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Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Predictions sure to go right

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Every year we like to come up with a list of predictions that we expect to come true. These are bold statements, typically involving hot-button players.

Last year, we correctly predicted Stevan Ridley turning into a star, Andre Johnson returning to form and Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker having breakout campaigns. We also said Adrian Peterson would struggle, but that's another story.

Hey, we can't always be right. But I'm confident in the predictions listed here. Now it's up to you to decide if you're buying or selling these bold statements for 2013.

Tony Romo is the best bargain at quarterback

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo doesn't get the respect he deserves. He's an elite Fantasy passer, but he's being overlooked on Draft Day.

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Since Romo became a full-time starter in 2007 he has been a Top 8 Fantasy quarterback in every year but one, which was 2010 when he was limited to six games. He has four 4,000-yard campaigns over that span and five years with at least 26 touchdowns.

Last year, Romo passed for 4,903 yards, 28 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, and he also added a rushing score. From Week 10 on, which was when Dez Bryant dominated the NFL, Romo averaged 24.5 Fantasy points. If you project that over 16 games, Romo would have finished with 392 points in a standard league and been the No. 4 quarterback behind Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

But this season Romo is being drafted as the No. 11 quarterback based on Average Draft Position on CBSSports.com behind Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III. While all three of those quarterbacks have unlimited upside, Romo might be the better option.

The prediction here is Romo will provide the best bang for your buck on Draft Day. We all love his receiving corps of Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin, and DeMarco Murray has trouble staying healthy.

If you're smart, let someone else draft Luck, Kaepernick or Griffin, and you can wait on Romo. He will definitely reward you at the end of the year.

Colin Kaepernick won't be worth the price you have to pay

There's a lot to like about Kaepernick. He's a dynamic passer with a cannon for an arm and tremendous athleticism.

He's just missing one thing this year, which is vital for any quarterback – his best receiver.

The loss of Michael Crabtree (Achilles) for the majority of the season lowers Kaepernick's Fantasy value. He should not be drafted as a Top 10 quarterback, and ADP shows he's going No. 9. That's too high.

I can see Kaepernick still being a starting caliber Fantasy quarterback this year, but he's being drafted ahead of Griffin and Romo, which is too soon for me. I'd even take Eli Manning ahead of Kaepernick. The prediction here is Kaepernick will be a bust based on his value on Draft Day.

Yes, he has Vernon Davis, who should have an increased role compared to last year, and Anquan Boldin is a great addition. But Crabtree was Kaepernick's best weapon in 2012 by far, and he will be missed.

During Kaepernick's 10 starts last year, Crabtree had 61 catches for 880 yards and eight touchdowns. That accounts for 36.6 percent of Kaepernick's yardage and 57.1 percent of Kaepernick's touchdowns. He also targeted Crabtree 94 times. His next most-targeted receivers were Davis and Randy Moss, who tied at 39.

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Kaepernick will adjust without Crabtree, and coach Jim Harbaugh will find a way to put him in position to shine. But keep in mind the 49ers are a running team. They were seventh in the NFL in rushing attempts and just 44 away from being No. 1. That offensive line is meant to push people around, and San Francisco can run at will.

If you told me I could get wait on Kaepernick as my starter I'd be OK with it, and I'd be sure to pair him with a high-end upside backup. But he's going in Round 5, and there's no way I would draft him there. Neither should you.

DeMarco Murray and Darren McFadden will finally reward their owners

I take full responsibility for the failures of Murray and Darren McFadden last year. Put that on me. Don't worry, I can take it.

I touted Murray and McFadden as first-round picks, and they were drafted in the Top 11 in 2012 based on ADP. Neither finished anywhere near that because of injuries. Murray was limited to 10 games because of a foot sprain, and McFadden missed four games with an ankle problem.

It all comes down to injuries for both rushers. You can't argue their talent. When healthy, both produce, and I'm counting on them this season. The prediction is this will be the year Murray and McFadden reward their Fantasy owners for believing in them.

