TFG Fantasy Club: Mining For Manziel?

TFG Fantasy Club is a weekly email exchange between TFG editor Melissa Jacobs and TFG Fantasy contributor Pat Fitzmaurice covering all the hot button fantasy issues with a few added surprises. Look for special guests to pop in occasionally, and feel to leave chime in below.


July 22 10:16 AM

Hi Pat,

Holy crap, is it really fantasy season already? I don’t know about you but I’m feeling the pressure. What team name will garner the most attention? What’s the maximum amount of leagues I can handle and still be competitive? What 2-3 fantasy experts should I hone in on (aside from you, of course) so my brain connectors don’t short circuit from overload? Every season I wonder if this will be the one where fantasy peaks for good, but instead we keep reaching new tipping points (Can multiple tipping points be a thing? Feel free to chime in, Malcolm Gladwell.) Here’s an example: I got an email the other day from the Dodgers, yes the baseball playing Dodgers, announcing that several of their key players are hosting a fantasy football challenge on August 2nd. Fans make a charitable donation in the $3,000-5,000 range for the privilege to play in a league with Clayton Kershaw, Brian Wilson, A.J. Ellis and others. Despite being largely fantasy focused at the moment, I’m pretty sure that the sport of baseball is still played in August. And I’m absolutely certain that a fantasy draft would take a lot more “off-the-field” energy than say, a regular appearance. Or does it? With all the fantasy information out there, do owners tend to rely even more on a particular expert’s rankings? Or with the growth of fantasy (like the fact that it oftentimes feels more important than the game itself) and keeper/dynasty leagues specifically, do owners now take more pride in individualistic thoughts?

As an aside, I need to know Brian Wilson’s fantasy name. Now.


July 22 3:46 PM

Hi Melissa,

This isn’t just fantasy season, it’s the best time of the fantasy season because nothing has actually happened yet. This is the time of year when fantasy owners are like Civil War generals standing high on a bluff, stroking their beards and looking down at a battlefield shortly before the start of hostilities. It’s all so clear to us right now: “If we keep them pinned down with our cannons and bring in an infantry unit from the west, we’ll have them outflanked and the battle will be ours!” Two months from now, we’ll be at ground level with chaos and bayonets all around. I’m trying to savor the cliff top vistas.

If there’s a saturation point for fantasy football, I don’t think we’ve reached it yet. Look at how daily fantasy sports (DFS) have exploded. The annual increases in the number of people playing fantasy football might be tapering off, but the degree of involvement for the avid players (i.e., the degenerates) is on the rise. And the number of voices in the fantasy industry these days is mind-boggling. When I was an editor at Pro Football Weekly back in the late ’90s and fantasy football was just starting to emerge from the primordial soup, there were probably a few dozen fantasy experts working for websites and magazines. Now there are several hundred fantasy football analysts, and the variety is incredible. That’s why I could never recommend just 2-3 experts worth your attention — it depends on what you like. Take, for instance, Matthew Berry, the biggest name in fantasy football punditry. I don’t always agree with his analysis, but he’s a smart, funny writer whose work I read for the pure pleasure of it. There are a number of analysts doing excellent work with advanced stats, and most of them are fine writers to boot. Then there are the specialists. Stephania Bell and Dr. Jene Bramel are invaluable for injury-related analysis. I focus mostly on redraft leagues, but there are a lot of experts who focus on dynasty or IDP leagues. If you play in a 2QB league, you’re obviously following the work of Sal Stefanile, the foremost authority on those types of leagues.

And that leads to your thought about whether fantasy owners like to lean on certain experts for advice, or form their own opinions while still entertaining a lot of different opinions. I think most are in the latter camp, although there are certainly some who’ll put great faith in a certain expert — and then berate that expert on Twitter if the advice proves wrong.

Oh, I almost forgot … as far as a team name, it has to be something Manziel-related, doesn’t it? I’m sort of partial to “The Rolling 20s.”

Speaking of Johnny F. Football, where do you stand on him this year in terms of fantasy? Too many concerns (size, receivers, shenanigans)? Or are we getting reasonable price on a potentially dynamic talent?


July 23 1:19 AM


Kudos because Rolling 20’s now seems like the quintessential name.  Speaking of Johnny F, I am absolutely shocked his current ADP is QB18, ahead of Eli Manning who still loves the deep ball and Josh McCown who will be throwing to Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. Not surprisingly, Manziel has the highest standard deviation of any quarterback, and I’m guessing any player ever. (Not even Tim Tebow’s mom would have been dumb enough to draft him at 1.02 like someone apparently did for Manziel.)

