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Fantasy Football Week 11: What We Learned

C.D. Carter

C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.

We should never let a crisis go to waste, as one skull-cracking political operative once said in a moment of honesty as brutal as it was pragmatic.

That piece of realpolitik advice can easily be applied to fantasy football, a game in which injuries and general turmoil create opportunity for those ready and willing to look beyond the disaster to see what said disaster is set to bring.

A couple of the NFL’s most potent offenses, the Broncos and Colts, were devastated by injuries in their respective Week 11 losses, losing key pieces of their defense-tormenting attacks in the waning weeks of fantasy’s regular season.

Julius Thomas, who has a long and disturbing history of ankle ailments, suffered what is believed to be an ankle sprain, though not of the high-sprain variety, while teammate Emmanuel Sanders, fantasy’s seventh highest scoring receiver coming into Week 11, is undergoing the league’s concussion protocol after leaving yesterday’s game at halftime.

His Week 12 status won’t be known until much later in the week.

The Indianapolis offensive machine lost a key cog when Ahmad Bradshaw was twisted in some unholy manner during his third and final attempt to punch it in from the one-yard line against a stout New England front. Various media reports say Bradshaw, who had posted top-10 fantasy numbers despite being in a timeshare, broke his ankle and will miss the remainder of 2014. Colts tight end Dwayne Allen was seen leaving the stadium in a walking boot after being forced from the Sunday night affair with what has been deemed a high-ankle sprain.

True degenerates know that we have a history with how these teams handle injuries, who might see a boost in opportunity, and whether they’ll do anything with that chance to shine.

Julius Thomas: Jacob Tamme, the apparent replacement for Thomas should he miss any amount of time, did precious little with 10 — ten! — targets against the Rams in Week 11, catching just four passes for 31 yards. Though the wily veteran had a nice game last November when Thomas missed time with another ankle injury — going for 47 yards and a score against New England — Tamme’s share of the offensive pie was largely a mystery in Thomas’ absence. Just when it seemed Tamme had taken the slot role in Peyton’s Perfect Machine, he would become nothing more than a rotational player with limited opportunity. I suppose Tamme could be useful if both Thomas and Sanders miss Week 12, but I’m inclined not to chase the historically inefficient tight end in re-draft leagues.

Cody Latimer: The 6-foot-2, 217-pound rookie receiver, deactivated for much of the 2014 campaign, could be next in line should Sanders’ concussion linger into Week 12 and beyond. Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase in August talked up Latimer’s leaping ability, his breakaway speed, and his willingness to make catches in traffic. Broncos beat writers have that Latimer, while a bit on the raw side, could be a better version of what Eric Decker was in Peyton’s Perfect Machine in 2012 and 2013. At worst, Broncos coaches see Latimer as an ideal red zone threat, which means his value and usage might be linked to Julius Thomas‘ availability as much as Sanders’ status. I think Latimer is well worth the pickup in 12-team leagues, even if his 2014 value comes with an expiration date. Oh, and Latimer’s breakout age is encouraging while his athleticism score is off the charts.

Coby Fleener: Everyone hates Fleener, one of fantasy’s least efficient tight ends who seems to make as many headache-inducing drops as anyone when he’s given a chance to stand out. Fleener, for whatever it’s worth, took full advantage of the Patriots’ plan to shut down T.Y. Hilton in Week 11, snatching seven catches on seven targets for 144 scoreless yards. Don’t let your hatred for Fleener obscure his potential as a creature of volume in an Indianapolis offense that throws 43.7 passes per contest. Fleener had, quite amazingly, out-targeted teammate Allen headed into Week 11, as Andrew Luck has targeted his tight end duo 86 times this season. The Colts play a few defenses that have given up considerable production to tight ends in 2014, and with eight or nine targets a game, I think Fleener can be among fantasy’s top half dozen tight ends until Allen is back on the field.

Dan Herron: One steadfast rule of fantasy football is to always bet against Trent Richardson. TRich looks as bad as he ever has, as a runner and a pass catcher, as he takes over as the Colts’ presumed lead back role in the wake of Bradshaw’s broken ankle. Richardson is likely owned in your league — he’s available on just 16 percent of waiver wires — so Herron becomes the pickup for anyone looking to cash in on the Colts’ injury problems. Herron, who had a nice preseason against mostly second-team defenses, could very easily become the beneficiary of Richardson’s continued mediocrity. We know full well that Richardson is not one to benefit from massive volume. Herron may be no more than a replacement-level back, but he’s the play for any fantasy owner ready to once again bet against TRich thriving in Indy’s high-powered offense that has run the ball 27.4 times per game in 2014.

Here are a couple more notes about what we learned in Week 11…

  • Jonas Gray went hog wild against the Colts’ squishy front seven Sunday night, piling up 199 yards and four scores. Gray, available in 97 percent of fantasy leagues, now becomes the hottest waiver wire pickup since the last time a runner seemed to seize the power back role in New England’s ever-changing offensive attack. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, coming into 2014, had noticeable splits against teams with excellent run defenses and those vulnerable on the ground. Put simply, Gray is not going to be force fed the rock every single week; he’s only going to be the focal point of the Pats’ offense when the coaching staff wants him to be. He should be owned in every league, but you’d do well to keep expectations in check. Gray’s best comparable, quite appropriately, is Benjarvus Green-Ellis.
  • I mistakenly thought that Jordan Matthews‘ Week 10 blowup was nothing much more than a product of the Eagles attacking a Panthers defense that had proven vulnerable against slot pass catchers of every kind. There’s clearly something more to that equation, as Matthews, in two and a half games with Mark Sanchez behind center, has scored more fantasy points than everyone not named Mike Evans. The Eagles’ rookie is notching 8.3 targets per game with Sanchez at the helm, and their work on Philly’s second team in practice has clearly developed some sort of chemistry that can’t be fully measured with numbers and algorithms. Perhaps Matthews was simply a beneficiary of two and a half quarters of garbage time against Green Bay in Week 11, but I think he’s a plugged-in starter for as long as Sanchez is taking snaps in Chip Kelly’s offense. One caution: Philadelphia wide receivers have the second worst schedule from Week 12-16, according to the Rotoviz Buy Low Machine.