Week 3 Fantasy Football Buy or Sell: Buy Reggie Bush
Welcome back everyone to my weekly fantasy football buy or sell column. The first two weeks of the 2012 NFL season have been a whirlwind; there have been key injuries, surprise sleepers, upsets galore and replacement referees (who, according to LeSean McCoy, play fantasy football).
If you have read this column before, I appreciate your return. If you are new here, this is how buy or sell works: I choose five players I’m buying (supporting) and five players I’m selling (rejecting) for the long-term in fantasy football. This is because fantasy football–like real football–is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to always be planning for the season even while playing weekly.
There is a lot to cover this week, so without further ado…
1a. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
The reigning MVP has played like anything but that in 2012. In the first two games last season, Rodgers threw five touchdowns and no interceptions. So far this year, he has three touchdowns and two interceptions. However, there are a few factors to consider, and it will be easy to see that he is not in a slump, but rather is in for some big numbers.
For starters, the Packers played the Saints and Panthers to start 2011. This season, they have gone up against the 49ers and Bears, arguably two of the top five defenses in the entire league. But, the hardest part of their schedule is out of the way. Until the team’s bye in Week 10, Rodgers will face (in order), the Seahawks, Saints, Colts, Texans, Rams, Jaguars and Cardinals. None of these teams have a truly intimidating secondary that will shut down Rodgers and the Packers passing game.
Rodgers has a lot to prove to the rest of the league that he is still the MVP, and I’m buying that he starts shredding defenses again.
1b. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
The reigning Offensive Player of the Year has played like anything but that in 2012. Like Rodgers, he has something to prove to the rest of the league and is in for big numbers. But when comparing the first two games of this season to last season, the stats are surprisingly different, both in number and opposing secondary quality. In 2011, Brees started off the season by facing the Packers and Bears, throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions in the process. Through the first two weeks in year, he has gone up against the Redskins and Panthers, with four touchdowns and four interceptions.
But, I have a few theories for his recent drop-off in production, and how I believe he will turn it around. As much as I do not want to use head coach Sean Payton’s absence as a reason for Brees and the Saints’ struggles, the truth of the matter is that it is a factor. During the offseason and training camp–when the bounty scandal’s news presence was at its peak–Payton’s role as a leader was gone. This left players and media reporters coming to the team’s other top leader, Brees, who is also the face of the franchise. As much as Brees has denied, and will deny, that the bounty scandal has not been a distraction, it had to take a toll on him, especially when trying to focusing solely on football. And now that it is the regular season, as smart a quarterback that Brees is, Payton’s football intelligence and second set of eyes that can scan read defenses helps Brees and the offense adjust during the course of the game. Lastly, I think the losses of wide receiver Robert Meachem and guard Carl Nicks have hurt Brees as well. Meachem was, at the very least, another weapon opposing defenses had to account for. No new receivers have filled that role he held. Nicks is one of the league’s top guards, and his departure has affected the Saints pass protection for Brees.
Though these are all permanent, season-long losses, it is time for Brees to bounce back. He has to be fired-up to prove his play and the team’s 0-2 start is only a bump in the road. Well, their favorable schedule allows the chance to return to form. Until the Week 6 bye, Brees will go up against the Chiefs, Packers and Chargers. All three teams have susceptible secondaries, so do not worry, Brees will be lighting it up very soon.
2. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Yes, I am buying Manning even after a not-so-Manning performance on Monday night. Even the greats are allowed to have not-so-great games every one and awhile, and the NFL’s only four-time MVP is no exception. But credit needs to be given to the Falcons for executing their game plan to stop Manning early and often. After the third interception, Manning was able to find open receivers and make the throws, and he rarely got confused the rest of the game. This game humbled Manning.
Manning is smart–perhaps the smartest quarterback to ever play–and he knows how to play with a short memory. He knows he still has plenty of work to do, both individually and with the other players on offense. He also learned that his arm strength is not the same and getting back into a season-long stretch of games with a new team after missing an entire season because of neck surgeries is going to take some time. Manning will learn as the season goes on what he can and cannot do. There are going to be some hills to climb this season, but he will still throw for 4,000 yards and have roughly a 2:1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions, just like he almost always does.
3. Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins
Bush is in for another good season with the Dolphins, because is used as a feature back and not a jack-of-all-trades weapon like he was with the Saints. I am not jumping on the bandwagon and overreacting after his 26 carries, 172 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders. I am not surprised and it is no fluke. Midway through last season, Bush really began turning his game on and the Dolphins utilized him more and more. That is why he ended the season with four-straight 100+ yard games (including a 200+ yard game). At 27-years-old, he has not lost any speed and has plenty of endurance since he did not get beat up over the years as a featured back. But he is the Dolphins’ guy now and he is headed towards another career-high year.
4. Matt Forte and Michael Bush, RBs, Chicago Bears
The injury to Forte is having fantasy owners freaking out, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, he is still questionable for Week 3, but unlike last year, he will not be out for the season. So although it is difficult now Forte fantasy owners, do not fret too much, because he will be back and he will produce. Hold onto him.
Now, if you were one of those guys that drafted Bush late as a backup or for a just-in-case situation, wow do you look smart right now. There are good reasons to play Bush as your starter if Forte is out rather than search for someone else. Bush is basically a No. 1 back playing a No. 2 role with the Bears because Forte is such a special talent. The Bears are not going to abandoned their running game, feeding Bush as they would Forte early and often, especially with Jay Cutler’s latest struggles.
5. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons
At 36-years-old, Gonzalez may not be as dominant as when he was in his prime, but he is still a top tight end with the best fundamentals in football. His age, retirement talks and emergence of Roddy White and Julio Jones still will not keep Gonzalez from being a big factor in the Falcons offense. Since joining the Falcons in 2009, he has not suffered serious injuries (nor has he in his career for that matter), while catching 70+ passes, having 650+ receiving yards and six or more touchdowns in each season. Through two games this season, he has 12 catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. So his role is not diminished at all. Additionally, I was amazed by just how good he still is while watching Monday night’s game. He can make acrobatic catches, catches in traffic and make the start of every route look the same. Gonzalez finds ways to get open, and that should lead to yet another big season for him in 2012.
1a. Deion Branch, WR, New England Patriots
The Patriots brought back a familiar face this week, adding Branch as depth to a receiving corps that features a struggling Brandon Lloyd, a scarcely used Wes Welker, and an injured Aaron Hernandez. But before you think Branch is going to be the cure-all, there are a few things to consider. First off, Branch’s season totals in his ten-year career are not jaw dropping numbers. His best season, 2005 with the Patriots, he had career highs in receptions (78) and yards (998); his season-high touchdown mark is six. Plus, he is not the Patriots top receiver like he was during their Super Bowl years. His stats with the Patriots last season were 51 catches, 702 yards and five touchdowns. Looking at those further, he never had more than one touchdown in a game, and only had two games with 100+ receiving yards (neither of which came with a touchdown). Lastly, he caught four or fewer passes in 10 of 15 games. Branch is too hard to predict and trust on a weekly basis over the course of this season.
1b. Kellen Winslow, TE, New England Patriots
The Patriots also added Winslow this week to fill in for Hernandez and allow the offense to run their two tight end formations. But before you jump the gun and begin relying on Winslow, there are a few points to look at. For starters, his last three seasons, all with the Buccaneers, have been good but not great. Though he has averaged 72 catches, 792 yards and four touchdowns over that three-year span (with only two scores in 2011), the game-by-game breakdown is more important. Remember, Hernandez will be back in four to six weeks, and when healthy, he will not be a backup to Winslow in the Patriots offense.
But let’s play worst-case scenario, with Hernandez missing that sixth game, which would be Week 8. The Patriots have a bye in Week 9, so the extra week will surely give Hernandez the needed rest to play the second half of the season. Looking at Winslow’s production the last three years with the Buccaneers from Week 3 to Week 9 (which included six games and a bye week in each of those three seasons), his best days are behind him. The best game Winslow had during that span came in 2009 against the Eagles, when he had nine catches, 102 yards and two touchdowns. Aside from that one game, there has not been another game nearly as impressive. He caught a third touchdown in 2009, had games of (catches-yards) 6-75, 7-43 and 5-44 with zero total touchdowns during consecutive weeks in 2010, and scored two touchdowns in 2011 during back-to-back weeks with four catches and no more than 30 yards.
Winslow’s week-by-week production of late is too unpredictable and unreliable. Plus once Hernandez is back, Winslow’s playing time will be heavily, if not entirely, cut into.
2. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
Fantasy owners will not want to hear it, but not only are Johnson’s best days behind him, his good days are behind him too. Ever since the “CJ2K” season of 2009, he just has not been the same. Now I do not expect him to get close to 2,000 rushing yards again, but since that season, his production has continued to drop every year. The 2010 season was still solid, but it is the 2011 season and the first two games of this one that have people baffled on what has happened to him. That is why we will look at the numbers and consider the factors for his current downfall.
