This week on the Fantasy Underground podcast (also available on iTunes), Field Yates and I talked about Ahmad Bradshaw, Vernon Davis, Nick Foles, Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory, Danny Amendola and Donald Jones. So you won't find discussions of those players in this column. Here are 10 other topics:
Five in depth:
1. Trade deadline: Approach 1. In standard ESPN.com leagues, the trade deadline is noon ET next Wednesday, Nov. 21. There are two ways to approach this momentous occasion. The first is to make trades that boost your squad's chances of making the fantasy playoffs. In other words: Yours is a middling team and needs relatively major changes. In this case, you're looking for value right now, players who go beyond mere "tweaks." My friend and colleague Eric Karabell (along with Prim Siripipat) recorded this video along those lines. In it, EK isolated five players who could alter the fate of your squad by leaping beyond their current production level, into the true elites. The players Eric mentioned: Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson, C.J. Spiller, Hakeem Nicks and Denarius Moore.
You can clearly understand the thinking with all five of these young players: They're big names who've been good, if (for varying reasons) somewhat shy of the best. A bet on any of them will require a major investment, with the hope that they will explode in the season's second half and reach elite status. I'll talk about Moore later in this column, but in general, I think this is a strong list. A few other names I might add for "rest-of-the-season" upside include Matthew Stafford, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Jordy Nelson and Wes Welker. This entire list of 10 players won't shoot to the top of their respective positions, but a few will, and thus alter the fantasy landscape.
2. Trade deadline: Approach 2. The second trade-deadline strategy applies when your team is already in fine shape for the playoffs, and you're looking at Weeks 14 through 17 for particularly strong matchup plays. The methodology here is less about major upheavals to your roster, and more about value tweaks. Prim and I recorded this video along those lines, and here are a few more detailed thoughts about the players I mentioned:
Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins: I don't mean to imply that Morris would come cheap. He's currently the No. 11 RB in fantasy points per game. But his arrow has pointed down the past couple of weeks, with a season-low 13 carries in two straight games. Morris could hit the "rookie wall" in December, and that's the line I'd feed his fantasy owners. Heck, I can't promise he won't continue to slow down. But his December schedule includes what look like four plus-RB matchups: BAL, @CLE, @PHI, DAL. In addition, Morris' per-carry average has stayed robust even in this fallow period.
Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets: Regular readers know I'm not a big fan of Greene. I think he's a mediocre player, and I'm not pitching him as a fantasy playoff starter. But he'll come mega-cheap, perhaps as a throw-in, and his December schedule looks like the league's easiest: @JAC, @TEN, SD, @BUF. Those three road games are against what I currently view as three of the four easiest defenses for opposing RBs to score fantasy points against. Greene will serve as an attractive insurance policy in case one of your better RBs goes down.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: AJ would represent another value play; you shouldn't have to pay anything close to his second-round draft-day value, but his schedule is enticing: @NE, IND, MIN, @IND. The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts are currently my No. 6 and No. 2 (respectively) weakest WR-defending defenses. Is there risk with Johnson? Absolutely. He's only 21st in WR targets per game this year, though over the past five weeks that number climbs to sixth. (AJ has gone from 6.0 targets per game in his first five contests to 10.3 in his past five.) He's not catching passes down the field right now, plus there's a chance the Texans rest players in Week 17. Still, with a schedule like his and the crazy, freakish upside we know he still has, AJ is worth acquiring on the cheap.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: It's easy to poke holes in D-Jax. He fights Jeremy Maclin for weekly looks, he may have a rookie QB (Nick Foles) throwing it to him for the rest of the year, and he's scored only two TDs. But while Maclin has battled injuries, Jackson has been healthy and relatively steady, and has shown better fight for 50/50 balls than I remember from years past. It's also hard to argue with this schedule: @TB, CIN, WAS, @NYG. Only the Cincinnati Bengals have been close to average against opposing WRs. The others have been generous to a major fault.
Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Of the five playoff performers I'm endorsing, Freeman is the only one you'd categorize as "buy high." He's all the way up to 10th in fantasy points among QBs, an infiltrator among the "usual suspect" signal-callers. But I'm a believer. Freeman is dealing. Having a second WR weapon (Vincent Jackson) to stretch the field has made a difference, as has Freeman's renewed commitment to smart decisions. In '11, Freeman was Mr. Force-It, and lately he's just been sharp and controlled. And this December schedule doesn't hurt: PHI, @NO, STL, @ATL. I buy that Freeman as a worthy fantasy starter throughout your playoffs.
