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Crystal Ball Week 7 2017
By Evan Tarracciano
One of the biggest decisions that Fantasy Football owners need to debate each week is weighing the floor versus ceiling of their players, and adjusting accordingly to set the optimal lineup. Starting players with high floors and low upsides on a consistent basis will decrease the overall volatility of a team, but will likely prohibit players from ever starting the “optimal” lineup.
Conversely, starting players that have a very low (or at times, nonexistent) floor but massive upside will increase the overall volatility of the team, producing the classic “boom or bust” lineups that have wildly fluctuating output and drive owners crazy.
So how does one put out a balanced team of players that will produce at a high floor and high ceiling? Is that even possible? In a word, no. However, a savvy owner can gauge the amount of inherent risk that they are willing to take each week based upon a number of factors, including projected point totals, snap counts, targets and (of course) their opponents to put forth the best squad each week. Totaling the highest points is not only critical to beating your opponent, but most websites use total points scored as the default tiebreaker for teams with the same record.
One of the most consistent quarterbacks over the past five years has been Alex Smith, who proudly donned the title of “game manager” on his way to leading the Kanas City Chiefs to victory each week. In years past, I criticized him for being a boring option at the position, since he would never have the ability to allow owners to make up a deficit, in the event that they were losing. The old adage of “he won’t necessarily win you the week, but he won’t lose it for you either”, immediately comes to mind. This season Smith has been much better than anyone could have anticipated, largely on the shoulders of two solid performances in Week 1 against the New England Patriots and in Week 5 against the Houston Texans. In the other four games he has played, Smith has averaged 236 passing yards and just over one touchdown each contest, in addition to a handful of rushing yards. Numbers which are largely considered good, but not elite by any stretch of the imagination. Smith’s ability to avoid turnovers while keeping a high floor still makes him a worthwhile Fantasy asset, and atop that “high floor, low ceiling” list.
As a personal example, I opted to play Smith over Matthew Stafford in my home league this past week, which ultimately increased my chances of winning based upon ESPN’s “probability calculator” by nearly five percent. Stafford entered the week with a high projected point total based upon his matchup with the New Orleans Saints, but the Saints defense had been playing better of late, and the Detroit Lions had asked him to pass less in favor of a more balanced attack (in three of the past four prior matchups he had 35 attempts or less). Though Stafford did throw for more yards and touchdowns than Smith, he committed five turnovers against a ballhawk defense, which ultimately led to him having the lower point total. Owners who banked on Stafford having a high ceiling due to the Saints propensity to give up big plays were disappointed in the effort. Stafford to me is a wildcard, since the team will often completely abandon their running game when behind. Thus, he has the chance to generate incredible numbers in come-from-behind efforts (such as Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals where he had nearly 300 yards passing and four touchdowns), but post low totals, such as the following week against the New York Giants, where he only had 21 passing attempts and 122 yards.
Going back to that home league, another decision that I struggled with this week was to start either Austin Hooper or Josh Doctson in my final bench spot. Hooper represented the player with the higher floor, especially with wideout Mohamed Sanu declared out. That said, I assumed that the Atlanta Falcons would make it a point to either try and run the ball, or finally force it to Julio Jones around the end zone – creating a low ceiling for Hooper.
Doctson on the other hand was coming off of a bye week with plenty of positive news surrounding him. He was finally able to be a full participant each day in practice for the Washington Redskins, and the hype train on Twitter suggested that he would have more of a role in the offense, especially with Terrelle Pryor and Jamison Crowder both struggling, and Jordan Reed injured. A former first-round selection by the team in 2016, Doctson’s large frame (6’2, 206 lbs.), speed and talent gave him plenty of upside – but there were major questions about how many targets he would see.
Hooper ended up edging out Doctson in points for the week, as Doctson had just one catch on three targets (though it was for a touchdown). This decision ended up generating about another five to seven percent chance of a victory for me, and now the contest is coming down to the wire.
The bottom line? When setting your lineup, attempt to account for the best-case and worst-case scenarios. If you are favorited by a mountain of points in what should be a landslide victory, having slightly more volatile players in your lineup is justified, and may help you win a tiebreaker later on in the year. If the matchup line should be close, having a high floor is helpful, since the probability of any one player tanking your week is low. If you are a heavy underdog due to injuries or bye weeks, it won’t hurt to swing for the fences, in the off-chance that someone like a Doctson or Stafford comes through. Ultimately in a perfect situation, only a spot or two in a lineup should ever be decided by a coinflip.
Q: What is going on with Martavis Bryant? First I hear that he wants a trade, then backs off and says he is happy in Pittsburgh. Will he end the year on the Steelers?
