Can Big D’s O-Line Make a Mediocre Back Shine?

The Dallas offensive line will determine the success of Joseph Randle

The Dallas offensive line will ultimately determine the success of Joseph Randle

For years, there has been a great deal of debate on which factors or combination of factors drives a successful NFL rushing attack. Primarily, is it the running back or the offensive line that really leads the charge? The Dallas Cowboys will put that question to the test this season when the team’s vaunted offensive line attempts to push a middle of the road 5th round draft pick over the 1,000-yard mark.

Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said this week that Joseph Randle will start the season as the lead running back for Dallas. This is a significant downgrade from DeMarco Murray, but for all intents and purposes, Randle is really the only option for Big D. Of course there will be Darren McFadden sightings here and there, if he can get healthy enough to hobble onto the field. But the 23-year-old Randle will lead the charge.

The fact of the matter is that any lead back in the NFL is certainly worth a pickup. Behind the Dallas offensive line, Randle should be able to surpass other middle-of-the-pack backs like Isaiah Crowell or Chris Ivory, but that still may not be enough to make him a top-25 fantasy RB.

All shoplifting jokes aside, Randle’s role is much more befitting that of a backup running back, not the lead guy. During his career, he’s never had more than 54 carries in a season. While Randle has some speed, there’s no way to know how we will hold up as an every down back.

After relying on the run so often last season, Dallas will likely be forced to throw the ball again and again in 3rd and short situations. As we said earlier, Randle is worth a pickup only if you temper your expectations. However, there could be a surprise waiting for us later in the season: Maybe it is the Offensive Line that makes the man in the NFL.

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Expect Big Things from Le’Veon Bell

Even though the NFL is dragging their feet, expect a reduced suspension for Bell

With his suspension reduced to just two games, expect Bell to be a Top-3 fantasy draft pick

The bell is ringing loud and clear for Le’Veon Bell fantasy owners this week after the NFL reduced his suspension to just two games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. The fantasy focus will now be on this powerhouse who is now easily expected to top fantasy draft boards with his rushing and pass catching prowess.

Bell scored 11 touchdowns last season while racking up more than 22-hundred all-purpose yards. During the 2014 season, he rushed for 1,361 yards and hauled in a staggering 83 receptions for 854 yards. There’s no reason to believe that the Steelers have any plans to do anything except maybe bump up Bell’s number of carries.

During the first two weeks of the season, it’s a good idea to avoid any fantasy RB wearing a Steelers uniform. Pittsburgh is basically stuck with DeAngelo Williams, Dri Archer and maybe even Josh Harris to fill the void at running back. The truth is that the Steelers early schedule is packed with teams that excel at shutting down the run. The Steelers first two games are against the Patriots and the 49ers and that’s two tough defenses that Bell gets to avoid altogether. (Think less wear and tear during a long 16-game season)

Todd Gurley: Back on Fantasy Running Back Radars

Todd Gurley

Todd Gurley is a textbook example of a high risk, high reward player

In some unexpected RB Fantasy News, the announced that Rams RB Todd Gurley will begin training camp on the active roster. During the offseason, St. Louis insisted that the team would take things slowly with Gurley because of his ACL injury. This move means that Gurley can’t be placed on the non-football injury list, which would have caused him to miss the first games of the season.

Taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft, the St. Louis Rams knew exactly what they were getting with Gurley. The Georgia product missed a few games due to an ankle injury in 2013 and had his 2014 campaign cut short because of a torn ACL. However, there is a strong belief in many football circles that Gurley could be the best back to enter the NFL from college since Adrian Peterson.

Peterson (6’1”, 218lbs) runs a 4.40 40-yard dash. Gurley (6’1, 222lbs) also runs an estimated 4.40 40-yard dash. Peterson possesses the rare blend of power and speed, as does Gurley. Finally, Peterson is the only back in the league that can legitimately build a team around and still win games. That’s also exactly what head coach, Jeff Fisher, plans to do with this potentially explosive fantasy RB.

