QB Ranks: best ball & re-draft

I will be adjusting my ranks on a regular basis. As it stands now, this is my guess as to how they finish in value for the 2018 season (hate mail welcome).

 

1 Aaron Rodgers
2 Russell Wilson
3 Drew Brees
4 Matt Stafford
5 Cam Newton
6 Andrew Luck
7 Matt Ryan
8 Philip Rivers
9 Ben Roethlisberger
10 Tom Brady
11 Marcus Mariota
12 Pat Mahomes
13 Deshaun Watson
14 Alex Smith
15 Eli Manning
16 Carson Wentz
17 Jimmy Garoppolo
18 Mitch Trubisky
19 Kirk Cousins
20 Jared Goff
21 Jameis Winston
22 Joe Flacco
23 Blake Bortles
24 Ryan Tannehill
25 Case Keenum
26 Andy Dalton
27 Derek Carr
28 Dak Prescott
29 Josh Rosen
30 Tyrod Taylor
31 Sam Darnold
32 Josh Allen

Quarterbacks – best ball

Any fantasy football junkie worth his salt will know the name JJ Zachariason. Zachariason and Denny Carter cohost the in-season podcast Living the Stream, in which they recommend waiver wire caliber quarterbacks as weekly plug and play starts. The theory in a nutshell is that the quarterback position is extremely deep and that there is no need to spend early picks on the position, as you can often replicate or at least get yourself in the ball park, of top line QB production from the waiver wire. This theory was first introduced with 1 QB leagues in mind, but the basis of the theory works well for best ball.

While best ball may not have a waiver wire to lean on, it offers equivalent streaming-like value through its roster structure. The advantage being that you are able to draft multiple players at a position while only needing to rely on one of their scores. So, taking a cue from Zachariason and company you could just load up on quarterbacks in the mid to late rounds.

While others are reaching for Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton or Deshaun Watson, players are provided a chance to zig while others are zag, passing on those big-name passers in favour greater depth at all other positions. After all, your weekly score can be based on as many as three running backs or four wide receivers, or two tight ends but only one quarterback will ever count.

With this in mind, this is how I think we can best approach the position. Here’s a look at each QB, ranked by Play Draft’s ADP, along with which players I’d suggest targeting.

The current top five quarterbacks by ADP are:

Aaron Rodgers (QB1, ADP 39): there’s no anti-Rodgers argument here aside from his price.

Deshaun Watson (QB2, ADP 58.2): Five complete games under his belt and he is being drafted as QB2. This seems outrageous. He has nowhere to go but down in value based on this ADP. I proudly own zero shares.

Russell Wilson (QB3, ADP 67.2): Rodgers’ like greatness, Deshaun Watson, except with a long track record, and like both of them: too expensive. Along the lofty price tag come a few questions, namely: Doug Baldwin’s health, receiver depth in general, how much he might miss the departed Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, what sort of offensive line the Seahawks might patch together, and what new, uninspired direction offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer might take them in. You also have to ask how long Wilson can play at an elite level while running for his life.

Tom Brady (QB4 ADP 70.9): he is without Julian Edelman, Brandon Cooks and possibly Sony Michel. Did we mention he is 41? Gronkowski, Hogan and Burkhead can likely keep the ship afloat, but it would not be surprising if this is the year the wheels start to fall off. He could produce at the Rivers/Ryan/Roethlisberger ADP level and we’d all be impressed. Drafting him as QB4 is riskier than I like, let someone else pay the GOAT folklore premium.

Cam Newton (QB5, ADP 77.6): Okay, now we’re getting warm. There is plenty to like: rushing touchdowns and yards, a host of young intriguing targets, and a returning Greg Olsen. The passing trends haven’t been encouraging though, as Cam has been no more than mediocre through the air. His ground game makes him a cheaper, lighter passing version of Russell Wilson, at a better price. But that price is still expensive enough to have me asking if Mariota or Mahomes can’t manage comparable numbers much later.

Drew Brees (QB6, ADP 85.8): Now we’re getting warmer. Brees has fallen as the Saints run game has become such a force. The market seems to be assuming Brees is fading into the sunset and the Saints are forced to rely on Kamara and Ingram. The Saints offseason seems to suggest otherwise. Brees has been re-armed with the criminally underrated Ben Watson, the addition of Cameron Meredith, who they stole from the Bears and the drafting of TreQuan Smith. And yes, Ingram is gone so this transition may happen early.

Carson Wentz (QB7, ADP 92.9): Wentz has exploded out of the gate and was an MVP candidate late into 2017. That campaign was cut short by a torn ACL. This price level seems fair, but given the small sample size and questions about any lingering effects from the injury have me avoiding Wentz. A big part of his passing game success has been his use of his pocket mobility. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he missed some 2018 starts, it also wouldn’t be a surprise if he was less than 100%. Let’s wait until 2019 to pay a QB7 price tag for him. He’ll likely be cheaper then.