The reason I like both running backs this year is their value. Based on ADP you can draft Murray in Round 3 and McFadden in Round 4. I'll gamble on either one in those spots.

Murray did well last year when he played. He had five games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league with at least seven points in every outing. He averaged 9.6 Fantasy points a week, and if you project that over 16 games he would have finished with just under 154 points, which would have made him the No. 15 running back in standard leagues. The Cowboys are turning to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to call plays this season, and he could be a good thing for Murray. I consider him a Top 20 running back on Draft Day, and I'll gladly take him in Round 3.

As for McFadden, he had six games with double digits in Fantasy points of the 11 full games he played, and that was in a system ill-suited for his talents. He averaged just over nine Fantasy points a week. If you project that over 16 games, he would have finished with 145 points, which would have made him the No. 17 running back in standard leagues. This season, McFadden gets an offense catered to his skills, and even though the Raiders are in shambles, he should still produce – if he doesn't get hurt. That's a huge if since he's played 13 games just once in five years and missed 13 games the past two seasons. But again, it comes down to value, and he's worth it in Round 4. It also helps that he's in a contract year

It all comes down to your risk level with these two running backs. For me, I'll gamble on them – just not on the same team. That's too risky given their track record, and even I recognize that. But there's nothing wrong with gambling on talent, and these are two of the most talented running backs in the NFL. If only they can stay healthy.

Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe are headed for career years

I trust in Andy Reid. I expect him turn around the offense in Kansas City. And I'm counting on Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe this year.

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The prediction here is Bowe and Charles are headed for career seasons.

Start with Bowe. Once upon a time he was a standout Fantasy receiver on his way to stardom. In 2010, Bowe had 72 catches for 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has been chasing that kind of production the past two years, but he finally has a system in place with a capable quarterback to help him get there.

Alex Smith is arguably the best quarterback Bowe has ever played with. While he doesn't possess great arm strength, he's accurate, completing more than 70 percent of his passes last season. He'll put Bowe in the right position when his number is called – which should be often thanks to Reid.

Reid's offenses in Philadelphia were among the most pass-happy in the NFL, ranking in the Top 10 in passing eight times over the past nine years. The volume of targets Bowe will get should allow him to produce at a high level. He won't score 15 touchdowns, but he should set career highs in catches and yards. He's a high-end No. 2 receiver worth drafting in Round 4 or 5.

Charles will find it harder to set career highs because he's already been incredible, especially the way he played in 2012. Coming off a torn ACL, he set career highs in carries (285) and rushing yards (1,509) despite having three games with fewer than 10 carries.

But Reid could turn Charles into a beast. While Reid was in Philadelphia he had three primary running backs in Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy. That trio combined for six 1,000-yard rushing seasons, seven 1,500 total-yard seasons, nine seasons with at least 50 catches and five seasons with 10 total touchdowns.

The last two times Charles played a full season, which was 2010 and 2012, he had at least 1,700 total yards and six total touchdowns, but he's never had more than 45 catches in a season. Reid should help Charles catch 60-plus passes, and he's averaged 8.4 yards per catch in his career. He could get 500 yards receiving, and he if he rushes for 1,500 yards again he could be at 2,000 total yards.

He also could score 10 touchdowns in this offense, so you see where we're going with this. Charles is a Top 5 overall pick on Draft Day, and he just has to stay healthy to shine.

Reid is going to turn Bowe and Charles into superstars, and this will be a career year for both players.

Danny Amendola will have a better season than Wes Welker

You're on the clock in the fourth round of a Fantasy Football draft, any format, and your choices are Danny Amendola and Wes Welker. Who are you going to take?

Both are poised for great seasons. Both play in prolific passing attacks with premier quarterbacks. Both could be awesome, especially in point per reception formats.

I'm taking Amendola, and without hesitation. The prediction here is Amendola will be better than Welker in 2013.

I have both receivers ranked in the Top 20, but Amendola has more upside replacing Welker for the Patriots. Welker is going to see a downgrade in production going to the Broncos, while Amendola is poised for a breakout season catching passes from Tom Brady.