Fisher is a traditional ground-pound coach. While other offenses are transitioning towards airing out the football, Fisher will attempt to make Gurley the focal point of the offense. The Rams already have a solid offensive line and demolishing defense, all that is missing is a serviceable running back.

Gurley is currently being drafted in the fifth/sixth round while Tre Mason is being taken off the board four rounds later. Of course Gurley’s draft position will surge immediately now that he is expected back during the early weeks of the season.

Gurley is a textbook example of a high risk, high reward player. His health is a question mark, but risk tolerant fantasy owners may not be able to look away when his name comes up. If you’re a more conservative fantasy player, feel free to take a pass on a rookie who is only 8 months removed from ACL surgery.

Fantasy Football Drafting 101: Running Backs Still Rule

elite RB’s should be the staple of your team and should lead your team to a strong finish this upcoming year.

Top-Tier RB’s are the primary building blocks for carrying fantasy teams deep into the playoffs

Every fantasy football fanatic wants to know the secret strategy to rack up wins in order to acquire bragging rights, and, in some leagues, even a hefty sum of cash. Many people build fantasy teams that are designed to thrive in the fantasy regular season without considering the ramifications during the post season.

Historically, I’ve tried a bunch of multiple approaches in my quest to assemble the greatest fantasy team. Last year, my team boasted a miraculous implosion during the championship round, and I finished second with a very strong team featuring Andrew Luck, Jamaal Charles, and Calvin Johnson. The question that I am most often asked is what positional player to target first, and my answer has always been RBs.

Why? Wouldn’t you rather take an Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning who can get you a constant 25 points per week? Well, it depends. Of course if elite quarterbacks fall far enough, there is no choice but to pounce; however, your focus should be geared towards grabbing elite RBs with your first two picks. This strategy is just as sound in 2015 as it was in 2005. First, let’s examine the top six finishers last year in both the QB and RB positions, and then note their suggested ADP based on ESPN’s Top 300 rankings

Quarterback:                                                                             

  • Aaron Rodgers (ADP 12)                                        
  • Andrew Luck (ADP 45)
  • Russell Wilson (ADP 99)
  • Peyton Manning (ADP 8)
  • Ben Roethlisberger (ADP 123)
  • Drew Brees (ADP 17)

Running Back:

  • DeMarco Murray (ADP 13)
  • Le’Veon Bell (ADP 14)
  • Marshawn Lynch (ADP 5)
  • Matt Forte (ADP 4)
  • Arian Foster (ADP 9)
  • Eddie Lacy (ADP 7)

This list suggests that the top finishers at the QB position are wildly erratic, while all of the players in the elite RB tier all project to be taken by the end of the second round. A fantasy owner could have chosen Forte and Murray back-to-back and scooped up Roethlisberger in the eighth or ninth round, and would have boasted three of the top ten fantasy performers with those three picks alone. Thus, choosing to invest your first five or six draft picks in running backs and receivers is a sound strategy. Let us also note the marginal benefit in investing in backs and receivers first. Standard leagues have one slot for quarterback, while you play a total of five backs and receivers combined per week. What good is having Rodgers if half of your team is subpar? Numerically, picking up the biggest potential point-earners that you play the most often makes sense.

Some people are still concerned, stating that the only quarterbacks left by the sixth and seventh round are lower-tier and poor quality players in terms of consistent point production. I know that I was a bit hesitant when the best QB left in the draft two years ago was one Eli Manning. However, I got some inspiration from my similar Fantasy Premier League strategy, where I was forced to rotate two subpar goalkeepers based on matchup, which resulted in overwhelmingly positive results. So, after picking up a solid core of WRs and RBs, shift your focus to picking a one-two punch of historically solid quarterbacks to round out your team, and then rotate them based on who they’re up against in a specific week. The owner that bested me last year did particularly well with a combination of Nick Foles and Carson Palmer (until they both got injured).

Obviously, use common sense while drafting. If your league puts more weight on the QB position (say, six points per passing touchdown) then it would be in your best interest to invest heavily in that position; same with all other positions. Also, if a solid quarterback falls drastically past his ADP for no significant reason, then it would be wise to pick him up. However, elite RB’s should be the staple of your team and should lead your team to a strong finish this upcoming year. Good luck, happy drafting, and let the season begin.

