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Published, 9/20/13

 

Uh, holy crap. What is the fallout from the blockbuster Trent Richardson deal?

First and foremost, we were getting sick of Richardson not looking like the foundation of the Browns’ offense. They have a pretty good offensive line, and their passing game is an absolute mess. Naturally, we figured they’d run the ball, which evidently wasn’t the case. So Richardson was apparently expendable to the new Browns’ regime under Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, and Rob Chudzinski. The Browns dealt Richardson to Indy for a first-round pick in 2014, where he now plays behind a worse offensive line, but with quite literally improvements in every other area of the offense. As such, it’s hard to get a feel for Richardson’s immediate value here. Remember, the Colts still have Ahmad Bradshaw, although it’s obvious that they didn’t trust him to stay healthy, or weren’t impressed with what they’ve seen so far.

 

So Richardson had a short week of practice with his new team, and he has to head out to San Francisco for a really difficult matchup in his first game. But ultimately, the Colts and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton want to run “power,” and Richardson doesn’t have to study a playbook to know how to do that. If you have the luxury to bench Richardson for an upside option, this is probably the best week to do it, going against San Fran behind an offensive line that just lost guard Donald Thomas for the year. But it’s also understandable if you just don’t have an appealing option behind him. Remember, coach Chuck Pagano this week called Richardson “a rolling ball of butcher knives” and that the Colts didn’t acquire him “to be a waterboy.” The first-round price tag confirms that, and he will not be a decoy. Ultimately, Richardson is in a better spot now than he was last week, even if it takes some time for his role to truly carve itself out. Richardson expressed excitement to play with Andrew Luck, knowing that it’s harder for defenses to stack the box against a quarterback who is actually a threat.

 

As for Cleveland, the trade does make some sense. The Browns are clearly purging themselves of the previous regime, starting with Richardson and ostensibly continuing with Brandon Weeden, whom the team simply doesn’t believe in. The Browns now have two first-round picks next year, one of which will be a very high pick. But they still need to play this year, so they signed Willis McGahee to replace Richardson. The veteran McGahee will likely vie for carries with Bobby Rainey and Chris Ogbonnaya. It’s also impossible to tell how well he’ll play without actually seeing him, given his season ended with an injury last year. Ultimately, we think McGahee is the guy to own in this backfield, and he’s absolutely worth picking up for depth, especially if you lost a guy like Vick Ballard or Shane Vereen to injury.

 

What’s going on with Cam Newton?

This isn’t so good. Not only are we concerned about Newton as an NFL quarterback right now, but the real issue from our perspective is that Newton isn’t putting up fantasy numbers right now. He has only 53 yards rushing through two weeks, and while that’s generally very good for a quarterback, a 26.5-yard pace would put him at a career-low 424 yards in 16 games. Again, that’s good, in relative terms, but Newton isn’t throwing the ball well enough right now to sustain a high-level fantasy performance without elite running numbers. In Week Two, Newton completed 21/38 passes for 229 yards with 2 TDs and a pick in a loss to Buffalo. Obviously, that’s not an awful performance, but when he’s “augmenting” that line with only 4/15 rushing, fantasy players just aren’t getting the upside that Newton typically provides. A major concern besides the weapons (it’s a problem when Ted Ginn gets 8 targets, even though he scored) is the offensive line. But ultimately, this all falls back onto Newton. His weapons aren’t good, but he’s not throwing the ball consistently or accurately. Newton has an incredible arm, but he’s making incorrect reads and it’s hard to sustain a consistent high-end performance without seeing the field or delivering the ball accurately. We’re concerned enough about Newton that we’d consider trading him for the right offer.

 

Should we believe in the resurgence of Philip Rivers and Eddie Royal? Can they keep this up?

After a disappointing 2011 season and a terrible 2012 season, hopes weren’t high for Philip Rivers in 2013, but through two weeks, he’s the #4 QB in fantasy with 7 TDs to just 1 INT. Most importantly, Rivers has been sacked just 3 times, showing that the OL, which we thought would be terrible, has actually held up quite well. If Rivers can keep things under control at the line of scrimmage, which has been the case thus far, he can be very good, as we’ve seen in the past. The Chargers have made a point to get the ball out quicker and dial back on the downfield passing, which has definitely helped matters. If the OL continues to hold up, Rivers should be able to keep this up, but for now, he’s looking good. Of course, along with the resurgence of Rivers has been return of WR Eddie Royal to fantasy relevance for the first time since his rookie season back in 2008. So Far, Royal has 10/114/5 after putting up 23/234/1 in 10 games last season. We don’t expect half his catches to be TDs going forward, but in an offense that stresses getting the ball out faster, Royal’s short area-quickness has become an asset, as the team is getting him up using rub routes. He’s been the most active WR in the league (along with Randall Cobb) in the red zone with 7 targets, including 3 goal-line targets. Royal might not be a #1 fantasy option going forward, but he looks to have some staying power as a good fit for this offense.

