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.

For the record – week 3

Weekly picks and dynasty transactions

@ Jags 6.5 over Titans

Hard to believe that the Titans, missing so many starters, were able to beat the Texans last week. It’s harder still to imagine a scenario where they are able to keep it close versus a very impressive Jags team. Of course, this could be viewed as a trap game as the Jags may be a little overconfident coming off their win versus New England, but I’m going to bet the momentum, and Titans injuries/inferiority carry them through. Jags to cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS

The window to buy Keelan Cole is closing rapidly. Fast, capable receivers who make hay off of play action on a team that wants to run the ball, is a very good recipe. The fact that the likes of highly regarded Matt Waldman and Matt Harmon are pounding the table here, suggests the price should climb considerably as more evidence is provided to support Cole’s case. Get him if you still can.

@ Chiefs 6.5 over 49ers

An early season battle of small-sample-sized, offseason darling QBs. At the moment Mahomes owners are likely dividing their time between giddiness and skepticism. It has been an incredible start, one that is set for certain regression. This week marks Mahomes’ Arrowhead debut, a stadium that has been historically unfavourable to visiting teams, and I’m guessing the fans will be jacked up for this one. Satiating the hometown fans will be a new test for Mahomes. In the face of such expectations we’ll see how the young QB reacts. Will he press a little looking for the big play and create some long-overdue turnovers, or will the honeymoon continue? Let’s bet he doesn’t disappoint. Chiefs to cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS

Buy Spencer Ware. Andy Reid has a history of supporting multiple backs. Ware was the starter before getting hurt last year, and should Hunt get falter or get Hurt, Ware is an immediate RB1/2. This is fertile soil for all offensive weapons and Ware should grow too.

@ Panthers 2.5 over Bengals

Home favourites are certainly a thing this week. I’ve been reluctant to join the Bengals early season bandwagon and see no reason to do so this week on the road. This isn’t an easy call though, but when in doubt, on a tight spread like this it is wise to bet on the home team. Take the Panthers to win and cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS

Wonderful as he’s been, I think now is the time to see what the market has to offer on Cam Newton. While he’s only 29 years old, as Indiana Jones once said “It’s not the years it’s the mileage” and there are plenty of those on this run first quarterback. Recent QB entries into the league are changing the QB landscape, as new names emerge Cam’s star could very well fade. Why not see if there isn’t a buyer out there.

@ Falcons 3.5 over Saints

These are two teams that are struggling to find their bearings. Both are 1-1 and have given little in the way of confidence-inspiring play. The Saints barely escaped week two against the Browns after getting embarrassed by the Buccaneers. Sean Payton won’t allow them to flounder for long and it seems more likely that he resolves what ails the Saints (defense it would seem) versus Atlanta’s spotty passing game and red zone issues, which, as far as colors go, would more aptly be called a black hole. Saints to cover and win.

IN DYNASTY TERMS

If and when the Falcons do fix their red zone issues, Julio Jones will be a certain beneficiary, but so to will Austin Hooper. The very talented Hooper has produced very little to date, but this season he has been targeted multiple times in the red zone and managed to score last week. Many seem to have given up on the 23-year old, third year receiver, but the tight end position takes time to develop, particularly those tight ends who are not quasi receivers. Hooper is being developed into an all-around tight end, making major strides in his run blocking last season. He has more than enough talent to figure out the receiving game. Balanced tight end, those who can block and be a threat are becoming a rarer commodity in today’s NFL. If Hooper puts it all together he should be around for a very long time. Go get him, he’s cheap.

@ Vikings 16.5 over Bills

16.5 is a big number but if anyone can’t cover that big a spread, it’s the Bills. Take the Vikes to cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS

I have long been a Laquon Treadwell apologist, urging patience on a talented player who would eventually figure it out. And while you don’t need to be told this: cut him. He’s not rosterable. And if like me you had some ridiculous loyalty to him, if he ever pops at some point down the road you’ll be the only person putting a waiver claim on him.

And yes, this isn’t added value advice, but for me it’s a cathartic admission of failure, a mea culpa. My name is Jason and I am a Laquon Treadwell addict.

No more damnit. No more.

@ Eagles 6.5 over Colts

Carson Wentz is back but several of his weapons are gone. Ships passing in the night it seems. While everyone remembers how great Wentz was last year and how much they loved him, everyone seems to be forgetting Andrew Luck. It wasn’t so long ago that he was the second coming of Peyton Manning, and I think those dismissing him and his repaired shoulder are going to be reminded of that several times this season. One of those times will be this weekend. Colts to cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS:

The window to buy Andrew Luck is still open. People suspect his shoulder is a time bomb, they forget his first years in the league, they are distracted by the shiny new toys with names like Wentz and Watson and Mahomes, but what if Luck continues to progress, continues to throw deeper? What if Colts management has learned they need to protect their QB? What if that defense is horrible and the Colts have to throw for the new 5-10 years? Luck is a good buy low candidate as a player who could be top 5 again before long.

