Fitz on Fantasy: As “Byepocalypse” Looms, Fantasy Owners Feel Pain
Murphy’s Law abiders saw this coming but didn’t sound the alarms in time. Just as we were girding ourselves for the most punishing bye week of the season to date — the Byepocalypse, as the prophets have called it — a tsunami of injuries roared over our fantasy football shores, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
After losing key players for all or most of the season, the owners of Jay Cutler, Reggie Wayne, Doug Martin and Jermichael Finley must now mop up the mess and try to repair the damage. (Sam Bradford owners sustained only minor basement flooding but have been in touch with their State Farm agents.) There’s collateral damage, too, with a number of other players taking value hits. And yes, there are also a few opportunists who stand to cash in on the misery of others.
A full accounting of the disaster fallout is in order. Let’s start by examining Jay Cutler’s groin. (Wait … that didn’t come out right.)
Back in the late ’90s, when I was younger and stupider, I tweaked a groin muscle after my softball team decided to spend the down time between games of a softball doubleheader drinking beer out of someone’s cooler rather than throwing, stretching and trying to stay loose. I hit a grounder in the hole in my first at-bat. The sprint to first base didn’t end well. Getting out of bed was painful for weeks afterward, and intimate relations with my girlfriend were out of the question. It’s hard to imagine how Cutler feels, since his injury is about 1,000 times worse. Can he even urinate without pain?
But I digress.
Cutler will be out for at least a month, and members of the Chicago media have pegged Dec. 9 as possible return date. That’s Week 14, with the Bears hosting a Monday-night game against the Cowboys. Meanwhile, Cutler is going to be replaced by one of the McCown brothers. I think it’s Luke, right? Wait, no, it’s Josh.
Josh McCown has thrown more TD passes than interceptions in exactly one of his previous eight seasons, and he’s averaged 6.36 yards per passing attempt over his career. Bears head coach Marc Trestman might be a passing-game guru, but he’s not a passing-game messiah.
Let’s face facts, Brandon Marshall owners: You’re screwed. Your guy goes from being a top-five fantasy receiver to being a WR2, and maybe a low-end WR2. Alshon Jeffery got a number of looks from McCown right after the Cutler injury, but it’s going to be hard to trust Jeffery in your lineup unless the Bears are playing some team with an execrable secondary like the Vikings or Lions. Martellus Bennett has been a solid TE1 this year. Now he’s a TE2. Bennett is the most quotable player in the NFL, so let’s hope he doesn’t get all mopey with the media when his stats start to shrivel.
I’d like to think that Matt Forte’s value will hold steady. Opponents aren’t likely to overplay the run, because they still have to honor the talents of Marshall and Jeffery. And no doubt McCown will lean on Forte as a dump-off option in the passing game. You should be OK, Forte owners.
The screenwriters really fouled up the script on that Broncos-Colts game, didn’t they? Andrew Luck was supposed to play nobly in defeat, and Peyton Manning was supposed to make a triumphant return to Indianapolis and stick it up Colts owner Jim Irsay’s wazoo.
(Note to Irsay: “Only” one championship? Your team played abysmal run defense for the entirety of Peyton’s tenure in Indy. Scan the list of teams that have won Super Bowls and tell us how many of them did it with bad run defenses. Welcome to Good Fortuneville. Population: you.)
Oh, and here’s the other part of the Broncos-Colts script that could have used a rewrite: Peyton’s longtime collaborator, WR Reggie Wayne, wasn’t supposed to have his knee ligaments turn into Shredded Wheat. Wayne obviously won’t be back this season.
The Wayne injury dents Andrew Luck’s value but shouldn’t be ruinous. Luck has had three games with 35 or more pass attempts this season and three games with 30 or fewer. His passing numbers have been unpredictable from week to week, but his willingness to run (183 rushing yards and three TD runs in seven games) are propping up his fantasy value. I suspect Luck will throw with roughly the same frequency, redistribute the targets that would have gone to Wayne, and take a minor haircut of about 150 yards and two TD passes due to the reduced quality of his pass-catching corps.
The potential opportunist here is T.Y. Hilton. The second-year receiver has star quality and will now get targets befitting a WR1. TE Coby Fleener has been mildly disappointing thus far but should also get a bump in targets. He’ll likely go from a mid-range TE2 to a low-end TE1.
On the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, Darrius Heyward-Bey’s hands rate a score of 8.5, putting them between diamond and topaz. If there were a way to keep his hands soaked in water between games to the point where they became gypsum-soft, I’d be far more optimistic about DHB’s fantasy value. But it’s hard to imagine Heyward-Bey turning into a dependable weekly fantasy contributor when a mother couldn’t trust him to hold an infant.
