Arizona Cardinals

In with the new, out with the old. The 2018 season marks the first year of the rebuild for the Arizona Cardinals and the fifteenth, and likely last, of Larry Fitzgerald’s career.

A quick glance at the current Arizona Cardinals depth chart summons many questions. Have a look at the post OTA/pre-camp depth chart published at www.ourlads.com.

QB: Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon

RB: David Johnson, Elijhaa Penny, Chase Edmonds, TJ Logan, DJ Foster, Sherman Badie

WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Chad Williams, Christian Kirk, Brice Butler, JJ Nelson, Greg Little, numerous other guys

TE: Ricky Seals-Jones, Jermaine Gresham

Upon reviewing this list, a few things stand out:

1- Isn’t Greg Little out of the league?

The answer is yes, or rather was yes. He was in fact gone for two years but is now back for another ‘kick at the can’, thanks to the Cards. I haven’t looked up statistics on underwhelming pros returning after a 2-year absence yet, but suspect the analytics aren’t supportive.

2 – Who the hell is Chad Williams?

I consider myself quite well-versed in draft classes, particularly draftees with fantasy implications. All the same, I can’t quite recall the 2017 3rd round draft choice. Upon further review, there seems to be just cause for my forgetfulness. Williams seems a long shot to leap to relevancy.

I consider these 2 questions, albeit based solely on a pre-season roster, to be red flags, and nefarious harbingers of things to come for Arizona.

Scrolling back up to that depth chart, only two names stand out. David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.

I suspect both to be fed hearty diets of touches and targets this coming year, and – provided they stay healthy – big fantasy totals.

Fitzgerald is writing his final chapter on his Hall of Fame career. At this point in his career, hopes of blockbuster fantasy totals, are unrealistic. He will use his skills, wisdom and experience to eke out respectable totals. This is all that can be expected. Every catch and touchdown will be greeted by hyperbolic ovation by the game crew and sports media. And damnit, we’ll eat up every drop of it because Larry was not only an amazing player to watch throughout his career, but seemingly a terrific guy. His combination of skill, sportsmanship and humility echoed the air of Barry Sanders, and he deserves all of the accolades.

Then there’s David Johnson. Johnson is the almost forgotten man if this year’s early ADP (3.8 on Draft) is considered. He’s often the 4th running back off the board, following some combination of Bell, Gurley and Elliott. On occasion Kamara, Brown or Barkley are chosen before him. For the 2018 season, I would suggest you forgo all of these names and take Johnson first overall.

Johnson just escaped a lost Cardinals season at the hands of an injury that will not slow him in the least. It is the type of injury from which a player can completely recover, with no risk to their game. On top of this, Johnson was injured very early in 2017. He dislocated his wrist on September 10th. In his absence the Cardinals struggled. Their struggles were compounded by an onslaught of injuries to key players and the season became a lost cause. So rather than have his tachometer revved for wasted yards, Johnson sat and saved himself some miles to nowhere. A healthier and remodeled roster, along with a new coaching staff, provide the team with new direction.

Mike McCoy has proven himself to be someone who can evaluate and adjust. He works with the players he has and plays to their strengths, rather than dictate a system etched on some ancient tablet. McCoy made lesser NFLers Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow relevant and, for a time, surprisingly successful. This is a coach who assesses and recognizes his team’s talents and strengths and then formulates a plan to leverage those advantages. It seems safe to reason that McCoy has looked at the depth chart above and come to the same conclusion: the offense is to run through David Johnson.

As coach of the San Diego Charger’s McCoy’s use of rookie running back Melvin Gordon could be sometimes infuriating. In that season McCoy seemed to stubbornly fixate on making Gordon a success. He was fed the ball again and again despite the fact that Danny Woodhead was having much more success moving the chains. And in hindsight, he was trying to do the right thing, namely teach his highly drafted asset the NFL game and establish an offense with some balance. He unfortunately would not be provided the time to see Gordon’s success through. While this was frustrating then, it should be an asset to Johnson owners. McCoy viewed the Chargers strength as Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon making each other space. McCoy was bullheaded in his approach. I believe he will carry similar conviction with him to Arizona in the use of Johnson.

What’s more, McCoy will have a long leash and the Cardinals will more likely than not be horrible. Game scripts should be pass heavy and that will benefit Johnson. Sam Bradford will eventually give way to Josh Rosen this season and the comfortable escape valve underneath in Johnson, will be a welcome sight to the rookie QB.

I believe for all the reasons above, David Johnson will finish as the #1 fantasy running back this season. I’ll also wager that he receives the ridiculously conceived and measure “Comeback Player of the Year Award”.

Getting deeper

For the same reasons provided above for David Johnson, I give similar, though a much-watered down version for Chase Edmonds.

Edmonds is a pass catching back without a major hurdle for the backup role. The story for him remains the same: positive fantasy game scripts, Rosen safety valve, yawning depth chart chasm. For these reasons, along with the fact that McCoy and his staff would be wise to spare Johnson unnecessary lost cause touches, Edmonds should be drafted in sleeper rounds.

Going deeper

For several years, absorbing Cardinals games from afar, be it by scoreboard or distant screen, has been annoying. Why? J. Brown gets a catch or score. Immediately as an owner of Jaron, or more likely John, one’s ears perk up. Only to dig deeper or squint and realize the Brown who just racked up those 13 yards was the other guy. No more.

Jaron and John are gone.

