What now?!

Jeff Haverlack

lionsWhile I haven’t kept track, I’m reasonably sure I’ve said it every year – It’s been an odd year in fantasy.

But this year I really mean it!

When surveying the NFL landscape through week four, it’s a who’s-who and a who’s-not at practically every turn.  Choose any team of your liking and it’s not hard to immediately fall upon a name that is either emerging from anonymity or a big name frustrating fantasy owners.  In redraft leagues, it’s easy enough to wash away the tears with your favorite Sunday beverage but in dynasty leagues, surprises of a frustrating sort tend to fester and bring with them uncertainty into future years.

Let’s focus on a few of these head-scratching performances to date and see if we can’t help you either return your eyes to the horizon once again or, perhaps, offer some logistical advice to help put the pain behind you as quickly as possible.

Alfred Morris, RB WAS
[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]

I’ve heard a lot of grousing about Morris’ performance through four games.  The Redskins are in no way a deep well of fantasy production and the emergence of Matt Jones has muddied the waters even further.  Roy Helu departed for Oakland leaving some owners hopeful that the move could pave the way for a few more touches for Morris.  Instead, Jay Gruden spent a third round selection on the Marshawn Lynch’ish Jones and Chris Thompson has stepped into the shoes of the departed Helu.

Before allowing utter frustration to completely take hold, realize that Morris’ touches are projected to be substantially similar to both 2013 and 2014.  That said, panic may be setting in due to the fact that Morris has yet to log a touchdown in the young season and Gruden does seem to be favoring an even more balanced workload across his top three backs.

What now?

Nothing.  Morris will be 27 when the season comes to a close and aside from 2012, he hasn’t eclipsed 280 carries meaning that his workload hasn’t been problematic.  Touchdown production can be a fickle mistress and just as unpredictable.   Better yet?  He’ll be a high profile free agent in 2016.  With a relatively favorable schedule ahead, he still has a place as a productive flex or low-end RB2 play each week and he’s a solid upside hold for the next three years.

Tevin Coleman, RB ATL

Coleman was a popular pick in the late first round of rookie drafts to begin 2015.  With Stephen Jackson kicked to the curb and only the previously underwhelming Devonta Freeman standing between Coleman and a starter’s role, it was easy to forecast upside excitement in the Falcon’s backfield for 2015.

It’s only taken four games to panic Coleman owners.  After seeing 20 carries in week one, amassing 80 yards, Coleman suffered a fractured rib in a week two tilt against the Giants, sending him to the bench.  Enter Devonta Freeman.  What has transpired since, and that only being two games, has been nothing short of unexpected and stellar.  Freeman has 209 yards and six touchdowns on the ground while adding another 133 yards on ten receptions.  If you’re scoring at home, it adds up to a ridiculous level of production that simply can’t be expected going forward.

Make no mistake, even when Coleman returns, expect little more than a higher-volume change of pace back while the Falcons continue to ride Freeman’s hot hand.  This isn’t to say that Coleman can’t be productive or still carry a high value in dynasty but his value has undoubtedly slipped due to Freeman’s production and, perhaps even more impressive, complete game.  Coleman has yet to catch a pass out of the backfield and is seen as a speed back without the strength for inside running.  Freeman has just been too good in all phases of the run game for him not to continue receiving the bulk of carries going forward.

What now?

If you own Coleman, he’s likely lost enough value such that you won’t be comfortable trading him.  As a prospective owner, now is a fantastic time to buy, especially if you already own Freeman.  Overall, it’s okay to panic just a bit about Coleman’s value.  Coming out of Indiana, he was a back that I was ‘on’ when few others were talking about him.  But there was no denying his lack of inside run and tackle breaking ability.  Upon further tape review I wasn’t comfortable selecting him in the first round of rookie drafts, instead pegging him in the early second round.  He still possesses great size and plus-speed and if he can build his lower body, there’s a lot of upside for Coleman.  Until the injury bug bites Freeman, however, it could be a long wait for those counting on Tevin Coleman.

