If you’re hopping into this series with fresh legs then stop whatcha doin’, ‘cause I’m about to ruin the image and the style that ya used to. That drop has about as much value-add in this article as a room full of Calvin Klein models has for Sir Mix-A-Lot. And with that, I’ll bring it back and give you the prologue to this series as well as the NFC West article. I also received some good feedback in the last article about calling out 2013 team rushing performance as it relates to opponent rushing defense. I’ve added high level 2013 data to the charts below in order to provide a snapshot for conference and non-conference opponent rushing defense Z scores and offensive team Y/C in comparison. Let’s go.
New Orleans Saints
It isn’t surprising to look back at 2013 and see an overall yards per carry below 4. There are rumblings of the Saints stressing the run more in 2014, but the problem is that the Saints will be hard pressed to produce more fantasy production on the ground in 2014 as their schedule gets more difficult this year for running backs. With the departure of Darren Sproles, the Saints should be eager to continue giving the rock to Pierre Thomas with his new 3 year contract. From a business perspective, it would also behoove the Saints to not feature Mark Ingram enough to drive up his free agency market value in 2015 and keep him around as a depth option. Travaris Cadet is rumored to take on the Darren Sproles role, so once again this backfield is far from anything you can depend on for consistent production.
Pierre Thomas presents a nice value play, however, as he’s currently getting drafted in the middle rounds. Based on schedule strength, he should have both a couple nice games and rough games, but then the schedule gets brutal from weeks 9-14. This should provide a great opportunity for savvy owners to buy Thomas after his Carolina and San Francisco games when his owners are likely to be down on him. While the Chicago Bears and the Atlanta Falcons won’t perform as poorly as they did in 2013 against the run, it’s a very friendly playoff schedule weeks 15-16 to help secure a title. Depending on bench size,1 Khiry Robinson should earn a bench spot as a guy that could pay dividends should his involvement grow as foreshadowed in last year’s playoffs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is a tricky one because Doug Martin seemed to be an early value pick as he was being drafted in the middle of the 2nd round about a month ago. In recent real and mock redrafts per MyFantasyLeague.com, Doug E. Fresh has been beat-boxin’ his way up to the mid to late first round. I’m Dropping a link here that is somewhat of an antithesis to this exercise overall.2 It may give pause to strength of schedule projections, but I just can’t ignore the value of statistical benchmarks.
In any event, the article also serves as a good reason fantasy owners should give a little pause to Dougy in the first round as Jeff Tedford likes to throw the ball to Running Backs as much as Eli Manning can hold his liquor. To add injury to insult and confuse matters more, The Bucs may have made a statement as to what they plan to do by adding Charles Sims in the draft with an early pick. Maybe Tedford looks to open things up a little bit. Sims is an all-around good back that wasn’t drafted not to gain snaps. Martin is the guy to own in Tampa, but Lovie Smith isn’t afraid to use his runners in situational fashion and keep fresh legs.3 The AFC East isn’t a great draw this year, and it appears that it’s a bumpy road leading up to weeks 10-12 when Doug and Co. should be at their best. The problem is that Tampa Bay has to face Cincinnati, Detroit, and Carolina before he gets Green Bay in week 16. I’d rather let someone else draft Martin at his current price, pluck a receiver in that range, and draft Sims as a late round flyer.
Let’s cut to the chase: Deangelo Williams is getting drafted late – very late. I’m going to own him in a lot of leagues at his current price. He’s a starting running back on a team that added Kelvin Benjamin, who should be able to open things up a little bit for the run game. Many are viewing Williams as a RB4, and I think that’s harsh. Is this because we think Jonathan Stewart is going to produce? People must really love yoga. Williams was a borderline RB2 last year, and his workload likely increases. If you plan on waiting on running backs, this is a prime target. Maybe Kenjon Barner gets involved a little this year, but you can find out and scoop him off the waiver. At a minimum, he’s well on his way to perfecting the Kid ‘N Play look. Tyler Gaffney is a decent late round dynasty pluck. The Panther Y/C metrics listed appear to be inflated when you think about Cam’s impact to that number, but D-Willy was above 4 yards as well. Based on the schedule, it appears to be fairly neutral across the board and the Panthers should be able to run with some success consistently throughout the year and Williams can sustain some safe and conservative production as a flex play.
Atlanta’s entire matchup chart is going to look extremely terrible because Atlanta was extremely terrible in 2013. When pinned up side-by-side against the Falcons, the worst rushing defense could make Roseanne Barr look like Kathy Ireland in a room next to Ellen Burstyn’s Sara Goldfarb in Requiem For a Dream. Left Tackle Sam Baker is still questionable to perform at a high level as he recovers from a knee injury, but Jake Matthews was the most NFL ready offensive line prospect in the draft and will be able to somewhat help close the gap. Julio’s presence also helps to open up run lanes, but I’m not going to say they’ve made enough moves to make them a good bet. Having said all this, Steven Jackson is going in the 8th round, and that’s another bargain bin running back to target for your Antifgragile rosters. In the even that SJAX takes a dive, Devonta Freeman is a nice late round handcuff that can come in and spell Jackson right away and likely leapfrog the underwhelming Jacquizz Rodgers. In comparison to competition the Falcons appear at first glance to have a worse schedule than they actually have. They will face some stout defenses in the middle of schedule and present buying opportunities, but the playoff schedule includes Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans – it could certainly be worse.