And after letting those two competent players depart, they signed? Greg Little, Brice Butler and a number of people you don’t know unless you went to the same high school.

Uninspiring offseason moves were bested by the drafting of Christian Kirk, Kirk is an interesting talent with pre-existing relationships with both mentor-to-be Larry Fitzgerald and QB-to-be Josh Rosen. This is a very good start and makes his long-term dynasty possibilities very intriguing. It should be considered however, that with a bumper crop of receivers expected to be available in next year’s draft, Kirk may not be the heir apparent to Larry Fitzgerald, but rather a complimentary piece. A role that will give him value on this thin depth chart this season in all formats. I’d pencil him in for 600-700 yards and 3 to 5 touchdowns.

The cardinals receiver worth taking a deep shot on is 4th year pro JJ Nelson. The diminutive Nelson has managed over 500 years the last two season despite being behind the aforementioned Browns, Fitzgerald and Johnson (just 1 year). I believe he can put up similar or better numbers to Kirk, albeit at a much more affordable ADP. Nelson can be had at zero cost.

Note that while I give credit for Kirk’s Fitzgerald exposure, JJ has been basking in that wisdom for 3 years. He now jumps two spots up the depth chart barring a signing or Kirk surge. He has been a deep threat with targets of 74 and 61 the last two years. I think he can add a minimum of 25% to that target total, with possibly more in store. I’d consider him worthy of a stash for the season ahead.

Tight End

The Ricky Seals-Jones drum beat is getting louder and louder. Seals-Jones enjoyed a late season surge, when the depth chart was completely ravaged by injury. He may still share looks with Jermaine Gresham but a breakout season to mediocrity/relevance is not impossible, given the thin depth chart and play from behind game scripts.

Summing up

The rebuild is underway and off to a promising start. The year ahead will be a difficult one but I hope the 2018 season is kind to the Cards. It is a shame the Arians/Fitzgerald era ended prematurely and without greater success. Let’s hope Bruce Arians enjoys health and happiness in his retirement, Larry Fitzgerald receives the send off he deserves and David Johnson stays healthy, to finish as the #1 running back in fantasy football.

Seattle Seahawks

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may

Old time is still a-flying

-Robert Herrick

Robin Williams, in the film Dead Poet’s Society, has the lines above read to his class of naïve teenagers. He is trying to impress on them the opportunity that lays before them. An opportunity that should be grasped full heartedly, and that it not be squandered by inaction or lack of imagination. These are lines that I would like to relay to the Seattle Seahawks. I’d like to think one sleepless night, Pete Carroll flips on his TV and stumbles across this scene, here’s those words, gets captured in the emotion and gasps at this realization: he is pissing away a would-be hall of fame quarterback’s career.

Carroll’s return to the NFL, after a dismal first effort in New England, was greeted with great skepticism. A handful of NCAA star coaches rose to the NFL ranks only to fail, in impressive and well-publicized fashion. Upon his arrival from USC, recency bias suggested Carroll would produce similarly disappointing results. But alas, he and general manager John Schneider spent their first years hitting homerun after homerun: Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor, were all selected in that first year, along with the later traded Golden Tate. The following year they grabbed Richard Sherman and in 2012 Russell Wilson. Schneider and Carroll have done an incredible job in Seattle and deserve high praise for their past efforts. It is the current direction that I am concerned about.

This offseason Carroll, Schneider and Wilson remained three of the team’s constants. What changed, was virtually everything else. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, defensive coordinator Kris Richard, and possible, or likely Hall of Famers Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Jimmy Graham. All of these are of course can be justified, given either their performances, price tags or ages. A change was coming, a new course to be set.

The Seahawks seemed to be the last real old-school team to win a Super Bowl in old school style. They stifled offenses with their defense and exhausted defenses with Lynch. All the while Russell Wilson did his best Fran Tarkenton impression, scrambling, extending plays and making the occasional jaw drop. It seemed reasonable that once the tread on the defense and Lynch wore bare, this old school methodology would be abandoned for the new ear. After all, the old school model was abandoned by many for a very good reason. League rules aimed to protect QBs and receivers. It was easier to go over the middle without losing your helmet. And quarterbacks were treated with kid gloves, relative to the bygone era. It seemed the perfect environment for Russell Wilson to thrive.

I have been a Wilson fan from his rookie season. I’ve loved him as a fan and as a dynasty player. He’s fun to watch and often great to own. As an early enthusiast and apologist and had big hopes for Wilson. My theory was that his career arc might play out similarly to another would be Hall of Famer: Tom Brady. Hear me out. In Brady’s first years in the league the Patriots had an above average defense and a running game. They played a version of the aforementioned “old school” football. In this scheme Brady initially acted as game manager who came up big in big moments. As the defense aged and the league matured to the current pass friendly era, the Patriots adjusted. Rather than lean on the defense, the Pats turned to Brady and built around him.

So, it seemed reasonable, that as the Seahawks defense aged and/or became more expensive, as it did this past offseason, they too would also decide that it would be wise to reconsider their philosophy, see the writing on the wall and paly to their strengths. And just as I was rubbing my hands together in anticipation of this new pass happy era, this happened.

