Is new Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart a fantasy sleeper?

 

I recently came across an article on NFL.com by Adam Rank, listing his 11 fantasy sleepers for the 2014. Also included in the article were the top ten sleepers predicted by NFL writers Michael Fabiano, Marcus Grant, and Jason Smith. Rank, Fabiano and Grant all had something in common, in that they believe Jacksonville running back Toby Gerhart will be a fantasy sleeper this year – or in Grant’s case, the fantasy sleeper after ranking him number-one on his list.

Gerhart will be entering his fifth year as an NFL player, and his stats don’t reflect any quality of note. In his four years with the Minnesota Vikings, the former second round pick has amassed 1,305 yards on the ground and has scored a combined total of eight touchdowns – both rushing and receiving. But people do believe the talent is there, and he is the favourite to take the Jaguars’ starting running back spot which was vacated by Maurice Jones-Drew.

One thing which hasn’t helped Gerhart so far in his professional career is having Adrian Peterson to compete with. Aside from the end of the 2011 season when he saw more of the pigskin after Peterson went down with an injury against the Redskins, Gerhart’s chances have been fairly limited. In that same season, the then-sophomore managed career high totals of 531 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns from 109 touches, and 23 receptions. Last season, Maurice Jones-Drew had 803 yards from 234 rushing attempts, and a further 314 yards receiving in only 15 starts for the Jaguars. If Gerhart gets a workload similar to that, then he will have the opportunity to be a very productive fantasy player – if his 2011 season and potential is anything to go by.

The competition for the Jaguars’ starting running back role will be between Gerhart, Jordan Todman, and Denard Robinson – who can line up as both a running back and a wide receiver. Todman and Robinson will probably be used as change-of-pace backs, with the likely competition being for second place on the depth chart, rather than first. The Jaguars also drafted running back Storm Johnson. Although after being picked in the seventh round, he isn’t expected to make any immediate impact.

But will all the hyperbole surrounding Gerhart transfer into a productive season? Whilst he is now in a more-than-ideal situation in Jacksonville, he will behind a subpar offensive line. Sports on Earth writer Mike Tanier recently ranked the Jaguars’ line as 31 out of 32, bettering only the Baltimore Ravens – and they didn’t fare any better with Pro Football Focus, who also graded the Jaguars as having the worst run blocking offensive line in 2013. In comparison, PFF rated the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line as the sixth-best in the league last season. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the former Stanford Cardinal will be hit a lot more, and may have to work harder for his yards on the field than he did wearing purple.

However, he has recently drawn comparisons to Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch – most notably from himself – thanks to his power running style and build. Even with a poor offensive line of their own, the Seahawks managed to win a Super Bowl, and Lynch put up 1,257 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 16 regular season starts. It may be a struggle, but Gerhart could still find a lot of success behind a bad line.

He will also be playing on a rebuilding team, which could impact the back’s fantasy value. The one knock that this could have on his game is limited touchdown potential. The Jaguars aren’t expected to be a high-scoring team in 2014, so while Gerhart may be a big help in moving the chains – especially with his ability to generate yards after contact – he may not get to see the end zone as much as his owners would like, or is projected. But Gerhart may get more touches with Chad Henne under center, whose main targets will be Cecil Shorts, as well as rookies Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson. There will be no Justin Blackmon to throw to, who was suspended indefinitely back in November.

There may be a significant risk in taking Toby Gerhart early on. Although he has been in the NFL for a while, he is still an unproven player, and it is hard to clarify his ceiling. The situation he finds himself in will excite his fantasy owners, and the potential for a productive season is there. Whether he is a viable fantasy RB1 is unclear, but at worst he should be a solid RB2. The good thing about Gerhart is that he will most probably be available in later rounds, minimising that risk that he carries. Bigger names will likely come off the board before him, barring a reach, but expect his pre-draft stock to continue rising.

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Jimmy Graham to remain a tight end in fantasy football?

 

The football world is waiting for the decision on whether Jimmy Graham gets franchised tagged as a tight end or a wide receiver. Not only will it have financial ramifications, but it could also cause a ‘ripple effect’, paving the way for other players to lodge the same complaint against their teams and the franchise tag.

Whether Graham is tagged as a tight end or wide receiver could also have an impact on fantasy football – specifically whether the player is listed as a wide receiver or a tight end. Fortunately, ESPN and fantasy reporter Field Yates was able to shed some light on this.

So even if everything goes as planned for Jimmy Graham, it appears that his fantasy status will not change. Graham should be able to be played in either the TE or WR/TE slots.

No-shon Moreno?

 

Before a snap had even been played last season, there wasn’t much hope for Knowshon Moreno. In the two years prior to 2013, the Georgia product had seen himself lose the starting running back spot in Denver to Willis McGahee, get benched, and then – to make it worse – deactivated. It was only when McGahee got placed on injured reserve that Moreno was reactivated and saw the field once more. In 2011 and 2012, Moreno played a combined 15 games, and was unable to build on strong rookie and sophomore seasons, in which he ran for 1,726 yards and found the end zone on 17 occasions across the two years.

ESPN ranked Moreno as the forty-third best running back ahead of the 2013 season – 19 places behind Denver’s newly drafted Montee Ball. In ESPN leagues, the average round that Moreno was drafted in was round 13. But those who took a gamble on the fifth-year player earlier on, or were lucky enough to pick him up in a later round or off of waivers, were rewarded handsomely with the year’s fifth-best fantasy running back.

As part of the record-breaking 2013 Denver Broncos offense, the former first round pick rushed for over 1,000 yards, caught 60 passes for 548 yards, and scored 13 touchdowns. His production in Peyton Manning’s system helped the Broncos reach Super Bowl XLVIII, and left a lot of fantasy owners extremely satisfied.

