Pat Fitzmaurice is addicted to competitive cooking shows ("Top Chef," "Chopped," Hell's Kitchen," etc.), and he also loves to eat. Since he isn't much of a cook, he's channeling his chef obsession into Fitz's Four-Course Fantasy Feast, a regular column featuring an appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert. Bon appétit.)
The trade that sent Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo to Seattle turned out to be an appetizer in the truest sense, with the real earth-moving deal happening shortly thereafter. (More on the Randy Moss trade later.) In honor of Lynch's move to the Pacific Northwest, we begin our meal with this Norwegian appetizer made with raw salmon.
The Lynch trade pushes Justin Forsett out of the Seahawks' starting lineup, and oddly enough, Forsett was also Lynch's college backup at Cal. But I'm not ready to believe that this deal gives some sort of meteoric lift to Lynch's fantasy stock or completely trashes Forsett's value.
Lynch was a 1,000-yard runner in each of his first two seasons with the Bills before falling out of favor last season. The early success with the Bills wasn't a mirage, but the Bills' offensive line at the time was better than it is now. Lynch won't be running behind a particularly good offensive line in Seattle. The Seahawks are averaging 79.5 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. Lynch is a power back who won't put up big numbers unless his linemen are knocking people off the ball. Don't count on the Seattle O-line being able to do that.
Maybe Forsett isn't cut out to be a front-line running back, but he's still a useful player. He's averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry this season after averaging 5.4 per carry last season, and he's a capable pass catcher out of the backfield. The acquisition of Lynch isn't necessarily an indictment of Forsett. More likely, the Seahawks realized that Leon Washington is strictly a kick returner, and that Julius Jones (released after the Lynch trade) is useless.
I don't think Lynch will be a full-service running back for Seattle. Yes, he'll get a steady diet of carries, but look for the Seahawks to balance Lynch's power with Forsett's speed. For fantasy purposes, I see Lynch as a matchup play rather than an every-week starter. His first game for the Seahawks will be against Chicago following Seattle's Week Five bye, and that isn't a very good matchup for Lynch, since the Bears are tough against the run. Forsett clearly isn't a fantasy starter, but he still has value in deeper leagues as a guy who can get you 50-60 yards from scrimmage if you need him to make an emergency start.
In Buffalo, meanwhile, the long-awaited exile of Lynch leaves the running game to veteran Fred Jackson and rookie C.J. Spiller — another power/speed combo. Jackson has been named the starter and seems assured of a significant role in the Buffalo offense. He's an effective jack-of-all-trades who can run, catch and block. You're in trouble if you have to rely on Jackson to be an every-week starter for your fantasy team, but he's a nice guy to have around as a No. 3 or, better yet, a No. 4 running back.
Spiller is the intriguing guy here. The Lynch trade creates opportunity, and while the Bills aren't in any hurry to shove Jackson aside, Spiller could earn a bigger role if he makes the most of his touches over the next couple of weeks, beginning this weekend with a home game against Jacksonville. If the Bills show that they're going to give Spiller at least 10-12 carries week in and week out, the rookie's explosiveness could make him a credible fantasy starter or, in smaller leagues, a good flex option.
Salad: Young coconut salad
Popular in the Philippines, this salad is made by shredding young coconut (also known as "buko") and combining it with pineapple chunks, condensed milk, whipping cream and a few other ingredients that vary, depending on the chef.
The exotic taste of this dish reminds me of Florida, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going young at wide receiver. They were already starting promising rookie Mike Williams, a fourth-round pick, and now Bucs head coach Raheem Morris is saying that rookie Arrelious Benn, a second-rounder, will get more playing time, although it's not yet clear when Benn might move into the starting lineup. The young Bucs had extra time to cram during the team's Week Four bye, and it will be interesting to see how they fit into the game plan for this week's road game against the Bengals.
I've been high on Williams for a while now. He hasn't exploded yet, but he has two TDs in three games, and I think there are big things on the horizon for this guy. If by some chance he's available in your league's free-agent pool, grab him while you still can.
Benn is a tougher guy to peg. He's a big, athletic receiver with a ton of natural talent, but he's never really put it all together. He's the type of player who could come on very quickly but could also turn into a perennial tease. I don't think it's worth adding him to a fantasy roster yet, but Benn is certainly worth scouting this weekend.
Entrée: Juicy Lucy burger
There are two bars on the same street in South Minneapolis that both claim to serve a superior version of this specialty burger, which features molten-hot cheese cooked between two hamburger patties that are formed into a single hollowed-out burger. (Perhaps the biggest difference between the two variations is that one of the bars omits the "i" from the word "juicy," but never mind.) Consider the Vikings and Patriots to be individual hamburger patties. Earlier this week the two teams agreed to one of the bigger trades in recent memory, with immensely talented, immensely moody Randy Moss the man in the middle of it. Moss is a lot like that incredibly hot cheese in the middle of a Juicy Lucy burger: He's a star ingredient, but he can burn you if you aren't careful.