Brian Schottenheimer was hired. Since his hiring the new offensive coordinator has offended many with brash and adamant declarations: this team is going to run the ball. He’s certainty is a disappointing and concerning. Schottenheimer has a spotty track record with many stops, few long tenures and little success. Ken Norton Jr, the new defensive coordinator has a briefer, but similar resume, as does Tom Cable replacement Mike Solari. None of the hires suggested new ideas or direction. Rather, it appears Carroll and Schneider are trying to recapture their past glory with the same “old school” recipe.

This was echoed loudly in the first round of the NFL draft when the Seahawks opted to take Rashad Penny. Despite having too many needs to mentioned they opted for the running back. A talented back with undeniable warts, the most notable of which is pass blocking. The pick is curious as the team already had (1) Chris Carson, returning from a recoverable injury, (2) CJ Prosise, also injured, but a recent early draft pick with limited use, (3) Mike Davis, who enjoyed considerable success last season and (4) JD McKissic, who filled in for the injured Prosise in the 3rd down role. It didn’t seem that running back should be a priority so early in the draft. In fact, it seemed that the 2017 group did extremely well considering the fact that they contended not only with the aforementioned injuries, but managed to contribute at all behind what was universally considered one of the weakest offensive lines in the game.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and the Seahawks chose “more of the same”. This was their chance to pivot, to hire a coaching staff that would optimize Wilson’s peaking talents, draft an offensive line able to keep him upright, and allow an underrated RB committee a chance to show its value. You would hope they would also draft or sign receivers or tight ends to restock those depleted units. And maybe, if they wanted to go really overboard on the foresight, hire not only a dynamic offensive coordinator, but also an heir apparent to the 66-year old Carroll.

But no, in Seattle they are going to pretend it’s 2012 all over again. This time however, they will may not hit homerun after homerun at the draft, they may not patch together a passable offensive line, or feature a Marshawn Lynch caliber running back. Seattle seems set for mediocrity, or perhaps, complete disaster. They have put off by a year, what most certainly will come to pass in the winter of 2019. This will quite likely be Carroll’s last season as head coach. This will be Schottenhiemer’s only season as offensive coordinator. And that’s a shame. An opportunity to re-energize this once dynasty-aspiring organization seems to have been missed. We can only hope that Wilson survives the coming season, that at least one of Carroll, Schneider or Paul Allen see the errors made this offseason, and redirect their assets to help Russell Wilson carpe diem.

Fantasy-wise – Garbage time    

Despite what Brian Schottenheimer adamantly wants, this is a team that will pass far more than it throws. Game scripts will not be kind. There will be 4th quarter comeback attempts. Lots of them. Who stands to benefit? A quick look at the depth chart gives a few answers, it is shockingly thin at receiver and tight end, with a glut of not-quite-proven talent at running back.

So here are the no brainers:

Buy Russell Wilson. Buy Doug Baldwin.

These are simple and straight forward. If they are able to stay healthy, they should put up huge numbers.

Wilson is no secret, obviously. But Baldwin’s ADP on Draft makes him a bargain. I’m a buyer of him in all formats, considerably above ADP.

I’d also buy the extremely cheap Tyler Lockett. The Seahawks depth chart at receiver and tight end is bleak. Lockett has been a long-time fantasy breakout darling, disappointing year after year, largely due to injury. This year with the departure of Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, he will be given his best opportunity to succeed yet. I don’t think he will disappoint.

I don’t like Rashaad Penny. And maybe I’m wrong. But with all of the other bodies available at his ADP, I’d much rather spend my draft capital elsewhere. I’ll go one step further though and say I’m not only avoiding Penny, but I’m buying both Chris Carson and CJ Prosise.

Prosise is extremely cheap, and yes, there is some talk that he’s a potential cut. Let’s choose to ignore these whispers and assume it is tough love motivation, more than a telegraphed roster move. It would be hard to imagine the team cutting him lose so early in his career, particularly since the last running back they prematurely gave up on is now the RB1 in Baltimore. Prosise, when healthy has been a capable 3 down back with explosiveness. I will happily stash him as a 3rd down back for PPR purposes, making him worthy of a deep pick in best ball leagues, as well as a good stash for dynasty teams. I’m not expecting the world, but given that his ADP is behind these guys: Adrian Peterson, Jeremy Hill, Jonathan Stewart and Doug Martin, I’m betting that he outperforms expectations by several miles.

 

 

The island of misfit toys

Note:

First of all. If you’re reading this, thank you. I really appreciate you taking the time. I love fantasy and a fantasy debate, so feel free to poke holes where you see them or see merit in my guesswork.

Have a good one.

“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it”

                                                                            -Terry Malloy (On the Waterfront)

Ice caps and attentions spans. The smaller they get, the worse off we all are.

Quick judgements and no forgiveness.

 Short fuses and failing memories.

This is the era we live in.

And while all of those things apply to many of the very important issues of our terrifying  times, they also apply to the great solace and escape of fantasy football.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the rule of thumb for wide receivers was this: three years. Three years was how long it took a rookie player to catch on to the nuances of their new teams, complex NFL offenses and vicious free safeties coming over the middle. Players were expected to come along slowly but surely. We had patience. But things have changed.

The NFL of 20, 15 or even 10 years ago would hardly recognize itself today. The rules protecting receivers, the offenses inching closer and closer to the college game and the economics of the league might all seem foreign to that bygone era.

The expectation that receivers should have an immediate impact  was likely cemented by the 2014 draft class. That receiver group included the following:

First round:

Sammy Watkins

Mike Evans

Odell Beckham

Brandin Cooks

Kelvin Benjamin

Second Round:

Marqise Lee

Jordan Matthews

Paul Richardson

Davante Adams

Cody Latimer

Allen Robinson

Jarvis Landry

There are a few others of modest note, but we’ll leave it at that.