3. Is Denarius Moore a No. 1 fantasy wideout? If you look at our WR ranks for Week 11, you'd have to conclude he is. I know the Oakland Raiders have a favorable matchup against the New Orleans Saints' defense (more on that in a moment), but putting a guy fourth, fifth and sixth among WRs is making a statement that you believe Moore is among the best. But I'm not there yet.
Listen, nobody in our business has a bigger incentive than I to see Moore excel. He was on my Super-Deep Sleeper list before the 2011 season, when many folks hadn't heard of him. He's got 4.37 speed, came into his rookie training camp running terrific routes, and has reliable chemistry with Carson Palmer. To say that "Harris doesn't like Denarius Moore" would be utterly inaccurate; in fact, coming into '12 I ranked him higher than anyone else on our site. And moving him even as high as No. 16 (where I have him this week) is a concession both to a favorable matchup and a string of play that's seen him catch a TD in four of his past five games.
So while I don't mean to denigrate the player, let me submit the case for why he's not a top-10 fantasy wideout. It's actually rather a simple case. It's his game log:
Moore doesn't have a single game with more than five catches. He's exceeded 100 yards once. And when you watch the Raiders play, you see Moore make mistakes. ProFootballFocus.com has him listed at No. 37 among 45 qualified WRs in "Drop Rate," having dropped five of 39 catchable balls thrown his way. They have him 40th out of 45 in QB rating whenever a pass is thrown to him. For a deep threat, it's unfortunate that he's caught only three of 11 targets that traveled more than 20 yards in the air. Can you blame some of this on the fact his QB is Palmer? Absolutely. Palmer isn't a top QB. But that is the guy who's still throwing it to Moore, right?
As for the Saints' D, believe it or not, they've improved versus the pass over the past five weeks. By my metrics, if you look at the entire season, they're second friendliest to opposing WRs behind only the Bucs. But if you use a weighted average looking at Weeks 6 through 10, they're 10th friendliest. Now, I'm guaranteed to get Twitter comments asking why I hate Denarius Moore so much, and if he scores another TD on Sunday the trolls will be lined up with their told-you-sos. But even with five TDs, Moore is only the No. 19 WR in fantasy, and he's 23rd in WR receiving yards (one spot behind everyone's favorite whipping boy, Larry Fitzgerald). Until I see something different from him, I can't call him a top-10 WR under any circumstances.
4. Should we really start Shonn Greene in Week 11? Really? Earlier in this column I mentioned trading for Greene. And now I'm about to dis him. As I mentioned, I think Greene is a pedestrian running back. He almost never makes a defender miss. Against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10, his best-case scenario came on his second run, a pitch right where he got to the edge and barreled over Bobby Wagner for a 9-yard gain. But his worst-case scenario came on the same drive, on a fourth-and-1 from the Seattle 40: There was clearly a ton of space to cut away from the mass of humanity, and a huge patch of vacant turf that quicker backs would've perhaps used to score. But Greene just doesn't have it in him, and Mike Morgan tackled him for no gain. Honestly, Greene's Week 10 tape was more good than bad, as the New York Jets' O-line played pretty well and that toss sweep was effective on three or four occasions. But Greene still wound up with only 58 yards on 15 carries. His one big game of the year notwithstanding (161 yards and three TDs against the Colts), he's not usually a threat for a big fantasy day.
So using him in your league, I think, comes down to his weekly matchup. The other three ESPN rankers seem to think the St. Louis Rams represent a fairly favorable matchup, since they each made Greene a top-20 fantasy back for Week 11. I'm not sure about that. It's true that Stevan Ridley did a number on them in London, but their past five games they've been decent otherwise:
If there's anything alarming when you watch the Rams' tape it's the fact they can't seem to cover RBs out of the backfield. But that's not Greene's game; he's got 22 targets and only 12 catches in nine games. If anything, expect either Joe McKnight (ankle) or Bilal Powell (concussion) to see an uptick in passing situations.
I'll admit that Greene didn't look like a slug in Seattle last week. But he's not elusive enough to think a big play is coming down the pike soon, and he doesn't play for an offense that gets him in many TD-rich environments. I think my ESPN cohorts are too high on Greene for this week, even as I contemplate dealing spare parts for him.
