Eric Karabell Football: Fantasy NFL

Week 3 ranks reactions: Believe in Brady? 

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17

Tom BradyAP Photo/Lynne SladkyTom Brady has two single-digit fantasy performances to open the season.
The Tom Brady fans/apologists swore that the New England Patriots quarterback was far from done after a disappointing 2013 season, that all he needed was better pass protection and his full corps of weapons at his disposal. I'm neither a fan nor apologist, just objective analyst, and I agreed that Brady was a tad underrated in drafts. The skills remain. Patriots management felt so confident about the offensive line that Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins was shipped off to Tampa Bay for a reserve tight end Brady has targeted four times so far, while starting tight end Rob Gronkowski has certainly been at Brady's disposal for roughly half the snaps and leads the team in targets so far. No excuses, right?

Well, Brady has delivered a pair of uninspiring nine-point fantasy efforts the first two weeks, and there's no need to rehash the metrics, for he's played every bit as poorly as it appears. For perspective, 100 players/defenses have more points so far, including 28 quarterbacks. Derek Anderson and Kirk Cousins achieved 18 points in one game each. It's pretty clear that this Sunday, Brady's performance at home against the lowly Oakland Raiders will be a significant turning point for his value. Rock Oakland's world for 25 fantasy points and Brady looks reliable again, trustworthy, capable of supplying top-10 numbers. Disappoint with another single-digit effort and, well, many are going to wonder whether he's even worth owning anymore.

2014 rankings update: Peterson situation 

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17

Adrian PetersonJeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsIt is still unknown when or if Adrian Peterson will play again this season.
The obvious risk in cutting Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in a fantasy league at this point is that he does suit up and play again this season, and based on the ridiculousness I've seen in the past few weeks, with constant altering of decisions based on reacting to external reactions, I say it's 50-50 he does play again. Fantasy owners need to separate their views on off-field situations -- real-life things that really matter -- and think about value and potential playing time and upside. On Monday, I was pretty skeptical that Peterson would play in Week 3. When I awoke Wednesday, that decision was seemingly clarified. Would it surprise me if Peterson plays in a month? Not one bit.

So it is that Tuesday's end-of-season rankings get the rare Wednesday update because Peterson's situation is so critical in every fantasy league, it warrants attention. Again, don't confuse matters. Separate all the legal and moral issues and focus on one thing: Will this person play again this season? Will it be soon? We know he's a special player on the field. I originally dropped Peterson from No. 3 overall to No. 13 for the Tuesday blog entry, a weekly staple, because I was concerned he would miss more time than the Vikings -- or the NFL, I suppose -- was originally letting on. These are hot button issues and everyone seems to have an opinion now, and as we've seen those external opinions drove the change in decision. There's a court hearing in early October and you bet this situation could change again by then.

Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles was originally a top-three overall pick just like Peterson, and brings similar upside. And he has a high ankle sprain. My feeling is that Charles misses roughly a month of playing time, so I dropped him in the rankings to barely RB2 status. I was going to do this with Peterson. I'm not remotely comparing the reasons they are missing games, but to the point at hand for a fantasy column, I could see each playing in a month. However, I do think the situation with Peterson is more dire, and public perception and demand will force him to miss more time, perhaps all of it. I dropped Peterson to No. 40 for running backs. I suppose this is similar for ranking purposes to what's going on with Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon. He should be playing in the second half of the season and he's an obvious difference-maker. For now I'm hedging on Peterson because as we've seen, no decision is really final, and this player could play at any point.

I did rank Peterson better than his teammates Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, though, again not by much. I don't think Asiata is a great option and he's shown this, really. Sure, he caught a touchdown pass and if the Vikings get a goal-line run, he's the man, but his yards per carry show he's not special. McKinnon could be but at this time -- and I doubt anything changed for him this week -- the Vikings appear willing to go nearly exclusively with Asiata as the running back, mixing in McKinnon and awesome wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as well. I don't think Patterson becomes the main running back. I agree with most people that McKinnon has far more upside than Asiata should one of them get 20 touches per game, but there's little evidence that's pending. So add Asiata for this week, but he didn't approach my top-20 running backs. Good luck with your teams and more important with your lives.

Here are all of this week's end-of-season rankings, including the rest of the positions and their analysis from Tuesday.

