- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2014


My wife called me Monday night to tell me how much she loves Andrew Luck (a reminder that if you think a player is going to have a breakout year, don’t let your wife draft him first). She needed 30 points to win and he delivered 41.

With four more touchdown passes and 354 more yards in the Colts’ win over the Giants, Luck increased his NFL-leading totals to 26 and 3,085. He is the main reason my wife holds a comfortable lead in her division and is the league’s second-leading scorer. If you have Andrew Luck on your team, it’s likely you’re enjoying similar success.

Luck has been arguably the best fantasy player so far this season. But is he the most valuable?

He’s thrown for at least 300 yards and multiple touchdowns in eight of nine games this season. If he is on your team, it’s almost impossible for you to not at least be competing for a playoff spot. He’s not quite singlehandedly carrying fantasy teams like Peyton Manning did last year, but he has not been far off from that type of transcendent performance.

Of all the MVP candidates, Luck is the one who should be the most dependable in the season’s second half. He’s unlikely to slow down because the Colts have essentially given up on running the ball — Luck threw 46 times Monday night despite the Colts leading the entire game in a 16-point victory that wasn’t that close. Luck is as close to a sure thing as you can find in fantasy football these days. Against good teams, he throws the entire game. Against bad teams, he throws the entire game.

Congratulations to all the fantasy owners smart enough to draft him.

The most surprising candidate has been the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray. The running back showed flashes the past few seasons, but he had missed time every year with injuries, which has been a trend since his college days at Oklahoma. So far, though, Murray has stayed healthy and has done so spectacularly. He carried Dallas back to relevance in the first half by rushing for at least 100 yards in the first eight games of the season. The previous record was six. Even with his streak ending last week in a loss to the Cardinals, Murray is still lapping the field in rushing yards (his 1,133 are 311 more than anyone else) and total yards (his 1,383 are 228 more than anyone else).

Despite his perceived dominance, though, Murray’s lead in standard fantasy scoring is only eight points (162-154 over the Texans’ Arian Foster). By comparison, the Steelers’ Antonio Brown has scored 26 more points than any other receiver (150-124 over the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas).

Given Murray’s injury history and his importance to Dallas’ title hopes, he simply has to slow down in the second half. The Cowboys need to protect him. He’s averaging exactly 25 carries per game. That’s a 400-carry pace, which would be the sixth-highest in the history of the NFL. The Cowboys can’t take the chance Murray can survive that workload. Odds are his fantasy value will take a hit moving forward.

The next few paragraphs are going to pain me, as I talk about Tom Brady throwing himself into this MVP discussion.

After starting the season with three straight subpar games (one TD in each), I wrote a now-regrettable column about how Brady’s fantasy value was “receding faster than his hairline.” (Still a great line, though, right?) Worse, however, was my rash decision to trade him. I sent Brady (along with Eddie Lacy) to my brother for Drew Brees and Bishop Sankey. Since that deal, I’ve gone 1-5, my brother 4-1-1. He went from winless to a playoff contender solely because of Brady. That’s some serious value.

In the past five games — all Patriots victories — Brady has thrown 18 touchdowns. He’s now the fourth-leading scorer in the league (one point ahead of Aaron Rodgers), becoming even more valuable than I thought when I drafted him. He even seems to be sporting a fuller head of hair.

There are plenty of theories as to why Brady and the Patriots turned their season around after an embarrassing Week 4 loss to the Chiefs. Better protection. Belichick sorcery. Life-affirming bike ride with Gisele. My theory leads to our final candidate.

Brady is a first-ballot Hall of Fame lock, but my guess is even he would tell you that he’s on another level when throwing to a healthy Rob Gronkowski.

While the tight end — who has missed plenty of time the past two seasons with numerous injuries — has been on the field since Day 1 this year, it took him a month to round into shape. It’s no coincidence that Brady’s five-week stretch of elite play corresponds to Gronk finally playing like his old, dominant self.

After not reaching 50 yards in any of the first four games, Gronkowski has put up at least 94 in four of the past five. In the past two weeks, he has caught four of Brady’s eight touchdowns while gaining 254 yards. He leads all tight ends in receptions (49) and yards (663). His 8 touchdowns are two behind the Broncos’ Julius Thomas, but Thomas has just 330 yards receiving. With Jimmy Graham putting up mediocre numbers so far (46-518-5), Gronkowski is once again the most valuable player at his position.

If he stays healthy — a big if — he should threaten his own single-season record of 17 touchdown receptions and drag plenty of fantasy teams to the playoffs along the way.

Week 9 Lineup Crime: Not that it ultimately mattered because Philip Rivers picked the worst week to play like Rivers Cuomo, but I left Mike Evans and his career game on my bench.

Week 10 Lineup Time: Mohammed Sanu has been a revelation for the Bengals this year, and I expect him to have a big game against the Browns on Thursday night. Terrance West is the flavor of the week in the Cleveland backfield, but I wouldn’t trust him, Ben Tate or Isaiah Crowell. The aforementioned Evans should continue his solid rookie campaign against a Falcons defense that keeps finding new ways to look bad. Terrance Williams is a good flex play if Tony Romo starts, but a must-sit if it’s Brandon Weeden. If you have to play Jay Cutler this week, cross your fingers. He’s put up decent numbers the past two times out against Green Bay, but the Packers defense usually has his number.

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