The End of Eli?

Updated: September 21st 2017

Struggles of the New York Giants offense during the first two weeks of the NFL season led many to question whether Eli Manning’s play diminished to the point that his career is nearing the end.  The question becomes is this season that much different for Manning?  Are there other factors in the play here which contribute to the Giants’ poor play so far?  I take a deeper look into the question comparing this season with the rest of Eli’s career.

Eli’s Career

Eli Manning accumulated many accolades over the course of his 14 seasons.  Eli amassed 48,677 yards (8th all-time) and 321 touchdowns (7th all-time) so far in his career.  Manning’s yardage and touchdown numbers are greater than that of many quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame.  Those numbers are due, in part, to his remarkable run of availability.  Manning has been a model of good health over his career never missing a game to injury playing every game for the New York Giants.  The Giants have managed 6 playoff appearances during Manning’s time as quarterback and he owns an 8-4 playoff record during that time.  The New York quarterback also won two Super Bowl trophies over the years including two Super Bowl MVPs, beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for each win.

Not all has been great in the Manning realm throughout his career though.  Eli has been one of the most consistently inconsistent quarterbacks in the league.  He has the skills to produce great seasons like the Super Bowl winning 2011 year in which Manning threw for nearly 5,000 yards while at the same time fully capable of completely imploding as in the 2013 season in which he led the league with an astounding 27 interceptions.  Manning tossed 217 interceptions so far, second among active quarterbacks.  His inconsistency can appear even in the same game.  Manning may look like a Hall of Famer one minute making solid pinpoint accurate throws for chunks of a game.  The next minute might easily see Manning throwing horribly inaccurate throws and making awful decisions usually reserved for rookies.  And what about that stellar playoff record?  Outside of those two Super Bowl seasons, Manning produced exactly zero wins in four playoff appearances producing an abysmal 54% completion percentage, a miniscule 6.3 yards per attempt, and an ugly 3:7 touchdown to interception ratio during those games.

Eli Compared to Other Quarterbacks

I next take a look at how Manning has performed in relation to other NFL quarterbacks.  The chart below shows Manning’s yearly ranking for a variety of quarterback metrics including ESPN’s QBR, passer rating, and Football Outsider’s quarterback DVOA.  Manning’s average of each metric is displayed at the bottom of the chart not including 2017.  The results are decidedly mediocre.  Manning manages zero top-5 and few top-10 finishes by any measure throughout his entire career.  His best score is a middle of the pack average of 15th over his career.  Eli’s recent history is even worse.  From 2013-2016, Manning best average among the listed metrics is only 21st.  Put succinctly, Eli was never among the better quarterbacks in the league and his play in recent years qualifies only as average, at best, for starting quarterbacks in the NFL.  His play this season does appear completely not out of the norm when compared to his latest years.

So what types of players are the best comparables to Manning?  Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco provide the closest comps to Manning with very similar yards per attempt, completion percentage, and touchdown to interception ratios found below.  This may seem surprising at first but really should not be when one thinks about the players, particularly Cutler.  Manning and Cutler share many of the same strengths including good arm strength but also many of the same weaknesses including the afore-mentioned poor decision making and inconsistent accuracy.  Pro-Football-Reference’s Adjusted Yards per Attempt and Net Yards per Attempt are also included below for additional comparison purposes.

Eli’s Surrounding Circumstances in New York

Numbers sometimes hide the true value of a player working in a sub-optimal situation so we need to look at Manning’s surround cast during his time with the Giants to determine if he was handicapped by his fellow teammates.  Below we find Football Outsider’s efficiency rankings on total defense, offensive line pass protection (adjusted sack rate), and offensive rushing for New York during the Manning years with the average rank from 2004 to 2016.  New York’s defense and rushing attack have overall been within the norm of the NFL, ranking slightly above average.  Most interesting is the great pass protection Manning received over his career which has generally been superb.  New York finished outside the top-11 in adjusted sack rate only twice in thirteen years and Eli only faced very poor pass protection once which happened during his rookie season.  Overall, the data verifies Manning was not hindered by his teammates over the course of his career and his supporting personnel likely boosted his outcomes to some extent above what would be expected if Manning played for another team.

