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Fantasy Football: Stock watch

Fantasy Football: Stock watch

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Jake Locker, QB, Titans: He's been installed as the Tennessee starter, and he'll do two specific things that are appealing to fantasy owners: chuck the ball medium and deep, and run when the pocket breaks down. Locker's Tennessee weapons are better than you might think; all signs point to a bounce-back season from tailback Chris Johnson (a handy receiver), and the receiving corps is very deep even if Kenny Britt isn't a factor. (Nate Washington might be the most underrated wideout in the league; Kendall Wright is making a rookie splash; and Jared Cook is a steadily-improving tight end.) If you need to go with more than one quarterback at the draft table, Locker is a strong upside choice to consider.

Cedric Benson, RB, Packers: While there's little explosiveness or lateral agility left to Benson's game, the Packers don't need him to be an earth-mover in the backfield. All Green Bay wants is a ball-security back who can produce 3-4 yards and a cloud of dust every so often, with some goal-line plunges thrown in. Benson offers all that, and he's a solid depth play as your third or (preferably) fourth fantasy back in standard formats. The Packers basically used Aaron Rodgers as their goal-line back the last couple of years, but they'd prefer to shift that work (and those body shots) to someone else.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Jaguars: He didn't endear himself to the Jacksonville organization with the post-draft DUI charge, but Blackmon's game has been impressive in training camp. The first-round pick has eight grabs for 120 yards during limited exhibition play, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert looks notably improved in his second season. Once the Top 40 wideouts are gone from your draft, Blackmon looks as good as anyone. There's certainly an upside here.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Raiders: He's had a full training camp to get acclimated with quarterback Carson Palmer, and DHB's role could be expanding given that Denarius Moore (hamstring) and Jacoby Ford (foot) are battling injuries. Someone is likely to push 1,000 yards and 7-9 touchdowns here, and Heyward-Bey gets the best odds at the moment.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings: He's the perfect lottery-ticket back to have stashed on your bench, given all the smoke around Adrian Peterson's situation. Gerhart showed surprising chops in 132 touches last year (4.9 yards per carry, 8.3 yards per catch), and every comment on Peterson this summer is couched in the most uncertain of terms. When in doubt in the NFL, bet on the chaos - or at least be prepared for it.

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Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals: He made his preseason debut Thursday and didn't go anywhere (six carries, 12 yards), in part because Arizona's offensive line is the worst in the NFC right now. Wells is one of the most injury-plagued backs in the league, and a healthy Ryan Williams is going to push him all season. A changing of the guard is likely here, it's just a matter of when. Unless the price is peanuts on draft day, just keep Wells out of your plans.

Austin Collie, WR, Colts: He was one of our favorite sleeper targets a week or two ago, but another possible concussion has us backing off that pick. Someone is going to have a sneaky value season in the Indianapolis passing game this year, but will Collie be healthy enough to take advantage of the set-up? Go get Reggie Wayne or one of the tight ends instead.

Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets: He's now dealing with a hamstring problem along with a sore hamstring and bruised ribs. His quarterbacks aren't doing him any favors (and vice versa). If you have to take a New York wide receiver, spend a late pick on intriguing rookie Stephen Hill. There's too much downside with Holmes, given his price tag.

Matt Flynn, QB, Seahawks: He's had an up-and-down camp and the club is giving hotshot rookie Russell Wilson a chance at the job (Wilson starts this weekend in the all-important third preseason game). Even if Flynn breaks camp as the No. 1, it's doubtful he'll keep the position all year. Much like Andy Reid made Kevin Kolb in Philadelphia, it appears Flynn might be a creation of the passing laboratory in Green Bay.

Holding Steady

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars: We still think he'll end his holdout before the regular-season starts - players hate to start forfeiting game checks, and all running backs know how limited their NFL window is. If you want to worry about the effect of the holdout on MJD's season, fine, but we'll be stunned if he misses actual games. He's still a good bet to be a Top 12 fantasy back when the scores are totaled at the end of the year. You might get a silly discount on Jones-Drew this weekend.

Hall, Guy lead No. 2 Virginia past No. 18 Clemson, 61-36

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USA TODAY Sports

Hall, Guy lead No. 2 Virginia past No. 18 Clemson, 61-36

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Devon Hall scored 14 points, Kyle Guy had 12 and No. 2 Virginia broke open a close game with a 22-2 run in the second half to win their 11th straight, 61-36 over No. 18 Clemson on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (19-1, 8-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who lead the nation in scoring defense, allowed their fewest points of the season.

