Jesse Pantuosco

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Roundtable: Thin Ice

Friday, September 22, 2017


Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): The first couple weeks of an NFL season are like Jenga blocks. All offseason we build up these narratives and then once the football actually starts, everything we know to be true falls on its face. Take the Bears’ backfield for example. About this time last year, we were worried about Jordan Howard coming for Jeremy Langford’s starting job in Chicago. Fast-forward 12 months and now it’s Howard who could be in danger of losing his gig to talented fourth-round rookie Tarik Cohen. A similar situation is unfolding in Tennessee, where former Heisman Trophy-winner Derrick Henry has been running laps around supposed workhorse DeMarco Murray.

 

Running back is an inherently replaceable position, but they’re not the only ones on shaky ground. At quarterback, it seems like just a matter of time until Mike Glennon passes the torch to second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky while this week’s London trip could be the kiss of death for Blake Bortles, who has been skating on thin ice in Jacksonville for quite some time.

 

So what do we think, gang—is it a foregone conclusion that the up-and-comers will overtake the incumbents, or is it too soon to give up on guys like Howard and Murray? And for our forward-thinking readers, what other tricky situations are you keeping a close eye on?

 

Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin): Perhaps I am naive, but I do not think Murray is going to disappear if he is healthy. At worst, he will be the preferred back on passing downs and he should continue to get his touches on early downs as well. Of course, the “if healthy” part of that equation is in serious question right now with Murray looking on the wrong side of questionable for this week’s game against the Seahawks. Henry can have standalone value even with Murray still involved, but his ascent into the sure-fire RB1 tier likely requires Murray to go away. 

I am still keeping an eye on the situation in Philadelphia. That offensive line is too good for the running game to be a zero all season and Wendell Smallwood has at least looked competent at times. Perhaps Darren Sproles just plays 50 snaps and sees 15 touches every game the rest of the way, but there is room there for a more "traditional" running back. Perhaps Smallwood can be that guy. 

 

Pantuosco: It’s been a perfect storm for Tarik Cohen. Game flow has worked in his favor with the Bears playing from behind both weeks and Jordan Howard has been ineffective while playing through a shoulder injury. Cohen’s role on passing downs isn’t going away but I have to believe Howard is going to right the ship at some point. He was still productive in Week 1 (15.6 PPR points) and remains the favorite for goal-line work (he outweighs Cohen by a whopping 43 pounds), which has to count for something. Even if Howard is getting 15 or so touches per game instead of his usual 20-plus, I think that’s still enough to keep him in the RB2 discussion.

 

I’m really curious to see how everything shakes out with Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart in Carolina. McCaffrey’s ADP was in the third round this summer, but so far he’s been out-touched 35-30 by Stewart, though the rookie holds a slight edge in yards from scrimmage (129-122). Ron Rivera said he’s going to stay with a hot hand approach for now, which means it will be a weekly guessing game for fantasy owners. I’m betting McCaffrey eventually takes the reigns from Stewart, but J-Stew isn’t going down without a fight.

 

Jeff Brubach (@Jeff_Brubach): Although I want to see what Derrick Henry can do as the lead back in Tennessee, I think Ray is right here. The Tennessee staff has kept Murray in charge of this backfield for over a year now with Henry in the fold and it would take a serious injury or DeMarco departure for Henry to truly take over. But once that day comes, it will be glorious and defenses will be punished.

 

I'm curious to see how much Bill O'Brien mixes D'Onta Foreman in alongside Lamar Miller in Houston. The Texans made an effort to get Foreman more work in Week 2 after just one touch in the opener and Foreman was an intriguing prospect as a third-rounder. Miller won't be swept to the side any time soon but Foreman could be productive if the backfield split is close to even.

 

Evan Silva (@evansilva): I think Howard and Murray are very probable busts, and in hindsight both were easy to see coming. Derrick Henry is now in league-winning position and Tarik Cohen is an every-week PPR starter.

 

Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): I do agree with Evan that Murray has high odds of busting at this stage, but I also agree with Ray that we're celebrating Derrick Henry being a league-winner a little prematurely. If and when Murray is inactive, sure, but for how long will that be? This is a guy who has caught 40 passes in five consecutive seasons. Surely he will have a role when he can play and we have Week 1 as evidence of that. What he is a reminder of, though, is that you really need to pay attention to soft tissue injuries in the preseason because there have been studies that show those injuries heighten the chances that a player will miss time in-season. I'd still be excited if I owned Henry since running back depth is scarce, but I don't expect Murray to just fade into the ether completely.

 

I'm still trying to grab Joe Mixon where I can in hopes that Bill Lazor figures this thing out. While you'd like to have anything positive to latch onto, matchups versus Baltimore and Houston were never going to be easy for Cincinnati. Lazor incorporated a lot of elements from Chip Kelly's run game and tempo while he was in Miami, but we still need Mixon to get ahead of the pack in a ground attack that’s giving too much work to Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill at the moment.

 

Connor Allen (@ConnorAllenNFL): While Cohen won’t ascend to workhorse status the way Howard did last year, he should still be an RB2 in PPR solely on the strength of his pass-catching. Mike Glennon has looked for Cohen on a ridiculous amount of their passing plays to start the year, boasting one of the highest target shares among running backs. With negative game-script bound to continue for the Bears, Cohen’s workload should remain steady.

 

Another backfield I was keeping a close eye on but have lost interest in is the Bengals. I originally thought Joe Mixon would be one of my main trade targets given the circumstances, but his efficiency has been horrendous so far. He only has a 29-percent success rate according to metrics at Football Outsiders, 21% lower than plodder Jeremy Hill. Maybe Lazor can unlock Mixon’s potential but at the moment I have no intentions of playing or acquiring anyone from that backfield.

 

Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): Even if Murray is active this weekend, I think Henry will get the chance to carry the mail against Seattle. The problem is that it's the Seahawks. Henry has looked extremely impressive in spot duty through two games, but I think he’ll have a tough time making it 3-for-3.

 

With regards to Mixon, I fully expect him to be the lead back this weekend. You don't fire your offensive coordinator so the new guy can keep pounding Jeremy Hill between the tackles while your controversial second-round rookie rots on the sideline. The Bengals will be trying to find out what they have this weekend.

 

Jordan Howard ... God love him. He's met his pre-draft destiny. Howard’s back to being a two-down grinder and is sliding toward RB3 status, even in standard leagues. The Bears’ offense is too dysfunctional for him to make hay with a two-down role. 



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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