Fantasy Fallout: Out of the ‘trash’ and into your championship lineup?
Blake Bortles, the Jacksonville Jaguars fan base and Houston Texans pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney all had some fun this week after Clowney described the fourth-year quarterback as “trash.”
Jaguars fans actually ordered trash cans to be delivered to Clowney at Houston’s NRG Stadium (which Clowney turned into a fantastic charitable cause). Meanwhile, Bortles said, “If how we’re playing and how I’m playing, if that’s trash, then I’m fine with being trash.”
As ESPN Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco wrote, Bortles is actually the highest-rated passer in the NFL in the month of December with 903 yards, seven TD passes, zero interceptions and three wins in three games.
DiRocco also wrote a great feature story on how the former No. 3 pick in the draft said it would be a “waste of time” to worry about gloating now after he has endured plenty of trash talk over the years.
But has Bortles done enough to earn your fantasy trust? Can he possibly be the starting quarterback on your Super Bowl roster?
Last week, Bortles was started in only 19 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues — easily a season high. Most people missed out on his 326 yards and three TDs against the Texans. The week before that, Bortles was started in only 4.5 percent of ESPN leagues.
DiRocco said he doesn’t expect another 300 yards and three TDs this week at San Francisco, especially because Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette is healthy. But he thinks Bortles has indeed become a solid fantasy play because “his decision-making has been darn near perfect.”
“He’s not forcing passes. He’s taking dump-offs when he has nothing down the field. He’s throwing the ball away rather than making a low-percentage throw,” DiRocco said. “There’s no reason to think Bortles won’t continue to play as well as he has over the last month.”
Here’s a look at some other fantasy players who might have been “trashed” from your lineups for one reason or another this season but have started to pick things back up in recent weeks:
Martavis Bryant: ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler wrote that Bryant should be the “co-No. 1” option, along with breakout rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, while Antonio Brown is out because of a calf injury. Fowler cautioned that playing Bryant in fantasy is “at least a mild risk” because he has been held below 50 receiving yards in 11 of 13 games this season. But he said Bryant’s role should increase this week against the Texans as he takes a lot of Brown’s snaps from the “X” receiver spot.
Bryant has averaged seven targets per game the past four weeks. He had one of his biggest games of the season last week after Brown was injured, finishing with six catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. As Fowler wrote, he torched Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore for a diving 39-yard catch and made a one-handed 4-yard touchdown catch look effortless.
“He came alive against New England with several impressive plays,” Fowler said. “And the Steelers will likely need Bryant’s big-play ability to move the ball.”
Eric Ebron: The Detroit Lions tight end followed his 10-catch, 94-yard performance in Week 14 with five catches, 39 yards and a TD in Week 16. He now has at least four receptions in five straight games. Much like Bryant, Ebron is more of a “maybe” option for fantasy, depending on your other options, according to ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein. But Rothstein said that the fourth-year pro has developed a “consistency level with quarterback Matthew Stafford that I don’t remember him having before. … This really feels like a player who has turned a clichéd corner.” Rothstein wrote last week about the life changes outside of football that Ebron pointed to as making a difference for him, including the birth of his son, Oliver, in October.
Jameis Winston and Mike Evans: The young Tampa Bay Buccaneers duo served up a reminder of their potential on Sunday, as ESPN Bucs reporter Jenna Laine wrote. Winston threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, and Evans caught five balls for 79 yards and a TD.
Most important, Winston seems to have realized that it’s a smart practice for him to chuck the ball up to the 6-foot-5, 231-pound Evans and let him go get it.
“Every time I watch film, I find myself like, ‘Mike, I should’ve thrown you the ball,’ ” Winston said this week. “I’ve got people Tweeting me [and] Instagramming me, ‘Get Mike the ball.’ I tell Mike, ‘Mike, I’m sorry.’ But Mike is so selfless [that] he’s like, ‘It’s all good. We’re going to work it out.’ ”
Laine said she expected a heavy dose of Evans this week against Carolina, with fellow receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end O.J. Howard out because of injuries.
