Eric Karabell Football: Insider

Week 3 flex rankings 

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
12:34
PM ET

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.

Backfield breakdown entering Week 3 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
4:12
PM ET

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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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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NFC East teams affect Week 2 rankings 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
4:06
PM ET

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
2:04
PM ET

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
11:17
AM ET

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
1:08
PM ET

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
12:40
PM ET

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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Team-by-team running back outlook 

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
11:19
AM ET

In a general sense, I find the popular fantasy football strategy of handcuffing running backs to be largely overrated. Sure, several key running backs will get injured this season, and someone's going to replace them on their NFL teams, in theory, but seldom do we see a future star lurking who provides immediate fantasy, um, gratification. The more popular handcuffs heading into last season were Ben Tate, Andre Brown, Giovani Bernard and Bernard Pierce, and Bernard was the only one who really helped fantasy owners a great deal.

Looking at the accompanying chart, it's clear there are some very different situations. In fact, the days of natural handcuffing, as it were, are somewhat in the rearview mirror. Last season, only two players topped the 300-carry mark. In 2010, seven running backs achieved this. The Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals have two smallish starters who can catch passes and some bigger folks to handle the goal-line stuff. Teams such as the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins already have several fantasy-relevant running backs who figure to share the touches.

In the past, I've ranked the top handcuffing situations, but it's tough to find 10 that really matter -- the term doesn't fit several teams, and, let's face it, I'd prefer to go team by team with relevant thoughts. I can't imagine that's a problem!


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Stock watch: Wide receivers/tight ends 

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
11:32
AM ET

Only the Denver Broncos produced more yards from scrimmage than the surprising Philadelphia Eagles last season, but coach Chip Kelly's innovative offense lost a key piece in DeSean Jackson -- deliberately, by the way -- and expects to fill the void with several fellows, from wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to running back Darren Sproles to enticing tight end Zach Ertz. However, those guys aren't expected to be elite fantasy contributors, meaning it's running back LeSean McCoy and … well, who else? The Broncos feature three wide receivers and a tight end among the top 100 in ESPN ADP. Outside of McCoy, the Eagles have Maclin, and his stock is falling.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Maclin
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJeremy Maclin is a popular choice to have a career year, but there is injury risk involved.


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Stock watch: Running backs 

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
10:53
AM ET

Whether or not you're optimistic about Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, we can all agree he's no lock to return to his lofty place atop the running backs or even to play in all 16 games this season. I happen to be a fan, locking him in as a top-10 player. Others think that's crazy. Still, I'm paying close attention to what else occurs in the Houston backfield, because when we talk about potential handcuff situations, this team is near the top of the list. And the obvious handcuff was unceremoniously released on Monday.

That's right, if you're thinking about selecting former New York Giant Andre Brown, note that he's now also a former Texan. He's looking for work. It's certainly feasible that he'll find work relatively soon, perhaps in a place where there is fantasy relevance. A veteran like Brown would probably be welcomed by at least 10 teams right now, from the Giants to the Broncos, Jets, Falcons and Colts. The point here is that when taking stock of the running back position, there hasn't been a ton of news with the top-20 running backs so far. But Brown's release, when considered in context with Foster being used sparingly the past few weeks because of a sore hamstring and coming off a season truncated by back surgery, makes this a situation to watch. Foster is 27, and from 2010 to '12 he was arguably the busiest -- and most productive -- running back in the game. Today he's a risk.


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Preseason weekend wrap 

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
12:57
PM ET
Rashad JenningsWilliam Perlman/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsRashad Jennings was impressive against the Steelers, but should that affect your rankings at RB?
Congratulations to all fantasy football owners who made it through the first weekend of preseason football without a drastic reconstruction of the rankings you spent weeks devising, adjusting your sleepers and busts, retooling your overall philosophy of how you’d like to build your teams this season. It's really only one weekend, and a pretty meaningless one in the big picture. In many cases, the starters that we'll be drafting early in fantasy either didn't get permitted to play or saw so little time that performance couldn't realistically be judged. Oh, plenty of reserves that you had previously never heard of put up some numbers, just like every August, and most of them won't be heard from this season.

Do you remember the top statistical performers from the 2013 preseason? Did you change your mind about quarterbacks Pat Devlin, Case Keenum or Matt Simms, because they led the NFL in passing yards? The leaders in rushing yards were Khiry Robinson -- who then was barely used by the New Orleans Saints during the regular season -- Jordan Todman, Joseph Randle, Christine Michael and David Wilson. Marcus Easley led all wide receivers in receiving yards … and then hauled in two receptions in the 16 games that mattered. These guys didn't help fantasy owners win anything, yet people were getting mildly excited about some of them last August. Seems silly today, no?

So we should be happy for those that threw, ran and caught well this first weekend, but I can't say I'm suddenly moving new Buffalo Bills running back Bryce Brown up my rankings because he continues to play well. He remains a distant third on the depth chart behind C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. New England Patriots wide receiver Brian Tyms -- I bet 98 percent of you had never heard of him -- led the position with 119 receiving yards this weekend, but he might not make the team, in part because he's suspended the first four regular-season games. New York Giants rookie Andre Williams looked good from what I saw, but the team's starting RB, journeyman Rashad Jennings, looked better, breaking a 73-yarder for a score. See, it's all about perspective, and oh, Jennings is probably moving up in the rankings more than he should.

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I would bet New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is a blast at parties. I mean, I've heard stories and it doesn't seem like much of a stretch that this gregarious, attention-seeking fellow who once appeared on a reality dating show would be lots of fun to hang out with. The problem, for our reasonable purposes, is he's just not as much fun to own in a fantasy league anymore. It's true that Gronkowski could be as talented a pure receiving tight end as the league has ever seen, but here's a fun fact: We like our players -- fun or not -- to actually appear in football games. Like, perhaps give us 14-plus games per season. Sorry, but that sure doesn't seem like Gronkowski anymore.

So it is that, for the third consecutive year, this ridiculously talented player -- nobody really argues that point -- shows up on my "Do Not Draft" list, which is not to say I would not select him if the price were right, but who are we kidding? The price isn't right. That's the entire point. I can't even keep track of all the various maladies to body parts that have kept Gronk from playing, from the back to the arm to whatever, and this goes back into college, as well. He tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee in a game this past December and had it repaired in January. Gronkowski claims he'll be ready for Week 1, which is awesome and optimistic and let's give him respect, but … OK, is that really realistic, and, even if it happens, how long until some other body part trips him and us up again?


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Andre EllingtonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington gained 10 or more yards on 24 of his 118 carries last season (20.3 percent).

The top running back for the Denver Broncos last season was supposed to be hotshot rookie Montee Ball, but instead, forgotten veteran Knowshon Moreno stepped up in August, showed he could block effectively and produced by far the greatest season of his NFL career, thanks in no small part to the presence and ability of quarterback Peyton Manning. Still, it was a major surprise. Moreno was a 14th-round selection in ESPN average live drafts, but he finished a stunning fifth at his position in standard scoring. Moreno, now on the Miami Dolphins and certainly not expected to achieve the same success, was a clear and surprising breakout, seemingly near the end of a disappointing career in his fifth season. Instead, he posted career bests across the board. So, who's next?

After focusing on the breakout quarterbacks, it's time to check out the most important of fantasy positions, the running backs. Whereas most fantasy teams aren't even looking for a breakout quarterback, because there are certainly more than 10 capable starters for 10-team formats, the running back depth is weak, and we're all looking for help. Several running backs will break out, and your job is to identify them in the middle to late rounds. As with quarterback, I'm leaving out all rookies. We're not so much concerned with age -- could be 22, could be 29 -- but we're searching for those who might have previously been incapable of earning opportunity or failed to seize it when it arrived. Perhaps you're not thinking about them much, and that's precisely the point, because past disappointments and complete unknowns do shock us on occasion.


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