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videoThere was limited movement in the end-of-season rankings after Week 1, because little had changed. It was, after all, only one game. There weren't many major performances or injuries, but of course, that was anything but the case in Week 2. As a result of the many injuries, you'll see some of the top names from draft day slipped in the rankings, because while all players are risks to some degree, when you know a player is hurting, it has to change perceptions and value. We'll discuss the risers and fallers by position, but let this be a reminder that average draft position is meaningless at this point, even if you drafted a week ago. You've already acquired the players, but now it's about winning games.

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Four Downs: Injuries dominate Week 2 

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14

Robert Griffin III, A.J. Green, Jamaal Charles Getty Images, AP PhotosRobert Griffin III, A.J. Green, Jamaal Charles were among the big names injured Sunday.
The unfortunate NFL stories leading up to Sunday's game were basically about anything but the action on the field -- Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Greg Hardy -- so it wasn't surprising the theme of Sunday afternoon was again barely about the players regaling us with gaudy statistics. This time, it's about important injuries. The most valuable fantasy option to leave early was surely Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, bolting with a toe injury and a big, costly zero for fantasy owners. Miami Dolphins running back Knowshon Moreno, one of the surprise stars of Week 1, and suddenly trusted for a road tilt in Buffalo, suffered a dislocated elbow after one rushing attempt for 4 measly yards. And then there is the Washington football team, or what's left of it.

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Week 2 flex rankings 

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11

It's amazing how one week of games can alter so many opinions. Your second-rounder from August might not be among your top options for a flex position this week because of injury or a tough Week 1. Perhaps he's not even on your roster anymore! But for the players who are still upstanding or just standing members of your fantasy rosters, the Thursday flex rankings are here to help. You should know the drill by now: We combine the top running backs, wide receivers and tight ends to form a top-100 list, though it remains one man's opinion and it's recommended that you make your own decisions.

Best of luck to all in Week 2 and beyond!

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2014 ranks update: Don't overreact 

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9

Welcome to the first installment of the 2014 end-of-season rankings! This has been one of our Tuesday staples in this space the past few seasons as these looking-ahead rankings tend to generate much discussion, which is definitely a good thing. Agree, disagree, whatever the case -- the goal here is to rank the players at each position as if you were drafting today and aiming to evaluate and quantify value for the rest of the season. This helps with potential trades, free-agent pickups and long-term decision-making if you need to make room on the bench for a new player. Plus, it's entertainment. Don't forget that part of the game, too.

We go position-by-position in this space, and as always, it's still one man's opinion, but as you've seen at ESPN Fantasy, we have many opinions! Also, don't confuse these with the Week 2 rankings because they're totally separate. The individual and staff rankings for the pending week are produced each Wednesday. Note that the "previous" ranks by position below are actually the preseason staff version, which certainly differed from my own, but that's OK. The point is, don't presume that a player has dropped from his previous rank because of something that occurred in Week 1 or any perceived slight; it's just how I viewed the player weeks ago. From here on out, the "previous" column will be from the prior end-of-season rankings!

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Four Downs: Knowshon steals the show 

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
MorenoSteve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsKnowshon Moreno, a top-5 back in 2013, is being selected at No. 34 among RBs in ESPN live drafts.
Ask most fantasy football owners what they thought of running back Knowshon Moreno entering this season, and chances are they would spend more time discussing the team Moreno played for the past season and his unfortunate departure than breaking down his place on his new team. But Moreno, the former, one-year Denver Broncos star embroiled in a summer-long playing time battle with Lamar Miller for touches in the Miami Dolphins' backfield, opened the season Sunday with a terrific performance against the New England Patriots, and in doing so, he earned definite appreciation from the few owners who activated him. Moreno, barely sought after this summer by NFL organizations and coming off knee surgery, was active in only 18.5 percent of ESPN standard leagues. That's less than 34 other running backs.

Moreno wasn't Miami's starter, but he sure was the finisher, as he accumulated 19 standard fantasy points on 134 rushing yards and a late touchdown and shredded the Patriots' defense between the tackles, which is something Miller isn't great at. Oddly enough, Moreno did not catch a pass (that was a strength of his last season), but he did earn 24 of the team's 38 rushing attempts, with Miller receiving 11. The past season, with the security of playing with Peyton Manning and with defenses seeming to pay little attention to him, Moreno reached 20 standard fantasy points four times, but only once did he actually reach triple digits in rushing yards (that was against the Patriots as well).

