Cam Newton – I had Newton ranked low in my initial ranks this season, not because of his lack of pass -catchers, but because there were doubts about his health and therefore his rushing upside. Well, he looked good on Sunday (17 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown) and it seems like it may only be a matter of time until he combines that athletic ability with the developing stud that is Kelvin Benjamin on the outside to create the Fantasy monster that we’ve become accustomed to seeing in Carolina. The running statistics will give him weekly value, but make no mistake about it, he is trending in the right direction with his arm as well. For the first time in his career, Newton has completed at least 63 percent of his passes in three of the first five games of the season, making him a true dual threat. The increased efficiency is no mistake, as his aDOT (average depth of target)has been on a steady decline since his rookie season, thus making him more efficient and less dependent on the big play (not a bad idea when you consider he is currently the least accurate deep ball quarterback in all of football). An average set of receivers and an unproductive crew of running backs … sound familiar?
Brandon Lafell – Remember when the New England dynasty was ending and this offense was closer to Jaguars than the Broncos? Yea, not so much. Tom Brady is making the most of the pieces around him and Lafell was the primary beneficiary on Sunday, as he recorded 97 yards and a pair of impressive touchdowns. The 27-year-old has been targeted at least six times in three of his last four games, a trend that should lend him Fantasy value, as Brady has continued to go his way despite a catch rate of 42 percent entering this week. The solid target rate, along with the fact that Lafell has been nothing short of elite after the catch, makes him a viable starting option in deep formats and worthy of a roster spot in all formats. It is no secret that Brady is struggling with the deep ball, thus making Lafell’s ability to create after the catch even more valuable.
Robert Woods – Kyle Orton isn’t a great quarterback, but his ability to sustain drives is progress for this offense and it allows Woods to have the occasional productive Fantasy day like we saw Sunday (seven catches on 10 targets for 78 yards and a touchdown). Let’s not forget that Woods is the top receiver on the depth chart with a season of experience with the Buffalo playbook, an advantage that allows him to adjust routes in an efficient manner. The Bills want to establish the run, but with C.J. Spiller stuck in Space Jam mode and Fred Jackson not fit to handle a full workload, there might be more of these 38 pass attempt days in the immediate future. It hasn’t taken long for opposing defenses to acknowledge the talent of Sammy Watkins (see Revis, Darrelle), a trend that should keep Woods (26 targets in his last three games) consistently involved and on Fantasy radars. In deep leagues, Woods could emerge as a reasonable FLEX option when it counts most, as the Bills face the Broncos, Packers, and Raiders in Weeks 14-16.
Louis Murphy – It’s evident to most that have watched the Bucs that Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are better football players than Murphy, but skill isn’t always most directly linked to Fantasy production. With both of Tampa Bay’s top receivers battling nagging injuries, it stands to reason that a healthy field stretch like Murphy will continue to play (he was on the field for 84.9 percent of snaps last week, with both Evans and Jackson healthy). Veterans and proven Fantasy assets Andre Johnson, Roddy White, and Steve Smith Sr. have seen fewer targets than Murphy over the last three weeks, and given the 27-year-old’s 12.8 aDOT, that is enough to give him upside that is worth owning. The Buccaneers will come off of their Week 7 bye with four strong matchups, making Murphy a nice fill in option if you’re dealing with injuries and/or byes.
Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith – From September 12th at 1:00pm to October 12th at 1:00pm, Flacco had thrown four touchdown passes and Smith had 17.6 Standard Fantasy points. With 12 seconds left in the first quarter on Sunday, Flacco was celebrating his fourth trip to the end zone and Smith was at 17.1 Fantasy points. But does this change anything? We knew that both of these players were high-risk/ high-reward options, and just because the “high-reward” portion came to light this past week, why would we change our opinion? By definition, “high-risk high-reward” means that we should expect weeks like this on occasion. Smith, who has the perception of being a productive Fantasy option over the last two seasons, racked up 30.3 percent of his Standard Fantasy points in two weeks in 2012 and 25.4 percent in two weeks in 2013. In both those instances, the big weeks came in consecutive weeks, so if you want to buy that trend and start Smith this week, fine. But does one big game, or maybe two, change who Smith is? No. No it doesn’t. He could grow and progress, but are we ready to blindly assume that that is the case without having seen it first?
The same logic applies for Joe Cool. This was Flacco’s seventh career game with over 300 passing yards and no interceptions in seven seasons, so we have not only seen it before, we see it annually. It happened in Week 6 last year as well, but he never eclipsed even 275 passing yards and only had three multi-touchdown passing efforts over the next 11 weeks. A big Week 7 is not out of the question, but banking on sustained greatness is a bit of a reach.
Lock: Seattle Seahawks @ St. Louis Rams
Lock: Arizona Cardinals @ Oakland Raiders
Lock: New England Patriots vs New York Jets
Value: Buffalo Bills vs Minnesota Vikings
Value: Houston Texans @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Upset Special: Jacksonville Jaguars vs Cleveland Browns
– Mailbag –
@tical17: Can I drop Roddy White now?
