Evan Silva


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Matchups: A WR3 Jolt From Joe

Sunday, December 19, 2010

6-foot-3 and 223 pounds with 4.44-4.45 wheels and crazy hops, Joe Webb departed the University of Alabama-Birmingham as the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year. Webb led the nation in quarterback rushing with 1,427 yards as a senior. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry, and 53 of his rushing attempts went for 10-plus yards. Webb also scrambled for 11 touchdowns.

As a passer, Webb completed 59.8 percent for 2,298 yards, 21 scores, and eight interceptions.

Because of his athleticism, size, and monstrous hands (10 3/4 inches), Webb was projected as a receiver by most NFL teams. He practiced at wideout during January's Senior Bowl and dominated some of the most highly-touted defensive backs in the country.

Drafted in the sixth round by the Vikings, Webb spun the ball impressively in rookie camp and was back at his old position by summer ball. He played in four exhibition games, completing 17-of-30 passes (56.7 percent) for 191 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Even more impressively, Webb rushed 11 times for 126 yards (11.5 YPC) and another score.

Fast forward to Week 13. Enamored with Webb's physical ability, the Vikings put him on kickoff returns against the Bills. Webb caught just one kick, but brought it back 30 yards.

Now, with Tarvaris Jackson (toe) on injured reserve and Brett Favre (shoulder, hand) not expected to play Monday night, Joe Webb is slated to be the Vikings' starting quarterback against the Bears.

And Webb has wide receiver eligibility in Yahoo fantasy leagues.

Plenty of factors are working against Webb, of course. He's a rookie making his starting debut against Chicago's top-eight defense, a unit that has surrendered the second fewest passing touchdowns in the league. The expected venue is TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Gophers. Early forecasts have temperatures in the single-digits with sub-zero wind chills.

Working in Webb's favor: His dual-threat skills, a defense that will give him every opportunity to beat them, and next to no film on the first-year passer/runner. Most intriguing from a fantasy perspective is Webb's WR3/flex eligibility. He has more ways to score points than your run-of-the-mill third receiver gamble like Johnny Knox, Robert Meachem, or Ben Obomanu.

For perspective, 23 of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL scored 12 or more standard league fantasy points in Week 14. Just 16 of 64 starting wide receivers around the league hit that mark.

Whereas someone like Meachem or Mike Sims-Walker may not even catch a pass this week, Webb is guaranteed touches, some passing yardage, and almost certainly some rushing points. While you're not going to play Webb over Wes Welker or even Brandon Marshall, he's worth a long look in place of less-trustworthy candidates like Derrick Mason and Hines Ward.

Hey, even Jay Feely scored a rushing touchdown last week.

1:00PM ET Games

Buffalo @ Miami

Brandon Marshall returned from his two-week hamstring injury in last Sunday's win over the Jets. The bad news is that Marshall played horribly, dropping two passes and committing a holding penalty. The good news is that Marshall played 93.2 percent of the offensive snaps and caught the game-winning touchdown. In a favorable weather game (70 degrees, 10 percent chance of rain), Marshall is flirting with WR2 status again. ... The Bills rank in the bottom eight in passing scores allowed and sacks, but don't be fooled into thinking Chad Henne is more than a bottom-barrel QB2. Henne has a 2:5 touchdown-to-turnover ratio in his last two games and is averaging 4.58 yards per attempt. The third-year passer's development hasn't just stalled. It's taken a lemming-style leap.

Davone Bess hasn't scored since Week 7. Like Henne (5-for-18), Bess can't help but do better than last week's 1/6 line, but he's only a WR3 option in PPR leagues. Bess is definitely someone I'd play Webb over. ... Though Ricky Williams (4.38 YPC) is outplaying Ronnie Brown (3.74 YPC), Brown continues to get the football more. Ronnie has 64 touches in the last month compared to Ricky's 47. The Bills rank dead last in run defense, but neither Dolphins rusher is more than a relatively low-upside flex play. Miami's run blocking hasn't been the same since LT Jake Long tore his shoulder labrum, and RT Vernon Carey's year-ending knee injury is another sizable blow.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has one multi-touchdown game in the last seven weeks, and now faces off with Miami's top-six pass defense. Fins OLB Cameron Wake will pummel Bills OTs Demetrius Bell and Mansfield Wrotto, and only two AFC teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Dolphins. Fitz is a low-end QB2. ... Lee Evans' placement on I.R. ensures that Steve Johnson will dominate Fitzpatrick's targets. Shake off his scoreless 49-yard average since Week 11 and use Johnson as a WR3. He's still a top-12 fantasy wideout on the season, and there aren't many receivers around the league playing in such favorable weather whose only competition for the ball comes from a trio of undrafted rookies (David Nelson, Donald Jones, and Naaman Roosevelt).

In a chain-moving effort, Fred Jackson touched up Cleveland's 23rd-ranked run defense for 112 yards on a season-high 29 carries last week. Jackson's passing-game involvement has taken a hit since C.J. Spiller's return from a hamstring injury, as F-Jax has just two catches in his last two games. Still the heavy favorite for carries and goal-line work, Jackson is worth low-end RB2 consideration even in tough matchups such as this. The Fins' No. 7 run defense allows the third smallest YPC in the league (3.62) and has only given up six rushing touchdowns in 13 games.

