David Mamet – State and Main
If you’ve been reading Money in the Banana Stand from the beginning, you weren’t surprised by Roy Helu‘s 27-point game against the 49ers, Torrey Smith‘s game-winning TD against the Steelers, or Denarius Moore‘s Thursday night explosion.
We’ve come to the point in the season where the best lineups aren’t necessarily those that feature your top draft picks or that field the most recognizable names. If you’ve been following me at Pro Football Focus, you know exactly which players are getting the most opportunities now, not last month or last year.
Welcome once again to the most aggressive – and detailed – rankings on the web. Dissenting comments are welcome. After all, it takes all kinds. And if a few of these predictions end up being wrong, well, it’s not a lie. It’s a gift for fiction.
Rest of Season Rankings
Future projections in parentheses (PPR).
1. Aaron Rodgers (33) – Rodgers was my No. 1 preseason QB, but the strength of the 2010 Packer pass defense limited his upside slightly. This is yet another example of why it pays to remember/know that offense is more consistent year-to-year than defense. The Packers defensive meltdown has helped their fantasy players tremendously. Of course, it also helps that Rodgers is playing at a level never previously seen. Even Brady and Manning in their respective 49 and 50 touchdown seasons were not this good. The one caveat: Green Bay has three cold weather games in weeks 14-16.
2. Cam Newton (29) – Newton’s rushing value actually makes him feel a little more consistent than Brady or Brees. He’s currently averaging more points than they are and feels like he’s trending in a more positive direction.
3. Drew Brees (29) – Brees has a more much more favorable schedule than Brady.
4. Tom Brady(28)
5. Matthew Stafford (27)
6. Michael Vick (26) – As Vick continues to supposedly develop as a passer, it will dampen his fantasy presence. The Eagles have the Jets during the fantasy playoffs, and Chicago showed on Monday night what a good defense is capable of doing to this offense.
7. Matt Ryan (24) – Loyal readers will know I’m not a Matt Ryan fan, but he makes a great trade target because his schedule is significantly easier than the group of passers immediately behind him. I’m a Julio Jones believer, and his return could finally vault the Falcons offense to the level fans and fantasy owners were hoping for at the beginning.
8. Eli Manning (23) – I never draft Eli because of his inconsistency, the unwillingness of the Giants coaching staff to truly embrace an aggressive passing game, and the fact that the Giants tend to play their fantasy playoff games in the cold and wind. Even with those considerations, Manning is having a great season with the emergence of Cruz and Ballard.
9. Ben Roethlisberger (24)* – If you took this offense, plopped it down in a dome, and unleashed them with an offensive-minded head coach, Roethlisberger would be No. 2 overall. The Big Ben/Mike Wallace/Antonio Brown combo is that good. Unfortunately, they have to deal with weather and the mystique of the Steelers defense/ball control mind set. Roethlisberger would still be ranked 6th except he’s one of the few passers to still have an upcoming bye.
10. Tony Romo (23)
11. Philip Rivers (23)
12. Matt Schaub (21)
13. Ryan Fitzpatrick (19)
14. Tim Tebow (24)* – The Broncos have supposedly instituted the read-option for Tebow. This won’t do anything for his unfathomably poor accuracy, but it should help him throw to the right player. I would expect defenses to adjust to the scheme, but I’d also expect the scheme itself to be more resilient than people think. After all, a lot of ‘pro-style’ concepts kinda suck. It seems likely that Tebow will get benched for Brady Quinn at some point this season, but Tebow should be quite valuable as long as it lasts.
15. Carson Palmer (18) – This was Palmer’s pre-Thursday night ranking, and he obviously impressed. The injury to Jacoby Ford suppresses his value some.
16. Joe Flacco (18) – Down 24-3 to the woebegone Cardinals, the Ravens season and Flacco’s career were both on the brink. Since then, Flacco’s morphed into Aaron Rodgers. The receiving options aren’t as bad as some portray. Youngsters Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta are both getting open at will. Of course, Smith then has to actually catch the ball.
17. Jay Cutler (18) – Considering the context, Cutler may be having his best season as a pro. Having Earl Bennett back will help.
