Posted: Tuesday November 22, 2011 11:30AM ; Updated: Tuesday November 22, 2011 6:48PM

The Fire Sale: Lions' Smith, Panthers' Newton facing limitations

Story Highlights

Kevin Smith may have more value as receiver than runner in weeks ahead

Torrey Smith has been up and down this season but could be a star in 2012

Panthers' poor defense putting undue pressure on Cam Newton to produce

By Thomas Casale, SportsGrumblings.com, Special to SI.com

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Cam Newton has seen his turnovers rise with defenses limiting his options and Carolina's defense limiting almost no one.
Cam Newton has seen his turnovers rise with defenses limiting his options and Carolina's defense limiting almost no one.
MSA/Icon SMI

I have good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it. There are two types of people who follow the Fire Sale. Some love me and think I'm God. Those are the ones that really scare me. Then there are those who hate me so much that they read my column every week just to see what I'm saying. Those people I respect a little more.

The Fire Sale has been running since 1999, but we may be nearing the end of an era. John Georgopoulos at Sports Grumblings is talking retirement and my agreement with SI.com is from year to year, so there's a chance this could be the final season for the Fire Sale.

After 12 years of inane observations and the occasional laugh, the Fire Sale could be a column without a home. I would ask my rabid supporters to start a grassroots campaign to save the Fire Sale but I'm afraid that would turn out worse than the Houston Oilers debacle.

In case you don't remember Houston and Cleveland lost their teams at the same time. So the Browns fans held a rally where the entire city of Cleveland showed up to support the team. A couple of days later Houston tried the same thing and six people holding "Love Ya' Blue" signs were huddled around outside the Astrodome. It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. I know I would be lucky to match the turnout for the Oilers.

In light of this news and with Thanksgiving this week, I just wanted to say how thankful I am for all of you follow the Fire Sale, and more important, to those of you who "get" the column. I understand not everyone is going to like what I do but I'm surprised how many people don't get the sarcasm of my column.

It makes me sad that so many people in this world are miserable and take life too seriously. I blame it on technology. Everyone today is too busy getting 1,000 friends on Facebook instead of actually going out and interacting with real human beings.

So I want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you have a great holiday. If this is the final month of the Fire Sale we had a great run. I've thoroughly enjoyed writing this column for all of you over the years. I'll leave you with a line that I recite every season: Thanksgiving is about God, family and the Dallas Cowboys, but not necessarily in that order.

Now, on with the Fire Sale ...

Going Up

Kevin Smith, RB Lions -- No matter how confident we are about players or situations in August, we know there will be surprises over the course of an NFL season. Still, Jones' performance on Sunday was really shocking.

I hated Jones when he was at Virginia Tech. I hated Jones when the Cowboys passed on Steven Jackson in the draft and traded down to try to get him. I hated Jones when he was in Detroit the first time around because he was basically the same runner I hated at Virginia Tech. Did you get all that?

Then on Sunday Jones looked like the second coming of Billy Sims. So let's examine this a little further. First, let's state the obvious: The Panthers have the worst rush defense on the planet outside of Akron. The way the Carolina defenders don't get off blocks and miss tackles is embarrassing.

Jones ran hard and made some people miss. However, the Panthers missed so many tackles that led to extra yards it wasn't even funny. Jones is the best Lions running back to own right now, but I'm not so sure he's going to remain a huge fantasy factor.

The Lions won't run the ball a lot most weeks and it's questionable whether Jones will put up strong fantasy numbers against teams like Green Bay and Chicago. I don't see it. Jones is an excellent receiver, so he could get you 12-15 fantasy points with receptions, but if you're expecting a stud like we saw in Week 11, you'll be disappointed.

Joe McKnight, RB Jets -- Well, sometimes you have to wait awhile but I'm usually right in the end.

Remember back in October when I missed the boat on Jackie Battle? In case you forgot, the week everyone was telling you to go out and get Battle, I totally ignored him and advised my Twitter followers to take a flier on McKnight, who responded with one yard against the Patriots. Battle went on to rush for 119 yards that week.

Now over a month later it appears I'm just too ahead of the curve for my own good. Battle has all but disappeared from the fantasy landscape, and McKnight is about to explode onto it. Now that the ineffective Shonn Greene injured his ribs, maybe the Jets will finally use this opportunity to admit he's an average running back and give McKnight more touches.

Here's the thing: Greene simply isn't getting the job done. You can make all the excuses you want but at some point it is what it is. The Jets have played 10 games this season and Greene has run like a second-string running back. I don't know how else to say it. Greene simply isn't a starting NFL running back.

It looks like Greene will play against Buffalo but I believe McKnight is in line for an increased workload. The Jets are 5-5 and they need to make some changes on offense. Making a switch at running back should be one of those changes. Getting a new quarterback should be another. Hiring an offensive coordinator who doesn't have the last name Schottenheimer would be another. Those are the places I would start if I were in charge of the Jets.

