Monday, September 28, 2015

Pay attention: The landscape is shifting

Three weeks into the 2015 season, count yourself lucky if your starting quarterback is still intact.

With Mike Vick taking the helm in Pittsburgh, Antonio Brown’s owners should be nervous. There’s a reason Vick is no longer an Eagle or a Jet – he’s just not very reliable anymore, not to mention he’s been brittle. Given the complexity of the Steelers’ offensive scheme, and Vick’s inexperience running it, Big Ben’s backup is bound to struggle. And though Brown is too valuable to trade, he’ll likely lose his fantasy superpowers in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, we’ve learned a few other things during the young NFL season.

Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Frank Gore aren’t done yet, but Jonathan Stewart might be. Steve Smith and Larry Fitzgerald have found their fountains of youth, while Roddy White and Andre Johnson are assembling a lovely collection of goose eggs.

And a new generation of quarterbacks is making a strong case for fantasy relevance in the most unexpected of places: Buffalo, Tennessee and Oakland. Shockingly, I can only name nine healthy passers whose season-long prospects appear more promising than Tyrod Taylor’s, Marcus Mariota’s and Derek Carr’s.

That’s a fairly seismic shift in the fantasy landscape, and it’s happening right before our eyes. It will be fun to watch as it unfolds further in the weeks to come.

Catch ‘em while you can

Derek Carr, QB, Raiders – The second-year passer just posted his second consecutive 300-plus-yard game, racking up five TDs versus just one interception during that span. Carr appreciates the talent at his disposal in rookie Amari Cooper, and you have to love both of their chances against the Bears in Week 4.

Lance Dunbar, RB, Cowboys – PPR-leaguers looking for a reliable flex play should give Dunbar a hard look. He’s filling a Darren Sproles-like role in the Cowboys’ dink-and-duck offense (with Brandon Weeden under center) though he is rarely used as a runner. Look for similar stat lines to Sunday’s 10-target, 10-reception, 100-yard performance – with the occasional TD, either receiving or returning kicks – mixed in.

Rishard Matthews, WR, Dolphins – Despite the signing of free agents Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings, and the first-round investment in DeVante Parker, Matthews has stepped up and seized the No. 2 receiver role in Miami. In fact, he has more receiving yards (262) and TDs (3) than Jarvis Landry. He shouldn’t be overlooked any longer.

Pat O’Donnell, P, Bears. I once played in a league that included offensive linemen and, yes, even punters. I imagine O’Donnell was the MVP of that league this week.

Don’t be fooled

Karlos Williams, RB, Bills – Unless you own LeSean McCoy and are keeping him as a handcuff, don’t go rushing out to acquire Williams. He got the bulk of his carries, including a 41-yard TD run, after Sunday’s game was well in-hand and the Bills chose to let McCoy rest his bum hamstring.

Reuben Randle, WR, Giants – Randle finally showed up on Thursday night, but what took so long? He’s playing opposite double-covered Odell Beckham, Jr., and Victor Cruz has yet to take the field in 2015. Randle’s four receptions for 28 total yards over the first two games are more telling than his stellar output against the Redskins. Let someone else take the bait.

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