Is Cam Newton still a must-start? Which Cincinnati Bengals wideout will draw extra targets while A.J. Green sits on the injury shelf? Who is Jay Cutler’s new temporary favorite receiver? Are we seeing fantasy history repeat itself in the New York Giants’ backfield? FantasySharks.com senior writer Matt Wilson answers those questions in his latest version of the “Traps & Trends.”
1. IS THE REIGNING NFL MOST VALUABLE PLAYER STILL A MUST-START?
The Dude: Cam Newton
The Damage: Newton has compiled multiple total touchdowns in just one of his last four starts. Facing a decent but beatable Kansas City Chiefs defense back in Week 10 – this was his best outing in the last month – Newton threw for 261 yards and one touchdown, and carried 12 times for 54 yards and one score. In the other three games, he notched just two touchdown passes. Newton’s showing last Thursday night was especially troubling. Playing on his home field, Newton passed for just 192 yards and one touchdown, and seven rushing yards on five carries versus a leaky New Orleans Saints defense that had been ranked 21st in fantasy points allowed to the quarterback position and had yielded the second-most yardage to enemy passers. Is this the level of production that we can expect from Newton the rest of the season?
The Diagnosis: TREND
It’s time to revoke Newton’s must-start card if you haven’t done so already. The sixth-year pro clearly isn’t creating as many plays as he did last season, but it’s not entirely Newton’s fault. His struggling offensive line continues to be a major problem. Center Ryan Kalil has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries. Newton’s receivers also have struggled with drops from time to time. In addition, the Panthers’ play calling looks stale and predictable. The Panthers don’t seem interested in using their running backs in the passing game, period. Treat him as a matchup play fantasy QB1/QB2 going forward. Newton is still very usable, of course, and there are a few very favorable matchups remaining on his schedule.
2. WHO IS FIRST IN LINE FOR A.J. GREEN’S TARGETS: THE ROOKIE WIDEOUT OR THE FORMER NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS’ VETERAN WIDEOUT?
The Damage: Every online fantasy football news site that’s worth a rip has reported that A.J. Green suffered a partially torn right hamstring during his team’s loss to the Buffalo Bills and will miss the rest of the season. After Green went down, Andy Dalton locked in on Tyler Boyd, not Brandon LaFell, targeting the rookie wideout eight times. Boyd made some chain-moving grabs, amassing six receptions for 54 yards, and he and Dalton hooked up on a one-yard scoring play in the second quarter. Meanwhile, Dalton targeted LaFell nine times, but the veteran wideout hauled in just four passes for 32 yards during a surprisingly poor performance. That’s why Dalton tried to go to Boyd as often he could. Moving forward, will Boyd continue to operate in the Green role? Is he the Cincinnati Bengals wideout to target in waivers?
The Diagnosis: TREND
Because of LaFell’s recent dismal play (just six catches for 47 yards in his last three games), I’m going to go out on a limb and say, yes, Boyd is the Bengals receiver to own. Thanks to his anticipated workload, consider him a fantasy WR3. Boyd, however, isn’t a big-play guy like Green. He’s a route-running technician like Keenan Allen (Chargers). As I was writing this, the news about Giovani Bernard’s season-ending torn ACL had gone public. With Bernard out, LaFell also should have a bigger role out of necessity (Tyler Eifert can’t catch all the passes, right?), but he shouldn’t be trusted as anything more than a matchup-play fantasy WR4.
3. GETTING A SENSE OF DÉJÀ VU WITH THE BIG BLUE BACKFIELD?
The Dude: Rashad Jennings
The Damage: Perhaps you remember the 2015 New York Giants’ backfield. It was an unpredictable fantasy dumpster fire with Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa and Andre Williams all sharing workloads that were unpredictable from week-to-week before the team decided to use Jennings in a workhorse role – and he performed well – during the final month of the season, and the offense clicked. However, the Giants apparently didn’t learn their lesson. They started the 2016 season using Jennings and company in a crazy timeshare that included Vereen (before he got hurt), Bobby Rainey and rookie Paul Perkins before deciding to commit to Jennings in a three-down role last week. In Week 10, he racked up 109 combo yards on 18 touches. This past Sunday, during his team’s victory over the Chicago Bears, Jennings compiled a season-high 129 total yards on 26 touches, which were both season highs, and one rushing score. Can we expect the New York football Giants to continue using Jennings in a three-down bell-cow role?
The Diagnosis: TREND
As long as Jennings is producing and protecting the football, he’s an upside three-down fantasy RB2. Even though Perkins will continue to operate as a change-of-pace guy and steal some touches here and there, the New York backfield finally belongs to Jennings. However, following a cushy Week 12 road matchup against the Cleveland Browns, Jennings will face more challenging draws versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13 and the Dallas Cowboys in Week 14. Keep in mind that Jennings has a dicey injury history.
4. THAT ROOKIE HOWARD GUY STILL OWNS THE CHICAGO BEARS BACKFIELD, RIGHT?
The Damage: What? Fantasy talk about the Chicago Bears that doesn’t involve Jay Cutler? During the days leading up to Week 11, there had been whispers that Jordan Howard had dinged an Achilles tendon back in Week 10. No, he wasn’t on the most recent injury report, and Howard gouged the New York Giants for 77 rushing yards on 17 carries and 22 receiving yards one on catch (he had multiple drops). So what’s the problem? Backup Jeremy Langford vultured a goal-line score, carrying six times for eight yards, and he racked up three catches for 30 yards. Is the Chicago backfield trending toward a committee? Is it time for Howard owners to panic?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
Howard owners, in the words of Aaron Rodgers, R-E-L-A-X. Don’t panic and do something stupid…like bench Howard. He owns the Bears’ backfield, and the Achilles tendon injury talk apparently was just a lot of silly online speculation. Langford operated as a breather-back and will continue to do so. If you’re desperate, Chicago has a scrumptious home matchup against the leaky San Francisco 49ers run defense in Week 13. Langford could pick up some serious garbage-time work in that matchup.
5. WITH ALSHON JEFFERY RIDING THE PINE DURING A FOUR-GAME LEAGUE SUSPENSION, IS CAMERON MEREDITH THE TEMPORARY NEW FAVORITE TARGET OF JAY CUTLER?
The Damage: How did things shake out in the first of four games in the Alshon Jeffery-less Chicago Bears’ receiver corps? As you surely remember, Jeffery is serving a four-game PED league suspension, and Jay Cutler loves to feed one target. Cameron Meredith, the presumed new temporary go-to guy for Jay Cutler, caught four passes for 49 yards on four targets. Eddie Royal made two grabs for 13 yards on three targets. Zach Miller logged three catches for 61 yards and one touchdown before suffering a season-ending broken foot. Marquess Wilson reeled in one ball for 35 yards on four targets. Jordan Howard actually topped all Chicago fantasy stars with eight looks. Should we expect some clarity in the Bears’ receiver corps soon?
The Diagnosis: TOSSUP
I watched a good chunk of this game, so I can tell you that Cutler had locked onto Miller in the early going, but, as mentioned, Miller has been lost for the season. After he exited the game, Cutler tried to feed Howard, who caught just one pass. Pass catching isn’t Howard’s specialty. Who will draw Cutler’s attention in Week 12? I honestly don’t know, and I don’t think we’ll have any clarity with the Chicago receiver corps before Jeffery returns. However, keep an eye on Wilson. In three of his six 2015 starts, Wilson either amassed 80-plus receiving yards or scored while catching passes from Cutler.