Fantasy Clicks: Elite receivers worth investment
Much space on fantasy sites in the last few years has been dedicated to the rise of the wide receiver. After all, the NFL is a passing league, right? As such, wide receivers have become more and more important in fantasy leagues. But are we sure the NFL is a passing league, at least when viewed through the prism of trying to win a fantasy league?
The top five scorers among flex players (running backs and wide receivers) are Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Doug Martin, Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch. I don't have to tell you what they all have in common. The rest of the top 25 is divided almost right down the middle with 11 receivers and nine running backs. If you're curious, Brandon Marshall, Trent Richardson, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Stevan Ridley round out the top 10.
Moreover, the average starting running back in a 12-team league has outscored his average buddy lined up out wide, 140.23 to 137.98, for the entire season. So again, I ask, are we sure the NFL is a passing league for fantasy purposes.
Well, yeah, we are, but maybe not for the obvious reasons. Let me preface this by saying there's no substitute for having one of the elite backs in the league. Odds are the Adrian Peterson owner in your league is still playing this week. But take a look at those elite backs again. Only Foster and Rice were considered sure things coming into the season. Peterson was going somewhere in the second round. Lynch was a third rounder. Martin was frequently on the board into the fourth round.
Take a look further down the list of running backs, and the song remains the same. Ridley was a popular sleeper, but far from a lock. The next two are Jamaal Charles and Frank Gore, who likely went in the second and third rounds, respectively, so they've essentially performed up to their preseason expectations. The final four backs among the top-25 flex players? Alfred Morris, C.J. Spiller, Chris Johnson and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Only Johnson was expected to be in this stratosphere, and his season is still considered a mild disappointment.
Let's take a look at the other side of the ledger. The top three receivers through 14 weeks are Marshall, Calvin and Green. The latter two were essentially the consensus 1-2 at the position, and most experts had Marshall in the top five. The only relative surprises among the top-25 flex players are Vincent Jackson (13), Reggie Wayne (21) and Randall Cobb (24). The others were all considered rock solid picks back in August: Demaryius Thomas, Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Andre Johnson.
All of this is to say the hidden skill of wide receivers is reliability. If you grab an elite receiver in August, chances are he'll still be an elite receiver in December. Focusing on those elite receivers early leaves your roster open to take fliers on the Alfred Morrises and Stevan Ridleys later in your draft, too.
Fantasy football does not discriminate between rushing yards and receiving yards, or touchdowns scored on the ground or in the air. Next year, remember that in most instances you're better off trusting a seemingly elite receiver over a seemingly elite running back.
So that's what I think. Here's what I think about what other people think for Week 15.
• Mario Puig at RotoWire (subscription required) recommends Kris Durham as a starter for owners in leagues deeper than 10 teams. I love this call. The value and volume should be there in Detroit's offense. If you watched the Sunday night game last week, you undoubtedly noticed Matthew Stafford's trust in his college teammate. Durham had more targets and snaps than Mike Thomas, suggesting he'll serve as the team's No. 2 receiver for the last three weeks of the season. With the Cardinals in a "stop Calvin at all costs" defense, Durham will have ample opportunity to make an impact.
• In Brad Evans' great "Flames" column this week, he likes Ryan Mathews to finally register for his fantasy owners. The matchup against the Panthers is a good one, but I just don't see it working out for Mathews. Throw all the stats at me you want, but at some point I'm going to tell you that I believe what I see, and what I see in Mathews is a guy who has rushed for fewer than four yards per carry behind a terrible offensive line (that replaced both starting tackles last week), and has caught just 24 passes this season. That's not a guy to trust in the fantasy semifinals.
• Within this "empty the notebook" story at NFL.com, is talk of Robert Griffin III's knee injury. This cautions that you should have a backup ready, whether or not Griffin plays. To me, the bottom line is that if RGIII plays, he should be in the starting lineup. Cleveland's pass defense has been one of the best in the league since getting Joe Haden on the field, but, simply put, RGIII is matchup proof, even if he is a bit hobbled. The Redskins aren't going to risk their future on what remains a bit of a longshot to make the playoffs. If Griffin suits up, it's because he can do all the things that make him special. You don't want those things on your bench.
• The Fantasy Doctor at Pro Football Weekly answers a few questions from readers counseling them to start Aaron Rodgers no matter what. Look, if I own Rodgers, I'm starting him too, but I'd also be sure to temper my expectations. The Bears' defense has looked bad in exactly one game this year, at San Francisco in Colin Kaepernick's first start. When these two teams played each other in Week 2, Rodgers threw for just 219 yards and one touchdown, and the Bears picked him off once. His touchdown was also set up by a takeaway that gave the Packers the ball deep in Bears territory. Start Rodgers, but don't count on him to win your game for you.
• CBS.com's Jamey Eisenberg lists players to add at every position, and I think he hits the nail on the head at running back. David Wilson and Montell Owens should both be started this week, and Bilal Powell could make his way into a starting lineup, depending on your circumstances. We all saw what Wilson could do last week when given enough touches. While that was against the woeful Saints' defense, I still want him in the lineup against an almost-as-unimposing Falcons squad. Owens has the toughest matchup of the three (at Miami), but is also likely to get the most touches. Powell will be in a timeshare, but the Titans make sure there's plenty of scoring to go around for opposing running backs. He's worth a shot in deep leagues.
• Over at KFFL.com, Cory Bonini says Daniel Thomas is a worthy flex play this week. I just can't get on board with that. Thomas is totally dependent on converting goal-line carries to be a fantasy contributor. That's a guy I might roll with if I'm decimated by byes in the middle of the season. It's not a guy I want in my lineup during the playoffs. You have to have better options.
Chat with me on Twitter, @MBeller.