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Separating tight ends into tiers 

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29

As we finish up "tier week" in the KaraBlog and realize there will be no more quiet NFL weekends until February -- and this is a good thing -- it's worth pointing out that the tight end position is just a little bit different. In ESPN standard leagues, it's probably not necessary to draft a second tight end, so that's 10 or 12 teams, one tight end each, and some pretty good ones available in free agency. We can tier the position, but it kind of comes down to whether you want to spend a first-rounder on the best tight end, select one of the reliable ones in the middle rounds, or wait until the end.

So let's break it down, and remember that these are my rankings and mine alone; the results will and should differ from my colleagues and those of the dear readers -- make your own rankings and tiers! -- and while this is a game we play for various reasons and all want to win, it still remains about the fun. Enjoy yourselves and have a great weekend!

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Separating running backs into tiers 

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
Kansas City ChiefsScott Boehm/AP ImagesAdept at rushing and receiving, Jamaal Charles is the paragon of running back fantasy value.
Running backs are no longer the lifeblood for fantasy football owners, but that doesn't mean you should be ignoring them, either. My first round is made up entirely of running backs, but there are certainly different levels of excitement in securing members of that crew. We call them tiers, and as noted in Tuesday's quarterback listings, a tiered system aids those participating in drafts and auctions to better gauge the depth at a certain position, and helping to analyze when an owner needs to act or when patience is warranted.

Let's get right to the rankings and remember these are mine and mine alone, considerably different from the staff lists and those of my compatriots.

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Wes Welker, D.J. Swearinger, Jeff TarpinianAP Photo/Jack DempseyWes Welker suffered yet another concussion Saturday after this hit from D.J. Swearinger.
It's difficult to say for sure if Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker will be available for Week 1 of the regular season after he suffered yet another concussion during the team's game with the Houston Texans on Saturday. However, fantasy owners dismissing the two concussions Welker suffered during the 2013 season -- and the three missed contests during our playoff time because of them -- got another reminder that there's danger lurking here. I admit my original ranking of Welker among the top 20 wide receivers didn't show enough caution, but now reality has struck again and we all must be concerned. Welker swiftly slides out of my top 20 wide receivers and his teammate Emmanuel Sanders gets a boost to the point I'd simply choose him first, though not quite in the same spot.

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Manning-CharlesGetty ImagesYou can own Peyton Manning and Jamaal Charles in an auction league, but it will cost you a lot.
Fantasy football auctions can be a blast, but they can also overwhelm newcomers who aren't quite prepared for the quick pace or the constant adjustments needed during the process. Even now, after dozens of auctions to stock fantasy teams over the years in several sports, I still make the occasional mistake of either vastly overpaying for a player "I just gotta have" or letting another go too cheap because I didn't realize I actually had the funds to afford him or just added up the funds wrong. It happens to all of us.

Experience and proper planning are critical to constructing consistently strong auction teams -- and it is worth it! -- but ultimately just like a job interview, the more experienced one is, the better off you'll likely be. How does one gain this experience? Well, whether you're a seasoned veteran in the art of auction drafts or a newbie, we're here to help! Really, auction or draft day should be a fun experience, the signature day of the fantasy season for most, so making it worthwhile is paramount.

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Weekend wrap: Hakeem Nicks gains value 

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18

Hakeem NicksBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsFour of Hakeem Nicks' five catches against his former team were for first downs.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Hakeem Nicks doesn't seem like the most well-liked fantasy option for this season, as he is appearing outside the top 40 at his position in ESPN ADP, and it's easy to understand why. For one, Nicks really burned fantasy owners who made him a top-10 wide receiver two seasons ago, and those who invested last year were rewarded with nary a touchdown catch. That's right, he was the only one of the top 75 wide receivers in ESPN standard scoring who didn't score, though he ended up 32nd in receiving yards and really wasn't so bad. Plus, he managed to participate in 15 games, tying a career best. It doesn’t necessarily prove he's durable, but hey, 15 games work for us!

Nicks was the story in Saturday's 27-26 loss to the New York Giants -- the Giants scored all their points in the meaningless fourth quarter -- with five receptions for 53 yards. It should have been a greater performance, but his silly taunting penalty erased a long gain. Nicks and quarterback Andrew Luck were certainly clicking, and while the receiver admitted that proving a point to his old team was a motivating factor, fantasy owners should be paying attention for potential value. After all, when I see the Colts offense, I see a unit that doesn't figure to boast a strong running game -- I'm not believing in Trent Richardson -- and while Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton figure to start, neither is a lock for stardom. All three wide receivers should matter.

