Missouri's rebuilt receiving corps suffered a big loss this week with Jerrell Jackson breaking a bone in his wrist. Jackson could miss four weeks, which puts his first status for the first two games in jeopardy.
Although Jackson could miss the first two games, Missouri's targets for quarterback Blaine Gabbert should be fine with Wes Kemp, Rolandis Woodland and T.J. Moe filling the void at receiver and Michael Egnew or Andrew Jones catching passes at tight end.
Potential fantasy sleeper wide receiver Jarmon Fortson has been dismissed from the Florida State football team. The red zone target was kicked off the Seminoles squad for violation of team rules.
The junior recevier was gaining a lot of steam in the fantasy ranks as a breakout option at wide receiver. That title now will slide over to Bert Reed — who looks like the biggest beneficiary of Fortson's unfortunate removal.
Owen Daniels' repaired knee appears to be healing nicely.
What do two second-year wide receivers, two guys coming off ACL tears and a return man have in common? You got it: Their stock is rising. And they should all make for great late-round sleepers.
Smart fantasy owners realize that leagues can be won by making the right moves at the end of drafts. Picking the right breakout performers as deep sleepers in the later rounds is something you should be striving for heading into 2010.
Here’s a look at this week’s risers and fallers…
Mike Thomas, WR, Jaguars
After drawing comparisons to Eddie Royal heading into last season, the 5-8 rookie hauled in 13 passes for 122 yards in his final two games of 2009, giving him 48 catches for 453 yards and a score as the Jags’ third and sometimes fourth wide receiver. Word coming out of Jacksonville camp is that Thomas has stood out big-time thus far in camp and has become David Garrard’s favorite receiver at times. Teammate Maurice Jones-Drew, who now has his own fantasy football talk show on Sirius/XM Radio, has predicted that Thomas will be the Jags’ breakout player of 2010. The second-year man certainly has a lock on the starting WR job opposite Mike Sims-Walker, and he should be a very solid WR4 in all formats. To dynasty leaguers who listened to me last year at this time and took a flier on him, you’re welcome.
Harry Douglas, WR, Falcons
Douglas showed flashes of brilliance during his rookie year of 2008 before tearing his ACL during the 2009 preseason. Douglas has come back strong this offseason and should be ready for Week 1. He is currently listed as the Falcons’ WR3 on the depth chart, but with Michael Jenkins’ recent shoulder injury, look for Douglas to work to earn the starting spot opposite Roddy White at some point this season. Unlike Jenkins, Douglas is a dynamic playmaker along the lines of a poor man’s Percy Harvin.
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans
Through seven games last year, Daniels was on pace for 89 catches and 1,136 yards. He also had five TDs already and was targeted seven or more times each week prior to tearing his ACL in Week 8. It appears his surgically repaired knee is progressing well, even though he remains on the PUP list. Don’t be surprised if he starts in Week 1, making him a great value in all drafts right now.
Jacoby Jones, WR, Texans
The fourth-year man from Lane College scored six times on 27 catches last year, flashing the big-play ability at the WR position that he showed in college. Many predicted Jones to be the next Marques Colston in 2007, a title he has less than lived up to, but don’t forget about him in 2010. Texans coach Gary Kubiak has stated that Jones will compete with Kevin Walter for the starting gig opposite Andre Johnson — a job that will result in solid digits for whoever wins it. Jones is a lightning-fast playmaker who has a legit chance to win the battle. Monitor this closely and consider Jones, who is also a very good return man, a great late-round flier.
Deon Butler, WR, Seahawks
The second-year man from Penn State has caught the attention of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who has called him the team’s most improved wideout. Butler has made some spectacular catches in training camp and has a serious shot to start opposite T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He is competing with a rookie (Golden Tate), an injury-prone veteran (Deion Branch) and a first-round Lions draft bust from five years ago who was last seen in the league in 2007 (Mike Williams).
Jordan Babineaux, SS, Seahawks
Be sure not to fall asleep at the wheel here. After a career year in which he finished as a top-10 fantasy DB in most IDP formats last season, Babineaux has reportedly lost his starting strong safety job to veteran Lawyer Milloy. We will monitor this situation closely and make sure to steer you in the right direction.
Paul Hickey is the lead contributor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website NoOffseason.com, a 365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and IDP leagues.
Wes Welker is participating in 11-on-11, full-contact drills.