Answer: As a person who regularly owns veterans just like White, I understand where this question is coming from, but no, you’re not dropping him. In fact, barring an injury, I’m not sure there is a level of production from White that would merit cutting ties with such a proven player in this offense. Matt Ryan ranks second in the league in passing yards and while Antone Smith has flashed greatness, it is hard to imagine this Atlanta offense not being dominated by the pass. White has been on the field for all but 15 snaps when active this season, a level of involvement that gives me confidence that his sluggish start will not continue. Off the top of your head … did White have a good 2013? You probably answered “yes” and it wasn’t because he started with a bang (he actually had five fewer catches for 124 fewer yards and two fewer touchdowns through five games than he currently has). Loyal owners were rewarded with an explosive final five games (43 receptions for 502 yards and two scores), proving that White is a player worth rostering. Bench him until he shows signs of production? I’d listen to that train of thought, but cut him loose? Not on my watch.
@cmurray25: I have T.Y. Hilton in my flex; I can get Andre Ellington or Fred Jackson, should I? Or should I keep Hilton?
Answer: If this is the package that Hilton is fetching, sell-high and sell now! I’ve made my love for Ellington known, but that aside, getting a RB1 for the Colts top receiver is a deal that needs to be accepted. Hilton’s massive Week 6 has elevated his value, but it further magnified a skill set that is producing unsustainable statistics. This season, Hilton is catching 69 percent of passes thrown his way (up from 59 percent over the last two seasons). That by itself isn’t anything to fear, as his development along with that of Andrew Luck could well result in a spike in completion percentage. But the fact that the two are connecting with greater consistency in addition to a rising aDOT (Hilton’s average depth of target is currently 11 percent greater than his 2011-2012 aDOT) should serve as a red flag. Running deeper routes can often be correlated to increased Fantasy production, especially when the receiver has high-end speed and the quarterback has unlimited potential, but the completion percentage typically regresses as the passes are more difficult. I would expect either the completion percentage or the aDOT to decline, both of which would retard Hilton’s Fantasy ceiling a bit. When dealing with this Ellington trade off specifically, we are talking about a running back who is seeing his workload increase in dramatic fashion (three straight 20-plus touch efforts after 0 such games in his first 17). His explosive talent is shining and that isn’t going to change the more involved he is. It is also worth noting that the Cardinals have already had their bye week whereas the Colts have not, giving you an extra week of Ellington. Hilton is a WR2 the rest of the way, a nice player, but one that I will send packing immediately for a talent like Ellington.
@Docta_Cheddah_: Julius Thomas owner who is looking to upgrade elsewhere. Advice as to trading arguably the Fantasy MVP in a Gronk centered deal?
Answer: I would highly consider moving Thomas, tough as that might be. Consider this: Thomas had a fantastic 2013 season and he accounted for 16.2 percent of Peyton Manning’s completions and 25 percent of his touchdowns (in the 14 games he played). He is currently accounting for 19 percent of Manning’s completions and 60 percent of his touchdowns! Yes, Thomas is an elite talent, but that good? In Gronkowski’s best season, arguably the best we’ve seen at the tight end position, he was responsible for 22.4 percent of Tom Brady’s completions and 43.6 percent of his touchdowns. The primary difference here is that Brady didn’t have the proven weaponry that Manning currently has, thus making Gronk the number one option on essentially every single pass play. Let’s crunch some numbers using the following assumption: Thomas is more important than he was to the Broncos last year but less critical than Gronk was to the 2011 Patriots. Fair? I think so.
Projecting Thomas’ touchdown total to regress to the historic level of Gronk in 2011 would mean 12 scores the rest of the way, given Manning’s 48 touchdown pace. Crunch the numbers to get him to finish with the 25 percent rate of last year and you’re looking at three more endzone dances. If we meet in the middle, Thomas seems to be a good bet for seven to eight scores over the final 11 games of this season. Would it surprise you if Gronk matched or exceeded that total given the lack of deep threats in New England and their now questionable ground game? He has been on the field for 23 more snaps over the last two weeks than he was the previous three. I wouldn’t call it blasphemy to say Gronk could be the number one tight end from this point forward, but that won’t need to be the case to make trading Thomas the correct percentage move. His blazing hot start might allow you to bag a reasonable RB (Shane Vereen or Fred Jackson for example) or a struggling WR (Pierre Garcon, Michael Crabtree, or Michael Floyd for example) in addition to the Pats tight end. I wouldn’t blindly suggest selling Thomas to the highest bidder in an effort to “sell-high”, but I certainly would entertain almost any deal that involves landing Gronk.
DraftKings Week 7 lineup
QB – Cam Newton
RB – Arian Foster
RB – Andre Williams
WR – Kelvin Benjamin
WR – Marques Colston
WR – Larry Fitzgerald
TE – Julius Thomas
FLEX – Bishop Sankey
D/ST – Buffalo Bills