All of these guys, save Latimer have either become stars or made serious contributions at one time (with the exception of Cody Latimer).

This class, which followed pockets of instant stardom from the likes of AJ Green and Julio Jones in 2011, and DeAndre Hopkins and Keenan Allen in 2013, spoiled us all. And good as those four would be stars began, the 2014 was laden with seemingly can’t miss studs. Things had changed forever and there was no looking back.

Sink or swim fellas, instant fantasy gratification or off with your heads was the new rule of thumb.

But what if things haven’t changed so much. What is 2014 was this era’s bumper crop and, league changes aside, playing receiver wasn’t so easy after all.

I would argue that the jury is out on this one. It will take a dozen or more draft classes before we truly know. I’d bet though, that things haven’t really changed all that much. I’d argue that, as always, different players mature and improve at their own particular pace, in their specific landing spot and situation, regardless of what sort of rush we may be in.

While the NFL rookie contracts have teams eager to get a quick return on investment that they can stretch out for as long as possible, it also keeps underperformers around for a while. It’s a double edged sword. Succeed early and you’ll be fed early and often. Be slow on the uptake or suffer and injury and you’ll find you’re soon sharing roster space with a new crop of cheap contract completion.

I’ve heard many fantasy experts pronounce a player a failure only one year into a career. If they haven’t performed by year two they are almost certain to be written off. The beat of the war drums grows louder and louder as the echo chamber repeats the same opinion again and again. And when that echo chamber stamps a sub 25 year old with a DOA directly on their forehead, well that dear friend, is a great time to buy.

These reclamation projects may very well be long shots, but they also remain talented and with the possibility of finally having a break through season. For that reason, these broken toys are worth picking up late in best ball leagues as well as dynasty waiver wires. Narratives turn quickly. Today’s hopeless wash out can make some noise at camp, follow it up with a pre-season performance or two, and suddenly you have a story your leaguemates are chasing. Buy low, sell high as the saying goes, and here’s who I’m buying with my last round best ball picks and scooping off the dynasty waiver wire.

Misfit toy 1 – Kevin White:

Prior to being drafted Kevin White was a prototypical 6’3”, 215 pounds. By all accounts, he is those same dimensions now, only stronger, wiser and with a whole hell of a lot of people to prove wrong. While his height and weight may be similar to his pre-draft structure, what is unknown is if he can still post the 4.35 40 he managed back then. Assuming his shin splits and stress fractures may have slowed him somewhat, 4.35 is a nice starting point to fall from. It provides somewhat of a cushion, as it was hardly borderline NFL speed.

Chicago is embarking on a major philosophy shift. The old ground and pound gameplan is being replaced by an aggressive passing approach. We have no clear idea of what that actually looks like or  how the new regime will utilize players, but we can all agree there is excitement. Chicago has a shiny new coach, with a shiny new quarterback and three shiny new receivers in Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel. All are receiving various degrees of fantasy love.

One player who is not, is Kevin White. He is not expected to do much of anything. He’s an injury prone, over-hyped bust, or so the story goes.

To be fair, three consecutive season injuries is damning. Another season ending injury would be the end of White, even for a hopeful jerk like me. Let’s recall though, that last years injury was not a repeat of the shin splint/stress fracture injury that plagued White in his first two year. A third strike there would be especially damning, but last year’s week 1 injury was a random, bad luck shoulder blade fracture. White has had more than ample time to recover not only from that injury, but from his earlier legs ailments.

He has now spent three years on the sidelines. He has next to no mileage on his body. His injuries have never been considered career threatening. He has spent three seasons in the receiver room learning the pro game on paper. He has spent three years in the weight room getting healthy and stronger. And now he gets an aggressive coach who wants to attack through the passing game and he’s currently armed with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and the rookie Miller at receiver. I think it is safe to say there is .a path to redemption, possibly his last, for this 25 year old.

Put your ear to the ground gently this season and listen to the whispers of encouragement for White and remember that this:  he is only 25 years old, he’s a 6’3”, 215 pounder who ran a 4.35. He is two years recovered from his lower body injury, he will be one full season recovered from his shoulder injury. He will be fighting for a role on a potentially explosive offense alongside double-coverage-draw Allen Robinson, against a career journeyman and a rookie. Go get some late shares of White. If the stars align you could be claiming a comeback player of the year from the isle of misfit toys.

Next time on the Island, we look at the case of ________  __________ and the case of too many mouths to feed.

 

 

For the record: Cincinnati Bengals

The narrative:

I just spent 72 hours thinking about the Cincinnati Bengals. Here’s what I realized. (1) I’m glad I’m not a Bengals fan (2) there are hardly any narratives here, except (3) a lot of people think Joe Mixon is going to rise to fantasy stardom and (4) not me.

To that end, here are my pros and cons of Joe Mixon:

The pros of Joe:

-He’s a talented player who some have compared to Leveon Bell, with a year of experience under his belt.

-He is only 21 years old.

-He has an obvious stranglehold on early down work.

-Last season Mixon managed 626 rushing yards and 287 receiving yards, while essentially splitting the backfield with Gio Bernard, and a sprinkling of Jeremy Hill.

-The team traded for LT Cordy Glenn and drafted C Billy Price, bolstering their poor offensive line.

