As we wade into a sixth week of action, there are some nuggets that are too in-depth for the podcast, too smart for Twitter and a little too short for the full column. Enjoy these Week 6 Quick Hits:
Your byes for Week 6: Chicago, New Orleans, Carolina, Jacksonville. For fans of Cam Newton, this off week may be your last chance to pounce on him as a buy-low -- he's not helping his owners this week with no game and has caused many of them to throw their arms up in resignation already this season.
Owners in deeper PPR leagues should take a look at Jordan Norwood. But take a cautious approach with this foot injury.
So far this year, Norwood has played in two games. He has 13 catches for 137 yards, but has been targeted 19 times. In Week 5 agianst the Giants, he caught all nine passes thrown his way. While he benefitted from the absence of Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin, Norwood's situation is different than that of, say, Rueben Randle, who is enjoying playing time while Hakeem Nicks is out. Cleveland doesn't have an established receiver who will demand his job back. Massaquoi, who is the closest thing they have to a No. 1, will likely play over Norwood when he returns, but it's not like he's head and shoulders above him and won't lose time. Norwood's 19 targets over two games haven't produced a ton of yards (68.5), but they have given Weeden a reliable target that he had been lacking, in contrast to the high number of Greg Little drops.
Outside of just the Cleveland situation, Norwood has forced his way into a group of receivers who have been surrounded by hype, but haven't produced so far this year, especially in PPR leagues. His 19 targets are as many as Robert Meachem and more than Kenny Britt (18), Golden Tate (18), and Titus Young (16). Norwood isn't going to be the savior of any Fantasy teams, and probably won't even see a start in most WR2 slots for the entire season. But he does have some things going for him: he's catching passes, he's being targeted, he's playing on a team with a rookie quarterback who doesn't have pre-exisitng favorites, he's in an offense that likes to pass, and -- perhaps most importantly -- he's done his damage over a two-game period, which doesn't lend itself to free agent searching. If you search by targets, receptions, or yards, chances are Norwood will just fade into the background. But if you know enough to look for him specifically, based on what he's done the past two weeks, he becomes more attractive as bench depth and a possible flex start in bye weeks in deeper leagues.
The New Guys: Alex Green, James Starks, LaRod Stephens-Howling, and William Powell. There's no clear indication as to which will have the most Fantasy impact, but the Green Bay duo could at least offer some intrigue, as either Green or Starks could take the job and make it their own. While the same could be true for Arizona, their run game has been far less impressive, and they started the season somewhat content in letting Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams split the carries. So instead of wasting time on Arizona -- the short version: in PPR leagues, owners may want to consider LaRod Stephens-Howling -- we're going to focus on Green Bay. And the deeper one gets into researching the situation, the more tangled a web it becomes. The best way to go about it here, then, would be to employ a bastardization of the logic game used by Vizzini in The Princess Bride :
Alex Green versus James Starks
• Green got the carries after Cedric Benson went down with a foot injury in Week 5's loss to Indianapolis, rushing for 55 yards on nine attempts while Starks was inactive. So we can clearly not choose Starks.
• But 41 of Green's yards in Week 5 came from one fourth-quarter scamper. So we probably should not choose Green.
• Then again, while Green's eight other rushes were largely unimpressive, they may have been more circumstantial than a reflection of his skill. In other words, the Colts seemed in place to stop him -- it wasn't a matter of Green not necessarily looking good.
• Still, Starks started the first game of the preseason, a role usually reserved for the eventual starter on most teams. He then was slowed by a toe injury, which kept him out, at least ostensibly, for the first five games of the regular season.
• Yet it was Green who was on plenty of preseason sleeper lists for potential running back value, while Starks was largely ignored.
• But Starks has carried the load before, and his only 100-yard game came in the playoffs, on a very big stage under lots of pressure. Plus, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy also hinted that Green may have some shortcomings on the "protection" side of things.
• However, Starks missed the last eight possible games for the Packers, between the regular and preseason. And Green, while he didn't put up impressive stats until the end, did show some spark with his long run.
• And yet, Green Bay seemed to be happy enough with Starks that they didn't bring back Ryan Grant in the offseason.
So, clearly, the choice is ... Both! And then see who emerges. But that will never happen, outside of the most extreme waiver wire circumstances. While Green has been healthy and showed some spark against the Colts on his long run, Starks might be the better option. The Packers seem to like the veteran presence and Starks is a better protector, which could be a major factor for a team that has seen their star quarterback sacked 21 times already this season.