5. Is Antonio Gates back? In his past four games, Gates has totaled 15 catches for 195 yards and four TDs, with only one real clunker, which took place in a Cleveland rainstorm. As crummy as Philip Rivers continues to be, the QB's negative tendencies may actually be benefiting Gates. According to Stats LLC, Rivers currently ranks 31st in average yards at the catch this season (4.8) after finishing 14th last year (6.7). Watch the San Diego Chargers play, and you won't only credit that decrease to Vincent Jackson's departure; Rivers checks down incessantly (and often inaccurately). But that can be quite good news for Gates, whose average yards at the catch is quite high for a tight end, but not as high as, say, Malcom Floyd's.
Versus the Buccaneers in Week 10 (admittedly a favorable matchup), Gates drew a defensive holding call on Ronde Barber, grabbed a 33-yard bomb down the seam, caught a red zone TD, was streaking wide open down the right sideline for what would've been a 67-yard score but Rivers badly underthrew him (the play might also have been called pass interference), caught back-to-back wide-open shorties over the middle and then proceeded to disappear from the game plan in the second half. I suppose that's the continued reason for concern here: It's puzzling how Gates could go from such a dynamic force in the first stanza to not even seeing a target in the second. There might've been some double-teams, but heck, when have those stopped the Rivers/Gates combo in the past?
Still, while Gates isn't as limber as he used to be (who among us is?) and while it can be a bit painful to watch him gather himself to jump, I did see the 32-year-old get into the clear more than he did early this season, or in much of '11. To see him play is to understand that his feet and legs are as healthy as they can be, and that's a good sign. Perhaps most importantly for Week 11, the Denver Broncos have represented a positive matchup for opposing tight ends: They've tacked 5.4 fantasy points on the scoring averages of the past five TEs they've faced. I ranked Gates fourth among tight ends this week, his high-water mark since Week 2.
Five in brief:
6. Trade-deadline coda. I didn't want to make this an "in-depth" topic, but I do think it's worth discussing. We preach depth and handcuffs throughout the summer and into the early part of the fantasy season, but now with the final byes taking place in Week 11, it's a question I get asked a lot: Do I really need to keep all this depth? After all, especially in shallower leagues there are sometimes a bevy of high-upside players to be found on the waiver wire, and it's frustrating not to have the roster spots available to take shots on them. There's no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether or not you can ditch some of your depth at this point, but I'll say this: In November, I rarely mind being the owner who gives up more players in a trade. If I'm on the smaller end of a 2-for-1 or a 4-for-2 trade, it usually means I'm getting the best player, and it has the added benefit of giving me a roster spot to take a shot on a free agent. Now, there are some handcuffs I'm not getting rid of. Ben Tate, Michael Bush, Kendall Hunter, even DeAngelo Williams if you own their respective teams' starter, I'd hang onto the backup. But philosophically, I'm all for dealing away your depth here as we leave the byes behind.
7. Marcel Reece: Trailblazer. Let's set aside the drama that the Raiders created by pretending Taiwan Jones would be their first-string back last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Obviously that was a smoke screen. Instead, let's focus on the positive: Reece played well. He came out as the tailback and had a couple of nice runs to begin the game. He got an early red zone target out of the backfield, and beginning in the second quarter he started splitting out wide (which makes sense considering he's a converted collegiate receiver). Most significantly, I think, when the game got out of control, Palmer stood in the shotgun and kept dishing it to Reece over and over as the Ravens let them have underneath stuff. Hey, check downs are cheap, but we'll take 'em. Reece doesn't have a single drop this year; according to ProFootballFocus, he's caught all 33 of the catchable balls that have come his way. In a potential shootout against the Saints this week, with Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson each still expected to be out with ankle injuries, Reece is a must-start in a PPR league, and is even a strong flex in standard leagues. And remember: This kid is a fullback. I suppose that's a symptom of the hybridized NFL world we live in, and there are definitely H-backs out there who block some. But Reece really is a fullback, and it's cool to see him getting this shot.
