Joe Dolan is the managing editor of FantasyGuru.com and a host for SiriusXM Radio. A former writer for PhiladelphiaEagles.com, Joe still contributes to the site with on-camera segments and written columns. He can be heard hosting "SiriusXM Fantasy Football Gameday" every NFL Sunday from 1-7 PM on Sirius 210, XM 87.*
What should I do with the struggling running backs in this game, LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore?
Obviously, the Eagles are 3-0 despite some injuries, and they lead the NFL in total offense, so there really isn't a whole lot to complain about. But strangely, the Eagles have fought their way to 3-0 despite LeSean McCoy averaging a totally un-Shadylike 2.9 yards per carry so far. However, I'm not concerned about McCoy. He's playing behind an injured offensive line, a major change from last year when all five Eagles starters suited up for all 17 games. That's clearly affecting him, and you also have to give credit to the Washington defense for the way it played last week. But the fact of the matter is this: McCoy still is averaging over 23 touches per game in the early going. Even if Shady's yards per carry average doesn't look anywhere close to what we're used to seeing, those touches are going to translate to fantasy value (even after his stinker last week, he averages 13.3 points per game in a PPR).
I am far more concerned about Frank Gore. Now, Gore still looks good to me despite his age and previous workload (Gore is 31 with over 2,000 carries to his name, plus several deep playoff runs). The issue for Gore has been volume. Gore has only 35 carries in three games, with them decreasing from 16 in Week 1 to only six last week against the Cardinals. First of all, the Niners have a rookie back who has looked good when rotating with Gore in Carlos Hyde. Second, the Niners seem to have gotten away from the power runs that they had so much success on in recent years, rather putting more on the shoulders of Colin Kaepernick. So far, that hasn't translated to a lot of success.
Can Jeremy Maclin become the most reliable fantasy asset in Philly outside of Nick Foles?
Ultimately, I think LeSean McCoy is going to continue to be a reliable fantasy asset, but here's why I'm buying in on Maclin. So far, Maclin is the No. 5 PPR receiver at 21.2 points per game. That's despite catching only 16 of his 29 targets (55.2 percent), and despite Maclin and Nick Foles clearly not being on the same page for a large portion of the Week 1 and Week 2 games. Then, Foles was absolutely on fire in Week 3, and Maclin had a monster game (they still missed a potential TD, and Maclin had another one called back because of a penalty). Overall, I think Maclin is a better fit in the DeSean Jackson role in the Eagles' offense than DeSean Jackson actually was – he's just a more complete receiver, and has more vertical explosion than people might think. If Foles plays anywhere close to the level we saw in Week 3 all season, Maclin is going to have a monster year.
How does the return of Vernon Davis impact the 49ers offense?
The 49ers had a tough go of it last week without both Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald against a Cardinals defense that has had some serious struggles in recent years against the tight end position. But surprisingly, the Niners leaned even more on the passing game, giving Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde only nine carries combined, and putting the game in the hands of Colin Kaepernick, who threw 37 passes. Should the Niners continue to play like this with Davis back, I still would expect Michael Crabtree to be a really good fantasy receiver, someone who can fluctuate between a WR1 and a WR3 depending on the week. Anquan Boldin is more of a bench guy, someone you plug in with a good matchup and hope he gets peppered with targets. I imagine that Davis will make things a little bit more consistent across the board, but I've been surprised thus far that the 49ers haven't been running the ball as much as I expected. Maybe Davis will change that because teams can't load up the box, but the Niners threw it a ton on a heavy blitz team in Arizona last week, and the Eagles love to blitz a bunch, too.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles will be making their first starts this week. What should the expectations be?
Fortunately, I don't think either of these situations should change expectations for fantasy too much. Matt Cassel wasn't playing well in Minnesota, and Chad Henne certainly wasn't playing well in Jacksonville. And because both teams have an interesting set of weapons on the perimeter, I don't doubt that Bridgewater and Bortles could put up some numbers. At the least, they should help the players around them maintain their current fantasy performances.
The concerns I have for both players are the run games and the offensive lines. The line, especially, is a major issue for Bortles in Jacksonville, and the concern is that he'll end up just totally shellshocked before even getting a chance in the NFL, like Derek Carr. Bortles has elite, high-end skills, more so than Bridgewater, but he needs time to develop, and it's probably not the ideal situation for it to happen. Remember, the Jags wanted to sit Bortles the entire year, but Henne and the team were so bad that Gus Bradley just didn't have a choice but to play him.
For Bridgewater and Bortles, consider them fantasy backups until further notice. They're worth adding in deeper leagues, especially in keeper leagues, but even in a deep bye week it's tough to consider using them, unless it's a 2-QB league.
Who is a player I should consider selling high on? What about buying low?
SELL HIGH ON ...
QB Cam Newton, Panthers – Cam's stats are absolutely fine, but the problem I have with him is that it looks like he may not be able to make it through the year. Already sporting a heavy flak jacket because of his rib injury, it's also clear that Newton is playing through pain on his surgically repaired ankle. Behind an offensive line that's still struggling to find its footing after massive turnover this offseason, Cam was constantly under siege last Sunday night against the Steelers, who have struggled to get to the quarterback all season before the matchup with the Panthers. Cam already missed his first career game this year in Week 1. It wouldn't shock us if he misses another at some point this year. Yes, his receiving corps with Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen is more promising than anticipated, but use that to your advantage when trying to sell Cam. And the potential strength of streaming QBs (look at the performances of guys like Kirk Cousins and Geno Smith, for example) means getting a worthwhile piece for a "healthy" Cam while you can may be prudent.