Clemson led 23-16 before going scoreless in the final 6 minutes of the first half and getting just six points in the first 14 minutes of the second half. Virginia's decisive burst stretched its lead from 30-27 early in the second to 52-29 with 6:48 remaining.

Gabe DeVoe scored 11 points, all in the first 12 minutes, and was the only player to score in double figures for the Tigers (16-4, 5-3). They shot 31.9 percent (15-47) and scored just 13 points in the second half.

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: The Tigers played their first game since losing No. 2 scorer and rebounder Donte Grantham to a torn ACL suffered against Notre Dame, and after getting off to a fast start against Virginia, seemed to be lacking an offensive identity. DeVoe scored 11 points in the first 12 minutes, but none thereafter and top scorer Marcquise Reed (16 points per game) managed only six in 33 minutes. He finished 3 for 10 from the field.

Virginia: The Cavaliers played without their best defender, Isaiah Wilkins, for most of the second half after he appeared to hit the floor hard while being fouled late in the first half. Wilkins didn't participate in warmups before the second half, but started and played only briefly.

UP NEXT

Clemson stays on the road and heads to Georgia Tech for a game Sunday.

Virginia faces its toughest test to date, playing at No. 4 Duke on Saturday night.

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No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

MOBILE -- Jay Gruden is making jokes about Kirk Cousins again, and that's good news for Redskins fans that worried about a fracture between coach and quarterback. 

It all started in the weeks following the Redskins dreadful Week 17 loss to the Giants as Gruden and Cousins seemed to be throwing slight jabs at one another.

Gruden, in his end of year press conference, explained that while Cousins "showed flashes" in 2017, when the team goes 7-9, the coach can't say any player was outstanding: 

You know when you’re 7-9, you know it’s hard to say, ‘Wow, this guy really was outstanding.’ You know there’s a few guys obviously that jump out, Pro Bowlers like Ryan Kerrigan had a solid year. Obviously Trent when he played was Pro Bowl type, Brandon when he was healthy was Pro Bowl type guy. Kirk had his flashes where he was really good. From a consistent standpoint, over the course of 16 games, you know we’re 7-9. He did some great things, threw for over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns I believe. So, I think he’s a very, very good quarterback without a doubt, but as far as getting us over the hump from 7-9 to winning a division with all the injuries that we had, I think he competed and did some good things.

Cousins, in his year-end radio appearance with 106.7 the Fan, explained that he wants the team to do better but doesn't think the 7-9 record should fall on his shoulders alone. (Quote via Washington Post)

What I gathered from the comment was 7-9 and the quarterback play are causally related and that quarterback play is 7-9, 7-9 is the quarterback play. I saw that and I thought, ‘I think it’s slightly more complicated than that.’ I think there’s a few more dynamics in play as to what your final record is. … At the same time, his job is to evaluate. That’s a big part of his role and his position. In that comment, he’s just doing his job, he’s evaluating the position and he has the right to say what he wants to say.

Both comments were fairly innocuous, but also clearly at odds. Combine that dialogue with the undercurrent of another offseason contract negotiation, and it seemed things between coach and quarterback weren't quite right. 

On Tuesday, speaking at the Senior Bowl, Gruden cleared the air. Asked directly about tension between he and Cousins, the coach was blunt. 

"No." 

Gruden went on to explain his answer about Cousins 2017 play, the now infamous 7-9 line.

"When I say 7-9, if I say one player played great that means I'm saying everybody else was not very good," the coach explained (full video above). "I think we all have to stick together, we all have to improve from a 7-9 season, coaches, players, everybody."

Cousins was good in 2017, throwing for more than 4,000 passing yards for the third straight season. He also showed that he can produce offensively without a great supporting cast, as injuries robbed the Redskins of many of their best passing game threats and seriously damaged the offensive line. 

The quarterback did play two terrible games in the last month of the season, however, including a three interception stinker in the Week 17 finale.

It's possible that Gruden had that fresh in his mind when he spoke in early January, and with the benefit of a little time, his assessment mellowed by late January. 

Either way, Gruden joked about Cousins deserving a vacation, and even said the QB needs a tan. Gruden often uses humor to defuse touchy situations with Redskins players, and maybe he just did it again. 

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