This week, the fantasy trio of Brandon Funston, Matt Romig and, yours truly, Mike Harmon tackle such topics as the changing of the guard across the league at QB, the values of Rudi Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for the final seven weeks and the scoring woes of consensus top kicker pick Mike Vanderjagt.
Let's kick off the roundtable with a look at the quarterbacks:
Q:A number of teams have announced QB changes for this week, and there are a couple others on the horizon. Does Patrick Ramsey, Eli Manning or A.J. Feeley have any fantasy value? What about potential starters J.P. Losman and Drew Henson?
Much ado about nothing in my book. I'm not hitching my wagon to any of these guys for a fantasy playoff run. We've already seen enough of Feeley to know he isn't a viable option. And if the veteran Kurt Warner was averaging less than 30 passes and a TD toss per week, we certainly shouldn't expect the rookie Eli Manning to break out of the system that calls for a heavy dose of Tiki Barber.
Losman likely wouldn't get a starting nod until at least Week 12. At that point, Buffalo is staring at a tough schedule with a starting rookie QB and WR (Lee Evans) and a first-year starter at RB (Willis McGahee). That overall inexperience will scare me away. As for Henson, well, I can't help but have visions of the gone-sour Chad Hutchinson experiment. Sans a running game and depth at receiver, Henson is not in a position to surprise fantasy owners.
That leaves, Ramsey, who may have a better arm than Mark Brunell, but he's not as accurate. Ramsey may be the one QB here worth even a look as backup insurance. If nothing else, expect that he'll make WR Laveranues Coles a worthwhile fantasy contributor again. In Ramsey's 10 full games behind center in '03, Coles produced four 100-yard games.
I'm still scratching my head at the Manning move. As far as keeping people out of trouble goes, the New York offensive line has been about as effective as ABC's censors. Everything gets through. I think they got their hand forced by the success of Ben Roethlisberger and they might pay for it. It's well publicized that four of New York's final seven opponents rank in the top five in sacks. He'll do a lot of throwing underneath and handing the ball to Tiki Barber, which won't register in fantasy leagues. Parcells insists he won't play Henson, we've seen Feeley's act and Losman looked positively lost in his NFL debut. That leaves Ramsey, who is at least mildly intriguing. Unlike the rest of these guys, he has extensive experience as a starter and a few 300-yard games under his belt. The knock on him has always been his decision making. He's got a big arm and a decent receiver corps, so if Joe Gibbs can just push the right buttons we might have ourselves a sleeper. Don't expect much in the next two weeks on the road at Philly and Pittsburgh.
Of the changes made this week, only Patrick Ramsey stands out as a potential fantasy starter. With Clinton Portis eating up yardage out of the backfield and solid wideouts Rod Gardner and Laveranues Coles, Ramsey can put up numbers. He threw 14 TD passes in 11 games last season before being cast aside for free agent Mark Brunell. Save Pittsburgh, the schedule is conducive to putting up some numbers. Look at the playoff weeks if you sneak in – San Francisco, Dallas and Minnesota are on tap to close the season.
Eli Manning faces a rough schedule in the coming weeks with a rapidly disintegrating offensive line. A.J. Feeley faces a tough schedule save a Week 12 meeting with San Francisco and still needs a running game to get rolling. As for Losman and Henson, both would face rough roads and conservative game plans to ease them in.
Q: If you're a Rudi Johnson owner, are you concerned that he will lose carries down the stretch to rookie Chris Perry?
Yes, that's a concern. But my immediate concern is Johnson's schedule, which has him facing four staunch run defenses in his next five outings. He has, arguably, the toughest schedule of any running back the rest of the way. Cincinnati could very well be out of the playoff picture come the beginning of December. If that's the case, Cincy has to see what it has in Perry. Johnson becomes a free agent at season's end and the Bengals will need to know if they'll be alright if/when Johnson skips town.
I wouldn't be too concerned. The Bengals are just starting to click (winners of 3 of 4) and the last thing you want to do with a first-year starting quarterback is disrupt his progress. Plus, Johnson has been solid if not spectacular this year. Pittsburgh Coach Bill Cowher recently said he's the best running back they have faced this year, including Baltimore's Jamal Lewis. Having said that, don't forget that we said goodbye to bye weeks last Sunday. If they are expendable, now is the time to cut loose your reserve tight ends, kickers and defenses in favor of some insurance for your running backs and wideouts.