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Stock watch: Quarterbacks 

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12

Fantasy owners sure aren't waiting on their quarterbacks in ESPN live drafts, so in a sense, the stock is up for pretty much everyone at the position. Not only is Denver Broncos stud Peyton Manning being selected in the middle of the first round -- which I believe is ill-advised for several reasons -- but of the 25 quarterbacks being chosen in these standard drafts, all but two of them have seen their stock rise in seven-day plus-minus over the past week. Think about how odd that is. Running backs and wide receivers are going in the other direction, but everyone apparently loves their passers.

So who are the only two relevant quarterbacks apparently held in lesser regard than this time a week ago? The fall of Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles was predictable. After all, he threw two interceptions in the first quarter of the "critical" first preseason game at Soldier Field, which of course means everything he achieved during the amazing 2013 season was a complete hoax and he's doomed to lose his starting job to Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley or Ron Jaworski (yes, he once played). The sad thing is some of you think I'm being serious. Nothing that Foles does -- or doesn't do -- in August has any bearing on September, in my opinion, but if he slips past Colin Kaepernick, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson outside the top 10 at his position, it's excellent value. Should Foles play well on his three drives this week, I wonder if his stock will rise again. Oh, why bother.

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Cordarrelle PattersonWesley Hitt/Getty ImagesCordarrelle Patterson is poised to be the Vikings' top receiving threat, no matter the quarterback.
It's true that last summer Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was on my list of potential breakout performers, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown and the Baltimore Ravens' Torrey Smith. (Well, two outta three isn't too bad, though Smith wasn't necessarily bad.) One didn't need to be Nostradamus to realize the talent lurking in Gordon, but his second season provided the critical opportunity he needed to produce major numbers, as he ended up as fantasy's highest-scoring wide receiver. It doesn't appear he'll get the same chance to do that again in 2014, leaving opportunity for someone else on the Browns to step up.

With breakouts for fantasy having been analyzed at quarterback and running back, let's move on to the wide receivers. As with the other positions, we're excluding all rookies for these purposes and dividing the options into two sections. The goal is to identify players perhaps under the radar in terms of value -- regardless of their age and prior failed chances -- who could break out into true or truer fantasy relevance. Some of the choices are going to be selected in all leagues, like the Ravens' Smith was in 2013, for example, the obvious top-40 wide receivers that you might not have considered a team building block. Others are far more off the radar -- like the Chicago Bears' Alshon Jeffery was last summer! -- but perhaps shouldn't be. Time to break out the options, and you can share your thoughts in the comments section!

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EJ ManuelMelina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel is ready to make a big leap in his second NFL season.
I admit that much of the time when asked about potential breakout fantasy performers -- and this is a perfect week, as August approaches, to discuss it -- I keep it to running backs and wide receivers. After all, to me those are the key positions at which depth is paramount and leagues are generally won and lost. There are so many top-notch quarterbacks to start with -- probably 15 or so capable of being a legitimate starter in a 10- or 12-team standard league -- why bother examining the likes of Buffalo Bills sophomore EJ Manuel, right? Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals and Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers finished sixth and seventh, respectively, among all players in standard scoring last season, and neither of them is regarded as close to that valuable this year. They're reserves. It's deep!

Still, there will be several quarterbacks who do “break out” and become far more relevant than most expected, so while it’s a bit silly to predict the next Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, the standard we’re looking at for these breakout purposes is pretty much precisely what Dalton and Rivers achieved during their tremendous 2013 campaigns. They weren’t highly thought of prior to Week 1, it quickly changed, and now to some degree they’ve been cast aside again. Who replaces them? Good question! While some rookies will break out, I’m disregarding them from consideration. Talk about Johnny Manziel all you like -- and many have -- but what are these guys breaking out from, college? I’m looking for players of various ages who are finally healthy and earning a new opportunity, or something changed around them to affect value. Look for upside, but that doesn’t mean disregarding someone who is 27. Basically, don’t forget some of last season’s popular sleepers, for the ability likely remains.

Let’s separate the breakouts into two classes: First, we have the ones regarded as borderline fantasy starters or obvious backups, as Dalton was last summer. Perhaps one or two take that Dalton/Rivers leap. Then we have quarterbacks who aren’t really regarded much at all, outside the top 20 at the position. For those in deeper formats -- like multi-quarterback ones -- the difference in winning and losing could be a fellow like this. Predicting breakouts at quarterback isn’t like forecasts for the other positions, but we’ll get to running back and wide receiver during the week.

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