Sunday Morning Huddle: Week Fourteen

George Kritikos


Let’s face it, there’s an enormous amount of information out there on Sunday mornings. We’re not going to waste your time by repeating the news and notes about who’s in or out this week, since that’s really not what you visit us for. We’re also not going to do another article on starts or sits this week – we already have the personalized lineup advice for you on the premium content. Again, there are 100 places you can go for that, so no reason to repeat ourselves or others.

The Sunday Morning Huddle goes through each game and states what we’re looking to see from a dynasty perspective. We’ll pick one player from each team who we have our eye on and describe why their weekend performance is a key one for them in relation to their dynasty value.

Early Games

Baltimore at Miami

An interesting stat I saw recently (and cannot take credit for): Torrey Smith has been between the 20th and 24th ranked wide receiver in each of his first four seasons (including the WR22 this year). I don’t think anyone would be calling Smith consistent this year, but his end of season stats suggest it ends up that way. Given his recent resurgence, I am curious to see if Smith extend his four game streak of four or more receptions (he had one game of four catches prior to this run) against elite cover corner Brent Grimes.

Speaking of the Miami defense, I would like to stop and appreciate the progression we have seen this year from linebacker Koa Misi. The 2010 second round draftee out of Utah has begun to make an impact as he has recorded six or more tackles in five of his eight games this season after accomplishing the feat just twice last year in 15 starts. In Baltimore, you have a team that is eighth in the league in run play percentage (45%) so there are opportunities here for Misi to add another startable game to his 2014 ledger.

[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]

Carolina at New Orleans

I am going to highlight the Carolina running game for the second week in a row – this is no different than a blind date being described as having “a good personality.” It’s ugly no matter how you dress it. New Orleans is a great matchup as they are in the bottom ten in rushing yards and receiving yards to running backs allowed – that makes Jonathan Stewart a solid play in dynasty leagues where you are looking for a low-end RB2 or a nice flex play. Fozzy Whittaker may spell Stewart, but there is no value in that stock.

My attempts to avoid elite players has been tabled after the Jimmy Graham fiasco of week 13. Zero targets, zero catches, zero love from Drew Brees. Carolina is a plus matchup against receivers but is a neutral opponent against tight ends. Does Brees focus on his receivers knowing the advantages he has or does he look to Graham in an effort to keep the Panthers honest over the middle?

Tampa Bay at Detroit

Detroit boasts a good defense, but they have struggled against tight ends. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay is having issues with getting the tight end position involved in the offense. When your leading tight end last week was Cameron Brate, things can’t be going well. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins needs to establish himself as he only has 34 targets on the year (less than four per game). Will there be enough to go around on Sunday to get ASJ involved or will he be relegated to an afterthought?

After a Thanksgiving spectacular that showed what Matthew Stafford is capable of, dynasty owners are hoping for a nice stretch run (myself included). Stafford has been a consensus top five-to-ten quarterback, but has been more of a high level QB2 in his career. Owners forget that he is still just entering his prime (27 in February), but Stafford has the best weapons of his career so if he is unable to put together a few solid games to close the season, he may never reach the lofty expectations a number one overall NFL Draft pick is given.

New York Jets at Minnesota

For the first time in his career, Chris Ivory has looked healthy and is producing at levels many were predicting when he signed with the Jets. Rated by Pro Football Focus (PFF) as the number six runner, Ivory is fourth in the league with 43 missed tackles despite seeing just 146 carries this year. Minnesota gives up the fourth highest yards per carry to running backs and have been struggling with power runners all season. This is a tailor made matchup for Ivory, hopefully the coaching staff agrees.

Labeled the new “X receiver” by the coaching staff, Charles Johnson has led the Vikings in targets in each of the last three games. Before owners get too excited, he is also a player who has the lowest catch percentage amongst Vikings receivers (51%) and is only one for twelve on deep pass plays (over 20 yards). This lack of efficiency hurt Cordarrelle Patterson as well and he is a bigger playmaker with the ball than Johnson. Monitor Johnson’s play for signs of improvement before investing too much in his future.

St. Louis at Washington

I am avoiding Tre Mason as he is facing a defense among the best in total yards and touchdowns allowed to running backs. Rather, I would look to wide receiver where Washington is vulnerable (third worst in touchdowns allowed and bottom ten in yards per reception allowed). Stedman Bailey has been thriving with Shaun Hill over the last three weeks with an 83% catch rate on 18 targets (15 catches), totaling 215 yards and a touchdown. The second year receiver from West Virginia is setting himself up for a starting spot in 2015 and this is another game to cement that case.