@ Dolphins 3.5 over Raiders

The Raiders have been dreadful and Jon Gruden has become a punching bag in the football community. The Dolphins are off to an unexpected 2-0 start. Those wins came against a Titans team that suffered a string of injuries in the week 1 contest and then the Jets in Sam Darnold’s second ever start. Both of those teams might actually be horrible. This smells like a let down game for Miami. The Raiders meanwhile, have lost to a dominant Rams team and just barely lost to the Broncos, in Denver. Take the Raiders to cover and win.

IN DYNASTY TERMS

As long-term investments go, I can’t see any I’d willingly make to any player on either of these teams and that includes the hot and cold Amari Cooper. Cooper receives a tremendous amount of coverage in the fantasy community thanks to his skill set and early career success. He may very well prove to be a serviceable starting WR for years to come, but at this point the conversation about him being an elite receiver should be over.

@ Ravens 5.5 over Broncos

The Ravens at home, coming off a loss versus a Denver team travelling across the country for the early game with a banged up (and possibly lousy) quarterback. Both of these teams still seem unsettled to me. The Broncos are 2-0 on two tight wins at home against two teams that appear to be in disarray. A new coaching staff next year and a new Quarterback mid-year would not surprise me in Denver. The Ravens offense is loaded with new names. Each week they should get a little more familiar with one and other. I think Mornhinweg starts to get this offense working this week. Take the Ravens to win and cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS:

The buying window is closing on John Brown. After looking good in the pre-season, he put up 90+ yards last week when he had to, and 40 plus versus Buffalo when he didn’t. Flacco’s deep ball makes him an interesting play this year, but if he is able to manage his health issue long-term, a future as Lamar Jackson’s target offers real value.

In buy extremely low terms, I am holding out hope that the possible week 11 return of Kenneth Dixon may finally reward us Dixon-truthers. The wait has been long and painful and this is likely one of his last chances to shine in Baltimore. He’s a bottom of the roster waiver wire pickup between now and late October.

Possibly cheaper, probably somewhere between Brown and Dixon is Broncos QB2 Chad Kelly. Kelly is a favourite of the aforementioned Matt Waldman and it would appear Keenum will afford him a chance to audition at some point this season, possibly as early as this week. He’s a big upside stash if you can make some roster space.

@ Texans 6.5 over Giants

After watching the first two weeks it’s hard to imagine how anyone can comfortably bet the Giants here. The Texans are still trying to find their footing and playing the Giants at home is a great place to do it. Watson production has reverting to the mean as predicted, but given this week’s matchup and the outside motivation from a local school superintendent, this feels like a week he could pop. The bench Eli drumbeat also seems eager to intensify. Texans to cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS:

The early season swoon for the Giants makes it an opportunity for patient buyers to go fishing for the likes of Beckham and Barkley. And while it’s unlikely a big discount is available on either, kicking the tires on Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram might be worth your time. And if you have the roster space, Kyle Lauletta is eventually getting to audition with all four of those guys, isn’t he?

Packers 2.5 over @ Washington

This all hinges on how well Rodgers can play on his leg and a half. Washington beat the lowly Cardinals and then looked dreadful last week against the Colts. Now they host a Green Bay team that is adding Aaron Jones to its backfield. Alex Smith is still getting acquainted with an offense that has several new pieces. It might take a few more weeks, and a weaker opponent before they can figure it all out. Packers to cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS:

In rebuild mode I’d be trying to acquire any of the Green Bay assets that may be slightly diminished by Rodgers limitations. I doubt there is much discount there but is worth pricing now and in the coming weeks if the offense falters.

Impatient or win-now owners may be willing to part ways with Derrius Guice at a reasonable price.

@ Rams 7.5 over Chargers

The Rams have been dominant against the Raiders and dreadful Cardinals. This week they play against a Chargers team that won’t be so easily pushed around. The Rams are no doubt among the elite, but their pre-season ends this Sunday and Philip Rivers and the Chargers may catch them off guard. Chargers to cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS:

I’m a broken record here, but this is just a monthly reminder that Brandin Cooks is slightly younger than Woods and Kupp and vastly more talented than both. Cooks is a receiver-in-full: speed, route running and adaptability. It doesn’t hurt either that he plays against defenses that are terrified of Todd Gurley. Stacked boxes and play action will be his friends for years to come. He’s signed, Gurley is signed and Goff is signed. This is a long-term situation that should only improve with time. Time for you to sign up to the Cooks truther camp. This is a top 10 receiver for the next 5 to 7 years.

