One of our draft tips when it came to wide receivers this summer was "get them early, skip them late."
You didn't want to be left picking starting options from a group of underachievers or stuck with veterans in the middle rounds. You wanted to land two elite options within the first three or four rounds and another strong wideout or two by the end of Round 6 or 7. Anything less than that might result in Fantasy mediocrity.
But after three weeks, I'm not sure that plan was good enough.
While Fantasy quarterbacks seem to grow on trees and running backs are doing just enough to stay Fantasy relevant, finding consistency among receivers is challenging to say the least. Only one receiver -- Vincent Jackson -- has scored double-digit Fantasy points in each of his first three games. He's also tied for the lead in Fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues with Reggie Wayne.
Inconsistency at receiver has long been a Fantasy issue. This is to be expected. What's not to be expected is the absolute glut of underwhelming, underperforming receivers that are sending Fantasy owners into a tizzy. Qualified, well-known Fantasy receivers that were taken with valuable draft picks are struggling, and owners are now forced to wonder whether they should remain in starting lineups or be sent to the bench.
Here are the offending players through three weeks:
|* - missed one game due to injury|
Not to make those of you who own one or more of these Fantasy duds feel bad, but if you combined the stats of Nate Burleson, Jerricho Cotchery, Devery Henderson, Johnny Knox and Mario Manningham, you'd have roughly the same amount of receiving yards but two more touchdowns -- and on 31 fewer catches. And that fivesome served as nothing more than back-end roster depth two short months ago.
Anyway, Fantasy owners should be at the point now where benching Avery, Bryant, Berrian, Edwards and Royal is standard. They're not producing for one reason or another and simply will hurt you more than help you. Firmly plant them on your bench and wait for signs of life (or cut them and hope they never show up this season).
But what about the others? Johnson and White were Top 25 picks! Marshall, Evans, Housh and T.O. were expected to be useful No. 2 receivers. Do you keep them planted in lineups or risk missing out on a big statistical explosion?
Let's start with White and Houshmandzadeh, who are clearly still fixtures in their offenses as they have 26 and 27 targets, respectively. Houshmandzadeh clearly doesn't look like the same guy who topped 1,100 yards and hauled in 12 touchdowns in 2007. It looks like he has some minor injuries holding him back, and the Seahawks' offense in general is struggling behind a beaten-up offensive line. Meanwhile, White has still gotten a lot of looks from quarterback Matt Ryan but has definitely been impacted by the addition of tight end Tony Gonzalez. Because both players are being thrown at more than most other receivers, taking them out of lineups is fairly dangerous. If the matchups dictate a sit and you have a better option, then sit them. Otherwise, lower expectations a bit and run with them. I would not suggest trading for or shopping either receiver.
Marshall would have been an easy player to bench beginning next week except he scored at Oakland and leads all Broncos with 20 targets. Evans and Owens are on an offense that looked good for two weeks but got exposed in Week 3 when the Saints gave quarterback Trent Edwards fits and made him overthrow and checkdown behind an inexperienced offensive line. If Edwards can't get his act together, both Bills receivers will struggle (T.O., by his own standards, is already there). All three of these receivers might cause Fantasy owners fits, so at the very least if you can trade them for someone comparable, you might not stay up late at night worrying about what they're going to do. Getting value for them will be an issue -- owners will definitely not land their draft value. Otherwise, Marshall and T.O. should be expected to perform like No. 3 options while Evans is tough to consider a starter.
In the case of Calvin Johnson, who doesn't exactly have bad numbers but hasn't been elite just yet, you have to ride him. Plus he's tied for seventh in the NFL with 28 targets, which is excellent considering how much the Lions are spreading the ball around compared to last season. If you're in a league with a guy who's sour on 'Megatron,' trade for him right now. It's only a matter of time before he and Matthew Stafford take the next step together and become an excellent duo.
One more thought: The concept of situational personnel has expanded beyond running backs. Know how some teams use anywhere from two to four running backs throughout a game depending on the situation? Teams are doing that with receivers, only leaving the best wideouts on the field for the entire game because they'll either be decoys in the offense or making plays. But the situational receivers, which expands to tight ends taking a chunk of the targets, is not helping the plight of the stud, primary receivers. The term "No. 1 receiver" is all but gone from NFL teams' vocabularies. It's bad for receivers, but it's a big reason why quarterbacks are doing better than expected.
Fantasy & Reality
Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) about what we witnessed in Week 3.
Fantasy: No way Kevin Kolb throws for 300 yards again. For the second week in a row, Kolb proved that he can be a solid West Coast offense quarterback and lead the Eagles in place of Donovan McNabb. He's got a nice, quick release, but the key to his big stats has been the play of DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek, both of whom have contributed heavily to Kolb's stat line. McNabb owners have to love seeing this because when the veteran gets back in there from a broken rib, he'll be in line to have totals like Kolb.
Reality: It's hard to count on Tony Gonzalez against Bill Belichick. Not only did we talk about it before Week 3, but it was dissected after the game: Belichick has a standard plan for defending against Gonzalez, and it probably extends to other elite tight ends. Gonzo was targeted just two times in a game where the Falcons had a hard time throwing the ball, period.
Fantasy: The Texans will be involved in a lot of close, low-scoring games. In what might be a very positive development for Fantasy owners, Houston's defense is worse than expected. But Houston's offense continues to flourish. Combine the two, and you'll have a lot of high-scoring games. The Texans have allowed at least 24 points per game this season and Matt Schaub has thrown at least three touchdowns in his last two contests. Expect the Texans to be the favorite team of Fantasy owners seeing as how everyone they start -- and play against -- will be worth a look each week. And yes, that does apply to Darren McFadden for Week 4 when the Raiders visit H-town.
Reality: Joe Flacco is a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback. Hats off to the Fantasy folks who wrote in last week telling me I was a nut bar for continuing to underestimate Flacco's game. I've learned my lesson after his 342-yard, one-touchdown performance over the Browns. The Patriots get a crack at him next week and I'm interested to see how they defend against this Ravens offense, which is running the ball just about as well as anyone right now (4.7 yards per carry average for the team).
Strategy SessionFrank Gore's ankle cost me big Fantasy points this week. Who is a good replacement for him?
Some of you out there actually benched Gore this week because of his matchup against the Vikings. Lucky move since he had just one carry before limping off with what NFL.com is describing as a high-ankle strain (as opposed to a sprain) that might cost him two weeks. Keeping in mind that the 49ers' bye comes in Week 6, we might not see Gore play again until Week 7 at Houston, which is a delicious matchup for him to return.
So with three weeks of potentially being without Gore, Fantasy owners have to make alternative plans. The first move is to seek out Glen Coffee, the rookie who played in place of Gore at Minnesota and managed to get 54 yards, albeit on 25 carries. Hey, it's the Vikings, and Coffee hasn't played much. This was to be expected, just like it's to be expected that Coffee perks up against the Rams in Week 4 and the Falcons in Week 5, both at home. Coffee is worth a decent reserve running back or receiver in trade, or an owner could downgrade a stud player for Coffee and a good player at the same position as the stud (example: Schaub for Coffee and Ben Roethlisberger).
If you can't get Coffee, here are some other rushers that might be available on waivers to help you out:
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City: A decent receiver out of the backfield and a definite change of pace guy for Larry Johnson, Charles has the speed to score on any play. If the Chiefs continue to struggle and play from behind, his playing time will increase.
Tashard Choice, Dallas: His reps will ultimately depend on Marion Barber and Felix Jones' reps, but Choice proved last year that he can play in the NFL. Probably shouldn't be the first guy on your wish list, but he has potential.
James Davis, Cleveland: Jamal Lewis' hamstring is ailing and the Browns' chances of winning several games is dwindling. Davis is a powerful runner who might give Cleveland a boost if they are without Lewis for more than a couple of weeks.
Jerome Harrison, Cleveland: I spoke highly of Harrison's game before Week 3 and he was decent, totaling 85 yards and owning a team-high five catches. He's a nifty player with some speed and good versatility, and the Browns would be wise to see what he can do with the football since he'd give them a new dimension to the offense.
Michael Robinson, San Francisco: Robinson won't play much, but he's the backup to Coffee now that Gore is out for a few games. He'll give you something.
Note: Matt Forte (leg) and Kevin Smith (shoulder) also got hurt in Week 3, though the extent of their injuries isn't known yet. Their backups, Adrian Peterson and Maurice Morris, respectively, could be decent one-week fill-ins for Gore, not to mention for Forte and Smith.
• The 49ers-Vikings game truly lived up to its billing as far as drama and good football goes, but how about neither Gore nor Adrian Peterson playing a huge role for their teams? Peterson was limited to under 100 total yards without an end zone visit and Gore got hurt. I suppose Brett Favre really does have some magic left in the tank, though I'd be shocked if he posts another 300-yard game this season. He didn't even have one last season before his shoulder starting bothering him.
• I hope Mike Singletary's prediction about meeting the Vikings again in the playoffs comes true. I'd love to see these two teams play again.
• I'm still not starting Favre as anything more than a one-week replacement, though.
• I was about ready to send Saints coach Sean Payton a rotten fruit basket after not giving Pierre Thomas a single carry in the first half. But then Thomas got in the game and dominated the Bills, rushing for an incredible 126 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns, totals that resemble his dominance from last season. But now is not the time to trade for him. Instead, look to lock him up after he struggles vs. the Jets in Week 4. The Saints go on bye in Week 5, have a toughie against the Giants and then have smooth sailing for several weeks. Thomas will be a monster, and the fresh fruit basket is on the way to Payton.
• Drew Brees has regressed dramatically, can't hit the down-field pass and is a shell of his former self. He can barely throw a ball after failing to score or throw for even 200 yards at Buffalo. Please trade him to my team in all leagues for Jason Campbell and LeRon McClain.
• I'm getting the feeling the Bengals are for real. Their defense has been good, and their offense is doing enough to win games. They really should be 3-0 but lost in Week 1 on "the tip play" that the Broncos cashed in on. And how about Cedric Benson finding room against the Steelers?! The only thing missing is Carson Palmer's big stats -- he has yet to throw for more than 250 yards in a game and has not played very well at home.
• I spoke too soon on Pierre Garcon. He's getting better right in front of our eyes, and he's enjoying single coverage as much as any decent receiver. If I'm Anthony Gonzalez, I tell my knee to heal up NOW so I don't lose my job permanently.
• Clinton Portis is part of the problem in Washington. There, I said it. It's hard to say bad things about great Miami Hurricanes, but Portis is clearly struggling.
• Yes, kids, we're really on the brink of calling Devin Hester a must-start Fantasy wide receiver regardless of the matchup, and teammate Johnny Knox might not be far behind. Through three weeks, Bears GM Jerry Angelo has been correct: Quarterbacks do make the receivers.
• Congratulations, this time to Josh McDaniels and the 3-0 Broncos. It's really nice for him and for the Broncos fans who have been through a lot this offseason, but we'll see what they're made of over their next five games: vs. Dallas, vs. New England, at San Diego, a bye, at Baltimore and vs. Pittsburgh. For those of you who own Knowshon Moreno and are flying high, you've been warned.
• More congratulations to the Lions for their first win in what seems like 21 months (oh, wait ...). Not only did the Lions do the right things on the field to defeat a drowning Redskins team, but they did the right thing off the field by high-fiving fans after the game. I smell a new tradition in Detroit ... one that the fans of the other 31 teams would become very jealous of.
Imagine that -- being envious of the Lions.
Dave is ready to either ignore or answer your Fantasy questions/comments/complaints. Drop him a line at email@example.com. If you do write him, be sure to put Attn: Fantasy & Reality in the subject field and include your full name, hometown and state. Or, if you can fit your Fantasy queries/dilemmas/vulgarities within 140 characters, you can follow Dave on Twitter @daverichard.