meetings versus Arizona, total yards the fifth time around 99.5.
Brad – UNDER. This game has 9-6 written all over it. Lynch will be sporadically useful, but considering RBs are averaging under 3.5 yards per carry in 'Zona since Week 1 last year and given his recent history versus the Desert Birds, the Beast falls short of 100.
Andy – UNDER, but not by much. It's not as if Lynch has been a complete dud against the Cards. He's still a good bet for a touchdown and, say, 80-ish yards.
Brandon – UNDER. Yeah, Arizona is legitimately tough on opposing running backs. I think Beast-Mode will find the end zone, but I suspect he'll wind up in the 70-80-yard range. Should be a serviceable fantasy day for Lynch, just don't count on 100 yards.
RGIII, once again back in the saddle with Colt McCoy sidelined, total yards Saturday against Philadelphia 274.5.
Brandon – OVER. I'm sticking with my early-week fearless forecast of 248 passing yards and 40 rushing yards, which I think is very doable against a Philly defense allowing the fourth-most passing yards and rushing yards to the QB position.
Scott – UNDER, since that's such a big number. Griffin's stubbed his toe too many times in 2013-2014 for me to start him aggressively. That said, the Philly defense has made a slew of mediocre QBs look good, and I do think it will be a competitive game. I have Griffin in the QB2 range this week, not a Top 10er.
Brad – OVER. Jay Gruden's public shots at RGIII continue to paint the passer as a mental midget. His flawed on-field fundamentals certainly supports that. Still, the Eagles are allowing 299.9 combined yards per game to slingers. On a high volume, Griffin meanders his way to 280-plus with 1-2 touchdowns.
If Julio Jones is deemed inactive, Harry Douglas receiving yards in 'Nawlins 99.5.
Dalton – UNDER. I like Douglas as a WR2/3 in fantasy leagues if Julio Jones is out in a game that’s over/under is 56 points, but Douglas has averaged 68.2 yards in “starts” this year and has reached 100 in just two games all season.
Brad – OVER. Sean Payton instituted major defensive changes last week, which proved wondrous last week in Chicago. Still, his secondary is far from lock-down. Assuming no Julio, Douglas is sure to surpass the 100-yard mark for the second straight week. Keep in mind Vegas projects a scoring bonanza (55.5 over/under).
Scott – UNDER. I know the Vegas receiving props aren't hashed out with depth, since the handle is low, but I'm positive it will be considerably lower than this. And to the side, remember the rub with Douglas: he's not a big touchdown guy. He has 406 career catches and a piddly eight touchdowns.
OLD MAN STRENGTH! Fred Jackson, who goes toe-to-toe with the rancid Raiders, standard fantasy points scored this Sunday 12.9.
Brad – OVER. The Raiders reek, especially defending the run. In total, 12 RBs have eclipsed the propsed number this year. Jackson, even with C.J. Spiller possibly in uniform, is a strong bet for 80-90 total yards and a TD.
Dalton – OVER. C.J. Spiller may return in some capacity this week, but Jackson is coming off a four game stretch in which he’s either gained at least 97 yards, scored or saw 14 targets. He now faces an Oakland front seven this week that’s ceded the second-most fantasy most to opposing running backs this year.
Brandon – OVER. There have been 12 running backs that have eclispsed this mark against the Raiders this season, and if Jackson gets the 22 touches that he has averaged over the past three games, I don't see how he doesn't become the 13th RB to topple this number.
Top-Five Buys. Your best bets (versus the spread or over/unders) for Week 15.
Brandon – 1) WAS +7.5, vs. Phi, 2) SDG-SF over 41 3) TB +12 vs. GB 4) CAR -3.5 vs. Cle 5) DET -8 at CHI
Dalton – 1) DEN -3 at Cin, 2) HOU +5 vs Bal, 3) SF -1 vs. SD 4) CAR -3.5 vs. Cle 5) OAK +7 vs. Buf
Scott – 1) WAS +7.5, 2) DEN -3, 3) OAK +7, 4) STL-NYG under 43, 5) DEN-CIN under 47.5
Brad – 1) OVER GB/TB 48.5, 2) Pit (-3) vs. KC, 3) Ari (+7.5) vs. Sea, 4) UNDER Den/Cin 47.5, 5) SF (-1) vs. SD
Andy – 1) DET -8 at CHI, 2) HOU +5 vs. BAL, 3) WAS +7.5 vs. PHI, 4) SF -1 vs. SD, 5) GB-TB Over 48.5
Want to bull rush Brad? Find him on Twitter. Also, check out the Yahoo! Fantasy and Rotoworld crew every Tuesday-Thursday on 'Fantasy Football Live' starting at 6:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network (Find channel here). Additionally, tune into 'FFL' radio on Yahoo! Sports Radio Sundays at 9 AM ET.
