Sat Sep 21 11:36am ET
By CHARLIE WIEGERT
The big news, and the advice you’re probably looking for, is what to do at quarterback. With injuries and changes, there are at least six new quarterbacks to choose from. The biggest two are the season ending injuries to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the six-to-nine week injury to New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. First, I must go on record as stating I’m not a fan of rookie quarterbacks and history tells us not to have big expectations.
If you’re going to claim a quarterback on the waiver wire this week, here is how I rank the candidates.
Mason Rudolph would be my first choice. With Big Ben out for the year, the job is his to keep and he’ll be given a bigger leash than the other candidates. He gets an interesting game to start with, although he played most of last last Sunday’s game. I expect a shootout with San Francisco with the home team prevailing in the end. The 49ers defensive strength is stopping the run, so James Conner, if he plays, will have tough going. Keeping the chains moving will be the passing game and lucky for Rudolph, he has a full complement of receivers ready to go, so I’m predicting 250-plus passing yards with two touchdowns.
I’m not a Teddy Bridgewater fan, but the job for next six-to-nine weeks appears to be his. I think Taysom Hill could be a better quarterback, and if Bridgewater falters, he could get a chance. I also expect to see him more involved in gadget plays. Seattle’s secondary leaves a lot to be desired and Michael Thomas can make a quarterback look good, so he could be fine this week.
Daniel Jones has replaced Eli Manning in New York, but it doesn’t change how bad the Giants are. He will bing some new enthusiasm, but his receivers are hurt and weak. He can’t throw every pass to Evan Engram, and the Tampa Bay defense must have a plan to stop him and Saquon Barkley. My guess is he struggles as you’d expect a rookie would.
Luke Falk. Seriously, I feel sorry for him and his debut could be really ugly. The Jets are hurting and the Patriots defense is playing at a high level. Granted, it was the Dolphins last week. Don’t expect anything from Falk and if you have to play him, I’m sorry for you and your team!
Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew showed he could be a respectable addition from his showing Thursday night. He started well with two touchdown passes in the first quarter, and the Jags seemed to coast from there. Otherwise, he could have put up bigger numbers. But in a pinch and with the right matchup, he could be serviceable.
You’ll need to check Sunday morning, but there’s a good chance Kyle Allen will be playing in place of the injured Cam Newton. I don’t think it will be that much of a downgrade if he plays, and he has a solid group of receivers. The Cardinals defense has been vulnerable the first two weeks and Christian McCaffery will keep them off balance, so Allen will have time to succeed. Here’s a good sleeper if he plays.
Speaking of quarterbacks, this is the week Jameis Winston should show coach Bruce Arians he’s his man. After two weak games, he gets a Giants defense that can’t seem to stop anyone. He is my second sleeper. I expect him to have a really big day.
And it appears Josh Rosen will be replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick in Miami. Sorry Josh, I hope you don’t get hurt.
Quarterbacks: The game of the week has to be a Baltimore at Kansas City. Lamar Jackson is going against Patrick Mahomes. If this is the shootout everyone expects, both quarterbacks will put up huge numbers. My other picks to click are Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen against Cincinnati and Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott against the woeful Miami Dolphins. Play all your Cowboys in a blowout. They’ll all get a share of the fun.
Running Backs: Of course it starts with “Zeke” against the Dolphins, I don’t need to tell you that. And the next four are all household names, Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook and Austin Ekeler (Who needs that Gordon guy?). All have great matchups against teams who have not been able to stop the run this year.
Here’s a couple sleeper plays if injuries open up a start for them. Jaylen Samuels could be a great pick if James Conner (he did practice in full Thursday) can’t go for Pittsburgh at San Francisco. And Darwin Thompson will get the ball a lot in Kansas City if LeSean McCoy and Damien Williams can’t answer the bell. Although most of Thompson’s production will come by way of the pass as Baltimore is hard to run on.
Keep an eye on Indianapolis because Marlon Mack has come up lame in practice this week. Jordan Wilkins would be the man and should have some success against the Falcons.
Another running back who has something to prove this week is Devonta Freeman. He’s been outplayed by Ito Smith in the first two games, but the Colts defense should give him room to roam.