@ Seahawks 1.5 over Cowboys

A reminder: both of these coaching staffs will be replaced this offseason. Second reminder, Russell Wilson is greater than anything Dallas has to offer. Seahawks to cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS:

Sign me up for anyone selling Russell Wilson shares. At 29 Wilson has produced a handful of MVP candidate seasons. He has done so all while being poorly protected by his offensive line, provided modest weaponry in the passing game and been hamstrung by a coaching staff who thinks their best course is to “pound the rock”. At some point a rational decision will be made and Wilson will be able to play without one hand tied behind his back.

And yes, I realize Newton and Wilson are the same age and that they have both paid a price physically. The difference is, I believe Wilson has all the passing game tools to adjust his game over time, while I’m skeptical Newton can.

I’m also a cautious buyer of Tyler Lockett. I’ve been waiting 2+ years, what’s one more.

Bears 6.5 over @ Cardinals

The Bears defense was very impressive last week versus Seattle. They have announced their arrival as a unit to be taken seriously. The offense in Chicago, meanwhile, remains a bit of a work in progress. In Arizona nothing has worked. I’d wager there is enough veteran pride and leadership in the Cardinals room to turn things around this week, and at the very least keep this home game a close one. Cards to cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS:

In horrible calls for 2018, my worst has been that David Johnson would be the fantasy MVP. In the early going that appears to be a total disaster and I’m not holding my breath for a turnaround/. The logic was simple: volume and garbage time should equal big passing yardage as the Cards make late game efforts against prevent type defenses. That obviously has not materialized. That being said, for those able to sit and wait on Johnson, it’s worth seeing how a motivated seller might have him valued.

Patriots 6.5 over @ Lions

Bill Belichick coming off a loss, playing against a struggling team headed by one of his former assistant coaches, and a vastly overrated one in my estimation. I suspect this could be a high scoring affair, and I anticipate Gronk bounces back from a frustrating week 2 versus Jacksonville. Pats win this track meet and cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS:

Broken record suggestions here: Buy Gronk, he’s not retiring, buy Sony Michel, buy Kenny Golladay, take a shot on Josh Gordon, sell Tom Brady, sell Julian Edelman, sell Chris Hogan.

Steelers 1.5 over @ BUCCANEERS

I love Ryan Fitzpatrick and hope there is plenty of magic yet to come, but this week I think the Steelers will be desperate to get their season headed in the right direction. Expect a monster game from drama queen Antonio Brown and mix in a little Juju. The Buccs will likely keep this a track meet, but the Steelers will prevail. Take the Steelers to cover.

IN DYNASTY TERMS:

Juju Smith-Schuster is still only 21 years old. Antonio Brown, like many Steelers star receivers before him, may find himself, regrettably retiring in another team’s colors. Whether he finishes his career in Pittsburgh or not won’t matter to Juju. Like Brandin Cooks, he is both highly regarded and underrated.

Dynasty WR ranks

I’m skeptical of rookies until proven otherwise. And given the track record of rookie WRs its reasonable to think they will be available at more reasonable prices in years two and three.

Here’s how I’m valuing them now, or how I think they’ll be valued come year end.

