20 Takeaways for Tuesday
1. It’s easy to claim foresight after the fact, so if you want proof that the Banana Stand saw Manning’s Monday meltdown coming, you should read The Potential Peyton Problem where I detail the struggles of elite elderly quarterbacks from posterity. I also note how overrated the Broncos’ offensive line and defense were in 2011, two areas where they were handled by the Falcons.
2. Sam Bradford’s emergence is the biggest story of Week 2. Through two seasons, Bradford’s historically similar QBs were almost all busts, and he appeared to quickly be heading into Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman territory. Then Sunday happened. For those who didn’t see the game, Danny Amendola’s explosion will seem to indicate a checkdown-fest, but Bradford continually stretched the field with his big arm. Speaking of Amendola, the new Welker profiled as a possession receiver breakout candidate heading into 2011, but injuries delayed his explosion. His 36-point week should forever be his fantasy high point, but his performance was not a fluke. The bad news: St. Louis may have the most difficult remaining schedule of opposing defenses in the entire NFL.
3. It’s impossible to understate how good Robert Griffin III was on Sunday. Left with a ramshackle assortment of underachievers, has-beens, and never-wases with Pierre Garcon on the shelf, Griffin put on an incandescent display against a suddenly salty Rams secondary. Combining almost mythical arm strength and uncanny deep accuracy, Griffin’s 68-yard strike to Leonard Hankerson is a throw no other quarterback in the NFL can make. Storm clouds loom, however. RG3 was visibly exhausted and beaten up by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, a vivid reminder of the way in which a running quarterback accrues the injury risk of both quarterback and running back positions. As a Griffin owner in the PFF Dynasty league and many other formats, I’m both encouraged by and very, very worried about his usage in the Washington offense.
4. Tom Brady drafters are in big trouble. The loss of Aaron Hernandez is devastating, and Josh McDaniels is quickly cementing his own overrated status in his New England return. The declining success of McDaniels’ scheme the first time around led to the drafting of Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez. McDaniels’ tenure in Denver was marked by an inability to make adjustments. In St. Louis he was a disaster. Both of these experiences were chalked up to a dearth of talent, but Sam Bradford’s renaissance under another formerly disgraced coordinator has quickly called that into question. On Sunday I actually heard the commentators suggest the Patriots were once again ahead of the curve by returning to the run game. For years, Tom Brady was New England’s advantage over the rest of the NFL. If you de-emphasize him, the Patriots become just another team.
5. After struggling for two quarters against the Raiders, Reggie Bush finally put on the type of show folks have been waiting for since he was drafted second overall in 2006. I’m not a big proponent of wasting roster spots to handcuff your starters – especially in small leagues – but Lamar Miller is a good add for Bush owners. An argument could be made for Miller as the top back from this past year’s draft, and his slide into the fourth round demonstrates how far behind the analytical curve NFL franchises still are. You could argue that he looked even better than Bush on his handful of carries.
6. Occasionally backs like Arian Foster or Priest Holmes triumph over their undrafted narratives, but usually such a designation swamps a player’s actual performance. Right now there are only three backs in the NFL clearly superior to Pierre Thomas, and those players are named Rice, McCoy, and Spiller. Thomas’ Week 2 was a tour de force of elite vision, repeated tackle-breaking, and uncanny burst. If either Darren Sproles or Mark Ingram goes down with an injury, Thomas would instantly become a Top 10 RB. He is almost as dynamic in the passing game as Sproles and could easily replace Ingram’s short yardage role.
7. Going into the season, most sites other than the Banana Stand were very down on Matt Cassel. The low-ranking was based upon three ideas: 1) Cassel is not an elite quarterback. 2) The Chiefs will run the ball well and a lot. 3) The Chiefs will have a good defense (resulting in a slower pace of play and fewer garbage time points). Point one is fairly indisputable, but points two and three are clearly in error. The addition of Eric Winston was supposed to be the last step in creating an elite offensive line, but PFF readers already know that the other members of the O-line struggled to run block last year. The ‘Kansas City as an elite defense’ theory was almost entirely predicated on a fluky upset of Green Bay. Cassel has an excellent chance of finishing as a QB1 this season simply based on gigantic garbage time scoring.
8. Now that we’re two weeks in, we can start to hypothesize about the quality of 2012 defenses and you can start to make potential trade decisions based upon schedule strength. Long a laughing stock, the NFC West boasts two unbeaten squads and easily leads all divisions at four games over .500. This early success is almost entirely predicated on defense. While San Francisco fields a defense that may be historically good, Arizona and Seattle aren’t far behind. They might be the three best defenses in the NFL and are almost certainly all in the Top 5 (along with Baltimore and Houston). You don’t want to play anybody against the 49ers, but teams will also struggle to generate fantasy points against the Seahawks and Cardinals as Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Tom Brady, and Stevan Ridley found out.
9. Star wide receivers continue to be the sole focal point of many teams’ defensive plans. While Brandon Marshall has only himself to blame for yet another dropped touchdown, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald again faced double- and triple-teams on virtually every play. Fitzgerald is off to a slow start, but he managed 1400 yards a season ago despite the same horrible quarterback situation. On the other hand, he lacks the type of speed that makes Megatron an impossible cover. For Calvin Johnson owners, the 200-yard, 2-touchdown games are coming.
10. The narrative in New Orleans tends to focus on the loss of Sean Peyton, but it’s worth noting that the Saints voluntarily chose an interim coach who is also suspended. Of course, the biggest problem is the lack of elite talent possessed by Marques Colston and Lance Moore. While Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem aren’t starting level players either, their deep speed was missed on Sunday. New Orleans has big weapons in Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham, but defenses will crouch on the short routes until the Saints find someone who can take the top off the defense.