It all comes down to this. For the past 16 weeks, you've navigated through the thick swamp of failed performances, injuries and insufferable Chip Kelly coaching moves. Now, slated to face your arch-rival in the finals, you're just hours away from a champagne shower.
Can you taste the bubbly?
On this week's season finale, Melanie Collins plays the role of Rudolph guiding our sleigh full of knuckleheads (Brandon Funston, Brad Evans, Andy Behrens and Shaun King) through the fog and around the fantasy globe. In-depth exchanges over Marshawn Lynch, Peyton Manning and Sammy Watkins are on tap. Also, our resident M.D., Dr. Gregory Horner, stops by to give you all the gory details on DeMarco Murray's surgically repaired hand. The Doc, who's performed an identical procedure, is sure to provide invaluable information.
Questions? Here's how you can join the circus:
Per usual, the Big Noise and Barfer will attempt to shake off the previous night's activities on our two-hour pregame simulcast. Can you honestly bench Arian Foster? Will Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and Alshon Jeffery get Clausened? We'll tell you. If you have a championship dilemma, contact us one of two ways below:
Perhaps you, like me, now find yourself staring at a lineup mess like this ...
... and you're just hoping to limit the damage in the weeks ahead, waiting out injuries that have no timetables. If that's the case, then you're surely using all available weekly transactions, churning roster spots, working feverishly to prevent the 3-6 loss.
For those of you with multiple broken roster pieces, here are five dudes I've added in a league or three over the past few days:
SF/PF Donatas Montiejunas, HOU (32 percent owned) - In the month of December, D-Mo has been giving us the following stat line: 17.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 55.6 FG%, 0.9 3PM. Can you use numbers like that? Well, I can. Montiejunas has been playing 30-plus minutes per night, starting and mostly thriving in the absence of Terrence Jones (leg/nerve). Houston plays three games next week, then the team has four straight four-gamers.
SG Tim Hardaway Jr., NYK (20 percent owned) - As you might have heard, Melo has lingering knee issues, J.R. Smith has only one functioning foot, and Iman Shumpert is dealing with a multi-week shoulder problem. Thus, Hardaway has a green light to shoot, and he's getting plenty of minutes. He's attempted 27 threes over his last four games (not hitting nearly enough), reaching double-digit points in each. Hardaway will almost certainly become a drag on your team shooting percentage, but he'll score while piling up threes. He plays a pair of games over the weekend, then three next week.
SF/PF Khris Middleton, MIL (17 percent owned) - Jabari Parker's season ending ACL injury is simply ... well, it's an arrangement of words I never wanted to write. Brutal news. The injury drains a fair amount of fun from the current season. Let's hope his recovery is full, quick and setback-free. Ersan Ilyasova figures to benefit statistically when he returns from injury (he's 42 percent owned), and Middleton gets a bump as well. Middleton played 33 minutes on Wednesday, scoring 17 points and hitting four threes. He's also averaging 1.3 steals per game on the season, shooting tolerable percentages. As a short-term add, he has appeal.
PF/C Mason Plumlee, BKN (42 percent owned) - Brook Lopez is a giant man with a deep history of injuries, currently dealing with a back issue. We don't know exactly when he might return; we do know that presents constant risk. Additionally, we know that Brooklyn will be having an everything-must-go sale, from now until the trade deadline. Plumlee has scored 20-plus points in back-to-back games, while delivering various other fantasy goodies...
His free-throw shooting is a known problem (55.5 percent career), so he's not for everyone. But he probably belongs on someone's roster at the moment in leagues of standard size/shape.
SG Jodie Meeks, DET (32 percent owned) - OK, here's another guy who probably isn't for everyone. Meeks has played four games since returning from the back malfunction and he's seeing 20-plus minutes, delivering steals (7) and threes (4). Those are the categories in which he can help, at least in a modest way. Meeks only plays two games next week and three the week after, so he's not going to give you much of a near-term boost. But in time, Meeks should have a significant and fantasy relevant role.