Dynasty WR Ranks
Wide Receiver Reason
DeAndre Hopkins He doesn’t catch the ball. He attacks it. He owns it. A beast with a QB on the rise
Keenan Allen PPR beast, technician, not going anywhere for a very long time.
Odell Beckham Big market noisy and likely to face a QB transition give me pause.
Antonio Brown He’s Antonio Brown
Julio Jones A beast off a bad year. He’s got production and trade value to spare.
AJ Green Forever tied to Julio, though anchored by a QB, coach and organization.
Stefon Diggs He might be Antonio Brown 2.0
Doug Baldwin Just like the next guy except his Drew Brees is considerably younger.
Michael Thomas Brees sunset coming. Questions about what he is in aftermath.
Brandin Cooks New teams, new playbooks: no problem. 24 years old with three 1,000 yards seasons. Yes please.
Corey Davis QB and rookie season questions loom, but I remain a believer this staff makes it work.
Sammy Watkins Home at last. Great potential fit. It’s now or never for this once highly regarded talent.
Davante Adams Prove it year. If he does he jumps 5+ spots. Otherwise a rookie is making big leaps.
Tyreek Hill Strange player with hug opportunity to modernize the no helmet tackle era.
Josh Gordon One time stud with a giant hiatus. All the tools and now possibly the brain to match.
Mike Evans Yes, way down here. Big body era gone by? Question marks at QB and coach? I prefer certainty.
T.Y. Hilton If Luck is right, he climbs but Tommy John is no joke.
Juju Smith Schuster Surprisingly mature, surprisingly young, excellent teal with a track record at WR development.
Amari Cooper Yes, way down here. If he cares he’ll be good to great. He hasn’t cared yet.
Jarvis Landry A boring track record that can’t be argued with. Cleveland is as good or better than Miami, no?
Kenny Golloday Potential beast with an under-loved QB who will have Rivers/Roethlisberger love in a year.
Golden Tate A new era WR that arrived too early. Still more yards to come.
Kenny Stills Under the radar #1 in Miami and not going away any time soon. Also 26.
Chris Godwin He’s 22, Evans is likely overrated and TB is in transition. I think his contract sees the other side.
Tyler Lockett Now or never season for this one time high upside 25 year old.
Cameron Meredith Nice recipe for fantasy jolt playing with Brees. 25 years old.
Sterling Shepard Meredith without the Brees bump. ODB counterweight.
Allen Robinson Once loved, loved again but many questions to be answered.
Keelan Cole Most of his yards in 17 came from play action. Fournette should provide more opportunity.
Nelson Agholor Wentz still needs another #1. Maybe Jeffrey?

 

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!

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.

 

All we need is just a little patience

First Round Wide Receivers, Corey Davis & the Tennessee Titans

When it comes to first round wide receivers, fantasy players have been tormented in recent years. We’ve been believing the hype and drafting 1st round receivers in hopes of catching the next superstar. But of late, he just hasn’t been there. We’ve been like dogs, answering the call of our owners, only to receive a boot in place of the expected bone. And after so many kicks, we’re a little bit angry and short on patience.

Here’s a look at what we’ve been though:

It all started with the spoil of riches that was the 2014 class. That group included immediate stars in: Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. in what was arguably one of the best classes of receivers ever.

From that point receiver bullishness went into full throttle. I can’t recall when exactly the zero-RB strategy first gained serious traction, but it wasn’t long after this 2014 class. Everyone was going ape-shit for receivers, both fantasy players and actual NFL general managers alike.

The 2015 draft spoke to that enthusiasm.

The early success of the five first rounders in 2014 might have had something to do with the six receivers drafted in 2015’s opening round: Amari Cooper (4), Kevin White (7), DeVante Parker (14), Nelson Agholor (20), Breshad Perriman (26), and Phillip Dorsett (29).

At the time some of these names were considered reaches, and with hindsight that clearly is the case. With the exception of Cooper, this was a collection of underwhelming or disappointing rookie campaigns.

Receiver madness was not quick to fade though. The 2016 first round saw these names taken in the first round: Corey Coleman (15), Will Fuller (21), Josh Doctson (22) and Laquon Treadwell (23).

Unfortunately, not unlike 2015, these rookie season all proved to be duds. The majority of voices urged patience and reiterated upside on both the 15 and 16 classes, if only we’d wait.

By 2017, that patience was being tested. It seemed both fantasy players and NFL GMs were growing a little skeptical. Zero-RB was becoming a joke, and the pendulum starting to swing away from receivers and towards the backfield.

In the ’17 draft, receivers were taken early, but not often: Corey Davis (5), Mike Williams (7), and John Ross (9). High picks all of them, but teams opted for the later rounds to fill the position.

And once again, the 1st round class proved frustrating.

By this point even Cooper’s star was a little dimmer, while Fuller was enjoying a Deshaun Watson bump and Nelson Agholor was basking in the glow of his new Super Bowl ring.

Aside from that modest group, the rest of the ‘15 and ‘16 alumni fell into two groups: hopeful or hopeless.

There remains some hope that Doctson and Parker can become fantasy relevant, but Treadwell, White, Perriman, Coleman, and Dorsett have been left for dead.

The first-round receiver bull market was dead.

Fantasy pros who had hailed the skills sets of Kevin White and Laquon Treadwell were now in full back pedal. Zero RB was a tired punchline, and drafting WRs in the first round in the NFL draft was considered a waste of draft capital, with only DJ Moore and Calvin Ridley taken in the latter portion of the 2018 draft.

The environment for wide receivers turned to crap. The pendulum swung away from receivers and firmly towards running back as the likes of Gurley, Zeke, and Kamara exploded onto the scene.

