Fantasy Spins: Sammy Watkins to Rams, Jordan Matthews to Bills and Ezekiel Elliot Suspended
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That sound you heard around noon ET was the air being let out of quite a few Fantasy balloons. The NFL announced the suspension of Ezekiel Elliott, and to the disappointment of every Elliott owner who already drafted him, the over came in on the suspension and he received six games. If you already drafted him, it’s the spilt milk scenario. It’s over with, there’s nothing you can do about it now, and no one feels bad for you as this was always a possibility. Hopefully, you have enough depth on your team to cover his absence. If not, you have work to do.
The big question today will be, where do we draft Elliott now? As it stands, he will miss games versus the Giants, Broncos, Cardinals, Rams, Packers, and 49ers. In a typical head to head league, that means that at best, Elliott will play ten games this Fantasy season (seven regular season and thee playoff games). Missing almost half of your regular season is a blow. You have to make the playoffs before you will even get those extra three games.
It’s also worth pointing out that while I dislike moving players up or down my draft board by looking at their schedule, a look at the Fantasy playoff schedule reveals that the Cowboys play at the Giants, at the Raiders and then home vs. Seattle. The Giants kept Elliot in check twice last season, the Raiders have an improved defense, and Seattle has one of the best defenses in the league. It may be foolish to raise Elliott on your draft board and hope he will lead you to Fantasy gold if and when you make the playoffs. How much upside is there?
There will be lawyers, appeals, and maybe even the courts. This could delay the suspension (unlikely) but perhaps reduce it. We have no way of knowing this for sure but Elliott has three business days to decide. At the very least, we are expecting an appeal and there are some who already believe that his suspension will be reduced to three or four games. I’d be careful with this assumption. Elliott was suspended under the new domestic violence policy, which calls for a minimum six-game suspension. It’s unlikely that the NFL would want to reduce this suspension but perhaps there is room to negotiate. However, I wouldn’t move Elliott up my rankings with the hope that the suspension gets cut in half. The NFL proved last season that they can be sticky (Tom Brady) when challenged.
One last little note on Elliott. The statement released from the NFL today included this: “any additional violations of the personal conduct policy may result in your suspension or potential banishment.” Those of you starting keeper or dynasty leagues this year may want to take note. One more slip up could see him suspended for 16 games. He has become a very high risk, high reward player.
If you drafted Darren McFadden, then congratulations; your insurance policy just paid off. Sure, you’re not getting the third overall pick in McFadden, but with that offensive line you will still be getting a low end RB1 or high end RB2 if you were drafting him for the entire season. In other words, McFadden would be a running back likely to be drafted in the third or fourth round if he was going to be the starter all year. He’s not Elliott but remember, behind that offensive line in 2015 after Tony Romo went down to injury and with the likes of Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden, and Kellen Moore at quarterback, McFadden rushed for 1,089 yards.
Alfred Morris was supposed to be on the chopping or trade block this August, but that has more than likely changed now. McFadden will go into the season as the starting running back for Dallas but he won’t get the same workload that Elliott would have gotten. Morris will likely see 8-10 touches per game and he did look spry in the Hall of Fame game. He could have value in deeper leagues but in 10-12 team leagues, unless you’re banking on a McFadden injury, I’d let him pass. Rod Smith is also in the mix but it’s hard to see him getting any kind of playing time that would raise the interests of Fantasy owners.
The Cowboys’ formula for success last season was to keep the ball on the ground on offense for as long as possible, thus controlling the clock and protecting the defense. The Cowboys have what amounts to a brand new secondary and a very questionable pass rush. This is not a good mix for a team that will have trouble with ball control without Elliott. They will likely have to throw more often, which sounds like a good thing for Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant owners, but passing when the defense expects you to pass is not the easiest thing to do in the NFL. The only two legitimate options for Fantasy owners in the Dallas passing game are Prescott and Bryant. I have moved Bryant outside of my Top 10 WR but not substantially. You do have to believe, however, that opposing safeties will back off the line of scrimmage to try and eliminate the big play while Elliot is suspended, at least until McFadden proves that his 30-year old (August 27) legs are up to the task once again. Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley weren’t being drafted as anything more than backups and their value doesn’t change all that much without Elliot. This brings us to Prescott. I already had him as my QB16. Quarterback is so deep that I saw no reason to move him above established signal callers like Eli Manning or Matthew Stafford this season, not with Dallas being a run-first team and not with that schedule. So, I haven’t moved him in my rankings, he will stay at 16 and at 17 is another QB for a team in the news today, Tyrod Taylor.
The Bills shook up the NFL and Fantasy world today by trading away WR Sammy Watkins to the Rams and acquiring WR Jordan Matthews from the Eagles. My initial thoughts on these deals is that Zay Jones had better be the real deal, or else the Buffalo passing offense will be stagnant and inconsistent once again. Watkins had his faults, mainly his inability to stay on the field, but when healthy he was a legitimate number one WR. The Bills will once again rely on the run game and LeSean McCoy for points.
This makes the Bills another team (Washington being the other) that has let go of their top two receivers from last season. It’s hard to see this being a formula for success. Matthews is a better WR than he’s given credit for, and some were expecting good things from him this season because Philly was going to put him back in the slot, the position he is best suited for. It’s unknown where Buffalo will line him up at this point in time. Still, this could be good news for Matthews, as he is now the top dog in Buffalo. If he can learn the offense quickly and get in tune with Taylor, he could be a solid flex play each week in PPR leagues.
I guess the Eagles weren’t kidding last week when they stated how much they liked Nelson Agholor and wanted him to start in the slot over Matthews. Well, now they will get what they wanted. I wouldn’t expect much here. You certainly have to have doubts about Agholor, as he has been a bust since he was drafted and either way, Alshon Jeffery will be the main guy in the Eagles’ passing game. Agholor is a dartboard throw, however. He’s someone you can draft late and then move on from early this season for the hot player on the waiver wire if he doesn’t pay off.
Let’s hear it for the Rams. They know they have to surround Jared Goff with offensive talent at WR if they want to truly judge whether he can be a QB1 in the NFL. We can make all the jokes we want about them acquiring both of the Bills starting wide receivers from last season (signed Robert Woods in free agency), but this trade makes them much more interesting on offense. If Watkins can stay healthy, he is a WR1. The talent has always been there, it’s just his availability that has been in question. Watkins drops a few spots in my rankings, however, as I like Taylor much more than Goff. The Rams defense is legit and there should be opportunities for Watkins to do damage in the passing game.
The value for Woods actually stays the same for me. I liked him late in drafts as a sleeper pick, and although Watkins will certainly take away some of his targets, he also now won’t be a focus of the defense and won’t see the top cornerback week in and week out. The player I like the most in this deal is Todd Gurley. I’ve been saying for two years now that I wouldn’t draft Gurley because defenses were just going to load up in the box to stop him. Well, now they may not be able to do that, not with Watkins a legitimate threat on the outside. Goff still has to prove he can get the ball to him, but once he does that, safeties will have to respect the deep game, which should open up holes for Gurley. He’s back to being a RB1 for me.
As always feel free to follow me on Twitter and ask any questions you like, @georgekurtz.
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