Group-think can be an especially scary thing when it comes to fantasy football rankings. After all, the unpredictable nature of the NFL game is part of what makes fantasy football so popular, and why some people like to say that the NFL acronym stands for "No F****** Logic." But when one of our Yahoo fantasy football analysts veers particularly far away from the rankings consensus, our curious nature begs for an explanation. So, with that in mind, I've identified two players from our Week 16 rankings that our Yahoo analysts love/hate significantly more than the rest of us, and have asked them to explain their reasoning. I'll kick things off with a couple of my outliers::
Love him: Andre Johnson, Hou, WR - Funston WR rank No. 21 (Yahoo No. 28)
Johnson is expected to play this week coming off a concussion. And there's a decent chance he'll be paired with QB Case Keenum, as Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage are done for the year. Not only do I appreciate Johnson this week because of a matchup against a Baltimore defense that has allowed the second-most fantasy points to the WR position. But I also like the Keenum-Johnson connection, one that averaged 100 yards per game in the eight contests that Keenum took up behind center for the Texans last season. Johnson also scored all five of his touchdowns of '13 in a two-game span when Keenum was the starter. Keenum's (lack of) arm strength leads him to focus in on that short-to-intermediate range that Johnson so often inhabits (Keenum targeted Johnson an average of 11.75 times per contest, including two games in which he targeted him 17 and 21 times, respectively!)
Hate him: LeSean McCoy, Phi, RB - Funston RB rank No. 25 (Yahoo No. 16)
Are there any McCoy owners actually playing in a fantasy championship this week? I know, after McCoy finished with just 6.5 fantasy points last week, I was bounced from my fantasy playoffs in the league I owned him. I considered myself lucky to even be there after McCoy posted just five fantasy points the previous week. Talk about a playoff dog. But, really, McCoy has been a bust all year, as his four touchdowns on the season are barely better than the total of three his backups (Chris Polk and Darren Sproles) combined for against Dallas on Sunday night. Considering how a bad season has suddenly taken a turn for the worse, how can you feel good about rolling him out this week against a Washington defense allowing the third-fewest fantasy points to RBs, a unit that held Shady to just 22 rushing yards on 20 carries back in Week 3.
DALTON DEL DON
Love him: LeSean McCoy, Phi, RB - Del Don RB rank No. 10 (Yahoo No. 16)
There's no question he's been a major disappointment this year, but McCoy is still on pace to finish with 1,293 rushing yards. He had two touchdowns stolen from him last week by Chris Polk, but realize Polk played a total of three snaps against the Cowboys, so that was something of a fluke. Washington has defended the run well this year (thanks partially to its schedule), but Philadelphia is more than touchdown favorites in a game with an over/under north of 50 points, which is a nice setup. I didn't think I was being overly aggressive ranking McCoy as the No. 10 RB this week but apparently I was.
Hate him: Chris Ivory, NYJ, RB - Del Don RB rank No. 24 (Yahoo No. 29)
He's averaged just 46.0 yards from scrimmage over the past six games, scoring once in that span. Ivory ran for just 25 yards last week against a Titans defense that has allowed the most rushing yards to running backs in all of football (and 150+ more than the next worst team). He now gets a New England defense that's yielded the second-fewest rushing scores (five) in the NFL this season during the crucial Week 16. I'd stay away.
Love him: Matt Asiata, Min, RB - Evans RB rank No. 17 (Yahoo rank No. 22)
Truthfully, Asiata is a pedestrian runner who, in terms of straight-line speed, makes Tom Brady look like Usain Bolt. He excels in pass protection and is a trustworthy receiver, but beyond that, he's a very average talent. Still, he's a strong candidate to crack the RB top-20. His Week 16 opponent, Miami, has unhinged defensively down the stretch. Since Week 10, the Dolphins have allowed 4.88 yards per carry and the 10th-most fantasy points to RBs. On 14-16 touches, I'm confident Asiata tallies 75-85 total yards with a touchdown.
Hate him: Kelvin Benjamin, Car, WR - Evans WR rank No. 25 (Yahoo No. 17)
Undoubtedly, Benjamin has been a consistency king this season. Drops have plagued him at times, but his long frame, plus strength and deceptive speed have won many downfield battles. This week, however, Joe Haden rides into town. The decorated corner is dealing with a shoulder injury, but indications suggest he will suit up Sunday. Since Week 9, Haden has allowed a catch rate and QB rating under 50 to his assignments. Even when sidelined early last week against Cincinnati, his cohorts finished the job against A.J. Green, holding the wideout to just 49 yards. The Panther could experience a similar fate.
Love him: Joe Flacco, Bal, QB – Behrens QB rank No. 11 (Yahoo No. 14)
Over Flacco's last five games, he's delivered nine total touchdowns (including two on the ground) and he's tossed only one pick. This week he's facing a Houston defense that's allowed the seventh-most passing yards in the league. It's a messy week at quarterback beyond the top-tier, so if I were streaming the position I'd be happy to roll with a guy who can reliably give me 250-plus yards and two TDs. Meanwhile, you're all adding shares of RG3, a lost quarterback facing an opportunistic Philly defense.
