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Will: Feels like not so long ago C.J. Anderson was anointed to "elite" RB status. Is Denver's line not as good as it seemed?
Mike: Do you see Devontae Booker overtaking C.J. Anderson, and if so, when? Seems to be the better of the two RBs lately.
What an incredibly bad performance by the Broncos offense on Thursday night. My Twitter feed was ablaze with anger and confusion about what we were seeing. Anderson wound up with 71 total yards against the Chargers, but 36 of those came with less than five minutes to go and Denver trailing by double digits. He did have a lovely touchdown run called back by holding, but mostly he was met in the backfield and didn't make much happen. Devontae Booker breathed life into the proceedings by breaking a couple nice runs in the third quarter. Would CJA have been able to break those same runs? Maybe. Both Broncos rushers have some quickness and good acceleration. Booker's relative success (seven touches, 53 total yards) is difficult to extrapolate because the sample size was so small, but it's encouraging for him that the Chargers weren't in "prevent" mode when he produced.
I spent the summer backing Booker and telling folks I didn't think Anderson was all that good. I kind of wish I'd stuck with that opinion, but when CJA mustered big numbers in the 2016 season's first couple games (232 scrimmage yards, three touchdowns) and looked impressive doing it, I said "mea culpa" and decided to believe in him. On film, I saw a pretty good back and, more important, I saw a dominating offensive line. The Broncos were just caving in opposing fronts and presenting great options for Anderson at the line. I was careful not to call CJA merely a product of wonderful blocking, but it seemed a major part of the equation.
For two straight games, that part of the equation has been missing. In Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons, you could blame right tackle Donald Stephenson's absence, and replacement Ty Sambrailo doing his best impersonation of a turnstile. But Thursday night? Stephenson was back. Accomplished blocking tight end Virgil Green was back. They had their guys. And it was a massacre. The Chargers were in the backfield constantly, and Anderson's talent didn't matter much. There was nowhere to run. Plus, this line was called for five holding penalties, one on left tackle Russell Okung for a safety.
The developing problems here, I think, come down to Trevor Siemian. The Chargers got a lead, and rather than "playing back" and being conservative, they stacked the line, committed linebackers forward, and said, "OK, Siemian: beat us." And the young quarterback couldn't, or wasn't given the chance: Denver's play calling stayed run-focused and conservative for too long. But Siemian's arm strength is questionable, Demaryius Thomas is playing soft, Emmanuel Sanders injured a hip, and the Chargers just never felt threatened downfield. That's bad for everyone in Denver's offense.
Will Booker take over for Anderson? Will the Broncos backfield become more of a platoon? These are things nobody outside the coaching room can know. Certainly, if Booker is available in your league, add him. But I can't say Anderson is a terrible player. He's pretty good. He's fine. He needs optimal circumstances to shine, and right now the Broncos aren't delivering optimal circumstances. When the team plays again in ten days, CJA probably won't be among my top ten fantasy backs, and his fantasy owners will have a tough lineup decision.
Thomas: Is Hunter Henry a thing now?
Could be! Henry scored San Diego's only touchdown Thursday night—in a game where the Chargers were in the red zone again and again but mostly came away with field goals—and wound up with six catches for 83 yards. The kid looks like a player: smooth as a route-runner, good hands, a good feel for when to settle in a zone and present himself as a target. His week-to-week limitation is whether Antonio Gates is still a thing. For the second straight game, Gates began by losing the ball: in Week 5 he fumbled deep in Raiders territory, and Thursday night he dropped his first target. While I don't have official snap counts yet, my impression is that Henry was on the field more than Gates on Thursday. However, that was not a good thing for Melvin Gordon—the CBS cameras caught several replays where Henry got bulldozed as a blocker. Gates may not be ready to be an every-down player because he may not be helpful except as a receiver.
Has Gates's limited play since his return been about that injured hamstring, or is this an official "phasing out" of the future Hall-of-Famer? I don't know. But my reaction for the moment is: while I'd imagine Gates will have games where he plays well and stirs the echoes, I'd find him tough to trust in a fantasy lineup, and in fact I'll almost certainly have Henry ranked higher in Week 7.
Jazz: Is DeAndre Hopkins or Jarvis Landry hurt more by their respective quarterbacks' bad play?
In my opinion, Ryan Tannehill has played worse than Brock Osweiler, but you could make the argument that Hopkins has been more disappointing than Landry because the expectations there were higher. Certainly, though, neither the Dolphins nor the Texans QB has been good, so to some extent I guess it doesn't matter which receiver is hurt "worse." But it's worth asking whether there's hope for either Hopkins or Landry.
I think there is. Osweiler gets a good matchup Sunday night against the Indianapolis Colts, and he'd better play well or the vultures will begin circling. The Texans offense has been embarrassed in high-profile situations two of the past three weeks: a 27-0 national TV loss to the Patriots and a 31-13 drubbing last week in Minnesota that wasn't as close as the score indicates.
The larger problem for Hopkins has been a lack of usage. On film, I've seen plenty of situations where Nuk didn't get excessive defensive attention and Osweiler still never looked his way. Instead, there's been a focus on Will Fuller (which is good, because Fuller is good) and the Texans tight ends (which is bad, because the Texans tight ends are nothing special). The key question for Hopkins owners Sunday night is: Coming off a stretch of mediocre overall play, will the Texans make him their focal point again and regain some explosiveness? I think there's a good chance it happens, so I'm still bullish on DeAndre Hopkins.
The Dolphins? Less so. Tannehill has been hot garbage and his blockers have done him no favors. What should be good about owning Landry, though, is that the worse Tannehill plays, the more passes he checks down, and Landry becomes a target monster. That didn't happen Week 5 against the Tennessee Titans, when Landry had only three catches, but in four games prior he'd never had fewer than seven grabs. I'm not excited about Jarvis Landry's week-to-week ceiling, but even with Tannehill playing poorly, Landry's floor feels safe.
John: Is it too risky to start Jonathan Stewart and Jamaal Charles in their respective returns to action?
This is a tough question to answer without knowing your other options, but in general if I could avoid this kind of double-risk in a single week, I'd try. Stew Beef seems like the safer bet because of the injury from which he's returning—Stewart "merely" pulled a hamstring early in Week 2—and because the Saints defense is pillow soft. But would it be shocking to see the Carolina Panthers work Stewart gradually back into the lineup? It would not. Still, I have him ranked as a clear fantasy starter, and I'll be using him in multiple leagues.
Charles is a whole different level of risk. I just don't know how the Chiefs plan on using him versus the Oakland Raiders, coming out of their bye. J-Mail's recovery from his torn ACL has been slow, and to this point the Chiefs have been unwilling to push him. (Charles missed the season's first three weeks and played sparingly in Kansas City's blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4.) You know the kind of upside Charles has: when he's right, he's one of the more elusive running backs in recent history. If he gets on a roll Sunday, he could give great value. But what's the plan? Does Spencer Ware still get the majority of touches until Charles flashes? Nobody but the Chiefs brass knows. Another frustrating thing is that if you've been using Ware as a starting running back, that's no longer a safe harbor, either. Bottom line? If you feel like your fantasy squad is an underdog and needs the shot at a big number, play Charles. Otherwise, you may be best off waiting until you see him produce before using him.
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