I was the first of my group of friends to get my driver's license. That summer, when our traveling baseball team had games, a couple of my buddies would just ride with me instead of their parents having to make the trip to their billionth baseball game.
Most commonly, it was Donnie, Evans, and me riding together, and as high-school sports nerds, we had one regular activity: We did fantasy drafts.
Typically, we'd let Donnie set the restrictions. AL-only, or all two-syllable last names, or guys whose teams were in Eastern Standard Time. Just random stuff to mix it up. I was the resident baseball expert of the group, but Donnie and Evans at least knew enough to participate. We never played these out; we just liked picking players.
One time, Donnie's rule was right-handers only. At most positions, that isn't a big deal - how hard is it to find a right-handed shortstop? - but it became a bigger issue at first base, for obvious reasons.
I took Mike Sweeney, and did so pretty confidently. A few minutes later, Donnie sort of gasped and started looking antsy in his seat. "Hurry up and pick, Evans," he said. "I think I've thought of a good one."
When his pick came, Donnie jumped in quickly. "Jeff Bagwell," he said. "Daniel forgot him."
In reality, I had. I was driving, I was making all my picks purely from memory, and Bagwell just didn't come to mind. But since our only means of evaluating our final rosters was our own opinions, I could hardly admit to that. I wanted to win, dangit.
So I twisted things. I came up with all sorts of random tidbits off the top of my head to tell Donnie and Evans to convince them that, while Bagwell was great, Sweeney was the better option, and here are all the reasons why. By the end of the conversation, I had Donnie convinced, and I think he was genuinely shocked when, a few days later-after it was too late for me to "lose" - I told him that he had been right in the first place.
My point is, I've been arguing fantasy value for a long dang time. In theory, I'm not B.S.-ing you guys quite to the level I did for Donnie, but anything anyone does in fantasy value has a certain B.S. component to it; if we could prove a certain guy is the best, odds are good he's not below-the-radar enough for us to have brought him up to begin with. So essentially, we identify those we think have potential, then we find ways for us to argue that way. Sometimes it goes the other way - I know a team has an easy schedule coming up, so I find a guy on that team who should benefit - but for the most part, it's "pick a guy, find a reason."
That's what I do in the weekly Ticker. The guys I recommend (or don't recommend, as the case may be) are ones I believe in, and I have good reasons for that faith. I try to verbalize them. But I'm also picking and choosing the good stuff. Like, if I were to recommend Stevan Ridley this week (I'm not), I would mention his five-game stretch with seven touchdowns earlier this year, not his three straight games with lost fumbles or his inactive status Sunday.
Just remember that. I believe what I say about the guys below, but there are scabs on all of them; otherwise, they wouldn't be owned as lightly as they are. I wouldn't remotely expect you to go out and grab every guy I recommend. But read through the picks, figure out which ones you agree with, and go from there. Hopefully I'm super helpful.
Just don't take Mike Sweeney over Jeff Bagwell.
Okay, on to the rules of The Ticker. There are six categories every week - Stocks I'm buying, Stocks I'm not buying, Stocks I'm selling, Stocks I'm not selling, Futures market, Hedges. The first two categories (buying) are guys owned in less than 50 percent of leagues (as of Monday morning) who performed well in Week 13, sorted by whether I believe those performances or not. The middle two categories (selling) are bigger names, ones that might have underperformed lately, and whether I think they'll bounce back. And the last two categories (futures market, hedges) are guys whose stock could rise down the stretch, whether due to usage change or injuries ahead of them.
Read on, and evaluate thusly. Good luck in the playoffs.
