We always seem to come back to this problem of trust, and this week it’s both young, emerging players and dusty veterans alike forcing us to return to the question of conservative vs. aggressive. Thanks for that, Knowshon Moreno and Ryan Broyles.
Earlier this week I wrote at length about Moreno following his return from the vast, crowded wasteland of failed running backs. You were warned to look beyond the likely shattering disappointment that’s forthcoming this week when he attempts to run against the Buccaneers and their top-ranked run defense, and begin salivating over the Broncos’ soft schedule that begins in Week 14.
So that’s an easy solution, right? Sure. But what of Broyles? Moreno’s been mostly inadequate throughout his career, but at least we can faintly remember a time when he did something that resembled production, and a brief time when he was a fantasy option. Broyles is a rookie wide receiver who saw his first significant playing time in Week 12. He has speed, he runs great routes, and he received consistent looks on Thanksgiving Day, finishing with 12 targets.
But how much should we expect from Broyles going forward? There it is again. Trust.
I talked to Rotoworld‘s Patrick Daugherty for this week’s Five Questions. We navigated your trust issues, in addition to discussing the declines of Brandon Lloyd and Antonio Gates, and attempting to gauge the fantasy production of Colin Kaepernick for the remainder of the season, assuming he’s named the 49ers’ starting quarterback.
1. After the Bucs this week, the Broncos’ schedule is lining up nicely for Knowshon Moreno. How much do you trust him? Should those who made a claim on him this week feel safe sliding him in as a flex play, or could Ronnie Hillman and/or Lance Ball receive larger roles?
I would be lying if I said I saw Moreno’s ascension from No. 4 to No. 1 on the depth chart coming, but I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty excited about his prospects going forward. He was a true every-down back against the Chiefs, and passed his audition in almost every phase. He kept Peyton Manning upright as a blocker, was tough as a runner and caught a few passes. He ran smart, getting what was blocked and avoiding negative plays. He only took one loss before the Broncos’ final drive, where he was tasked with getting the ball near Matt Prater’s preferred hashmark. Do I believe 24 touches is Moreno’s ceiling? Yes. Do I think it’s unlikely the Broncos keep limiting third-round pick Ronnie Hillman to only three weekly carries after he averaged 9.5 touches between their Week 7 bye and Week 11? Yes. Do I have any doubt Moreno will be the Broncos’ back to own for the fantasy playoffs? No. Playing in Peyton’s offense means all the soft fronts a running back could ever dream of, and I think Moreno will be a strong flex/possible RB2.
2. Speaking of trust, what are we to make of Brandon Lloyd? Despite the Patriots’ rout of the Jets on Thanksgiving Day he had only 26 yards on three catches, his fifth straight game with less than 50 yards. There was a time when it was difficult to bench Lloyd because, well, he’s one of the top receivers in a Tom Brady-led offense. But we’ve long since passed that point now and Lloyd should be a flex play at best, right?
Unfortunately, yes. This summer, there were some who thought Lloyd could be the “next Randy Moss” — as in, an explosive, sure-handed veteran who goes off for a career year once he finally gets to play for one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I never believed that, but I also didn’t believe we’d essentially end up with the next Michael Crabtree. But that’s what we’ve got. New England is using Lloyd to move the chains, but when it comes to playmakers, he’s behind Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and maybe even Julian Edelman at this point. That’s not to mention Rob Gronkowski, who I think could return as early as Week 14. Lloyd’s hype and pedigree make him tough to sit, but this is the time of season where you need to start making difficult choices. Benching Lloyd might still seem unthinkable to some, but it’s not any more unthinkable than missing the fantasy playoffs. If you don’t have any depth or are struggling with injuries, he’s still someone you can start with reasonable hope for a big day. But if you’ve got plenty of options, my guess is at least one or two of them are better bets than Lloyd.
3. Antonio Gates is another under-producing veteran, with just 30 receiving yards over the past two weeks. Carrying two tight ends on a roster isn’t common, but with widely available options at the position providing either better or equal production (i.e. Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph), should Gates owners pick up someone else and use him as a matchup play going forward?
You’re right that carrying two tight ends is typically a rarity, but in 2012? It’s almost a necessity. Beyond the top 3-4 guys, there’s simply no clarity at all. Even the top has been ravaged by injury. There are so many intriguing options — Greg Olsen, Kyle Rudolph, Martellus Bennett, Dwayne Allen, Marcedes Lewis, etc. etc. etc. — but none of them seem to bring home the bacon on a weekly basis. I wouldn’t just pair Gates with another tight end, I might go as far to say that he’s not a must hold. Just submit yourself to pure streaming. The ghost of Gates’ past looms large, but let’s be realistic. It’s Week 13 and he’s averaging 3.2 catches for 36.8 yards. He’s cleared 60 yards just once all season. What’s more likely? He’ll finally come alive, a la Andre Johnson the past two weeks? Or he’ll keep doing what he’s been doing, playing like “just a guy” in an offense that’s going downhill fast? Strange as it may sound, I’m going to guess the latter.
4. Ryan Broyles has been a popular waiver wire add this week after stepping up to become Detroit’s second receiving option behind Calvin Johnson. What’s his ceiling going forward?
Pretty high. As in, locked-in WR3 with WR2 upside. He’s the No. 2 guy in an offense averaging a league-high 45.5 pass attempts per game. Matthew Stafford leads the NFL in passing yards. Broyles is the NCAA’s all-time receptions leader. That, of course, isn’t an indicator of potential value/production in and of itself. But he did it at a BCS powerhouse, and that certainly tells you he knows how to run a route. You don’t catch 349 passes in four years at the University of Oklahoma if you made a habit of lining up in the wrong spot, which is apparently what Titus Young was doing before Broyles replaced him. Broyles is sure-handed, and now almost 13 months removed from tearing his ACL, about back to 100 percent physically. He’s going to get looks, and if his track record is any indication — both the long one he left in college and the short one he’s forged in the NFL — he’s going to catch them.
5. Who’s the better fantasy quarterback throughout the rest of the regular season: Eli Manning, or Colin Kaepernick? Clearly at the beginning of the season it would have seemed insane to put those two together. But in the small sample size he’s given us Kaepernick is averaging 17.6 fantasy points since Week 10, while Manning is moving along at 13.4 points per week.
I’m going to give you the conservative answer and say Eli. I know there are so many things to be excited about with Kaepernick — and I do think he’s a low-end QB1 — but I wouldn’t be surprised if Week 11 ends up being his best game.
There would be no shame in that, of course. It was a really great performance. But no matter how varied or intriguing a young player’s skill-set is, they’re going to struggle. Like Tim Tebow before him, Kaep’s running ability gives him a much lower fantasy floor than than, say, Eli or Andy Dalton. But with the fantasy playoffs on the line, you’re playing with fire if you’re putting your fate in the hands of a player who’s made only two career starts.
That’s not to mention the 49ers’ schedule. A road game against a Rams team that played them to a draw in Week 10, a great Dolphins unit, a Patriots defense that makes a living off creating turnovers, the Seahawks in Seattle. The more and more film Kaep’s opponents have to study, the less and less of a picnic it’s going to be. And all that being said, I still have faith in Eli. He wasn’t at his best on Sunday, but he was still infinitely sharper than he was before the Giants’ bye week. In the end, it’s hard not to trust someone with Eli’s track record and ability, especially when they’ve got a 1-2 punch like Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks to throw to.