Johnson is headed toward a date with free agency, so the next two-three weeks will say a lot toward the role he plays for the final weeks of the season. At 4-5, the Bengals are clinging to faint playoff hopes. They have a tough road to hoe, with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore and New England in the next month. If they drop the first two, they'll need to take an extended look at the rookie and try to decide if an offer to retain Johnson's services needs to be prepared.
With all of that said, the Bengals' schedule is brutal and may pose problems for Johnson even if he is the starter. I'd be leaning on my other backs down the stretch.
Q: Josh McCown is still stuck at six passing touchdowns. What, if any, value do receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin have for the remainder of the season?
Arizona faces a slew of soft run defenses down the stretch. The team is giving RB's Emmitt Smith and Troy Hambrick a combined 25 carries per game, while McCown ranks just 19th in the league in pass attempts (251). With run-soft defenses on the horizon, it is hard to imagine Arizona changing its offensive philosophy, especially since the team has enjoyed more success than most pundits were predicting. If you have depth at receiver, let Fitzgerald and Boldin ride the pine and make them force you to change your mind.
When the topic of McCown as a fantasy sleeper first came up, we knew we'd have to endure a few lean weeks. Miami, Buffalo and the New York Giants all rank among the NFL's best against the pass and two of those games came on the road. I think we're due for a breakout game and Fitzgerald will be the beneficiary. If you throw out a Buffalo game played under absurd weather conditions, he has at least five catches or 60 yards in seven of eight games. Boldin has been targeted more since his return, but he admits he's still hobbled and Fitzgerald remains the team's top deep threat. If I had to start one of the two right now it would be the rookie.
The Cardinals have been able to rely on the 35-year old legs of Emmitt Smith to get to a 4-5 record, so McCown hasn't needed to carry the squad. Larry Fitzgerald has been the steadiest of receivers for Arizona this season, but he averages just under four catches per week. He remains a deep ball threat for the stretch run. Anquan Boldin is still getting his legs under him, but has caught 14 balls in the past three weeks.
The Cardinals have several spots on the schedule where Boldin and Fitzgerald can have a fantasy impact. They will face Detroit, San Francisco and Seattle down the stretch. Look for Boldin to catch 40 balls in the final seven weeks with five touchdowns. I look for Fitzgerald to catch 25-30 passes with another three scores.
Q: If you're the owner that selected Mike Vanderjagt, do you give up on him, or do you continue to take the automatic four-five PAT's each week? If you're looking elsewhere, who has the most value off the waiver wire down the stretch.
You can't afford to let a guy slide by on his past performances for this long. Vanderjagt, who once reaped the benefits of his system, is now choking on the same system. Because Indy is stalling less in the red zone, Vanderjagt has just nine FG attempts. It's held his fantasy scoring down to the point that the top fantasy kicker, Adam Vinatieri, has nearly twice as many points. And there are about 10 other kickers averaging at least two more points a week than Vanderjagt. One of those kickers, San Diego rookie Nate Kaeding, is still widely available in fantasy leagues and has just one missed field goal on the season. I wouldn't hesitate to let Vanderjagt go for Kaeding. Other available options with significantly more points than Vanderjagt: Phil Dawson, Cle; Shayne Graham, Cin; John Carney, NO; Matt Stover, Bal;
I don't think there's anything wrong with cutting Vanderjagt loose. Kicker points are fluky by nature, but Vanderjagt has been a top 10 fantasy kicker only once this season, and that came in Week 10 when he converted seven extra points. Stick with him if you think defensive coordinators will eventually catch up with the Indy offense. If you expect Manning's run at Marino's record to continue, look elsewhere for help. As far as widely available free agent kickers go, the most productive of late has been Todd Peterson. He's made at least two field goals in four of San Francisco's last five games. Cincinnati's Shayne Graham also has a nice run going.
The Colts' efficiency in the red zone has been down-right frightening to date, leaving Vanderjagt with only nine FG attempts after a monster 2003 season. He's seemingly pre-programmed this season for the 20-yard kick, missing three FG attempts thus far. And while the automatic PAT's are nice, there's been only one shutout this season. That occurred in Week 3, when Seattle blanked San Francisco 34-0. Otherwise, you're at least pulling one point in the worst of conditions.
I'd be looking elsewhere for some extra punch down the stretch. While the Raiders have been brutal, Sebastian Janikowski has booted 15 field goals to go along with 16 PAT's. Cleveland has risen up and played well in a couple of games, but Phil Dawson has been outstanding. He's a perfect 17-for-17 on the season with 17 PAT's. Shayne Graham of Cincinnati has converted on 19 field goal attempts. That's just more than two per week. The Bengals have a rough schedule down the stretch, meaning that Graham will likely see a bunch of longer attempts.