Stocks I'm buying
Brandon Myers, TE, NYG (29 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues)
First off, it's fun to recommend Myers because he looks exactly like my buddy Brian. But Myers has suddenly started to look decent for the Giants after several weeks in a row of meaninglessness. He started his Giants' tenure well enough, with 13 catches, 140 yards, and a touchdown in his first two games. But after that, the Giants' general terribleness and Myers' poor pass-blocking kept him from being really involved in the team's gameplan, and from Week 3 to Week 11 he was only targeted 25 total times, catching 13 passes for 167 yards in the eight-game span, with three different games of complete goose-eggs. The team has been focusing on Myers' abilities as a blocker, though, since he did almost no blocking last year with the Raiders, and he's improved, leading to more targets of late. It's been a small improvement so far - eight catches, 100 yards, two scores in the last two weeks - but the fact that the team is putting out there more bodes well.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, MIN (25 percent)
This is far from my most innovative recommendation. Everyone who talks fantasy has hyped up Patterson at some point this season, despite the fact that the rookie has only two offensive scores and one game of 50-plus yards from scrimmage. But we all see Patterson's skills, and we all see the general lack of skills elsewhere in Minnesota's receiving game. Until he fell back to one catch on four targets Sunday (though he did get two rushes), it looked like the Vikings were starting to look Patterson's way more, as he had 20 targets in the previous two games combined. In any sort of dynasty league, Patterson obviously has to be owned, but even in single-year leagues that are entering the playoffs, he might be relevant, especially when you consider my next paragraph ...
Matt Cassel, QB, MIN (1 percent)
I don't really understand the Vikings' quarterback strategy this season. When Christian Ponder was both bad and injured early in the year, they went to Cassel, who was ... decent, actually. He led the team to its first win with 248 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers in Week 4. He struggled in his next game, but that came against a Carolina defense that makes even good quarterbacks look bad. But okay, whatever, the team went out and signed Josh Freeman for Week 7, and he was the highest level of awful. So why did they go back to Ponder after that? Why not Cassel, who was actually respectable? And then, when Ponder got hurt Sunday, they finally did go back to Cassel, and he was decent again, getting 11 fantasy points despite basically missing all of the first half. I don't know if Cassel will start this week, but I do believe he is the best quarterback they have right now. It's a play only for two-QB leagues, of course, but there it is.
Stocks I'm not buying
Michael Crabtree, WR, SF (47 percent)
Crabtree caught only two passes Sunday, and only went for 68 yards. Sure, the 49ers are easing him into the lineup, so maybe the catches and targets go up. But how sure are you that they'll go enough to help? Because it's the playoffs now, and in order to use Crabtree, you basically have to be sure. If we had seen him back in Week 9, Week 10, he'd be up to speed by now and be a fantasy option. But as of now, the absolute earliest I'd feel comfortable using Crabtree is Week 15, and it's not even worth the wait for that chance.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, NE (6 percent)
Put Blount on, say, the Browns, or the Cardinals (or, frankly, back on the Buccaneers), and he'd be a fine fantasy running back. Sure, he's fumbled a couple of times this year, but he's got the ability to run through guys enough that the good outweighs the bad when he gets full-time play. The only problem is, Blount's in New England. Outside of Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots don't have any single stud skill player, but they have enough decent-to-above-average guys that no single guy can control time. I used this stat in Sunday's start/sit post for the Patriots/Texans game, but it continued Sunday: the Patriots have played 12 games, and Patriot wide receivers have had double-digit fantasy points 12 times. Except that tally goes four for Julian Edelman, three each for Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, and two for Danny Amendola. It's similar for running backs, as Stevan Ridley has hit the benchmark four times, Blount three times, Shane Vereen twice, and Brandon Bolden once. If you can play "whichever Patriot running back is best today," great, have fun. Otherwise, I don't know how you can pick.
Zach Ertz, TE, PHI (2 percent)
The rookie Ertz had one career touchdown entering Sunday, and hadn't topped 58 yards in a game. And then he caught five passes for 68 yards and two of the Eagles' three touchdowns against the Cardinals. Of course, it was against the Cardinals. You know how you sort of throw out baseball players' stats that are accumulated in Colorado, because Coors Field messes with the situation so heavily? It's the same for tight ends against the Cardinals. Arizona is one of the six best teams against wide receivers in football, but they are far and away the worst team against fantasy tight ends, allowing 3.5 more fantasy points per game than any other team. Heck, tight end Brent Celek scored Philadelphia's other touchdown in the game. Ertz might have a bright future, but for now this was a one-weeker.