Hate him: Donte Moncrief, Ind, WR - Behrens WR rank No. 60 (Yahoo No. 42)
Which of Moncrief's zero receptions on zero targets was your favorite last week? OK, sure, he very nearly scored on a deflected pass in the end-zone, off a throw that was intended for someone else. But the point is, he's not seeing any opportunities. We all appreciate his talent, but the rookie has been completely shut out in four games this season (no catches, no yards), and he's only topped 40 receiving yards once in the last six weeks. It's easier to argue that he shouldn't be ranked at all than to argue for a top-30 spot. Yes, T.Y. Hilton gave us an injury scare last week (hamstring), but it doesn't sound as if his situation is at all serious.
Love him: Travis Kelce, KC, TE - Pianowski TE rank No. 3 (Yahoo No. 7)
The Chiefs are slowly but surely recognizing that Kelce has to be a featured part of the offense. He's posted a 12-169-1 line over the last two weeks, on 15 targets - numbers that make him the No. 3 tight end over that period. The Steelers are the eighth-easiest defense for tight ends to score on this year, and that's come despite a fairly benign set of opponents at the position. On Sunday, Zeus should be loose.
Hate him: Anquan Boldin, SF, WR - Pianowski WR rank No. 45 (Yahoo No. 33)
It's nothing personal with Boldin, but how can you trust anyone tied to Colin Kaepernick these days? Boldin is on a 9-95 gutterball the last three weeks, and while the Seahawks defense accounted for two-thirds of that mess, there was also a modest 54-yard game at Oakland. And heck, we can't forget that Boldin is 34. Maybe he's wearing down in the latter stages of the season.
Each week the Noise highlights 10 somewhat un-obvious names that he believes are destined to
implode leave egg on his face. To qualify, each player must be started in at least 50 percent of Yahoo leagues. Speaking as an accountability advocate, I will post results, whether genius or moronic, the following week using the scoring system shown here. If you're a member of TEAM HUEVOS, reveal your Week 16 Lames in the comments section below.
See Also: Week 16 Flames
Ben Roethlisberger, Pit, QB (50 percent started)
Matchup: vs. KC
Familiar bed, smiling faces, untainted pregame meals – home is usually where the heart is for Big Ben. In six games at the Mustard Bottle, he's averaged a gaudy 8.9 yards per attempt, 373.3 passing yards per game and tallied a 20:3 TD:INT split. Bombs away. However, including last week's underwhelming effort in Atlanta (360-0-0), Ben has been wildly erratic in recent weeks. In three of his past five contests, he's failed to register multiple touchdowns. Unfortunately, for those with trophy hopes on the line, his mediocrity could continue. Kansas City is a formidable pass defense. The Chiefs have rarely forced interceptions, but they've yielded only 6.17 yards per attempt, 213.9 passing yards per game and 1.5 passing touchdowns per game, equal to the second-fewest fantasy points allowed to the position. In fact, no signal-caller has surpassed 270 yards against them in a game this season. Jake Locker, Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson are the only passers to rack 20-plus fantasy points vs. K.C. Chris Harris, Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman, justifiably, have garnered accolades for their handiwork, but corner Sean Smith has been every bit as good. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranks as the fourth-best cover corner in the league. Because the Chiefs limit explosive pass plays and are vulnerable against the run (5.03 yards per carry allowed to RBs), Week 16 sets up for loads of Le'Veon Bell. Todd Haley will remain air aggressive, but the matchup arrows to conservative final numbers for No. 7.
Fearless Forecast: 24-35, 256 passing yards, 1 passing touchdown, 1 interception, 15.8 fantasy points
LeSean McCoy, Phi, RB (94 percent started)
Matchup: at Was
Engaging in hand-to-hand combat with Liam Neeson. That sounds more appealing than trotting McCoy out against a stingy Redskins run defense on the road. Chip Kelly is threatening to supplant Bill Belichick atop the list of Fantasyland's most evil coaches. Last week's game against the Cowboys clearly exhibited his remarkable treachery. Only once at close range did the running back, a rusher who's previously been effective inside the five, earned a carry. Instead, Chris Polk and Darren Sproles basked in scoring glory, causing McCoy owners to take out their frustrations on innocent holiday decorations from coast-to-coast. Poor Elf on a Shelf. This week, it could be tough sledding for McCoy across the board. The only positive from this year's Redskins is their ability to defend the run. Washington has conceded just 3.69 yards per carry and the third-fewest fantasy points to the position. In the team's last nine games, only three rushers have grossed 10-plus fantasy points against them. McCoy likely won't alter the trend. The last time he faced the divisional foe, he amassed a disgusting 22 yards on 20 carries. Appropriately, the Eagle, who's failed miserably to live up to his top-pick billing, finishes the year on a sour note.