Andrew Luck (QB8, ADP 95.9): Earlier in the season Luck offered solid value but as encouraging camp stories mounted his ADP has climbed. If he is healthy he offers great upside as the Colts should lean heavy on the pass. Like Wentz though, I’d rather give him an extra season to remove some of the risk.

Kirk Cousins (QB9, ADP 101.4): New coach, new team, new teammates, chemistry with receivers and lineman starting at zero, all of this makes me think it would be wise to let him find a home on a competitor’s squad.

Jimmy Garoppolo (QB10, ADP 107.9): The Jimmy G hype, like the aforementioned Deshaun Watson and the soon to be discussed Mahomes hype, has me skeptical. I prefer drafting the known versus the unknown, particularly at certain price points That being said, I own zero shares of Watson but own a considerably more of the cheaper Garoppolo and lots more of the cheaper still Mahomes. Buying a few shares of Jimmy G to gain exposure seems reasonable, but the investment should be light.

HOT – guys to buy aggressively:

Matt Stafford (QB11, ADP 109.6): And now we are in the buy zone. Stafford is a known quantity who puts up consistent numbers and while he may have a new head coach he has the same offensive coordinator. Add to the equation a deeper backfield and the possibly emergence of Kenny Golladay and this looks like the makings of an exciting offense. Tate + Jones + Golladay could be the most exciting receiving trio in the NFL in 2018.

Ben Roethlisberger (QB12, 111.9 ADP): Again, more proven production on a roster featuring Leveon Bell, Antonio Brown and Juju Smith Schuster. While the 9th round is a little earlier than I like, Ben and Stafford are nice QB1s for your best ball squad. As are the next two guys…

Philip Rivers (QB13, ADP 115.4): More tried, tested and true production available in the ninth round. He may not offer shiny new toy appeal like a Watson or Jimmy G, but he will likely be throwing for as many yards and TDs. Keenan Allen, the Williamses and Melvin Gordon will given defenses plenty to contend with.

Matt Ryan (QB14, ADP 120.8): A reversion to the mean play available in the 10th round. Recall Julio managed only 3 touchdowns last year under the new coaching staff. That’s a number that is likely to go up considerably. Add Calvin Ridley to the equation and recall Sanu, Freeman and Coleman will all contribute and you have a recipe for team set to return to elite offense status. We have not heard the last of Matt Ryan.

Patrick Mahomes (QB15, ADP 122.1): Jimmy G and Watson are small sample size guys with monster hype and ADPs to match. Mahomes has a smaller sample size, similar hype and an ADP I’m willing to roll the dice on. The Chiefs have gone all in on Mahomes and loaded their offense with dynamic playmakers. Kelce, Hill, Hunt, returning Spencer Ware and yes, Sammy Watkins, all are reason to be excited. There will be bumps on the road but he offers big week to week upside. He also provides sneaky rushing yard/TD alpha. I would not be surprised if he or the next guy bested the Cam Newton as dual threat QBs.

Marcus Mariota (QB16, ADP 125.9): Mariota is Matt Ryan lite. He’s coming off a disappointing 13 touchdown year and the market is punishing him for it. He enters the year with a new coaching staff and young stable of weapons. There certainly could be some growing pains as he adjusts to this new reality. While the Titans may be looking at a transition year, there offense could surprise. Mariota should regress to the mean and also offers Cam Newton lite appeal in the running game. He is great value in the 12th round.

Luke warm value plays:

Jared Goff (QB17, ADP 129.1): Goff made leaps last year and could well continue that trajectory. I’ve avoided him for the most part, however for two reasons: the Rams insane defense and Todd Gurley. If there was ever a team that looked able to control a game’s tempo it is the 2018 Rams. Armed with a vicious d-line and arguably the best back in the league and there you have a recipe for mediocre passing attempts. Similar situation and production can be had much cheaper in Jacksonville.

Alex Smith (QB18, ADP 132.7): There is no way Smith is replicating his 2017 performance. The Chiefs played a college offense and Smith, pushed by Mahomes, played more aggressive than he ever before. A watered-down version of 2017 Smith provides stability in your QB best ball stable. Smith can contribute modestly in the running game as well, and in the 11th round, paired with a big upside play, he can smooth the waters of a wavy season.

Dak Prescott (QB19, ADP 143.2): Here’s a QB on what appears to be a dreadful team. He’s currently struggling in camp and has zero proven targets. This is a transition year for the Cowboys and it will likely transition Jason Garrett right out the door. The only reason to be excited about Dak is that he is likely to face plenty of friendly garbage time game scripts. If he’s able to stay healthy he should get the opportunity to produce relevant numbers.