Stocks I'm selling
Look, it's great that Smith is the Panthers' most talented wide receiver. But he has only scored three touchdowns on the season, and hasn't had more than 69 yards in a game all year. In fact, Smith has been remarkably consistent - 3-6 catches a game, 40-70 yards in every game but one. It's nice to know what to expect out of him, but you'd like to expect more, is all. (As a side note, I'm still seeing people refer to Smith as "Steve Smith (CAR)" or something, and it's hilarious. Guys, the other Steve Smith hasn't caught a pass since a year ago Monday, and he officially retired back in May. You can just say "Steve Smith" now. We'll all understand.)
Danny Woodhead, RB, SD (86 percent)
It's no secret that Woodhead is basically the new Darren Sproles; he's a pass-catcher who plays running back, not a real running back. Heck, he even plays for Sproles' old team, and he's averaged only 24 rushing yards a game on the season. Unfortunately, though, Woodhead's passing numbers have fallen in recent weeks; he averaged six catches and 44.5 yards a game in the first six games, but that has fallen to 4.5 catches and 35.8 yards in the last six, and only three catches and 22.8 yards in his last four. With tight end Ladarius Green getting more looks in the offense, and so many other options still around in San Diego, Woodhead just isn't getting the looks. And if he isn't catching passes, he's not worth a lot in fantasy.
Michael Floyd, WR, ARI (78 percent)
Through Week 10, Floyd was averaging 6.2 fantasy points a game, with two touchdowns and no game of more than 87 yards. Then, in his last three, he has 50 fantasy points, two more scores, and 396 yards. Of course, those three games have come against Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia, which is like me saying I'm really good at pickup basketball when I go to the courts where the elementary-schoolers hang out. Well, that is ending; the Cardinals play the average-against-wide-receivers Rams in Week 14, then close against Tennessee, Seattle, and San Francisco, which are three of the best five defenses against wide receivers in football. An Arizona offense that has easily supported two receivers (Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald) for a few weeks might have to go back to only one guy, if that, and Fitzgerald is more likely to be that guy than Floyd.
Stocks I'm not selling
Alfred Morris, RB, WAS (100 percent)
Even on his worst rushing day of the season, Morris managed to tally 10 fantasy points, as he worked in a touchdown and still had 27 receiving yards to go with his 26 rushing. Still, Morris had averaged almost 18 rushes a game coming into Sunday night, and then got only 11. He averaged 2.4 yards a carry and didn't touch the ball for the last 25-ish minutes of the game, and all this in a game that never had the Redskins were in throughout, so there was no obvious reason for them to have to devote all their attention to the pass. Mike Shanahan is so frustrating, I know, I know. There there. Even with all those marks against him, Morris sits at fourth in the NFL in rushing yards, and will almost certainly pass 1,000 next game. He's going to be fine. This was a one-week bad spot.
DeSean Jackson, WR, PHI (99 percent)
If you read my Zach Ertz blurb, you saw that I'm not totally on board with him because they played Arizona Sunday. If you didn't read my Zach Ertz blurb, you're a jerk. But yes, the Eagles played a team that is great against wide receivers and awful against tight ends Sunday; next, they get the Lions, who swing to the complete other side. Jackson has six double-digit fantasy days among his 12 games this season; with four more games down the stretch, expect at least two of them to hit that mark again.
Frank Gore, RB, SF (99 percent)
Gore's numbers have fallen off across the board the last few weeks; his rushes are down, his yards are down, his yards per carry are down. He's scored single-digit fantasy points in three straight weeks after double figures in seven straight. But let's just put it this way: While the 49ers look safe for the playoffs, they only currently have the six-seed, with the Eagles and Cardinals only a game behind them, and they play the Seahawks next week. The 49ers' best player on offense is Gore (if you want to argue Colin Kaepernick, okay, but it doesn't change my point much); if they want to firm up a playoff slot, they're going to be going to Gore often. He'll be fine.