Torrey Smith, WR Ravens -- This is the third time I've talked about Smith in the Fire Sale. The first time was after the Rams game, when I said Smith may be a one-game wonder, at least for this season. The second time I said I liked the cut of his jib. I'm thinking now the second time was the more accurate assessment.

I really like Smith going into next year. Smith was considered raw coming out of Maryland. He had blazing speed but his route running still needed work. With the lockout, rookies got a late start, but now Smith is really starting to put things together and becoming a good all-around receiver.

Smith still will be hit or miss this year. Joe Flacco has his bad games, and late in the year is usually Ray Rice time in Baltimore.

Smith is a good guy to own now, but much like Ed Dickson, his best fantasy days are still down the road. The Ravens are finally building a nice group of pass catchers with Smith, Dickson and Anquan Boldin, so Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron are running out of excuses.

Oh, and I read somewhere that the Ravens traded for Lee Evans but that must have been a rumor because it's not five years ago and Evans has no value to anyone.

Percy Harvin, WR Vikings -- It only took until November but the genius who is Leslie Frazier finally decided to get Harvin more involved in the offense. I'm telling you keep an eye on this Frazier. It only took him two months to realize what the rest of the world already knew: Harvin is one of the Vikings' most dangerous offensive weapons.

Over his last three games, Harvin has caught 16 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. Those stats aren't out of this world but at least Harvin is getting on the field and seeing the ball come his way more. Harvin also should get a few more carries now that Adrian Peterson is injured. Toby Gerhart impressed coming out of college, but man, he's looked bad running the ball in the NFL. He hasn't gotten a ton of carries, but so far Gerhart looks slow and he has no vision at all.

You can go out and grab Gerhart if you want with Peterson expected to miss at least one game. We know he'll catch some passes, but as of right now, Gerhart reminds me of ... Peyton Hillis, of course. The only problem is Gerhart reminds me of the Hillis of this year, not 2010, so that isn't a good thing.

I had Harvin earlier in the year and I think I traded him for Santonio Holmes. I can't remember because I make so many trades but most of my deals have paid off for me this year. That one didn't. I would much rather have Harvin for the rest of the season than the fourth receiver on the Jets.

Too bad Minnesota still doesn't have Bernard Berrian. I hear he's always open. I guess other teams haven't heard yet because he remains unsigned. Maybe those teams need to sit down and watch film with Berrian. All the film, not just one game.

Riley Cooper, WR Eagles -- He reminds me a lot of Jordy Nelson. Hey, I'm starting a new trend here. Let's give the other white receiver some love. Not everyone has to be compared to Wes Welker.

Charles Clay, TE Dolphins -- Clay appeared in the first Fire Sale of the season when we broke down some rookies. I write for Inside Tulsa Sports, so I saw Clay play a ton in college, and I wasn't sure if Clay would make it in the NFL.

Clay played both running back and H-back at Tulsa but I always thought he was miscast as a running back. Trust me, Tulsa fans heard that from me virtually every week. Clay was so productive as a receiver from the H-back position, I always questioned why the team even bothered using him in the backfield at all. It made no sense.

On Sunday Clay caught four passes for 69 yards and a score. Now, is Clay going to do this every week? It's doubtful. Should you pick up Clay and make him your starting tight end? No way. However, Clay is a guy I want you to watch closely over the final six games because I believe he can play in the NFL and be very productive down the road.

Clay has soft hands, so catching the ball isn't a problem. He can do that in his sleep. Also, because he used to play running back, Clay is a monster to bring down in the open field. I know a lot of people don't see Tulsa play every week but believe me that he had some of the most impressive open field runs in college football during his time there.

If you play in a deep league Clay is worth a flier at this point. The Dolphins haven't had an athletic threat at tight end since Randy McMichael five years ago. Clay could finally end that drought.

Rob Gronkowski, TE Patriots -- Gronk is the most unstoppable force in the NFL right now. The day I traded for him is the day my life changed for the better. Jimmy Graham is great, but Gronk will be my top-rated tight end heading into next season. You can take that to the bank.

Coming Down

Jake Locker, QB Titans -- Locker played well on Sunday but a closer look at his Week 11 performance revealed a troubling trend. Against Atlanta, every time Locker threw to his left the ball sailed on him. When he threw to the right or on the run, Locker was money.

Damian Williams was lined up to the left and Locker targeted him seven times, so the opportunities were there. However, even when Williams was open by a couple of yards on out routes, the ball would sail over his head and out of bounds. Williams dropped one catchable ball. All the other passes were thrown way too high for him to make a play on.

I think this is interesting because Locker had problems with balls sailing on him in college but I don't remember if throwing to his left was a problem or it's just a coincidence. It could have been one game or maybe it's something with his mechanics but keep an eye on this going forward.

Cam Newton, QB Panthers -- My top draft pick next year is hitting the expected rookie wall. I still see a lot of great signs from Newton but is getting asked to do too much with that pathetic Panthers defense giving up 50 points a game. The Panthers defense has stunk since Week 1 but bad defenses tends to get worse as the season goes on. When you factor in injuries and guys wearing down, Carolina's defense simply can't compete right now. That means everything is riding on Newton's shoulders, and opponents know it.