Derek Carr (QB 20, ADO 147.5): Carr enters 2018 with a new coaching staff. On the mend from a broken back, expectations are high. It’s difficult to know what Oakland will look like however as the new staff may opt for a run heavy approach. Amari Cooper may or may not be able to catch, Jordy Nelson may or may not be washed up, Martavis Bryant may or may not be suspended for the year…let’s of questions. I’m just not convinced Carr is really very good. At the very least this will be a transition year with many questions to answer.

Late round, big value:

Eli Manning (QB21, ADP 154): Stop me if you’ve heard this before…everyone thinks Barkley, Beckham, Engram, and Shepard are set for big years, so shouldn’t Eli be great. While I like to run contrarian to many narratives this one is difficult to argue with, particularly when you can get exposure to that collection of stars with a 12th round pick.

Jameis Winston (QB22, ADP 154.1): Yes, he will miss four games, but yes this is best ball and you can lean heavily on your other QB or QBs while you wait for Winston to return. The Buccs may not be great this year but they are likely to put up great offensive totals. Winston finished 2017 on a tear and eclipsed 300 yards six times (and had 299 once). This seems likely pretty great value in best ball where he will still compete in 11 games.

Mitchell Trubisky (QB23, 157.8): For your QB hype needs, after Watson, Garoppolo and Mahomes, there’s Trubisky. There will certainly be challenges as he adapts to year two in the NFL under a new coach, but he has considerable weapons and offers ground game alpha. As a 12th rounder, paired with one of the Ryan, Rivers, Big Ben, Stafford group, you have yourself a duo with stability and upside.

Case Keenum (QB24, 162.4 ADP): Keenum will be welcomed with open arms by the Broncos faithful and target starved Demaryius Thomas and Emanuel Sanders. Keenum will not compete as a top 10 QB for fantasy purposes but he should provide consistent stable numbers. A good pairing for him might be one of the big upside riskier plays.

Blake Bortles (QB25, ADP 163.6): The only thing more consistent than the market’s hatred of Blake Bortles are his numbers. Despite the naysayers Bortles churns out startable, streamable totals. Add Donte Moncrief to an emerging group of young receivers and there is reason to believe that he can continue to rack them up. Like Goff there is some concern about how much havoc his defense and Leonard Fournette might reek, but I much prefer Bortles ADP to Goff’s.

Andy Dalton (QB26, ADP176.6): The red rifle is a complimentary piece to a more expensive and exciting counterpart, or two. He can provide a stable baseline and bye week stop gap in the 14th round. So long as you have a QB1, Dalton is good late value as a supporting best ball cast member.

Ryan Tannehill (QB27, ADP187.7): The market seems to have given up and Ryan Tannehill and Adam Gase, but given this ADP, it might be worth picking the QB as your third best ball option. The Dolphins will certainly find themselves in throwing situations and Tannehill can also move the ball on his recently repaired legs.

Tyrod Taylor (QB 28, ADP 187.8): Tyrod has all the makings of a surprisingly good season. If he were to play the entire season he would play behind his best offensive line and throw to his best offensive weapons to date. Despite Hue Jacksons’ repeated proclamations, however, I have zero confidence he will be provided such an opportunity. Instead the Browns will be impatient and rush Baker Mayfield to early starts, potentially damaging another first round asset in the process. Sigh.

Joe Flacco (QB29, ADP 202.1): Unlike the Browns, the Ravens are likely to have discipline and give Lamar Jackson the benefit on a full year on sideline finishing school. This could bolster the beleaguered Flacco as he will benefit from an improved offensive line and weapons, like Tyrod. Flacco’s first year with Marty Mornhinweg showed promise and they may be able to deliver on it this season. The additions of Michael Crabtree and John Brown are underrated, s is the possibility of the all but written off Kenneth Dixon. Don’t be surprised if both the Ravens and Flacco are better than expected.

Sam Bradford/Josh Rosen (QB31 and 33): The last round offers you a chance to grab a Cardinal QB. It’s uncertain just who that will be but given his track record at staying healthy, one would have to assume Rosen will get his turn. If you haven’t drafted a 3rd QB by now, the volume here may be enough to make them best ball startable a week or two. You might be better off forgoing this duo though, and instead opt for an extra receiver or back.

In a nutshell, don’t bother paying a big price for a big-name quarterback. Use those rounds instead to add running back, receiver and tight ends. Those positions fall off in a hurry while quarterback remains extremely deep and seems to be getting deeper. Best ball allows you to survive off weeks, so long as your depth shows up at the right times.

I find myself not drafting anyone until QB11 (Stafford). From there I generally employ one of two strategies: (1) – take two from the group of: Stafford, Roethlisberger, Ryan, Rivers, Mariota, Mahomes, or (2) take just one from that group along with two later targets, Eli and Trubisky, for example.

Good luck!

Best ball long/shorts rounds 4 through 7

Upon further review: Best ball long short rounds 4 through 7.

Welcome back.

While the first three rounds are thick with no brainer picks, the work gets harder in round four as the group offers potential elite production, with plenty more risk.