The key for Amendola is health since he's missed 20 games combined the past two seasons for a dislocated elbow, shoulder and foot problem. But when he's been on the field he's been productive. In 2010 he had 85 catches for 689 yards and three touchdowns, and last year before going down the first time in Week 5, he was on pace for 124 catches for 1,404 yards and eight touchdowns. Those are Welker-like stats.

Keep in mind Welker averaged 112 catches, 1,243 yards and six touchdowns a year in New England over six years. It's unrealistic for Amendola to hit those averages, but with Rob Gronkowski (back) hurt and a revamped receiving corps, Amendola could have a monster year.

Welker, meanwhile, has never shared a field with receivers the caliber of Thomas and Decker. His stats are going to dwindle. The Denver Post predicts Welker to catch 75 passes, and Welker also said if he's catching too many passes "that probably means we're in trouble."

If you give Welker his yards per catch last season, which was 11.5, he'll have 863 yards with 75 receptions. And the guy he's replacing, Brandon Stokley, only had 58 targets last season for 45 catches, 544 yards and five touchdowns. Welker is clearly an upgrade over Stokley, but Thomas had 141 targets and Decker had 122. You should still draft Welker to be a potential starter, but don't get overexcited with him going to Denver to play with Peyton Manning.

It should be a great year for both receivers, but Amendola has the higher ceiling. If he plays 16 games, which is obviously a big if, he will have a better season than Welker.

Hakeem Nicks, Jordy Nelson and Kenny Britt will rebound in 2013

Jordy Nelson and Hakeem Nicks gave us all a scare early in training camp with injuries, and heading into the fourth preseason game, Kenny Britt is battling swelling in his knee. It's concerning with these three receivers given their upside when healthy.

In 2012, all three were flops because of injuries. Nicks played through knee and foot problems, Nelson missed time for hamstring issues and Britt was still working his way back from a torn ACL in 2011.

But this year, all three receivers will rebound at a high level. The prediction here is Nelson, Nicks and Britt will again be standout options for Fantasy owners.

Start with Nelson, who was the No. 2 Fantasy receiver in 2011 with 68 catches for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. He fell off last year with just 49 catches for 745 yards and seven touchdowns and missed four games. He had knee surgery in training camp, but he returned to practice before the final preseason game and should be ready for Week 1. Put him back on your radar as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver worth drafting in Round 4 or 5.

In the 11 full games that Nelson played last season he still managed at least eight Fantasy points in a standard league in seven outings. Aaron Rodgers will continue to rely on Nelson this year, and when healthy he's the second-best Packers receiver after Randall Cobb and ahead of James Jones. I'm expecting Nelson to return as a high-caliber Fantasy option as long as he doesn't suffer a setback with his knee.

I expect the same thing from Nicks, who is in a contract year, giving him the ultimate motivation. He's out to prove that he's still among the best receivers in the NFL after an injury-plagued year in 2012. Nicks appeared in 13 games last season, but his leg injuries were problematic. He was limited to 53 catches for 692 yards and three touchdowns, with his yards and touchdowns career lows.

If Nicks is able to stay healthy and play 16 games he could return to being a Top 20 Fantasy receiver. Keep in mind before last year he had consecutive seasons of at least 76 catches, 1,050 yards and seven touchdowns with 18 total touchdowns over that span. It's risky to count on Nicks given his injury history, but I'd gamble on him in Round 4 or 5 based on his upside. Eli Manning and the Giants need a big year from Nicks, and I'm counting on him to deliver.

Britt is a little trickier because he doesn't have the track record of the other two guys mentioned here. He has been plagued by injuries to his knee and hamstring throughout his career, and he's been in trouble off the field almost annually since entering the NFL in 2009. This year, however, he's healthy barring the latest knee swelling, which is expected to be nothing, and he's only been in the news for positive reports. He's entering a contract year, so Britt is saying and doing all the right things.

