Every Tuesday I will be bringing you the NFL players who have somehow flown under the fantasy radar and are owned in far too few leagues given their production and/or ceiling. Injuries and byes are inevitable, too.
With the first game of the week a mere 48 hours away, here are some players that are on quite a few waiver wires out there that simply shouldn’t be.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (Yahoo: 17% owned; ESPN: 10.6%) – 10% of FAAB
The Browns may not be the 2001 Ravens, but with a strong pass rush and a shut down corner in Joe Haden, they can defend the pass well. Tannehill looked like a much-improved passer in the Fins week one victory, as he showed patience and poise while avoiding the big mistake. I was also impressed with his willingness to take what the defense gave him instead of force feeding his new toy in Mike Wallace on the perimeter.
When all was said and done, the sophomore signal caller completed over 63% of his passes for 272 yards on a day where Miami struggled to protect him and run the football. If this is the floor for Tannehill, and it may be considering how poor the circumstances around him were, then he is worth a backup role in standard leagues and should be considered a starter in two quarterback formats. Miami plays the “defense is optional” NFC South, the Patriots (twice), the Buccaneers, and the Chargers this season, making him more than a serviceable play for better than half of the remaining schedule.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Yahoo: 34% owned; ESPN: 14.9%)
It was a less-than-inspiring week one performance from Freeman (15/31 for 210 yards with one score and one interception), but I’m willing to chalk to an outstanding performance by the Jets run defense. The Bucs had no success on the ground (Doug Martin: 26 touches for 64 yards), something that we assume Freeman will have the benefit of most weeks. I’m encouraged by the fact that he was able to get Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams the ball (both recorded 15-plus fantasy point days) against very solid corners for the Jets. He’s still playing for his NFL future, he still plays in the NFC South, and he still has an elite tailback behind him. Things will get better for the Bucs signal caller, as the circumstances from a weird week one should prove to be an oddity and not the norm.
Andre Brown, New York Giants (Yahoo: 18% owned; ESPN: 26.7%) – 5% of FAAB
I’ve been around fantasy football for a while, but I have never seen a running back with a fractured leg gain as much value as Brown did as a result of Sunday nights debacle in Dallas. Before you get too excited, Brown is on the short-term IR list, meaning the earliest he can return to action is Week 10 due to New York’s Week 9 bye.
That being said, he is a powerful runner who has the size (6’0” 227 lbs) to handle a heavy workload. And get this: he has never lost a fumble! Tom Coughlin is known to hold grudges when it comes to turning the ball over (ask the 2012 version of David Wilson), so you’d have to imagine that Wilson and Da’Rel Scott are on thin ice at best. Eli Manning is a good quarterback, but he is not the type to win games by throwing the ball 50 times. The threat of a run game needs to be there for Manning to be effective, making whoever the ball carrier is of fantasy interest. I like the idea of stashing Brown (worst case, he returns as the touchdown vulture he was expected to be) or even taking a flier on running backs rumored to be on the Giants radar (Brandon Jacobs or Willis McGahee).
Joique Bell, Detroit Lions (Yahoo: 35% owned; ESPN: 71.2%) – 15% FAAB
He should have at least been on your radar entering this season, but now he needs to be on your team. The Lions brought in Reggie Bush this offseason to handle the primary running back role, and while he had a great first game (25 touches for 191 yards and a score), it became obvious that Detroit wants to involve a short yardage back on a regular basis. With Mikel Leshoure being a healthy scratch, Bell has no real competition for the role and should continue to see 8-10 touches (most of which will be in prime fantasy scoring spots) per week.
He quietly produced 899 yards on only 134 touches last season, indicating that he is capable of much more than simply plunging forward for the needed yard. His soft hands mean the Lions don’t have to adjust their Reggie Bush based offense, as Bell is more than capable of catching the ball in space and making a play. Bell’s projected weekly involvement makes him a bye week filler at the bare minimum, and if Bush should ever miss extended time, he would immediately elevate to a RB2 in PPR leagues.
Jonathan Dwyer, Pittsburgh Steelers (Yahoo: 10% owned; ESPN: 0.4%) – 5% FAAB
When the Steelers cut him just before the season, we didn’t once hear that “we are making a football decision that gives us the best chance to win” but rather something about him not taking the job seriously. Funny how he now must be more interested in the running back position for the Steelers as a result of yet another injury (LaRod Stephens-Howling blew out his knee).
