The Vikings now have a glimpse of a post-AP running game sparked by rookie Jerick McKinnon – and ’tis delightful, the elders say. Why haven’t you picked him up?
RB Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota
You or a leaguemate should already own McKinnon, and quite frankly, I’ve said enough about him at this point. Mike Zimmer finally caught a glimpse of a Viking offense with the explosive, elusive, versatile phenom on the field, and he had to like what he saw: 152 yards on 19 touches. Simply put, the Viking offense is much harder to defend when McKinnon is on the field. Now, McKinnon is still very much a project. He’s not powerful and looks lost in pass protection. Matt Asiata (23 touches) remains the most trusted backfield option, and the series-by-series split we saw Sunday is likely the new norm. But it’s time to get excited and expect at least 45% of the usage to go McKinnon’s way. In the post-AP era, the Vikings have funneled 27 touches/game to their backs, so that split would provide J-Mac with 12+ touches a week. And with a dynamo on his level, there’s just no telling what he can do with that. If you’re in a shallow or stupid league and McKinnon is still up for grabs, target him aggressively (about 27-30% of your cap), and treat him as a RB3 with high-end RB2 upside. Feel free to cut loose a Shonn Greene type for him.
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WR Andre Holmes, Oakland
The training camp darling is back on the radar with Rod Streater out and Denarius Moore falling apart. Holmes snagged five balls for 74 yards and a touchdown on Sunday on 12 targets. I’m telling you now to submit a solid bid on Holmes – somewhere in the 20-22% range – and cut loose your bottom WR to bring him on board. Yes, you have two key objections, but I’ll smother them now. But Justin! The Raider offense is a black hole; how can you ask me to spend cold hard FAAB cash on its #2 WR?! Well, a bad offense breeds garbage time, where Holmes shone yesterday, and in which the Raiders will find themselves plenty this season. Don’t let a bad team/offense scare you away from its receivers, especially talented ones like Holmes. But Justin! Derek Carr is down with a multi-week injury; how can you ask me to invest in anyone forced to catch passes from Matt McGloin?! Well, let’s examine the McGloin-Holmes dynamic. Holmes was a bottom-of-the-roster afterthought through his first 2.5 seasons in the NFL – until mid-2013, when McGloin took the QB reins in Oakland. From Weeks 12-15, Holmes saw a healthy 33 targets from McGloin and posted yardage totals of 136, 63, 58, and 71. The two seem to have some chemistry, so yesterday was no fluke: Holmes is now the #2 target in Oakland, at worst. I expect real WR3 value (and occasional WR2 production) while McGloin is under center – and the fact that Moore is likely finished as a Raider contributor sets up Holmes to stay in the Raiders’ plans all season. Gotta love garbage time, and gotta love big receivers.
WR Jarius Wright, Minnesota
I’ve always had an eye on Wright, an explosive talent criminally underused prior to Sunday. A rare slot type who can get downfield with great jets, Wright was Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite target yesterday, drawing a team-high 10 looks. He did most of his damage on screens and shorter routes, so perhaps he’s earned the role supposedly gift-wrapped for Cordarrelle Patterson (who is utterly invisible in this offense). Wright’s 8-132 line means I’m no longer alone on the bandwagon, and alas, I don’t know if I can bid what it will likely take to land him. Bridgewater sprained his ankle Sunday, and if it’s of the high variety, we’re in Ponderville for the next few weeks. In 13 games started by the cringe-worthy Christian Ponder, Wright has averaged just a 3-43 line with four TDs. I can’t pay a sizeable FAAB price AND cut a wideout just to stash Wright on my bench. But if Bridgewater is expected back under center next week, I’ll give up around 15% of my cap. The Vikings face an embarrassingly favorable slate of pass defenses over the next two months (@GB, DET, @BUF, @TB, WAS, @CHI, GB). If Wright has indeed caught the eye of Bridgewater to this extent, he could post some WR2/3 lines over that stretch. But it’s even more likely Patterson works his way further into the offense and relegates Wright to third- or fourth-option status. I’d cut loose a bottom-of-my-roster guy like Allen Hurns for him, but only speculatively – and that may be the bias of a longtime Wright fan.
WR Devin Hester, Atlanta
OK, go ahead and target him. Just don’t go nuts. The good: offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter truly does see something in Hester as an offensive weapon, and Matt Ryan is more capable of making him productive than any Bear QB ever was. He’s working mostly on screens and slot routes and looks as energized as ever. And he’s always a threat to bring back a punt. The bad: he’s caught five, one, one, and five passes on the year, topping 25 yards only twice, so when are you going to start the guy? On Sunday, Hester benefitted from Harry Douglas’ absence, serving as the de facto slotman and posting a 5-70-1 line. Go after Hester if your WR bench is bare and bye weeks are about to cut your throat. But he can’t be trusted as more than a desperation fill-in, so don’t bid more than 15% of your cap. Fantasy football is not about risk, but about risk management. And you can’t confidently claim and start a guy in hopes of a long punt return or unexpected usage as the backup slot.
TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay
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The time is nigh for the freakish ASJ. The most promising TE in this year’s draft class (yes, more so than the shaky Eric Ebron), Sefarian-Jenkins has recovered from the foot/ankle injury that cost him Weeks 2 & 3. On Sunday, he played all 71 snaps and saw seven targets to just one for plodding in-line guy Brandon Myers; it’s all too clear who offers more to the Bucs in the passing game, and it’s not even close. The Tampa Bay offense is in flux, so ASJ is probably more valuable as a streamer with weekly TE1 upside than as a high-priority pickup. But if you invested in Dennis Pitta or Kyle Rudolph and find yourself floundering at the position, ASJ is a cheap option with a nice ceiling. Bid around 10-12% of your budget if you’re needing help, and cut bait on Ladarius Green in redraft leagues.
WR Eddie Royal, San Diego
Nope, still not biting. Royal also had back-to-back multi-TD games to open last season; he caught three more over his final 12. He’s not very good, and we’ll soon forget about this explosion as well. On the off chance I’m wrong (and history is too), go ahead and bid 10% as a bye fill-in and pray for the best. But I won’t be; I’ve got much sexier options on my WR bench, and you should too.
RB Branden Oliver, San Diego
Donald Brown’s turd-like performance as the Chargers’ starter (2.0 YPC and nary a TD) has hurt a lot of our squads over the last two weeks. (Though it’s hardly fair to single out Brown; Ryan Mathews sits at 3.1 thus far and Danny Woodhead at 2.5.) On Sunday, the Chargers gave some run to new change-of-pace back Oliver, who responded with an equally anemic 23 yards on nine rushes. That’s not very sexy, so why are we discussing him? Oliver is not a gifted athlete, but he’s an accomplished receiver dating back to his college days, as Matthew Freedman notes. With Woodhead done for the year, someone will need to play the checkdown role while Mathews and Brown wheeze their way to two yards and a cloud of dust. Oliver looks like the best candidate, and who knows – he could see Woodhead’s rushing usage as well (5-8 rushes a game) and turn it into something fantasy-relevant. Don’t expect higher than RB4 upside in the short term and RB5 in the long, but place a safe bid around 8-10% and fight the good fight for a week or two.
RB Darrin Reaves, Carolina
Just gaining a moderate opportunity doesn’t make a guy worth your time. Such is the case with Reaves, a moderate undrafted talent who will likely slot in as Carolina’s spot starter should DeAngelo Williams miss time with an ankle sprain. The rookie from UAB was wholly underwhelming after Williams left Sunday’s game, mustering just 37 yards on 15 touches. The Panthers look like a shell of their 12-4 selves from 2013; Cam Newton is clearly limited by injury and middling receiving talent, and the hobbled backfield isn’t finding room to run. Reaves will likely start in the short term, spelled by other replacement talents and unlikely to post even usable flex production. Don’t get me wrong: a starting NFL RB always has fantasy value. But this is value of the lowest order. If you’re this desperate for short-term help (no judgments), put in a bid of around 10% of your budget and hope you’ll never truly rely on Reaves.
RB Antone Smith, Atlanta
You can’t pick up Smith outside of a 14- or 16-team league, and even that’s a stretch – he’d likely be your RB5, interchangeable on your roster with someone like Brandon Bolden. The Falcons rotate four backs and rarely will any of them aside from Steven Jackson flirt with startability. But it bears noting that Smith now averages 18.4 YPC (not a misprint) and 16.6 YPR on his 16 touches over the last two years. He’s a big-play dynamo, and an injury to a Falcon back in front of him could give him sneaky appeal. File him away as one to watch.
TE Clay Harbor, Jacksonville
Do not seek this treasure. Harbor is a thoroughly average TE, and you’d be picking up a low-end TE2 in search of the occasional 6-60 type of line. You’d never start him, and there are more pressing needs for your FAAB dollars – and far more intriguing TE2s on your waiver wire.
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WR Torrey Smith, Baltimore
Steve Smith, Sr. has been a revelation in Baltimore, but he’s not touching the 100 catches he’s on pace for. And Torrey isn’t finishing the year with 32. Regression to the mean is coming for both these guys. I think it’s fair to expect Torrey to catch around 55 balls this year, which would give him a weekly average of four going forward – and given his talent, that’s only a baseline. Torrey could certainly creep back into the WR2/3 picture down the stretch. He actually had an encouraging Week 4, though the stat sheet (2-53-1) barely shows it. He drew two deep pass interference flags, suggesting Joe Flacco hasn’t forgotten about his speedster’s playmaking ability. Is he startable right now? No, of course not, but he’s also not droppable yet. Give him another week, and if you don’t have him, float his owner an offer of 25 cents on the dollar. A swap of a likely-regressing guy like Eddie Royal or Justin Forsett nets you big upside at virtually no cost.