Stevie Johnson Charged Up for the Bolts

Johnson believes Philip Rivers is just what he needs to jolt his career

Johnson believes Philip Rivers is just what he needs to revive his career

After an abysmal season in San Francisco, Stevie “Why So Serious?” Johnson, has found himself in an optimal situation with the San Diego Chargers. It’s almost like a dream come true for Johnson who admitted he had watched Philip Rivers highlights in hope the team would sign him after a fall out with the 49ers. Now Johnson will get the chance to play with the best quarterback he’s ever had in his 8-year career.

Taken in the seventh round of the 2008 draft by the Buffalo Bills, Johnson still made a name for himself in the league by being a productive receiver on a mediocre team. From 2010-12, Johnson strung together three straight 1,000-yard seasons in Buffalo, the first player in Bills’ history to do so. Johnson’s following two seasons pale in comparison with only 87 receptions for 1,032 yards and six touchdowns.

Now with the Chargers, Johnson’s career flashes potential to be revived. As the third receiver in the Bolts offense, Johnson will work primarily out of the slot. Eddie Royal filled that position the past two years. Just in case you forgot how impactful Royal was on the field and in fantasy, he caught 109 passes for 1,409 yards with 15 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

Johnson will also get looks as the X receiver filling in for an aging, Malcom Floyd. Floyd turns 34 in September and just completed his first 16-game season since 2009. Floyd is on the wrong side of 30 and to say the receiver is injury prone would be putting it modestly. If (when) Floyd goes out, Johnson will step into a primary role in a potent passing offense.

ESPN staff writer, Eric D. Williams, appointed Johnson as the “X-Factor” in the Chargers’ receiving core. However, Johnson is being taken, on average, as the number 74 receiver off the board. Johnson is worth a late-round flier, if not, a second look on the waiver wire. Just make sure to grab this Joker sooner rather than later, that way your fantasy team can have the last laugh.

Take Wait and See Approach on Carson Palmer

No reason to put Palmer on  your fantasy radar before the 10th round

At 35-years-old, Carson Palmer should NOT really be on your fantasy radar

Can Carson Palmer lead the playoff hungry Arizona Cardinals after an ACL tear at age 35? It was just last November when Carson Palmer suffered a torn ACL against the St. Louis Rams. Before Palmer went down for the Cardinals, he was averaging 271 passing yards per game, had 11 touchdowns 3 interceptions with a 6-0 record. Coming into 2015, can Palmer continue the success he had before his season-ending injury?

Palmer, now 35, is coming off his second major injury coming into the 2015 season. Before his injury, he was playing phenomenal football under center. Palmer has mentioned many times this summer that he is no longer even thinking about his knee anymore and that continuing rehab is only cautionary.

The fact is, Palmer can probably take the birds to the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean you should draft him for your fantasy team. Palmer is a system guy, he’s not Michael Vick or Cam Newton, he’s going to sit in the pocket and believe in Head Coach Bruce Arians system. Regardless of who is the quarterback for Arizona this season, the Cardinals are going to be a good team again this year. Palmer is more than familiar with Arian’s system, has plenty of experience with Arizona’s receiving Corps and still has a good enough arm.

From a fantasy perspective, Palmer is obviously not a #1 quarterback heading into the season. If he can ease past his health concerns, he could be a borderline #1 quarterback by season’s end. Palmer is not someone to target anywhere during the first ten rounds of your fantasy draft, but he could be worth a stash for later in the season.

2015 Running Back Sleeper Guide

CJ Spiller

CJ Spiller should benefit greatly playing under a top-notch quarterback

C.J. Spiller, Saints:

After a surprising and successful 2012 season in which he amassed more than 1200 yards on a blistering 6.0 YPC, Spiller was seldom used by the Bills last year, who preferred to lean on veteran Fred Jackson. With the acquisition of LeSean McCoy in the offseason, the 27-year-old signed with the Saints, who had a solid running game headed by Mark Ingram. Spiller gets an automatic boost playing alongside a top-flight quarterback like Drew Brees. With coach Payton favoring a running back-by-committee approach, look for Spiller to share the workload with Ingram on a weekly basis. After seeing flashes of his potential simmer down, Spiller will do well in a run-emphasized offense, even if his playing time is significantly less than other starting backs.