Antonio Gates: Another midlevel endorsement from ESPN Los Angeles Chargers reporter Eric Williams, who isn’t about to demand that you rest your fantasy championship fates on the 37-year-old tight end. But, yes, Williams said Gates should get more opportunities with second-year tight end Hunter Henry now on injured reserve. Gates caught his second TD pass of the season last week at Kansas City. Williams said he was well-rested “and more importantly, motivated to finish the season out strong after taking on a more diminished role during the meat of the season.”
C.J. Anderson: The Denver Broncos’ backfield rotation has been one of the most frustrating in all of fantasy this season. But ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold offers some reason for optimism that Anderson can follow up his 30-carry, 158-yard performance from last week. As Legwold wrote, the Broncos are 5-0 when they run the ball more than they throw, including the past two games with Bill Musgrave calling plays. This week’s opponents, the Washington Redskins, rank 28th in run defense.
Also, Anderson is closing in on his first 1,000-yard season.
Ezekiel Elliott: Back from his six-game suspension, the Dallas Cowboys running back will probably be back in your fantasy lineup as well. ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer said that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Elliott will get “significant touches.” As Archer wrote this week, Cowboys offensive players feel like the offense has a different “demeanor” with Elliott in the game.
Archer did offer one small word of caution. He said Elliott didn’t start either of his two NFL seasons particularly hot, compared with his lofty standards (41 carries for 134 yards and two TDs in his first two games as a rookie; 33-112-1 this year). There could be a period of shaking off a little rust. But that might be relevant only in daily leagues where the price is exorbitant.
Joe Flacco and Mike Wallace: On a personal note, this season, I missed the playoffs by one game in a 20-team league in which I had Flacco as my quarterback and Danny Woodhead as my starting running back. You can imagine how enthusiastic I was to read ESPN Baltimore Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley’s story this week about how the Ravens’ offense is finally peaking. The Ravens actually have the highest-scoring team in the AFC in the second half of the season.
As a result, Flacco and receiver Mike Wallace are both realistic starting options if you survived with them in deep leagues of your own.
Kareem Hunt: Remember that midseason slump? Hopefully it didn’t keep you out of the fantasy playoffs. Because it’s a thing of the past, as ESPN Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher wrote this week.
Eli Manning: On the flip side, ESPN New York Giants reporter Jordan Raanan cautioned against getting too excited about Manning’s big Week 15 performance (434 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT). As Raanan pointed out, Manning has only two 300-yard games, and both came against the Eagles. He said the Giants didn’t suddenly solve all of their offensive woes overnight, and now they’re facing an Arizona Cardinals defense that gives up only 313 total yards per game.
Mike Gillislee: I’m not sure if this will even be relevant in 20-team leagues — maybe in daily leagues if the price is right. But as ESPN New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss wrote, former Pats TD machine Gillislee should be active for the first time in seven games in the wake of Rex Burkhead’s injury.
Worth a click:
- Back to the Jaguars, DiRocco is a little less confident in predicting that receiver Keelan Cole’s monster stretch will continue (seven catches for 186 yards and a TD last week, plus a TD in each of the past three games). Bortles has been spreading the ball around to a number of receivers. Even though Marqise Lee has been ruled out this week, veteran Allen Hurns should be back along with Cole, Dede Westbrook and Jaydon Mickens. But any one of them is capable of a big day — and DiRocco wrote a fantastic story this week about the humble beginnings this year for Mickens (who slept in his car) and Cole (who slept on his floor).
- Much like Winston’s revelation in Tampa, I wrote this week about how New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees realized the value in firing away at his own go-to big man, Pro Bowl receiver Michael Thomas, who is on pace to set the franchise record for catches in a season.
- Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy has the most rushing yards in the NFL since Week 10.
- Lions receiver Marvin Jones Jr. is closing in on his first 1,000-yard season.
- Being knocked out of his first meeting with the rival Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago was “annoying” for Saints running back Alvin Kamara. He’s excited for some payback in this week’s rematch.
- Good news for the Los Angeles Rams’ receivers and QB Jared Goff: The Tennessee Titans might be without their top two cornerbacks.
- Jimmy Graham has disappeared from the Seattle Seahawks’ offense at a bad time.
- Injured Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and replacement Nick Foles are transitioning into their new roles.
- Sure, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is the first quarterback in NFL history to win each of his first three starts for a team while passing for more than 1,000 yards, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Can he keep it up against the ferocious Jaguars’ defense?