The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns employ a few players each who have put up dominating fantasy performances in the past. This season, however, all of those stars and high-round picks are struggling with the same issue when it comes to fantasy production: consistency.
For instance, Browns' RB Ben Tate showed signs of fantasy stardom over the last few seasons in relief of Arian Foster, but has yet to find a rhythm in 2014. In Week Five, he had his only 100-yard game of the season and followed that with a two touchdown performance against Pittsburgh. However, in his three other games played this season, he has combined for just 103 yards, one TD and 15 fantasy points.
WR Andrew Hawkins has been the most consistent of the receivers for the Browns in terms of targets and receptions, but has found the end zone only one time, which is crucial to being a fantasy-relevant receiver. With only eight receiving touchdowns for the entire team (three of them coming to 0.8%-owned Travis Benjamin) it is hard to consider Hawkins a must-start if you own him, simply because he's put up just one six-pointer all season.
The Buccaneers suffer the same issue, but with even bigger past firepower. WR Vincent Jackson has posted 1,000+ yards and at least seven touchdowns in each of his last five complete seasons, making him one of the most fantasy productive receivers in that span. This year, he's averaging 51 yards per game with two touchdowns, with only one 10+-point fantasy performance.
Consistency is an issue all over the board. Mike Evan's last five games have seen these fantasy point totals: 4, 5, 12, 11, 7. Louis Murphy followed up a 13-point game with a one-pointer. And with just two RB rushing touchdowns on the year for the Buccaneers, that position raises question marks in the eyes' of owners as well.
So, with a troubling lack of regularity in the back of our heads on both sides of the ball, who can we deem trustworthy enough to throw in our lineups this week? We know that points will be scored, but from where can we expect them to come?* For the Cleveland Browns
No skill position player for the Browns (or Bucs) ranks in the top 20 at his position. However, the Browns are still putting up 23.3 actual points per game this season, making it a constant game of, "Which player might find the end zone this week?" Fortunately for Browns' fantasy owners, the Buccaneers have been surrendering above-average fantasy points to all positions so far this year.
Get familiar with the key players on the Browns before the Buccaneers face off with Cleveland on Sunday.
QB Bryan Hoyer averages 13.1 points per game. While he has just two interceptions this year, he counters that with only eight touchdown passes in seven games. The Bucs have given up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, which has Hoyer's owners smiling (he is owned in 29.8% of leagues, having been picked up in 13.2% just this week, specifically as a bye-week fill in with a promising matchup). Dig a little deeper, however, and you will find that the NFL average in fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs is 16.1 and that the Buccaneers have held three opposing quarterbacks (STL's Davis, NO's Brees and MIN's Bridgewater) under that average. The Bucs defense has given up their QB points in large chunks, and looking at Hoyer's eight TDs, it looks like a long shot for him to break 16.
The previously mentioned Ben Tate has scored three times in his last three games, but has just 62 yards on 31 carries over the last two weeks against the Oakland and Jacksonville defenses. He is the most-owned Brown and should be started Sunday considering the Bucs allow the ninth-most points to opposing RBs. Cleveland runs the ball on 49% of its plays so far this year and Tate has seen the lion's share of the touches. He is backed up by Terrence West and Isaiah Crowell who each have a few big games this season, but the duo has combined for just 19 fantasy points over the last four games and are anything but sure things.
The Bucs have given up the most fantasy points in the league to WRs, nearly 30 per game to go around. We talked about the sit/start frustration of Andrew Hawkins, but he should be played this week in all formats. The Bucs have given up 12 receiving TDs to opposing receivers, and according to Football Outsiders, 98 yards per game have gone to a team's #1 receiver. WR Miles Austin (another name with some previous fantasy glory) looked like he was on pace for a strong comeback season with 24 fantasy points over the first three weeks, but he has just nine receptions since. He and the other Cleveland WRs are longshots and shouldn't be started outside of deep leagues.
The Bucs have been burned by tight ends in the yardage category, but have only allowed two TDs to the position, with the lack of passing points in the Browns' offense and their number one tight end missing the game due to injury, I don't expect to see Jim Dray or Gary Barnidge gracing many lineups.* For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Browns have been a stingy defense against quarterbacks this season. While they're allowing the 13th-most passing yards per game, their 10 touchdowns surrendered is the fourth-best. They have been under that NFL average 16.1 fantasy points allowed per game in six of their seven contests. Put up a fantasy average defense against a fantasy average quarterback, and on paper, you have a performance that might be a bit predictable. Mike Glennon has 15 fantasy points per game in his four starts. He's thrown a pick in each of those games, but has seven TD passes. Against this stout passing defense, don't expect him to break his season-high 18 fantasy points, but he should stay near that number, as he pretty much always does.
Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy will likely be lined up against a rookie quite a bit on Sunday, but Cleveland's Joel Bitonio happens to be one of the NFL's top-performing guards this season
The biggest Buccaneers fantasy news this week comes at running back where starting RB Doug Martin is listed as doubtful for tomorrow's game. Should he miss the game Bobby Rainey should see most of the work against a Browns defense ranked 25th vs RBs. Cleveland has allowed 119+ rushing yards in five of their games this year and at least 20 RB fantasy points in four of them. The Bucs in general have had issues on the ground, but Rainey does have the Bucs only 100-yard game, putting up 144 on 22 carries in his start against the Rams. He has sleeper potential this week and is a strong Flex option, especially on a week seeing six teams on bye. If Doug Martin can't go, Rainey should be plugged in your lineup.
Like the Bucs, Cleveland is at the bottom of the pack when it comes to yardage allowed to opposing #1 receivers, 81.8 yards per game. This could spell an end to Jackson's two-game fantasy drought. Jackson has just one game with more than four receptions and two games with more than 60 yards. According to the matchup, he should top those numbers in this game.
Mike Evans could be a solid bye-week contributor. He has at least four receptions in each game played. Last week was his best yardage output with 78. He also has two touchdowns on the season. The matchup looks good, but Evans's fantasy output is TD-dependent, meaning he's unlikely to post more than six points unless he crosses the goal line.