Charles Sims, Buccaneers:

Sims did not see playing time until December last year, as the Bucs went with the injury-prone Doug Martin. However, as trade rumors revolving Martin persist, it’s impossible to ignore Sims’s potential as a number one back, even if it’s on a team that struggles to block efficiently for their backs. Sims averaged 2.8 YPC with a tiny sample size, which initially does seem discouraging. However, starting back Doug Martin did not fare much better, with a 3.7 YPC. As the 39th running back in terms of draft placement, the second year back shows potential and has a high ceiling. I could see him going a couple of rounds early as a safe, low-risk selection.

David Johnson, Cardinals:

While I typically avoid drafting lower-hype rookies, it is easy to be attracted to Johnson simply because of his physical attributes. Boasting a 6’1, 225 pound frame paired with a 4.5 40 yard dash and a 41.5” vertical, the 23-year old out of Northern Iowa has a solid chance to supplant Andre Ellington as the Cards’ starting back. Reputed as a bigger Charles Sims, Johnson can wreak havoc in the backfield and steal more touches from Ellington if the latter’s injury woes persist. Projected as the 59th running back off the board, the rookie is a steal if he indeed falls after the 11th round.

Justin Forsett, Ravens:

After a stunning season in his first year with the Ravens, Forsett transformed Baltimore’s running game, launching them from the 30th rushing offense in 2013 to the 8th spot last year. The 29-year-old finished eighth in fantasy points among RBs and is a feature component of a strong running core. His ADP places him 16th among backs, which is a surprise after he torched defenses for 1,266 yards last season. He is a capable back with excellent vision and hustle; he will be a strong candidate to finish as an elite, top-5 RB this year.

Melvin Gordon, Chargers:

The most hyped rookie coming into the 2015 season, Gordon is a proven superstar at the college level, collecting 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns last year for the Wisconsin Badgers. As receiving back Danny Woodhead is returning from a leg injury, look for Gordon to be the focus of the Chargers’ run game, as Ryan Mathews signed with the Eagles in the offseason. Compared to Jamaal Charles and showing hot flashes of potential, Gordon will pair up nicely with Woodhead to take pressure off of the inconsistent Rivers; the 22-year-old has a lot of upside and will be a workhorse for the Chargers this season.

Honorable mentions: LeGarrette Blount, Patriots; Khiry Robinson, Saints; Ronnie Hillman, Broncos; Lorenzo Taliaferro, Ravens.

Matt Forte: Still a Fantasy Powerhouse

Even in Forte ends up in Dallas, his fantasy star will continue to shine

Make no mistake – Matt Forte is STILL a top 5 fantasy powerhouse

While Head Coach John Fox suggests he interested in a timeshare in the Chicago backfield, the reality is that Matt Forte is the only sane choice to be the sole feature back in the Windy City. Forte has gotten significant production as a tailback in both the running and passing games and will continue to shine as one of the game’s top fantasy keepers.

HC John Fox has exhibited his love for the split-carry system while coaching in the past at the Carolina Panthers (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart), and the Denver Broncos (C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman), but the situation in Chicago is much different. Forte has been able to contribute heavily as a versatile asset to both the running and passing games. Don’t expect to find any fantasy sleeper picks in the Bears backfield unless Forte goes down with an injury.

Forte is coming off yet another impressive season, as he picked up 1,846 all-purpose yards, and 10 total touchdowns. As a rusher alone, he broke 1,000 yards and 6 TDs in what was a disappointing 5-11 season for the Bears.

Chicago has 3 very mediocre running backs following Forte on the depth chart in second-year back Ka’Deem Carey, rookie Jeremy Langford, and former Falcons tailback Jacquizz Rodgers. None of these backs should receive more than 50 carries next season, leaving Forte with a ton of carries to deal with. More than just as a rusher, Forte could possibly even pick up more touches in the passing game in 2015 with the departure of Brandon Marshall.

