Daily Dose: Orange Crush

Adam Levitan
Using Vegas Win Totals, Warren Sharp begins his Strength of Schedule series by ranking teams 1-32 in terms of 2017 SOS

Ravens - Broncos Box Score

Sometimes, fantasy football isn’t rocket science.

Julius Thomas is a 6’5/255 former Portland State basketball player that drew comparisons to Jimmy Graham when he was going through the draft process in 2011. He ran a 4.64 forty and posted a 35 ½-inch vertical leap. In other words, he’s an athletic dude.

This season, Thomas is finally healthy and starting at tight end in an offense quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. It’s why I highlighted his face on the cover of Waiver Wired this week and why Evan Silva talked him up as a TE1 with upside in his Matchups Column.

As we saw in Thursday night’s NFL opener, Thomas is going to be running one-on-one against linebackers and safeties all season long. Defenses have to roll their coverage to the Broncos’ wideout trio of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker. On Thursday, Thomas announced himself with five catches, 117 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets. His 97 first-half yards were the most by a Denver tight end in the first half since Shannon Sharpe in 1997. It happened in the preseason too, when “Orange Julius” had a 12/123/0 line on 157 preseason snaps.

Thomas did not come out of nowhere and overthinking this is not worth it. Athletic pass-catching tight end starting in a Peyton Manning offense equals legit back-end TE1 appeal. Some bust weeks are coming as defenses will adjust, but the booms will be big.

Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $100,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 1. It's $25 to join and first prize is $15,000. Here's the link.

I charted every snap played by a Broncos running back on Thursday night. By my unofficial recording, the final count looked like this:

Knowshon Moreno: 37
Montee Ball: 17
Ronnie Hillman: 14

Let’s dive deeper: Moreno started the game and played the first 10 snaps. Hillman was up next, getting two snaps. Ball didn’t even get into the game until the Broncos’ 25th play from scrimmage. At the end of the first half, the Broncos were down 17-14 with this RB snap distribution: Moreno 25, Ball 4, Hillman 2.

Moreno also started the second half, but was pulled in favor of Hillman after four snaps. And as the Broncos were nursing their big lead and killing the clock, they turned to Ball. When the dust settled (and the Broncos had outscored the Ravens 35-10 over the final two quarters), the second-half snap counts were Ball 13, Moreno 12, Hillman 12.

It’s worth noting that none of the trio blew a blitz pickup, although Moreno did get flagged for holding and Ball appeared to go the wrong way on a late handoff. It’s also notable that the Broncos turned to Ball in their red-zone package. Hillman was a change-of-pace guy that flashed a little as a receiver.

Conclusions: It’s obvious the Broncos have the most faith in Moreno. The problem is he has the least burst in this committee. Eventually, the coaches will have to take some risks and reach higher. If Ball can get his pass protection assignments down, he’ll be the man. Do not drop him. Until then, I would not want to start any Denver running back. If you must, Moreno is the best bet to play the most snaps in Week 2.

Peyton Manning threw for 462 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions. He’s the first QB since 1969 to throw seven TDs in a game. … Jacoby Jones sprained his knee on a punt return. That waiver gem Marlon Brown into an every-down player. Add him, the kid can play (4/65/1 Thursday). … Ed Dickson had four brutal drops. He’s an in-line blocker, not a pass-catcher. … Dallas Clark played the Dennis Pitta role and produced a 7/87/0 line on 12 targets. He also dropped a sure touchdown. The Ravens are leaning on Clark out of necessity, which makes him a TE2. … Torrey Smith got bottled up by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie most of the night and still had four catches for 92 yards. … Eric Decker caught just two passes for 32 yards and didn’t score, but he dropped a touchdown as well as a wide-open slant. Plenty of buy-low appeal despite being third in the pecking order. … Wes Welker looked like he never left New England. The guy just gets open at will. It's obviously not the system. 

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Keep reading for a full recap of Thursday's news and Survivor thoughts.

No nicks will mean cash money
I’m intrigued by the Hakeem Nicks situation because he’s gone from one of the game’s rising young stars at wideout to a guy no one wants to touch. And the only reason no one wants to touch him is because of injuries.

Well, Nicks is practicing in full and says his body “feels the best it has felt in a long time.” So why did he look a step slow and lethargic during the preseason? Perhaps it was all part of a plan. Nicks’ contract is up after this season, so he says he purposefully played it safe throughout the offseason program and in exhibition games. Now that Week 1 is here, he says that plan has paid off. It’s time for him to get the green. He knows he can’t cash in without staying healthy and producing, giving Nicks a ton of motivation this season.  