Going long

Juju Smith-Schuster (17%)

Juju had a spectacular rookie campaign: amassing 917 yards, 7 TDs, completely destroying Vontaze Burfict (see below) while becoming a fan favourite along the way. This is made all the more impressive when you realize he entered 2017 as the youngest player in the league. At 20 most players lack the physical and emotional maturity to take on the challenges of a new city, new life, increased fame and income, all while trying to learn a faster game against smarter, stronger, fully-grown competition. Yet, Juju staked out a claim on one of the leagues best offenses early, and refused to go away. Assuming he can overcome early pre-season injury concerns, its hard to imagine Juju not being better in year two.

https://youtu.be/fOfIObhGMe0

On a dynasty note, Juju should be bought aggressively. It goes back to the age thing. The early start has given him a head start on the rest of the league. Assuming he reaches his prime at 25-27, he’s likely to be bigger and faster all while accumulating 4-6 years on NFL experience. This could be the start of a very long and successful career.

Josh Gordon (11%)

Owning Gordon is a nervous proposition. He’ll be a great story of redemption, a sad story of defeat or more likely, something in the middle. We all have good memories of him demolishing the league, stringing monster games together and blowing past secondaries. In those games he was a dominating physical force that looked to be an elite talent. Enthusiasm for a return to those heights should be tempered, his small sample size of elite play took place, shockingly, in 2013. That was a football lifetime ago. There is no telling what Gordon, if we see him at all, will appear come September. Currently out of training camp to reinforce his treatment and mental health, concerns that he will play out the year are real.

Stefon Diggs (9%)

If I liked him in round three, I love him in round four. Assuming he can stay healthy, everyone and their mother is calling for Diggs to make the leap this season. Naysayers will point out his shortage of 1,000 yard seasons (none), new quarterback and lengthy list of ailments as concerns. Fair enough, but having watched him play, I have confidence he can duplicate last year while stealing a healthy share of Adam Thielen’s thunder. Should the breakout predictions ring true, a 4th round pick is more than fair.

Shorting

Amari Cooper (6%)

Granted, 6% is nothing to sneeze at, but he is held nervously and the buying has stopped. What haunts me is a game I watched last season where he was thrown to three times in the endzone and came up short each and every time. And while that evidence is anecdotal, I’ve seen enough of these similar blunders to have a negatively biased impression of the player and that’s difficult to shake. Add these factors: year one with a new coach, new system and the same over-rated, sub-par quarterback, and I don’t see a recipe for the certain success many are calling for. I’ll happily let him succeed on another team and readjust my biases for 2019.

Rashaad Penny (0%)

I don’t own a share of Penny at ADP. Despite what their coaching staff promises, I don’t see how the Seahawks are going to be able to control the game script and run the ball at will. There’s also the matter of their horrid offensive line performance over recent seasons. Add to the equation the returning (and currently hyped) Chris Carson, the explosive when healthy CJ Prosise and the under-rated Mike Davis, and I don’t see how Penny wins exclusive rights to this backfield, destined for disappointment.

Kenyan Drake (1%)

Drake had a great finish to 2017 and looks to have the majority share of the Dolphins’ backfield to start the year. Looking back he had impressive stat lines versus the Pats and Chiefs, as well as strong games against lesser lights, albeit with passable defenses, in Buffalo (twice) and Denver. This year’s schedule looks pretty favourable to Drake and the Dolphins. They have tough matchups versus the Jags and Vikings, but those don’t come until weeks 15 and 16. The games up to that point could offer Drake a good chance at big totals and cementing the lion’s share of the backfield touches. With little competition in the backfield, it appears my 1% ownership stake could haunt me.

Upon further review: Best Ball Longs and Shorts

Week 1 can’t get here fast enough.

Aside from the obvious reasons of: I need freaking football, there is also the growing urgency of stopping me from drafting any more best ball teams.

I can’t recall exactly when I started, but late February seems like a fair guess. Since then I’ve been on a steady diet of drafting at Draft. I just hit the 128-team mark with another 8 on the go.

I need help.

And help I’m getting. Mostly what this too-much-fun endeavor has provided me is a better view of myself, and how I weight certain players on the scales of love and hate. It’s also reminded me that despite thinking otherwise, I’m not immune to offseason narrative-itis.

What you’ll find below is a look at what I’ve learned. Some of this will be self-deprecating, some of it will be self-aggrandizing, all of it will hopefully be enlightening. The lessons learned here are useful for the rest of this draft season, and just as importantly, next year.

The details:

The vast majority of my 128 teams are of the slow draft 12 team variety. I like the traditional 12 team league size as it is the measure we often used when discussing season long or dynasty, and so it provides good perspective in those formats.

Here’s a round by round look at a variety of players, and what I think I know about them.

CORNERSTONE ROUNDS: 1 through 3

Round one isn’t rocket surgery. Don’t be a hero, don’t screw it up.