The last time I was excited about Britt was his rookie season, and now I would draft him as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver. Britt has shown flashes of his potential before. In 2011, before he suffered a torn ACL in Week 3, he was on pace for 91 catches, 1,541 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also scored nine touchdowns in just 12 games in 2010.

Having the inconsistent Jake Locker at quarterback is a concern, and the Titans are still a run-first team. But Britt has the talent to be a difference maker, and he should land in your lap in Round 8 or 9. If he stays healthy he should reward you with a big season

Antonio Brown will be better than his predecessor Mike Wallace

Antonio Brown has spent the past three years in Mike Wallace's shadow. But now Wallace has left the Steelers for the Dolphins, and this is Brown's chance to shine.

The Steelers made their choice last season when they gave Brown a contract extension and allowed Wallace to walk. We'll find out if they made the right decision.

The prediction here is Brown will be the better Fantasy option in 2013. Brown has yet to put together a standout season. He was good in 2011 with 69 catches for 1,108 yards and two touchdowns, but he failed to build on that performance last year. He set a career high with five touchdowns, including four in a row to close the season, but his catches (66) and yards (787) declined.

We're counting on Brown to improve in all areas as he becomes the No. 1 target for the Steelers. Not only is Wallace gone, but Heath Miller (ACL) could be limited to start the season. And if Miller is out, Brown could see a significant uptick in targets.

Last year, Wallace and Miller combined for 36 red-zone targets and came away with 16 touchdowns. That's hard to replace, and Brown should benefit with the higher touchdown potential. He should also see an increase with more overall targets since he had just 106 last year. Wallace led the Steelers with 119, but we wouldn't be shocked if Brown gets north of 150 targets. He should get back to 1,000-plus receiving yards like he had in 2011, and he has the chance for 75-plus catches. Brown has the potential to be a Top 20 Fantasy receiver.

Wallace, meanwhile, has been trending down. His receiving yards have declined from 1,257 yards in 2010 to 836 last year. His saving grace has been at least eight touchdowns in every year over that span. But Wallace also disappears during the season. Last year, Wallace had just one game with a touchdown in his final six outings and two games with 100 receiving yards on the year. The same thing happened to him in 2011 when he had one game with a touchdown in his final seven outings and four games with 100 receiving yards.

There's a pattern here, and maybe he changes that with a change of scenery, but you're going to get frustrated with Wallace. Some weeks he'll be awesome and other games he'll disappear. The Dolphins need Wallace to improve their passing game, but it's hard to count on him as a must-start Fantasy option. He's still too boom or bust, and he gets a downgrade in quarterback from Ben Roethlisberger to Ryan Tannehill.

If you consider him a No. 3 Fantasy receiver then you're in good shape, but if you think going from Pittsburgh to Miami will help his value then you're mistaken. You also should realize that Brown has more upside. If you have to decide between the two, the choice is easy. Brown is your guy.

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

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Player News
QB struggles begin to impact Cardinals DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:13 am ET) The Cardinals DST scored just one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues Week 16 against Seattle, interrupting a stretch of 10 games in which it averaged 15.1, and the Cardinals' offensive woes may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, they've been unable to find a decent quarterback since losing Carson Palmer to injury in Week 10. Backup Drew Stanton at least mounted some kind of threat, but with him sidelined by a sprained knee in Week 16, the Cardinals had to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. He turned the ball over twice without once leading his team into the end zone, completing less than half of his passes in the process.

The quick trips back to the sideline gave the Seahawks more chances to pile up points and yards, and they did, finishing with 35 and 596. Only one other time have the Cardinals allowed more than 30 points in a game, and the 596 yards were a season high. Worse yet, they were lacking in big plays, recording one sack with no takeaways.

Fortunately, the Cardinals will take on a struggling 49ers offense in Week 17, so even if Lindley is back under center, the DST at least has a chance of a respectable performance. Still, if you've been relying on it all season, you might want to make sure there isn't an appealing matchups play on the waiver wire.