18. Mark Sanchez (18) – Sanchez has two beautiful matchups left before a string of tough opponent/bad weather games finish out the season. I consistently rank Sanchez lower than his year-to-date numbers for two reasons. 1) He’s not a good quarterback (which is at least mildly correlated with fantasy success), and 2) he’s thrown a very high percentage of TDs compared to what his overall profile suggests. Because the Jets are actually a lousy running team, they are very pass-heavy in the red zone. I still expect significant regression in terms of TD passes.
19. Andy Dalton (17) – The Bengals are about to enter a very brutal 5 game stretch (PIT, CLE, BAL, PIT, HOU) before finishing with St. Louis and Arizona. Unless you have one of the Top 6 QBs, keeping Dalton on your bench for Weeks 15 and 16 could be a sneaky play.
20. Sam Bradford (18)
21. Tarvaris Jackson (17)
22. Kevin Kolb (18)*
23. Jon Beck (17) – Washington has little to gain from going back to Grossman, and things could improve a little now that the schedule opens up slightly.
24. Matt Moore (17)
25. Matt Cassel (16) – Cassel functions best in a wide open passing offense, so of course the Chiefs feature the power running game until they’re staring at the wrong end of a blowout.
26. Alex Smith (16)
27. Josh Freeman (16)
28. Matt Hasselbeck (16) – It’s hard to see what the Titans lose by going to Jake Locker here unless Locker is still in the Tim Tebow phase of his development. In which case, he was a pretty terrible pick at No. 8 in the draft.
29. Colt McCoy (16)
30. Christian Ponder (16)
31. Blaine Gabbert (14)
32. Curtis Painter (14)
1. LeSean McCoy (23) – If you’re still ranking Purple Jesus ahead of McCoy in PPR formats, you haven’t been watching football this year.
2. Ray Rice (23) – There were a lot of bad calls on Sunday, but Torrey Smith’s phantom hold that wiped out his 76 yard score was one of the worst. When trying to rate the explosiveness of backs going into next year’s draft, remember to add an extra long score forRice.
3. Fred Jackson (22)
4. Arian Foster (22) – The ability of Ben Tate to siphon carries in a blowout subtly reduces Foster’s ceiling.
5. Matt Forte (22)
6. Adrian Peterson (22)
7. Darren Sproles (19) – Sproles leads NFL running backs with 0.39 Expected Points Added Per Play, more than double the amount of the player in 3rd place (who just happens to be his teammate, Pierre Thomas). The dominance of the Saints’ non-Ingram runners underlines just how big a mistake it was to pay that draft bounty.
8. Ryan Mathews (17)
9. Frank Gore (16)
10. Roy Helu (16) – Helu is the perfect trade target. His owner will believe he’s selling high, but the Washington rookie should be one of the most valuable fantasy players down the stretch. In The Case Against Mark Ingram, Helu jumps out as the polar opposite of the former Heisman winner. All owners needed was for the Shanahan’s to pull the trigger, and they did in a big way last week. The 27-point game on Sunday was against one of the top run defenses in the NFL. The receptions number was ridiculous – it set a franchise single-game record – but he should be good for more rushing yards on most days and the occasional TD. The Banana Stand had Helu ranked 24th in its last rankings when most people had him as a waiver value. He’s clearly skyrocketed since then.
11. Michael Turner (15) – Turner ranks 30th in the NFL in Success Rate, which makes him just slightly above replacement level. Marry that with an unsustainably high Breakaway Percentage (15% higher than 2010) and you have a back who scores a large number of his points on long runs and TDs. That’s fine if you’re talking about McFadden or Purple Jesus. The Burner is a virtual lock to regress as the season continues.
12. Darren McFadden (20)*
13. Maurice Jones-Drew (14)
14. Mike Tolbert (13)
15. James Starks (12)
16. Brandon Jacobs (11) – Because of their body types, Jacobs and Bradshaw are misunderstood as rushers. Jacobs has better vision and ability to hit the hole. Bradshaw is the more ferocious runner after contact. If you don’t believe me, get yourself a premium subscription to PFF and check out their respective splits in yards before and after contact for the last several seasons.