Calvin Johnson, WR DET

Say what you will about Megatron, but one has to admit that he has severely under-performed to not only his potential and expectations, but also his ability.

Johnson continues to amass targets, averaging over 11 per game in 2015.  And in averaging nearly seven receptions per game, there has been production in PPR league formats.  What hasn’t been impressive is Johnson’s touchdown or big play productivity.  Through four weeks, he’s notched only one touchdown and has yet to pull down a reception of greater than 28 yards.  So what gives?

The Lions are bad.  Of the epic variety.  The offensive line blocking has been atrocious and the run game non-existent.  Offensively the Lions are 29th in scoring, last in the league in rushing and 16th in passing.  Matt Stafford for his part has looked mediocre and skittish in the pocket.  With no run-game to speak of, opposing defenses are laying back to take away big plays from the receivers.  It’s been tough sledding for the Lions a quarter of the way through the season and it’s tough to see any light at the end of the tunnel for them … or Johnson.

What now?

To be sure, many fantasy owners (including myself) moved Johnson last year as injury concerns and advancing age have obviously been taking their toll on the superstar.  While I wanted little to do with him in dynasty, I still felt that he was undervalued heading into 2015 in redraft.  Currently ranked as the WR26 through four games, it’s far too early to leap from the ledge when looking at only 2015, but there remains plenty to fear about his career moving forward.

There’s little question that Calvin Johnson remains a superior talent but poor team play around him is obviously significantly cutting into his production.  If you currently own Calvin and are NOT competitive this year, it’s time to move him for young talent and draft picks.  But, to do so immediately may be doing yourself a disservice.  Calvin is sure to break out of his slump for short stretches this season.  Wait for a typical Megatron game before seeking trade partners.  If you’re competitive now or a piece away, I wouldn’t hesitate a second in trying to acquire him immediately before he returns to form.  For the long term, however, I’m not optimistic.  His typical explosion, separation ability and even his hands have noticeably dropped from what we’ve come to expect.  How much of this is frustration and how much is father time we may never know, but waiting too long to make your move could be a mistake.

Colin Kaepernick, QB SF

Personally, this one stings.

As a rookie in 2011, I don’t believe any were higher on Kaepernick than I.  Coming out of Nevada, possessing a rocket arm, great size and elite mobility, I believed Kaepernick was a star in the making.  Even former NFL quarterback and noteworthy analyst Ron Jaworski believed he could be the best that ever played the position.  I wasn’t willing to go that far but I believed Kaep had that “it” factor that I desire in all my prospects.  The stars aligned in 2013 as he put together a season that would seemingly portend what was to come.  Instead, unless things turn around in 2015, what may be in his future is a move to the bench.

The 49’ers off-season woes are understood by all, especially on defense.  With numerous legal events, injuries and surprising early-retirements, the once vaunted San Francisco defense has been reduced to a shell of its former self.  But while the defense has managed to maintain some semblance of productivity, the offense has been nothing short of dismal, ranking last or near-last in passing yards and points scored.  Truth be told, the defense hasn’t been stellar either but few can remove their eyes from the trainwreck that has been Kaepernick and his receivers.

Through four games, Kaepernick is averaging 182 yards per contest and has thrown only two touchdowns to his five interceptions.  To his credit, he continues to average nearly 50 rushing yards per game and remains a significant threat on the ground on any pass play.  At wide-out, Torrey Smith leads all 9’er receivers with a paltry 185 yards and a single touchdown.  None of these stats are going to get the job done in the NFL or in fantasy.

What now?

