We live in trying times. Politicians are yelling something about Big Bird and binders of women, being a cab driver is no longer a lucrative occupation, and it’s raining outside where I am. Worse yet, two of the top quarterbacks on draft boards back in August — Cam Newton and Michael Vick — are struggling, and struggling mightily.
So what should you do? Should you stay calm? Or should you use $15 worth of tools to record frantic messages that a large red button can repeat on demand?
I talked to Evan Silva, the senior editor at Rotoworld who also writes at ProFootballTalk, and I asked him about Vick and Newton before discussing happier QB times with two rising arms, in addition to the outlook for Stevan Ridley and Alfred Morris going forward, and the possible fall of Andre Johnson.
1. There’s concern about Cam Newton after his Week 5 struggles that were highlighted by just 4.9 yards per attempt. He’s also had two single-digit rushing games this year (four yards in Week 1, and six in Week 3). Do you think the concern about a regression is warranted? Or are we simply seeing defenses adjusting to Newton?
I think there are a lot of reasons for Carolina’s offensive struggles. I think it has less to do with defenses “figuring out” Newton and more to do with a failure to make progress. He hasn’t gotten better as a quarterback. He may have gotten worse. Newton’s fundamentals as a passer are off. The Panthers run perhaps the NFL’s most vertical offense, and Newton’s accuracy in the short to intermediate — where his receivers are more often open now — is probably his biggest weakness. I think playcaller Rob Chudzinski has failed to adjust, and Newton has failed to make strides. There have been times when he’s let his emotions get the best of him. The good news is it’s a small, five-game sample size. And Carolina has ample talent to fix it. Newton can be a dominant player on the field, as a runner and as a passer and as a dynamic playmaker. Against the Cowboys this Sunday, I think we’ll see that Chudzinski made some tweaks during the Panthers’ Week 6 bye. The coordinator and his pupils are too gifted to not get this thing back on track.
2. Michael Vick is going through his own struggles. Just worse, with 13 turnovers so far this year. But a healthy Vick is capable of winning a fantasy matchup on his own with his rushing ability and overall unique skillset. If the opportunity is there, do you recommend buying low?
Yes, I’d recommend buying low on Vick. I understand that he’s been turning the football over and his job hangs in the balance. He can’t keep giving the ball to the opponent like he did in the first six games. But at the same time — and I’m keeping the turnovers in mind — I think Vick has played better than he’s been credited for to this point. He’s had the Eagles’ offense on the move the whole time. Philadelphia ranks 11th in total offense, 13th in passing, and 11th in rushing. They’ve dealt with an injury to their top receiver that basically rendered Jeremy Maclin a non-factor for 11 of the season’s first 24 quarters. In Howard Mudd, they have a position coach who’s turned much less talented offensive lines into formidable units. The Eagles have a cupcake schedule in terms of opposing defenses the rest of the way, and I think Vick is just now beginning to hit his stride.
3. Let’s look at happier quarterback times. Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco are two of the surprise point producers at the position, and they could both finish with significantly more fantasy points than they had last year. Which QB is more likely to sustain their current pace?
In standard scoring, Dalton is the No. 7 overall fantasy quarterback today. Flacco is No. 11. I think Flacco will finish the year in the 7-10 range and Dalton will be 12-16. Baltimore’s injuries on defense are piling up, and the Ravens will have to play more aggressive offense to compensate, whether it be due to a change in philosophy or comeback-driven deficits. Or both. As for Dalton, I think if we owned a crystal ball at the beginning of the season and knew how bad some of these defenses he’s playing would turn out, we could have projected he’d produce like a legit fantasy starter early in the year. Dalton has played six games, and he still hasn’t faced a top-19 defense. Five of the six defenses he’s faced rank 26th or worse in the league. In terms of sheer pass defense, Dalton hasn’t faced any group ranked higher than 22nd. The next time Dalton lights up a competitive defense will be the first. I think you’ll stay afloat if you roll with Flacco as your fantasy starter in the final ten weeks of the fantasy season. I think you’ll be in trouble if you lean on Dalton.
4. Turning to running backs, Alfred Morris and Stevan Ridley have provided great value. Who has the better season? And for keeper league players, who’s the better keeper?
Yes, few running backs have turned out to be better fantasy-draft values than Morris and Ridley. Morris’ final ADP (Average Draft Position) was the early part of the 12th round. Ridley went in the middle of the sixth. C.J. Spiller (eighth-round ADP) is right up there, too, although debating the greatest running back draft picks is another argument for a different day. Ridley and Morris have been terrific. Morris is the No. 4 overall standard-league running back scorer, and Ridley is No. 7.
Although I had a more aggressive ninth-round final draft grade on Morris and selected him in all of my leagues, I was wrong to ever question his staying power as the feature runner in Washington. Coach Mike Shanahan has a long history of whimsical tailback usage, and I thought as a guy who runs 4.7 and doesn’t play in the passing game, Morris would be a short-term fix for the Redskins. Morris leaves no yards on the field, however, with a forward-leaning, leg-churning, tackle-breaking running style. He knows his assignment in the zone-run system and executes without fail. He hasn’t fumbled once on 155 combined preseason and regular season carries. I’m knocking on some wood now for the sake of his fantasy owners, but “ALF” looks about as locked in as can be.
Ultimately, I think Ridley will have a slightly better season. Both the Redskins and Patriots are committed to the running game in 2012, and I think New England’s offense is and will continue to be a bit more high-powered. I don’t think there’s any question that Ridley is a better sheer talent than Morris, but they’re both excellent young backs and I think both can be multiple-year assets.
5. Lastly, Andre Johnson has declined, and although that was expected due to his age and injuries, a fall this dramatic is still a little jarring. Are we officially watching the end of his time as an elite fantasy wide receiver? Or is his lack of production a result of Houston simply leaning more towards the running game and Arian Foster?
I think we still need a bigger sample before deciding that Johnson has declined, or fallen off a cliff, or however you phrase it. I want to see him play Baltimore in Week 7 in a potential shootout against a team that just lost its top corner for the season. I thought Johnson got open regularly last Sunday night against the Packers. He looked good to me, catching eight balls for 75 yards. Johnson obviously has not met draft-day expectations — and he may fall well short when we look back in two and a half months — but I’m confident he can still be a top-15 fantasy wideout. Early-season blowouts can bode poorly for receivers when it comes to sheer box-score stats, and the Texans had a lot of decisive wins in the first five weeks. If Houston is going to get where it wants to go this season, that team will need its best receiver more than it has to this point in the year.