Eric Karabell Football: Insider

Four Downs: Consider Crowell an RB2 

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesIsaiah Crowell carried the ball 12 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns in Week 12.
When Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon achieved top fantasy status at his position last season, he and tight end Jordan Cameron were basically the lone Browns players worth relying on. The forgettable tandem of Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden split quarterbacking duties after Brian Hoyer went down with injury, and the team’s leading rusher with 377 yards on a sad 2.7 yards per carry was the currently unemployed Willis McGahee. The current Browns are deep and considerably more talented on offense, and as Gordon made his 2014 season debut with an impressive eight receptions for 120 yards in Sunday’s 26-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons, it was running back Isaiah Crowell who led the team in fantasy points with 20.
Frank GoreMichael Zagaris/Getty ImagesFrank Gore projects to have a solid fantasy outing in Week 9 against the Rams.
When people say that San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore is done as a relevant fantasy option -- and yes, they're saying it! -- and that rookie Carlos Hyde is about to take over as the main backfield presence, I laugh.

Gore is older than the typical top-20 running back, but I still view him as precisely that, a top-20 running back. He sure didn't look too old when he shredded both the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs for better than 100 rushing yards in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively. Now, after a few tough road performances and a bye week, Gore should be in fantasy lineups for a Week 9 home game against the St. Louis Rams. But I suspect he won't be.

I ranked Gore 13th at his position. While it doesn't quite match up with what my colleagues believe, hey, that's OK! It's far better, trust me, if the staff rankings don't match up. It's up to you to decide, and what I'm seeing is a lot of anti-Gore sentiment, which baffles me.

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Week 7 ranks reactions: Bench Brees? 

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
Drew BreesAP Photo/Bill HaberDrew Brees' six interceptions this season are already half of his 2013 total.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees comes off his bye week prepared for his first 20-point fantasy performance of the season, but it's not going to be easy. The Saints travel to play the Detroit Lions, and no team permits fewer fantasy points to quarterbacks and wide receivers than the mighty Lions. The Lions? I know -- it seems strange to type it, too. Not only does Brees face a tough foe, but he won't have the luxury of tight end Jimmy Graham at his disposal, as a shoulder sprain will keep him sidelined. So where does Brees deserve to rank for Week 7?

I admit I considered several quarterbacks seemingly unworthy of ever ranking ahead of Brees to do exactly that this week, but I settled on Brees, the No. 17 quarterback for the season, at No. 10. Colleague Matthew Berry placed Brees 12th. I understand why. I originally did the same. Brees isn't exactly dominating in home games, either, and the Lions completely shut down the similarly awesome Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense in Week 3, allowing the quarterback 162 passing yards and 10 fantasy points. The Lions, with an improved secondary and terrific pass rush, have yet to allow more than one touchdown pass in any game, though to be fair, facing Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Orton and Geno Smith the past three weeks isn't exactly, well, Brees.

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Backfield breakdown entering Week 7 

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14

Not that there was a Curtis Martin or Thurman Thomas lurking in the AFC East entering the season, but now that Knowshon Moreno of the Miami Dolphins and Stevan Ridley of the New England Patriots have seen their seasons end because of serious knee injuries, it opens up opportunity for others to step up. In Miami, Lamar Miller has been doing this. He ranks the best for this division in my rest-of-season rankings entering Week 7, edging out 33-year-old Fred Jackson of the Buffalo Bills, but don't downplay the upside. These guys enter Week 7 tied with Frank Gore of the San Francisco 49ers for 14th place among running backs in ESPN standard scoring, and in theory things should only improve for Miller with Moreno out of the picture.

[+] EnlargeLamar Miller
Brad Barr/USA TODAY SportsLamar Miller is averaging a career-best 5.2 yards per carry, and has 15 catches in five games this season.
Miller ending up a top-10 running back is hardly ridiculous now that he's all alone with little competition on the team's running back depth chart. The Dolphins know what backup Daniel Thomas is capable of, and it isn't much. He didn't even make the team entering the season. Miller has provided double digits in fantasy points in four of five games -- has your top running back? -- and he's on pace for more than 1,000 rushing yards, close to 50 receptions and he could reach double-digit touchdowns. There's not a thing wrong with this, especially when it's tough to find 20 reasonable fantasy running backs. While some might overrate Miller's opportunity now, I think he'll just continue to do what he's doing. That's enough.

