A DIFFERENT WIDE ANGLE
It’ll be a hot week on the waiver wire for wide receivers. Baltimore’s Torrey Smith will likely be the most sought after; he currently sits atop the MFL “Most Added” list through early waiver periods and will see a jump from the current 21.99% of leagues in which he is owned.
But Smith isn’t the best option available in this week’s free agent pool. For starters, I have dual concerns about the red-hot rookie. First, I’m concerned that as the Ravens’ deep threat Smith will have a statistical consistency similar to that of Lee Evans: you know, the 5-145-3 game followed by a 2-33, a 1-29, a 2-46, and then—just after you relegate him to the bench—a 3-121-2. Second, Smith gets the Jets secondary this week (probably Antonio Cromartie, with Darrelle Revis on Anquan Boldin), then has a bye, and by Week 6 Evans is expected to return. In short, Smith isn’t the primary passing game target on the run-first Ravens, has an unfavorable matchup this week, and may be back on the bench—or at least in a reduced role within two weks. Doesn’t sound like a smart way to spend your FAAB.
Where to spend it instead? Here are three options (excluding the obvious Nate Washington, owned in 59% of MFL leagues, and Denarius Moore, owned in 75%):
- Donald Jones, Bills (available in 90.74% of MFL leagues): While David Nelson was the hot Bills WR pickup last week, it’s Jones who is actually the starter. He’s also been targeted 21 times, which puts him on a par with DeSean Jackson and Julio Jones, and has as many catches as Dwayne Bowe. All this for a guy you won’t have to break the bank to add to your roster.
- Victor Cruz, Giants (available in 87.77%): The Giants’ passing game was more effective last season with both Mario Manningham and Steve Smith running patterns opposite Hakeem Nicks. Eli Manning seemed out of sync without Smith in the first two games, but looked plenty comfortable with Cruz replacing Manningham last week. Even if Manningham returns, he may be destined for the slot—and if not him, then Cruz. This offense made Nicks, Manningham, and Smith viable fantasy plays last season; substitute Cruz for Smith—or Manningham for Smith and Cruz for Manningham—and you’ve got another trio of Eli targets in 2011.
- Andre Caldwell, Bengals (available in 91.8%): This was all set to be Jerome Simpson’s spot; in fact, he was my pickup in several leagues last week. Unfortunately for both Jerome and me, he opted to make a pickup of a different sort—a two-pound package of pot being delivered to his home. While the league hasn’t cracked down yet, Simpson was excused from practice a couple days last week and Caldwell took his starting gig. In many circles the assumption is that the wheels of justice turn slowly, Simpson will dodge punishment for the foreseeable future, and he’ll return to the starting lineup. If that does indeed happen, then worst-case Caldwell takes the slot position that produced 600 yards and three touchdowns for Jordan Shipley as a rookie. And in the Bengals’ West Coast offense, that role might actually turn more into a Danny Amendola-type role, especially if Jermaine Gresham continues staying in to max protect rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. Again, that’s the worst-case scenario; the other scenario has him taking Simpson’s starting gig and serving as Dalton’s possession receiver. Either way, Caldwell has significant PPR potential.
Speaking of the Bengals, early-week news suggests that Cedric Benson might be available this week as he appeals his three-game suspension. I’m no lawyer, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but it sure seems like Ced has a case—and if not with the NFL, with the NFLPA who, while not a union, negotiated an apparent deal that threw him and seven other players under the proverbial bus.
Benson sticking around negates the impact of Bernard Scott, whom RB-desperate fantasy owners scrambled to pick up when the news of Benson’s suspension first hit. Also working against Scott: the Bengals, who simply don’t seem to trust him. Scott has seen double-digit touches four times in two seasons, and while he’s been productive in those games (289 yards on 63 carries, a healthy 4.5 yards per carry average) the team keeps coming back to Benson.
When Ced was a free agent this offseason it was a perfect opportunity for the notoriously stingy Bengals to get cheaper at the running back position. Instead, baggage and all, they brought Benson back. When Benson was hurt in 2009 and missed two games, it was actually Brian Leonard who got the start in the first; Scott started the second and produced quality numbers against the Raiders (21-119) and Browns (18-87), but when Benson returned the starting gig was handed back to him.
The coming stretch of the schedule is far and away the Bengals’ most favorable against the run, and if Benson delays a suspension he’ll cut significantly into Scott’s value. Moreover, Leonard is an almost perfect West Coast fullback who could end up seeing the third-down duties and more—another dent in Scott’s value. So if you’re a Benson owner it’s advisable but not critical to have Scott on your roster. And if you’re squatting on Scott looking for something bigger than just a short-term band-aid… well, you may very well be barking up the wrong tree.