In 128 drafts I’ve picked everywhere on the board. I’ve picked a total of 15 different players in round one. And like most, drafting in the top two spots I’ll almost always opt for Gurley or Bell, with a little David Johnson sprinkled in. Ho um, the guys below make for more interesting debates.

Heaviest ownership:

Alvin Kamara (16%)

Kamara is liquid. He is taken as early as three or as late as eight. Despite an insane finish to 2017, Karama has plenty of doubters and naysayers, but I’m buying. He is in on an exceptionally coached and quarterbacked offense, loaded with weapons. Defenses will certainly be terrified of what Kamara might inflict on him, but they have plenty of other worries then to devote all of their energy to stopping him in this balanced attack. The same cannot be said for Ezekiel Elliot, who I would never take before Bell, Gurley, Johnson or Kamara.

Dalvin Cook (12%)

Gulp. In hindsight, this one makes me nervous. I picked him earlier in the offseason as a late first round running back. I did so because I watched plenty of him last year, and numbers and injuries aside, he looked the part of a superstar back. Prior to the rise of Kamara, he appeared to be the best three-down-back in the class. Upon further review, his injury history is a concern, and spending high draft capital on someone who might miss considerable time will keep me nervous all season.

Leveon Bell (9%)

Again, this is when I catch pick 1 or 2. Not much to think about here.

Lightest ownership:

Ezekiel Elliot (2%)

I hate Dallas. I don’t trust their coaching staff, I hate their depth chart and I think every team in the league is going to gameplan for their one and only weapon. I can imagine a season where Zeke is overused and banged up, the Dallas team is exhausted and capitulates by mid-season, and the ineffective Jason Garrett is finally shown the door at season’s end. Elliot may be set for a very disappointing year.

Kareem Hunt (2%)

He exploded on the scene and then seemed to run out of steam. I would not be surprised if Andy Reid gives Hunt the Dion Lewis treatment used by the Patriot’s last year. Keeping the kid rested and dividing more carries than fantasy owners would like, with returning and very capable Spencer Ware.

Melvin Gordon (1%)

This is personal bias speaking here. I’ve never liked Gordon very much and despite last year’s success am skeptical he can maintain the momentum. I’ve never warmed to Gordon’s game and watching tape is a quick reminder of why. Yes, he can “do it all” but he manages to do so with an uninspired plodder’s flare. As a Matt Waldman fan, I am enthusiastic about Justin Jackson demanding a role and digging into Gordon’s touches.

Round 2

Heaviest ownership:

Christian McCaffrey (20%)

Here’s another player who’s starting to make me nervous. I like McCaffrey’s game but many of these shares were drafted prior to the CJ Anderson additional and certainly before the team lost RT Daryl Williams. Note too that many of these picks were made prior to the introduction of the 2018 rookie backs, so the value isn’t horrible. That said 20% is higher than anyone would like given the question marks in the Carolina backfield, paired with Newton’s goal line prowess.

Rob Gronkowski (9%)

Frankly, 9% is too low. I’m always surprised that Gronkowski hangs around as long as he does. I also own 4% of him in the first round, which is a reach but at the tail end of round one at least worth considering. The 2018 Patriots are without: Edelman four games, as well as Cooks and Lewis from last year. Yes, there have been additions to fill those voids but none so consistently dependable as Gronk. In fact ,it’s hard to imagine him not finishing as the leader in yards, scores and possibly catches on a consistently elite offense. What’s not to like.

Keenan Allen (11%)

This just feels safe. A target hog that never fails to deliver when healthy. Add to this the absence of Hunter Henry and the questions marks surrounding Mike Williams, and there’s plenty to like.

Lightest ownership:

When all the guys I typically target are gone, I’ve settled on taking some of this group.:

Mike Evans (2%)

I want Tampa to be good. They just seem to be at the tipping point where hope and hype give way to skepticism, and I’m now in the latter camp until proven wrong.

Odell Beckham Jr. (2%)

This one can easily bite me in the ass. When ODB ADP comes up, I’ve opted for Julio, Gronk or even Michael Thomas when they are there. There’s just something about him that makes me hesitate. It might be the prima-donna thing, or worries about the Giants ability to succeed, and should they succeed, just how they do it. Call it a gut feel, but I’m only taking Beckham if I absolutely have to, I’m not seeking him out and I’m prepared to regret it.

Devonta Freeman (3%)

As Indiana Jones once said, it’s not the years, It’s the mileage. Freeman is a little guy with a lot of touches, many of them unfriendly. He has the very capable Tevin Coleman backing him up and the newly acquired Ito Smith looking to cut his teeth. Aside from that backfield depth, the Falcons are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2017, with Julio looking to fend off can’t-score criticism. Steven Ridley also gives Matt Ryan another option. Atlanta’s offense will quite likely look a litte different and Freeman may be spared some volume. Injury rumours are another reason to opt out.