It didn’t take WR Brandon Marshall long to make an impression in Miami. After getting beat repeatedly by Marshall during one practice, Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis reportedly asked coaches, “What more can I do?” … Don’t push LaDainian Tomlinson into early retirement just yet. On the first play of the team’s intrasquad scrimmage, Tomlinson caught a pass from QB Mark Sanchez and took it 70 yards for a touchdown. “My plan was to show people that I can still play this game and that I still have a lot left in the tank,” Tomlinson said afterward. … Fantasy owners should be more concerned with another Jets pickup. Coach Rex Ryan inserted Nick Folk into the scrimmage for a 38-yard field goal that the kicker missed. Folk had not been given time to warm up prior to the kick, something Ryan said was by design. The coach and kicker made excuses afterward, but the damage might have been done. … During New England’s Tuesday practice, WR Wes Welker turned in another solid performance. Welker, coming back from knee surgery, has made a faster recovery than expected and is now even participating in 11-on-11, full-contact drills.
The foot injury Bengals FB Brian Leonard suffered in the 16-7 loss to Dallas might be worse than originally expected. Prior to the injury, Leonard had served as a situational back in an already-depleted Bengals backfield. Said quarterback Carson Palmer, “I’m very concerned. He’s a big-time player for us, and we have a lot of things built in specifically for him. So the quicker he gets back, the better.” … If last Saturday was any indication, QB Colt McCoy won’t push his way up the Cleveland depth chart just yet. The former University of Texas star was picked off twice and drew the public criticism of coach Eric Mangini. “It’s a totally different world for him,” Mangini said, “one he has to get used to ... and in a hurry.” … According to Ravens coach John Harbaugh, the competition between kickers Billy Cundiff and Shayne Graham is neck-and-neck. In reference to what he suspected the final decision would come down to, Harbaugh said, “My gut feeling is that it’s going to be a gut feeling, which is the toughest way to do it.” … Ben Roethlisberger might be off limits to the Steelers during the season’s first six games, but it doesn’t mean the veteran quarterback has been given time off in training camp. In fact, through Monday’s practice, Roethlisberger ranked behind only Dennis Dixon in total 11-on-11 practice snaps, with expected Week 1 starter Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch coming in third and fourth, respectively.
Texans rookie RB Ben Tate is not exactly in coach Gary Kubiak’s doghouse, but he hasn’t won the coach over yet, either. Said Kubiak this week, “He needs to know to get his motor going when he leaves out of the locker room and not 30 minutes in to practice.” The coach offered some encouragement for the back, but it’s clear Tate has a long way to go before he can be a viable fantasy prospect. … Colts officials admitted this week that four-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday had undergone arthroscopic surgery on one of his knees. A key to the team’s passing and rushing attack, Saturday has been missed in camp. No timetable has been offered as to when the team expects him back at full strength … It looks like the fight for the Jaguars’ No. 2 receiver spot opposite Mike Sims-Walker might have been decided. QB David Garrard has shown favoritism to speedy Mike Thomas. Garrard said of Thomas, “We still have other guys that have potential there as well, but he’s a guy that you know can make plays for you.” Added Thomas, “I know what I’m capable of. That kind of stuff is good to hear, but you gotta work at it. Ain’t nothing settled yet.”
Scar tissue from the foot injury he suffered in a pre-draft workout has bothered Broncos rookie WR Demaryius Thomas this week. If anything, fantasy owners can expect team officials to treat the injury with caution; fellow rookie Eric Decker injured an ankle Saturday and the team is already dealing with a couple of other injuries at the position. … Injuries to Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye prompted Oakland to sign former Hawaii star QB Colt Brennan. Jason Campbell remains the team’s projected starter, with Gradkowski likely to hold on to his backup spot. … Maybe there is some truth in Ryan Mathews being the heir apparent to LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego. Not only can fantasy owners expect the Chargers to use Mathews to fill the void left by Tomlinson in the ground game, but it appears the team plans to make him a big part of the passing game immediately, too. Mathews has been catching 50 to 75 extra passes each day to condition himself as a receiver. He caught just 19 passes in his final two seasons at Fresno State. … The Chiefs’ coaching staff admits it has made QB Matt Cassel a priority in camp. New offensive coordinator Charlie Weis spoke at length to reporters this week about his process in evaluating where the quarterback is, and coach Todd Haley said he feels good about the direction in which Cassel is headed. Cassel hopes to see extensive action in Friday’s game against Atlanta. “In these games, you never know how much you’re going to play, and so I’m preparing to play the whole game if I have to,” he said.
