Week 4's Top 4 Long-Term Fantasy Trends
Fantasy football isn't about the individual battles along the way; it's about surviving the prolonged, numbers-filled war. While it's always good to focus on the individual week, and we've done plenty of that already this week, I also want to take a look at some of the big things we have learned already this season and whether they will continue going forward.
Remember The Forgotten Men
Don't yet have a reliable tight end? I'm not quite sure how you're missing out. 2012 is one of the deepest years for tight ends I have seen in a long time. This past week alone, 13 different tight ends reached at least 50 yards receiving. Eight of the league's 32 starting tight ends (exactly one-quarter) reached double-digit fantasy points (FP) in week three, which is actually the least amount of tight ends to reach that mark after 11 did it in week 1 and nine did it in week 2. And that was without the big names at the top; Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Antonio Gates combined for only 11 FP this past weekend.
The breakouts at the position have been numerous. Vernon Davis's 40 FP through the first three weeks would place him in a tie for third among all receivers. Tony Gonzalez's 39 FP would place him fourth. And both Kyle Rudolph and Brent Celek are leading their receiving corps in fantasy points through three games. If you don't have a strong tight end, it shouldn't be that hard to look. There are five different starting tight ends averaging at least six points per week who are available in over half of ESPN leagues (in order of percentage owned): Heath Miller (36 FP), Scott Chandler (22 FP), Kyle Rudolph (30 FP), Jermaine Gresham (18 FP), and Brandon Myers (19 FP).
What to do with CJ2K?
I find CJ2K's nickname absolutely hilarious. At this point, I tend to consider it as the number of carries he'd need in a game before breaking 100 yards. This past weekend, Johnson averaged 1.7 yards per carry, and that caused his average to go up. He's almost getting to the point where his ypc average is greater than his height, guys! As it stands, Jake Locker is still the team's leading rusher, and it's really not even close. So, is this the point where you bench Johnson and never look back? Unfortunately for Johnson owners who took him in the first round, the answer is certainly yes.
This week, CJ.5K plays a Houston Texans squad that numberFire has ranked as the #1 defense in all of football so far this year. The 203 rushing yards Houston has given up ranks fifth in the NFL, and they have forced the most fumbles (four) of any single team. None of their three opposing fantasy backs faced have put up over 69 yards rushing on the ground, and they haven't exactly faced scrubs: Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew each had over 20 FP the week after facing Houston. But even from there, the road doesn't get any easier for Johnson. Four teams in the NFL have not given up a single touchdown; Houston is one, his week 5 opponent Minnesota is another. From there, he faces the struggling but still fierce Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night, followed by a surprising Bills defense that numberFire has ranked #10 overall. It could be October 28th against Indianapolis before Johnson has another workable matchup, but I'm not even sold that he'll still be the starting back by that point.
Don't Count Out the Pack
Does having Packers players on your fantasy team make you want to go punch a referee? You and just about everybody else in America, but at least in your case, you'll have a good reason. Aaron Rodgers was the first quarterback taken in most leagues; he sits as the #20 QB overall through three weeks behind such distinguished names as Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. The receiving corps isn't much better: Randall Cobb and James Jones are tied at the #46 WR slot with 19 FP, while Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings are each out of the top 50. And Finley has not been one of the breakout tight ends talked about above, as he sits as the #17 TE on the season with 16 FP.
So what gives? A tough schedule, and that's all. Don't count out the Packers yet. Green Bay is one of the few teams to have played two of numberFire's top ten defenses on the season in Chicago (#4) and Seattle (#7), and that's not even including a San Francisco team that most had right at the top of the charts entering the season (#22 currently). But from here, the schedule sets up perfectly for the Pack to storm back. In the next five weeks, Green Bay plays three teams in numberFire's bottom ten defenses, including each of the next two weeks in New Orleans (#31) and Indianapolis (#23). A quick detour to play at Houston should be tough in week 6, but successive games against the Rams (#13) and Jaguars (#25) should provide Rodgers showcases once again. numberFire projects Rodgers to be the sixth-highest overall fantasy scorer this week and thinks he'll do even better in weeks 5, 8, 12, 13, 16, and 17. The Green Bay bandwagon may have gotten Golden Tate-d on Monday, but hanging on for the bumpy ride will be worth it.
Doing the Dirty Bird
If there is a team that has been on the opposite side of the "How much are fans crying?" scale from the Packers, it's the Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan currently sits as the #2 player in all of fantasy football behind RGIII, bolstered by his NFL-leading eight touchdowns compared to only one interception (suprisingly, only Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert have played all three games and thrown none). His tight end Old Man Gonzalez is right at the top as the #2 TE as well, and his receiving corps isn't half bad in its own right with Julio Jones at #5 and Roddy White at #19 in the receivers' rankings. However, astute fantasy players will take a look at the competition they've played. Both Kansas City (#28 defense) and Denver (#21) have defenses in the bottom half of the league according to numberFire's rankings, and San Diego dropped out of the top ten (to #11) after their performance against Atlanta. They haven't exactly had Green Bay's schedule, to be fair.
But then again, that easy schedule isn't going to change any time soon. Keep riding your Falcons, at least for the next three weeks: none of Atlanta's next three opponents are in the top half of the league's defenses. Facing Carolina (#26) this week has Matt Ryan projected as the top QB on our board, which makes sense considering the weeks they have allowed to Drew Brees and Eli Manning recently. Carolina has also gone two of their three games without getting a single interception, so Ryan should be in free hands this Sunday. Games against Washington (#19) and Oakland (#30) directly follow before heading into the bye week. But even then, the schedule only gets marginally tougher. Atlanta goes the entire season facing only three defenses in numberFire's top ten, when they will face off against Philadelphia in week 8, Arizona in week 11, and Tampa Bay in both weeks 12 and 17. If you don't have a Falcon on your team, don't hesitate to trade for one right now.