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Backfield breakdown entering Week 6 

October, 7, 2014
Oct 7

There are myriad changes to the fantasy football running back depth chart after Week 5, as injuries removed several starters, while others currently healthy retained their top role and usage altered a few other situations. And yet I'm keeping an eye on the two winless teams because I refuse to believe a viable running back is incapable of coming from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders. These teams are, not surprisingly, the worst in the NFL in rushing yards per game, but it's possible the underused personnel is in place to change that.

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Backfield breakdown entering Week 4 

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23

The San Diego Chargers enter Week 4 with their top two running backs on the shelf, which is why the Donald Brown signing this offseason doesn't look so silly or unnecessary any longer. The problem is, of course, that Donald Brown isn't exactly LeSean McCoy at this stage of his career and never really was. Brown was given 31 rushing attempts in Sunday's win at Buffalo, mostly out of necessity, and converted them into a meager 62 yards. Do the math, double your fun. In the second half he gained seven yards on his 15 carries. The guy I'm watching in the San Diego backfield is Branden Oliver, an undrafted rookie out of the University of Buffalo, who twice finished second in the Mid-American Conference in rushing, and has evoked comparisons to a young Darren Sproles in both size and skills.

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Week 3 flex rankings 

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

Well, this has been another fun week so far, eh? Injuries and suspensions and, oh my, all that depth you once had after the draft is suddenly not so special anymore. And here's some more good news: Bye weeks start in Week 4! So that's right, the decisions might become easier because you'll have fewer options at your disposal, but ultimately the bye weeks make roster decisions less satisfying, especially in the flex position, because there aren't enough strong options. Regardless, welcome to Week 3 as we combine the top running backs, wide receivers and tight ends and try to make sense of things. That might be the toughest part.

Best of luck to all in Week 3 and beyond!

1. LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles: Some believe the emergence of his backup is hurting McCoy's value, but he's actually seeing more touches per game than he was last year. It's early. You certainly can't trust the other top-three running backs from draft day right now!

2. DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys: Surprise! Hey, nobody said he wasn't good at football. He's really good. We just worried about health and some foolishly believed this franchise's dreadful defense would mean no running game. Silly people!

3. Arian Foster, RB, Texans: So far, so good, but he's also seeing a ton of touches, so look for that to be kept in check in the coming weeks.

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesMarshawn Lynch hopes to put up big numbers against a Broncos defense that allowed 133 yards rushing to the Chiefs in Week 2.
4. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks: Don’t fret about the measly six rushing attempts in Week 2. The back problem doesn't appear to be a big deal.

5. Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals: Yep, this is a list for standard formats. He's pretty good in PPR, too.

6. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions: Still dominant after all these years.

7. Matt Forte, RB, Bears: Slow start, but a good time to trade for him.

8. Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers: Also a slow start and a good time to acquire. Remember, last year Lacy did little the first two weeks, and he ended up fine.

9. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins: Doesn't matter to him who's playing quarterback.

10. Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers: People are whining I haven't ranked him well enough. He's 10th!

11. Brandon Marshall, WR, Bears: Too many people missed out on his three-touchdown game, but blame the Bears, not analysts. It was risky because it was a night game.

12. C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills: Nobody said he couldn't thrive on returns. We're just worried it gets him hurt.

13. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys

14. Zac Stacy, RB, Rams

15. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Steelers

16. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: Picking up where he left off last season. Who covers him is largely irrelevant.

17. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons

18. Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints

19. Montee Ball, RB, Broncos: Has 40 touches in two weeks. No worries here. Not a great matchup this week, but you can't sit him.

20. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos

21. Knile Davis, RB, Chiefs: This obviously presumes Jamaal Charles can't suit up, which seemed a given a few days ago, but apparently isn't. Just make sure, because if Charles plays, you won't play Davis.

22. Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals: Has a new backup running back thanks to Jonathan Dwyer getting deactivated by the team, but it doesn't really matter to Ellington.

23. Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots: I think another 100-reception season is pending.

24. Randall Cobb, WR, Packers

25. Stevan Ridley, RB, Patriots: I think a 1,000-yard season is pending.

[+] EnlargeDarren Sproles
AP Photo/Michael PerezDarren Sproles' 37 standard fantasy points are the most he's ever scored in consecutive games in his career.
26. Darren Sproles, RB, Eagles: Love the guy, but it's not a bad time to float his name out there in trade talks. He can't keep things up to this level.

27. Andre Johnson, WR, Texans

28. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears

29. Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants: Will he be the lone bright spot on this offense? I think there's upside.

30. Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers: Don't give up on this talented guy. Big games coming.