Wide Receivers: The Eagles passing defense is 31st, so who is Matthew Stafford going to be throwing to? I think Kenny Golladay has a big day, and Danny Amendola will see his share of targets, too.
Adam Theilen should torch the Oakland defense, especially if the Vikings open things up a little bit. This is a great opportunity for Kirk Cousins to prove he can get the job dob done. The Giants pass defense can be exposed, and Jameis Winston is the guy who will do it. Both Mike Evans, who needs to show he’s a No. 1, and Chris Godwin should break the century mark in this game.
And of course, all Dallas receivers against Miami. This could be a Randall Cobb breakout game, and Devin Smith with Michael Gallup out.
Tight End: As mentioned above, Jason Witten could have a field day as the Dolphins are averaging 100 yards allowed and eight receptions to tight ends so far this year. This also is the week that Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson plays like he did in Week 1 and makes you forget his Week 2. He is a rookie, so inconsistency should be expected.
Streaming Defense: Dallas at home against Miami and the Patriots at home against the Jets are the two best bets. But the move you might want to make is picking up the Chargers defense now, so you have them for the Dolphins next week.
Have a great week 3!
Charlie Wiegert was the sixth person to be inducted in the Fantasy Sports Hall Of Fame in 2001. He is a founder of CDM Fantasy Sports and Fantasy Sports Trade Association. He has been playing and winning fantasy baseball leagues since 1984. If you have any questions for Charlie, email them to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GFFantasySports.
May 29th: Quarterback Preview
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward faced a high target rate of 22.4 percent in 2019, and on top of that he posted a coverage success rate of 61 percent and had a ballhawk rate of 14.3 percent, all while operating in a tight-window rate of 28.6 percent. His 77 targets accounted for nearly a quarter of his coverage snaps, so not only are opposing quarterbacks throwing his way, but Ward is shutting most of those targets down. If the 23-year-old former fourth overall pick can stay healthy -- he's played in just 25 games in his first two seasons -- he could break out in 2020 for a Browns Defense that could become streamable at some point during the year.
Minnesota Vikings free safety Harrison Smith was targeted just 40 times in pass coverage in 2019, but he comes in at No. 6 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in the league. He forced tight windows 20 percent of the time and allowed a passer rating of just 50.3 when targeted. Fellow safety Anthony Harris was a standout in his own right in Minnesota, but Smith is the more fear safety for the Vikings. The 31-year-old has made the Pro Bowl each of the last five seasons and was an All-Pro in 2017. Smith had 85 tackles (65 solo), one sack, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries last year. Because he's also a threat against the run, Smith is a top-10 fantasy defensive back in IDP leagues.
The Carolina Panthers hired former seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly as a pro scout on Thursday. His new role will require plenty of film watching and advance scouting. Kuechly, who was also a five-time first-team All-Pro, retired after the 2019 season mainly because of multiple head injuries suffered throughout his career. He posted 100-plus combined tackles in every single one of his eight seasons in the NFL and also had 12.5 sacks, 18 interceptions and 66 passes defensed. In his prime, Kuechly was one of the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers. He turned 29 years old this past April. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of Captain America on the football field, but he should be a tremendous asset to Carolina's scouting team.
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback William Jackson III (shoulder) played with a torn labrum in his shoulder the entire season in 2019. "I don't know how I did it, but I did it. It was painful every game. I'm fully healthy and ready to go," Jackson said. The 27-year-old gutted it out through 14 games to record 37 tackles (26 solo), one interception and three passes defensed. It sounds like Jackson has recovered well and should be ready for the start of the regular season this fall. He could have a bounce-back year in 2020 if he's fully healthy, but Jackson hasn't ever been fantasy relevant in IDP leagues with just two career interceptions in 45 games for Cincy.
Chicago Bears free safety Eddie Jackson wasn't targeted all that much in 2019 (43 times) and his ballhawk rate (9.3 percent) won't turn many heads, but he allowed a passer rating of just 49.9 and a catch rate allowed below expectation of minus-20.9 percent. He had only two interceptions last season, but he's demonstrated a nose for the football in the past, as evidenced by his career-high six picks in 2018. A fourth-round selection by Chicago in 2017, Jackson has been a Pro Bowler each of the last two years and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2018. He might be useful as a bye-week filler in deeper IDP leagues, but he's not an every-week starter. The Bears Defense, on the other hand, is a top-five fantasy unit that should rebound after a down season in 2019.
Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White has become one of the league's best cover corners after being taken in the first round in 2017. He faced 84 targets last season and had six interceptions, 17 passes defensed, allowed a passer rating of (38.9) and a catch rate allowed below expectation (minus-8.4 percent). White had a tight-window percentage of 28.6 despite playing press coverage on opposing wideouts at a low rate. His ballhawk rate of 20.2 percent is close to that of Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who came in at No. 1 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in 2019. Like Gilmore, White isn't much of an IDP star because QBs often avoid him, but Buffalo's defense overall should be seen as a top-five fantasy unit.
Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has been impressed by quarterback Baker Mayfield's leadership during the offseason virtual program. Hes done everything Id expect from him as a starting quarterback," Van Pelt said. Mayfield also hosted a throwing session for around nine teammates in Austin, Texas. Van Pelt said that Mayfield has quickly grasped the new offense and is making strides with new West Coast footwork. Van Pelt has Mayfield leading with his left foot in the shotgun and is streamlining his footwork under center. He's also removing a big stagger step from his dropbacks. Mayfield was talked up prior to the 2019 season, too, and he disappointed in his second season. But the third-year signal-caller does have everything in place for a rebound and is in an offense that should cater more to his strengths, making him a value QB2 with upside for QB1 status by season's end.
Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons was only targeted 44 times in 2019, but he was very effective when he was the nearest defender on a target. His 34.1 percent ballhawk rate -- the percentage of targets where the nearest defender made a play on the football -- was the best among those meeting NFL.com's Nick Shook's criteria by more than six percentage points. Simmons' catch rate allowed below expectation wasn't all that impressive at minus-6.7 percent, but his tight-window percentage of 34.1 helped him allow a low 34.7 passer rating. The Broncos slapped the franchise tag on the 26-year-old and hope to iron out a long-term extension before July 15. Simmons is the strength of Denver's secondary now and is a fringe defensive back starter in IDP leagues.
New England Patriots defensive back J.C. Jackson posted excellent coverage numbers in 2019 despite starting only six games. His overall numbers were slightly better than teammate Stephon Gilmore, but Gilmore had almost twice as many targets (96 versus Jackson's 58). Jackson allowed the lowest passer rating (21.8) as the nearest defender in coverage among all defenders who qualified and the second-lowest completion percentage allowed. He allowed a passer rating of just 8.1 in press coverage and recorded all five of his interceptions while in press. And finally, Jackson had a perfect passer rating of 0.0 as the nearest defender on deep targets. He should see a much bigger role in 2020 for a Patriots Defense/special teams that is a top-10 fantasy unit.
New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore earned the top spot as the best defensive back in coverage in 2019, according to NFL.com's Nick Shook. He was the only player who faced 85 or more targets and didn't allow a single touchdown, and he also picked off six passes. Gilmore allowed the lowest passer rating (38) as the nearest defender in coverage among cornerbacks. His catch rate allowed below expectation (minus-11.8) was also the lowest among cornerbacks with a minimum of 300 coverage snaps. But like most elite corners, Gilmore lacks fantasy appeal because opposing quarterbacks often shy away from his side of the field. New England's strength will be on D again in 2020, though, and their defense/special teams unit is a top-10 fantasy option.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Josh Sweat could receive a bigger role in the defense this upcoming season after he had a solid 2019 season.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Genard Avery may only be used on special teams and as a pass rush specialist this upcoming season, in the opinion of The Philadelphia Inquirer's Les Bowen.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson used his explosiveness to shed defenders and turn upfield in 2019. He had 50 15-plus mph runs and averaged 4.3 yards gained after a defender closed within one yard of him last season. It helped him gain 1,230 yards on the ground despite not playing a full season because of injuries. Carson is coming off a season-ending hip injury, but although he's expected to be ready for Week 1, his explosiveness as a runner is tempered by the fact that he continues to struggle with injuries. If the 25-year-old can remain on the field for a full season, he should easily be an RB1, but you're much better off taking him as an RB2 and keeping your fingers crossed.