-Bill Lazor will have a full offseason to install his system.

The cons of Joe:

-Offensive line improvements aside, the right side of the line has two major question marks, Price will play Center as a rookie, while Glenn will be starting anew. The group will have little to no chemistry.

-Gio Bernard, who outperformed Mixon in 2017, is still on the team, is only 26 years old, is signed through 2019 and will be a contributor on passing downs, as well as some early down work. (Sidebar, I feel for Gio. This feels like DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart 2.0. The talented incumbent is never given a true chance at the solo gig as his lesser size and skill set are overshadowed by the larger, prototypical back).

-Even if the Bengals opt to release Gio next season to save some money, Mark Walton was drafted in the fourth round. He too will take touches from Mixon. So Leveon Bell comparisons aside, it seems unlikely Mixon will ever be a true Bellcow.

-Gamescripts are difficult to project, but I’m fairly confident the Bengals won’t be running out many clocks. Mixon will get his fair share but the passing down backs will pull their share of fantasy points away.

– Con, Mixon has a disturbing history, having been accused of punching a woman, knocking her unconscious and breaking several bones in her face. This is not the sort of person I want to root for. Punching a woman in the face isn’t a mistake, it’s proof positive that you’re a sack of crap. I will be surprised if he doesn’t find his way to more trouble.

Now let’s suspend my personal opinion/common decency and suggest he warrants a second chance. Marvin Lewis has an unconvincing record of rehabilitating troubled souls. He is certainly deserving of respect having navigated this team to many non-playoff successes. Regular season records aside though, discipline is not one of his hallmarks. His players seem to act as though there’s a substitute teacher in charge of the classroom. That’s not an ideal environment for the 21-year old Mixon to right the ship.

The offense:

Mixon will certainly get his fair share of touches in this offense, but just what that offense will be is difficult to say. AJ Green, coming off a disappointing season by his standards, will continue to be the only obvious cover on the team. The rest of the receiving corps is a collection of “just a guy” type route runners and deep threats. Tyler Eifert will attempt to come back from his buffet of ailments, but the last update on the tight end suggested he remained Andrew-Luck-like limited. Back injuries are tricky things, and often the type of injuries that have players on the sidelines considering retirement earlier than most.

So, back to Mixon. The hype is loud, having read through the scouts’ and analysts’ takes, I have no doubt it is there. I do question whether or not the Bengals can manage to provide Mixon with an environment in which he can make good on his second chance. Keep in mind, last year’s offense was patched together after the team fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese after two games (and 9 points). From there Lazor and company attempted to put in their system, mid-stream. A difficult thing to do, having missed the opportunity to do so in the offseason. At least that is the excuse that is being used for the misery of 2017.

This year, no such excuse will be available. Given the right side of the line is in flux, the lack of depth at receiver and the questions surrounding Eifert, it is hard to imagine how Lazor’s reportedly aggressive offense can have any claws.

Last season the Bengals and Marvin Lewis came very close to parting ways. This season may be Marv’s swan song.

In summary:

I’m not buying any Bengals at ADP this season. I have found myself nervously drafting Tyler Eifert (14th TE on draft with a 118.5 ADP) in best ball, but only when taking a total of three tight ends. I also have picked up shares of Mixon, who is surprisingly not expensively priced on Draft (yet). In redraft and dynasty, I’m willing to sit out on Mixon.

AJ Green is currently ranked as the 7th receiver (21.9) ADP and I’d much rather take a running back at that spot and hope to catch Devante Adams (28.2), Doug Baldwin (35.8) or Stefon Diggs (42.3) with my next pick.

I would happily own him in Dynasty but doubt he can be had on the cheap. His name recognition and price remain high. Taking that into consideration, I’d likely test the trade market as see what I could get while he was still on the right side of 30.

For the record: Pittsburgh Steelers

For the record: Pittsburgh Steelers

The narrative:

The narrative has been the same with this team for some time, it goes something like this: they’ll be good, they will likely win the division and they will put up monster fantasy points along the way.

Consider this:

I have a hard time being contrarian here. The Steelers have a culture and a plan. They have been the polar opposite of the Cleveland Browns. Ownership has been patient and committed, management and coaching stable, and Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been at the helm for almost 15 years.

Now, as I do think the Browns, Ravens and Bengals could all be considerably better this year, I wouldn’t write off the possibility of the Steelers failing to win the AFC North, but I wouldn’t bet on it. They’ve managed to win the AFC North three of the last four seasons, and I don’t think those other three teams are quite ready to challenge.

Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and imagine a scenario where the aforementioned Ravens have everything break right, and the Steelers have an off year. The Steelers schedule suggests the road may not be so smooth for Big Ben and company. Despite some sources that consider the Steelers schedule to be the 25th most difficult in the league, I have a hard time seeing them coasting. A handful of games stick out as troublesome: division games aside, they have home games versus the Chiefs, Falcons, Panthers, Chargers and Pats, along with road games in Jacksonville, and New Orleans. None of those appear to be sure things and it’s certainly hard to imagine them eking out last year’s 13-3 season.

I think they win it, but the road to their 3rd consecutive AFC North title could be an adventure.

