On Tuesday, a pair of AFC North teams released disgruntled veteran running backs who were signed in the offseason, both of whom grumbled about their workload on Sunday. By Thursday morning, both Ben Tate, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, and LeGarrette Blount, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, found new homes in Minnesota and New England, respectively.
For fantasy football owners, it's quite a shift from what we thought we knew when with flipped off our televisions following Monday Night Football, at least for three of the four teams involved.
Perhaps you spent big to add Patriots RB Jonas Gray to your fantasy rosters after his 200-plus yard, 4-touchdown effort in New England's throttling of the Indianapolis Colts. Gray will still probably have a few big games down the stretch, but fantasy owners were already wringing their hands about whether Pats coach Bill Belichick will decide it's a "Shane Vereen game" and the signing of Blount, who was awesome in the playoffs for the Patriots last year, clouds an already muddled picture.
The same goes for Tate and the Vikings. Fantasy owners of rookie RB Jerick McKinnon were probably pleased at his prospects when the NFL suspended Adrian Peterson for the remainder of the season. Then news came that Matt Asiata, the definition of a goalline TD vulture, may miss a few weeks while he goes through the league's concussion protocol. Now, Tate is in the mix, and he should immediately get the work Asiata was getting, if not more. The Vikings backfield, a fantasy minefield most of the year, remains as such.
Meanwhile in Cleveland, the Browns decision to waive Tate provides just a dash more clarity to their rotation, where Terrence West starts one week and Isaiah Crowell gets the nod the next. Here's the crazy thing – both guys produced in their starts, so who knows what Head Coach Mike Pettine has up his sleeve week to week. At least owners of West and Crowell don't need to worry about Tate sniping a start.
In the Steel City, the cutting of Blount doesn't change a whole lot, since Le'Veon Bell has been playing at an elite level and wasn't ceding carries to his veteran back-up anyway (which is why Blount threw a fit and left the field early on Monday, leading to his release). The only thing that really changes from a fantasy perspective is the clarity of Bell's handcuff. Blount would've been in store for a huge workload if something happened to the second-year stud. Now, the carries would fall to undrafted Josh Harris or diminutive Dri Archer unless the Steelers sign another veteran off the street. At least they are on bye, giving Bell owners another week to sort that one out.
Josh Gordon returns, and should be in your lineup
If you've held Browns WR Josh Gordon the whole season, picked him up at any point, or made a trade for him, then you're putting him in your lineup this week. He's got elite talent, fresh legs, a chip on his shoulder and is arguably facing the worst team defending WRs in the Atlanta Falcons. Throw caution to the wind here folks, it's not going to get better than this.
That's not to say he's going to have a 200-yard, 3-TD game. But the upside is there with him. There are only about 10 WRs I'd start ahead of him this week and chances are, you don't have enough of those guys on your team to fill out your starting lineup. (And if you do, you should – or should've if the deadline passed – trade Gordon or one of the others.)
A few more notes on the Browns, as mentioned above, one-third of the three-headed backfield monster is gone, and one would think Crowell would get the nod this week after his strong performance last Sunday. Then again, that's what we were all saying about West last weekend. I do think both will get touches, but Crowell can't be trusted as more than a flex until we see some consistency.
TE Jordan Cameron, a major disappointment so far this year, remains out this week with a concussion, but if he's floating on your waivers and you have room for a stash, I'd consider him, especially if you are weak at tight end. Cameron was getting a lot of defensive attention earlier this year, which the return of Gordon should take off of him if and when he gets back.
Revenge game for McCown and Lovie Smith?
I don't buy into the "revenge factor" a whole lot when players or coaches face off against their former team. What I do believe in is that recently removed players and coaches understand their former team's personnel -- including their tendancies and weaknesses. I think Tampa Bay QB Josh McCown and Head Coach Lovie Smith will exploit this in their return to Chicago today.
The formerly hapless Bucs suddenly look somewhat potent in the passing game, thanks in no small part to the emergence of rookie WR stud Mike Evans , and the 2014 Chicago Bears defense is certainly not living up the expectations of past units representing the Monsters of the Midway.
McCown has potential to be a top 5 fantasy quarterback this week – and for what it's worth, I would not be stunned if the Bucs upset the Bears today – and I would not be shocked if he ended up outscoring luminaries like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees this weekend. Please do not interpret this as advice to bench one of those three for McCown, however, I think I would play him over fringe QB1s.