One of the things we as human beings tend to do an awful lot of in our lives is react to the things we see around us. Often times this is a good thing. For example, if a car just so happens to be driving down the same sidewalk you are walking on, you better get out of the way! That’s definitely a good reaction.
There is another side of the coin, though – that is the gross overreaction which is becoming more and more common into today’s world, thanks in part to social media. This isn’t just in life but also in the world of fantasy football. It isn’t uncommon for the smallest of things are blown way out of proportion. Other times what should be a minor blip on the radar gets way more attention than it deserves. There are also times when we ignore all of the warning signs and try to stay the course, not realizing we are heading for a cliff. Don’t worry though, because I’m here to help with these very things.
Each week I will examine a player or sometimes multiple players to see if their value is on par with what people are talking about. Often times this will be a player who “breaks out” the previous week and might be getting a lot of attention in trade talks or on the waiver wire. Other times it might be a player who received a lot of hype during the off-season who isn’t living up to expectations. Regardless of what it is, I’ll be doing my best to steer you in the right direction and get you a step ahead of your leaguemates.
Keep in mind that no one is perfect. After all, I told you to ignore Justin Forsett after opening weekend last year. Hey, we all make mistakes, but I like to think I’ve had a pretty good track record over the years of doing this. Two years ago, I was one of the first to lay out why you needed to trade Trent Richardson for whatever you could get, much like the Browns had done a week or two before. At the time I was blasted by readers, but if you listened you sold before his value crashed. I was also dead on with Larry Donnell fading down the stretch, Allen Hurns being good enough to stay ahead of Marqise Lee on the depth chart, Antone Smith being little more than a rarely used homerun hitter, and countless other takes from the last few years. Moral of the story, I miss from time-to-time like everyone else, but I feel I get it right much more often. When I’m wrong, I’ll own that mistake.
Let’s take a look at two players who caught my attention in week one. Both are wide receivers well past their prime who have found themselves on a new team this year, though for one of them it is a very familiar place. If you were crazy enough to start them in week one you definitely weren’t disappointed, especially when you consider the lackluster performances of studs like Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr, AJ Green and so many others. The big question for this pair is if they can keep it up for more than one week.
We’re talking about none other than James Jones and Nate Washington.
James Jones, WR GB
Week One stats: Four receptions on four targets for 52 yards and a pair of touchdowns
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One of the biggest questions of training camp this year is where would the Packers turn to replace the production of their injured top receiver, Jordy Nelson. We knew Randall Cobb would side up to the top slot and presumed Davante Adams would join him in two receiver sets. The thing is, the Packers tend to run sets of three wide receivers or more on the vast majority of their plays. The early money was on 2014 rookie and size/speed freak Jeff Janis getting to nod if 2015 rookie Ty Montgomery didn’t beat him to it.
That isn’t exactly what happened.
When James Jones was cut by the New York Giants at final cuts after being released from the Raiders in the off-season, the Packers jumped at the chance to scoop him up. After a year away from the team, it was almost like Jones never left as he started a few days after his signing and led the other receivers in fantasy points thanks to his two touchdowns. Is this going to be a weekly occurrence?
The Good: There are a lot of things to like about Jones being back in Green Bay. The obvious one is the opportunity and system he is walking into. With a future hall of famer like Aaron Rodgers at the helm of the high scoring offense, there are going to be a lot of opportunities for points. With only two of the three starting receiver slots spoken for, there was definitely an opening for him to see some playing time. In fact, he saw 55 out of 60 offensive snaps which is one more than Cobb and just three behind Adams.
All of that is great, but undoubtedly the best news about him being back in Green Bay is his familiarity and chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. After spending the first seven years of his career with Rodgers, Jones is a very comfortable target. He and Rodgers have played more than enough snaps together to know what the other one is going to do on the field. People don’t realize this, but with this being Jones’ eighth season with Rodgers, it means he’s had more time with him than any other skill position player on the team. With only first and second year players behind Cobb, the trust Rodgers has in Jones is invaluable, especially in the red zone.
Thanks to all of that chemistry which was developed over the years, the back shoulder fade is going to be a huge weapon for the Rodgers/Jones connection. As we saw on Sunday in Chicago, even when Jones has almost perfect coverage against him, Rodgers can get him the ball. He can win those contested catches almost every time. Even when he is covered, he is open.
The Bad: While there are a lot of things to like about Jones, there are also more than a few red flags. One of the most notable concerns is what has happened over the last 15 months for Jones’ career. As a free agent, he signed with Oakland for the 2014 season. He did post a career high 73 receptions, but it came with a career low and rather anemic 9.1 yard average per reception. He had only two games over 65 yards and what production he did have often came in garbage time. In other words, it looks like a solid year by his involvement but it is very apparent that isn’t the case when you start to break it down. In fact, he was so ineffective, the Raiders cut him just one year into a three year deal. The Raiders aren’t known for their receiver depth, so that tells you something.
He went from the Raiders to the Giants this Summer and was originally believed to be competition for Rueben Randle. That was short lived as Jones couldn’t even make their 53-man roster with the Giants choosing to keep the likes of Corey Washington, Preston Parker and Geremy Davis on the roster instead.
I mentioned earlier that Jones can make contested catches. He’s had an awful lot of practice at it because at age 31 he can no longer separate from defenders. This is the main reason why his yards per reception were so low in Oakland and why he couldn’t make the Giants’ roster. He isn’t fast enough nor sudden enough to create any space. As a result, he’s forced to use his 6’1” frame to box out defenders to make a back shoulder catch. He’s going to struggle to get open.