Miami’s running back charade
This ongoing saga of a running back battle in Miami is growing really tiresome. The Dolphins have named Lamar Miller their starter after he averaged 4.24 yards per carry in the preseason. But according to coach Joe Philbin, Miller and Daniel Thomas are still “very, very close.” He says this even though Thomas averaged just 2.74 yards per carry in the preseason and has flubbed just about every NFL opportunity he has had.

Even Thomas is buying in. When asked if he was disappointed to be slapped with the backup tag, Thomas said: “It’s cool. We’re all going to get pretty much the same amount of reps. It’s not a problem.”

The problem is that Miller is the far superior runner in just about every aspect. Thomas has the edge in pass protection. Despite all the coachspeak that has gone on over the last month, look for Miller to separate himself sooner rather than later. As for Week 1, expect Miller to get the majority of carries and Thomas to get his snaps on passing downs.

Saddle up, Maurice
The Jaguars know their quarterback situation is bad. They know their offensive line has the potential to be a strong unit. They know Maurice Jones-Drew is entering the final year of his contract. So it’s obvious that the game plan should be to just saddle MJD up for about 25 touches a day and run him into the ground. He won’t be in Jacksonville next year anyway.

Credit Jones-Drew, because he doesn’t have a problem with that. When asked how many carries he can handle against the Chiefs Sunday, he said, “as many as it takes.” Jones-Drew’s foot is completely healed and he’s ready to rock with a monster workload against a Chiefs run defense that ranked 27th in the league last year.

Arian Foster (calf, back) is practicing in full. I’m expecting a 60/40 split with Ben Tate on Monday night. … Rashard Mendenhall (knee) was limited in practice Thursday. He’s expected to suit up as a low-upside fantasy flex option. … Victor Cruz (heel) was officially limited, but he’s moving well. He’s going to play Sunday night. … David Ausberry (shoulder) hasn’t practiced since Aug. 16. Jeron Mastrud is going to start against the Colts Sunday. … Rob Gronkowski (back) continues to practice with the rest of his teammates. A Week 3 return is looking likely. … Danny Amendola downplayed the groin issue that has him on the injury report. He’ll be fine and is expected to play every snap Sunday. … Jordy Nelson (knee) is also ready to go. Coach Mike McCarthy said Nelson “looks like he’s back to himself.” … Rob Housler (ankle) is not practicing and only a stash for deep leaguers. … Santonio Holmes (foot) didn’t practice and remains questionable for Week 1. If he plays, it will be limited snaps. … Marcedes Lewis (calf) couldn’t finish practice Wednesday and then sat out Thursday. Move along. … Roddy White (ankle) is a full go.

Steve Smith went on a rant that included a bit about how Mike Tolbert was underutilized last season. He said that will change this year. Tolbert (hamstring) is a decent bet for 7-9 touches weekly until Jonathan Stewart returns. I talked about this more in Waiver Wired. … Ahmad Bradshaw is practicing in full, but the Colts aren’t disclosing their plan for backfield reps. Given the opponent (Raiders) and Bradshaw’s limited practice time with his new team, I suspect Vick Ballard will at least get 50 percent of the snaps. … Tim Tebow was reportedly contacted by an NFL team about joining their team and switching positions. He declined. … There are reportedly some people within the Raiders that think Matt McGloin gives them the best chance to win. Yes, that’s the same Matt McGloin that was a walk-on at Penn State and went undrafted in April. … Ryan Broyles’ role is expected to grow as the season moves along. He’s battled too much knee soreness to be counted on right now.

Survivor leagues are basically all the same. We pick one team to win each week and if that team emerges victorious, we advance to the next week. If we lose, we are done for the year. We can’t use the same team twice.

The biggest difference in Survivor leagues is how many entrants there are. You should shape your strategy around that. In my league, there are more then 5,000 players. So I know I’m going to have to think outside the box and stay alive until Week 17 (or beyond) to ship the cash.

With that in mind, I’ll be using the Steelers this week. Their next easy home game (I almost always only use home teams in Survivor) will be against the Bills on Nov. 10. We need to use them now while Ben Roethlisberger is healthy. I also considered the Colts, but they have home games vs. the Dolphins, Rams, Titans and Jags down the line.