Free-agent RB Devonta Freeman (Falcons) would receive interest from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers if he lowered his asking price, according to head coach Bruce Arians.
Fantasy Spin: Freeman rejected an offer that would have paid him $4 million, so he may have to wait longer if he is looking for more than that salary. He would be part of a committee if he signed with Tampa but could lead the team in carries in that situation. Fantasy players should continue to monitor his status.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey comes in ranked ninth on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 explosive runners of 2019, but he'll still be the No. 1 player selected in the vast majority of 2020 fantasy drafts. He reached 15-plus mph on 96 touches last season, which was the most in the NFL, with 52 of those touches coming on rushing attempts. McCaffrey had a 15-plus mph rate of 18.1 percent and was able to gain 10-plus yards on 31 of his rushes in 2019. The fact that he touched the ball so much brings his 15-plus mph percentage down on this list. But McCaffrey's superior abilities as both a runner and receiver make him stand out above the rest of the competition by a landslide.
Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley II had a down year by his standards in 2019 with the Rams, but he still placed No. 8 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 explosive runners of last season. Only one of his 10 fastest touches over the last two years came in 2019, but he still reached or exceeded 15 mph on almost 20 percent of his 223 carries. Gurley's knee issues in recent seasons have sapped some of his explosiveness, but he still had 21 runs of 10-plus yards last year. Don't ignore Gurley simply because he's no longer in play for the overall RB1 in fantasy. He'll have a better offensive line to work behind in a strong Falcons offense and should see plenty of carries. Draft him as a high-end RB2 with the ability to finish as a top-10 back.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack was the team's running game in 2019, which is why his broken hand in the second half of the season coincided with their late-season descent. He broke 15 mph on 51 runs (fourth-most among running backs) and had 28 runs of 10-plus yards. While Mack was an underrated explosive runner last year, his fantasy stock took a major hit when the Colts drafted rookie Jonathan Taylor in April. Mack could see the starting nod early in the season because of his veteran status, but Taylor is fully expected to take over this backfield at some point in 2020. The 24-year-old Mack can still make his mark with fewer touches because of his explosiveness, but he's expected to mainly be a flex option this year.
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay wasn't as good in his second season as he was in his rookie campaign, but the former undrafted free agent still had 1,011 rushing yards in 2019 despite playing with three different quarterbacks. He had 48 runs of 15-plus mph last year despite defenses keying on him in the box most of the time. The offseason addition of Melvin Gordon III makes it basically impossible for Lindsay to see the 224 carries he saw last season, but he remains an explosive change-of-pace for this improved backfield. His fantasy stock is down across the board because of Gordon's presence as the lead back, but Lindsay still has some standalone fantasy appeal as a low-end RB3/flex in PPR leagues.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been interested in free-agent running back Devonta Freeman, but head coach Bruce Arians said that Freeman is asking for more money than the team is looking to spend given their current salary cap situation. Tampa has just over $6.4 million in cap space entering the 2020 season. Freeman reportedly declined a one-year, $4 million offer from the Seahawks last month and thinks he's worth more than what he's been offered on the open market. Freeman had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016 but has taken a dive since then and has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons. The Bucs wouldn't mind adding veteran depth behind Ronald Jones II, but rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Dare Ogunbowale should also have roles in 2020 if the Bucs don't add anyone else to the backfield.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones saw most of his success in 2019 between the tackles, as he tied for the league lead with 10 touchdowns on inside runs and averaged 4.1 yards per rush on runs inside the tackles in the red zone, which was the most in the NFL among those with at least 15 such runs. Jones' 53 runs on which he hit 15-plus mph were the fourth-most in the NFL. The 25-year-old had his first 1,000-yard rushing season on 236 carries last year and led the league with 16 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 49 passes for 474 yards and three TDs. Even though he might not see an RB1 workload with second-rounder A.J. Dillon now in the mix, Jones is a high-end RB2 at the worst with RB1 upside.