Looking at this season, there is no doubt the offensive line struggles significantly impact Manning’s performance.  Eli is under far more pressure than what he is accustomed to and the Giants’ coaching staff has not provided help for an offensive line that is clearly overmatched so far this year.  Manning has not helped the situation.  He looks like an immovable statue in the pocket and holds the ball far too long too often taking sacks when it is clear he should simply throw the ball away.

Conclusion

While Manning’s gross numbers and accomplishments suggest a player worth of Hall of Fame recognition, a deeper look into the statistics demonstrates a decidedly average quarterback over the course of his career.  His perception as a great quarterback relies significantly on what I will call “highlight” bias coming from two Super Bowl wins and his luck on the injury axis likely contributed by a great offensive line throughout much of his career.

We really should not be surprised by Manning’s current level of play given his drop off in efficiency over recent years.  Manning benefitted from stellar pass protection for most of his career.  With what looks to be one of the few truly bad offensive lines in Eli’s career this season, Manning’s lack of mobility might well be on full display.  Ben McAdoo and the rest of the New York coaching staff may very well adjust blocking schemes adding more blockers, or adjust offensive schemes to quicker throws.  If not, Manning and the Giants offense could be looking at a very ugly season.  Taking a broad view, it is doubtful Manning’s play greatly diminished this season as some suggest.  It is far more likely New York’s offensive line struggles simply magnify some of Eli’s deficiencies as a player.  Manning has not been a particularly good quarterback for a long time and that is unlikely to change as his career draws to an end.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

The Watch List: Week 4

Updated: September 21st 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update: Mason Rudolph’s and Baker Mayfield’s stocks have risen while Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson remain in the middle of the pack.  My favorite non-QB is still Saquon Barkley but he’ll struggle to earn anything more than third place votes if Rudolph and Mayfield keep up their pace.  If I had a vote, and I don’t, my pick right now would be Rudolph.  I do think that other positions should get Heisman love other than QBs but it’s impossible to ignore what Rudolph is doing right now.  If you’re looking for a defensive dark horse, follow FSU S Derwin James and Texas LB Malik Jefferson closely.  I expect James to expand on a solid performance against Alabama where he only had six tackles but was a constant presence on the field.  Jefferson had 11 tackles in the close loss to USC and is the heart and soul of that Longhorn defense.
  • Florida State Back in Action: The Seminoles’ season is off to a strange start.  It feels like their loss to #1 Alabama was two months ago but it’s only been three weeks.  In that span though, FSU has had a game cancelled (UL-Monroe) and another postponed (Miami).  They haven’t been on the field since QB Deondre Francois went down with a season ending injury.  Ultimately, Hurricane Irma could have been a blessing in disguise as it has removed the spotlight from freshman QB James Blackman and given him time with the “ones” in practice.  Blackman was not a very highly touted recruit, in fact he was ranked as the 52nd quarterback by Phil Steele in his recruiting class.  Blackman won the job though and will rely on fellow freshman Cam Akers.  Akers only had 30 yards against Alabama but don’t let that belie his potential.  If you play devy or are just a college football fan, keep an eye on him.  Blackman and coach Jimbo Fisher will have to rely on Akers if FSU is to compete in the ACC this season without Francois.
  • Vandy is on the Come: Vanderbilt is just on the outside of the Top 25.  In the AP Poll they received 83 votes while in the Coaches Poll they received 92.  One of Vandy’s three wins came against Alabama A&M, the second was against Middle Tennessee State (who beat their other Power 5 opponent, Syracuse) and the crown jewel was a close win against #18 Kansas State.  The Commodores have been led by their defense which, based on yards per game, is the 1st ranked pass defense, the 32nd ranked rush defense and the 4th ranked total defense.  In terms of points, Vandy is ranked 1st.  The offense is not prolific but it is lead steadily by junior quarterback Kyle Shurmur (his father is Pat Shurmur, the Vikings OC).  Shurmur has thrown 8 TDs and zero picks and his completion percentage is much improved thus far (71.0% vs 54.4% last year).  My preseason prediction was 8 wins which is looking pretty good right now but they face a huge test this week against Alabama.

Players to Watch

  • Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: Rudolph’s production so far is off the charts.  Literally.  Rudolph’s completion percentage and yards per attempt would beat Baker Mayfield’s 2016 FBS-leading numbers by a significant margin.  Rudolph’s completion percentage so far this season is 72.3%, compared to Mayfield’s 70.9% last year.  Rudolph’s yards per attempt is 12.1, better than Mayfield by a full yard.  That YPA is just crazy so let me give you context.  From 2000-2015, no quarterback averaged more than 10.7 YPA (RGIII in 2011).  I didn’t go back further than 2000, but I think it’s a safe bet to assume that Mayfield’s 2016 mark was a record and the fact that Rudolph is on pace to best that by a full yard means he has to get my Heisman vote.  The biggest knock against Rudolph is the competition he has faced so far.  I agree it’s not great but the Big 12 is not home to strong pass defenses so I have no doubt that the success will continue.  Pitt’s passing defense allowed 311 yards to FCS Youngstown State but then they bottled up Penn State QB Trace McSorley to 164 yards, 3 TDs, 5.9 YPA and 53.6% on completions.  Compare that to Rudolph the following week who went for 479 yards, 5 TDs, 15.5 YPA and 71%.  Rudolph faces his toughest test yet this week in TCU, ranked 36th in pass defense, but the schedule softens over the four following games (against the 101st, 95th, 84th and 73rd best pass defenses).  My favorite Rudolph stat so far?  He has not yet thrown a pass attempt in the 4th quarter, that is how dominant he and the Cowboys have been.  I can’t wait for the November 4th matchup against the Sooners.
  • Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: Like Rudolph, Barkley will be facing his strongest defensive opponent so far in the young season.  Barkley will be on the road in Iowa against their 26th ranked rush defense.  If you only look at the box score, last week’s game against Georgia Southern might be worrisome (just 10 attempts and 47 yards) but have no fear because Barkley contributes in the passing game too (4 receptions, 142 yards and a score).  There was no reason to load Barkley up with carries in a convincing win, he’ll be back to bell-cow status this weekend.  That receiving touchdown last week was great – go back and watch the highlight and just look at his acceleration thirty yards down the field, incredible.  Barkley has 548 total yards and 5 TDs and is still my 1.01.
  • Deontay Burnett, WR, USC: Burnett is moving his way up my WR ranks with a stellar start to 2017.  Burnett went for 7-142 in the opener against Western Michigan and followed that up with 9-121-2 against Stanford.  He really caught my eye against Texas (8-123-2) when he proved to be Sam Darnold’s favorite target yet again in the face of constant pressure.  For those counting at home that’s a 24-386-4 line which puts him halfway to his 2016 numbers already.  My only concern for Burnett is his slight frame and subsequent injury risk.  At 6’0″ and 170lb, he is just too lean.  Since 2010, no WRs have come into the combine at 5’11” or taller and less than 175lbs.  His closest body-size comp would be the Seahawks’ Paul Richardson who has potential but has been hampered by injuries.
  • Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Georgia: Carter is new name for me but grabbed my attention because he is leading a stout Bulldog defense.  He has 14 tackles so far along with 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.  Carter is big (6’6″) and fast (possibly in the 4.60-4.65 range if you go by his Hudl and DraftScout.com profiles) and could end up with a first round grade like former Georgia star Leonard Floyd who was taken 9th overall by the Bears in 2016.
  • Anthony Winbush, DE/DT, Ball State: I don’t have any extensive research or film study of Winbush to share but I came across his name and figured I would share it with you dear reader.  Winbush is leading the NCAA in sacks at 6.5 and also has 20 tackles and 3 forced fumbles.  If you’re a big NFL Draft fan, file the name away and see if he keeps it up.

