Brad Morgan

Red Zone Report

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Gettin' Down with the Wildcat

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If you're reading this, you're most likely in the Fantasy Playoffs. I have one piece of advice for you:

Enjoy it. This is what you play all year for, and why you've been checking practice reports since mini-camps started.

At this point all you want is to know who can help you over these next two weeks, so I'll skip my usual long-winded beginning and use my word count on getting you fantasy info to help your chances to win.


Stock Rising

Joshua Cribbs, Browns WR

The popularization of the Wildcat formation (non-QBs taking snaps) has given many players who didn't fit traditional offenses chances to play. And while there are many "Wildcat Specialists" (Michael Vick, Jets' Brad Smith, Dolphins' Pat White etc…) none of them have been able to turn that into a more consistent offensive role. With talk that Browns stud return man Josh Cribbs may get an opportunity to be an "every-down running back", this could all be changing.

After his 8-carry 87-yard performance last week, Cribbs is emerging as a viable running threat, and perhaps a significant fantasy player. On an offense devoid of playmakers, Cribbs provides a unique explosive athletic ability that clearly has the Browns coaching staff intrigued. What should intrigue you, however, is Cribbs' positional eligibility: he's a WR. Being able to start him at WR makes Cribbs considerably more valuable.

Let's look at the low-end RB2 and WR3 to show this. Ideally, these are the lowest quality players that are still start-able. Last week, the 20-24th (lowest RB2 for 10 team-12 team leagues) ranked RBs scored 10-11 fantasy points. The 30-36th ranked WRs scored 5-6 points. As an RB in Week 14, Cribbs' 9.6 points would've placed him right around 30, while at WR he produced the 19th most points.

So despite his production coming as at running back out of the Wildcat, fantasy owners can plug him into a position that makes him much more valuable. Playing KC, then OAK (2 of the worst run defenses) Cribbs is a great pickup in any league, mainly because very few of us have surefire options at WR3. And who doesn't love the idea of such a dynamic player going for you in the playoffs? I wouldn't have a problem starting him as a flex or WR3 this week (instead of the Devery Hendersons of the world).

Brandon Gibson, Rams WR

I know this is the Red Zone Report, but this recommendation will have nothing to do with that. Over the past 5 games, only 7 WRs have been thrown the ball more than Gibson (49): Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker, Roddy White, Calvin Johnson, Santonio Holmes, and Sidney Rice. All of these guys are solid if not great WR options, and owned in virtually all leagues.

Gibson, however, is owned in JUST 1% of Yahoo leagues (and less than 1% in ESPN). While the production hasn't been there quite yet, any WR getting this type of opportunity must be owned. Facing the Texans' 20th ranked passing defense on Sunday, Gibson is a great WR3 option.

Arian Foster, Texans RB
No RB situation has had more turnover than Gar y Kubiak's Houston Texans. 2008 fantasy stud Steve Slaton began the year as the surefire #1 RB, but slowly started to lose valuable RZ and GL carries to Chris Brown (not to mention quite a few fumbles). Then came Ryan Moats' wild game, in which he appeared to be the Texans' new starting RB. Now, with Slaton out for the year and Moats and Brown playing like the mundane RBs they are, an undrafted free agent will get a chance to grab the job: Arian Foster.

Foster wasn't always destined to be an undrafted free agent. After a great junior season at Tennessee, Foster was widely considered a 1st or 2nd round talent. A senior year mired with fumbling problems, however, caused his draft stock to plummet. Now, with the Texans giving him a chance to play against the Rams' 32nd ranked run defense, Foster has a shot at redemption.

Against the Rams, Foster is a decent RB2 option, and if he performs well could be one again next week. For anyone struggling at RB, this could be a godsend. Owned in just 9% of Yahoo leagues (1% ESPN), Foster should be grabbed in every league, even if only to prevent your opponents from getting him.

Bo Scaife, Titans TE

In addition to being an important Red Zone target for the Titans (covered that last week), Scaife's 34 targets over his last 5 games are good for 7th best among TEs. Owned in just 9% of Yahoo leagues, Scaife is likely just waiting there for you to pick him up and start him. For the next two weeks he's definitely a lower end TE1 option.

Fred Davis, Redskins TE

I'm not going to continue to lobby for Fred Davis, but the guy got another 2 RZ targets in Week 14 (he capitalized on both), and over the past 3 games has been a top 3 TE (Antonio Gates with 50 points, Vernon Davis with 39, Fred Davis with 38). Still owned in just 25% of Yahoo leagues, and a baffling 7% in ESPN, Davis is a rock-solid TE1 the rest of the way.

Chris Jennings, Browns RB

Over the years we've learned many strange facts about Eric Mangini:

1. He enjoys being secretive about which awful Quarterback he will start any given week.
2. Don't steal a $3 bottle of water on Mangini's watch -- he takes beverage thievery quite seriously (think $1701 worth of seriousness). We can only imagine how much he hates water fountains (unlimited water for free? Ridiculous).
3. He has a remarkable resemblance to Batman Villain "The Penguin."

And we have another one to add to the list: Mangini, like Bill Belichick, has serious commitment issues. With running backs, that is. A week after Jerome Harrison delivered an explosive 2-touchdown performance, his touches were reduced from 17 to 9. Instead, Mangini entrusted rookie Chris Jennings with the majority of carries. Coming into this past game, Jennings had 25 career carries; he rushed the ball 20 times on Sunday. So, we've established that Mangini's decisions don't make much sense, but with the Browns facing KC and OAK in their next two, their running game is extremely relevant.

While Harrison had a big game with 17 touches two weeks ago, it is worth noting that since Jamal Lewis went down Jennings was the first RB to get more than 10 carries. There have been reports that Jennings' bum shoulder was the reason he only got 5 carries when Harrison had his big game, and that Jennings is the Browns' actual #1 RB. I've learned better than to put my faith in what "News" comes out of Browns practices, but there is another factor at work here:

Last week Jennings got 4 of the 5 Red Zone carries for the Browns (and a RZ target), and converted one of them for a TD. While it is, admittedly, a risky game to start who appears to be the Browns RB each week, it looks like Jennings will play a major role against KC and OAK. Although he's not an exceptionally explosive runner, if Jennings is able to get 15-20 carries and dominate the Browns' RZ and GL work, he could put up a quality fantasy day. He's a decent flex play this week, but even if you're not going to start him, Pick Him Up. If he's able to build on last week he could be a RB2 next week against OAK (I think I could be an alright flex play against the Raiders).

LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals RB

This is strictly for those in the REALLY deep leagues. After Tim Hightower lost a fumble on the Arizona 8 yard line with 4:39 left in 3rd quarter, he was taken out of Monday night's game. While Beanie Wells dominated the running game from that point on, return specialist LaRod Stephens-Howling was the other RB used to mix it up the rest of the way. Although he had 1 carry and 3 catches in that span, he came close to scoring on one of his receptions. Usually, all of this wouldn't mean much, but with the Cardinals facing Detroit and St. Louis in their next two, Stephens-Howling becomes surprisingly relevant.

If you're in a league that starts 3 RBs or is just really, really deep (say 15 teams), you could do a lot worse than Stephens-Howling with your last starting spot. If it turns out that the Cards continue to use Stephens-Howling over Hightower after this week, the small -- but dynamic -- RB could become valuable in regular leagues. Stephens-Howling's talent combined with great matchups could provide huge results. Also, he's owned in just 2% of Yahoo leagues. For those in 12 team leagues, he's worth a pickup. Just use the wait and see approach for next week.

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