31. Frank Gore, RB, 49ers

32. Roddy White, WR, Falcons

33. Julius Thomas, TE, Broncos

34. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles: Still healthy and on pace for big enough numbers.

35. Chris Johnson, RB, Jets

36. Joique Bell, RB, Lions: Neither Lions running back did much last week. That should change.

37. Mike Wallace, WR, Dolphins: There's little question this guy has game. Dolphins are enjoying this.

38. Pierre Garcon, WR, Redskins

39. Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints

40. Marques Colston, WR, Saints: I'm surprised how people are giving up on him. Saints are headed home. It will get a lot better.

41. Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts

42. Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers

43. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Vikings

44. Reggie Bush, RB, Lions

45. Percy Harvin, WR, Seahawks: One target in Week 2. One. I still think people are overrating him some.

46. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos

47. Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins: No Knowshon Moreno for a while, but something tells me Miller won't really emerge as special.

48. Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills: The key for trusting rookies in fantasy is if they're consistent. It's still possible with Watkins.

49. Golden Tate, WR, Lions

50. Bernard Pierce, RB, Ravens: His many carries and yards in Week 2 changed his narrative quickly.

51. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers: He needs a game like Pierce had in Week 2. I'm skeptical.

[+] EnlargeBradshaw
AP Photo/AJ MastAhmad Bradshaw not only has 10 catches already, but has more yards receiving (96) than rushing (85) thus far.
52. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Colts: OK, I trust he can keep playing well more than I do his colleague, you know, the one the Colts traded a first-round pick for.

53. Eric Decker, WR, Jets

54. Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals

55. Khiry Robinson, RB, Saints: Mark Ingram is out a month and Robinson should get the touches. I think he's a must-own in this offense.

56. Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers

57. Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers

58. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots

59. Wes Welker, WR, Broncos: Welcome back! Now go face the Seahawks.

60. Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots: Way too much preseason love for him.

61. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals

62. Kendall Wright, WR, Titans

63. Fred Jackson, RB, Bills

64. DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins: Couldn't have more motivation for this game. But the Eagles will be prepared for him.

65. Matt Asiata, RB, Vikings: Well, it's his job now. I don't own Adrian Peterson in any leagues but man, what a drag, eh? Asiata isn't going to replace his numbers.

66. Chris Ivory, RB, Jets

67. Steve Smith, WR, Ravens

68. Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints

69. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants: I dropped my laptop while typing his analysis.

70. Steven Jackson, RB, Falcons: His owners want to cut him, but he's not struggling. He's just not getting a ton of touches. Be patient.

71. Bobby Rainey, RB, Buccaneers: I like him better than Martin, but not sure the Bucs agree.

72. Anquan Boldin, WR, 49ers

73. Trent Richardson, RB, Colts

74. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers

75. Donald Brown, RB, Chargers: Ryan Mathews is out a while and Brown should get 15 touches, at least.

76. Toby Gerhart, RB, Jaguars: Hasn't shown much so far, but the Jaguars can't be this bad every game.

77. Terrance West, RB, Browns

78. Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens

79. Danny Woodhead, RB, Chargers

80. Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders: Yes, he's still in the league. And he's the highest-ranking Raider, though I thought about putting Mark van Eeghen in.

81. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans

82. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts

83. Terrance Williams, WR, Cowboys

84. Shonn Greene, RB, Titans: OK, so he will not get the football when the Titans trail. We get it.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJeremy Hill's touches may fluctuate each week, but he's shown he can be productive.
85. Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals: Can't be assured the Bengals will have a big lead every week, but what if Hill splits the touches in close games? Bernard owners won't be pleased.

86. Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens

87. Justin Hunter, WR, Titans: Everything you thought about him being a sleeper can still come true, so try to be patient.

88. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs

89. Greg Jennings, WR, Vikings

90. Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles

91. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: Might not play again this week, but if you're relying on him, wow.

92. James Jones, WR, Raiders

93. Andrew Hawkins, WR, Browns: Still think the Browns’ offense is a joke?

94. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Bengals: I did not rank A.J. Green because I think he will not play, but if he does, he'd be among my top-10 wide receivers. Just so you know.

95. Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers

96. Martellus Bennett, TE, Bears

97. Brian Quick, WR, Rams

98. Riley Cooper, WR, Eagles

99. Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers

100. Justin Forsett, RB, Ravens

Others: Bishop Sankey, RB, Titans; Markus Wheaton, WR, Steelers; Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers; Stepfan Taylor, RB, Cardinals; Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns; Jerick McKinnon, RB, Vikings; Miles Austin, WR, Browns; Rueben Randle, WR, Giants; Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers; Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Raiders; Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers; LeGarrette Blount, RB, Steelers.