Fantasywise:

Again, this is a team that is fairly easy to analyze. Barring injury, it’s safe to say Bell and Brown are easily top tier players at their position. Both are in prime-year territory, and there is little of interest to say on them for the 2018 season. Ben, to, will churn out his usual startable numbers, when not injured. So as far as redraft and best ball go, I’m taking Brown and Bell at ADP, getting Ben if he falls, reaching for JuJu (more on him below) and taking Connor as a last round stash.

Dynastywise:

Looking ahead to 2019 is when it becomes interesting for the Steelers. Bell’s contract situation and free agency loom large. The current running back depth chart features no obvious heir apparent should Bell leave, with one possible exception. James Connor, last year’s 3rd round draft choice, did not impress in his rookie campaign. Touching the ball only 32 times for 144 yards and no receptions, does not catch the eye. Let’s remember, though, that Connor was only two years removed from beating cancer. The physical and emotional toll that battle took on Connor, I would imagine, takes some time to recover from. One year of experience under his belt, and god willing, another healthy year removed from his diagnosis, and Connor could be an under the radar surprise. The draft capital is certainly there. The Steelers are not likely to part ways with the 3rd rounder any time soon. The opportunity should present itself this offseason as Bell is likely to sit out many of the pre-season camp fuctions, both voluntary and mandatory. This will result in Connor getting the majority of first team reps and for the coaches to have a long look at the possible Bell replacement. As Bell’s pissing match with the team drags on, we sdould all remember the Steelers typical opt to cut bait with these guys. Enter Connor.

There is of course the chance that Connor is not an NFL talent and that the team will add some additional backs to the roster between now and September. I’s suggest paying close attention to who they add between now and week 1. Connor and any intriguing new talents are certainly worth the roster spot.

More on Bell:

The free agent running back market is not a good one. Recent years have offered few big second contracts to running back and the Steelers have been a team that has shied away from big deals for past stars, particularly at receiver. It would not be a surprise then to see Bell depart at season’s end. The question is which organizations would be willing to pony up the cap hit to acquire Bell. The market has been flooded over the last two draft classes with backs. These classes have been talented, and under the CBA have cheap rookie deals. They will all get long looks and be given the benefit of the doubt over expensive and older free agents. Looking at the league and guessing who might be in the market for a running back next year, my best guess, and I would imagine others would agree, is the Oakland Raiders. Lynch’s commitment to the team seems tenuous, Doug Martin may very well be done and Jon Gruden has certainly shown this offseason that he favours veteran players. This is a prospect that doesn’t excite.

Given the new depth of talent at running back, given Bell’s sky-high value and future uncertainty, I think now would be a very good time to try to score a king’s ransom in a trade.

JuJu:

Unlike running back where the transition from college to pro can sometimes seem seamless, the transition for wide receivers can prove more challenging. This was not the case for JuJu Smith Schuster. Naysayers may suggest JuJu’s numbers were skewed by a handful of big games (193, 143, and 114 along with a season-long 97-yard reception) and noting that aside from those he only eclipsed 50 yards three times. They may also remember the dud he, and his teammates, put up against the Jags in the playoffs.

But consider this. JuJu entered the 2017 as the NFL’s youngest player. He was a 20-year old kid playing against NFL veterans. Despite learning on the job and working with a mind and body, not fully matured, he managed not only to post 917 and 7 TDs, he also managed to make a name for himself as an apt and physical blocker. Fans, coaches and teammates took notice. With Martavis Bryant now a Raider, JuJu has only James Washington to fend off. The Bryant trade speaks loudly that the Steelers are all on board with JuJu. Given his early success, and considering his age, I would suggest there is plenty of player growth and upside ahead for JuJu. I would draft him well above ADP in all formats, dynasty in particular.

In summary:

Sell Bell high, buy JuJu, invest in Connor and watch the running back depth chart additions.

 

 

 

For the record: Cleveland Browns

Note:

At the age of 14 I made one of the most unfortunate decisions of my life. I willingly, under no duress, looked at all 28 NFL teams, at the time, and willing chose to root for the Cleveland Browns. I will spare you my reasoning for my being drawn to the Browns. But assure you my fandom was real. As, by age 15 I’m fairly certain I was the only kid in Canada that had a life size poster of Bernie Kosar on their bedroom door.

The Narrative:

You would think that this year’s Browns bullishness would have me excited. It goes something like this: “don’t look now but the Browns are actually going to be good. They’ve have a much stronger roster and don’t be at all surprised if they make some noise in the Wild Card race. Also, Hard Knocks!”

This seems to be another extremely popular “contrarian take”. Which can mean only one thing: it’s dead wrong.

Consider this:

First off, let’s get a little perspective on this Wild Card pipedream. Last year the dreadful AFC Wild Card teams had the tickets punched with 9-7 seasons.

Here is the Browns 2018 schedule:

Steelers, @Saints, Jets, @Raiders, Ravens, Chargers, @Buccs, @Steelers, Chiefs, Falcons, BYE, @Bengals, @Texans, Panthers, @Broncos, Bengals, @Ravens.

Hey, anything can happen but as I look at those games I’m having a hard time getting to 9, or even the 7 wins that Seattle eked into the playoffs with a few years ago. I remain skeptical, and here’s why.

From the top down:

Why am I skeptical? Jimmy Haslam is why. Organizations that win have long-term plans, patience, and resolve. Jimmy seems like the kind of guy whose opinion is always based on the last conversation he’s had. He seems to operate on his gut feel for things. And I think I know what his gut is full of. By most accounts he has had his hands in draft pick selections, roster construction and starting lineups and of course the hiring and firing of management and coaching, something he does frequently and messily.