My belief hasn’t faded that he was (and now is) the hardest runner on the Steelers roster. While he might currently sit behind Issac Redman on the depth chart, the odds of him earning the starting role sooner rather than later seem to be good. Pittsburgh is going to throw the ball a lot this season, but they need at least a reasonable run game to keep Ben Roethlisberger up right, and the hard-nosed style of Dwyer can provide just that. Starting running backs are hard to find after your draft, making Dwyer at least worth a flier in hopes that he gains and thrives in the starting role for a competitive team.
Marlon Brown, Baltimore Ravens (Yahoo: 5% owned; ESPN: 1.5%) – 6% FAAB
Even before Thursday night’s opener got out of hand, the Ravens looked like a team that was planning on a pass-heavy attack, and given the money that they paid Joe Flacco, that shouldn’t come as a major shock. Torrey Smith is the teams go-to option, but he is far from a flawless top receiver, as he tends to make his money down field as opposed to moving the chains. Jacoby Jones was supposed to be another burner on the outside, a player who could take some of the attention off of Smith while having a skill set that meshes well with Flacco’s strengths. However, Jones will be on the shelf for at least a month with a MCL sprain, and Brown should fill his role long-term as well as he did against the Broncos (four catches for 65 yards and a touchdown).
For a man of his size (6’5” 205lbs), Brown was praised coming out of Georgia for his surprising agility, potentially adding the closest thing to a possession receiver that the Ravens have. He is also capable of stretching the field, and with Smith being the more feared deep threat, Brown could see some single coverage that allows him to use his height.
Andre Roberts, Arizona Cardinals (Yahoo: 21% owned; ESPN: 30.3%) – 11% FAAB
Maybe I’m alone here, but that Cardinals passing game felt a lot like the Kurt Warner days to me. Carson Palmer was flinging the ball all over the place, sometimes into very questionable spots, but giving his receivers a chance to make a play nonetheless. Arizona also couldn’t move the ball on the ground in an effective manner (26 rushes for 86 yards), and we all know that Bruce Arians isn’t exactly adverse to throwing the rock.
Roberts displayed great athleticism, and while the Cardinals boast a pair of more physically imposing wideouts in Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald, he continue to see plenty of targets in a pass first offense. Palmer was looking his way often on third down (four of his eight receptions), indicating that he trusts the 25-year-old.
Nate Burleson, Detroit Lions (Yahoo: 5% owned; ESPN: 3.2%) – 4% FAAB
At 32-years of age, it is more than likely that we have already seen the best of Burleson, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still help your fantasy team. He sure doesn’t lack confidence and with the always questioned health of Ryan Broyles, he is the number two receiver in the most pass happy offense in the league. Reggie Bush proved capable of threatening defenses on the perimeter and Calvin Johnson, despite a slow week one, always has the eye of every defender, making it very possible that Burleson’s performance (six catches for 78 yards) is not a fluke as long as he is getting consistent playing time.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots (Yahoo: 25% owned; ESPN: 15.9%) – 10% FAAB
Julian Edelman is one of the more obvious adds of the week, especially given the news about Danny Amendola’s injury. He was targeted nine times and caught seven of them for 72 yards and two touchdowns, an excellent opening week for him. Don’t expect that kind of production out of him every week — especially when Amendola and Rob Gronkowski get healthy — but he is certainly worth an add and even a short-term start.
Dallas Clark, Baltimore Ravens (Yahoo: 6% owned; ESPN: 7.6%) – 6% FAAB
While I do believe that Marlon Brown can assume some of the short yardage receiving responsibilities, it became evident in the Ravens will trust the experience of Clark to bail out Flacco if the play breaks down. Clark isn’t one of those highbred, former basketball standouts that seem to be dominating the league these days, but he is a professional gap finder, a skill that results in consistent rather than spectacular production.