17. Ahmad Bradshaw (15)*
18. DeMarco Murray (11) – Based on his last two seasons at Oklahoma and first several months with the Cowboys, I’m not sold. You also can’t count on Dallas to do the right thing when Felix Jones returns. Jason Garrett has a long history of favoring inferior backs.
19. Rashard Mendenhall (11) – Like Michael Turner, he’s basically just the beneficiary of what the rest of his offense accomplishes. Regardless what advanced stats website you choose, you’ll find Mendenhall’s numbers are staggeringly bad.
20. Pierre Thomas (11) – It’s funny to listen to commentators continue to prop up Ingram and denigrate Thomas. Well, it would be funny if it wasn’t sad.
21. Chris Johnson (10)
22. Ben Tate (9) – Tate is averaging 0.8 more yards after contact than Foster and has forced 7 more missed tackles on 45 fewer carries. When you also factor in the probable carry split in such a situation, Tate would probably offer even more fantasy value in the case of a Foster injury than Foster has currently.
23. Willis McGahee (13)
24. Jonathan Stewart (10)
25. Michael Bush (9)
26. Reggie Bush (10) – Bush complimented Brian Daboll this week on learning to call plays, to which Daboll’s thought bubble replied, ‘And I’d like to congratulate Reggie for recording his first broken tackle as a pro.’
27. Shonn Greene (10)
28. DeAngelo Williams (8)
29. Cedric Benson (9)
30. LaGarette Blount (7)
31. Jahvid Best (17)*
32. Jackie Battle (7)
33. Kevin Faulk (7)
34. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (7)
35. Chris Wells (7)
36. Daniel Thomas (7)
37. Peyton Hillis (13)*
38. Knowshon Moreno (7)
39. C.J. Spiller (4)
40. Felix Jones (5)
1. Calvin Johnson (23)
2. Wes Welker (22)
3. Steve Smith (19)
4. Mike Wallace (19)
5. Greg Jennings (18)
6. Julio Jones (17) – This week’s Advanced Targets sees Jones and Antonio Brown reaching WR1 status down the stretch. Jones is averaging 15.5 ppg currently, and that’s with only 2 TDs. He should outpoint Roddy White the rest of the way and lead a lot of teams to fantasy titles.
7. Vincent Jackson (16) – This is his ranking before Thursday night’s debacle.
8. Larry Fitzgerald (16) – Skelton might hurt Fitzgerald’s yardage numbers but actually makes him a better bet to score.
9. Jeremy Maclin (16) – The clear cut No. 1 in Philadelphia.
10. Anquan Boldin (16) – Boldin is leading the NFL in pass routes per game. He and Torrey Smith are seeing a huge boost due to their usage.
11. Brandon Lloyd (16) – Should be a Top 10 WR for 2012 if he re-signs with St. Louis.
12. Brandon Marshall (15)
13. Roddy White (15)
14. Hakeem Nicks (17)*
15. Antonio Brown (14) – Brown ranks 17th in the NFL in yards per route, and his TD numbers should improve. He’s got a chance at finishing in the Top 5 WRs the rest of the way.
16. Marques Colston (14)
17. Steve Johnson (14)
18. A.J. Green (14) – The schedule is about to get a lot harder.
19. Dez Bryant (13) – Next time somebody tells you how talented he is, remind them he’s being outscored by the Arizona Cardinals No. 3 receiver.
20. Victor Cruz (13) – A clearly superior player to Mario Manningham.
21. Marques Colston (13)
22. Andre Johnson (19)* – Let Miles Austin be a lesson to you.
23. Sidney Rice (13)
24. Jordy Nelson (13)
25. Torrey Smith (12) – Could have had 35 points on Sunday night if not for a handful of brutal drops. Despite that, he put up a big fantasy performance on the back of the game-winning TD. Over the last several weeks, he and Anquan lead the NFL in routes, and he’s seen 18 targets.
26. Denarius Moore (12) – Moore appears to be easily the biggest beneficiary of the Palmer signing. Ranked one spot below his fellow rookie, he was also featured as a near lock for fantasy stardom in The Case for Torrey Smith.
