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Fantasy & Reality: A tale of two receivers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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There's really not a lot in common between Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinal with four Week 2 targets, and Danny Amendola, the Rams receiver who posted career-highs in targets, catches and yards on the same day. One was drafted to be a No. 1 receiver, the other is playing like one. And unless this is the first time you're reading a Fantasy Football column, you know who is who.

Through two weeks Fitzgerald has five catches for 67 yards. Amendola had slightly more yardage on the same number of catches in Week 1 before exploding last Sunday. A look into these two receivers could shed some light on what to expect the rest of the season.

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Amendola is a wonderful story after a major elbow injury capsized his 2011 season. Playing in a role more or less like that of Wes Welker, the Rams did a phenomenal job finding ways to make him effective. Whether he lined up in the slot or the outside, his route tree branched out in every direction. Of his 15 catches on Sunday, only five were five or more yards downfield, but one included a deep crosser nearly 20 yards past the line of scrimmage where quarterback Sam Bradford found him wide open. He took it another 36 yards for the longest catch of his career. Another impressive play counted on the scoreboard when he posted up Gronk-style in front of a Redskins linebacker for a 1-yard touchdown dart from Bradford. Several other catches involved him punishing zone coverage and getting open in space -- the very thing the Rams likely want to do with him as much as possible.

For Fitzgerald, the problem was that he wasn't utilized enough. He ran pretty good routes -- there were a couple of occasions where he slacked off but those were mainly on runs (check out the Andre Roberts touchdown to see Fitzgerald become more observer than player) -- but he also received the kind of coverage big, elite receivers with deep speed demand. And when he was open, he went unnoticed. There were several plays where Fitzgerald had shed his coverage but his quarterback didn't find him. There's a reason why.

It should come as no surprise to learn that Fitzgerald is very much handicapped by his quarterback, Kevin Kolb, who is himself handicapped by a sub-standard offensive line that doesn't protect very well. Against the Patriots, Kolb was seemingly focused on getting the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible, thus eliminating the mid- and long-range passes from Fitzgerald's arsenal. There was one play where Fitzgerald was singled up on a deep route and Kolb went in his direction, but it was off by several yards. That was one of three deep pass attempts Kolb threw at New England; everything else was basically within 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Making matters worse, Kolb only threw at Fitzgerald four times (five if you include a penalized play) over 27 official attempts. That's a pretty crummy ratio considering Fitzgerald's status as an elite receiver. You'd think Kolb learned to lean on Fitzgerald after he threw at him three of his first four pass attempts when he replaced John Skelton in Week 1, but that wasn't the case Week 2. This is an issue Amendola doesn't have with his quarterback.

The funny thing is that if the Cardinals took some of the routes the Rams use with Amendola, he'd become more effective. Fitzgerald ran several inside routes against the Patriots -- one such route resulted in a completion that was negated by an offensive line penalty -- but it's hard to keep Fitzgerald involved if he's not in Kolb's vision, and he simply isn't there when Kolb is looking to get rid of the ball as fast as he can because the pocket is collapsing.

So until Kolb has more time to throw, or until he learns to lean on Fitzgerald, or until Fitzgerald starts running more short slant and dig routes that take away his gamebreaking abilities, he's going to have a hard time succeeding. When you consider his matchup against the blitz-heavy Eagles in Week 3, it's enough to make you think seriously about benching him.

Amendola, on the other hand, should continue being a factor for the Rams until defenses get a beat on how to contain him. Maybe all it takes is press coverage from the snap to throw Amendola off his route and throw off his timing with Bradford. But until Amendola's numbers begin to sink, it's not worth worrying about. Additionally, the Rams can always find ways for Amendola to get around the jam; his quick and can still get open. His matchup against the Bears in Week 3 should provide some insight as Chicago's cornerbacks have played well and will likely bracket Amendola to keep him contained.