The recent management moves speak to this sloppy approach. The Browns, enduring a winless season, decided to let go of de-facto GM Sashi Brown, despite his set out long-term plan of blowing up the roster and hoarding draft picks and cap spaced. It was a plan based on losing and the picks and cap space were ready to be deployed. While the Browns were long on cap space and draft picks, what they were short on, was patience. Haslem reasoned that poor draft performance in the previous two seasons was reason for Brown’s dismissal. Brown traded the 2nd overall to the Eagles in 2016 (Carson Wentz) and the 12th in 2017 (Deshaun Watson), which certainly is not a good look. While those players look to be stars in the making, let’s remember that there was no consensus at the time on either, and Brown believed he had a long-term mandate with his eyes on future drafts. Jimmy Hindsight had run out of patience, and a new direction, or at least half of a new direction was to be taken.

A winless season, on the back of a 1-win season, was not, however, enough to lose Hue Jackson his job. In the same press conference that Sashi Brown’s firing was announced, Hue Jackson’s job was secured. The Browns had yet to hire John Dorsey as GM, and the normal course of action, you would think, would be to reserve any decision on the head coaching position until the new GM was signed. Jimmy knows best though, I suppose, and John Dorsey was to begin his mandate seemingly painted into a corner.

If Hue’s record is not reason enough for his firing, his handling of second round pick Deshone Kizer should have been. Kizer was not close to being ready, had no veteran QB support, a weak receiving corps and was missing perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas almost immediately. But what the hell, let’s see what the kid’s got, thought the Browns. Now maybe this was not Hue’s decision, maybe his hand was forced. But his handling of the situation, his ability to be a teacher and developer of talent, was bared for all to see. When Kizer, unsurprisingly, struggled, Hue was not there to nurture or lead, he simply blamed the kid, benched the kid or entertained the idea of AJ McCarron as a cure all to the team’s woes.

Enter the new kid. Expectations for first overall pick Baker Mayfield will be high. Given the time to learn and patience to fail he could be the Wetnz or Watson that Haslem rued missing. I think it’s reasonable to be concerned that Jimmy will be eager to see his shiny new toy in action. John Dorsey made the very encouraging move of signing Tyrod Taylor this offseason (more on him later). Tyrod is the veteran presence missing last year ad if he’s actually played this year, maybe this team can get some wins, win some confidence and finally change the culture. But given Jimmy’s involvement…

What’s hopeful is that John Dorsey can manage Jimmy’s impatience and Hue’s coaching. His hiring of Todd Haley suggests Hue’s tenure could be short-lived. Ideally Tyrod plays, Baker watches, Hue looking for work by late October and Jimmy is tranquilized until 2019.

Fantasywise – mouths to feed:

In a vacuum, all above BS aside, this is the best roster the Browns have had for years. The return of Josh Gordon, the signing of Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry and Carlos Hyde, the drafting of Chubb and Callaway, and the continued development Duke Johnson, David Njoku and Corey Coleman, should have Browns fans excited. This roster could make some noise. And I think it makes the most noise with Tyrod Taylor.

Last year Tyrod put up modest numbers with an exceptionally modest Bills roster. Taylor was working with LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay and a bunch of scrubs. Tyrod gets upgrades at all positions: offensive line, receiver, tight end and arguably, running back. While McCoy is certainly better than any individual Browns back, the group’s depth is far better than the Bills 2017 RB cast. The issue is, with so many mouths to feed, who do you own for fantasy.

Running back:

Duke Johnson is a premier receiving running back. While Chubb and Hyde duke it out for early down work, Duke should own passing downs. I’d suggest all three have limited upside in the near-term but that Duke should be owned in all PPR formats. He’s reasonably priced in best ball on Draft and can be had cheaply in dynasty at the moment. His contract is up at the end of this season so he could very well end up elsewhere in 2019, making Chubb that much more interesting for longer-term purposes.

In 2018 I’ll own Duke shares and be hopeful he finds a good situation beyond this season. Chubb I’d buy for the long-term and Hyde I’d generally avoid, not for lack of talent but since the time share makes him uncertain for 2018 and beyond.

Receivers and tight ends:

Landry is a great addition for the team’s success but his own fantasy numbers will certainly take a hit. Jarvis goes from being the main target in the Dolphins offense to a team where he will compete with Njoku ad Duke Johnson for possession targets, while Gordon can be targeted all over the field. The dearth of talent here puts a limited upside to any players immediate fantasy totals, but certainly makes them a harder team to play against.

I’d own shares of Gordon for long-term dynasty purposes but am reluctant to take him for 2018. Callaway has big upside and given his off-field issues could come with a Gordon-like discount. Both are dangerous rides with risk of suspension, but I’s prefer their upsides to Landry’s. For the coming season I’d take a pass on all of them.

My favourite fantast value:

So, lots of competing targets, with no clear winners. It makes sense that the biggest upside on this roster is Tyrod Taylor. Running QBs add their own alpha to the equation and Taylor tagged 427 rushing yards on to his measly 2,800 passing totals. Given the upgrade in his supporting cast I think it’s a fair estimation to think he could add as many as 800-1,000 yards passing to last year’s total, while matching last season’s rushing totals. That makes him a very sneaky late round QB in best ball where he can be had in the last two rounds, and anywhere in re-draft or dynasty where multiple QBs are started.