Fearless Forecast: 18 carries, 59 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 10 receiving yards, 0 touchdowns, 8.4 fantasy points
Matt Forte, Chi, RB (96 percent started)
Matchup: vs. Det
Among this year's group of Paddington Bears, Forte might be the only player on offense still giving 110 percent. Mentally, the team, much like its lame duck coach, is sipping umbrella drinks on the shores of Cozumel, completely disengaged. Behind an offensive line that surrendered seven sacks to the Saints last Monday, Jay Cutler is simply hoping his massive ego won't be permanently damaged in either of his last two games. Forte, per usual, should grip the rock some 18-20 times, but given the disheveled state of the organization, trepidation is warranted. The opponent doesn't inspire confidence either. In terms of containing running backs, the Lions are definitely kings of the fantasy jungle. Including Forte's "earth-shattering" Turkey Day performance (11-58-0), only three RBs have earned their "Flames" membership against them since Week 6. On the year, rushers are netting an abysmal 3.09 yards per carry vs. Detroit. In a brutal matchup week for marquee backs, Forte is sure to post bearish numbers. (UPDATE: And now Cutler has been benched for Jimmy Clausen according to Adam Schefter. Forte may see an uptick in receptions, but it could get Medusa-ugly in Chicago Sunday.)
Fearless Forecast: 13 carries, 46 rushing yards, 5 receptions, 44 receiving yards, 0 touchdowns, 12.7 fantasy points
DeMarco Murray, Dal, RB (93 percent started)
Matchup: vs. Ind
Press Your Luck with Murray and you might just land on a Whammy. The Week 16 picture for the running back is grim. Though the broken hand he suffered, his off-hand, has been surgically repaired, the rusher remains physically limited. Sure he can still plow through defensive lines, but his contributions in the pass game whether as a blocker or receiver are severely handicapped, stunting his overall value. The likelihood defenders will attack his injured hand also raises concern. According to Jerry Jones, the NFL's rushing leader is a full-blown game-time decision. Murray did practice Wednesday, but even if he goes, it's unlikely he'll receive his usual 20-25 touches. Surely, Joseph Randle, and especially Lance Dunbar, will work into the mix, possibly reducing Murray's load to around 14-16 carries. It's complicated. Indy is a favorable opponent. On the season, the Colts have allowed 4.22 yards per carry and the seventh most fantasy points to RBs. At least one plowshare has scored 12 fantasy points against them in PPR leagues three straight weeks. "Start your studs" zealots will scream, if Murray is active, you're playing him. However, given the unique circumstances and subsequent reservations, debating alternatives such as Tre Mason (vs. NYG), Fred Jackson (at Oak) or Jonathan Stewart (vs. Cle) is strongly recommended. Player loyalty doesn't necessarily equate to fantasy championships. Be smart.
Fearless Forecast (if active): 15 carries, 79 rushing yards, 0 receptions, 0 touchdowns, 7.9 fantasy points
Emmanuel Sanders, Den, WR (88 percent started)
Matchup: at Cin
What the hell happened to Peyton Manning?! Did aliens abduct his passing skills and replace them with J.P. Losman's? Looking terribly human the past three weeks, the future Hall of Famer has crestfallen supporters. Hampered by flu-like symptoms, a bad thigh and plain old ineptitude, he's averaged a loathsome 195 passing yards per game and tallied a 3:2 TD:INT split in his last three games. Denver's dedication to C.J. Anderson and physical setbacks are mostly responsible for the downturn, but Manning's uncharacteristic string of duds is unnerving. As a result, Sanders' numbers, unsurprisingly, have suffered. A top-three wideout from Weeks 1-12, he's compiled the 44th-best line over the last three weeks, netting a meek 60.7 yards per game. Another bland effort is likely on tap. Cincinnati's strength defensively resides in its secondary. Leon Hall has occasionally struggled over the regular season's second half, but Terrance Newman and Adam Jones have continued to pester assignments. Combined, the pair have allowed under 11 yards per catch and a 76.4 QB rating since Week 9. Only six wide receivers have registered 60 or more yards against the Bengals this year. Because of Cincy's ongoing problems stopping the run, another heavy dose of Anderson is likely.