Both the Cardinals and the Rams aren't expected to blow the doors off of anyone, in fact they'll probably be in a lot of competitive games or playing from behind. That favors the receivers. Expect Amendola to remain relevant in Fantasy -- though probably not at a level like we saw in Week 2. As for Fitzgerald, keeping expectations in check is probably a very good idea, at least until something changes in the Arizona passing and pass protection areas. It does help Fitzgerald's case that his upcoming schedule is about to get easier.

Fantasy & Reality

Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.

Fantasy: Eric Decker will do well against the Falcons' banged up secondary. Frankly, Decker hasn't done great this season, but he does have 15 targets. That's enough to tell you that he's doing something to catch Peyton Manning's attention. He came close to coming up with a long catch against the Falcons and even was targeted in the end zone. Either of those misses hit and no one's worried about Decker. He's not going away -- don't lose patience with him.

Reality: Reggie Bush hasn't slowed down one iota. I figured at the very least Bush would score and total 80 yards against the Raiders in Week 2. Nope. He scored twice and totaled nearly 200 yards! A lot of people might be comfortable saying his best numbers of the season came against Oakland but it wouldn't be a surprise if he put up some hot stats against the Bengals in Week 5, the Rams in Week 6, the Colts in Week 9 and the Titans in Week 10. There are some iffy matchups in between (the Jets in Week 3 qualifies) but nothing is as tough as going up against the Texans in Houston in Week 1, and he still topped 100 total yards. If he's on the field he should be in your Fantasy lineup.

Fantasy: Trent Richardson's knee will be a concern all year. After watching his game against the Bengals I can assure you that while his body could get beaten up over the course of the year, the knee issue he had in August doesn't seem to affect him at all. His offensive line is pretty good, he himself is a tough guy to bring down and the Browns might actually be developing an offense. I love his chances to keep it up against the Bills in Week 3.

Reality: Ben Roethlisberger is the best buy-low quarterback out there. Though he's averaging just 7.32 yards per pass attempt through two games, Big Ben is starting to look like a capable stat producer for those owners unsure about their options at quarterback. He's helped big time by Mike Wallace, who has shown minimal signs of rust since coming back from his holdout. Antonio Brown remains very relevant in the offense and Heath Miller has stepped back into relative prominence. With the Steelers run game rendered useless at this point, there's probably a good chance Roethlisberger will continue to throw often. His upcoming schedule: at Oakland, a bye, vs. Philadelphia, at Tennessee, at Cincinnati, vs. Washington, at the N.Y. Giants, vs. Kansas City. One ugly matchup in the bunch, and no one will ask for much in return for him.

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Fantasy: Martellus Bennett is a career underachiever who won't help Fantasy owners. I'm dead wrong on Bennett. The guy was garbage in Dallas -- as every Cowboys fan will tell you -- but Eli Manning has taken to him as a legit red-zone threat. Get this: Bennett had five passes thrown to him in the end zone last week against the Bucs. It took five tries to connect but on the fifth he scored. Yes, drop whatever pile of tight end junk you took in Round 12 to get him.

Reality: Robert Griffin III is amazing, but can he last? After two games the Fantasy world is in love with RG3. It's totally understandable. But the one concern I have is whether or not he can take the physical beating over 16 games. Take a look at him: He's not as big as, well, pretty much anyone at quarterback in the NFL. He's pretty slender. Redskin Nation as well as Fantasy owners shouldn't be worried to the point that they trade him away for nothing (but trading him is something you could consider), but I'd carry a backup if I had Griffin as my starter.

Impactful injuries

Aaron Hernandez, tight end, New England: No surprise, the Patriots are being coy about what the injury is and how long he'll be out. Whether it's a high-ankle sprain or a low-ankle sprain, the fact remains his Fantasy owners have sprained lineups. The good news is that finding an alternative won't be a big deal. The bad news is that the alternate might be in there for a while. It's also a blow to the Patriots' passing attack, which became a little easier to defend with Hernandez sidelined.

Ahmad Bradshaw, running back, Giants: Hopefully his neck sprain doesn't keep him out for too long. The hunch is that we'll see a lot more of Andre Brown and David Wilson against the Panthers. What happens after that will hinge on Bradshaw's health. Hopefully he's back for Week 4 at Philadelphia.

Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver, Eagles: Maclin banged up his already-hurt hip. He could miss a game, though it's dependent on his practice schedule this week. We'll see.

Brian Orakpo, linebacker; and Adam Carriker, defensive end, Redskins: Replacing both guys is a tall order for Mike Shanahan. No one should fear the matchups against Washington until further notice. That could help the Redskins' passing attack as they play in competitive (potentially high-scoring) games, by the way.

DST sleepers for Week 3

Last week's DST sleepers: Bengals (12 points), Raiders (1 measly point), Chargers (12 points)

Bills at Browns ... So far, DSTs going up against Cleveland have enjoyed double-digits in Fantasy points (18 for Philadelphia, 12 for Cincy). Buffalo put up 21 Fantasy points at home against Kansas City.
Chargers vs. Falcons ... Big risk going with a DST playing the Falcons, but those Dirty Birds are flying cross-country after playing on Monday. The Chargers held Carson Palmer to 297 yards and held Jake Locker to 174 yards in their two games. They are a little light on the sacks with just three in two games, but their defense should be fairly decent. If you're desperate they're not bad.
Saints vs. Chiefs ... I don't know if this DST can be trusted, but the matchup can be. The Bills DST had 21 Fantasy points against them in Week 2 and the Falcons had 11 in Week 1. Again, a desperation choice.
Colts vs. Jaguars ... Chuck Pagano's group has 10 Fantasy points in consecutive weeks and need only contain Maurice Jones-Drew to remain viable in Week 3. Stop me if you've read about starting a DST if you're desperate ...

Two more things

• We talked this preseason about Brandon Lloyd coming to New England and taking targets away from the other Patriots receivers. Well, he's not alone. Not only is Lloyd the leader in targets for the Patriots through two games with 21 (Gronkowski has 15), but Stevan Ridley has emerged as a reliable running back and has taken 39 carries and five receptions in two games. There were only three instances of BenJarvus Green-Ellis having at least 18 carries in back-to-back games with the Patriots and they came back in 2010, mainly late in the year. Laurence Maroney did it once in 2009, Sammy Morris did it once in 2007. It's rare for Bill Belichick's offenses to be run heavy but Ridley could continue to hawk carries, given that he's averaging 5.0 yards per carry and bringing back a dimension to the Patriots offense they haven't had in years.

And it could mean fewer opportunities for everyone in the Patriots offense, including Tom Brady.

• Reporters asked Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson about their rushing woes after two games. McFadden said he's comfortable with the Raiders' new zone-blocking scheme and expects to "start popping" soon. Johnson pointed fingers, saying "people need to step up and do their job."

I think both backs will ultimately be OK. But one guy's accepting the issue and believes he'll do well soon. The other is seemingly calling out teammates and perhaps even his coach. Which one would you rather have on your Fantasy team?

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Wes Welker expected to be suspended for Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker will be suspended for Week 1, according to the Denver Post.

Mike Klis initially reported that there was a chance Welker's suspension wouldn't kick in until after Week 1, but issued an update later. While the NFL has yet to officially announce the suspension, the Broncos have been informed of the move. The team is expected to send out a press release confirming the information Tuesday.


Report: Wes Welker may play Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Update: Welker will be suspended for Week 1, according to the Denver Post. The team is expected to send out a press release shortly.

Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker may play Week 1 against the Colts, according to the Denver Post

Welker is expected to be suspended for four games after reportedly testing positive for amphetamines. The league, however, has not officially announced the suspension. Suspensions are typically announced by Tuesday, according to Pro Football Talk. Since the NFL has yet to announce the move, it's thought Welker could be available for Week 1, but would serve his suspension once the NFL announced the move. 

There are a lot of uncertainties regarding the situation at this time. The club expects Welker to be available, provided he passes concussion protocal, but it remains to be seen how the NFL will handle this suspension. 


Randall Cobb to be tested Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb should be in for a tough test Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Cobb caught just three passes during the preseason, picking up 34 yards and a score. His lack of work shouldn’t be a huge concern, as the Packers offense doesn’t need any fine-tuning. The main thing here is that Cobb is 100 percent healthy after playing in just six games last season due to a leg injury.