Cowboys TE John Phillips’ season-ending injury (torn ACL) is sure to boost the fantasy value of Martellus Bennett, who was already expected to make a greater contribution in 2010. Bennett is still nursing an ankle injury, but the team expects him back on the field soon. Dallas signed DajLeon Farr to replace Phillips on the depth chart … While the rest of Eagles camp was focused on DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin’s friendly verbal spat, the team’s No. 3 receiver, Jason Avant, was making the coaching staff take notice. Avant has been sharp so far in camp, and with very few mistakes. Said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg on Tuesday, “I just looked at the numbers about a day and a half ago, and he has caught up near 80 balls — now this … doesn’t include the competitive 7-on-7 — (with) zero drops. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a man do that.” … The Giants are relatively deep at wide receiver, thanks to their success in recent drafts, but Ramses Barden apparently is not willing to become a forgotten man. Barden has had a few strong showings and appears ready to push for increased playing time behind Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham. “Right now, my thing is every time I do something right, I’ve got to find something else to fix because I’ve got to make sure that I don’t settle and I keep the arrow up,” Barden said. … WR Malcolm Kelly has missed the bulk of Redskins camp with a bum hamstring. Coach Mike Shanahan announced this week that the injury would keep Kelly out of the preseason game against Buffalo.
Who says the tight end position is irrelevant in Mike Martz’s system? Of Bears QB Jay Cutler’s 12 red zone throws Sunday evening, Greg Olsen caught five touchdowns. He later caught a long pass in 11-on-11, full-field drills. … WR Donald Driver’s two-year contract extension is more a show of appreciation for years past than a sign of confidence from the Packers. The 35-year-old receiver must prove he is his old self — as opposed to just old — after having both knees cleaned this offseason. … Packers K Mason Crosby made 4-of-5 field goal attempts in Tuesday’s practice after beginning camp just 6-of-11. … Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has shown a lot of two-tight end sets so far in an attempt to get both Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler on the field. It’s good news for Matthew Stafford fans, but offers no help to fantasy owners trying to decide which Detroit tight end will be the better play in 2010. … Last year’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, WR Percy Harvin, had missed a combined 17 practices through Tuesday due to migraines and a death in the family. All indications are that Harvin will at least miss the team’s first preseason contest. The offense has also been without TE Visanthe Shiancoe and WR Sidney Rice. No wonder Brett Favre is taking his time deciding whether to return.
Panthers WR Brandon LaFell received an increased number of first-team reps this week. As things stand now, fantasy owners must consider him the favorite to win the job opposite Steve Smith. “When they drafted me, they said I had a chance, but I didn’t think it would come this early,” LaFell told a reporter. … When the Saints and Patriots held a joint practice Tuesday, one New Orleans player was noticeably absent: RB Reggie Bush. The Saints’ versatile playmaker was suited up and reportedly ran drills in the morning session but was left out of the 11-on-11 action … The shoulder injury suffered by Falcons WR Michael Jenkins is expected to keep him on the sideline for four to six weeks. Jenkins’ injury could open the door for Harry Douglas to see more playing time … At present, the top-performing wide receiver in Tampa Bay’s camp has been a rookie, and no, it’s not second-round pick Arrelious Benn. Fourth-rounder Mike Williams was listed as the No. 1 “X” receiver on the team’s latest depth chart.
Another wide receiver named Mike Williams — this one in Seattle — has drawn some praise from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, his former coach at USC. Williams, the 10th overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft by Detroit, entered Seattle’s camp 30 pounds lighter than when he last was on the gridiron in 2007. The receiver is in a perfect spot to fit into the depth chart, and Carroll said Williams has as good of a chance as anyone to stick. “He hasn’t had an up-and-down time with us at all,” Carroll said. “He’s been really on the upside of things for the whole time he’s been with us.” … San Francisco has already placed first-round picks Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati on the first-team offense. Davis is entrenched at right tackle, while Iupati has seen the bulk of the reps at left guard. However, the team’s outstanding batch of young linemen lost center Eric Heitmann on Tuesday for six to eight weeks to a broken left fibula. David Baas will move from guard to center to fill in. … On Saturday, Rams fans finally got a feel for just how good their No. 1 overall draft pick can be. QB Sam Bradford completed 8-of-10 passes for 96 yards during the team’s intrasquad scrimmage and connected with Keenan Burton on an 11-yard score. … Cardinals RB Beanie Wells took a shot to the ribs Monday that kept him on the sideline for the rest of the team’s workouts. Wells returned to practice Tuesday, but the team will likely limit his activity in its game against Houston on Saturday.