Fearless Forecast: 4 receptions, 56 receiving yards, 0 touchdowns, 8.6 fantasy points
Each week one fortunate guest prognosticator will have a chance to silence the Noise. Following the rules stated above, participants are asked to submit their "Flames" (1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 D/ST) by midnight PT Tuesdays via Twitter @YahooNoise. How large are your stones?
Reader Record: 46-52, 46.9%
Want to bull rush Brad? Find him on Twitter. Also, check out the Yahoo! Fantasy and Rotoworld crew every Tuesday-Thursday on 'Fantasy Football Live' starting at 6:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network (Find channel here). Additionally, tune into 'FFL' radio on Yahoo! Sports Radio Sundays at 9 AM ET.
Straight cash homie! In his never-ending quest to pay off his kids' college education early, Brad Evans unveils his FanDuel picks for the upcoming week and explains his reasoning behind them. Make that money, #TeamHuevos.
CONTEST RULES AND SCORING
FAKE BUDGET: $60,000
Josh McCown, TB, QB (FanDuel Price: $7,000) – Unless you plan to chase the greatness that is Case Keenum or the adventure that is Johnny Manziel, the Buccaneer offers the most QB bang for the buck. He's far from stellar, but in a game with significant high-volume potential, McCown has measurable upside. Injuries and porous play have confounded the Packers secondary of late. They clamped down Kyle Orton last week, but since Week 11 the unit has allowed nearly 19 FanDuel points per game to gunslingers. McCown has just one multi-TD game in his last four, but given Tampa's projected deep early hole, I like his chances for 300-plus combined yards with two TDs. Achieve that, and he'll turn a healthy profit.
Le'Veon Bell, Pit, RB ($9,700) – An avalanche of points since LeGarrette Blount's dismissal, the No. 1 back in fantasy has buried the competition early and often. Over his past four games, he's splashed six seven times and averaged an absurd 207.5 total yards per game. His unmatched versatility, patience and power will again be on display this time against Kansas City. The Chiefs have been a bend, don't break, defense on the ground this season. But surrendering 5.03 yards per carry to RBs, they are little match for the "Big Rig." Another 150 combined yards with 1-2 touchdowns are practically a foregone conclusion.
[Week 16 rankings: Quarterback | Running Back | Receiver | Tight End | Kicker | DST]
Tre Mason, StL, RB ($6,500) – Since spanking the Raiders to the tune of 167 total yards and three scores three weeks ago, the former War Eagle has remained grounded. Over his past two games, he's totaled just 99 yards. His 33 touches during that span, though, were certainly attractive. On what should be another solid workload, he's a terrific bounce-back candidate and strong discount buy. His Week 16 opponent, the New York Giants, have conceded 4.92 yards per carry to rushers since Week 4. Roughly 100 total yards with a touchdown are in my forecast.
Mike Evans, TB, WR ($7,900) – Stacking is a popular and often effective strategy used in daily games. It's the tactic of matching a QB with his top target. Given my McCown fondness this week, it only makes sense to tie him to one of the league's premier downfield weapons. Evans has crossed the chalk at least once in six of his last seven games. During that span, he ranks fifth among fantasy wideouts in per game output netting a mouth-watering 21.3 points per game. Green Bay did a masterful job containing Sammy Watkins last week, but, due to the Packers' recent defensive struggles, it's unlikely Evans will suffer a similar fate.
Jarvis Landry, Mia, WR ($7,000) – The slot machine used and abused Darrelle Revis last week, notching eight receptions for 99 yards. This week hosting a more suspect Minnesota secondary, outside Xavier Rhodes, Landry's final numbers could shine even brighter. Because of Josh Robinson's inept play, slot receivers have burned the Vikes this year. Brandin Cooks, Percy Harvin and even Devin Hester each posted tidy numbers against them. The rookie's three-game TD-less streak should fall by the wayside.
Harry Douglas, Atl, WR ($6,600) – Unquestionably, this is a pick strictly tied to Julio Jones' availability. If the former Pro Bowl receiver is unfit for play, Douglas could easily replicate his juicy numbers from Week 15. Against the Steelers, he hauled in 10 passes for 131 yards. Even with Julio in uniform, he grabbed six passes for 69 yards Week 1 vs. New Orleans. Monitor practice reports closely, but the Falcon could be one steal of a deal if pressed into a primary role.
Dwayne Allen, Ind, TE ($5,400) – The Colt is to tight ends what Odell Beckham is to wide receivers, a TD-scoring fiend. He's hit pay-dirt in seven of his last nine games. Against a Dallas defense that's allowed the second-most fantasy points to TEs, he should again do an end zone jig.