Round three:

The don’t screw it up, but you might have to reach round.

Heavy ownership:

Doug Baldwin (12%)

I’m buying the narrative here. Baldwin is criminally underrated, he is clearly the number one receiving target in an offense led by an MVP caliber talent in Russell Wilson. Heavy volume and favourable game scripts should give Baldwin career year numbers.

TY Hilton (10%)

I bought him early and often. With or without Andrew Luck, Hilton provides a handful of monster best ball weeks. Like Baldwin, he’s the obvious #1 on a team that is likely to need to throw a lot. The bonus, and it seems to be taking shape now, is that Andrew Luck is alive and well. Round three might look very good in a few weeks as Hilton edges to a higher ADP.

Stefon Diggs (9%)

My only regret here is that best ball does not allow for trading. Diggs has been the recipient of plenty of offseason love, recently receiving accolades and being considered the next Antonio Brown for his celebrated route running. His ADP may continue to creep into overvalued territory. My only concerns here are how he and Kirk Cousins get themselves quickly onto the same page. I’m happy to own him, but he seems to be reaching sell-high levels.

Joe Mixon (9%)

This allocation is a result of draft by need paired with RB panic. I actually don’t like Mixon and am dumbfounded by how many analysts and such fervent supporters. Perhaps it will become obvious once the season starts, but I watched him play last season and I think the hype and hyperbole is a little thick. I also remember that he plays behind an average line, with an average QB, for an average coach and should have to fend off the seemingly, just as talented Gio Bernard.

Light ownership:

While I wish I faded Mixon, the guys I actually did avoid are these three:

Jordan Howard (2%)

The early offseason narrative: Howard can’t catch and Nagy wants to throw to the backs.

The last 2-week narrative: Nagy is teaching Howard to catch, lookout.

The truth? Likely somewhere between, meaning round three is a pretty great place to grab a guy who will likely have a big role on a team with a much better offense. Even if his receiving game improvements are modest, they will be an upgrade. Add to that what you have to imagine are more red zone scores and this seems like good value.

Adam Thielen (2%)

He did well last year, in part, because Diggs was not 100%. It probably didn’t hurt that the Dalvin Cook injury changed the game plan dramatically as well. This year Cook is back and the aforementioned Diggs is about to become ANTONIO FREAKING BROWN! And granted, while I don’t believe Diggs is the second coming, I do think there are reasons to believe Thielen, adapting to a new QB and sharing a full season of targets with a completely healthy Diggs, may underperform consensus value.

Alex Collins (2%)

He was a bargain early in the offseason but gradually gained darling-value pick once the Ravens opted to forego taking a running back in the draft. This spoke just as much to their belief in Kenneth Dixon, as it did Collins’ 2017 effort. Round three might seem rich in hindsight soon though, as the oft-injured Dixon is once again limping. We shouldn’t be surprised if the Ravens bring a new back to camp and temper the Collins enthusiasm.

Next time we will look at round four and beyond…

Thanks for reading!

Deshaun Watson and hype

One of the biggest hurdles to fantasy success is are our preconceived notions and biases regarding certain teams or players. If you don’t actually watch specific players actually play it becomes easy to get lazy and subscribe to the available narratives. In this exercise of reviewing each team, I am learning as much about myself as a fantasy player, as I am the actual teams and players themselves. I’ve caught myself several times, where watching the tape or crunching the numbers changes my mind. Such is the case with Deshaun Watson.

I went into Watson with a skeptical, contrarian approach. The market seemed to be a little too much in love with him, ranking him as high as QB2 with an ADP of 57.9 (using Play Draft). For dynasty purposes the euphoria was much the same as owners salivated over the 22-year old. Fair enough, his 21 touchdowns and almost 2,000 total yards were incredible. The fact that he amassed that total only over a seven-game span was jaw dropping. These were superstar numbers, that projected over a full season were all time greats. How could he possibly produce at that pace over a full season?

A chorus of voices has been asking this same question this offseason. Despite the growing ranks of the “reversion to the mean” camp, Watson has remained a favorite in all formats. I became a little anti-Watson, avoiding him completely. My initial concerns with Watson bulls was that I had seen this movie before, and I knew how it ended. It was not very long ago, after all that we watched players Like Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick explode onto the scene. Both of those players enjoyed great early success and accolades, only to have the league catchup with them, one way or another. Was history repeating itself?

But this time it might be different. Watson it turns out, is really freaking good. Yes, he’s an athletic quarterback who runs, but unlike Kaepernick and RGIII, he looks the part of quarterback. What I mean by that is when I watch him he appears to have an innate pocket presence, can see the field the entire field and has a willingness to make the smart, sometimes boring play. Where Griffin and Kaepernick could sometimes see oblivious to pressure, or panicked to absent, imagined pressure, Watson seems to navigate the pocket with eyes in the back of his head. He feels the pocket, escapes pressure, extends plays and delivers. What’s more, while those two former star-in-the-making quarterbacks seemed to be stuck in easy-read paint-by-numbers offenses, Watson seemed capable of much more, much earlier. So the tape gave me a definite newfound respect for Watson.

