Three and Out: Jimmy Graham against the top wide receivers

{eot} Staff
9/4/2014 10:50:22 AM
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Each week, Fantasy Editor Scott Cullen and NFL Editors Ben Fisher and Mike Hetherington discuss three hot fantasy football topics.

Can Montee Ball have a better season than Knowshon Moreno's 2013 as Broncos running back?

Cullen: As much as I expect Ball to have a productive season, perhaps one that will make him a Top 10 Fantasy running back, it's a tad optimistic to think that he'll match Moreno, who had 1,586 yards from scrimmage to go with 13 touchdowns. That's a huge year, and while it was unexpected from Moreno last year too, I'm not quite prepared to put Ball in that category. Maybe something more along the lines of 1,400 yards from scrimmage and 8-10 touchdowns would still be a phenomenal step forward for Ball.

Fisher: Knowshon Moreno isn't a good running back. He wasn't any good prior to his huge 2013 and I'm guessing he won't be very good again now that he's in Miami and no longer a part of Denver's high-powered offence. So what can a running back with some actual talent do as part of the Peyton Manning show? We're about to find out. I don't think Ball will challenge the likes of LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles as top fantasy running back, but he'll be right there behind them at the end of the year.

Hetherington: Absolutely. Moreno rushed 247 times last season despite the Broncos giving 119 carries to Ball. This year, Ball could receive upwards of 300 touches as the Broncos give only occasional carries to backup Ronnie Hillman. As the every-down back, Ball should also see targets from Peyton Manning in passing game. Ball and Moreno combined for 80 catches last season and Ball could see that many alone this year. No stranger to large workloads – rushing 663 times for 3,753 yards in his final two seasons at Wisconsin – Ball should have no trouble staying healthy after his offseason appendectomy. Expect Ball to eclipse Moreno's stat line in every way this season as he works as the feature back in one of the NFL's premier offences.

Where does TE Jimmy Graham rank among the top fantasy wide receivers?

Cullen: My forecast might put Graham as high as number two, behind only Calvin Johnson, but I'd be more inclined to throw Graham around fifth, behind Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green, high-end wide receivers that might have a higher ceiling, in terms of yardage, than a tight end, even one as great as Graham. Where Graham really made hay last season was when it came to scoring touchdowns, finishing with 16 to lead the league, and while it's possible that could happen again, it's tough to go chasing scores as the fundamental basis for a player's fantasy production. So, Graham should be good for 1,200-plus yards and possibly double-digit touchdowns, which is pretty much in his own class at tight end, but closer to the top handful at wide receiver.

Fisher: I would take Graham ahead of all the top receivers. With Rob Gronkowski still battling back from injury, there are so few tight ends you can rely on for big games every week. That's what makes Graham so valuable, there are barely 10 tight ends that can muster up a 100 point season in fantasy, as where there are at least 20 receivers you know are good for 100 points or more – some even on the waiver wire – to fill your two starter spots.

Hetherington: I believe Graham's name fits amongst the top-two fantasy wide receivers, second only to Calvin Johnson. I see Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green as the top four wide receivers this season and I'd pencil Graham in directly behind Megatron. Graham's speed and size lend themselves to redzone catches – he caught a league-high 16 touchdowns last year - and he remains Drew Brees' top target in a pass-first offence. Graham is the undisputed top tight end in fantasy this season and second overall when it comes to pass catchers on my board.

Is there an Eddie Lacy or Keenan Allen in this year's rookie class?

Cullen: There may well be a running back who breaks through this season, but none have the same kind of appeal that Lacy did from the get-go last year with Green Bay. Bishop Sankey, in Tennessee, may be the only one who doesn't require an injury to take the starting job, but Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill, San Francisco's Carlos Hyde and Cleveland's Terrance West are all intriguing rookie runners that could get significant playing time. When it comes to receivers, there are a few more high-end options who are at least in position to see the field immediately. Buffalo's Sammy Watkins may not have a quarterback that can take full advantage of his skills, so he needs help, but that's not as much of a problem for the Saints' Brandin Cooks or Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin. Given the suspect group of receivers in Carolina, Benjamin may have the best shot to have a big rookie season.

Fisher: Yes to both, sort of. This year's Keenan Allen is Kelvin Benjamin, who should get every opportunity to shine on a good offence as Cam Newton's top target. This year's Eddie Lacy will be Carlos Hyde, eventually. If 49ers lead back Frank Gore breaks down physically or sees a massive dip in production, and there's a decent chance that happens to a 31-year-old running back with more than 2,000 career carries, Hyde becomes this year's Lacy – a hungry back on a high-powered offence.

Hetherington: Lacy? No. Allen? Perhaps. No running back selected in this year's class is slated to start Week 1 and only Jeremy Hill of the Cincinnati Bengals appears slated for consistent carries. Bishop Snakey of the Tennessee Titans and Terrance West of the Cleveland Browns could get opportunities, but don't expect any rookie back to reach 1,000 yards. At wide receiver, first-round picks Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans and Brandin Cooks will likely all make instant impacts with their clubs. Looking deeper into the draft (Allen was selected in the third round), a name to watch is tight end Richard Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. Also selected in the third round, Rodgers quickly made a strong impression in training camp and started all four of the Packers preseason games, surpassing incumbents Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick. Rodgers appears to be following Lacy's footsteps by starting in the Packers dominant offence Week 1.

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Jimmy Graham (Photo: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)


(Photo: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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