His Week 1 production could be dampened by a strong Seahawks DST. Seattle was exceptional against the pass last season, holding opposing wide receivers to just 14.79 Fantasy points per game. That figure was the second-lowest rate in the league. On top of that, Cobb may have to deal with Richard Sherman, who is considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Sherman may spend the majority of the game stopping Jordy Nelson, but he could find his way over to Cobb on a few occasions.

Cobb’s versatility makes him a strong candidate to be moved around the Packers’ offense. If Green Bay can create some nice matchups, and Sherman is preoccupied with Nelson, Cobb could be in for a better game than people might expect. 

Despite that, expectations should be tempered. Seattle’s DST was strong last season, and while Green Bay boasts a strong offense, things should be muted Week 1. Cobb is a fine start, considering his upside, but he carries more risk this week due to the matchup.


Jordy Nelson in for a tough test Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson should be in for a difficult test Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Nelson had a quiet preseason, catching just two passes for 19 yards. One of those catches wound up being a touchdown. Despite the lack of action during the preseason, Nelson’s upside with a healthy Aaron Rodgers is well-known among Fantasy owners. That said, he’s going to have to work for everything he gets against Seattle.

The Seahawks rated as the best defense in the league last year. They were strong in every facet of the game. Seattle held opposing wide receivers to just 14.79 Fantasy points per game, the second-lowest figure in the league. To make things even more difficult for Nelson, he’ll likely be covered by Richard Sherman. Sherman, by many counts, is arguably the best corner in the game. 

Still, it’s tough to pass up Nelson’s upside with a healthy Rodgers. The Packers boast an overabundance of weapons, and it’s possible moving Nelson around before the play could put him in a more favorable matchup. Even if Sherman covers him the entire game, Nelson is a good enough receiver to make some noise. While he doesn’t have a great matchup, Week 1 is not the time to take a player as good as Nelson out of your Fantasy lineup. 


Eddie Lacy to have his hands full Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers running back Eddie Lacy will have his hands full Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Lacy is coming off a tremendous rookie season, in which he rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He didn’t get a ton of use during the preseason, but seemed to be in midseason form. Lacy rushed for 61 yards on 11 carries, good for a 5.5 average over two preseason games. He also managed to run in a touchdown.

Though he looked strong in the preseason, Lacy should have a tough time against the Seahawks Week 1. Seattle allowed just 12.32 Fantasy points per game to opposing running backs last season. That was the second-lowest rate in the league. While the Seahawks lost three defensive linemen during the offseason, the club is thought to still have the top-rated Fantasy defense.

In many circles, Lacy was considered a strong Fantasy pick after the elite four running backs were off the board. With that in mind, it’s unlikely he’ll be benched in many leagues Week 1. There are better matchups out there, but Lacy is a tough player to sit. Given Green Bay’s offensive capabilities, he’s still a decent start even against the best Fantasy defenses. 


Aaron Rodgers taking on a tough task Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has his work cut out for him Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Rodgers entered the season as one of the top Fantasy options at quarterback, but will take on the best defense in the league. Last season, Seattle held Fantasy quarterbacks to just 10.89 points per game. That was the lowest rate in the league. The Seahawks DST ranked tops in the league in limiting points and yards last year. On top of that, the team forced the most turnovers.

While Seattle lost three members of the defensive line during the offseason, the club is still expected to have one of NFL’s best defenses. If Seattle struggles to get to Rodgers, that could open things up for the Packers offense.

Given the cost to acquire Rodgers, in a snake or auction draft, he’s probably going to start for most Fantasy teams despite his tough Week 1 matchup. While there are better quarterback options for this week, Rodgers still has a strong potential for dominance. He’s healthy and still has a bevy of weapons at his disposal. It might not be Rodgers best game of the season, but he’s shown that he can put up numbers against even the best defensive clubs.


Percy Harvin looking to start the year on the right foot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin is looking at a strong matchup Week 1 against the Packers.