When Jordan Reed is healthy, he has shown top five potential, but everyone has seen that. With Colt McCoy at quarterback this year, Reed is averaging seven catches on nine targets and 90 yards receiving – that, conversely, is a trick no one was expecting. While St. Louis is a tough matchup against tight end, I am more interested to see if this connection continues even in the face of adversity.

Indianapolis at Cleveland

A neutral matchup in the run game, Indianapolis has yet another opportunity to figure things out. Dan “Boom” Herron, the former sixth rounder, has averaged 7.7 yards per carry (on 20 carries) in the last two games. Meanwhile, the reliably mediocre Trent Richardson is averaging 2.6 (on 21 carries) during the same timeframe. What keeps this from being an easy answer is Herron’s two lost fumbles and average blocking skills. How the Colts respond to his shortcomings will be the difference between a fantasy playoff RB2 and bench fodder with boom or bust potential in 2015.

Vontae Davis was ruled out on Sunday, so the Brian Hoyer-to-Josh Gordon connection has no roadblocks to success. If Hoyer cannot reverse his two game skid that includes a 0:5 touchdown to interception ratio in this week’s matchup, Johnny Manziel may finally have his chance. With Gordon now likely seeing a lot of Greg Toler (who has given up five touchdowns already this season), Hoyer should be looking to his top wideout frequently for the third straight week.

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

Since Martavis Bryant’s week ten high of 143 receiving yards, he has totaled 34 yards in the subsequent two games. Add in a declining snap count (from 39 to 34) and a lack of production in the deep passing game (he has zero catches on three targets after having two long passes caught in week ten). Cincinnati has been great against opposing wide receivers, so Ben Roethlisberger may need to spread the ball around more than usual.

Another week on the Cincinnati running back carousel and dynasty owners are still struggling for answers. Does Jeremy Hill become the undisputed feature back or is Giovani Bernard still a key part of this offense? They have similar elusiveness and breakaway abilities in 2014 according to PFF while both managing to catch over 70% of their passes. This will likely be an even split until someone either gets injured or fumbles his way into the dog house.

Houston at Jacksonville

Alfred Blue has struggled since his week 11 breakout against Cleveland. Averaging just 2.3 yards per carry since Arian Foster’s return, he may be losing his grip on the backup job. Preseason player to watch Jonathan Grimes has averaged 4.1 yards per carry (on seven carries) in the same timeframe and has shown himself to be the best pass blocker at the position. For those looking to stash someone for 2015, Grimes still has potential despite the lack of opportunity. This game is a prime matchup for the running back position so the rotation will be interesting to watch.

Speaking of a position to watch, the Jacksonville receiving core has been a slew of talented players rotating opportunities. Just last week, they had three players with seven targets each while no other receiver was given a single look. Marqise Lee is the one to watch here though given his crisp route running ability and how he has overcome the drops that plagued him at USC (zero drops on 34 targets this year). In this easy matchup, the Jaguars will go to the air and Lee could be their best bet on key conversions.

New York Giants at Tennessee

Another chance for Andre Williams may be coming on Sunday as Rashad Jennings is struggling with an ankle injury. Fun fact about the Titans’ run defense: they allow the most rushing yards to running backs but the least receiving yards to running backs – that works well for Williams as he has just 11 receptions (with two drops) and was known as a mediocre receiver at Boston College. If he gets the start and fails to perform, it may be safe to write him off as anything more than a situational player.

Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter are both out this week and the Giants have a terrible run defense – could this finally be the week the Titans finally commit to Bishop Sankey? Probably not, but it is worth watching in this game. Sankey is a capable pass catcher and could play the underneath role and surpass his four catch high in week eight. Add in the fact the Giants are second in yards per carry allowed to running backs (a whopping 4.9) and Sankey needs to produce in this game.

Afternoon Games

Kansas City at Arizona

Third worst in the league in yardage allowed to tight ends, the Arizona Cardinals should see a healthy dose of Travis Kelce. A fringe TE1, Kelce has had at least two catches in every game this season, along with an 80% catch rate. While Anthony Fasano has poached three touchdowns in the last four games, the Chiefs would be wise to let their young stud have a fourth straight week of 80% of the snaps played.