The tape was also a friendly reminder that DeAndre Hopkins is amazing. I suppose no reminder was necessary but it certainly was fun to watch. Watching the film, I was reminded how he seems attack the ball when he catches it. That he dominates coverage and straight up catches everything. I was also surprised by how often I’d see him coming back aggressively to Watson’s throws. It was a combination of chemistry, along with his incredible talent, that acted as training wheels for the rookie QB. He’ll undoubtedly continue to help the kid keep his numbers afloat.

I was also impressed with Fuller. There are plenty of Fuller doubters this offseason, pointing to the fact that he was the beneficiary of Watson’s skewed 2017 numbers and that he appeared to havea fragile frame. I was ready to buy this narrative, but again I was wowed. His speed paired with Watson’s pocket allusiveness were a deadly combination. Given the time to find open space he should remain a big contributor. The Fuller/Hopkins combo would be a nightmare with a pocket passer, Watson makes them exponentially more difficult to cover.

Tape aside, what makes Watson’s monster debut even more impressive is that fact that it happened at all. The Houston Texans did plan to start him and therefore did not prepare him with first teams reps. He did not receive the benefit of a full offseason for the most complicated and demanding position in the game. You’ll recall excuses were regularly made for Sammy Watkins, who, joining the Rams late in the pre-season never caught on to the play book or established chemistry with his quarterback. That’s a valid excuse and makes perfect sense. But it makes what Watson managed all the more impressive. He put together all of those scores and yards without the advantage of a full pre-season as the focal point of the offense. Simply put his coaching staff didn’t properly prepare him, yet he was completely prepared for the opportunity. What is he capable of doing with a full offseason under his belt.

Needless to say, I arrived at a few conclusions: (1) Watson is probably not a mirage. He won’t match his 2017 but he’s really good. (2) Hopkins is still amazing. (3) Fuller is much better than I thought and (4) I don’t watch nearly enough Texans games.

All of those positives aside, several questions remain for the season ahead:

1 – Watson’s injury: Yes, knee tears are very recoverable, but Watson is someone who depends on his legs. If he’s not running the ball, which they may certainly limit early in the season, he does require that mobility to manage the pocket and extend plays. Any loss of quickness could be a problematic in the near-term.

2 –Offensive line: Watson will need to make time in the pocket as he has what many consider the worst offensive line in the league. Four new starters will take time to earn their places and create line chemistry. This is a process and will not happen over-night. Even if his athleticism is on par with last year, he’ll need it.

3 – The running game: Lamar Miller stands atop the depth chart. Donta Foreman is recovering from a very serious injury and may not contribute early or at all. The depth chart is thin beyond uninspiring Alfred Blue. Miller is capable but any injury to him and this team is in serious trouble, placing a greater burden on Watson.

NOTE: I fully expect the Texans to make one or more picks ups at running back between now and week 1 as team make cuts. I anticipate that is what they are waiting for and would suggest you are careful in drafting Miller for that reason and Foreman for injury concerns. A nice fit might be Ameer Abdullah should Detroit let him go.

4 – League catches up: The week 1 matchup with New England will be telling. We’ll have some answers on the questions above as well as how the league might adjust to Watson. He won’t be the surprise he was last year and if anyone will make adjustments for the Texans new strength, it will be the taker of strengths, Bill Belichick. The Pats narrowly escaped a home loss to Watson and company last season, and it would seem fair to reckon they remember that well going into the season opener.

2018 may include some hiccups for the Texans. For that reason, drafting Watson as the QB2 is a little lofty. His injury may linger and his stock may slump ever so slightly. After all, old quarterbacks on new teams and a new crop of rookie quarterbacks have their own stories to write. In the face of that recency bias the shiny new toys may eclipse a slightly struggling Watson.

Prior to re-watching Watson’s games, I would have suggested he was an optimal sell-high candidate, just as hind-sight proved Kaepernick and RGIII to be, but having watched him play again, I am convinced that any slip in value we may see this season should be embraced, aggressively as a dynasty opportunity. And while he may not play at his ungodly pace of 2017, I doubt this 22-year old will make you regret it.

Best ball note:  While I love Watson for dynasty, QB2 is far too rich for me for best ball. I prefer taking quarterbacks in the later rounds so Watson would never enter the picture for me at his current ADP. With that said, were I too go QB early, after Rodgers, I’d much prefer the 2018 prospects of Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and even Drew Brees.

Final note: Fingers crossed that Ameer Abdullah does become a Texan. A fresh start for a talent deserving a second chance on a team sorely missing healthy talent at the position.