Games to Watch

  • Temple @ #21 South Florida, Thursday 7:30pm on ESPN: The NFL’s Thursday night games are pretty bad so I will definitely find myself checking into this game.  South Florida ended up winning convincingly against Illinois last Friday.  Both teams are coming off short rest after playing Friday so neither team is at a disadvantage in that department.  USF somehow held off San Diego State as the highest ranked Group of 5 team and another win keeps them in the driver’s seat for a New Year’s Six bowl game.
  • NC State @ #12 Florida State, Saturday 12:00pm on ABC: This is the best game of a pretty blah 12:00pm slate on Saturday.  I am interested in seeing how QB James Blackman assimilates so at least I won’t be tempted to flip channels too often.  I had high hopes for NC State to start the season but am not encouraged by the early results; they are 2-1 with a loss to South Carolina and they gave up too many points to Tulane and Furman in their victories.
  • #1 Alabama @ Vanderbilt, Saturday 3:30pm on CBS: #AnchorDown.  By now you know I’m a fan of Vanderbilt but not even I am predicting the upset here.  Alabama has too many horses and will overrun Vanderbilt.  Between QB Jalen Hurts and RBs Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris, the Tide will amass at least 200 yards rushing.  If Vanderbilt can keep it close, I think they jump into the Top 25 even with a loss.
  • #16 TCU @ #6 Oklahoma State, Saturday 3:30pm on ESPN: I used a lot of superlatives to describe Mason Rudolph above so it should be no surprise that I’m taking the Cowboys.  Keep an eye on WR Jalen McCleskey who had a humongous outing against Pitt (7-162-3) and thrived with focus on James Washington.  Despite the added attention that he inevitably receives, Washington is averaging an insane 28.2 yards per reception.  The Oklahoma State offense cannot be stopped.  Take the over.
  • #17 Mississippi State @ #11 Georgia, Saturday 7:00pm on ESPN:  This will be some back-to-back comparison for ESPN viewers.  The 3:30pm game between TCU and Oklahoma State will feature at least 70 points, meanwhile we will be lucky if either set of Bulldogs hits 7.  This one will be a knock down, drag out, SEC battle and not for the squeamish.  State is led by safety Mark McLaurin while Georgia is led by the aforementioned Lorenzo Carter.   Take the under.
  • #4 Penn State @ Iowa, Saturday 7:30pm on ABC: This is a good Saturday night to see family and friends.  Barkley, et al. will be facing a tougher defense than they have seen in 2017 but it won’t matter.  I don’t expect this one to be particularly close and it’s probably not worth scheduling your weekend around.  Check in for the Saquon highlights on College Football Final.
  • East Carolina @ UCONN, Sunday 12:00pm on ESPNU: It’s so rare to get a college game on a Sunday after Week 1 so I just had to include this on my Watch List.  There’s potential for 14 hours of consecutive football on Sunday.  Start with Baltimore and Jacksonville at 9:30am from London, switch over to this one at 12:00pm and then head back to the NFL for the 1:00pm kickoffs.  If you’re quick you can squeeze in dinner and a shower before SNF.

Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

Additional Extension Details

Updated: September 23rd 2017

First off, before you read this article you should read my first extension article since this will be building off of that one.

  • October 3rd – That’s the day that extensions will be able to start being offered.  It’s the Tuesday after week 4 concludes.  We were thinking about starting it the week before, but the Bucs/Dolphins postponement made this an easy decision for us.  Also just to clarify, the extensions will run up until the week 13 games.
  • There will be a tiny subset of players who aren’t eligible – The big groups of DSTs, PKs, and tagged players I’ve already touched on.  Players (not including rookies) need to have been on the field for at least a snap sometimes in the last two seasons.  Teddy Bridgewater will probably be the most popular example of someone who falls into this category.  We just don’t have the data to be able to do something like that intelligently.
  • Extension values will be stable during the week – Values could change week-to-week, not day-to-day.  You’ll get a new extension offer every Tuesday morning.
  • You won’t be able to offer extensions to locked players – After their game starts on Thursday, Sunday, or Monday you’ll no longer be able to extend those players until the following Tuesday with a new offer.
  • IR Players are eligible – Pretty straight forward.
  • FAAB Players are eligible…but it’s delayed a week – Because we update the extension values once a week, you’ll have to wait a week before being able to offer an extension to a FAAB player.  This means FAAB players picked up after the week 12 games won’t be able to be extended.
  • Extensions will range in length from 2-4 years – These extensions don’t include the current year.  This means that a 2 years extension in 2017 will take the player through the 2019 season and would be scheduled to become a FA in 2020.
  • You don’t decide the length – The offer will have a length and a value, so you don’t have a say in how long the extension is.  It’s simply a take it or leave it offer.
  • Extensions don’t affect your auction contract allotment for the following season – Had this question posed to us, so thought I’d point it out.

