Case Keenum: QB, St. Louis Rams
Just as St. Louis Rams backup QB Case Keenum was named starter for Week 11, things started going awry: beyond the below-50% pass completion rate (12-for-26, 136 passing yards, 1 passing TD) against the ninth-worst secondary in the league in yards allowed – the Baltimore Ravens secondary, to be clear – beyond losing 13-16 by a game-winning field-goal in the game’s last-minute drive by Ravens K Justin Tucker, Keenum has inadvertently found himself amid a now-heavily-investigated league concussion controversy, as Keenum took a serious hit in the matchup’s penultimate drive of the fourth quarter that caused him to become severely disoriented, groggy, and marginally unresponsive. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher is under serious fire for breaching NFL concussion protocol by having left Keenum in the game – even with under-two minutes remaining – after having noticed both the hit and Keenum’s subsequent discombobulated status. Further information regarding the nature of the concussion sustained by Keenum will reveal his readiness for the Rams’ Week 12 game in foreign territory against the 8-2 Cincinnati Bengals – Keenum is officially listed as questionable for the time being – whether or not he’ll be named starting QB in subsequent weeks (though highly unlikely) will be left to the discretion of coach Fisher.
Despite all the surrounding controversy, it’s almost clear Keenum isn’t yet ready to take the helm of a professional NFL team – he’s coming along, but he has plenty of work ahead of him. The junior-year quarterback, for instance, has fumbled the ball 8 times in the 11 professional-level games wherein he’s been named starter – he often doesn’t possess the awareness (and hence, the football) in the pocket to be an effective starting quarterback, and the evidence shows. Even though former-starting QB Nick Foles has struggled in recent weeks, he has frequently displayed the knowledgeability and decision-making ability of a professional-caliber QB: recall the single-game, league-record-tying 7 TDs he threw against the Oakland Raiders back in 2013 – a perfect-passer-rating game Foles recorded for the Philadelphia Eagles; or better yet, the Week 4-stunner of this current 2015 season that saw him throw for an interception-less 3 TDs against the now-invincible Arizona Cardinals with 16-for-24 pass attempts (a 66.7% completion rate).
While Foles and Keenum have both found it difficult to find the end-zone passing, a great deal of their difficulty can be attributed to the lack of consistent talent on the St. Louis roster – none of the Rams’ starting WRs – Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, or Brian Quick – have ever recorded an 800-receiving-yard season, let alone an 1,000-receiving-yard season, which likely prompted the signing of veteran-WR Wes Welker, who’s turned in five 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his twelve-year NFL career. While Welker is also past his prime, his veteran leadership should be able to at least mold the Rams’ current receiving team into a smarter, more able group down the line. Putting aside the Rams’ passing-game woes, let’s get down to fantasy-football talk – specifically QBs: due to Keenum’s wanting Rams debut, we’re assuming Fisher opts to start Foles again, as backlash from the Keenum concussion incident places every coaching decision he makes under palpable scrutiny; assuming Foles returns as starter, we’re placing his Week 12 value around a mid-to-high QB1 – having a full week to study and make his return to lead the Rams against an increasingly-vulnerable Bengals squad should effectively galvanize Foles back to dutiful action. On that note, Foles should continue to keep his starting role throughout the remainder of the season – for the remaining stretch, we’d place Foles at a QB1 value – as RB Todd Gurley has aggressively established a ground-game for St. Louis, and with Welker in the mix as a pass-target, Foles should be able to manage to throw touchdown passes in every game until the season’s end.
Justin Forsett: RB, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens RB Justin Forsett suffered a broken arm in the first quarter of his team’s Week 11 matchup hosting the St. Louis Rams (Baltimore ended up winning, 16-13), effectively ending the 30-year-old’s 2015 NFL season – he was officially placed on the Ravens injured-reserve list this past week. Rookie RB Javorius Allen will take over starting duties in Forsett’s stead, as the Ravens prepare for an intra-divisional Monday Night Football showdown against the 2-8 Cleveland Browns.
Forsett’s season was up-and-down in 2015 – at first, he wasn’t given enough touches (fun fact: Forsett rushed for 100+ yards every time he was given 20+ touches this year), then he heated up for a three-week stretch (either 100+ rushing yards or 100+ combined yards for three consecutive games), then the Ravens started passing considerably more after WR Steve Smith, Sr. sustained a season-ending injury – Forsett, throughout the season, has been summarily effective as a runner, but never more effective than that – he’s never been dominating in any game this year.