 

Brandin Cooks and Recency Bias

Los Angeles Rams

Brandin Cooks is the #1 WR for the Rams

Most of us are vulnerable to recency bias. We reflect on what we just saw one season ago and imagine more of the same is on store. Such is the case with the Brandin Cooks and the Rams receiving corps.

Let’s start by having a look at the 2017 receiving totals

Todd Gurley: 64 receptions, 87 targets, 788 yards, 6 TDs

Cooper Kupp: 62 receptions, 94 targets, 869 yards, 5 TDs

Robert Woods: 56 receptions, 85 targets, 781 yards, 5 TDs

Sammy Watkins: 39 receptions, 70 targets, 593 yards, 8TDs

Higbee + Everett: 51 receptions, 77 targets, 539, 3 TDs

Recency bias would have us assume that Cooper Kupp is about to take the next step after posting an excellent rookie campaign, that Robert Woods will continue to split time with Kupp as Jared Goff’s primary target, and that Brandin Cooks would post similarly disappointing numbers to Sammy Watkins.

But probably not.

Watkins apologists (this writer included) blame the lackluster season on his late arrival to camp. Having been traded for late in the offseason Watkins, was not provided the time necessary to learn the offense and build rapport with Goff. Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and company all got a head start on Watkins and as a result were leaned on more heavily by Goff.

Still others Watkins supporters will blame Goff for his yardage total, suggesting the second year QB had made progress from his rookie season, but still couldn’t deliver the deep ball with accuracy. Watkins sluggish numbers were Goff’s failure, not his. This argument holds less credibility than the first. Goff was hardly the best deep ball thrower, but stats rank him closer to the middle of the pack, and even above average.

So exactly what happened to Sammy Watkins is still unclear, but let’s agree that the late arrival narrative holds some weight.

Enter Brandin Cooks. Cooks seems to have suffered an ADP drop in the wake of the trade to the Rams. While there are a number of reasons for this, namely: the fact that he was traded twice in two years being a red flag, an apparent QB talent drop having moved one from Brees/Brady to Goff, the one that seems to be put forward most frequently is that a player of his skill set simply can’t succeed in Los Angeles, and like Watkins will be regulated to a deep ball/decoy role, while Goff leans on the more familiar talents of Woods and Kupp.

A few things to consider about Cooks:

  1. at 24, he is younger than both Woods (26) AND 2nd year Cooper Kupp (25).
  2. He has posted 1,000+ yards in three of the last four seasons.
  3. 2017 was Cooks first season in a new offense with a new quarterback.
  4. He posted 1,082 yards on 65 catches and 114 targets in 2017, in that new offense.

Hey, about that narrative

The other side of being traded twice in two years, is that we can get an idea of how Cooks might adapt. While Watkins was only given a few weeks to familiarize himself with his new team, Cooks was given several months to immerse himself in the “Patriot’s Way”. The Patriots are known to run a complex and nuanced offense. Brady is known to be demanding of his teammates, with an offensive system, like many dependent on QB/WR reads, trust and chemistry. Many WRs have arrived in New England and quickly failed to live up to Brady and Belichick’s high standards. Not so with Cooks. He won their trust and became a key contributor, right up until the moment he was knocked out of the Super Bowl.

Also consider the situation Cooks was going into in New England. The Pats were hardly a team starved for talent. Brady was quite comfortable throwing to the likes of Gronkowski, Amendola, Hogan, White, Lewis, Burkhead and others. Despite walking into a room of entrenched veterans, Cooks finished the season only two yards behind Gronk for the lead in receiving yards and led the team in targets. If he is able to compete for targets with that group, it should be safe to assume he might be able to best his two elders in Los Angeles, Kupp and Woods.

It is likely that the Rams traded for Cooks with the intention of making him their clear number 1 receiver. The tell-tale sign will be what happens with Cooks’ contract. He’s up for free agency at the end of this season. It seems hard to believe that the Rams do not intend to invest in Cooks for the long-term. Last year they traded a first for Watkins only to watch him walk in the offseason. It would be hard to imagine them recklessly spending 1st round picks in consecutive seasons with nothing to show for it. A new contract is coming and likely soon. And why not, they will be signing a 24-year old receiver with three 1,000-yard seasons and pairing him with a 3rd year quarterback on what many consider one of the best young teams in the league. If and when he is signed and the Cooks-Goff chemistry takes hold we could be looking at one of the best QB/WR stacks for the next 5+ years.

Fantasy-wise:

Dynasty: Current value is likely very cheap. He s a potential #1 on a young team on the rise. If he re-signs long-term his value should get a nice jolt upwards. Buy the current dip.

Best ball: Current ADP is 51 on PlayDraft and he is the 21st receiver going off the board, behind a number of possible disappointments. Again, this seems like more than fair value for him. I’d consider sneaking him in on a few teams as he could very well finish as the #1 Rams receiver.

 

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.

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: 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.