Seahawks DST can't be stopped
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:04 am ET) The Seahawks DST had another dominant performance Week 16 at Arizona, continuing a nine-week run that has made it once again arguably the top unit in Fantasy. During that stretch, it has averaged 16.2 Fantasy points, allowing 11.9 points on 231.3 yards.

It allowed only six points on 216 yards in Week 16, recording four sacks and one interception. Of the Seahawks' 33 sacks this season, 20 have come in their last five games.

Clearly, they had a favorable matchup in this one, but they also shut down the Eagles in Week 14. You don't have any reason to shy away from the Seahawks DST against St. Louis in Week 17.


Kenbrell Thompkins comes out of nowhere
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:58 am ET) After making only modest contributions since coming over from the Patriots in Week 6, Raiders wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins suddenly emerged as quarterback Derek Carr's favorite target Week 16 against Buffalo, catching five passes for 90 yards. He hadn't caught even one pass since Week 13, and his previous high in yardage was 47.

Of course, you should know how this goes by now. Fellow wide receivers James Jones and Andre Holmes have both had their stretches of Fantasy relevance this season, as has tight end Mychal Rivera. The Raiders have a multitude of viable receiving targets, but their roles aren't so clear, which makes the task of picking the most impactful from week to week next to impossible.

In other words, you'd need to play in an especially deep league to take a flier on Thompkins for the season's final week.


Latavius Murray trustworthy up to a point
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 am ET) If his 23 carries Week 14 against San Francisco didn't convince you, Latavius Murray's 23 carries Week 16 against Buffalo should make the message loud and clear: He is the Raiders' top running back, and they're putting more faith in him than they ever did Darren McFadden.

Granted, it hasn't translated to much production yet, but the 49ers and Bills are two of the toughest defenses against the run. Unfortunately, Denver, the Raiders' Week 17 opponent, is ranked even higher at both.

Can you trust Murray to get his carries? He's gotten them two of the last three weeks, so most likely, yes. And with 20-plus chances, there's always the chance he breaks a long one. But the matchup will make it difficult.

You'd like to start him given his ever-increasing role, but you shouldn't force him into your lineup if you have two (or maybe three) respectable running backs already.


One way or another, Fred Jackson gets his
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:44 am ET) Trailing early Week 16 at Oakland with their playoff hopes on the line, the Bills didn't stick with the running game for long, attempting only three runs in the second half. But in a way, that worked to running back Fred Jackson's advantage. He's such a good pass-catcher out of the backfield that he still topped 100 total yards, doing so for the first time since returning from a groin injury in Week 12.

Even with the return of C.J. Spiller from a long-term shoulder injury, Jackson still led the Bills in carries, but with only six for 10 yards. He also led the team in catches with nine for 93 yards. He had 10 catches just two weeks ago, so clearly, he's a PPR stud.

Is he worth starting in standard leagues as well? Well, he's also gotten 20 carries twice in five games since returning. He hasn't been as effective on the ground as through the air, but yards are yards, however he gets them.

Their matchup Week 17 at New England will probably force the Bills to go pass-heavy again, so unless you're stacked at running back, you can find a spot for Jackson in your lineup.


Desperation fuels Kyle Orton's performance
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:35 am ET) Bills quarterback Kyle Orton didn't have the most efficient day throwing the ball Week 16 at Oakland, but from a Fantasy perspective, it was a productive one. He threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns but also had two interceptions.

What's crazy, though, is that 196 of those yards came in the second half. The Bills were trailing a winnable game with their playoff hopes on the line, and their desperation showed. Unfortunately, that desperation also contributed to the second of Orton's interceptions.

The Bills have been eliminated, so no matter how much they're trailing Week 17 at New England, they probably won't be quite as desperate. You can expect more typical numbers from Orton -- maybe about 250 yards with one or two scores -- even if the matchup appears to be a favorable one, making him a player better left for two-quarterback leagues.