Aside from Andrew Luck and RGIII, I traditionally try to steer clear of rookie QBs even as a QB2 because they’re like an engine barely turning over. They need too many pedal pumps to get started, and the fantasy season is too short for that kind of waiting game. And unlike the other skill positions, and more specifically defenses, QBs tend to be less replaceable on a week-to-week basis. (Ugh. I’ll never forget the fateful week when Drew Brees was on bye and Brandon Weeden was the only available starter on waivers.)

To answer your specific question about Manziel, I suggest not starting your draft until Week 3 of the preseason. That’s when new head coach Mike Pettine says he’ll name the starter. If the draft were today, Manziel smells like a QB3, maybe a roll of the dice QB2 if you have Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers as your QB1. He certainly needs to be handcuffed with Brian Hoyer who many think has the edge on the starting gig. When you look at ticket sales, apparel numbers and sheer excitement, it’s hard not to ultimately envision Johnny F trotting out there Week 1. But since Pettine comes from a defensive background we don’t really know his philosophy. Or given all the controversy surround Rob Chudzinski’s abrupt firing, just how much (or little) power Pettine will be given in making this decision. It’s interesting that Kyle Shanahan is Manziel’s coordinator in that perhaps avoiding a similar conflict to Shanahan and Griffin in DC will motivate the Browns brass to keep Manziel under wraps for a year. Or maybe the Browns will emulate the Chiefs’ mind games of 3-4 years seasons ago when they mostly listed Thomas Jones as no. 1 on their official depth chart, and even trotted him out for the first offensive snap before clearing the way for Jamaal Charles.

Who am I kidding? Manziel’s starting.

But who’s he throwing to? Do yourself a favor and don’t type “Browns WRs” into Google. There’s no doubt Manziel will make plenty of magical plays. But given his propensity to throw into tight windows and the fact that his no. 1 receiver will probably be Miles Austin, he could also be an interception factory. Here’s a prediction I share with confidence: When this fantasy season is said and done, Manziel will have largely deviated from his ADP. Given the factors working against him, look for the number to be much lower than QB18.

It will be fascinating to see how Jordan Cameron fares in all of this. On the surface you’d presume that Cameron is rooting for Hoyer given that four of his seven touchdowns last season came during the three game Hoyer Era, but who knows.

What do you think of Cameron’s fantasy stock in a Manziel-led offense? And what tight end do you see emerging as this season’s Cameron?


July 23 2:34 PM


This is the dawning of the age of Ladarius. San Diego’s 6-4, 240-pound monster has rare speed for a tight end and has already teased us with big-play ability. This could be the year that Ladarius Green starts to get target volume befitting his vast potential. Antonio Gates has been dissed prematurely in recent years, but let’s face it: His odds of remaining relevant wane with each passing year. As it is, there’s probably room for two San Diego TEs to provide fantasy-worth production since the Chargers have next to nothing at WR beyond Keenan Allen. Green has an 11th-round ADP, which I find appealing for a guy with such vast upside. Jimmy Graham went from 356 yards and 5 TDs as a rookie to 1,310 yards and 11 TDs in his second year. Green may not have Graham-type upside, but I think he has Cameron-type upside. Let’s just say I can’t imagine Ladarius being available anywhere near the 11th round at this time next year.

Right you are about those Cleveland WRs, Melissa, but I nevertheless have some serious man-zeal for Manziel. I actually think his ADP is just about right. His passing numbers won’t always be pretty, but I think they’ll be better than people expect, and he could add a lot of value with his running ability. I’m a lifelong Packers fan, and I don’t thing the Favre-Manziel comparisons are all that crazy. Manziel doesn’t have quite the gun that Favre had, but he has the same type of guts and moxie. (And yes, I realize those things aren’t quantifiable — sue me.) Johnny Football put up two years of freaky stats while playing in the toughest conference in college football, and he did it at ages 19 and 20. And I agree with you that Manziel will start for the Browns in Week One. It’s nice that Brian Hoyer played decently in two games last season, and he earned a pat on the head, but there’s really no evidence that he’s any good. Hoyer completed 51% of his passes and had a 1-1 TD-INT ration as a senior at Michigan State, and he hasn’t done nearly enough in the NFL to suggest he’s anything but a career backup. He also shredded his knee ligaments last year. I’ll be flabbergasted if Hoyer is named the opening-day starter on merit.

Hey, be careful with the talk about the replaceability of QBs. Fantasy experts J.J. Zachariason and Denny Carter have made eloquent arguments about the fungibility of the QB position, and they’re big advocates of QB streaming — using low-cost, easily acquired QBs with favorable matchups. I do see merit in that philosophy, though it’s sometimes easier said than done. (Brandon Weeden … ewwwww.)