Strangely enough, even through the Ravens stand at a paltry 3-7, they haven’t lost a game by more than eight points all season: their biggest “blowout” losses have been 13-19 in Week 1 versus the Denver Broncos, and 18-26 by the Arizona Cardinals. To that degree, John Harbaugh and now-injured QB Joe Flacco have done a great job as far as keeping games competitively close, whether on the winning or losing side of a game. But on that same note, neither of the Ravens’ three victories in 2015 have come by more than a field-goal – that being stated, it’s also quite apparent that the Ravens haven’t put themselves in a comfortably-winning position at any point this season. As far as fantasy prospects go, Allen will become the lead-back for Baltimore come Monday night against one of the weakest-overall defenses this season in the Browns’, so it’s not a stretch to assume a 100-yard rushing debut from Allen – if you were able to pick him up, he’ll be worth the start as a mid-range RB1 in Week 12 – it might still very well be possible to acquire him from waivers in less-deep fantasy leagues – beyond Week 12, we’ll track his progress to see if his initially-appraised value fluctuates.
Joe Flacco: QB, Baltimore Ravens
Around this time of year, the 2015 Baltimore Ravens, going into Week 12, are starting to resemble the 2015 Dallas Cowboys, going into Week 6: the three major components of each team’s respective offenses – starting QB, RB, and WR – are decidedly unable to perform. With the Cowboys, it was QB Tony Romo, RB Joseph Randle, and WR Dez Bryant that were watching from the sidelines; with the Ravens, it’s now QB Joe Flacco, RB Justin Forsett, and WR Steve Smith, Sr. that have been the victims of misfortune – in what turned out to be the both the game-winning drive of their Week 11 contest against the St. Louis Rams, a Ravens offensive lineman fell onto the back of Flacco’s knee in the last minute of the fourth quarter, causing tears in both his ACL and MCL and putting a kibosh on Flacco’s tentative 2015 efforts. At this point, Flacco has many surgeries and plenty of therapy ahead of him if he is to return to the Ravens in 2016.
Looking at his performance this year (or lack thereof, in many cases), it appears as if the golden years of Flacco’s career have long elapsed – he hasn’t recorded a single game in ten appearances this year that have been both multi-touchdown and interception-less – the one time he did manage to throw for three TDs, he also tacked on two INTs for safe-keeping. That’s not saying that Flacco is a poor quarterback – in comparison to five of his eight years as starting QB for Baltimore (the three exceptions being his rookie year, 2008 – he only threw 14 TDs along with 12 INTs; a huge hiccough in 2013, where he somehow threw 22 INTs – save for that, the most he’d ever erred in an entire season is throwing 12 INTs, and he’s done it five times in his career; and this current 2015 season, which would’ve given Flacco his second-highest interception-throwing season – one more in any of the remaining five games would’ve sufficed to put his total at 13 INTs for the year), he’s played relatively poorly. To his credit, though, his production didn’t fall off much at all after the ever-explosive WR, Steve Smith, Sr., was taken off active duty for the rest of the season.
Which brings us to the “new” starter, QB Matt Schaub – a few things to note about Schaub, for those who don’t know about him and what he’s done for the Houston Texans during his six-year tenure: he’s been around longer than Flacco, in both age and experience – Flacco is 30, and this is his eighth year in the NFL; Schaub is pushing 34, being a twelve-year veteran. Also, Schaub, statistically speaking, is a better career QB than is Flacco: Schaub’s career passer rating spots him at 89.5, while Flacco rings him in at an 84.7 (this season has Flacco at 83.1). Ravens fans needn’t worry about Schaub’s competence.
Thankfully, for Baltimore fans (or not, depending on their most up-to-date outlook of the Ravens), Schaub might even serve as an upgrade to Flacco at this point. The Ravens don’t have much more to fight for, anyway, this year – they’re pretty much playing the “spoiler” role, siphoning away much-needed wins from potential playoff contenders. As Flacco is kaput for the 2015 NFL season, feel free to put all of your fantasy-football eggs in the Schaub basket – as the Ravens are soon to face off against the Cleveland Browns this upcoming Week 12 in an intra-divisional rivalry, look for Schaub to make an enthusiastic debut against one of the league’s worst secondaries – he’ll be a low-to-mid QB1 this week – the Ravens are still desperate for consistent talent on their roster – we’ll see how the Ravens staff manages this personnel crisis.
Charcandrick West: RB, Kansas City Chiefs
We wouldn’t dare say that Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles is an overrated running-back by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems that any rusher the Chiefs bring out does spectacularly. On that note, RB Charcandrick West has been enjoying the most of his starting time as the Chiefs lead-runner-in-absentia – in the three full games as starter, West has contributed no less than 120 combined yards: Week 8, West rushed for 110 yards and a TD on 22 carries (5.0 yards-per-carry) and caught 2 passes for 19 yards (9.5 yards-per-catch); Week 9 saw West rushing for 97 yards and a TD off of 20 carries (4.9 yards-per-carry) and hauled in 4 passes for 25 yards (6.3 yards-per-catch); in Week 10, West only rushed for 69 yards (24 rushes – 2.9 yards-per-carry) and a TD, but had his best receiving game out of the backfield, netting 92 receiving yards and a TD on a mere 3 receptions (30.7 yards-per-catch). Playing through the first half of the Chiefs’ 33-3 destruction of the San Diego Chargers, West managed 16 rushing yards and 48 receiving yards before he left for the locker room in the second half. West has been diagnosed with a hamstring pull – the severity of which being currently unknown – given the standard time-frame of hamstring-related injuries, West could return as soon as Week 12 or as late as Week 14.