Three-year rule

It was not so long ago that there was a theory, or rather a fantasy rule of thumb about receivers. The theory was that receivers took approximately 3 years to reach their potential. And while this theory was upended by some early success stories, it’s worth revisiting. All wide receivers were not created equal. Some enter the league older, more developed, more mature, they compete against thin depth chart competition, or enter the right system. Others endure stubborn coaches, complex systems, injuries, coaching changings and star-studded depth charts too difficult to penetrate. The three-year theory assumed some players took time to develop. It allowed for players to grow into their new role and team and slowly grasp the nuances of the game, all the while maturing into their physical primes. It seems we’ve parted ways with this three-year window, demanding instant results.

In today’s environment, patience is hard to come by. In the world of twitter polls and hot takes it is difficult to just sit and wait for these players to ripen. We want success and we want it now.

So that’s where we are. We were spoiled by a bumper crop and then have endured a brief drought which we now seem to be overreacting to. But that could prove costly. The 2014 crop skewed the market and while we must reflect and reevaluate on those occupying the bottom of our depth charts, we must also remember that patience is a key to roster construction. Giving up on a player too early is much more painful than holding on to one a little too long. Have an objective look at your players and see if they are not worthy of the three-year rule. Some circumstance may have held them back temporarily, while new circumstances might unleash their potential.

Corey Davis

All of that exhausting pre-amble brings me to Corey Davis.

There are circumstances that explain Davis paltry 2017 numbers. First off, he missed the entire pre-season with injuries. He was offered no time to get in game experience or build chemistry with Mariota before the live-ammo of the regular season. Despite that missed opportunity, he managed to post impressive target and yard totals in week one, only to aggravate the injury the following week. Healing on the sideline the slow-healing Davis became a bit of a forgotten man and the coaching staff made due with their veteran receivers. Kudos to them, as that staff muddled through the season to somehow not only make the playoffs, but beat the Chiefs in the Wild Card round, before ultimately losing to New England.

In those two do or die games Mariota rediscovered Davis, with the receiver gaining just short of 100 yards and his first two career touchdowns. The connection finished on a high note.

Playoffs aside, the exotic smashmouth administration was replaced by Mike Vrabel and his staff. The most tantalizing member of which has to be offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. LaFleur, having enjoyed success under league coaching darlings Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, shoulders a heavy load of expectation that he can deliver a new and improved offense in Tennessee.

LaFleur will enjoy the low baseline that was the 2017 season and it is hard to imagine he won’t improve on those pedestrian numbers. Last year Mariota threw for a disappointing 3,232 yards and 13 TDs, having thrown 26 the previous season. In his fifteen games he eclipsed 300 yards only twice and finished with less than 200 yards in four of his last six regular season games. Even a pessimist would be hard pressed to imagine Mariota having a bleaker 2018.

Let’s hope that along with better overall numbers for the offense, Davis enjoys the benefit of a full offseason and improved regular season health. He eked out 375 yards despite playing only 11 games, with few of those games played at full strength. Then also consider that he was competing last season with Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker for targets, the latter of whom is now gone. This season Davis should enter the season healthy and with a defined role. While Matthews has proven to be a consistent contributor, Davis physical gifts suggest he can easily draw his fair share of targets. Last years targets broke as follows:

Walker                                 111

Matthews                           87

Decker                                  83

Davis                                     65

Murray                                 47

With Walker aging, Decker absent, Matthews maintaining, and a new aggressive coordinator, it is hard to imagine a healthy Davis not taking a major leap forward.

Let’s not forget that Davis, drafted by GM Jon Robinson, is also economically attractive to the Titans. Davis is locked in with a cap friendly rookie contract that the GM will want to see a return on. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.

As far as dynasty receivers are concerned this is a pretty favorable check list: talented young QB, newly mandated coaching staff, firmly entrenched GM, and thin depth chart at receiver. This means that the staff, Mariota and Davis will all be given long-leashes and the time and patience needed to succeed.

The question is will we as dynasty owners have that same patience. If so we could be rewarded with a young QB/WR combination, ready to produce for a very long time.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Arizona Cardinals

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

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

QB: Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon

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

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

TE: Ricky Seals-Jones, Jermaine Gresham

Upon reviewing this list, a few things stand out:

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

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

2 – Who the hell is Chad Williams?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting deeper

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

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

Going deeper

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

Jaron and John are gone.

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

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

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

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

Tight End

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

Summing up

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

Seattle Seahawks

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may

Old time is still a-flying

-Robert Herrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy-wise – Garbage time    

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

So here are the no brainers:

Buy Russell Wilson. Buy Doug Baldwin.

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

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

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

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

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