Andre Ellington is out this week, so Stepfan Taylor gets the start against a run defense that is worst in yards per carry allowed (5.1) this year. Taylor does not have the breakaway ability to capitalize on this, but Marion Grice could exploit a few holes. I am still a believer in the versatile rookie and while he does not have the label of starter, Grice was the only player who saw carries after Ellington was injured last week. This may be a timeshare to start, but I think Grice has more success and gradually takes the snaps in this game.

Seattle at Philadelphia

It seems like Russell Wilson is getting desperate these days as Tony Moeaki has caught six passes in his last two games. Moeaki is slowly taking the lead tight end role due to his blocking ability and sure hands in the passing game. Despite missing the last 18 months, Moeaki looks refreshed and at age 26, could carve out a role in this offense.

From one tight end committee to another, Zach Ertz has continued to be an enigma in this offense. While the overall numbers show him getting roughly two thirds the snaps Brent Celek is allotted, that number has shifted to Ertz seeing less than 30% of the snaps compared to Celek in the last three games. While he still has more targets (13 to 11), Ertz is not trusted to do much blocking and that has been a death sentence in Chip Kelly’s offense.

Buffalo at Denver

A sleeper brought up recently in one of the DLF forums, MarQueis Gray flashed some of his athleticism with a two catch, 71 yard performance last week after playing a season high 29 snaps. Given the lack of playmakers at the position, Gray has an opportunity to carve out a role beyond this season. A former quarterback and wide receiver at Minnesota, Gray is still learning the position, so patience is key here.

Now the only Brandon Marshall playing, Denver’s linebacker has racked up four double digit solo tackle games this season and has over 100 total tackles on the year – this coming from a fifth round pick in 2012 who only played in the wild card game last season. Marshall is rated third by PFF for outside linebackers and has a positive rating in all aspects of the position. Playing opposite Von Miller helps, but Marshall has proven to be a real find for the Broncos.

San Francisco at Oakland

Not quite a cross-town rivalry, the 49ers will be looking closely at their franchise quarterback who hasn’t had a multiple touchdown game since week six. Add in the fact Colin Kaepernick is running more (6.5 attempts per game) but is gaining less yardage (4.5 yards per carry) and it is safe to say he has regressed. Kaepernick is seeing all his key stats trending the wrong way (e.g. a lower yardage per attempt but a higher interception percentage), so he really needs to finish strong or the team may dial back his responsibilities in the offense.

There’s very little to highlight on this team, but Latavius Murray is coming back this weekend so let’s go there. Inexplicably, the coaching staff has maintained that their other running backs will remained heavily involved with Murray being a change of pace player. Luckily, the coaching staff looks to be on the way out, so maybe Murray gets his shot in 2015. In just 14 carries, he has the same number of touchdowns (two) as the remaining backfield combined (on 176 carries).

Sunday Night Game

New England at San Diego

The trade for Tim Wright hasn’t worked out the way fantasy owners expected for New England. Wright is not Aaron Hernandez and is spending nearly two thirds of his time in the slot (compared to less than 50% for Hernandez in his career). Wright had five straight games with a receiving touchdown before last week, but he could start a new streak against the Chargers. San Diego is the toughest team against the tight end so Rob Gronkowski may struggle while Tom Brady turns to other options like Wright.

For those looking for any solace in what appears to be a lost season for Ladarius Green, he is averaging more receiving yards per route (1.79) than Antonio Gates (1.59). That unfortunately means little when you are targeted just 21 times on the season despite an 80% catch rate. Against the team second worst in yards allowed to the tight end position, maybe San Diego puts Green in a position to get a few more targets.

Monday Games

Atlanta at Green Bay

I was surprised to learn Kroy Biermann leads defensive lineman in solo tackles (45) and total tackles (57). Considering he missed nearly all of last season and moved from linebacker to left defensive end, that is a lot to deal with and be successful. He should expect a lot of opportunity to add his 37 defensive stops, good for third at the position.

It is now week 14 and the Packers have continued to struggle with a solution at the tight end position. Andrew Quarless is the starter, but has had exactly two catches in each of the last five games. Richard Rodgers, the backup, has caught a touchdown in each of the last two games. Given past performance at this position, someone should be valuable here but the answer may lie outside the team. This is a situation to keep an eye on going into the off-season.