Trent Richardson may be a little underrated. Richardson has rushed for 303 yards over five games, scoring four touchdowns. But for all the running backs in the NFL with 300 or more rushing yards, only three of them have 20 or more passing targets. Richardson is one of them (303 yards, 28 targets), along with LeSean McCoy (437 yards, 24 targets) and Ray Rice (419 yards, 33 targets). While Darren Sproles leads all running backs with 28 receptions (on 39 targets), only Rice and Richardson have rushed for 300 yards or more and caught 20 or more passes. On top of all this, Richardson has five touchdowns to Rice's three, Sproles' two, and McCoy's two. Coach Pat Shurmur doesn't have a history of relying on the run -- he never ranked above 20th in rushing yards as OC of the Rams in 2009 or 2010, and was 21st in rushing attempts last year with the Browns. But he is utilizing Richardson in the passing game in a significant way. Keep in mind, this is a rookie running back who missed the entire preseason and was still shaking rust off in his first game, and now he's producing numbers at the level of two players who were top four picks in most Fantasy drafts. If you can pry Richardson loose from someone in your PPR league for, say, a DeMarco Murray-type, do it now. Richardson hasn't been fully embraced yet, but that window is slowly closing.
Why is it OK to sell on DeMarco Murray in standard leagues? According to Pro Football Reference, Jason Garrett averaged 17th in the NFL in rushing yards when serving as the head coach and offensive coordinator for the Cowboys over the last two years. He landed at about sixth on the list for passing yards. Only once since 2007 did a team that Garrett coordinated or coached land in the top 15 of rushing yards (in 2007). Look at Murray's 2011: he rushed for 100 yards three times -- with a monster 253-yard game in a Week 7 blowout win against the Rams. But after a four-week run of awesomeness, which inclulded three wins of 10 points or more, in which Murray likely got more rushes than he would have in a closer game, he started to bottom out. Murray was on the way down before suffering a fractured ankle in Week 14, only averaging 66 yards on 19.7 carries over Weeks 11 through 13. Murray is in an offense that prefers to pass and his three big games somewhat obscured his three subpar games last year. He will have his 100-yard games, but he will also fall victim to the Cowboys looking to pass first more often than run. In short, Murray's reputation, at least in standard leagues, far exceeds his production. In 2012, he has one 100-yard rushing game and three sub-50 yard games. Granted, in PPR leagues, he still has value, as he is involved in the offense as a receiving back, but his receptions have wildly varied, with games of two, three, four, and seven receptions.
Murray has more trade value than he probably should have at this time, at least in standard leagues. If you're getting deals that seem close involving Murray, you might want to pull the trigger on it and let Murray be a rushing yards yo-yo for someone else's team
Fun with 100-yard games! So far this season, only 10 running backs have rushed for 100 yards more than once. Only two have done it three times, however: Arian Foster and Stevan Ridley. The rest of the repeaters:
Digging deeper, just two teams have given up 100-yard games three times this season: Carolina (to Andre Brown, Michael Turner and Pierre Thomas) and Buffalo (the infamous Ridley/Brandon Bolden debacle and Frank Gore). While Buffalo has the third-worst run defense in the NFL, Carolina is just 10th-worst. Some other fun facts:
• New Orleans has given up the most rushing yards per game in the NFL this season, but the team has only allowed one back to run for 100 yards (Jamaal Charles).
• Of the top 10 rushing defenses, Tampa Bay (fourth-best) has allowed Alfred Morris to run for 100 yards in a game, New England (eighth) has allowed Ray Rice to gain 100 yards in a game and Houston (10th) has allowed Chris Johnson to rush for 100 yards. No team in the top 10 has allowed multiple 100-game rushers. You have to go all the way down to 16th -- the New York Giants -- to reach a team that has allowed two 100-yard rushers (DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy).
• Of the teams that have allowed multiple 100-yard rushers, the Panthers may have had the worst luck, allowing their 100-yard games to occur on an average of 14 carries. Just for comparisons' sake, Tennessee allowed their two 100-yard games on a 23.5 carry average, meaning that the Titans were worn down on the ground, while the Panthers allowed longs of 38, 41 and 27 yards in each of the three 100-yards-allowed games. This may not mean Carolina can improve its run defense, but it would seem the Panthers could make some tackles earlier on during rushing plays -- which is a somewhat fix-able problem. If that happens, they could see improvement in their run defense. Add it all up, and perhaps Carolina won't be as miserable against the run going forward as they have been over the first five games.
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