27. Jerome Simpson (12)
28. DeSean Jackson (12) – See Bryant, Dez.
29. Eric Decker (12) – The TD masked a sharp decrease in routes and targets last week.
30. Mario Manningham (12)
31. Michael Crabtree (11)
32. Santonio Holmes (11) – While not 6’5”, I could create more separation at the NFL level than Plaxico Burress. He still has more targets than Santonio, or as I like to call him, the CJ2K of WRs.
33. Percy Harvin (11)
34. Miles Austin (16)*
35. David Nelson (11)
36. Doug Baldwin (10) – Baldwin made one of the greatest catches in NFL history on Sunday only to be flagrantly robbed by Terry McAulay, who either doesn’t know that simultaneous possession goes to the offense or simply couldn’t be bothered. In an era where plays are often overturned on convincing yet ultimately disputable evidence, the failure of McAulay to correct such an obvious mistake is troubling.
37. Steve Breaston (10) – With Breaston and Jon Baldwin finally over their nagging preason ailments, the Chiefs suddenly sport one of the most dangerous 3-WR sets in the NFL. Luckily, for their opponents and members of the FireToddHaley fan club, the Chiefs prefer the power running game.
38. Early Doucet (10) – At some point you have to take Doucet seriously. John Skelton finally involved Andre Roberts last weekend, but Early is averaging a solid 12 ppg and looks dynamic with the ball in his hands.
39. Pierre Garcon (10) – Dan Orlovsky to the rescue?
40. Mike Williams (10)
41. Leonard Hankerson (9) – An avalanche of dropped passes left him in the Washington doghouse, but Hankerson should be the next rookie receiver to break out in a big way. The owner of a severely undervalued collegiate resume – at least one study has him way ahead of A.J. Green and Julio Jones – Hankerson has leapt right to the top of the pecking order in D.C. He led the entire NFL in pass routes last weekend.
42. Greg Little (9)
43. Earl Bennett (9)
44. Damian Williams (8)
45. Jonathan Baldwin (8) – Baldwin didn’t see the field much in the first half on Sunday, which, besides being absurd, limits his fantasy ceiling. On the other hand, my recent PFF Contrarian piece suggests comparable rookies of recent vintage absolutely dominated down the stretch.
46. Lance Moore (8)
47. Reggie Wayne (7)
48. Austin Pettis (7) – If you haven’t clicked on any of the Advanced Targets – Week 9 links yet, you’re probably not interested in knowing that the combination of Greg Salas and Austin Pettis (with Pettis subbing in once Salas suffered a season-ending injury) combined for a 41% target rate.
49. Deion Branch (7)
50. Jacoby Ford (9)*
1. Jimmy Graham (17) – For all the talk of the depth at the TE position, Graham and Gronkowski have been worth almost as many points above replacement as Aaron Rodgers. And when you consider that TE is also flex eligible, that makes them significantly more valuable than a top tier QB. (The math on that is kinda intuitive, but, for example, I’ve got a handful of teams that have either Graham and Gronkowski or Gronkowski and Hernandez. Since all three players are averaging elite WR points, I can play one of them at the flex spot and score significantly above the expected number at that position. Similarly, I have multiple teams with both Stafford and Newton, and it does little other than protect me from injury. As a result, a TE who is averaging 6 points above replacement is worth more than a QB who is averaging 6 points above replacement.)
2. Rob Gronkowski (17)
3. Aaron Hernandez (16)
4. Jason Witten (15)
5. Antonio Gates (14)
6. Jermichael Finley (13)
7. Fred Davis (12)
8. Tony Gonzalez (12)
9. Brandon Pettigrew (11)
10. Jermaine Gresham (10)
11. Greg Olsen (10)
12. Owen Daniels (10)
13. Jake Ballard (10)
14. Heath Miller (10)
15. Brent Celek (10)
16. Vernon Davis (9)
17. Kellen Winslow (9)
18. Dustin Keller (9)
19. Ed Dickson (8)
20. Scott Chandler (8)