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Healthy Decker reaching new heights with Manning

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Healthy Decker reaching new heights with Manning

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Eric Decker spent his first year in the NFL recovering from a foot injury that ended his college career and his second season catching an average of two passes a game from Tim Tebow.

Now, he's Peyton Manning's top target, and a busy one at that.

The Denver Broncos' third-year pro leads the team with 46 receptions and seven touchdown catches, all of which have come over the last five games as the Broncos have begun revving up under their resurgent quarterback.

That's roughly the same production Decker had all of last season, when he led the team with 44 catches but scored half of his eight touchdowns before Kyle Orton lost his starting job by Week 6.

With 583 yards so far, Decker is the biggest beneficiary of Manning's arrival in Denver. He's on pace for his first 1,000-yard season, a stark contrast to last year, when he caught just 14 passes once the Broncos dusted off the old read-option offense to fit Tebow's unusual skill set.

Manning and Decker wasted no time hooking up at local high school football fields to begin working on their timing this spring, and they've spent countless extra hours after practice honing that synergy.

``I think in any relationship, whether it's a significant other or a teammate, the more time you get the better it always develops,'' Decker said. ``And I think the more we get on the same page, the more we understand nonverbal cues, certain routes and how to read defenses. All of those things, you can use to your advantage offensively. We're definitely clicking more as a unit offensively.''

It's not quite the chemistry Manning built up with Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison in Indianapolis - or the comfort zone he maintains with Broncos slot receiver Brandon Stokley, a former teammate of his with the Colts, for that matter - but it's getting there.

``I see a big body, a good athlete, a good football player, a smart football player who understands what Peyton's looking for and what he's looking at,'' said Carolina coach Ron Rivera, whose Panthers (2-6) host the Broncos (5-3) Sunday.

Manning leads the league in passer rating and is smack dab in the middle of the conversation for another MVP trophy, and a big reason is Decker, his 6-foot-3, 218-pound wide receiver who was kept out of the end zone during the team's 1-2 start but who hasn't been denied a touchdown since the Houston Texans shut him out on Sept. 23.

Demaryius Thomas is also having a big year. His 45 catches for a team-leading 756 yards are already career highs and he's tied his career best with four TD receptions so far.

Decker, who's been targeted a team-high 69 times, and Thomas have combined for 1,339 yards receiving, most by any tandem in the NFL.

``Experience is your best teacher, so I think I do know more about my teammates and about what certain guys like, and how a guy's body moves and when he's going to come out of a break,'' Manning said. ``The more repetitions you get, the better. I don't know them as well as I would if I would've played with a guy for five years. It's been a crash course and everybody's been cramming.''

Thomas came into the league the same year as Decker, and both have hit their stride this season after dealing with injuries much of their first two years with the Broncos.

``Every day we push each other,'' Decker said. ``That's the best thing about our relationship, is that we really respect one another. We're good friends - we used to be roommates - but we're also competitors at the same position.''

Decker also is benefiting from his first full training camp this summer. Last year there was the lockout and his rookie year, he was still on the mend. He had missed the last half of his senior season at the University of Minnesota after tearing the ligament that holds the first two toes together in a game against Ohio State in October 2009.

Called a Lisfranc injury, it requires a long and arduous rehab with no guarantee of success.

His draft stock dropped after his injury, but the Broncos took him with the 87th overall pick and preached patience with him.

``It wasn't until my second year in Denver I started to feel good, feel like I had my strength, that I wasn't thinking about it and it wasn't hurting after practice,'' Decker said.

Decker, who only caught a half dozen passes his rookie year, when he was primarily a kick returner, received a call from Stokley right after he got hurt. Stokley had suffered the same ligament injury in 2002 and he shared his advice about rehab and adjusting to the NFL. The two became fast friends, then teamed up together in Denver in 2009 and again this season.

``Man, I've had a ton of injuries, Achilles, knee, you name it, and that was by far the worst one,'' Stokley said. ``It made me want to know if I really wanted to keep playing football. It was a beast. They did the surgery, you're on crutches, in a boot and then once you heal up, they have to operate again to take out the screws, and you're back on crutches, in a boot.

``Then, it just hurts every day. Every morning, it's killing you. The pain is so incredible,'' Stokley said. ``But one day, I finally turned the corner.''

Just like Decker.

He said that's the one thing that really resonated with him during his comeback: Stokley's admonition to stay on top of his rehab and his rest and to keep a positive attitude ``because he said one day it's going to feel good.''

``And it's funny, because that one day came and the pain just went away.''

Notes: CB Tracy Porter (seizure symptoms) will miss his fourth straight game, coach John Fox said Friday. ... S Jim Leonhard, the Broncos' new player rep, said the NFL Players Association sent an email to all of the league's players this week reminding them that even though voters in Washington state and Colorado approved recreational use of marijuana on Tuesday that it's still prohibited by the league. ``It was obviously directed at the Seahawks and Broncos, but it went out to everyone,'' Leonhard said. ``They just wanted to remind everyone that our drug policy's still our drug policy. Nothing's changed.''

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George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

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George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights pushed their remarkable expansion season into the Stanley Cup Final, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights. They lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues -- when the six initial expansion teams were put alone in the West -- to get to the final.

Vegas will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Washington.

Josh Morrissey scored for the Jets, and Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves.

Reaves, the bruising Winnipeg native acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins before to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa's point shot past Hellebuyck for his first goal of the playoffs.

Winnipeg got a power play early in the third, but couldn't muster much of anything. The Knights smothered much of the Jets' attack for the next 10 minutes, with Hellebuyck having to come up with big stops on William Karlsson and Eric Haula to keep his team within one.

The Jets pressed with under 4 minutes to go, with Fleury stopping captain Blake Wheeler on the doorstep, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Knights closed out their third straight series on the road.

The Jets beat the Knights 4-2 in Game 1, but Vegas snatched home ice with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 before picking up 4-2 and 3-2 wins at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, and knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games.

The Jets had the NHL's second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city's history with a five-game victory over the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.

The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place -- not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon -- were silenced just 5:11 into Game 5 when Tuch jumped on Morrissey's turnover and fired his sixth past Hellebuyck.

The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.

After being outshot 7-1 in the first 7 minutes, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.

Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenseman, who blasted his first career playoff goal past Fleury's glove.

One of Winnipeg's downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets' goal in each of the first four games -- a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 -- but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.

Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1, with Jets center Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much speed.

Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career -- and first since 2015 with St. Louis -- Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

 

It's a fun time of the year in fantasy baseball. Now that we're seven-to-eight weeks into the season, teams are starting to realize they may need the help of their top prospects in order to compete this year, which means lots of young talent getting the call. Plus, many players who began the season injured are getting healthy. Between the prospects and players returning from the Disabled List, fantasy owners should have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to setting their lineups this week.

As always, we're here to help you sort through those painful roster decisions, and we're going to keep it simple to avoid paralysis by analysis. As a reminder, It's your team, and your decisions you ultimately have to deal with, so don't treat this advice as the gospel. That said, it doesn't hurt to gain as much information as you can when making your decisions. Good luck!

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 8 (5/21-5/27)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Gio Gonzalez

This is the second week in a row where every Nationals pitcher is only scheduled to pitch once. Last week, we recommended Max Scherzer because duh, and while we still think you should start him, it's also worth using Gonzalez. Gio has had a lot of success this season, sporting a 2.36 ERA in the middle of May, plus the Padres are notoriously poor against lefties (8th-worst batting average and OPS vs LHP in the majors).

Gonzalez isn't a must-start stud, mostly due to his high walk rate and resulting WHIP, but he's good enough to take advantage of the right matchups, and this qualifies.

