Fantasy football is a game of numbers, not names. That is an important thing to remember for any owner. All of us, at one time or another, have gotten caught up in the allure of having a superstar name on our roster.
It’s understandable, too. There’s safety in looking at your team and seeing Drew Brees in the quarterback slot or Ray Rice as a starting running back. Those guys became fantasy stars because of elite performances year after year.
Getting caught up in names can be a dangerous thing, though. It’s easy to fall into the trap of blindly trusting a star player (Jason Witten was started in 55 percent of Yahoo! leagues last week) when the numbers say to do otherwise, and it’s tough to trust someone you’d never heard of until three weeks ago (Andrew Hawkins) even though the numbers make him a solid play.
We as fantasy owners can become enamored with landing that breakout player, but the truth is no one could have possibly predicted what Victor Cruz and Cam Newton did last year. The teams that ended up with those guys got lucky and struck fantasy gold. There’s no other way to put it.
Players who aren’t stars but consistently produce as second- and third-tier guys tend to get overlooked. Picking Tony Gonzalez as your tight end isn’t sexy, and it’s not something you brag about at the end of the year. But there’s value in players like Gonzalez because you know — with more certainty than those so called “sleepers” — what you’re going to get.
Very few things are as valuable in fantasy football as consistency and steadiness.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of some players who aren’t considered elite but are undervalued, reliable producers.
Quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco
More than any other position, the quarterback rankings have been turned on its head through three weeks. You could have made a lot of money — and been checked into a mental institution — if you bet on Robert Griffin III, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco to have more fantasy points after three weeks than Aaron Rogers and Tom Brady.
As part of the early-season chaos, Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger, a pair of low-end starters in years past, have turned themselves into fantasy standouts. One by choice (Ravens) and the other by necessity (Steelers), Baltimore and Pittsburgh have morphed into pass-happy teams.
Roethlisberger has long been viewed as one of the top quarterbacks in “real” football, but as Pittsburgh has become more and more reliant on the aerial attack with each passing year, Big Ben’s fantasy stock has continued to soar.
Currently the third-ranked quarterback, Roethlisberger, has scored 15 and 19 points, respectively, in the first two weeks before erupting for a four-touchdown, 32-point outing in Week 3. With speedy weapons Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace on the outside and Pittsburgh’s defense on the decline, Big Ben may be in for career-highs across the board.
Flacco may put up career-high numbers this year, as well. Torrey Smith is a big play waiting to happen, and Ray Rice is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. None of that is new. What’s new is the emergence of Dennis Pitta at tight end, giving Flacco another option in the passing game.
The preseason buzz out of Ravens’ camp revolved around their no-huddle offense, which was supposed to incorporate more passing and put more of the offense in to Flacco’s hands. It’s come to fruition in the first three games, helping Flacco check in as the fifth-ranked quarterback. He’s scored at least 19 points in two of the three games, racking up 26 points against New England in Week 3. Thursday night against Cleveland, Flacco chucked it 46 times, completing 28 passes for 356 yards and a touchdown.
The Ravens and Steelers are now passing offenses, and both Flacco and Roethlisberger are top fantasy quarterbacks as a result.
Wide Receivers Steve Johnson and Lance Moore
Wide receiver is typically the most unpredictable position in fantasy football. No receiver who was a top-five wideout in 2010 repeated the feat in 2011, and in each year, there was a receiver who finished in the top five that didn’t score a point the season before (Mike Wallace in 2010 and Victor Cruz in 2011).
While it’s always nice to land that breakout stud, there’s something to be said for knowing what you’re going to get with a player. Steve Johnson has never been a super star — nor will he be — but the dude is consistent, which is an extremely valuable trait.
with the emergence of C.J. Spiller, there’s some debate as to who the top running back is in Buffalo, but there’s no doubt who’s the team’s top receiver. Johnson has stepped in and been quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s go-to guy, pacing the Bills in receptions, yards, targets and receiving touchdowns each of the past two seasons.
Through three weeks this season, Johnson is averaging 57.3 yards per game — down by his standards — and has reached the end zone three times. The touchdowns have helped offset the yardage drop, making him the ninth-ranked receiver.
Johnson isn’t going to be a numbers one fantasy receiver, but he’s a reliable, consistent number two wide out.
Lance Moore isn’t the top option for New Orleans; that’s Jimmy Graham. In fact, he isn’t quarterback Drew Brees’ second-favorite target either, with Darren Sproles filling that role. Moore has, however, been the Saints’ best receiver thus far, more than doubling the fantasy points of incumbent number one wideout Marques Colston.
