While drafting smartly and managing the waiver wire are keys to fantasy success, few teams lift up a trophy at season's end without swinging some trades along the way. All season long I'll try to help you figure out when the time is right to trade for and trade away certain players in this weekly series, dubbed "Trade Calls." After three weeks of NFL action, some trends are starting to form, while owners' opinions about players are firming up into concrete truths. These are the situations that create profitable trading opportunities, and savvy fantasy owners should try to exploit them.
Let's take a look at some options to trade for and trade away as Week 4 approaches.
Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas Cowboys: I watched with awe on Sunday as the Atlanta Falcons abysmal tackling allowed Joseph Randle to rumble for 85 yards and a touchdown on his first three carries. Yet, after that, Randle mustered just TWO YARDS on 11 carries. Here's the full breakdown, courtesy of Matt Harmon:
Casual observers might be quick to annoint this as the breakout game for Randle, but you should pump the breaks on that hype train. And while you may have heard that the Cowboys "went away from the run" in the second half, they gave the ball to Randle on four of their first eight second half snaps. He netted -5 yards on those four carries. Randle is likely the most talented rusher in this backfield, but the Cowboys seem intent on utilizing a true committee. The snaps among their backs broke down like this on Sunday: Randle - 22, Dunbar - 20, McFadden - 12. That's not a situation where there's a true featured back. But, you can use Randle's three-touchdown outburst to get a frustrated fantasy owner of say, C.J. Anderson or Jeremy Hill, to pay you a premium for the allure of Randle as an RB1. If you can get one of those struggling rushers and another piece in exchange for Randle, do it. The Cowboys will be without the services of Dez Bryant and Tony Romo for awhile still, which will put a cap on Randle's ceiling. You won't get a better chance than this to move him for extreme value.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: This situation is a little more cut and dry than the Randle one. Through 10 quarters of the 2015 season, here was Jeremy Maclin's stat line: nine catches, 107 yards. It took garbage time in a blowout loss for Maclin to finally find space and get targeted where it counted, leading to his 141-yard, one-touchdown (Hooray! The curse is broken!) outburst on Monday. Can he have more games like this? Sure. But the Chiefs offense has all kinds of problems, and one of the biggest is that they simply aren't targeting their best players enough (Travis Kelce and Maclin). To make matters worse, when they get in disadvantageous down and distance situations, Alex Smith is the worst quarterback in the league at pushing the ball downfield. Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders created a metric aptly named "ALEX" (Air Less EXpected) that relates where a quarterback throws the ball on third down to how far away from the first down marker the pass is. As you can see in this image, Smith on average throws the ball more than 10 yards behind the first down marker! Now, how is a downfield pass-catcher like Maclin supposed to make hay in an offense that refuses to push the ball downfield? The answer: he isn't. This is why you should use Maclin's breakout game on national television to flip him for a different position of need. Target an owner with WR issues, perhaps one who drafted Dez Bryant, Andre Johnson, or Alshon Jeffery, and try to get some upside pieces in return for Maclin.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons: If you flip on the game tape from the running back showdown between Freeman and Randle last week, it's very clear that Freeman was the better, more complete back. He finished runs, racked up yards after contact, and did damage out of the backfield as a pass-catcher as well. And honestly, I think Freeman has another solid matchup this weekend against the Texans, where he should see plenty of volume, so you don't have to jump ship just yet. However, once Tevin Coleman returns from his rib injury (in a few weeks, if not sooner), this backfield should skew back to a true committee. Freeman looked great, but his touchdowns came from 2, 3, and 7-yards out, and those type of scores will be tough to rely on moving forward, as plenty could go to Julio Jones or Coleman. But, if there were ever a time to parlay a massive game like Freeman's into trade bait, it's now. This is very likely the highest-scoring game Freeman will have this year (if not in his career). Use this heat/momentum to try and trade Freeman for a couple pieces to bolster your roster at positions of need while he's one of the hottest names in fantasy football.
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I argued for you to trade for Evans last week, and I'm going to double down this week again. Evans finally returned to a full workload, and racked up 101 receiving yards on seven catches in a loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday. Solid, and a good sign of things to come. What's an even better sign for his future success are the 17 targets he saw on Sunday. There's a chance the owner of Evans in your league isn't enamored with his performance thus far (and didn't notice that obscene target volume), paving the way for you to get the talented young pass-catcher at a bargain. It might be hard to pry him from your opponent's team, but if you can you'll end up with a potential top-10 wideout when it's all said and done.
Jeremy Hill & C.J. Anderson, RBs: Call these the betting on talent/opportunity trade targets. I still think Hill is a game-changing back, but right now, as I said on the latest podcast episode, his confidence is shot. I think he took the benching and fumbles too hard, and isn't running with the same tenacity and swagger we saw last year. The guy who I described this offseason as "a threat to take it to the house any time he touches the football" if given enough space, isn't getting the space or running with that same vigor that had me in awe a few months ago. Now, this is all conjecture based on my film study, but I believe in Hill, and the Bengals offense, which is why I'm advocating trading for him. His owner has undoubtedly become frustrated with Hill's lack of production, which makes now the time to strike. All it should take for Hill is one more good game, or to string together a couple of long runs before he re-emerges as the fantasy stud we all expected him to be. Same goes for C.J. Anderson, who ran really well to close out the 2014 season. I think the problems limiting Anderson's production have been numerous, ranging from a patchwork offensive line (the Broncos lost Ryan Clady in May to a torn ACL), to an ill-suited offense (Manning running Kubiak's scheme) to injuries (Anderson suffered toe/ankle ailments in Week 1). As the team transitions back to Peyton Manning's style of shotgun/spread football, Anderson should benefit greatly. Don't forget, that's the type of offense he thrived in last season. You can likely trade peanuts for Anderson and Hill right now, and potentially get a top 10 back in return. As we can see from my tweet below, three weeks does not a season make.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts: Luck is currently the QB21 this season, and has more turnovers (eight) than his whole offense has touchdowns (seven). As the great Marcas Grant says, that's #ungood. His owner could be frustrated after investing a likely first or second round pick in the Stanford product. If you're able to flip a more stable (but unspectacular) quarterback and an ancillary piece of your roster (i.e. a Percy Harvin-type utility player) for Luck, do so in a heartbeat. He still has several games coming up against porous pass defenses, and if we're to believe what we saw in the fourth quarter on Sunday, this offense could be starting to turn the corner. This could very well be the only window you'll have to acquire Luck that wasn't during your actual draft. Go after him if you can and hope to reap a potentially massive reward.