One Nationals position player to start: Anthony Rendon, 3B

Just in case you're thinking about getting cute and sitting one of your studs, let this be a reminder that Rendon is great at what he does. In the past, we've recommended sitting him when working his way back from injury, but he's gotten enough reps at this point to get back into the swing of things.

It looks like he's struggled recently (one hit in the last seven days), but don't forget the Nats missed five straight days thanks to weather/planned off days. Plus, the Nats are set up to faces lefties in half their games this week, and Rendon has hit better against southpaws all season long.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Tanner Roark

The Marlins have scored literally the fewest runs in baseball against right-handed pitching this season, and Roark hasn't been bad in 2018, despite the poor W-L record. Still, you're not sitting Scherzer or Strasburg, and we already recommended Gonzalez.

Roark has struggled against the Marlins in past years, as his 5.14 ERA vs the Marlins since 2015 is his 5th-worst number against any opponent, and while this year's Miami lineup looks far worse than in past seasons, and since Roark isn't the type of pitcher who gets enough strikeouts to raise his on a start-by-start basis, it's good enough of a reason for us to sit him this week. 

One Nationals player to sit: Juan Soto, OF

It's always fun when one of a team's top prospects gets called up, and that excitement doubles when the player is a teenager. It's always easy to see the high upside and imagine him taking the league by storm right from the get-go. That said, while it's worth a speculative pickup, we'd strongly recommend leaving Soto on the bench until we see A) how he hits against Major League pitching and B) what sort of playing time he'll get.


That's especially true this week, as his new manager Dave Martinez is already talking about sitting Soto against lefties, and wouldn't you know it, the Nats are scheduled to face southpaws in at least three games this week. It's possible Soto will be worth starting in the near-future, but for now, just be happy to add him to your rosters, not your starting lineups.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

No. Not all starters have been scheduled yet, but the five-straight days off the Nats had last week threw a wrench into the works for their rotation, and as of now, no one is projected to make two starts.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

It's a really weak week for two-start streaming options. Beyond the seven or so obvious starts, who are almost certainly owned in your leagues already, there's not a lot to choose from. We'll go with the calculated risk Jake Faria of the Rays. Faria gets two starts at Tropicana Field this week, and he's been much better pitching at home during the course of his career. He'll be facing two scary opponents on paper, but the Orioles have struggled at the plate all season long (with the exception of a recent hot streak, hence the risk), and Faria has already pitched well against the Red Sox this year, allowing just one run over the course of two starts.

This isn't our most confident recommendation, but there are far worse options you could turn to in a brutal week.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: Andrew Heaney, SP (Angels) 

Heaney continued his recent stretch of strong play, as while he allowed four runs and walked on Saturday, none of the runs were earned, and he struck out seven. Heaney is a former top prospect, having once been considered the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, and he has a superb 10.5 K/9 this season, to go along with a quality 57 percent groundball rate. That means he's not allowing a lot of contact, and the contact he is allowing isn't doing much damage.

Given his prospect pedigree and strong peripherals to start the year, Heaney is well worth an add if you find him available on the waiver wire. He's not just a speculative pickup, but somebody worth inserting into your starting lineup right away. Hopefully, because he plays on the west coast and isn't a household name, he's still available in some of your leagues.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Robinson Cano, 2B (Mariners) 

If somehow Cano is eligible in a DL spot in your league, and you don't have the spot filled with another star, then you can disregard this one. But, if he's listed in your league as suspended and not injured, then he likely won't be worth holding onto during his time away. 80 games is a lot, obviously, and a guy who's going to miss half the games in a season needs to be sensational in the other half to make up for it. Cano's past his prime, and while when healthy he's obviously still worth starting, he's not the type of guy you tie up a bench spot with, unless you're in the deepest of leagues.

Plus, if you're savvy, you can always remember to pick up Cano again a week or two before his suspension is up, since no one else in your league is likely to snag him in the meantime. For now, though, feel free to use the roster spot on somebody who will contribute over the next three months.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Too Soon For Soto?: Nats make a bold call-up
- Rankings Update: Where did the Nats fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?