Moss had been a disgruntled Patriots employee because he was in the final year of his contract and hadn't been offered an extension. A disgruntled Moss is often a disruptive, unproductive Moss, and that was the case before the trade, with Moss reportedly getting into an argument with Patriots QB coach and play-caller Bill O'Brien during halftime of New England's Monday-night win over Miami (a game in which Moss had zero receptions). In four games this season, Moss has three TD catches but only nine total catches for 139 yards.
As I wrote during the preseason in explaining why I ranked Moss fifth among wide receivers and didn't think he was worthy of being a first-rounder in fantasy drafts, tethering your fantasy fortunes to Moss' motivation level is a risky maneuver. But while Moss appeared to be turning in less than an all-out effort for the Patriots, he should be one highly motivated dude now that he's back with the Vikings, eager to prove his worth.
The Vikings had an obvious need for a receiver. With a hip injury putting Sidney Rice out of commission, Brett Favre was left without a downfield threat, and Percy Harvin wasn't as effective working underneath as he had been last year. So how are the fantasy fortunes of individual Vikings affected by the addition of Moss? Well ...
The trade also has some interesting fantasy repercussions for members of the Patriots. I don't think Tom Brady's value takes a huge hit, but that assumes no one was expecting anything close to a repeat of his 4,800-yard, 50-TD season in 2007. Most fantasy owners ranked Brady below Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees heading into the season. I think I'd also rank Tony Romo and Philip Rivers ahead of Brady for the balance of the year, but I'd put Brady on the same "solid starter" level as Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger and the rapidly ascending Kyle Orton.
As for the Patriots' pass catchers ...
Wes Welker will still do the Wes Welker thing, although perhaps not quite as effectively without Moss. Rookie Brandon Tate could quickly gain value. Tate showed off his blazing speed while running back a kickoff for a TD Monday night, and now it's just a matter of showing he has the hands to match. I'm not quite ready to buy tickets for a ride on the Tate bandwagon, but I might try to jump the line once I see how Tate looks coming out of New England's Week Five bye. I'm hesitant to recommend Taylor Price, although he's an interesting dark horse to inherit some of the Moss workload. Aaron Hernandez, already an attractive rookie tight end, gains additional value. He's unquestionably an every-week fantasy starter in leagues that require you to start a tight end. And Julian Edelman might get the biggest bump of all. Who says you can't have two Wes Welkers on the field at the same time? I love this guy's playmaking ability, and I think the Patriots are going to find uses for Edelman now that Moss is out of the picture. (As of this writing, there were rumors that Deion Branch of the Seahawks might be headed back to New England, but I think Branch's career is basically over, and I wouldn't expect to see him cut into the value of the other New England receivers, with the possible exception of Price.)
Dessert: Cherry cheesecake
Ah, cheesecake. It's rich and delicious, but in the end it's probably better to take a pass.
If you're a Chris Johnson owner with the luxury of depth at running back, it wouldn't be hard to find rival owners who drool over Johnson the way dessert-o-philes drool over cheesecake. This might be a good time to put out feelers to see what you could get in return. Yes, I'm talking about trading the consensus No. 1 running back.
I'm not sure Johnson is quite himself this season. Maybe last season's heavy workload is taking a toll. Johnson has had two big games — 100-plus rushing yards and two TDs against both the Raiders in Week One and the Giants in Week Three — but he's also had a pair of clunkers, with a combined 87 yards and zero TDs against the Steelers and Broncos. After averaging 5.6 yards per carry last year, he's averaging only 3.8 yards a pop this year. And last year he had 503 receiving yards, averaging better than 10 yards per reception. So far this season, he has 38 receiving yards and an average of 3.2 yards per catch.
Vince Young still isn't much of a passer, and even if the Titans decide to bench Young, Kerry Collins isn't capable of deterring opponents from stacking the box to stop Johnson. There's also the little matter of the Titans letting Alge Crumpler get away in the offseason. The big tight end's blocking was an underrated factor in Johnson's watershed 2009 performance, but Crumpler is now crumpling defenders in the service of the New England Patriots.
Johnson is still going to have some big games, but it doesn't look like he's going to have them week after week after week, as he did last season. Is this a sell-high opportunity? It might be the ultimate sell-high opportunity. I think most fantasy owners look at C.J. and still see the record-setting running back of '09. It might be wise for Johnson's fantasy owners to act now before that perception is permanently altered.