As the column is titled “Off Tackle” and I’m a firm believer in the axiom “It all starts up front,” it only makes sense to chronicle a few offensive line notes here.
- The Steelers very nearly ran out of offensive linemen on Sunday night; by the end of the game they were forced to press into action Marcus Gilbert, who had left the game with a shoulder injury. If you’re looking for an explanation as to why Rashard Mendenhall is struggling, look no further than what the Steelers have been cobbling together up front. I’m still in “buy low” mode on Mendenhall, however, as their line should be getting healthy about the time the schedule eases up, making Mendy a candidate for a very strong fantasy finish.
- Despite Minnesota’s staunch refusal to give him the ball after halftime, Adrian Peterson is still churning out helpful fantasy numbers. Part of the reason: a Vikings offensive line that has been at least adequate in run-blocking. The Vikes rank third in completing their run-blocking assignments, according to Pro Football Focus. Just think where they’d rank if the team bothered to show up after halftime.
- On the opposite end of the scale is Chris Johnson, who has been a major disappointment since ending his holdout and signing a fat contract with the Titans. CJ has struggled, and his line grades out as the second-worst run-blocking unit, again according to Pro Football Focus. There’s talent in Tennessee’s o-line, but they’ve been underachieving for a couple seasons now; they’ll need to pull it together in order for Johnson to pay dividends on his deal.
- You’ve read ad nauseam about the proliferation of passing yards and points thus far this season, but it’s possible because quarterbacks are getting protection. Last week, for example, the top four scores on the New York Life Protection Index came from the teams participating in the 34-31 Buffalo (101.5) win over New England (102.6) and the 40-33 Saints (94.0) win over Houston (90.0). For the season the Patriots (91.9), Bills (90.6), and Saints (85.7) top the charts while the Vikings (31.3), 49ers (28.2), and Seahawks (27.8) bring up the rear. Quick, name an impact fantasy player on one of those three teams; okay, one that’s lived up to their preseason draft position.
SWEATING IT OUT
No bad beat to report this week, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying.
As I mentioned in last week’s Off Tackle, Sunday night has jumped up to bite me in the backside thus far this season and in Week 3 I was walking a tightrope that saw me using Ben Roethlisberger in a couple leagues and facing him in a couple more. Most of those were in hand, but I was sweating out a SOFA league tilt in which I had Big Ben, Rashard Mendenhall, and the Steelers defense going against Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham. With the game winding down I had inched to a narrow lead of 4.08 points.
I was instant messenging with DMD during the final minutes, as he was pulling for overtime to get more points out of Mendenhall and Wallace in a similar situation. Instead, it was set up for the Steelers to garner the winning score late in the fourth quarter. Instead of going for the touchdown, Pittsburgh opted to set up for a field goal—and to do so, much to my dismay, they had Roethlisberger take a two-yard loss to set up the ball on the kicker’s preferred hash. That’s a two-yard loss, and as I was running the numbers in my head I thought it was a two-point hit to Ben’s total. That, coupled with the three Suisham was about to garner, would once again allow me to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Thankfully, math under pressure is apparently not my strong suit. Roethlisberger’s two-yard loss cost me 0.2 points, leaving me with a 3.88 edge. Suisham’s kick narrowed the margin to less than a point, but a win is a win is a win. When the totals held through any stat changes and such, I had myself a victory.
Certainly much better than a kick in the teeth… or another Sunday night loss.
I was more than happy to help a few of you who tweeted WDIS and other questions to me over the weekend. But while I truly enjoy helping you guys out, the highlight of my Twitter weekend was having the bass player from my favorite band, Better Than Ezra, sign up to follow me.
I’m operating under the assumption that Tom Drummond, BTE’s bassist, is looking for fantasy info. At a BTE show in Minneapolis almost seven years ago, I met Tom and the band at a post-show meet-and-greet. I had a Saints baseball cap (the band’s home base is New Orleans, and they’re unabashed football fans; in fact, during one of their songs that includes the line “There’s a football in the air”, a football is usually tossed around the crowd), and I had all three band members autograph it. Tom said something about football and his fantasy team, I mentioned my job, and we ran through his lineup. Maybe my info was so spot-on that seven years later he remembered it, and when he saw I had signed up to follow him he returned the favor.
Hey, a guy can dream, right? Now if I can only convince them to come to Minnesota at a time other than football season so I can slip away for the show…