Defenses are trying to take away the deep pass from Newton and make him look for his secondary receivers, which is the area where he's still developing. Newton continues to put up nice yardage numbers and he's still scoring but now the turnovers are mounting, as we saw with his four interceptions against Detroit.

If you went all in on Newton to win you a fantasy title, you're not necessarily doomed. Newton will get his yards on the ground and short rushing touchdowns at the very least. If Tim Tebow and his 90 passing yards aren't killing fantasy owners, Newton and his 350 total yards isn't the end of the world either. You just have to live with the turnovers.

Greg Jennings, WR Packers -- I'm sure Jennings' two catches for four yards won a lot of people games this week but I have him going down anyway.

Jennings hurt his shin on Sunday but he wasn't a big part of the game plan against Tampa Bay anyway. I think I've figured something out with Jennings; when he lines up mostly in the slot, Jennings is a decoy that week.

I have Jennings, so I always try to find him before the snap. I do this mainly because all of the Green Bay receivers outside of Jordy Nelson look exactly alike on TV. Nelson obviously looks like Wes Welker, right?

Despite being a small guy, Jennings is much more productive when he lines up outside rather than the slot. To be honest, Jennings is an awful slot receiver. He just keeps running into double coverage all the time, which is why I think Jennings is being used as a decoy when in that position. Either that or he just can't run routes out of the slot.

Over the last couple of games Jennings has been lining up in the slot and that's been leaving Jordy Nelson with single coverage on the outside. Aaron Rodgers has taken advantage of it by getting the ball to Nelson often. The Packers offense is based on looking for single coverage and exploiting it. That's why I think you've seen Nelson take over as Rodgers' favorite receiver lately.

Obviously, this could all change Thursday against Detroit. If the Lions start paying extra attention to Nelson, it will be Jennings or another receiver who has the big day. One thing to keep an eye on early, though, is whether or not Jennings spends a lot of time lining up in the slot. If he does, it will likely be another long day for those of us who own Jennings.

Chicago Bears -- The Bears were starting to play really well, so losing Jay Cutler is a tough blow. It's too bad the Bears refuse to go out and get real receivers because Cutler had elevated his game of late.

So right now we have two teams in Houston and Chicago who had a shot to play in the Super Bowl but have lost their starting quarterbacks. I think we have two different situations here and I'll explain why.

Let's assume that Matt Leinart and Caleb Hanie aren't going to come in and be superstars. Let's assume they're going to be game managers and play like backup quarterbacks. If that's the case, then the Texans are set up to have more success.

When a quarterback goes down I like to look at what their team does well. If you look at the Texans, you see a team that has the best offensive line in the NFL, the best running back in the league and arguably the best backup running back in the league. In other words, Houston was built to be a running team even when Matt Schaub was healthy. If Leinart can just be average, the Texans offense still has a chance to produce.

Now let's go to Chicago. The Bears have problems on the offensive line, and while Matt Forte is a great player, they don't really line up and run the ball right at you. Forte does a lot of his damage as a receiver and running the ball in passing situations. The Bears are lucky to have Forte and Marion Barber, but I'm not sold that they can just line up and pound the football, so Hanie may have to do more than Leinart.

If you have Arian Foster or Ben Tate, you should be fine. The Texans offensive line is so good those two backs will benefit from the extra workload. However, even though Forte and Barber will see their carries increase, I'm not so sure that's going to mean more production. Hanie has learned under Mike Martz, so don't close the book on him, but we need to see what he brings to the table first.

One last thing about Forte. We're starting to see a lot more of Barber and that's not great news for fantasy owners. At one point Forte was in LeSean McCoy's class when it came to touches and production but that's changed in the last month. It will be interesting to see how Lovie Smith splits up the carries going forward because Forte has gone from fantasy stud to a decent RB2 over the last three weeks.

Week 12 Sneaky Starts

This will be the final week of Sneaky Starts. Like I always say, if you need to start James Jones at this point in the season, things probably didn't go the way you were hoping they would. With the playoffs just around the corner you either have the horses or you don't.

C.J. Spiller, RB Bills -- As this goes to print Fred Jackson is looking iffy for Sunday with a calf bruise. With Donald Jones also out, Spiller should see time at both running back and receiver against the Jets this week. He could end up having a nice game in PPR leagues.

Jonathan Stewart, RB Panthers -- He's playing the Colts.

Delone Carter, RB Colts -- He's playing the Panthers.

Lance Moore, WR Saints -- The Giants are hurting at linebacker, so Moore could be a factor on those underneath routes this week. He's worth a shot in PPR leagues if you're desperate.

Ed Dickson, TE Ravens -- Dickson has been good to me all year so let's try him one more time. The 49ers defense has been great but Dickson should be able to do some damage against their safeties.

For more average fantasy advice you can follow Thomas Casale on Twitter and Facebook or e-mail him at tcasale@mail.com.

 
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