If you’ve got questions, please reach out to Kyle, Matt, or Stephen @realitysportsonline.com.

Week 3 Waiver Report

Updated: September 19th 2017

Each week we will recommend a group of players that are owned in less than 50% of RSO league that should be rostered. Depending on roster and league sizes not all of these players may be available. For that, we will offer 1 player that is owned in <10% of leagues as our Sleeper add.

Add of the Week

Rashard Higgins, WR – CLE (owned 10%)

Week 2: 7 Rec/95 yards, 1 Car/4 yards

The Browns had a rough go on Sunday against the Ravens. However, Rashard Higgins had a surprisingly good game (7-95-0) in a game in which two different QBs (Keizer and Hogan) were in the game. While it may have been just a young player taking advantage of some playing time in a one-sided game there are serious reasons for this to be the beginning of an under the radar season. Corey Coleman, Cleveland’s first-round pick from 2016, has broken his hand again and could be out 6-8 weeks while Kenny Britt has fallen on bad terms with head coach Hugh Jackson. This opens the door for Higgins to be the primary target on and an offense that projects to be down in more games than up this season. Depending on how deep your rookie drafts are this player may still be lingering at the bottom of some team’s rosters. He’s worth kicking the tires on for a trade if he can be at least a WR4 the rest of the season.

Suggested Bid: $1,000,000 – $5,000,000

QB Replacement

Trevor Siemian, QB – DEN (owned 41%)

Week 2: 22 for 32 Comp, 231 Passing, 4TD, 1 INT, 5 Car/14 yards

Through two weeks Trevor Siemian is the QB2 in fantasy (written before Monday night’s game results) yet is one of the least owned QBs that has a starting role. While he might not hold the consistency of a Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers you definitely can do worse over the next 14 weeks. Denver seems more comfortable letting Siemian open up the offense this year compared to 2016 and with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as options outside he has plenty of talent to work with. There should be a consistent floor of 200 yards and a touchdown (12 points) each week. Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins’ owners should be looking to add Siemian as a comfortable substitute.

Suggested Bid: $1,000,000 – $3,000,000 ($7,000,000 in Superflex)

RB Stash

Tyler Ervin, RB – HOU (owned 13%)

Week 2: 3 Car/8 yards, 4 Rec/18 yards

RotoViz loved the metrics of Tyler Ervin coming out of college last season. His pass-catching ability, as well as his size, made him comparable to Danny Woodhead on Player Profiler. Unfortunately, he was also behind Lamar Miller who is himself a decent pass catching back and being paid too much to be put on the bench. Recently, however, Ervin has been playing more out of the slot as a receiver and with all the injuries to the receiving and tight end groups, he’s likely to see more playing time due to necessity. At this point, he would only be a stash candidate in deeper leagues but if you are already feeling the pressure from your RBs production and were unable to secure Cohen or Allen last week Ervin could be a poor man’s Ty Montgomery from a year ago.

Suggested Bid: $500,000 – $1,000,000

WR Replacements

Paul Richardson, WR – SEA (owned 38%) 2 Rec/19 yards, 1 TD

While Cincinnati’s offense has been the joke of NFL fans the first two weeks for not scoring a touchdown, Seattle’s offense hasn’t looked much better scoring their first touchdown late in the 4th quarter of week two’s game against San Francisco. That touchdown came from former 2nd round pick Paul Richardson who was labeled a sleeper WR to add during the offseason. Despite this, his ownership still hovers around 38%. He’s averaged 10PPR points/game and 12 targets over the first two weeks showing that he can be a downfield threat and red zone option for Russell Wilson. If the offense can turn things around and start scoring more than 10 points a game there is a chance that Richardson becomes a flexible WR.