Let’s talk must-haves. Who are you anxious to own this year? You can even name some of your beloved 49ers if you’d like. Just realize that Colin Kaepernick doesn’t get to face Dom Capers-coordinated defenses every week, OK?


July 24 8:35 AM


Easier said than done quarterback streaming is right. I’m in a 14-team league where everyone drafted two quarterbacks. Suppose Manziel is terrible, or worse, holding Hoyer’s clipboard, the team owning Manziel is pretty much screwed for a week. 28 quarterbacks off the board, leaving only four starters. Once the Rolling Twenties’ QB1 is on a bye, along with presumably another valuable QB or two, there will be a fight to the death for remaining 3-4 bottomfeeder starters

We can continue our Man-zeal debate in the coming weeks. Feel free to draft Brett Favre Jr. while I stick with Carson Palmer or Eli Manning as my QB2 because, you know, they are established quarterbacks guaranteed to be starting Week 1. (Also, did I mention my “INTs don’t count” league?)

Funny you bring up San Francisco and anxiety, which for fantasy owners who have dabbled in 49er players in recent years should be synonymous. Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman runs one of the most inconsistent playbooks in the league, which was manifest in Kaepernick’s disappointing 2013 regular season campaign (from a fantasy standpoint). After the Week 1 shellacking in Green Bay (sorry for the reminder), where Kap put up 400+ yards and 3 TDs, he only topped 200 passing yards once between Week 2 and Week 11. Some weeks he was a prolific rusher, others he had super glue on his cleats. I believe it was the midpoint of last season when Alex Smith had more overall rushing attempts than Kaepernick. That should never happen. Kap may become more consistent but there’s no evidence at the moment that he will be a fantasy stud. As a Niners fan, I love the guy. As a fantasy owner, he is way overhyped.  Kap’s ADP at QB11 is crazy. I’ll take Tony Romo, or dare I say, Jay Cutler. Both have lower ADPs and are much greater values

Montee Ball has been the darling of the fantasy preseason but he scares me. Yes, he improved his pass protection skills and yes, he’s a complete runner, but I just hate the notion of my RB1 coming from such an obvious pass first offense.  Ball is an exciting young runner but I’ll let someone else pin their fantasy hopes on him. And have fun the first time Ball fails to pick up a blitz.

So Pat, I already know from your rankings that you won’t like my next opinion but I’m really high on DeSean Jackson. I get the inherent issue – Jackson has company in Washington with Pierre Garcon and a deep WR corps. Also, he’s a bonehead. But I believe the Washington offense is going to monstrous this season, not dissimilar to what Jackson experienced with Chip Kelly last season. DJax was Top 10 in just about every receiving category last season, aside from receptions (where he was 19th so not terrible). I understand some drop off since Jackson has a new, assumedly slower offense. Yet I can see him putting up almost identical numbers and being a huge fantasy surprise.

And now please divulge your must have player and the one you’re avoiding at all costs.


 Boom or bust for DJax in Washington?

July 24 11:52 AM


Are you a former Ron Dayne owner? You must have been burned by a Badger running back at some point to be bearish on Montee Ball this year. High-volume RBs who’ve played with Peyton Manning have pretty much always put up good numbers. I’m confident Ball can carry that torch. Admittedly, I have a University of Wisconsin bias, but I’m a big Montee fan. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he’s such a smart, rugged runner. He’d make a nice pick early in the second round.

My must-have guy? I keep ending up with Ben Tate in my mock drafts and MFL 10s (best-ball leagues run by People are wary of Tate because of his injury history and because the Browns brought in a pair of intriguing rookie RBs, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. But Tate is a nice fit in Kyle Shanahan‘s zone-blocking running scheme, and I’m not especially concerned about Tate’s health issues. He did, after all, play multiple games with broken ribs last year. Tate has a fifth-round ADP, and I see him as a third- or fourth-round value.  Chris Johnson and Trent Richardson have higher ADPs than Tate right now, which I find strange

Another guy with a higher ADP than Tate is Shane Vereen, one of the guys on my “avoid” list. Fantasy owners don’t seem to be fretting about Vereen’s durability, but he’s missed 14 more games than Tate over the past three seasons. Vereen has no chance to be a workhorse, and I’m not sure that even his niche role is entirely safe. The Patriots drafted James White (another Wisconsin RB — we really do grow them on trees up in Madison), and White’s skill set is similar to Vereen’s. Plus, Bill Belichick changes running backs more often than he changes hoodies. I won’t have Vereen on any of my teams this year.

It’s been great chatting with you, Melissa. We’ll have to do this again soon. Maybe when there are lots of juicy training-camp tidbits to hash over? Maybe after Aldon Smith’s next transgression? (Just kidding … sort of.)