Connor Barth, Den, K ($5,000) – Denver's numerous stalled drives in enemy territory have turned Barth into an elite fantasy kicker. In three games with the Broncos, the ex-Buc is a perfect 11-for-11 on field-goal opportunities. With Denver traveling to Cincinnati to face a rock solid Bengals secondary, another three-plus attempts are very possible.
Carolina Panthers D/ST ($4,900) – Did you see the Manziel (expletive) show? The Panthers have rounded a corner defensively over the past four weeks. With Johnny in town, odds are strong a top-10 performance is in the offing.
Want to bull rush Brad? Find him on Twitter. Also, check out the Yahoo! Fantasy and Rotoworld crew every Tuesday-Thursday on 'Fantasy Football Live' starting at 6:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network (Find channel here). Additionally, tune into 'FFL' radio on Yahoo! Sports Radio Sundays at 9 AM ET.
Each week the Noise highlights 12-13 somewhat obscure, un-obvious names who he believes are destined to torch the competition. To qualify, each player must be started in fewer than 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Speaking as an accountability advocate, I will post results, whether genius or moronic, the following week using the scoring system shown here. If you're a member of TEAM HUEVOS, reveal your Week 16 Flames in the comments section below.
Mark Sanchez, Phi, QB (27 percent started)
Matchup: at Was
Based on his recent string of abominable efforts, if Sanchez were a Christmas present, he would be socks and underwear. His three-pick laugher against the Seahawks two weeks ago was predictable. Leading up to that week, Richard Sherman and friends had thrown assignments in fantasy jail. However, last week's nauseating performance against a lesser Dallas secondary was puzzling. Blame the tackles inside the five. One wide receiver stretch here or there, and his final output would've ranked top-12. Recall, Chris Polk and Darren Sproles finished the job at close range, totaling three touchdowns. This week, the much maligned passer will rekindle his Sanchize form. I'm fairly confident Washington would turn any one of Cleveland's QB failures, past (e.g. Tim Couch, Brady Quinn) or possibly present, into All-Pros. Corners Bashaud Breeland and David Amerson have struggled mightily, giving up big plays against anyone who has crossed their path. On the year, they've allowed a 68.2 completion percentage and 117.2 QB rating. In total, eight passers have gained "Flame" fame against them since Week 3. Nick Foles chucked 325 yards and three scores in the first matchup. In the encore, Sanchez nearly replicates that level of production.
Fearless Forecast: 29-40, 314 passing yards, 3 passing touchdowns, 1 interception, 5 rushing yards, 27.2 fantasy points
Tre Mason, StL, RB (56 percent started)
Matchup: vs. NYG
It can't be emphasized enough. Unless your name is DeMarco Murray or Le'Veon Bell, matchups are the ultimate decider between basking in championship glory or penning a sorrowful fantasy story. Ignore Mason's recent slide. Stuffed by Washington and Arizona, two of the league's nastiest run defenses, the rookie accounted for just 99 yards on 33 carries in Weeks 14-15. Despite the superficial numbers, Mason has performed admirably since overtaking primary duties. A powder keg of sorts, he's packed surprising wallop gaining 52.7 percent of his yards after contact. This week against a doughy Giants defense, he should resemble the back that trounced Oakland to the tune of 164 combined yards and three touchdowns three weeks ago. The G-Men aren't as soft as the Raiders, but they are weaklings in their own right. Since Week 4, eight rushers have scored double-digits against them. Over that time frame, they've given up 4.92 yards per carry and the sixth-most fantasy points to the position. Because of Shaun Hill's limitations, ball control is typically what Jeff Fisher employs. Given the opponent, Mason is sure to burn a few thousand calories.
Fearless Forecast: 20 carries, 101 rushing yards, 1 reception, 4 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 17.3 fantasy points
Fred Jackson, Buf, RB (48 percent started)
Matchup: at Oak
Through carbon dating, scientists have confirmed Jackson predates Larry King and the Acasta Gneiss, the oldest rock formation on Earth. At 33, the dude is ancient. Though advanced in age, the rusher's game remains granite solid. Breaking the plane has been rare, but he's averaged a usable 89 total yards per game (On 21.7 touches per contest) over the past three weeks. Clearly, he's the crutch the playoff-angling Bills are leaning on. This week matched with a superb opponent, Oakland, he should crack the RB top-15. The Raiders have allowed the second most fantasy points to rushers, yielding at least one touchdown to the position in 12 of 14 games. In total, a dozen RBs have scored at least 11 fantasy points against them. Buffalo ranks third-to-last in run-blocking according to Pro Football Focus, but against a feeble foe, Jackson should fill your cup with cheer. And don't worry about C.J. Spiller's likely return. Given his extended layoff, it's hard to imagine he'll be grip the pigskin more than 8-10 times.
