For the record – Rams vs Vikings

@ Rams -6.5 over Minnesota

On the surface, it’s the 3-0 Rams versus a Vikings team who just lost to Buffalo, at home.

So the narrative might go like this: the humiliated Vikings will be out for blood and Zimmer will have them on their toes. Easier said than done. The Vikings offensive line is likely not up to the task of the Rams defense. Cook and Cousins will have little time to generate yards, despite their best efforts. It is hard to imagine a game plan that would compensate for the fatal flaw of no blocking.

In devil’s advocate terms, a case could be made that the Rams are a bit of a mirage, given that two of their three wins came against the seemingly lowly Raiders and Cards. It’s feasible that the Rams come in overconfident and aren’t ready for the Vikings fury, but I doubt it. The Vikings’ holes are just too big.

And those holes do not begin and end with their offensive line. The early season 2018 defense has been a serious downgrade from last year’s unit.

Again, Minnesota will be fired up for this one, they will likely put up a good fight for a few quarters,  but I think in the end their shortcomings will be revealed, and the Rams will take advantage. Rams to cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS

Still buying all the Brandon Cooks you will sell me. Again, he’s younger than both Woods and Kupp, considerably more talented then either and has the speed to take advantage of defenses preoccupied with Todd Gurley. He, along with Goff and Gurley are signed for the foreseeable future. There are years and years of top ten points to be had here, and yet 2017 Watkins comparisons have him undervalued. Another big week and that skepticism is likely to disappear.

Dalvin Cook is likely in for a rough ride this week and his early season lackluster numbers may have some owners ready to talk. Next week against Philly may be equally discouraging for stakeholders. It may not happen this year, but eventually this offensive line will get better and we will all be reminded of pre-injury 2017 Cook.

Dynasty QB Ranks

First of all, everyone’s dynasty roster is in a different state. If you’re going for it you’ll happily trade an unproven rookie for a stable senior citizen QB.

The list below is how I would view these players’ trade values for the season ahead.

Rank Player Age Comment
1 Russell Wilson 29 MVP/HOF calibre despite coaching
2 Aaron Rodgers 34 MVP/HOF calibre despite coaching
3 Matt Stafford 30 Steady as she goes. Crazy weapons
4 Cam Newton 29 Feels like a time bomb
5 Andrew Luck 28 Higher if he’s right
6 Carson Wentz 25 1 more season cements value
7 Marcus Mariota 24 Lofty position that needs to be earned
8 Deshaun Watson 22 Nice start, show me more
9 Matt Ryan 33 A strong career finish coming
10 Jared Goff 23 Progress, but mighty D/Run game is a ceiling
11 Lamar Jackson 21 Runs and throws well
12 Pat Mahomes 22 Throws well and runs
13 Jameis Winston 24 Maturity misteps proving to be an anchor
14 Jimmy Garoppolo 26 Overhyped, overpriced
15 Philip Rivers 36 Shot put gold medalist
16 Ben Roethlisberger 36 Armed with star-studded cast
17 Drew Brees 39 Last gasp: return of the air game
18 Mitch Turbisky 23 Mariota, with a coaching headstart
19 Josh Rosen 21 He can take this job early
20 Eli Manning 37 Roethlisberger-like cast
21 Sam Darnold 21 Ideally he is afforded a learning year
22 Tom Brady 41 Old man vs AFC east
23 Baker Mayfield 23 Has to overcome a curse od Cleveland
24 Kirk Cousins 29 New team/system. Not as young as you think
25 Blake Bortles 26 Underhyped, underpriced
26 Derek Carr 27 Possibly horrible
27 Chad Kelly 24 Probably best Broncos QB now
28 Dak Prescott 25 Must overcome lack of coaching and weapons
29 Alex Smith 34 You’re not in Kansas (City) anymore
30 Andy Dalton 30 Boring us into submission. Possible surprise
31 Teddy Bridgewater 25 Deserves a chance to be a #1
32 Josh Allen 22 Poison narrative makes him a value play
33 Ryan Tannehill 30 Reclamation project. Perhaps Gase turns it around
34 Mason Rudolph 23 Long wait behind stubborn jerk
35 Kyle Lauletta 22 Probably not the heir apparent but a lifetime backup
36 Case Keenum 30 Journeyman killing time looking for QB1
37 Joe Flacco 33 The big yawn. Lamar push may provide minor lift
38 Tyrod Taylor 29 Denied a real shot, Cleveland will rush Mayfield

 

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!