Brandon Marshall, along with Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery, was one of 3 major targets for QB Jay Cutler last season, and his targets will need to be picked up by the rest of the offensive unit. Matt Forte should capitalize on Marshall’s absence, and put together another successful season. Consider Forte a top-5 RB heading into 2015 in standard fantasy formats.

2015 Tight End Sleeper Guide

Stop us if you've heard this one before,

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, Zach Ertz should be a top-3 Tight End

Zach Ertz, Eagles: A solid fantasy option last year, with 702 yards and three touchdowns, Ertz will again attempt to dominate on the depth chart over veteran Brent Celek. Already a pass good catcher with solid hands and blocking ability, Ertz will see his role in the Eagles offense increase with the departure of Jeremy Maclin. Although he is the 8th tight end projected to be drafted in fantasy leagues, his ceiling is higher than what experts predict; in a dangerous offense, Ertz will take the call and rise to stardom.

Eric Ebron, Lions: After a disappointing rookie season in which he was drafted with the tenth overall pick, Ebron will look to catch the eye of fantasy owners and Lions personnel alike. He collected only 248 catches on 25 receptions and one touchdown, and never had more than 38 yards in a game. The 6’4, 225-pound weapon out of North Carolina does possess a unique mix of size and speed and was heralded to be one of the best tight end prospects of this decade, potentially surpassing even Jimmy Graham. With such a high ceiling, it is only a matter of time before Ebron explodes for a wealth of fantasy points.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers: Another potential sensation with an underwhelming rookie season, Seferian-Jenkins struggled to collect yards while battling injuries last season. After missing games due to back and ankle injuries, the sophomore out of Washington will join Vincent Jackson in headlining a very weak receiving corps in Tampa Bay. With good hands and size and a definite weapon for Josh McCown, Seferian-Jenkins will provide a solid amount of points for fantasy owners.

Jace Amaro, Jets: The list of disappointing rookies continues with the Jets’ own Jace Amaro. With the highest drop rate for tight ends (min. 10 catches), Amaro was constantly battling for playing time with Jeff Cumberland. However, the Jets are looking to shift to play a spread offense, which Amaro has already experienced playing at Texas Tech. If he stays healthy, Amaro will undoubtedly haul in more points than his projections (24th TE off the boards) predict.

Richard Rodgers, Packers: Rodgers, drafted out of Cal in the third round, is a somewhat valuable fantasy option primarily due to the dangerous abilities of the Packers’ passing game. Fellow Golden Bear Aaron Rodgers commands his wideouts with ease, and last season saw Richard Rodgers nab receptions because opposing defenses were preoccupied with the likes of Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Look for similar, but better, numbers this year. Though Rodgers lacks explosive speed to make defenders miss, he is in a good place with the Packers and will get a steady amount of targets.

Don’t Crash and Burn with Kaepernick

Colin

Too much uncertainty makes Colin Kaepernick a bad bet for your fantasy team

After busting out onto the gridiron as a top 10-fantasy quarterback in 2013, reality set in for Colin Kaepernick in 2014. Heading into the 2015 season, the question remains, have we seen the best of Kaepernick or will he return to the electrifying playmaker he once was?

A stunning amount of fantasy owners took it on the chin when Kaepernick faltered last year. The 27-year-old’s touchdowns dipped last season while his interceptions went up, finishing the season with a very pedestrian 86.4 passer rating last season.

Kaepernick’s run attempts went up slightly last season, but when he stayed in the pocket, he got nailed. San Francisco’s offensive line parted like the Red Sea giving up 52 sacks to opposing defenses. The bottom line is that fantasy owners can’t count on Kaep. With a new head coach and offensive coordinator, the Niners are a team in transition. The offensive line is still a question mark and Kaepernick’s accuracy is a problem.

At best, Kaepernick is a QB2 with some limited QB1 potential. With the current situation in San Francisco, steer clear of Kaepernick unless you plan to plug him in during a bye week.