11. Tennessee and New Orleans have been equally crappy through three quarters in Weeks 1 and 2, but the Titans haven’t benefited from garbage time. It’s suddenly difficult to understand how Tennessee finished 9-7 in 2011. NFL teams must be able to stop the run in obvious situations, but New England and San Diego – two squads that hardly possess elite running games – have rammed it down their throats in consecutive weeks. I’m suddenly very worried about the viability of Jake Locker as a QBBC starter and only partly because of his own struggles.
12. I watched the Ravens-Eagles game on Shortcuts and couldn’t really tell if Baltimore was employing their no-huddle offense as a result. Regardless, there seemed to be little urgency in their attack. Joe Flacco morphed back into the quarterback we’ve come to know and not really love. The Ravens have now faced the same two squads as the Browns, and Flacco’s performance mirrors that of Brandon Weeden a little too closely for comfort. Some of it may not be his fault. Anquan Boldin is clearly done, and the preseason images of Torrey Smith getting open on more than the occasional fly pattern now seem like a distant memory.
13. Michael Vick is a fantasy weapon but a wildly overrated reality quarterback. At least half of his interceptable balls have been dropped – including several in the end zone – and that’s the only reason he’s yet to break double digits in the turnover department. Meanwhile, I should have listened to Frank DuPont on Brent Celek. With DeSean Jackson nothing more than an overrated deep threat and Jeremy Maclin perpetually injured, Celek looks like the security blanket Vick so desperately needs.
14. When I missed on Graham or Gronkowski in 2012 drafts, I usually waited a long time to select my tight end. After the top two, there was very little difference in my projections for the next ten to fifteen guys. I targeted Kyle Rudolph due to the training camp furor and his palatable ADP, but on a couple of teams I fell for the Greg Olsen trap. I hate when I ignore my own advice. While Rudolph is a decent breakout candidate due to uncertainty about his true potential, Olsen has already established himself as a well below average NFL player. Trumpeted by some as potentially receiving both his and Shockey’s targets this season, that idea ignores the fact that even a broken down Shockey was much more efficient than Olsen in 2011. In leagues where TE scoring matters, I strongly recommend trying to spin Olsen for Rudolph or Dennis Pitta, possibly as the second half of a two-for-two deal where the headliners help to obscure your desire to unload the Panthers tight end.
15. It took the prospect of an 0-2 start for the Giants to embrace the type of aerial blitzkrieg that best suits their personnel, but at least it happened. I submit to you faithful readers that their lucky escape against Tampa is yet another example of how overrated the G-men’s coaching staff continues to be. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz were both available at very palatable ADPs this season, probably because of the pretense of uncertainty. Nicks broken foot contributed to his injury-prone narrative, while Cruz’s magical season probably reminded many drafters of Miles Austin circa 2009.
16. Speaking of overrated – or simply overmatched – coaching staffs . . . it didn’t take long for the bloom to come off the Dallas rose. It’s time to stop blaming Tony Romo. The Cowboys’ signal caller is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in NFL history. The overrated players in this drama are DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Jason Garrett, and Rob Ryan. In the same way it’s very misleading to say so-and-so is 150 points better than so-and-so because of a dubious chain of final scores, it’s probably not valid to draw similar conclusions about the physicality of different teams based on result chains. It still has to be a concern for Dallas – and an even bigger concern for the Giants by extension – that they were physically manhandled by a Seahawks team that was somewhat pushed around by Arizona the week before.
17. Dez Bryant was a popular breakout candidate this year despite a second season filled with red flags. Consider how supposedly similar players like Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, and Demaryius Thomas were unstoppable as sophomores. (This fact was somewhat obscured in relation to Britt and Thomas due to injuries and led to their great values in subsequent fantasy drafts.) The theory on Bryant has been that his immaturity led to a slight delay in emergence, but it’s looking more and more like football deficiencies could be the real problem. Bryant’s target percentage would indicate he just doesn’t get open like a WR1. There were a lot of players – like his teammate Miles Austin – drafted in a similar range who appear to be clearly better options.
18. In the early going, fantasy team strength is being heavily determined by draft slot. The top three picks in most drafts were Arian Foster, Ray Rice, and LeSean McCoy. Outside this elite group, the RB-RB strategy has been a disaster. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles, and Matt Forte are all fantasy anchors. Third round picks like Fred Jackson, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Steven Jackson are also crushing their owners. Of course, drafting one of the stud quarterbacks has also been a failing proposition, as has picking receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Wes Welker, and Greg Jennings.
19. I’ve been relentlessly criticizing the Browns for their strategy in drafting Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, but this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that I’m rooting against the players in question. (Similar to most bunting in baseball, the strategy is poor even if the ploy itself succeeds.) It was nice to see them bounce back from inauspicious debuts with strong performances against Cincinnati. The Bengals defense looks like a juicy matchup for fantasy purposes, but Richardson’s TD run showed every bit of the flair that had so many draft gurus salivating. Weeden’s dramatically improved play puts Greg Little back on the fantasy map.
20. As I referenced in last week’s Advanced Touches column – subscribe to Fantasy Gold! – Arian Foster’s 2011 splits were not as impressive as you might think for a consensus No. 1 overall pick, but he plays in a perfect offense for his talents. The 2012 Texans are very similar to the 2003 Chiefs, and Houston is even more run-oriented. Foster is still a sneaky sell in dynasty formats. While backup Ben Tate is not at quite the same level as a one-cut runner, he’s bigger and faster than Foster and equally talented in the passing game.