The risk, of course, is meddling Jimmy Haslem and the likelihood that Baker Mayfield will start early and often. And as a Browns fan that makes me worry for Baker Mayfield and the teams fortunes this season and beyond. If Tyrod gets the lion’s share of snaps, his fantasy numbers could be a steal.

For the record: Baltimore Ravens

Note: The exercise here it to examine each of the NFL team’s post-draft roster, dissect the early offseason narratives and determine what I actually believe. Thinking out loud about each team will help me crystallize my insights (biases?) for the season ahead, and each team’s chances. I’ll also be taking a look at the recently updated depth charts to see who I want to be buying and selling this summer.

Another Note: I’m old to fantasy, older to football, relatively new to best ball, but I’m fresh off the boat when it comes to publishing. So in the off-chance anyone is reading this, bear with me. I promise to stick with this and get better as I go.

The Narrative: The Ravens are a middle of the road team, with a definitively average quarterback, destined for mediocrity, forevermore. The post 2012 Super Bowl/Flacco contract era has yielded one 10-6 season and a collection of duds.

The Reality: While Baltimore may very well add to its streak of 500ish records, but Harbaugh is not getting credit for keeping this franchise consistent and relevant, despite the limitations of their QB. While the record may not carry them to the playoffs this year, progress is being made and the fantasy output may provide green shoots of hope to the Ravens faithful.

Consider This: Flacco’s best yardage total came in the 2016 season That happens to be the year that Marty Mornhinweg’s took the helm as offensive coordinator. While 4,300 is not terribly exciting, keep in mind Flacco was throwing the ball to Mike Wallace, a last gasp Steve Smith, and Denis Pitta for the majority of those yards. The running game was going through Terrance West, with some rookie year Kenneth Dixon sprinkled in conservatively. It was hardly an all-star cast, but Flacco managed hopeful numbers all the same.

Year two of the Mornhinweg tenure was to be better. In 2017, the game plan was for Dixon to make the leap, Wallace to match his 2016 performance and additions Maclin, Woodhead and Watson to absorb and surpass Smith’s 2016 contribution. It was not to be though as Woodhead was lost to injury, Dixon to suspension/injury and Maclin to disappointment. Flacco’s yardage totals were anemic.

Despite those misfortunes, John Harbaugh, in his 10th season as head coach, managed to squeeze 9 wins out of his team. Those games were all won fairly convincingly, while three of the losses were by 3 points or less. These included a 1-point loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, a 3-point loss to the Titans in Nashville and an overtime loss to Chicago at home. So, with a poor roster made weaker by injuries, Harbaugh and his staff were able to keep the players committed and the season viable.

Going into the 2018 season, Maclin and Wallace have been replaced by Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead. This seems like a pretty clear upgrade over last year’s duo of Maclin and Wallace. Adding another target between now and camp would not be a great surprise.

The backfield should also be stronger. Alex Collins made the most of his opportunity in 2017 and has earned a role in 2018. He’ll certainly start the season as the early down back but given Woodhead’s departure the door is open for Dixon to claim the 3rd down roll from Buck Allen. Again, adding another body to the backfield would not be a surprise. It should be noted that the 2018 draft classes had a fairly heavy lean towards offensive players, yet none of those players were running backs. More on this below.

If the Ravens can stay healthy this season the improvements at receiver and running back should offer a lot more yardage than the 2017 roster. Mornhinweg entering his third year as OC, should also not be discounted. This is a team with a floor of 500ish, but with the chance to surprise with as many as 10 wins.

Spotlight: who I want to own in fantasy 2018

The Ravens have Collins, Allen and Dixon at RB. They just spent the draft choosing virtually every offensive position, except running back. It seems safe to conclude that they like what they have, or at the very least want to see what they have. Kenneth Dixon is still on his rookie deal until the end of 2019. There is virtually zero chance he is not making this team this year, and a very good chance the Ravens want to give him a long hard look between now and the end of his cap friendly number. Rookie RB deals are to be milked, and all indications are the Ravens want to get all they can from Dixon.

At the moment he can be had cheap. In best ball his ADP is just over 194 and he will likely a forgotten or little loved name for re-draft and dynasty, as attention is drawn to the shiny new toys of the recent draft class. I would expect Dixon to get some love between now and August as his role becomes clearer and the offseason stories are written. I would imagine he will be a popular sleeper name list on many of the pre-season columns. I’d suggest loading up on shares of Dixon now.

Looking Ahead: Lamar Jackson

Jackson seems to be everyone’s favourite contrarian pick for best QB from the 2018 class, and I’m fully on board with this not so contrarian opinion. First off, the fact that he is unlikely to be forced to play early is a great benefit. Having been drafted by a franchise with an owner committed to his coaching staff is also encouraging. Marty Mornhinweg’s tenure as a QB coach and offensive coordinator speaks well to Jackson’s chances at developing, given the coordinators history with the likes of Steve Young and Brett Favre. Quarterback Coach James Urban worked with mobile QBs like Vick (comeback year) and McNabb. So organizational patience, consistency and experience should provide Jackson with a solid foundation to build on. Had a QB named Jimmy O’Connor put up similar numbers, with similar tape, in a pro-style offense at the college level, it is hard to imagine them not being a top 3 pick. But alas, this is not the world we live in and the Ravens stand to gain by seeing the light. I’m buying Lamar and giving him two to three seasons to realize his potential.