A quiet preseason was a good preseason for Harvin. After missing nearly all of last season due to a hip injury, Harvin was able to play in all but the final game of the preseason. He missed the fourth game due to a personal issue, and not because of an injury. Harvin caught seven balls for 92 yards in August.

The Packers didn’t boast a strong pass defense last season. The team allowed opposing wide receivers to average 22.94 Fantasy points per game. That wasn’t one of the worst rates in the league, but it was below-average. The team attempted to address this during the offseason, taking Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round. Despite that, there’s no guarantee the team will perform better in the defensive backfield.

Despite the fact that Harvin is a five-year veteran, there are questions about how he’ll be used with the Seahawks. While Harvin was able to play during the club’s playoff run, it was unclear whether he was actually fully healthy last year. Harvin has shown the ability to be a game-changing wide receiver, so it’s assumed the Seahawks will find ways to get arguably their best playmaker the ball. The club has been been incredibly run-heavy over the past few seasons, but a healthy Harvin could make them more balanced. 


Marshawn Lynch ready to roll Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is looking to get off to a good start Week 1 against the Packers.

Lynch had an abbreviated preseason, carrying the ball just three times for 16 yards. That’s probably not a bad thing considering his high workload over the past couple years. Lynch also had a brief holdout during the offseason, but reported to camp in shape, and should be ready to roll.

The Packers weren’t particularly strong against the run last season, giving up 19.18 Fantasy points per week to running backs. That was the eighth worst figure in the league. While the team tried to shore up things defensively during the offseason, the loss of B.J. Raji should make it easier for teams to gash the Packers up the middle. 

With that in mind, Lynch should be a strong start. The Seahawks modus operandi the past couple years has been the run game, and that probably won’t change now. There are concerns about Lynch’s workload and lack of preseason reps, but his pedigree and matchup make this a strong start Week 1. 


Russell Wilson ready to shine Week 1?
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson begins his post-Super Bowl year with a strong matchup against the Packers Week 1. 

Wilson performed well during the preseason, completing 78.6 percent of his passes. He threw for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Wilson also managed three rushing touchdowns to cap off a strong preseason.

His ability to put up solid Fantasy numbers should be tested Week 1. The Packers did not boast a great defense against the pass last season. The team allowed quarterbacks to score 20.65 Fantasy points, which was the seventh worst clip in the league. Green Bay has been proactive in resolving the issue, drafting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round, but it’s unclear how much better the team’s defensive backs will perform. 

The bigger question will be whether the Seahawks open up the offense for Wilson this season. With Marshawn Lynch out for much of the preseason, Wilson showed the ability to carry the team with his arm. Now that Lynch is back, the team could opt to get back to conservative play-calling with the franchise quarterback. Wilson has all the makings of a strong matchup here, but could get the short end of the stick if the Seahawks pound Lynch.


Matt Forte should live up to billing in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Bears running back Matt Forte was ranked as a top five Fantasy running back going into the season, and he falls in the top five in both weekly running back rankings from CBSSports.com experts. After setting career highs in rushing yardage, rushing touchdowns, receptions and receiving yardage in 2013, will Forte get this season started off on the right foot in Week 1 against the Bills?

While Buffalo put together a strong defense last season, the team's particular strength was against the pass. Rushers were able to gain 4.4 yards per carry against the Bills, leaving them 23rd in the league in the category. While the Bills did a good job defending against pass-catching backs last season, they now have to play without linebackers Kiko Alonso (season-ending injury) and Nigel Bradham (suspended for Week 1) as well as safety Jairus Byrd (signed with New Orleans).

New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's defense was just average defending passes against running backs in Detroit last season. Forte has been excellent against Schwartz, who was the head coach of the Lions from 2009 through 2013. He has rushed for 1,005 yards and averaged 4.74 yards per carry while catching 38 passes for 360 yards in 12 career games against the Lions. Ten of those contests came with Schwartz at the helm, and Forte should be able to continue giving the Bills defensive coordinator nightmares this Sunday.


 
 
 
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