BUY LOW ON ...
WR Torrey Smith, Ravens – Few Torrey investors are going to want to hear this after his miserable start to the season (six catches on 18 targets), but things can't possibly be this bad going forward. And that's why it's an ideal time to make a move for him. At this point, I'm not willing to blame Torrey's struggles on him, at least entirely. Heck, Torrey could have had multiple touchdowns last week with even semi-accurate throws from Joe Flacco (check out this one, in particular). Because Smith hasn't even been a top-50 fantasy receiver to this point, he should be available for essentially free. I didn't buy into the notion that he was going to produce stepping into Andre Johnson's role this summer, but Torrey remains a big-play threat. He just hasn't made big plays in large part because of his quarterback, but some big games from Torrey are coming. If you can handle his volatility, he'll likely carry you a few times this year.
INJURIES TO WATCH
RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs – Charles (ankle) has been limited in practice again this week and should once again be a game-time decision. If he doesn't play, obviously Knile Davis would be a viable play yet again.
RB Arian Foster, Texans – Foster (hamstring) has been limited in practice again this week. He looks like a game-time decision. If he doesn't play, Alfred Blue would start yet again.
WR Brandon Marshall, Bears – Marshall (ankle) didn't practice all week and looks like a game-time decision in a key divisional matchup with the Packers.
WR Calvin Johnson, Lions – Calvin (ankle) missed practice Wednesday and Thursday but returned on Friday and should be ready for action Sunday against the Jets in a great matchup.
RB Doug Martin, Buccaneers – Martin (knee) has practiced in full and is expected to return to game action this week.
WR Roddy White, Falcons – Roddy (hamstring) has been able to use the long break from last Thursday's game to his advantage and should be ready to go this weekend.
WR Keenan Allen, Chargers – Allen (groin) was a disappointment last week but has an excellent matchup against the Jaguars to rebound.
TE Vernon Davis, 49ers – Davis (ankle/knee) is expected to play this week.
RB Bernard Pierce, Ravens – Pierce (thigh) has practiced in full this week and is set to return, which throws a wrench into the mix in this crowded backfield (with Lorenzo Taliaferro and Justin Forsett).
RB DeAngelo Williams, Panthers – Williams (thigh) is scheduled to play this week. That's good news for the Panthers, because Jonathan Stewart (knee) and Mike Tolbert (leg) can't play (Tolbert is actually on IR).
RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Raiders – MJD (hand) returned to practice in full this week and is on track to play.
WR Eric Decker, Jets – Decker (hamstring) will likely be a game-time decision against the Lions this week.
WR T.Y. Hilton, Colts – Hilton (ankle) practiced in full on Thursday and is expected to play this week.
TE Delanie Walker, Titans – Walker (shoulder) is questionable this week.
QB Jake Locker, Titans – Locker (wrist) is looking questionable at best for this week's matchup against the Colts. Charlie Whitehurst would play if Locker can't go.
QB Josh McCown, Buccaneers – McCown (thumb) isn't expected to play this week. Mike Glennon will start, and probably has a chance to take this job full time.
WR Marqise Lee, Jaguars – Lee (hamstring) isn't expected to play this week.
TE Charles Clay, Dolphins – Clay (knee) has been playing hurt all year and eventually may need to take a game off because he needs to get healthy.
TE Ladarius Green, Chargers – Green (hamstring) could be out this week despite an excellent matchup against the Jaguars, which is a bummer.
QB: Philip Rivers, Chargers – Rivers has been playing light-out this year, even if the numbers haven't been exceptional. This week against the Jaguars, with both Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead out, would be an excellent week to get the numbers inflated.
RB: Eddie Lacy, Packers – I know Lacy's been one of the most disappointing players in all of fantasy football this year, but this week against the Bears would be an excellent week to get him going.
WR: Steve Smith, Ravens – There's no serious science behind this decision, but don't you want to root for Smith going up against the team that unceremoniously released his this past offseason?
TE: Dwayne Allen, Colts – His goose egg against the Eagles a couple of weeks ago still spooks me, but he caught four passes with a touchdown last week when the Colts clearly made a concerted effort to get him involved in the gameplan.
QB: Tom Brady, Patriots – It's a great matchup against the Chiefs, but Brady has been absolutely terrible for fantasy purposes this year and we'd prefer to sit him until further notice, if you have the luxury this week with six teams on bye.
RB: Toby Gerhart, Jaguars – I'm sick of this. The Jags need to run the ball, I'm just not convinced that Gerhart is the right guy to do it behind this line.
WR: Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs – The Darrelle Revis matchup isn't good, and regardless I'm just not convinced that Bowe is anywhere close to contributing on a meaningful level for fantasy.
TE: Jace Amaro, Jets – I've gotten a lot of questions about Amaro this week after his big game last week, but I'm still not ready to start him. Consider him a deep add only.