Matt Moore is a steal as a fantasy backup right now.
Since last we met here, games have actually started (well, kinda) and the injuries have begun to pile up (and that’s just in Denver). As the August weeks roll on, we should start to get a clearer picture of who will win the disputed starting jobs, who’s on the rise and who might be just a bit overrated.
Seeing more of all of these players will also lead folks to wake up to some of the sleepers out there and raise the average draft positions of the more popular breakout picks. That’s all the more reason to jump on potential values now.
QB: Matt Moore, Panthers
I suppose “skepticism” is the best way to describe the general reaction to Moore taking over the Carolina starting job, a reaction that makes absolutely no sense to me.
It was possible to think Jake Delhomme’s 2008 playoff meltdown against Arizona was an aberration. Last season showed, however, that it most certainly was not. When his coaches finally conceded that Moore was the better option, the team scored 5.1 more points per game over his five season-ending starts than in 11 games with Delhomme. Moore was also 6.1 percentage points better in completion rate and averaged 1.3 yards more per attempt (7.6 to 6.3, the difference between 24th place and 12th among 2009 passers). Moore threw touchdown passes twice as often (per attempt) as Delhomme and was intercepted at a quarter of the veteran’s rate. He was even sacked less frequently and blew Delhomme away so completely in passer rating that it’s not worth comparing.
Because Steve Smith was really the only noteworthy Panthers receiver last year, let’s look to his numbers for more indicators. In just less than four games with Moore (Smith broke an arm in their fourth start together last season), Smith averaged 0.6 more receptions per game and 6.8 yards per catch more than in Delhomme’s 11 outings, and Smith’s touchdown-per-game rate doubled.
Through eight NFL starts (including three from 2007 as an undrafted rookie), Moore has posted numbers that project to 3,108 yards, 22 touchdowns and six picks over a full season in just 410 attempts (fewer than the Panthers tallied each of the past two years). All of these numbers ignore specific matchups, but they would also look terrific for any quarterback through his first eight pro starts.
Smith will have to come back from another broken arm but seems on track for Week 1, and we know better than to doubt his readiness once he’s on the field. Rookie Jimmy Clausen is battling for a job in camp, as many expected, but it’s for the backup spot. Moore is an absolute steal as a fantasy backup right now, going 26th among quarterbacks at RapidDraft.com.
RB: Darren McFadden, Raiders
What do you tend to look for in the eighth and ninth rounds of your draft? Might I interest you in a former top-five NFL draft pick with undeniable upside on a team that likes to run the ball?
We all know the two primary details of McFadden’s pro career to date: too many injuries and utter disappointment. Still, there’s a reason Oakland selected him fourth overall just two years ago, and he is only two seasons into a career that has opened in a crappy offense with the shakiest of franchises. Thomas Jones had five years in the league before his first 1,000-yard season. Cedric Benson did very little until 2009, his fifth NFL campaign. DeAngelo Williams was an injury-prone part-timer through two seasons before his 2008 breakout.
In spite of spending most of the past two years well behind too many opponents, the Raiders finished both 2008 and 2009 ranked higher in the league in total rush attempts than pass attempts. In 2008, the team actually tallied 38 more carries than pass attempts. Justin Fargas, who led the team in rushes each of those seasons, has been jettisoned in favor of the two younger guys with higher production ceilings.
Despite a paltry 217 rushes through two seasons, McFadden has managed 50 receptions, an area that can differentiate him from other running backs in the same fantasy range. Oakland has worked some with him split out wide, and new quarterback Jason Campbell has said he is “stunned” by McFadden’s receiving skills.
Many will prefer Michael Bush in this backfield, and I can’t argue with that. If you’re playing without PPR scoring, I’d lean that way, too. In PPR formats, however, McFadden makes a ton of sense in the middle of Round 8, which is all you have to use to beat his current ADP.
WR: Hines Ward, Steelers
How the heck can this guy come up in a sleeper article? Doesn’t everyone know who he is and what he has to offer by now? You’d think, but fantasy drafts are the time when many people favor the exciting road over the safe, and Ward definitely qualifies more as the latter. However, did you know that the past three times that Ward has played in at least 15 games, he has placed 12th, 17th and 12th among PPR wideouts? Considering that, shouldn’t it be surprising when he’s going 23rd at the position on average?
There’s certainly something to be said for age, and that something isn’t often nice for a football player who is 34. Ward is just a year removed, though, from tying the second-best reception total of his career (95) and posting his second-best yardage total. Consider, too, that both came despite Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller enjoying their most productive seasons to date. The departure of Holmes leaves a job to the exciting but very young second-year man Mike Wallace. It was Holmes’ fourth season before he surpassed 55 catches.
The biggest knock on Ward might be Ben Roethlisberger’s absence for at least four weeks, but Byron Leftwich will be fine for that stretch, has been with the team before and should look often to a trusted target. Ward carries some injury risk as well, having missed at least one game in three of the past five years. Still, he has played 16 games in each of the last two seasons and hasn’t finished outside of the top 28 fantasy wideouts since 2000. How safe is the other dude you’re considering as your No. 2 receiver?
TE: James Casey, Texans
I get why folks are willing to gamble on Owen Daniels among the top 10 fantasy tight ends, despite the fact that the ACL tear that ended his 2009 season has yet to allow him to return. What I don’t get is the near total lack of attention for the position’s next-best prospect.
It’s not easy to decipher the next guy up behind Daniels, with Casey sharing reps with Joel Dreessen (before he got hurt) and rookie Garrett Graham, but there seems to be nothing but good vibes coming out of Texans camp regarding Casey. The second-year tight end has impressed with his work ethic and inspired coach Gary Kubiak to refer to him as one of the team’s most dependable players. It was obvious as early as last summer what the coaches thought of him when the former minor-league baseball player was being tried out at fullback as well, just to find ways to get him on the field.
Although we’re still led to believe that Daniels will be ready for the opener, we don’t ever know just how well a guy will perform coming off a torn ACL or just when he’ll be ready. What we do know is that Matt Schaub has proved to be one of the league’s strongest young passers and resides in an offense that likes to throw the ball. If anyone is taking Daniels’ place come September, that guy is sure to get some solid work.
Casey shouldn’t be drafted as a fantasy starter anywhere, and “sleeper” tight ends tend to be guys that you track on the waiver wire rather than spend a roster spot on. That said, the 6-3 Casey is one you should track and who can be a bench option in deeper leagues.
The three main components in fantasy team defense tend to be sacks, turnovers and scoring. After ranking 25th in points allowed and tying for just 16th in interceptions last year, it’s no wonder the Dolphins aren’t exciting fantasy owners in 2010. I see plenty of reason for optimism, though.
The points-allowed thing is pretty volatile and can depend heavily on individual matchups. Well, one easy thing to like about the 2010 Dolphins is that their final six weeks of the fantasy schedule (excluding Week 17) come against opponents that ranked in the bottom half of the league in points in 2009. Many things can change in a year, but how do you not smile about a fantasy defense that gets Buffalo and Detroit to finish your season?
The interceptions? Well, we’ll have to guess a little bit on this front, but the young Miami corners are looking like a pair worth guessing on. Sean Smith became a starter right away as a rookie last year and has performed so well this summer that new teammate Brandon Marshall recently copped to having trouble with the youngster in practice. Vontae Davis, meanwhile, seems close to locking up the other starting job — which he inherited as a rookie last season because of injury — and is the kind of exciting playmaker who can take any pick to the house. The safety situation might not inspire a ton of confidence, but running out Will Allen, the other starter at the beginning of last year, as the third corner should help mitigate fears there.
Of course, a pass rush that tied for third in the league in sacks last year is undergoing plenty of change after the team allowed outside linebackers Joey Porter and Jason Taylor to leave, but there’s a reason the Dolphins felt comfortable in doing that. Cameron Wake is a big part of that reason; he looked terrific as a pass rusher in limited duty through his first season since coming from the Canadian league. Koa Misi, a 2010 second-round pick and a possible starter on the other side, has regularly been mentioned as a rookie whose team is ready to immediately depend on him. New inside linebacker Karlos Dansby has also been very good as a blitzer and in coverage throughout his career.
Overall, there is plenty of talent and upside to make this a defense worth waiting on and drafting in late-starter range. If things don’t go Miami’s way for any reason, replacements tend to emerge at this position on the waiver wire.