Detroit @ Tampa Bay

Sunday's forecast for Raymond James Stadium calls for 60-plus degree temperatures and a 10 percent chance of rain, so passing-game members are safe to use in this one. The evolution of Tampa's has been among the most intriguing in football. Since a slow start, Arrelious Benn has found his groove by making intermittent big plays on limited opportunities since midseason, and then topping out with 122 yards in last week's win over Washington. Defenses have realized that Mike Williams is worthy of double coverage. While it's good news for Josh Freeman that he now has two viable, playmaking wideouts, this particular matchup favors a big game from Williams. The rookie from Syracuse will face off with burnable RCB Nathan Vasher for the majority of Tampa's offensive snaps. Benn will have to deal with Lions top CB Chris Houston on the opposite side.

Benn's emergence is bad news for Kellen Winslow, as both are possession-threat types. Winslow caught the game-winning TD last week, but ultimately saw two targets and wasn't thrown to until the third quarter. ... A conservative offense is Freeman's biggest obstacle, but Detroit gives up the fourth most yards per throw in the NFL. You can't beat the quarterback-friendly environment, so Freeman is worth a look as a desperate QB1. ... Running backs are difficult to bench against the Lions' No. 22 run defense, a unit that has surrendered the fourth most rushing touchdowns in the league. LeGarrette Blount is only a low-end RB2 with one score in his last four games, but he has more upside than options like Ronnie Brown, Fred Jackson, and Cedric Benson. Amid concern that Blount might lose goal-line work to Earnest Graham last week, the rookie received two of the Bucs' three red-zone carries. Graham touched the ball twice all game, and never in the red zone.

Incredibly, Calvin Johnson was targeted 13 times last week and caught just one. Thankfully, he's not facing Green Bay's top-three pass defense anymore. Tampa Bay's crumbling unit has lost FS Cody Grimm, shutdown CB Aqib Talib, and top interior pass rusher Gerald McCoy all to injured reserve in the last month. Megatron may also get back Shaun Hill, who the Lions appear to be pushing to play through a fractured finger. Even if Drew Stanton makes a third straight start, Megatron can be started with confidence. Stanton will have a cleaner pocket against the Buccaneers (30th in sacks), and you couldn't name a more talented receiver in a good-weather game. ... Johnson is about where it ends for Lions pass catchers, though. Nate Burleson hasn't topped 27 yards in Stanton's two starts. With lines of 5/36/0 and 2/14/0, even Brandon Pettigrew is untrustworthy against a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed the fifth fewest yards in the league to tight ends.

Maurice Morris has predictably cooled off since his two-touchdown Thanksgiving game, failing to find the end zone or top 57 total yards in either week since. He's still a drain on Jahvid Best's start-ability, though. Morris has 23 touches to Best's 24 in the last two games, with the Lions' backfield clearly evolving into an even timeshare. Both backs are on the injury report with toe injuries this week, so look for more of the same at Tampa. Even against a Bucs defense that lost McCoy and ranks 27th against the run, neither Morris nor Best is getting the ball or playing well enough to be more than a low-end flex. Best's yards-per-carry average since Week 8 is 3.24.

Arizona @ Carolina

Despite fair weather in the forecast for Bank of America Stadium, Vegas projects Cards-Panthers as the second lowest scoring game of Week 15. It's a factor that can be used for tiebreakers on borderline starts like Steve Smith, Steve Breaston, and perhaps Tim Hightower. ... The premier play in this one is Jonathan Stewart. "The Daily Show" is on pace for his second monster stretch run in as many seasons, averaging a whopping 6.33 YPC in his last three games. Kick returner Mike Goodson having clearly ceded the backfield to Stewart with just 13 touches to J-Stew's 40 since Week 12, Stewart is approaching elite RB1 status against a Cardinals defense that ranks 30th against the run and has allowed the third most rushing touchdowns in the NFL. Start 'em.

Jimmy Clausen has struggled so badly that a matchup with Arizona's No. 25 pass defense will go to waste in the fantasy playoffs. Smitty hasn't scored since Week 2. ... David Gettis has been such a non-factor that he hasn't even merited a post-game Rotoworld blurb since Week 12 (when he went catch-less). ... Brandon LaFell had six catches last week, but hasn't topped 40 receiving yards since Week 7. He's playing under 50 percent of the snaps over Carolina's last four games.

Manning the position held by Jacoby Ford in Week 12, Brian Westbrook in Week 13, and James Starks in Week 14 is Tim Hightower as this Sunday's Flavor of the Week. Hightower piled up a bunch of second-half, essentially garbage-time points in the Cardinals' Week 14 rout of Denver with Beanie Wells (stomach virus) sidelined for the final two quarters. Hightower broke off 148 yards on 18 carries, scoring twice in the fourth quarter. This week's matchup is certainly right -- the Panthers rank 27th against the run and have allowed the second most rushing touchdowns in the NFL -- but Wells is back this week and throughout his career Hightower has been more likely to flop than excel in crucial situations (both in real life and fantasy). He's a risky, low-end RB2.

Larry Fitzgerald was shadowed by Champ Bailey all over the field in Week 14, but still managed to bring down six grabs for 72 yards with a rookie quarterback. John Skelton avoided turnovers and Fitz remained the Cards' offensive centerpiece (until Hightower in garbage time), notching double-digit targets for an otherworldly eighth straight week. Carolina plays the pass well, but so does Champ Bailey. Fitzgerald is a rock-solid play. ... Though Skelton did deliver the ball effectively to his top receiver, the rest of Arizona's wideout corps was left hanging as the rookie from Fordham completed just 40.5 percent of his attempts. Safely leave Breaston on the bench this weekend.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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