Back in the days before the NFL tried to undermine marriages by scheduling a game every Thursday night, I used to irritate my wife by watching the Mid-American Conference games that were played on Thursdays. I became smitten with MAC standout Robert Brazill of Ohio U., whom the Colts grabbed in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. Brazill’s most noteworthy NFL accomplishment thus far was drawing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Brazill assumed a significant role in the weeks to come and challenged for DHB’s starting spot.
Trent Richardson? Good lord, who knows? One would think that he’d stand to play a bigger role due to the Wayne injury, but T-Rich has been an enigma this season. He’s averaged 15 carries a game with the Colts and is generating only 3.1 yards per carry this season. Wagering on an increase in his usage and productivity is like wagering on a frog-jumping contest.
Will Richardson produce as a Colt? Or ever?
Jermichael Finley’s neck injury reportedly resulted in a bruised spinal cord, and it’s unclear whether he’ll require surgery. It’s hard to imagine him returning to action before Christmas.
Ted Thompson has a remarkable penchant for pulling productive NFL players out of thin air — or the thin Colorado air. Everyone thought the Packers were up a creek when left tackle Brian Bulaga tore his ACL in an August scrimmage, but long-haired rookie David Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick from Colorado, has started every game at left tackle for the Packers and is performing like a 10-year veteran. Thompson may have unearthed another gem in May 2012 when he signed WR Jarret Boykin, an undrafted free agent who’d been cut by the Jaguars. Boykin finished his college career as Virginia Tech’s all-time leader in catches and receiving yardage, and it’s not as if they’re thin on football talent in Blacksburg, W.Va. Boykin stepped into a prominent role after WR Randall Cobb broke his leg in Week 6 and had eight catches for 103 yards and a TD against the Browns in Week 7. Finley’s injury will only increase Boykin’s role in the Green Bay passing game. Boykin is now a valuable fantasy commodity. (And that’s what’s great about fantasy football: A guy no one talked about in August is now an important chess piece in our little game.)
The Packers have a bunch of young tight ends on the roster as candidates to replace Finley. Andrew Quarless is the only veteran, but his hands are stonier than DHB’s The one to watch is Ryan Bostick, an athletic 6-3 prospect signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012 just days after Thompson signed Boykin. Bostick was a wide receiver at Newberry College in South Carolina and had 136 receptions there. He has a chance to become fantasy-relevant.
Doug Martin has insisted that the labrum tear he sustained last weekend won’t end his season, but he figures to be out until mid-December at the earliest. Rookie Mike James from the University of Miami takes over as the starter and will try to prove himself tonight against the Panthers’ rugged run defense. James had 17 carries for 57 yards against Atlanta last week. He’s quick, but he seems cut out to be a third-down back rather than a full-timer. A sixth-round draft pick, James never ran for more than 621 yards in any of his four seasons at The U. He can’t be written off, but it’s hard to see James becoming a coveted fantasy contributor. Still, any running back who’s getting a substantial workload is worth your attention. Veteran Brian Leonard will pitch in, too, but he’s always been a third-down guy and not any sort of threat as a runner.
With Martin out and the struggling Tampa run game apt to remain unproductive, rookie QB Mike Glennon is going to keep airing it out. He’s thrown more than 40 passes in each of his three starts, and why would that change now? You can see the desperation emanating from Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano the same way you could see the stink fumes emanating from cartoon skunk Pepé Le Pew. That desperation could turn the Bucs’ offense into an all-out air raid. It makes Glennon an interesting QB2 in fantasy leagues, and it only enhances the value of stud WR Vincent Jackson. WR Mike Williams and TE Tim Wright could get in on the action, too.
The Bradford injury is pretty insignificant compared with the other Week 7 casualties. Kellen Clemens will be awful as the Rams’ new starting quarterback, and backups Austin Davis and Brady Quinn will likely have chances to demonstrate their awfulness before the end of the season. Rookie WR Tavon Bustin — whoops, sorry … “Austin” — won’t get a fair chance to prove that the Rams didn’t squander the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. (Spoiler: They did.) WRs Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and Brian Quick will remain as unstartable as they were before the Bradford injury. TE Jared Cook will continue to be unproductive, and next summer we’ll all rekindle the annual notion that Cook on the verge of a breakout. And rookie RB Zac Stacy will plod along as best he can against defenses that no longer have to honor the Rams’ passing game.