Jay Cutler, QB, CHI (31 percent)
The Bears are rapidly exiting playoff contention; normally, that would encourage a team to resist bringing back an injured quarterback. Hey, man, take your time, rest up, we'll see you next season. Except, for the Bears, they might not see Cutler next season. He's a free agent after the year and, while Josh McCown has played well, McCown is also 34 years old and has only played 10 or more games once in his career. Cutler might not have the ceiling we all thought he had when his career began, but his ceiling is a higher ceiling than McCown's ceiling. The Bears need to have as many evaluate-Cutler chances as they can get, and that means he'll be back on the job when he can be. That might be this week; it will almost certainly be next. And it's rare that a quarterback with Cutler's upside is owned in only 31 percent of leagues.
Andre Holmes, WR, OAK (1 percent)
Denarius Moore still hasn't practiced for Oakland; his absence could go longer than it already has. In the interim, Andre Holmes has been playing more for the Raiders, and he had a career-best game on Thanksgiving, with seven catches for 136 yards. A former basketball player, Holmes has still been developing his football-specific skills. With only Rod Streater much of a threat to battle Holmes for touches (Jacoby Ford? Mychal Rivera? No, it's just those guys), as long as Holmes gets to stay on the field, he stands to have some amount of value.
Marcus Thigpen, RB, MIA (1 percent)
The Dolphins did everything within their power to avoid giving the ball to Lamar Miller for much of the season, choosing to go to Daniel Thomas far more often than Thomas' talent really called for. Now, Thomas is hurt, and while it was nice to see Miller get 72 rushing yards, there are no guarantees that the Dolphins continue to ride Miller, who has overall been underwhelming this year. I've heard more Mike Gillislee talk the last few days than I have about Thigpen, but Thigpen has been more involved with the team all season. Thigpen is just a guy to keep an eye on for now, but if the Dolphins continue their Miller distaste, someone has to benefit.
Michael Bush, RB, CHI (7 percent)
Random fantasy lottery tickets don't matter as much in fantasy this time of year; if you're in the playoffs, you most likely have your lineup fairly figured out, and you just have to hope injuries and fluke games don't bite you. If you have Matt Forte and Zac Stacy as your starting running backs, you'd rather have Benny Cunningham as your backup than someone like Bobby Rainey, Brandon Bolden, or Bilal Powell. What can one of those three do to make you start him over Stacy? Nothing, barring a Stacy injury. And if there is a Stacy injury, you'd rather have Stacy's backup anyway. Same with Bush, who is backing up a running back in Forte who hasn't actually played a full slate of games since 2010. For most fantasy owners, this is the time of year to focus more stridently on handcuffs, and few are better handcuffs than Bush.
I'm glad Le'Veon Bell appears to be basically okay, because that hit he took on Thanksgiving night was one of the most brutal I've seen in a while. But he does appear to be okay, and he returned to Steelers' practice on a limited basis Monday. Either way, Bell owners have to be ready for the chance that Bell can't go Sunday, and even if he does, the running back already missed games earlier this season with injury. I honestly don't know whether Dwyer or Jones would benefit the most if Bell were out, so pick one and take a shot.
Logan Paulsen, TE, WAS (1 percent)
It was scary when, Sunday afternoon, it came out that Jordan Reed had had a recurrence of his headaches and had to be a late scratch for Washington's late game Sunday. It's good that Washington recognized the worry and sat Reed down, but the crappy thing about concussions is that you never really know their effects are gone until they actually are gone. The Redskins aren't going back to Fred Davis as anything other than a desperation play any time soon, but they targeted Paulsen four times Sunday night, and he caught his second touchdown of the season. Paulsen is unlikely to work his way into even low-end TE1 territory, even if Reed stays out, but if you're in a league that has snapped up all the half-decent tight ends, Paulsen is likely available, and could help out.