He’s caught nearly 500 passes in his NF L career, and 60% of them have resulted in a first down. Clark holds more value between the 20’s to the Ravens than he does to fantasy owners, but on a team with a smaller back in Rice and primarily deep threats at receiver, Clark’s skill set should play nicely into high-end red zone production. He’s a good bet to average a handful of catches and be targeted in the end zone, two qualities that are valuable at the tight end position if you didn’t spend a high pick on one of the elite players.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals (Yahoo: 21% owned; ESPN: 7.9%) – 10% FAAB
Despite Jermaine Gresham’s presence, it appears that the Bengals are ready to give Eifert an extended role sooner rather than later. The rookie out of Notre Dame caught all five passes thrown his way for 47 yards, and has the physical tools similar to that of a Vernon Davis. He’s a big target (6’6″ 250lbs) that is agile, a perfect compliment to A.J. Green on the outside.
I assume Eifter will take over the redzone tight end duties, and when he does, I expect him to flourish as teams stack the box to stop BenJarvus Green-Ellis (statistically not great inside the five yard line, but he does have a knack for scoring eventually) and provide extra help on Green. We could be looking at a rookie campaign similar to that of another former Golden Domer in Kyle Rudolph, but with higher yardage upside.
Soppe’s Spot Start Specials
This segment will typically be filled with players poised to breakout, in an effort to help you navigate your bye weeks. For the first few weeks, before byes start in week four, you’re probably starting your studs, so I’ll mention some bargain players if you play weekly fantasy football or are in a deeper league where these are players on your roster that deserve starting consideration.
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs vs Dallas Cowboys
I’m looking less at the final numbers — a respectable 173 passing yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions — and more into the game plan. Despite far outclassing the Jaguars for the majority of the game, Smith attempted more than twice as many passes as Jamaal Charles did rushes, in traditional Andy Reid fashion. He was his typical game managing self (8.2 yards per completion), but he displayed patience that should help him against a Cowboys defense that — save a few big plays — couldn’t slow down Eli Manning and the Giants offense (450 yards and four touchdowns).
Dallas couldn’t stop Victor Cruz from making plays, both in the open field and in the redzone, a role that Dwayne Bowe could assume after a slow (4-30) first week. Smith won’t take the risks that Manning did on occasion, and I expect Reid to develop a game plan that picks apart this average at best Cowboys secondary.
Da’Rel Scott, RB, New York Giants vs Denver Broncos
The odds are slim that we will know the exact carry distribution of this backfield before kickoff Sunday afternoon, but there is no doubt that Scott will at least see an increased workload, with the potential to earn the lions share should he perform in the early going.
It is true that Scott made a costly error in the pass game, but he still managed to haul in five passes and generally looked comfortable for a player who recorded 43.5% of his career touches last week. I touched on Manning needing the run game to set up the pass, and with brother Peyton on the other side, I expect the Giants to remain committed to the ground game, if for no other reason than to keep the future HOFer on the sidelines.
Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
His two catches on four targets for 23 yards was very disappointing considering the injuries in the Falcons secondary, but games like that tend to come with the territory of owning a deep play threat like Moore (14 games with three or fewer catches in previous two seasons). The Buccaneers added Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson this offseason to sure up what was the league’s worst pass defense in 2012, and while I like the moves long-term, their immediate impact will be minimal. Even if the duo lives up to the hype, they will be focused on stopping Marquess Colston and Jimmy Graham.
The Bucs still have the elite run defense they boasted last season, not that the Saints need an excuse to throw the ball all over the field. Drew Brees appeared to be in mid-season form against the Falcons, just one Moore reason to like the Saints big play man on the outside.
New England Patriots D/ST vs New York Jets
The Patriots defensive was good, but not as good from a fantasy perspective as many projected they’d be against a rookie quarterback and the Buffalo Bills. They get another chance against Geno Smith, but this time, there are only three days of preparation. The short turnaround makes me think that the Jets game plan won’t change much from the film that New England will watch from week one, and without any sort of running game, Smith could be in a tough spot. The Bills were able to succeed through the air (to an extent anyway) because of their well-respected run game, a luxury that the Jets simply don’t have.
Maybe Chris Ivory/Bilal Powell can gash the Patriots surprisingly effective run defense (3.9 yards per carry in 2012), but I’m not betting on it. I’ll take my chances with any NFL defense against a rookie quarterback on a short week with no consistent run game, especially one that has a strong enough offense to take control of the game early.