Kaepernick’s value is so low that he carries very little trade value and is likely no more than a throw-in for an extremely quarterback-needy team as part of a larger trade.  Making matters more complex is the fact that he signed a seven year contract prior to the 2014 season and isn’t a free agent until 2021.  But Kaep’s contract isn’t as large as initially it would seem.  Very little money was guaranteed up front and beginning in year two of the deal, guaranteed only for injury but with hefty per-game bonuses beginning in 2015.  It’s quite possible that should the 49’ers not believe Kaepernick can be the face of the franchise, he could find his way to a new team.  It’s likely contract negotiations would be a major stumbling block, however.

In dynasty, I remain faitfhul to my original film review and belief that Colin Kaepernick can be a transcendent talent in the NFL.  At only 27 years old, soon to be 28, there are years remaining for him to recover his old form. Success is far from guaranteed and the 49’ers are far from a team appearing to be on the upswing.  And Kaepernick isn’t showing me anything to make me believe that he’s capable of taking the club upon his mobile shoulders to lead the team to the promised land without significant changes made around him.  Top-tier receivers must be added.

I will continue to pursue Kaepernick as a high upside QB3 on teams where I possess at least two stable starters.  His value and tangibles lead me to believe that upside alone warrants an addition but without a high degree of confidence.  Owners of Kaepernick must continue to hold in hopes of better days.  Savvy owners can swing for the fences with a low-value offer to acquire.  If you are relying on Colin Kaepernick as anything more than a low-end QB2, you’re in trouble and need to seek an upgrade.

Sammy Watkins, WR BUF

Is Sammy stuck in a city where receivers go to die or are there other factors leading to his far-from-expected production thus far in his young career?  I’d suggest some of both.

Watkins emerged from Clemson as an ultra-dynamic play-making receiver displaying the full package of skills in all phases of his game.  The only significant knock on his stock was his selection by the Bills.  Lacking proven and consistent quarterback talent in addition to continual coaching unrest has turned Buffalo into a less than fertile grand for fantasy production.  Watkins, for his part, did amass nearly 1,000 receiving yards in 2014 to go along with six touchdowns.  Not WR1 totals but nor should that have been expected in year-one.

Now in 2015, further high expectations have been affixed to Watkins’ broad shoulders.  And once again, a new coach, new quarterback and new surrounding talent add more variables that must be considered when projecting Watkins’ potential.  Through four games, seven receptions for 99 yards and a single touchdown to go along with a nagging calf injury won’t have owners singing his praises.  He’s looking doubtful for week five which means that nearly a third of the season will have passed without Watkins, drafted as a high-upside WR2, producing at a level equal to his early lofty value.

What now?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned.  Buffalo has long been a fantasy situation that I try to avoid.  From the continual disappointing production to the unfavorable late season weather, it’s been tough to get excited about many Buffalo players in recent seasons.  Watkins is a player that I believe can break through the mediocrity but as we’re seeing clearly now, talent does not guarantee success.  Situation plays a huge role.  To his benefit, new starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor has the “it” factor that I look for in a passer and Rex Ryan does have the ability to cultivate talent, establish a top-rate defense and motivate a team playing around him.

Watkins has undeniable talent and a review of his tape reminds me that he has the skills to produce even under difficult circumstances, which certainly Buffalo qualifies as.  I love the upside of Taylor as a quarterback and a budding running game will only help Watkins in his routes.  The Bills badly need a dynamic second receiver to take pressure off of Watkins and it doesn’t appear that Robert Woods is such a threat. Off-season addition Charles Clay will pressure the seams and should aid the passing game.

When it’s all said and done, I’d acquire Sammy Watkins without a second thought.  I would especially capitalize on his slow start to execute a buy-low strategy.  If you already own Watkins, you have to wait it out and be patient. He’s not the route runner that is Amari Cooper nor is he the imposing presence of Mike Evans but he’s got Julio Jones upside should the tumblers all fall into place.  I see that as unlikely in Buffalo but there’s no reason to think that his ceiling won’t remain extremely high.  Buy now if you don’t own him and hold if you already do.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this piece.  Look for another entry in the coming weeks and, in the meantime, follow me on Twitter:  @DLF_Jeff


jeff haverlack