During that magical 2009 season, Johnson ran for 100+ yards in every one of the Titans’ last 11 games, racking up 12 touchdowns on the ground in that span. He follows that up with an interesting 2010 season, where he had eight total games with 100+ yards rushing. Now, the peculiar numbers of this season are that Johnson never reached that century-mark on the ground more than twice in a row, and he scored all but one of his 11 rushing touchdowns only in games with 100+ yards. Prior to the 2011 season, Johnson held out for more money and eventually got it. Then, he had a bad year. He only had four games with 100+ rushing yards, scoring three of his four touchdowns in all but one of those games. Now, in 2012, Johnson has 21 rushing yards on 19 carries in two games.
There are just so many questions to ask about what has happened to Johnson that could not be entirely answerable. He is not that old yet (he turns 27 this Sunday), but maybe his 5-foot-11, 190 pound body is fragile and has gotten beat up more than we know in his first four seasons. Did getting that four-year, $53.5 million extension before the 2011 season deter his drive? Is his offensive line and/or relationship with them not what it used to be? (He did recently call them out to “do your job” while taking no blame himself.) Perhaps opposing defenses have just learned how to stop him over the years. Or, more simply, he is not the same back he was for whatever reason.
But here is my question to you fantasy owners that have Johnson and are holding out hope. Do you really want to sit back week after week and watch him play poorly before finally having that big game? Then after he has that big game, do you want to wait weeks until it happens again? If so, now is the time to sell Johnson.
3. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
I have sold Vick the previous two weeks and continue to do so in this one. Though I still believe he will get injured and miss games at some point this season (just like he has each of the past two years as the Eagles’ starter), it is Vick’s inconsistent, sloppy play that has me selling him. In the first two weeks, he has thrown three touchdowns and six interceptions, while adding a touchdown and losing a fumble rushing. His decision-making and throws have been awful overall so far, and his supporting cast has really helped bail him out. The receivers break big plays, LeSean McCoy has ran solidly and the defense has forced turnovers and kept the game close. But Vick and the Eagles have escaped with two one-point wins, and eventually the luck is going to run out. For the next four weeks until their Week 7 bye, they face the Cardinals, Giants, Steelers and Lions. The Cardinals shut down a Patriots offense just as potent as the Eagles, the Giants pass rush always gives Vick trouble, the Steelers have one of the league’s best overall defenses, and the Lions offense could either force a shootout or deficit so big that Vick has to throw more, leaving a greater chance for more turnovers.
4. Kevin Kolb, QB, Arizona Cardinals
The game and a half Kolb has played this season in place of injured starter John Skelton has seen smarter play from him. He is not airing it out, but he has thrown two touchdowns and no interceptions, rushed for one touchdown and lost one fumble. However, even any above-average play from Kolb will not be sustained for three reasons. The first (and perhaps more important) reason is Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s faith in Skelton, who won the quarterback competition in training camp despite Kolb receiving the multi-year contract this offseason. Also, Whisenhunt recently all but said that once healthy, Skelton will start. The second and third reasons are Kolb’s injury proneness and lack of quality quarterback play. For all intents and purposes, let’s say Skelton misses an extended period of time or is benched; Kolb still cannot be trusted for an entire season. Going into Week 1 as the starter for the Eagles in 2010 and Cardinals in 2011, he ended up missing ten and seven games, respectively, due to injuries. Additionally, his touchdowns to interceptions (TDs-INTs) in both those seasons were 7-7 and 9-8, respectively. Furthermore, in the 15 total games in two seasons for Kolb, he has thrown at least one interception in ten games.
5. New York Jets Offense
After being on top of the world on opening day against the Bills, the Jets offense quickly crashed back down to Earth versus the Steelers last week. What the Steelers game showed is that the Jets are not good enough on offense to beat elite teams and elite defenses, or play catch-up. And aside from not having very much star power on offense, their schedule is not very favorable for them to have consistent offensive success. After they play the Dolphins in Miami this week, the Jets go up against the hardest-hitting, most intimidating defenses in back-to-back weeks: the 49ers and Texans. The next three games before their Week 9 bye could bring up-and-down reliability, playing the Colts, Patriots and Dolphins again. The Jets offense and their players are too unpredictable to trust week-to-week, and I believe that the losses to elite teams will eventually derail this morally, leading towards another collapse.