Kenny Britt clearly better with Shaun Hill
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:27 am ET) Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt caught a season-high nine passes on a season-high 11 targets Week 16 against the Giants, but his 103 receiving yards actually weren't a season high.

That's because he had 128, along with a touchdown, Week 11 against the Broncos.

That was Shaun Hill's first game back under center. Week 16, obviously, was his latest one. In the six games since Hill reclaimed the role, Britt has averaged 3.8 catches for 66.3 yards. In the nine games before then, he averaged 2.3 catches for 34.7 yards.

Britt has been especially good lately, averaging 73.3 yards in his last three games. Hill has also been fond of Stedman Bailey, but he doesn't seem to have a clear preference for one or the other.

Of course, the Rams passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain both, so if you're going to target Britt or Bailey off the waiver wire, make sure it's in a deeper league. You wouldn't want to roll the dice on either in the season's final week if you can help it.


Andre Williams showing more ability
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:19 am ET) Carrying the load for the third straight game with Rashad Jennings sidelined by an ankle injury Week 16 at St. Louis, Giants rookie running back Andre Williams delivered his second 100-yard effort during that stretch, picking up 110 yards on 26 carries. Of course, just like in Week 14, it wasn't the steadiest performance. He had a 50-yard run in that one en route to a career-best 131 yards. He had a 45-yard run en route to his 110 yards in this one.

But that's true for most 100-yard rushing performances. The best backs break long runs occasionally, which makes up for all the 2- and 3-yard gains in between. It's easy to discount Williams' performance because of a long run here or a long run there because he's been so bad on a per-carry basis this season (take that 45-yard run away, and he averaged only 2.6 yards per carry -- oh noes!), but the fact is those long runs count, too. And he barreled over a couple of tacklers to complete it, which was nice to see.

Because Williams is short on receiving ability, his numbers don't look so great when he doesn't break a long run, but with all the carries he's getting now, his chances are better than not of breaking one. He's worth starting in standard leagues Week 17 against Philadelphia.


Rueben Randle not overshadowed for once
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:08 am ET) Since the emergence of rookie Odell Beckham in Week 9, and especially since his even bigger emergence in Week 12, wide receiver Rueben Randle has been an afterthought in the Giants passing game, averaging 2.3 catches for 31.8 yards in the four games leading up to Week 16 at St. Louis. But quarterback Eli Manning finally had enough yards to go around in that one, delivering Beckham his usual eight grabs for 148 yards and still finding Randle on six passes for 132 yards.

Randle even caught a touchdown pass, his first since Week 5. Of course, Beckham caught two and is now up to eight in his last five games, averaging 9.6 catches for 131.4 yards during that stretch.

You see the problem here, don't you? Manning was able to sustain both Beckham and Randle in this one, but that's only because he threw for a season-high 391 yards. If he regresses to a more modest total Week 17 against Philadelphia, we all know Randle is the one taking a back seat. Beckham has other-worldly talent, and Manning is smart enough to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

Of course, the Giants will probably have to throw a lot to keep pace with the Eagles, which bodes well for Randle, but you should still treat him as no more than a No. 3 wide receiver in Fantasy.


Odell Beckham making Eli Manning a stud
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:58 am ET) Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham had another eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns Week 16 at St. Louis, which has become par for the course for him. It was his second straight game and third game in five with more than 140 receiving yards and multiple scores.

What you may not have noticed, though, is that quarterback Eli Manning has taken off during that same stretch. He had a season-high 391 yards and three touchdowns in Week 16, completing 25 of 32 passes. Over his last five games, he has averaged 297.2 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.

It stands to reason, of course. Beckham couldn't be putting up all those numbers without someone throwing him the ball. This may be one of those rare cases of the wide receiver making the quarterback as opposed to the other way around. Beckham is clearly a special talent, and Manning has made a point to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

It's reason enough to give Manning another chance Week 17 against Philadelphia if you've been suffering with Matthew Stafford or Colin Kaepernick and are somehow still alive in spite of it.


 
 
 
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