Fantasy Football: Three Lessons Learned From Thursday Night

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New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley

Sep 12, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley (22) is pursued by New York Jets strong safety Dawan Landry (26) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday Night Football kicked off for this season in Week 2 (disregarding the opener since it wasn’t really a short week) with the Patriots narrowly escaping a division foe for a consecutive game, edging the Jets 13-10.

Although there wasn’t a treasure chest of fantasy spoils to be had when the game was over, there were still important takeaways from the game that can help us fake footballers going forward.

1. The Current Patriot Passing Game is Pedestrian

With Shane Vereen (wrist) and Danny Amendola (groin) sidelined and the continued absence of Rob Gronkowski (back) the Patriots asked their rookie receiving corps to sink or swim last night. At the end of the night, a life raft was needed to pull them out of the water, as the young duo of Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins left numerous opportunities on the field.

Let’s start with Thompkins, a player who climbed to an unbelievable lofty draft position (seventh round) for not only a rookie receiver (who rarely deliver dividends), but an undrafted one at that.

So far in two weeks, Thompkins has shown an inability to create any separation at all from starting caliber NFL defenders and hasn’t shown he can make plays on targets that aren’t highly catchable.

Thompkins, through Week 2, has converted just six of 21 targets into receptions for 89 yards. If you’re an owner that ordered with your eyes rather than your stomach at draft time on Thompkins, you’re likely looking to push away from the table with a half full plate.

Dobson seen his first action of the season and it started out fantastically.

He converted his first target into a 39-yard touchdown on a beautiful play fake that made the Jets defense look like they weren’t aware you could fake a run under the current rules.

It turned sour in a hurry for Dobson however, as he snatched just two of his remaining nine targets for 17 yards and dropped three passes, including what may have been an 80 yard touchdown in the second quarter when he blew past the Jets secondary.

That’s where I was pleasantly surprised though, Dobson seemingly created separation all night; he just failed to finish plays. I would much rather own Dobson going forward than Thompkins, although neither likely have any significant 2013 value, but I believe he’s a better player and will have a better future based on his speed and ability to get open. He just needs to finish his routes and secure the football.

With Amendola out possibly until week four with a groin strain, look for more of what we seen last night from Tom Brady (who we anticipated would struggle) in using Julian Edelman as a crutch in the passing game.

Edelman was targeted a game high 18 times, catching 13 for 78 yards. Credit Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus in noting first that this was the fewest yards receiving a player has had on as many receptions as Edelman did last night in NFL history. In PPR leagues, Edelman has tremendous WR2 short-term value.

If you have him, use him until the tank reaches empty and hold him just in case Amendola sees the training staff again later in the season.

Of course this should all be short lived, because not only is Amendola expected back sooner than later, but so is Patriot superstud tight end Rob Gronkowski.  Last night was the first game since week 15 in 2009 that a New England tight end failed to record a reception.

Through two weeks, Pats tight ends have only one reception for five yards. The Patriots also failed to convert a first and goal from the 8-yard line with the absence of the leagues’ number one red zone threat.

Until at least one these guys return, temper expectations of Brady being anything more than a lower end QB1 option, as the Patriots were unable to sustain any kind of offensive flow, their longest drive of the game was only six plays, which leads us to this…

2. Don’t Sell Stevan Ridley

But you can bench him. Ridley turned in his second straight clunker, mustering just 40 yards on 16 attempts, nine of which were of one yard or fewer. We already know that Ridley is below a non-factor as a pass catcher, as he hasn’t even seen a target yet in 2013. He also has not had a reception in a game since week six of last season.

With teams being able to contain the Patriots receiving corps with much extra attention any individual player, Ridley’s job becomes increasingly difficult, even if he has to be leaned on in the run department.

While the Jets are no slouches in defending the run, the Patriots host Tampa Bay next week. The Buccaneers led the NFL last season in yards per carry allowed (3.5 as a defense and in week one, allowed Jets running backs a pedestrian 44 yards on 22 carries).

It’s not all doom and gloom in the long-term however, because once Gronkowski returns, things will change for Ridley. Not only is Gronk the game’s best tight end as a receiver, he’s also one of the best run blockers in the league.

In his three-year career, he has never finished outside of the top five in highest run blocking grade per Pro Football Focus. So not only will he open lanes as a receiver, but also as a mauler.

If you were to attempt sell Ridley now, in all likelihood you’d be getting pennies on the dollar.

The Patriots offense is going to get better as the season rolls along and he is still the bell cow in what will eventually be a capable offense. The points will come, just be patient, Ridley is more dependent on the Patriots offense clicking at full strength than they are on Ridley’s talent.

3. Add Stephen Hill Now

Sure, Geno Smith looked like a rookie. He made a plethora of mistakes not only as a thrower, but in the pocket as well. He was hesitant in trusting his initial decision making, and his receivers let him down with drops.

Second year wide receiver Stephen Hill showed some of his big play capability that we all know exists, turning two receptions into 30 plus yard gains. He finished the night with 86 yards on four receptions. One resulted in a fluky fumble as the ball was kicked out by a defender after 33 yards.

Throughout two games, Smith has shown he’s going to favor getting Hill the ball, targeting him 17 times already.  Hill is still very much unpolished, but his freakish, athletic ability and what appears to be a solid weekly volume under Smith makes him a solid add to the end of your receiving unit.

Outside of Hill, the rest of the Jets receivers are just guys. Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes are low end PPR options for 14 team or more leagues but don’t have consistent weekly value in 12 teamers due to lack of significant volume and scoring opportunities.

The same can be said for the Jets tight ends Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland.

Winslow is the clear option on passing downs and may sprinkle in a few spotty solid performances such as week one, but with so many viable streaming options available league wide at the position, he’s avoidable to add to your roster at the current time.

*Stats used were provided from ProFootballFocus, Pro-Football-Reference, NFLData.com

Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer.