Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Fantasy Football Weekly: Bucs-Cardinals

Once again, the Buccaneers head into a potentially high-scoring clash that could be a boon to fantasy owners, and we have questions regarding Mike Evans, Cam Brate and the Tampa Bay defense

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' last game, a Thursday night affair at Raymond James Stadium against New England, probably disappointed some fantasy team owners who were hoping for a quick start to their weekend. Two high-powered offenses with about 10 individual players widely owned in fantasy leagues were set to face off in what many people believed would be a high-scoring shootout.

Instead, the Bucs and Patriots combined for just 33 points and only three players scored touchdowns. Both quarterbacks broke 300 yards but each had just a single touchdown. It was a good night for fantasy owners of Cam Brate, DeSean Jackson, Doug Martin, Chris Hogan and Stephen Gostkowski, but otherwise an unremarkable game in that regard.

However, one very significant development came out of that game, and that was the return of Martin, who ran 13 times for 74 yards and a touchdown, and looked very sharp doing it, in his first regular-season game since last December. Perhaps most importantly to fantasy owners, Martin took 13 of the 16 carries given to Buccaneer running backs, an early indication that he could quickly return to lead back status. Fantasy owners who drafted Martin in the middle rounds and stashed him for a month had to be pleased with his first game back.

It's almost certain that such owners are ready to put Martin right into the starting lineup in Week Six, at the very least in the flex spot. That would be my advice, at least, and you get that one for free. I'm going to take that as a given and focus on other fantasy football-related topics from the upcoming Bucs-Cardinals clash in Arizona this Sunday, as this one also features quite a few fantasy impact players. In addition to Martin's return, we have this week's Three Burning Questions, which you'll find below.



Accountability Section:** This season, each Fantasy Football Weekly article is going to include a review of the previous week's advice to see if it was actually helpful. I was at the top of the class after two weeks (we started in Week Two, since the Bucs didn't play in Week One), then stumbled a bit in Week Four. This past week, I might be able to eke out a decent grade if the teacher is using a curve.

Advice #1: Doug Martin returned to the field but I advised caution about starting either him or Jacquizz Rodgers in this first game against New England. Rather, I suggested waiting at least one game, if you had viable alternatives, to see how the handoff distribution fell out between them. If you had both and were definitely starting one, I advised you to choose Martin.Review: B. If you could have started Martin and didn't, you might not be pleased with me, especially in a relatively underwhelming week for RBs across the league. Martin had 82 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown and got almost all the carries. However, it did make sense not to start Rodgers, and I did give you the right choice out of the two.

Advice #2: Considering that DeSean Jackson's value in fantasy football is usually tied to big-play touchdowns, he can be a boom-or-bust start. I suggested that you should start him this week, on the hunch that Jameis Winston would find a way to get him the ball deep to ease the receiver's (wholly rational) frustrations from the previous game.Review: B. Jackson had five catches and a 106 yards, so that's a good fantasy play. If you started, perhaps in the Flex spot, you're probably okay with that production. However, he did not get a touchdown, as I predicted, so it wasn't quite as big of a "boom" week as hoped.


A look back at all of the match-ups between the Buccaneers and the Cardinals.

Advice #3:With a lot of injured players around the league and some teams going on bye weeks, fantasy teams can have need of a spot start. I suggested that Adam Humphries would be a good play for a sneaky touchdown against the Patriots.Review:** D. Humphries finished with three catches for 51 yards and did not score. Martin, Jackson and Cam Brate ate up all the fantasy points in the Bucs' offense.

Not great, not bad. Given my hot start to the season, hopefully that wasn't enough to lose your confidence. So let's try again. Here's another round of advice as it pertains to the Bucs' matchup with the Cardinals this weekend.


Three Burning Questions: Cardinals at Buccaneers1. Has Cameron Brate become an automatic start at tight end?

It's getting hard to deny him, isn't it? Last year, Brate finished as the sixth-highest scoring tight end in fantasy football, according to ESPN, thanks largely to the eight touchdowns that tied for first at his position. So far this year, he's proving it to be no fluke, as he currently ranks seventh among all tight ends in fantasy scoring and has recorded a touchdown in three straight games.

So did I just throw myself a softball question where the entire one-word answer should be "yes?" In a single word, "no."

Hear me out. In those same ESPN fantasy leagues, Brate had an average draft position (ADP) of 136.1, 20th among tight ends. That means he was usually going somewhere around the 12th round in a 12-team league and was probably the second tight end taken by most fantasy drafters. In other words, there was still skepticism about Brate in the fantasy world in August, probably mostly due to the drafting of O.J. Howard in the first round. It was reasonable (and still is to a minor extent) to wonder how much Howard's presence would take away from Brate's fantasy value.

So, chances are, if you have Brate on your team you also have another tight end that you took higher than him. If you took Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce first, then Brate, you're probably sticking with Brate. If you took Jack Doyle or Eric Ebron first, then Brate, you've probably made the switch to Brate and maybe even cut bait on the other one to add an extra running back or something. If you took Martellus Bennett, then Brate, you're shaking your fist northward at Wisconsin and wondering when this guy is going to get his first touchdown…but you're still struggling from week to week whether to start Bennett or Brate.

Those are the owners I'm talking too, and I'm betting more than a few. One of my own teams is in that exact same position. I've been starting Brate in the last few weeks and I'm happy about it, but I'm still studying the matchups from week to week. If you have some combination of Brate and Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, Evan Engram, Jimmy Graham, Jared Cook or (grrrrr!) Bennett, it's worth looking things over before automatically putting Brate in your lineup.

I'll say this: You can't be second-guessed for starting Brate in any given week at this point. And if you just choose to stick him in the lineup every week and take your chances (knowing he doesn't have a bye week to worry about), that's a perfectly good strategy. However, let's take a quick look at this week's matchup, just in case you have another viable alternative.

Unlike recent Buccaneer opponents, the Cardinals' defense has not been kind to tight ends this year, probably because of those versatile defenders like Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon who make it harder for the offense to create mismatches. Arizona's defense is loaded with good safeties, as well as safeties who sometimes play like corners (Mathieu) and safeties who are now linebackers (Bucannon).

In Arizona's first five games, the opponent's primary tight end has averaged about 38 receiving yards per game. The Cardinals didn't give up a single touchdown to a tight end until last week, when Philly's Zach Ertz – this year's highest-scoring tight end so far – found the end zone. Overall, Arizona has given up the 15th-fewest points to tight ends this season.

Also, keep this in mind: Doug Martin is back and he looked great against the Patriots. Arizona has been pretty good against the run, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Buccaneers try very hard to establish the running game this week. That could be good news for Brate, if it works and the play-action has more bite. Or it could be bad news if the Buccaneers throw for a lot less than their current gross average of 299.5 yards per game.

To summarize: Start Brate with confidence for the foreseeable future, but if you have two viable tight ends, at least check the matchups from week-to-week. This could be one week in which to be cautious with the Bucs' rising star.

2. Should I be concerned about playing Mike Evans because he'll be matched up against Patrick Peterson this Sunday?

Again, if you're trying to decide whether or not to put Mike Evans in your lineup, then you have an enviable situation at wide receiver. Last year's #2 wide receiver in fantasy scoring, Evans is only 20th at the moment, but he's played one fewer game than most of the wideouts above him, and it will only take one or two vintage Evans games to get him back into the top 10. If you have Evans, he's probably your first-round pick, and that's not a guy you're going to bench very often on a non-bye week.

A look at the Cardinals' projected starters, according to the team's website.

But our topics here in this Bucs-centric weekly fantasy rundown are necessarily limited to two teams, so sometimes we have to work around the edges a little bit. Similar to what we were noting with the Cam Brate discussion above, no one will question the strategy of starting Evans every single week, and for many Evans fantasy owners, he's probably the top WR option.

So the narrow question here is, if you have Evans but also enough flexibility to consider not starting him, should Patrick Peterson scare you off this week? Peterson is a perennial Pro Bowler who the Cardinals use exactly like a shutdown corner, matching him up with the opposition's #1 receiver week after week. Given that Jameis Winston has a lot of other options on any given snap, could this be a week where Evans is more of a decoy and the bulk of the targets go to DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Cam Brate and the running backs?

Well, first let's see how #1 receivers have fared against the Cardinals this year. We'll get to the fantasy numbers in a second, but first let's check in on one of my favorite charts on the web, the "2017 vs. Types of Receivers" chart on Football Outsiders (follow the link and scroll down the page to the second chart). Football Outsiders ranks players and teams based on a proprietary evaluation method of their efficiency called DVOA. It's rather involved and you can read up on it on their site, but for these purposes know that lower numbers are better for the defense.

The chart in question breaks up a defense's efficiency in the passing game into how it has fared against five types of pass-catchers: #1 WR, #2 WR, Other WRs, TEs and RBs. Believe it or not, Arizona ranks worst against #1 WRs than any of the other four categories. The Cardinals are 23rd against #1 WRs, 17th against #2 WRs, 22nd against Other WRs, 15 against tight ends and 17th against running backs. That should give you some confidence in leaving Evans in your lineup.

If you want a more direct fantasy stat, well, Arizona has given up the sixth-most points to wide receivers among all defenses this year. Detroit's Golden Tate got 107 yards on 10 catches against the Cardinals. Dallas' Dez Bryant didn't rack up a lot of catches against Peterson and the Cards but he did score a touchdown.

So what I'm saying is, if you're one of those lucky folks who can even consider benching Mike Evans for a week, don't do it this week because you're worried about Patrick Peterson. Peterson is a great, great, great player…but so is Evans.

3. In Week Two, you recommended a streaming play of the Buccaneers' defense against Chicago, which worked out for the reasons you suggested. We haven't heard a peep about the Bucs' D from  you since. Are they going to be an option again, and could it be this week?

Well, some of those has been lucky. I did correctly predict a good fantasy output for the Buccaneers' defense against the Bears (I predicted good but it was actually great), but I can't take credit for my silence on that crew ever since. It just didn't happen to be one of my Three Burning Questions in any subsequent week. As it turned out, the linebackers and safeties were hit by a bunch of injuries, the defensive line had several ineffective weeks rushing the passer and the takeaways did not come in bunches. Tampa Bay's defense has looked pretty good the past two weeks from a real-world perspective, but it hasn't produced a lot of fantasy points. Week Three in Minnesota was a disaster.

Given that, the Bucs' defense is probably on your league's waiver wire again. Will it be relevant again this year in fantasy? And if you're looking for a streaming option this week, should you consider them?

To those two questions the first one gets a strong yes and the second one gets a cautious yes.

Think about last season, with the Buccaneers struggling through a rash of injuries and some communication problems in the first half of the season, then pulling it all together in the second half to be a great defense – and a great fantasy defense with all those turnovers and a couple pick-sixes. This year, that group has already dealt with a rash of injuries and is close to getting some key players back, including linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. I think you're going to see another surge from this defense in the second half of the season, and hopefully a little sooner.

This week? It's not your worst option if you're scouring the waiver wire. The Cardinals have given up a ton of sacks, and Carson Palmer has been picked off five times already. Arizona hasn't been able to run the ball at all, which allows teams to really come after the quarterback, and the Cardinals' offensive line is struggling with injuries and a couple ineffective blockers. Yes, Arizona just added Adrian Peterson, which does throw a little mystery into things, but Peterson's numbers during his brief stint in New Orleans were not good. We'll see.

If David and/or Alexander returns this week, my confidence soars. Unfortunately, we may not know if that's going to happen until Sunday, so that's only of marginal help right now. In Yahoo! fantasy, the Buccaneers are owned in 15% of all leagues. Other options between that and 40% owned include Tennessee (against Indy), N.Y. Giants (at Denver), Buffalo (on a bye), Detroit (at New Orleans) and Oakland (vs. L.A. Chargers). From that group, I'd probably try my luck with Indy first, but after that I'd take the Buccaneers.

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