The 2016 NFL season has reached a crucial juncture: Now, with a few weeks in the books, is when good teams scramble to solidify their status as Super Bowl contenders and when fringe squads try to remain latched on to the peripherals of that same discussion, lest they ebb completely into betting oblivion.
And believe it or not, this impacts the Fantasy Football sphere.
Injuries have forced some teams to adjust, while others are clearly headed, or will look to head, in certain directions. Player roles will change. In some cases, unexpectedly high-profile contributors will prove their rise is sustainable.
These players are not necessarily free agents in most fantasy leagues; almost all of them, in fact, are already rostered. But because they aren’t fully-fledged fantasy super studs, or because they’ve yet to really break out, you should be able to target them via trades without having to sacrifice anyone truly of note on your own docket.
*Please note that all of selections were chosen based upon standard-scoring leagues.
Sammie Coates, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Sammie Coates, at first glance, has been a disappointment for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who still own the NFL’s third-best Super Bowl odds, at +900. He caught just seven passes through his first three appearances, with just one outing that yielded seven or more individual points. This is hardly ideal given that he’s viewed as Pittsburgh’s No. 2 wideout, alongside Antonio Brown, with Martavis Bryant suspended for the season.
Part of Coates’ lackluster performance is beyond his control. The Steelers are once again emphasizing the run game, which shouldn’t change with Le’Veon Bell re-entering fold, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on pace to post the worst completion percentage of his career (59.3).
Coates is nevertheless averaging around 29 yards per reception. That’s a big deal, as the Steelers will look to re-emphasize the deep-threat game with Bell being a better passing diversion than DeAngelo Williams out of the backfield.
Coates is unlikely to rival a healthy/non-suspended Bryant’s production, but it won’t be long before he goes from being a borderline flex option, to a bona fide No. 2 receiver. Try to pick him up via trade before his value skyrockets.
Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington Redskins
Few people, if anyone, predicted that Jamison Crowder would emerge as a top-30 receiver through the first part of the year. But it’s clear now, given how Washington is playing, that he’s here to stay.
Defenses are catching on to the relationship between tight end Jordan Reed and quarterback Kirk Cousins. Reed is still a No. 1-caliber option at his position, but the coverages he’s seeing aren’t conducive to an obscene amount of targets.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is suffering from much of the same. Opposing teams are on to his deep-ball routes and are doing a great job of giving him room to work just past the line of scrimmage, where he is far less dangerous, as opposed to letting him run rampant in the secondary.
All of which has translated into at least seven targets each week for Crowder. He has usurped fellow wideout Pierre Garcon in the pecking order, and Cousins will only continue to air it out more, given Washington’s cruddy rushing performance, and the fact that the team’s best shot of making the playoffs lies with winning the NFC East division, even though they have the worst odds, at +600, of any other squad in that sector of doing so.
Crowder is still owned in less than half of ESPN’s leagues, so there’s a chance you can grab him on the waiver wire. If he were on another roster, it’d be wise to test out his asking price; it shouldn’t be too high right now.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, New England Patriots
Yes, yes. We get it. LeGarrette Blount hasn’t exactly flown under the radar. He is a top-five running back in every league. But he wasn’t necessarily supposed to be. The New England Patriots are, first and foremost, a passing team. (They are also, for the record, Super Bowl favorites, at +375.) Their backs, like Blount, often get marginalized.
Quarterback controversy has no doubt fueled Blount’s meteoric rise. Tom Brady has yet to play this season and his primary backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, has dealt with injuries. Even third-stringer Jacoby Brissett is banged up. That inherently drives down the value of New England’s tight ends and receivers.
This is the view most will take, and you should pounce on it.
Though Blount’s usage will decrease upon Brady’s return, he’s become a sound passing option out of the backfield and is earning a lion’s share of the snaps on early downs, as well as in the redzone. That won’t change.
Furthermore, Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s favorite target, is playing through hamstring issues and hasn’t looked the same, and his tight end partner, Martellus Bennett, is being used predominantly as a blocker. Throw in ghost performances from New England’s top two wideouts, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, and Blount still figures to hover around RB1 territory for the entire year, long after Brady’s return, even if he is earning more receptions. See if you can’t trade for him while giving up assets that would typically only acquire you additional flex options.
Zach Miller, TE, Chicago Bears
Don’t let Zach Miller’s top-five tight end status fool you. The position is nearly barren of consistent contributors and until his Week 3 outburst against the Dallas Cowboys, he had raked in seven receptions for a paltry 47 total yards.
This gives you leverage in trade negotiations, even if some owners are looking to sell high—which is good, because Miller has the potential to be the Gary Barnidge of this season the rest of the way, as a tight end who puts up monster numbers on a crappy team, mostly capitalizing on garbage-time passes.
The Chicago Bears have bottom two Super Bowl odds (+50000) and the worst possible NFC championship chances (+20000), and the porous defense to prove it. They will find themselves trailing early in a ton of games, forcing either one of Brian Hoyer or Jay Cutler, once he’s healthy, to let the pigskin fly. Miller will easily be one of the most targeted players during those times, suggesting he’ll put up huge stats in most weeks.
Acquire this soon-to-be TE1 now for a package comprising two also-ran performers.
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall, Flickr