Just as Charles wowed Kansas City fans with his rushing prowess before he went down and was supplanted by West, West followed suit and passed the torch to RB Spencer Ware, who (pun intended) took it and ran – in the less-than-two quarters Ware played, he totaled 101 combined yards: 11 rushes for 96 yards (8.7 yards-per-carry) and 2 touchdowns; a single catch for 5 receiving yards. It really doesn’t seem to matter who the Chiefs start at RB at this point, but whatever Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, Doug Pederson, seems to draw up for the ground-attack gets spun into offensive gold.
Although the Chiefs stand at 5-5, they now seem to have found themselves defensively, and are firing on all cylinders – mind you, the Chiefs had a stretch earlier in the season wherein they had to subsequently play the Denver Broncos, the Green Bay Packers, and the Cincinnati Bengals (all losses for Kansas City) – the Chiefs have since strung four wins together in a row as they move back home to host the 5-5 Buffalo Bills. There is almost nothing bad to say about any player the Chiefs start at RB: if West gets the start, he’ll be valued at a mid-to-high RB1; if Ware gets the start, he’ll be regarded similarly at a mid-to-high-RB1 value. At this point, if Charles comes back on his severely-injured knee, Kansas City could probably get him to a point where he can rush for 100+ yards, and we’d appraise him as a mid-to-high RB1 – whatever the Chiefs are doing on the ground seems to be working, and nowadays, with their defense playing top-notch, they’ll give the offense plenty of opportunities to run down the clock.
Danny Amendola: WR, New England Patriots
New England Patriots WR Danny Amendola secured 100 receiving yards for the second time this season this past Monday night in a roughhouse game against the division-rival Buffalo Bills that held New England to their lowest point total all year – the Patriots still picked up the win, though, 20-13. The fast-paced, hard-hitting action on Monday Night Football took its toll on both sides – Amendola’s name being listed among a litany of other players – a knee sprain took Amendola out of play, and caused him to be carted off the field in the third quarter. Before leaving, Amendola finished with 9 receptions for 117 yards, and has since been listed as “week-to-week” – he will likely miss the all-in matchup between the Patriots and the Broncos in Denver next Sunday night in Week 12.
Amendola hasn’t summarily had any breakout performances in 2015, nor has he needed to – the Patriots offense is not largely comprised of individual skill, but more of role-contribution – no one ever needs to step-up, so to speak, just simply not mess-up. The showstopper, QB Tom Brady, is throwing at a 66.3% completion rate this year while leading the league in passing yards (3,320), so it’s safe to say that he knows what an open player looks like, and moreover, how to get him the ball. While big-name players like WR Julian Edelman (61 receptions, 692 receiving yards, 11.3 yards-per-catch, 7 receiving TDs) and TE Rob Gronkowski (51 receptions, 843 receiving yards, 16.5 yards-per-catch, 8 receiving TDs) have gotten the most looks – 88 (69.3% completion success) and 82 (62.2% completion success) targets, respectively, Amendola has been the most efficient receiver by far: he caught 49 of his 60 targets (81.7% completion success) for 520 receiving yards and 2 receiving TDs.
It’s rare that elite quarterbacks such as Brady are greatly affected by the absence of familiar talent, so expect WR Brandon LaFell to be the new hotness in New England for fantasy purposes – he’s seen a lot more action since Edelman went down, turning in a 100-yard receiving performance in Week 9 (102 receiving yards) and 66 receiving yards in both Week 10 and 11. Going forth into Week 12 against a vigil Broncos secondary, expect more of a chess match and less of a shootout from both ends – fantasy-wise, LaFell is worth the pickup, and should suffice as a high WR2/low WR1 – he hasn’t seen the end-zone all season, and chances are he won’t during this game either, but for the receiving yards and receptions, he should prove a worthwhile addition to struggling lineups. After Amendola recovers, LaFell will still hold mid-range WR2 value – he’ll continue to take his share of the Patriots offense throughout the weeks.