A: Prior to this week’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hinted that the team would be giving Bryant a “break” this week, and that slot receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster would be more involved. This news obviously didn’t sit particularly well with him, coupled with his early season struggles (just 17 receptions for 231 yards and a touchdown after this week). NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport remarked on Twitter that Bryant’s “teammates and coaches are well aware that he’s unhappy”, and suggested that he requested a trade. Likely trying to either save face in the eyes of the fans or perhaps tend to the wounds, Bryant then said he denied a trade request and is happy in Pittsburgh. My thoughts? He has the right to be upset about his lack of targets, but I’m not sure that things will get better in the near future. Bryant is another one of the “low floor, high ceiling” players that I discussed earlier – one or two passes to him could result in a huge Fantasy day, and catapult him among the top points scorers of the week. Sadly, Roethlisberger has struggled with accuracy both on the road and at home, so the big plays that Bryant was making in 2014-15 just aren’t happening. The offense flows through Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, both when they are behind and ahead. Barring an injury to Brown, that won’t change. In the weeks to come, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Steelers targeted Smith-Schuster or Jesse James slightly less in favor of Bryant, but a trade is very unlikely. The team has him under a very friendly contract for both 2017 and 2018, and he is just 25 years old.
Q: I lost Aaron Rodgers for the season with this collarbone injury. Is there ANYONE out there that I should target? Or should I just pick up Brett Hundley and hope that he plays well, given the talented WRs in Green Bay?
A: Boy, the injury hits just keep coming in 2017. David Johnson, Dalvin Cook, Allen Robinson, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall.. the list goes on and on. It seems like every year I make the remark that it has to be the worst one in terms of injuries that I can ever remember. This one is obviously no different. To answer your question, there are no quarterbacks who are widely available that will match, or come close to, the numbers that Rodgers would have put up. Period. Of the players who are owned in less than 50 percent of leagues, you could consider adding Andrew Luck or Josh McCown, depending on if you have a serviceable backup or not. Luck is the better long-term play, but may miss another week or two while recovering from his shoulder injury. McCown isn’t a very exciting option, but he has been quite stead, throwing seven touchdowns over the first six weeks, on team that will be playing from behind often.
Q: Adrian Peterson.. real deal or not? He did nothing earlier this season so I dropped him, and now that he is on the Arizona Cardinals he goes bananas. What gives?
A: Remember when you got that brand new shiny toy at Christmas, and then you played with it like crazy for a few days and it broke? That is what I anticipate happening to Peterson. The Cardinals were obviously very high on him, as they went so far as to trade a draft pick to acquire his services. On Sirius XM I said that I expected a similar workload for him as to what Doug Martin had the week prior- around 15-20 total touches, or so. My expectations were that Andre Ellington would continue to operate as the team’s third-down and pass-catching back, while Peterson would be the hammer around the goal line and on early-downs. That wasn’t the case. AP was immediately handed 27 carries, and ran like a man possessed. It is a near certainty that this will be his best week of the season, and I would highly encourage his owners to attempt to sell-high if at all possible. There are too many negative factors in place which suggest that this success is a fluke – from the poor offensive line, Ellington, his age, etc. Start him as a FLEX play for now, but be careful.
Q: Did you put some sort of voodoo jinx on the Denver Broncos WR core? They all got hurt like your New York Giants!!
A: Ha, no. I’m all in favor of rooting for players to not play well when they take on the Giants, but I’d never hope for an injury – these are their careers, after all. In the case of the Broncos, the initial news is actually positive on both Emmanuel Sanders, Isaiah McKenzie and Demaryius Thomas – all players had x-rays taken after the loss to New York, and no broken bones were discovered. Sanders is expected to undergo an MRI today per multiple reports, and though it is doubtful that he plays next week against the San Diego Chargers, his long-term outlook appears to be good. McKenzie isn’t nearly as Fantasy relevant, but similar to Sanders, injured his right ankle and will also have an MRI. Unlike Sanders and McKenzie, Thomas attempted to play through his lower leg injury, and spent the majority of the second half on and off the field. Even when hobbled, he was still effective against one of the better secondaries in the league. Barring a major setback, Thomas should start next week and see an increased number of targets with the other receivers injured.
Q: Mark Ingram. Thoughts?
A: Those who have been following my writing career for any length of time know exactly what my thoughts are on Ingram. When Sean Payton actually gives him a steady workload, he is an undisputed RB1 for me- always has been and always will be. Sure, the presence of Alvin Kamara there will cap his upside on receptions, but Peterson’s trade to Arizona does wonders to his value. As the trade occurred between articles, I would have recommended trading for Ingram earlier, but now after he exploded against the Detroit Lions, it will really take some savvy trading skills to get him.
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