San Francisco 49ers

Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers finished the 2017 on a tear. Having posted a record of 1 and 10 to begin the season, Kyle Shanahan turned to his mid-season acquisition to ride out the year. He did not disappoint. Garoppolo would start weeks 13 through 17, posting impressive fantasy totals in five consecutive wins. Niners fans were given reason to be excited.

This offseason Garoppolo converted his 5-win stretch into a long-term contract. He is the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future. The Niners are likely in good hands for the long-term, the short-term is another story. Garoppolo’s play in 2017 was certainly impressive but it is perhaps wise to get a little perspective on his small sample size before paying his current ADP of 105.5 and QB9 ranking.

As QB9, Garoppolo finds himself being chosen ahead of the likes of Matt Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, and Philip Rivers. Now, it can easily be argued that Jimmy is worthy of being chosen ahead of those elder statesmen in dynasty, where age is certainly a factor, it is a much harder case to suggest he should be drafted ahead of any of them for the 2018 season.

A look at last season’s streak suggests the 49ers may not carry their year-end momentum into the new season and at some point, Jimmy may lose some of his offseason hyperbolic shine. For that reason, selling him into the current ADP could net you valuable assets and positions with greater scarcity. There is a strong case to sell the premium and wait for a dip to by. Here’s why.

A strong finish

Upon closer inspection, Garoppolo’s 2017 sample size is not as impressive as we might remember it.

Win one:

Jimmy’s five game tear began against the Chicago Bears. A team that came into that contest with a 4-game losing streak and seemed to have, albeit slightly prematurely, turned the page on the John Fox era.

Win two

The second win came against a Houston Texans team missing their own small-sample-size quarterback and riding a 1-5 record over their previous 6-game stretch into the matchup.

Win three:

Some credit can be given to the 49ers for beating the would-be playoff bound Titans. The Titans fell ass backwards into the post-season and then somehow beat Kansas City, so this is a valuable win. Though re-examining the Titans’ season, the squad really only managed to beat one credible team in the regular season (Jacksonville), the other wins all now appear to have been hanging-curve balls, with the benefit of hindsight.

Win four:

Then there is what was is inarguably an impressive win. Jimmy G and company managed to beat the Jags, scoring an impressive number of points in doing so. Mind you Jimmy managed only 240 yards in that matchup while his counterpart provided a buffet of turnovers to provide the Niners every chance to win. This was an impressive and important team win, but not Jimmy’s alone.

Win five:

Week 17 pitted Jimmy versus the Rams backups. The Rams were on auto pilot and the 49ers finished strong with a lineup of starters.

So, the 2017 legend of Jimmy run was a real thing, but it is likely being overplayed a little. Given that the 49ers open the 2018 season against the very strong Vikings D team and follow up with games against KC, Green Bay, the Rams twice and Broncos, this could be two steps back season before Jimmy and company take any more steps forward.

If you own Jimmy in dynasty, it would be worth at least seeing what the market has to offer. Perhaps someone is will to pay a considerable premium for a player getting inflated credit at a position deep with talent. With Roethlisberger, Ryan, Rivers and Stafford all being valued below Jimmy, you may be able to net one of those older QBs along with a young receiver or running back. It is certainly worth exploring as his value may suddenly take a hit should he not perform at his 2017 level.

In best ball, the aforementioned old guys can all put up equal or greater numbers, so you should let the competition draft him and attach positions of scarcity.

This is likely a year to sit Jimmy out, and should he disappoint, look to acquire him post-hype.

Speaking of hype

Jerick McKinnon is an excellent player. He’s a tremendous athlete with shocking good strength for his size and a receiving skill set among the top in the NFL. Kyle Shanahan’s record with running backs, along with his father, are the stuff of legend. It has been a rule of thumb now for two generations: draft Shanahan running backs. It has been a winning proposition. Not to be a broken record, but his offseason hype inflation could also provide another opportunity to sell high.

McKinnon was provided an opportunity to be the top running back in Minnesota but was unable to assume Dalvin Cook’s role, post injury. He played a role as a runner and a receiver but was never able to shoulder the full load. The Shanahan effect, new contract and offseason hysteria have taken McKinnon to new heights. Currently drafted 21.3 ADP and RB14, there is again value to be squeezed here. Keep in mind that McKinnon’s ADP is skewed somewhat by early season action on PlayDraft (our ADP reference) that saw him going in the double-digit rounds prior to the Niners acquiring him. His is now drafted anywhere from the early 2nd to late 3rd round. This is hype you should price.