Coming off the back of that impressive 2013 season, the Denver Broncos chose to let Moreno hit free agency rather than re-sign him; and after a couple of weeks of waiting for offers, Knowshon swapped Colorado for Florida, signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Miami Dolphins. He now sees himself fighting for the starting spot in Miami, with incumbent starter Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas.

The competition for the role was intended to be open, although it was largely expected that Moreno would take it. However, it appears that it may not be that easy for the former Georgia Bulldog, with Miller seeing the share of first-team reps throughout OTAs. The Dolphins may elect Miller as their starter for week one against the Patriots, but there is also the possibility of a dual-threat rushing attack in Miami, as they look to improve upon last season where they had the twenty-sixth best rushing offense.

Although that was largely due to the play of the running backs, they weren’t helped out by the offensive line, who allowed a franchise record 58 sacks, as well as dealing with off-the-field drama. The Dolphins did add Pro-Bowl tackle Branden Albert and guard Shelley Smith in free agency, and selected tackle Ju’Wuan James in the first round of the draft – all three of which should help shore up the line. But if Moreno and co. suffer a similar fate, then his fantasy value could take a significant hit.

Another thing to consider when assessing Knowshon Moreno’s fantasy outlook, is that Ryan Tannehill is not Peyton Manning. Moreno was also utilised as a pass catcher during his last year in Denver and his receiving statistics may have been assisted by Manning throwing to him. It is unlikely that he will be catching as many balls with Tannehill under centre, although if the Miami quarterback starts to struggle, or fails to move his play up a gear, then the Dolphins’ coaching staff may be inclined to rely more heavily on the run game, and so Moreno’s fantasy value could actually end up benefitting from extra touches.

Although Lamar Miller may be leading the way so far, there is still plenty of time this offseason for Knowshon Moreno to turn it around, and take the starting spot in Miami. If he does start, then Moreno would be great value as an RB3, or as bench depth at worst. He could also be a safe choice as an RB2, although he probably won’ post spectacular statistics. It is unlikely that Moreno will replicate his 2013 form this time around, so it would be a good idea to avoid drafting him early on, or to expect that he will be a top-five back again. He can rack up points as the Dolphins’ lead rusher, and he also has pass catching ability that Miami can utilise. Both of these attributes could help to improve the rushing threat of the team, and see Moreno’s owners get a tidy fantasy return.

Rookie Gems: Bishop Sankey

 

Last month, Michael Fabiano labelled first-year running back Bishop Sankey as “the number one rookie in fantasy football.” It was a bold claim to make about the new Tennessee Titan, but is the statement likely to be correct?

The fifty-fourth overall pick in this year’s draft has already been attracting a level of expectation, with most predicting Sankey to be the starting running back in week one. If you also look at the situation that Bishop Sankey is entering, then all signs point to a productive season – provided he lives up to his potential.

When Chris Johnson was released in April, it opened up a number one spot on the Titans’ depth chart. With Tennessee having used a second-round pick on a running back, it seems as though they would expect Sankey to fill the void left by CJ2K. His plight is only helped by his competition being Leon Washington and Shonn Greene. Dexter McCluster may also be used at the position, but he is largely a special teams player, so it is unlikely the former Chief would take the lead role. If Sankey lives up to the hype, he should be able to take the starting role.

The uncertain quarterback situation in Tennessee is another factor which could help Bishop Sankey’s fantasy value. If he manages to stay healthy, Jake Locker will probably take the field as the starting quarterback on opening day. The Titans also have backups Tyler Wilson and Charlie Whitehurst, as well as their sixth-round pick from this year, Zach Mettenberger. It is unlikely that any of those three will unseat Locker, but with his history of poor health and mediocre play, the Titans’ coaching staff may look to run the ball more. So essentially, the team’s running backs could see a lot of the ball in 2014.

But none of that should discount the talent and ability of the Washington State product. At 5’10” and 203 lbs, Bishop Sankey is a powerful, elusive runner, and is especially effective when running between the tackles. What should help Sankey’s play is Tennessee’s offensive line. The Titans have spent their two most recent first round picks on linemen – guard Chance Warmack in 2013, and tackle Taylor Lewan, who was drafted ahead of Sankey in this year’s draft. Lewan will surely add to an already formidable unit, who should be able to create plenty of holes for the running game.

Planning to have a rookie as an RB1 or RB2 is probably not a great idea, due to the risk involved. It may work if you prioritise receivers over running backs. Bishop Sankey, however, could be a low-end second running back option, if not a good choice for an RB3. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sankey drafted in the first six or seven rounds in most leagues, although he won’t be a high pick.

It would seem that the best case scenario for him is that he has a similar rookie year to Eddie Lacy and cracks the top 15 or 20 fantasy backs. Worst case – he has a steady year like Montee Ball did in 2013, and is then predicted to be a breakout star in his sophomore season.

Update

 

As may be apparent by looking at the date of my previous post, I haven’t been writing for this blog for the last few weeks. My first year of University was coming to a close, I’ve had an exam, and, generally, I’ve been winding down.

I don’t feel that I owe any sort of apology, because my enthusiasm for this hasn’t faded. I could have written for the blog over that period – I just chose not to.

In the meantime, the NFL Draft has taken place, OTAs have started, and the preseason is coming into view. There’s now more than enough to write about, and I look forward to giving my insight into fantasy football ahead of the 2014 NFL season.

I have enjoyed doing this blog so far, and I will be carrying my excitement into future posts. I will be posting regularly over the summer, as I look to expand the blog.