 

With Eddie Lacy and Steven Jackson expected to miss multiple weeks, how to we treat the backfields in Green Bay and Atlanta?

Dealing with backup options when starters go down is always a tricky proposition for fantasy players, as they try to find the quick fix to remedy the situation. In some cases, like Green Bay, it’s a pretty simple answer (James Starks), but when it comes to Atlanta, a committee might emerge in the form of Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers. In the case of Green Bay, Starks looks like a solid option since he knows the offense and can catch the ball. He lit up the Redskins last week, so it’s easy to be high on him right off the bat, but we doubt those kinds of numbers will becoming in the absence of Lacy. However, we like that he should get volume in a great offense and that should lead to reliable production for fantasy. Lacy is expected to miss Week Three with the concussion and rest through the Week Four bye with the hope he’ll be good to go for Week Five. That makes Starks a short-term solution, who would probably lose serious value once Lacy proves he’s back from the concussion. In Atlanta, things aren’t so cut-and-dry. Snelling has been primarily used as a FB in recent years, although we’ve seen him step in for a bigger workload in the past, specifically when Michael Turner went down. Rodgers was underwhelming last season as a complement to Turner and received double-digit carries just three times. Rodgers doesn’t look like the type of player who can handle a heavy workload, but he can help as a receiver, as evidenced by his 53 catches last year. Rodgers took over for an injured Jackson last week and had just 17 yards on 11 carries, but did have 4/28 on 4 targets. Snelling saw just 2 carries, but picked up 19 yards and had an 11-yard TD to go along with 4/41 on 4 targets. Snelling is a versatile player, who may have more value, especially if he’s getting the short-yardage and goal-line carries. Neither player should be considered as strong as Starks is for fantasy, as this looks like more of a RBBC.

 

Where has the read-option gone that made teams like Washington and Seattle successful last season?

"[The Panthers] have run some option and it's been totally ineffective, and that's a new trend in the NFL because coaches actually worked this off-season. The teams are running the option and it's getting defended. Teams are running it less and that's the way it is. Coaches spent all off-season working on it, so when teams run it, it's not working very well." – Greg Cosell in the FantasyGuru Weekly Matchup Podcast.

 

If it feels like the read-option has disappeared a little bit in the early part of the season, it’s because it kind of has disappeared. QB Robert Griffin III and the Redskin offense have struggled to run the scheme in the early part of the season. 49er QB Colin Kaepernick has had more success throwing the ball as a traditional passer, like in Week One when he threw for more than 400 yards. Even Michael Vick was basically a dropback NFL quarterback in Week Two, and he made some big-time throws to DeSean Jackson. Vick’s big run on Thursday night in Week Three came off a read-option, but the Eagles have run Vick on the read option less and less since Week One.

 

So how have defenses limited the read-option so far this year? For one, the league gave the okay for defenses to hit read-option QBs like runners, even if they don’t have the ball and are carrying out a fake. Let’s face it, offensive coordinators don’t want to see their quarterback lit up, so they’ve toned down on the read-option calls. Also, as Cosell referenced in the podcast Thursday, defenses have learned how to defend the read-option by “slow-playing” it. Option quarterbacks want “fast reads,” with defenders revealing their intentions early by crashing into the backfield, making the defense more prone for mistakes. Defensive coordinators around the league have been teaching their defenders to simply slow down and let the play develop when facing the read-option. The read-option isn’t likely to disappear overnight because it can still work like Vick’s 61-yard keeper on Thursday night, but we’re already starting to see offensive coordinators using it more in moderation.

 

Is it time to be concerned about Tom Brady?

Brady is at his wit’s end right now dealing with his young wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. That was quite clear on Thursday Night Football during Week Two, as he was visibly upset more than a handful of times with his young receivers. Brady is simply playing at one speed of recognition, and his young receivers are playing at a much slower speed of recognition. The Jet defense was practically daring Brady and the young Patriot WRs to make a big play downfield by pressing them and giving little support over the top, and they still couldn’t do it. Brady looked a bit rattled in the pocket, and he’s clearly not comfortable with his new WRs, so defenses will continue to challenge Brady with blitzes and his young receivers with press coverage. WR Julian Edelman is the only healthy receiver that he clearly trusts in the offense right now, but Brady does have hope down the road as TE Rob Gronkowski is getting closer and closer to returning. WR Danny Amendola is expected to miss a couple more weeks, so he’ll give Brady another huge boost, but we do have to be concerned with Amendola’s mounting injuries. It’s going to be a process for Brady and his young WRs, and he might be underwhelming for fantasy for another few weeks until he gets Gronk and Amendola back healthy, so it’s not time to be concerned about Brady just yet.

 

 

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