Last year the 49ers were led by now departed Carlos Hyde. Hyde managed 900+ yards rushing and 350 receiving, along with 8 TDs. These are the numbers drafters must be assuming McKinnon can duplicate or better. But is the Hyde role his?

Looking at last year’s numbers one must consider Matt Breida. Breida managed an under-the radar 465 rushing yards and 180 yards receiving, on roughly half of the touches of Hyde. It seems a safe bet that Breida’s modest success did not go unnoticed by the coaching staff, and that he should factor into the 2018 gameplan. As offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, Shanahan incorporated two talents into his backfield, with considerable success. Both Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman were able to provide numbers on the ground and through the air, acting at times as interchangeable pieces. Could it be that the Niners intend on employing a more equally divided running attack? It may be that Kyle Shanahan, smart and adaptable coach that he is, intends to employ a similar split backfield in San Fran, one in which Breida takes far more touches than reflected in either his current ADP or McKinnon’s.

With this in mind, it might be wise to field offers for Jerick McKinnon in the hopes and being overpaid, or at least receiving a more clear-cut number 1 RB. While it’s not a certainty the backfield will be shared, there are some hints that McKinnon may not inherit the full workload. For that reason it is important to at least see how your fellow dynasty owners value him. At the same time, it could be worthwhile exploring Breida as a possible cheap asset to acquire, given his 2017 season was overshadowed by Hyde and he has now been swallowed by the McKinnon hype Tsunami, he can be had in the very late rounds in best ball and dynasty.

Receivers

The Shanahan offense has typically employed a go to X receiver. The Atlanta version of which was Julio Jones. No such talent can be found on the current 49ers roster. It can be assumed that Shanahan is again capable of adapting and may be willing to employ a Patriot-esque receiving corps strategy. It’s also worth considering that this offense continues to be a rebuild in progress and all of the pieces aren’t present. Said X receiver could very well be drafted from next year’s rich wideout crop. For that reason, it would be wise to avoid overpaying for a player like Marquise Goodwin and look instead to some of the less exciting targets.

For best ball purposes, rather than pay up for slightly expensive Goodwin, draft capital is better spent on Pierre Garcon (500 yards in 8 games last year) and Matt Waldman’s top receiver prospect Dante Pettis. Both should provide production above expectation (based on ADP) while Goodwin threatens to disappoint.

As far as dynasty goes, I’d again avoid Goodwin and opt for Pierre Garcon who will only be 32 going into the season and Dante Pettis, who when looking at the current roster, seems to be the player most likely to be around for the long-term.

Tight end

The 49ers hype extends to tight end George Kittle, who’s 2017 contributions suggested a promising future in San Francisco. Like Pettis, Kittle could become a mainstay in the Shanahan system, and like RB and the X receiver, tight end is a position that has done well. With Garcon having missed the Jimmy intro and Pettis not yet on the squad for the 5-game streak, Kittle has the early lead for familiarity with the new QB. He will compete for targets with Garrett Celek but could very well reach relevancy as he approaches 700 yards plus this season. He is also likely to be one of the better red zone options for this team, that while they may not win more than eight games, can certainly score a few more touchdowns than they managed in the first half of 2017.

Wrapping up

In short, there is no panic to sell Garoppolo or McKinnon, but given their inflated offseason values it is worth exploring what a trade might net you. It’s always fun to gauge your league and get a sense of how others value your guys. Don’t fall in love with the hype when it is possible you can generate a great return. In best ball, Jimmy is an avoid at ADP and McKinnon is worth rostering when he falls beyond the 2nd round.

Goodwin is best rostered on someone else’s team. He’s too expensive for what could be disappointing production as the returning Garcon eats his targets. Pierre Garcon should be consistently productive, though perhaps boring. Pettis is likely to flash here and there this season but should be aggressively bought for dynasty purposes.

At running back, Breida is a nice late best ball pick and could also surprise by stealing touches from McKinnon in dynasty. Given his cheap valuation it is a low-cost risk worth taking.

George Kittle can be drafted in best ball without worry and is worth a look in dynasty as well.

All in al the 49ers look to be headed in the right direction. The rebuild moved along faster than anticipated, but there is much work left to be done. Their only shortcoming is that they became one of the leagues offseason darlings and the market has run away with several player valuations. That appears to be an opportunity to sell the expensive Niners and grab the cheap ones.

 

 

 

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.