Fearless Forecast: 17 carries, 68 rushing yards, 4 receptions, 25 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 18.3 fantasy points
Harry Douglas, Atl, WR (15 percent started)
Matchup: vs. NO
When it was announced Sunday morning Julio Jones would not suit up against Pittsburgh, Douglas was added in droves in the eleventh hour. He didn't disappoint, enticing 14 targets, catching 10 of them for 131 yards. PPR gold. Julio's status for Week 16 remains uncertain. Head coach Mike Smith believes his prized wideout will return to action, citing Monday the receiver's hip had "improved." Still, until he logs a practice or two, there's no guarantee Jones will be on the field for Sunday's critical NFC South slug-fest. With or without No. 11, Douglas offers plenty of upside as a WR3. The last time he faced the Saints, with a healthy Julio in Week 1, he posted a useful 6-69-0 line. Because of Jones', and to a certain extent Roddy White's, presumed physical limitations, Atlanta's best kept "Secret" should emerge from Week 16 with flowery numbers. New Orleans, despite a standout effort against a cooked Bears team, continues to have issues defensively. To bolster a secondary that's struggled mightily this year, Sean Payton recently demoted corner Corey White. However, Keenan Lewis (101.5 QB rating allowed) and White's replacement, Terrence Frederick (105.0), remain beatable. Overall, the Saints have given up the eighth-most fantasy points to WRs. Matchup and personnel concerns suggest Douglas tucks inside the WR top-30.
Fearless Forecast: 6 receptions, 74 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 17.9 fantasy points
Donte Moncrief, Ind, WR (13 percent started)
Matchup: at Dal
Last week, several fantasy "experts" (Sidebar: For the record, I despise the term "expert" for fantasy guys. Obviously, we don't know everything. "Fanalyst" is far more appropriate.) waxed romantically about Moncrief's expected Week 15 explosion. His matchup against a routinely toasted Houston defense stoked egos and fueled false confidence. A top-24 output seemed inevitable. Sadly, the greatly admired receiver didn't deliver. The rookie did see action on 52.2 percent of Indy snaps, but attracting a mere three targets and didn't register a single catch. For many, the sprinkles on that donut tasted bitter, to say the least. This week, bank on a rebound. Moncrief poses a matchup problem for Dallas. His lethal mixture of size, speed and physicality should thwart a vulnerable 'Boys pass defense. Targeted 56 times since Week 10, Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr have yielded 40 receptions. That's a 71.4 catch rate folks. Worse for Carr, he's conceded 20.6 yards per catch during that stretch. And, no, that's not a typo. Yes, T.Y. Hilton is Andrew Luck's top taco and Reggie Wayne, shockingly, is still kicking, but Moncrief currently wears a post-hype label.
Fearless Forecast: 3 receptions, 66 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 14.9 fantasy points
Matt Asiata, Min, RB (9 percent started)
Matchup: at Mia
To put it mildly, when the ball is in Asiata's hands, he resembles an overweight flightless bird. He's sluggish, clunky and generally inept, a true-to-form complementary back. To be fair, he's an excellent receiver and blocker, which explains why he's seen over 50 percent of in-game snaps since Week 12, but averaging a ghastly 3.22 yards per carry on the season he's the antithesis of special. Though painfully unexciting, I sincerely believe he could be a difference-maker in fantasy Super Bowls. His Week 16 opponent, Miami, has unraveled of late defensively, particularly defending the run. Joe Philbin recently blamed the D-line's slump on poor fundamentals -- tackling and gap coverage. Injuries at the linebacker position have also played a part as Koa Misi and Jelanki Jenkins have battled through setbacks. Over the Dolphins' past five contests, they've surrendered 4.88 yards per carry and the 10th-most fantasy points to the RB position. A bloodhound near the goal-line, Asiata could ram his way into the end zone for a score or two. Debate his merits at the FLEX in PPR leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 13 carries, 39 rushing yards, 3 receptions, 27 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 14.8 fantasy points
Each week one fortunate guest prognosticator will have a chance to silence the Noise. Following the rules stated above, participants are asked to submit their "Flames" (1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 D/ST) by midnight PT Tuesdays via Twitter @YahooNoise. How large are your stones?
Reader Record: 34-66, 34.0%