The Ugly Truth: It is a great story for James Jones, a player who has been cut twice in the last six months, to reunite with his old team and help them to a victory over their rivals. His two touchdowns definitely stood out on a weekend where so many other receivers fell flat on their faces. What we need to keep in mind is the reason he was cut by a pair of teams. He is at a point in his career where he really can’t play the position at a high level. He lacks the physical ability to create the space needed to be open in the NFL. The only reason he is even being discussed is the guy throwing him the ball. Rodgers doesn’t need the space other quarterbacks require. He also trusts Jones way more than any other receiver currently seeing the field on Sunday. In fact, the number of snaps Jones has taken with Rodgers is probably pretty close to the total number of snaps the rest of the active receiver group combined.
The trust in Jones is very easy to see in the red zone with the pair of receptions. His other two catches, and only other targets, were also highly contested. In fact, he managed just a single yard after the catch, which basically means he fell over when he caught the ball. His involvement outside of the red zone was limited at best. Eventually Rodgers will gain more trust in Adams, Janis and Montgomery. Since they are all more athletic than Jones, they will slowly start to chip away from his playing time. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jones is just a red zone specialist by the end of the season.
Final Verdict: It is going to be really tough to count on Jones. He’s going to be a low volume receiver who is highly dependent on touchdowns. However, when his quarterback is going to approach 40 of them, it might be worth the risk. I don’t expect him to play almost every snap for very long unless there is another injury, but he might be worth a shot early in the season, especially in best ball and daily leagues. Long term there is almost no value here though, so don’t go too crazy.
Nate Washington, WR HOU
Week 1 stats: Six receptions on 11 targets for 105 yards.
The Houston Texans are one of those Jekyll and Hyde teams in the NFL. Their defense has some of the best players in the league. They also have their fair share of stars on the offensive side of the ball. However, they can’t ever seem to put it all together. This year seems to be no exception to that rule. With Arian Foster recovering from surgery and the rest of the running backs on roster barely deserving of being called NFL backups, the Texans were forced to the air in week one. The problem for them is they don’t have a quarterback, either.
Brian Hoyer started the game, but he was benched part way into it in favor of Ryan Mallett. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a team bench their “starting” quarterback in week one when it wasn’t injury related. The Texans trailed for almost the entire game and ended up running a lot of plays. In fact, the Texans ran a massive 55 passing plays in Sunday’s game. A lot of teams didn’t even have that many total plays.
Leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins stood out quite a bit with his pair of touchdowns and nine receptions for 98 yards, but it was Washington who led the team in receiving yards with 105. The 11 targets Washington received from the pair of quarterbacks placed him second on the team as well. Can we expect him to see volume like this in future weeks?
The Good: With the current running backs who are healthy, if the Texans are going to give their defense any kind of wiggle room they need to throw the ball. While neither Hoyer nor Mallett are ever going to be true starters in the NFL, they are both capable backups who should be able to find the open man from time-to-time. They are going to be throwing the ball a lot over the next few weeks and Washington was second on the team in targets. The third receiver by targets was Cecil Shorts who has an injury history longer than he is tall. After that, there really wasn’t anyone involved in the passing game on Sunday. The Texans don’t have a tight end who has established themselves as a capable pro. They also lack a running back who can be counted on out of the backfield.
Some might be concerned about the quarterbacks throwing him the ball, but keep in mind what Washington has had to deal with over the past few years. In 2014, he caught passes from Charlie Whitehurst, Zach Mettenberger and Jake Locker. Going back to 2013, you can add in Ryan Fitzpatrick along with Locker. In 2012, he also had Matt Hasselbeck and it was the broken down 37-year old version. Washington might be one of the only players in the NFL who can call the Texans’ quarterback situation an improvement from what he’s seen. While he didn’t light the world on fire in any of those years, thanks in part to an overall terrible offense, he did post a very good average of roughly 16 yards per reception. If he’s getting close to double digit targets each week like in week one, he could definitely make something of it.
The Bad: What happened in week one was rare for the Texans. They aren’t going to drop back to pass 55 times any other week of this season. They want to be a run first team who controls the ball and allows their defense to dominate opponents. If you’re passing 55 times a game, your defense doesn’t even get a chance to rest, let alone dominate. Foster is out right now, but he might be back by the end of the month. When he does make it back, he should be the focal point of the offense, both on the ground as well as sliding up to second in targets in the passing game behind Hopkins – that is the kind of game the Texans want to play in 2015. I don’t think the Texans can support more than Hopkins and Foster when it comes to fantasy relevance.
The other major concern for Washington is the presence of Jaelen Strong. Washington has keep his speed better than a lot of other 32-year old receivers, but he isn’t as athletic as Strong. I think it is only a matter of time before Strong starts to eat into Washington’s snaps. There is a chance Strong doesn’t figure it out this year, but I believe the writing is on the wall.
The Ugly Truth: Washington was on the field for 65 snaps on Sunday, 47 of them were pass plays – that’s roughly 85 percent of the total players the team ran. The Texans won’t have that many plays again this season, which means Washington’s volume is going to decrease. He won’t be able to count on 11 targets or even eight targets per week, which means we are going to be seeing him back down in the 3-4 receptions per game range very soon. Once Foster gets back, it will take another dip as the team refocuses on the running game.
I think the week one performance was just an anomaly and we will be seeing the Nate Washington of old very soon. He still has some talent, but the situation isn’t going to do him any favors. Strong will slowly work his way onto the field, Shorts is a threat to Washington’s snaps and the team needs to refocus on the run.
Final Verdict: If you are in need of a veteran receiver you can start this year due to all of the injuries, there are much better choices you could make. Washington’s production was a result of a level of volume he is unlikely to see again. I would much rather take a chance on someone like Cole Beasley or even Andre Roberts for a few weeks.