2010 Fantasy Football Preview: Sleeper WRs

SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 12: Johnny Knox #13 of the Chicago Bears in action against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on November 12, 2009 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won 10-6. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Yesterday, I listed a few sleeper RBs that I’m targeting in the mid to late rounds, and today I’ll tackle the WR position. I’ve already discussed a few 10th-round-type players in the WR preview — specifically Derrick Mason, Malcom Floyd and Devin Aromashodu — so I’ll limit this list to players with average draft positions (ADP) in the 11th round or later.

Johnny Knox (10.11) & Devin Hester (10.11)
I’ve already broken my 11th round rule. Knox and Hester are practically going on the 11th, so I’ll give myself a pass. Truth is, I like all the Bears receivers in Mike Martz’s wide open system, but I’m not sure which guy will finish the best stats. Hester seems built to be a Wes Welker slot-type guy (with more quickness), while Knox has a ton of speed. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune thinks that Knox is emerging as Jay Cutler’s top target and Rotoworld speculates that it’s because of his ability to control his elite speed a la Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. It’s entirely possible that all three wideouts will have fantasy relevant seasons.

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Revisiting the Santonio Holmes Postulate

Last week, I posed a theory that Santonio Holmes puts up much better numbers when the Steelers struggle to run the ball.

Intuitively, this makes sense. The Steelers have always wanted to be a running team, and generally don’t cut the passing game loose unless they’re having real problems on the ground. In the 17 games over the past two-plus seasons where the Steelers have averaged fewer than 4.0 ypc, Holmes has averaged 4.3 receptions for 74 yards and 0.8 TD, which equates to 16.6 fantasy points per game. Last season, eight WRs — Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Brandon Marshall, Roddy White, Calvin Johnson, Antonio Bryant
and Steve Smith — had higher averages.

What does this all mean? Well, when the Steelers have trouble running (i.e. they are unable to rush for 4.0 ypc or more), then Santonio Holmes is a top 10 receiver. This happened in 17 of the Steelers’ last 34 games, and 12 of those 17 games were in 2008 or 2009, so as the Steelers continue to have bigger and bigger problems running the ball, Holmes’s average production should continue to rise.

It’s worth noting that in games where the Steelers rushed for 4.0 ypc or more, Holmes averaged 3.7 receptions for 57 yards and 0.2 TD (or 10.5 fantasy points). These are WR30-WR35 numbers.

In Week 2, the Steelers visited the Bears, who traditionally have a good rush defense. Pittsburgh running backs gained 99 yards on 19 carries, which equates to a healthy 5.2 yards per carry. But a good portion of those yards came on one play, a Rashard Mendenhall 39-yards scamper in the middle of the third quarter. Removing that play, the Steelers rushed for just 3.3 yards per carry.

For his part, Santonio Holmes had a pretty nice day in the receiving game. He caught five passes for 83 yards, but dropped a couple of balls, including a potential TD in the endzone. Still, in PPR leagues, this is a very reasonable 13.3 fantasy points.

Though the YPC doesn’t reflect it, the Steelers had a tough time running the ball on Sunday. And, once again, Holmes thrived. The Steelers play Cincinnati next week, and the Bengals have been pretty stingy against the run thus far, allowing just 3.6 ypc to opposing running backs. If the Steelers can’t get the Parker-Mendenhall-Moore RBBC going in the first half, Holmes should have another good day.

The curious case of Santonio Holmes

All right, a show of hands…how many of you thought that Santonio Holmes was going to start of the 2009 season with a 9-131-1 statline against the Tennessee Titans last night?

Be honest.

Holmes finished 2008 (his third season) as fantasy’s WR33, averaging 3.7 catches for 55 yards and 0.3 TD in 15 games. His ADP entering the season was in the 5th round, largely because of the numbers he produced in the playoffs. After a mediocre 2-25-0 start against the Chargers, he posted 2-70-1 against the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game and 9-131-1 against the Cardinals in the Super Bowl. (You’re reading that right — Holmes had the exact same line in the Super Bowl as he did last night against the Titans.)

Heading into the season, I thought Holmes was a nice value in the 6th round, or a decent pick in the 5th if I had to go WR and the other guys — Eddie Royal, Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Anthony Gonzalez and Braylon Edwards — were already gone. Holmes just seemed overrated after winning the Super Bowl MVP. After all, this is a guy who finished no better than WR29 in PPR leagues in the last two seasons, and converted just 48% of his targets into catches in 2008. (The league average last season was 57.5%.)

Holmes’ production seems to be at least partly dependent on how well the Steelers are running the ball. Over the past two-plus seasons (and including last night’s game), Holmes has posted 70-plus receiving yards in 13 games. In those games, the Steelers ran the ball well (4.0 ypc or greater) just three times: versus the Bengals and Rams in 2007 and again against the Bengals in 2008.