8. Young receiver roulette. I spend a whole lot of time on rookies during the NFL's long, lonely winter, and often as not the rookie WRs about whom folks are jonesing in February don't do very much in September. It's relatively rare that a first-year wideout makes a huge fantasy splash without being a top-10 overall pick, and even when he's picked that high there are no guarantees. (Et tu, Justin Blackmon?) But it's been cool to watch Chris Givens, Stephen Hill, Ryan Broyles, Rueben Randle, T.Y. Hilton and Mohamed Sanu show flashes. My favorite, however, has been Kendall Wright. His leaping red zone touchdown last week was a playmaker's play, and the Tennessee Titans seem dedicated to looking for him near the end zone; he's got a team-high 11 red zone targets (Kenny Britt is next highest with six), six of which have come with the ball inside an opponent's 10. Wright also nearly made a one-handed circus catch on an overthrown Jake Locker pass Sunday, and over the weeks his ball skills have shown through; he's had too many lack-of-concentration drops, but he's also made circus catches. The former can be eradicated; the latter can't be taught. The worry fantasy owners will have going forward is that Britt -- five inches taller and 22 pounds heavier with roughly the same speed -- will always be the No. 1 wideout. That may or may not be true (Britt sure has a lot of baggage), but if Locker becomes an above-average starter, there'll be room for two WRs to share the goodness. Wright is at least going to be that second guy. He's just a playmaker. He's not much of a fantasy asset for the rest of this year, but don't make the mistake of believing he's "merely" a slot player. In fact, he lines up outside nearly all the time. I'm intensely bullish on this kid as a value play next year.
9. I ain't starting the New England Patriots' defense for all the bricks on the Freedom Trail. I'm alarmed that our consensus rank for the Pats' D/ST is 14th, because it implies that if you're desperate you can try them Sunday against the Colts. Don't. I watched that mayhem against the Buffalo Bills last week live, then forced myself to watch the tape, and it didn't look any better. This unit is afraid to blitz (I believe they sent pressure five times all game) because they know they can't cover tightly even for a few seconds; instead they sat back in soft zones, forcing the Bills to score on long drives, and hoped their tackling wouldn't give out. The linebackers couldn't cover a phone booth, and the middle of the field was open all day. That conservative, keep-everything-in-front-of-you stuff might have a chance against middling-armed Ryan Fitzpatrick, but Andrew Luck is dealing: He's tied with Joe Flacco for the most attempts that have traveled more than 20 yards in the air. I get the narrative that maybe Indy is feeling full of itself at 6-3, having largely puffed up its record beating chump teams, and maybe the Colts will fall hard on the road out in the elements, as they did against the Jets a few weeks back. But I'm not buying it. I think Luck and Reggie Wayne have an easy time of it Sunday in what will prove to be an anxiety-provoking shootout. The Colts' offense has allowed fantasy defenses to score 6, 1, -3 and 5 points over the past month. I'm not biting.
10. Why I'm glad I don't cover baseball. One great thing about fantasy football (and all fantasy sports) is at the beginning of the season, everybody's got a chance. And given how frequently franchises go from rags to riches in pro football, I'd argue that holds true for most NFL teams, as well. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays/Marlins trade is a shammockery for so many reasons, the most outrageous of which is the false pretenses under which the Miami Marlins opened their new ballpark. But for me, the worst part is the extent to which a deal like this reflects how little baseball "gets it." With no negative implications for dumping or hoarding players other than some vague, far-off notion of comeuppance that never arrives thanks to all that sweet, sweet TV revenue, baseball is an antediluvian joke. If NFL teams could dump salary whenever they felt like it, a dozen probably would, and we'd get the "rich-man, poor-man" life of MLB, where millions of fans begin every season knowing their squads have no chance. Imagine the fire sale that the Kansas City Chiefs might hold, which would turn the fantasy world upside down. Jamaal Charles is making $4.83 million this year. Why wouldn't the Chiefs just dump him? They aren't winning with him, why pay all that money? Tamba Hali ($13 million), Dwayne Bowe ($9.5 million), Brandon Flowers ($8 million) heck, they'd all look swell in Patriots unis, right? The Chiefs are 1-8 and have the highest payroll in the league. Under baseball's rules, they'd trade away their big contracts, relegating themselves to five years of winlessness. (Maybe they could get Ryan Mallett back from the Pats.) Because the NFL doesn't let teams do this, there's hope in most cities. I know, you'll tell me the Oakland Athletics made this year's playoffs with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. But don't insult my (admittedly challenged) intelligence by claiming a lack of money doesn't almost always translate into a lack of hope in MLB. In my opinion, in the modern sports-fan landscape, that's just not acceptable anymore. Among all the crazy variables I deal with trying to predict NFL player outcomes, I'm endlessly thankful that calculating the likelihood of salary dumps isn't one of them.