Devonta Freeman: RB, Atlanta Falcons
After years of suffering through a non-threatening run-game, Atlanta Falcons sophomore-RB Devonta Freeman has retooled his rookie-season running-style and elevated his team’s offense to new heights – in eight games, since becoming the outright starter in Week 3 after then-starter rookie-RB Tevin Coleman was carted off the field with cracked ribs against the New York Giants way back in Week 2, Freeman has rushed for 721 yards (plus 8 rushing TDs) and caught for 357 yards (as well as 2 receiving TDs) – that’s including this past week’s clash against the Indianapolis Colts where he was taken out of the game in the first quarter with a severe concussion (the Falcons lost the game, 21-24). Unfortunately for the 6-4 Falcons, Freeman has not been cleared to play due to concussion protocol and has subsequently been ruled out of next week’s marquee matchup against the 7-3 Minnesota Vikings.
Hopefully, during his downtime, Coleman has been taking notes of Freeman’s play, as his return to lead-rusher may be his last chance to wrest starting duties from Freeman’s control. After Freeman evacuated the field, Coleman only managed 48 yards off of 17 rushing attempts, not even able to gain three yards per each rushing attempt (2.8 yards-per-carry). As things are, the Falcons’ future doesn’t look bright, at least for Week 12 – they’ve lost the last three games in a row by a cumulative margin of seven points – their inability to close games, either offensively or defensively, has proven their downfall for three straight weeks. If the Falcons hope to stand a chance against the Vikings, Coleman has to be able to gain enough yardage to remain a consistent late-game option – even with the outstanding WR Julio Jones carrying Atlanta’s passing game via QB Matt Ryan, the Falcons become decidedly one-dimensional when having to rely upon the air-attack to reclaim or solidify leads.
Mind you, the Falcons were one of the few teams in 2015 that started the season 5-0 (the others being the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, and Cincinnati Bengals) – interestingly enough, four of those five early-week victories were come-from-behind – the Falcons were able to come out on top four times during a five-game stretch while trailing in the fourth quarter. Whatever transpired that has made the Falcons lose their late-game clutch-factor remains a mystery-at-large – the one game Atlanta has managed to win in their last five outings was an ugly 10-7 outlasting of a desperate (and disparate) Tennessee Titans club.
Wherever the Falcons’ problems lie has yet to be determined – head coach Dan Quinn will have to look over the game tapes and rediscover how to handle Atlanta’s fourth-quarter efforts. In the meanwhile, the fantasy-football expectations of Coleman remain fairly moderate – entering Week 12, we’re giving Coleman a low-RB2 consideration – his longest rush of the season was for 20 yards, and that was way back in Week 1 – even though he hasn’t had much game-time experience, the Falcons should at least begin to work the speedster Coleman into the pass-game the same way they did Freeman. Believe it or not, the Falcons have currently allowed the least amount of rushing yards all season through ten games at 874 (87.4 rushing yards allowed per game) – if the Falcons are able to curb the rushing efforts of RB Adrian Peterson, they will be able to dominate the time-of-possession throughout the game – what they do with that time, however, is another story.
Marshawn Lynch: RB, Seattle Seahawks
As the Seattle Seahawks prepared early this week to face off against the 6-4 Pittsburgh Steelers, iconic RB Marshawn Lynch packed his bags for a flight – his most recent abdominal-sited injury is to be diagnosed by a sports hernia specialist out of Philadelphia. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has stated that Lynch is slated to miss the next 3-4 weeks due to diagnosis, testing, and/or treatment, and may indeed miss the season’s remainder based on the results of Lynch’s trip – since Lynch’s leave, though, RB Bryce Brown has been activated onto the active roster from the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.
The Beast Mode runner has missed three games due to nagging injury – four, if we count his 5-rushing-attempt, 18-yard-effort (2.8 yards-per-carry) of Week 3 against the Chicago Bears. As Lynch hasn’t largely been a factor all season due to multiple injuries, he has only cracked the 100-yard metric once this year (Week 7 against the division-rival San Francisco 49ers) – comparatively, rookie-backup RB Thomas Rawls has managed the feat thrice in the four games he’s been the leader in touches – last week against the 49ers, he piled up a rushing-yard-total of 209 and a ground-TD on 30 attempts (a yard shy of 7.0 yards-per-carry).
It’s unclear as to how Brown will figure into the ground-attack mix, but he’s been a fairly-reputable back throughout his career, despite never being an outright starter. Coach Carroll shouldn’t have any reason to second-guess starting Rawls, but as Brown has now been entered onto the depth-chart, it’s yet clear as to how the touch-share will end up. Assuming a more-conventional look, with Rawls being the starter and Brown taking the third-down/long-yardage snaps, Rawls is shaping up to be a high RB2/low RB1; Brown, a high RB3/low RB2 – Pittsburgh has been sporting one of the top-end rush defenses this year, so the Seattle runners will really have to put forth exemplary efforts in order to end the game with decently-filled stat-sheets.