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2009 Fantasy Football Preview: WRs

All 2009 Fantasy Articles | 2009 Position Rankings

As more and more leagues have tweaked their rules to try to even out the importance of other positions with respect to running backs, wide receivers have become increasingly valuable in the last few years. In leagues that award one point per reception, it’s a completely legitimate strategy to draft a WR in the back half of the first round. In fact, after the top five or six PPR backs – Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, Steven Jackson, Matt Forte, LaDainian Tomlinson and Frank Gore – are off the board, we wouldn’t snicker at someone who decided to pull the trigger on Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson instead of going choosing a player from the second tier of RBs. (If you’re wondering about Michael Turner, we love the guy, but he isn’t going to catch any passes and it doesn’t look like he’ll approach 376 carries again this season.)

Wide receivers are a little dicey because of the inconsistency that is intrinsic to the position. WRs have to depend on plays being called for them and on their QB to deliver the ball. There’s a better chance that a top RB will get his 20 touches (handoffs, dump offs) than there is that a top WR will get his 7-8 catches. As an example, last year’s top RB, Matt Forte, only had one game where he scored fewer than 14 fantasy points, and that was in Week 17, when it didn’t really matter. Conversely, the top WR, Andre Johnson, had four games where he scored fewer than 10 fantasy points (including Week 16, when it really mattered).

This year there appear to be a group of 12 stud fantasy wideouts: Fitzgerald, A. Johnson, Steve Smith, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Anquan Boldin, Greg Jennings, Roddy White, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston. These are proven players that are in stable situations, or saw their situations improve over the summer (i.e. Matt Cassel in for Tyler Thigpen is an upgrade for Bowe). Anyone not on this list changed teams (T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Laveranues Coles), had a downgrade at QB (Brandon Marshall, Jerricho Cotchery), has an attitude problem (Braylon Edwards, Chad Ocho Cinco), or some combination of all three (Terrell Owens).

This, coupled with the relative depth at the RB position – there are a number of backs going in rounds 3-5 that are good bets to crack the top 20 or top 15 – makes this a year when drafting a WR or two in the first three rounds a pretty compelling strategy. Would it be better to have Steve Slaton, Brian Westbrook and Terrell Owens or Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne and Ronnie Brown? We’d feel better about that second group.

Regardless, it’s always good to have a few guys targeted in those middle rounds (5-9) so that you can build depth and maybe even find a guy that develops into a starter-caliber WR. There is a tendency now to always look young at wideout, and this is causing some proven veterans to slip further than they should.

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Fantasy Fallout: Week 9

Everything you need to know (and a lot that you don’t) about the fantasy implications of Sunday’s action.

QUARTERBACKS

Trent Edwards threw two picks and fumbled, but he threw for more than 197+ yards and a TD for the sixth time in eight games…Kyle Orton suffered an ugly ankle injury and it looks like he could be out for a month. Rex Grossman will fill in for him…Gus Frerotte (182 yards, 3 TD, INT) continues to play solid ball for Minnesota. Since he took over six games ago, he is averaging 245 yards and 1.3 pass TD per game.

RUNNING BACKS

Kevin Smith got 16 touches to Rudi Johnson’s 10, and Smith also scored a TD, so it looks like he is the lead back in Detroit…Cedric Benson (25 touches, 109 yards, TD) seems to be settling into the RB1 role in Cincy…All that pregame talk about Michael Bennett getting most of the work for Tampa Bay turned out to be erroneous. Earnest Graham is a solid start as long as Warrick Dunn is out. He fumbled twice, but threw a TD to Alex Smith to make up for it…There were rumors that the Cardinals were going to cut Edgerrin James’ touches and give Tim Hightower more of the workload, but I wasn’t expecting Hightower to register 23 touches (108 yards, TD) and James to register zero. It looks like Hiightower is officially RB1 in Arizona…Ryan Grant (20 carries, 86 yards) ran pretty well against a good Titans defense, which is encouraging for his owners. He failed to score a TD, however…The Denver running game was awful against the Dolphins. Three RBs (Michael Pittman, Andre Hall and Ryan Torain) combined for 12 yards on 11 carries…Michael Turner (31 carries, 139 yards) once again tore up a bad rush defense. He has four 104+ yard games (OAK, GB, KC, DET) against mediocre-to-bad defenses and four sub 58-yard games (PHI, CHI, CAR, TB) against four good defenses. He doesn’t get any action in the passing game (3 receptions all year), so he can’t make up for a bad rushing day in PPR leagues…Maurice Morris (8 touches, 43 yards) and Julius Jones (11 touches, 45 yards) split the RB work almost evenly…BenJarvus Green-Ellis (16 touches, 65 yards, TD) and Kevin Faulk (15 touches, 98 yards) split the work with Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan out. Faulk has more value in PPR leagues while Green-Ellis is the better play in standard and TD-heavy leagues.


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