Robert Meachem left this offseason, and Devery Henderson has been banged up, opening the door for Moore. He’s taken advantage of the opportunity, totaling 34 fantasy points through three weeks.
Moore has become a downfield playmaker, racking up 18.3 yards per catch and 9.6 yards per target. He has 220 yards and two touchdowns through three weeks.
An undrafted free agent out of Toledo, Moore will never be a top-tier receiver — there are simply too many weapons in New Orleans and a quarterback who spreads the wealth — but he has locked down a starting job on a team that loves to sling it. The fact that the Saints have a horrendous defense boosts Moore’s stock as New Orleans figures to be playing in a lot of shootouts and come-from-behind situations.
Running backs Frank Gore and BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Frank Gore is a guy fantasy owners love to doubt. Maybe it’s his injury history or his lack of breakaway speed — or the fact that looking at his mug shot can make you scurry to find a new pair of pants.
Nothing about the 49ers offense is flashy, and Gore fits right into that mold. Much like Johnson with the wide receivers, Gore just produces. He doesn’t break too many explosive plays, but he’s the key cog for a San Francisco offense that loves to keep the ball on the ground.
Last year, for the first time since 2006, Gore played in all 16 games. The end result was his best season since that 2006 campaign. He totaled 1,211 yards and eight touchdowns on his way to being the 13th-ranked fantasy running back.
In the past six seasons, Gore, on average, has been the 10th-ranked running back. Twice (2006 and 2009) he finished as the fifth-ranked running back, with a No. 18 ranking in 2010 being his worst showing.
That’s pretty darn good, especially when you consider the fact he missed a total of 10 games in that six-year stretch.
Gore is an absolute workhorse, toting the rock at least 200 times over the last six seasons, including 282 carries a year ago. He is valuable for the sheer fact that he’s going to get carries — a lot of them. Gore won’t rip off too many long runs, but he’s the focal point of San Francisco’s offense, a unit that’s much-improved this year.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a poor man’s Gore. The Law Firm, as he’s affectionately known, became a red-zone machine in his final two years with New England, scoring 24 touchdowns combined in 2010 and 2011.
While Cincinnati doesn’t light up the scoreboard quite like the Patriots, Green-Ellis is in a better situation with the Bengals because he’s the team’s clear-cut top running back (no other Cincinnati back has more than five carries, although top back up Bernard Scott has only played one game.)
With New England, Green-Ellis finished 21st and 16th in carries respectively, over the past two years, averaging 205 per season. Three games is a small sample size, but he’s on pace for 298 carries this season as he’s taken 18.6 handoffs per game thus far.
Green-Ellis is dependable week in and week out, as well, failing to miss a game in 2010 or 2011.
Much like Gore, The Law Firm is not the most explosive running back — in fact, he’s never had a touchdown run of 50-plus yards — but he’s a proven goal-line weapon on a solid offense.
Tight Ends Brent Celek and Brandon Myers
After bursting on to the scene with 971 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009, much was expected out of Brent Celek in 2010. Instead, he finished with just 511 yards and four touchdowns, struggling as Philadelphia transitioned quarterbacks from Donovan McNabb to Michael Vick.
When guys are tabbed as breakout players and fail to live up to the expectations, they tend to be casted off into fantasy oblivion. That, coupled with the fact that tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham put up historic numbers, contributed to Celek’s solid 2011 campaign going under the radar.
Celek finished last season as the 10th-ranked tight end, hauling in 62 passes for 811 yards and five scores. His 62 grabs trailed only Jeremy Maclin for the Eagles’ team high.
Through three weeks this season, Celek has been producing at a high level. He leads all tight ends in receiving yards with 258, besting second-place Tony Gonzalez by 44 yards. The only thing currently holding Celek back from being a top-five tight end is a lack of touchdowns, something that can be attributed to the Eagles’ red zone turnovers and random luck.
Oakland tight end Brandon Myers has led the Raiders in receiving yards in all three games so far, recording 15 grabs for 206 yards. Just like Celek, Myers’ fantasy numbers don’t look quite as good as they should because of an absence of touchdowns.
Amazingly, Myers — a fourth-year tight end out of Iowa — has made a reception on every single one of his 15 targets. That has to earn some trust from quarterback Carson Palmer, and it should do the same for fantasy owners.
Myers isn’t worth starting quite yet, but he’s worthy of a roster spot with a wait-and-see approach.
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