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Backfield breakdown entering Week 3 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram enters Week 3 fourth at his position in standard scoring with 34 points and alone at the top of the NFL with three rushing touchdowns, yet he won't be adding to those totals for a month after breaking a hand Sunday.

All injuries are a shame and we saw more impactful ones than this in recent days, but for the former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pick, the first three seasons of his NFL career weren't exactly filled with stardom and he was finally showing major promise. I would have assuredly sold high, for both durability and performance-based reasons -- hey, let's be realistic -- and while the latter hasn't shown up yet, the former clearly has. Still, even with bench space at a premium, try to keep Ingram owned in standard formats.

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There 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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NFC East teams affect Week 2 rankings 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10

How bad is most of the NFC East and what does it mean for fantasy football owners? Well, it certainly wasn't pretty for the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants in Week 1, as they looked just terrible on both sides of the ball in losing their openers. It's one game, so nobody should go dropping valuable players, but unless these division foes are facing each other, is it a big deal for us? The Week 2 staff rankings seem to show the concern we have about the three seemingly awful teams, none of which is facing each other this weekend.

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Backfield breakdown entering Week 2 

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9

Ravens/BengalsMitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsBernard Pierce failed to take advantage of his opportunity in Week 1 against the Bengals.

While injuries could potentially leave a few starting running backs unable to play in Week 2 (Ben Tate, Doug Martin), clearly one of the situations to watch will be Thursday night, when the Baltimore Ravens meet the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. I predicted last week that journeyman Justin Forsett would see plenty of opportunities with the Ravens the first two weeks because Bernard Pierce struggled to stay on the field in 2013, and when he was out there, he rarely did something positive. And now, obviously, the entire situation moving forward for this organization has radically changed.

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Week 1 flex rankings 

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4

Let's start flexing! Welcome to the 2014 version of the flex rankings, and yes, they look pretty much like the ones from past seasons. As always, we combine the top running backs, wide receivers and tight ends into one tidy package, with numerous decent leftovers since there are few injuries and no bye weeks as of yet. Sure, the top-100 list below is simply one man's opinion, and we urge you to make your own decisions, not rely solely on this list, but we aim to inform and entertain. Will you use a running back or wide receiver in your flex spot? It doesn't matter which position it is. It could be a tight end (in fact, I can't recall so many tight ends in my top 100 before, so it might be). Use your best option!

Best of luck to all in Week 1, and we'll be with you for the duration of the season in this very spot and on this very day.

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Welcome to Wednesday, also known in the ESPN Fantasy department as rankings day! For the next four months of Wednesdays, this is where you'll find the staff rankings leading up to the pending weekend, which starts on Thursday night and continues through most of Sunday and then Monday night. I'll be blogging on Wednesdays with my reaction to my rankings and perhaps the staff rankings, looking for themes I, and perhaps you as well, find interesting. Here is the link to the Week 1 rankings and yes, on Thursdays in this space the top-100 flex rankings will be revealed. Starting next week, I'll be producing end-of-season rankings, as well. So, here we go!

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Separating wide receivers into tiers 

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28

The wide receiver position is seriously deep this season, which isn't really a surprise but more a continuation from past years. However, because running back is shallow in comparison, you might find those who make their living catching the football slide in drafts. Hey, that's fine with me. After all, while I'm not assuming the flex position on all my teams will routinely be filled by a wide receiver, it's kind of irrelevant. Go with the best guy from week to week.

As we continue with "tier week" in this blog space, you'll likely find larger concentrations of wide receivers clumped together, for it's easier to find similarities at this position, or rather not much separates them. At running back, you just feel in your gut this guy is better than that. Often there are statistics to prove it from the past, one situation trumps another, but at wide receiver, that's not always the case.

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Separating quarterbacks into tiers 

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26

One of the reasons I tend to clump positions together in my rankings is because I use a tiered system to evaluate potential fantasy helpers. In other words, if several players offer similar value, they often become entangled in a tier and it's easier to figure out in the hustle and bustle of a draft or auction if there's a need to choose the last option from a certain tier, or simply wait for the next one to begin.

For example, you'll see below I view three quarterbacks as a top tier, and I rank them consecutively, but after that I see a considerable drop-off to another trio of passers. Do you react when a tier is nearing the end and potentially overpay, or exercise patience for the next one? And sometimes the drop from one tier to the next is extreme, out of the ordinary. These are draft-day dilemmas many of us deal with.

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