Suggested Bid: $500,000 – $1,500,000

Terrance Williams, WR – DAL (owned 24%) 4 Rec/17 yards

Yikes, nobody expected the Cowboys to be dominated on both sides of the ball like they were against the Broncos last week. At least one silver lining is that the NFL lost their appeal for an Ezekiel Elliot stay so the team should be able to refocus their offensive game plan knowing they will have him for the remainder of the season. This means that defenses will have to keep contain on Zeke and Dak Prescott while double teaming Dez Bryant, opening up one-on-one matchups for Terrance Williams. While his touchdown upside is limited with Dez, Zeke, and Jason Witten in the lineup he still receives his share of the targets each week. He’s an ideal option to have on your bench during the midseason when bye weeks become a lineup killer.

Suggested Bid: $500,000

TE Stash

Benjamin Watson, TE – BAL (owned 5%)

Week 2: 8 Rec/91 yards

The Ravens haven’t been in very competitive games these first two weeks which has reduced their number of pass attempts (51) to the bottom of the league. Still, Watson had 8 receptions vs. the Browns and almost 20 PPR points last week. Dennis Pita received over 120 targets last season and while Jeremy Maclin has been a nice addition Flacco has a history of feeding his TEs, when healthy. Watson has also shown that he can handle a large number of targets from his time in New Orleans. For those who lost Greg Olsen this week, Watson could be a worthwhile replacement.

Suggested Bid: $500,000 – $1,500,000

Sleeper Add (<10%)

Deonte Thompson (owned 2%)

Week 2: 4 Rec/57 yards, 1 TD

The Bears looked more like the team that experts thought they would be in week 2 being shutout till the final moments of the 4th quarter. With injuries piling up at the WR position and likely a QB switch at some point it could be a long season for Da Bears. It is hard to tell how much of Deonte Thompson’s week 2 production came due to a blowout but some needs to catch the ball and he could be the next man up. Thompson has a strong speed adjusted score (92nd percentile) and showed some potential in the Bears’ preseason game against the Broncos earlier this year. With Kendall Wright and Josh Bellamy dropping several passes last week Thompson could be a volume add, similar to Jermaine Kearse last week.

Suggested Bid: $500,000

RSO Staff Picks: Week 2

Updated: September 14th 2017

Week 1 Results & Overall Standings

1T. Wendell 10-5

1T. English – 10-5

3. Papson – 9-6

Pretty decent start for us in Week 1. Turns out our Detroit read was right on the money as they looked pretty good against the Cardinals. Our Texans pick, not so much. Each of us with a solo pick victory but in the end, it was Kyle and Stephen at 10-5 to open up the season with Matt just one game behind at 9-6. Here is who we have for Week 2:

NFL Game Picks

Game

Wendell

Papson

English

HOU @ CIN

PHI @ KC

CLV @ BAL

BUF @ CAR

ARI @ IND

cardinals cardinals cardinals

TEN @ JAX

NE @ NO

MIN @ PIT

CHI @ TB

MIA @ LAC

NYJ @ OAK

DAL @ DEN

WAS @ LAR

SF @ SEA

GB @ ATL

DET @ NYG

Everyone enjoy the games in Week 2 and best of luck this week in your leagues!

The Watch List: Week 3

Updated: September 12th 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update: After two strong games to start the season, Josh Rosen will be climbing up ballots.  More on Rosen below.  Lamar Jackson, the reigning winner, will have to move up my personal ballot even though I am not a fan.  Through two games he has 771 passing yards, 5 TDs and zero INTs; plus 239 yards rushing and 3 TDs.  I can’t knock Jackson for his opponents either: both of those big games came against Power 5 teams in Purdue and North Carolina.  Darnold redeemed his Heisman hopes with a solid Week 2 outing against Stanford (316 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs) after a disappointing opener against Western Michigan (289-0-2).
  • Brian Kelly on the Hot Seat: The Irish kept it close against Georgia (20-19 final score) but the final score belies the situation.  Georgia was forced to start a true freshman at quarterback (Jake Fromm in for injured Jacob Eason) and should have taken advantage.  The more damning thing for Kelly might be the photos of the sea of red clad fans that peppered social media.  Georgia showed up en masse.  SB Nation tried to play it down but I think it will be tough for the administration to ignore the fact that fans may be turned off and staying home, whether or not it’s Kelly’s fault.  Landing on Deadspin with stories about his handling of the media won’t endear himself to university decision makers either.  I believe Kelly must win the next four games, and compete against USC in the fifth, in order to keep his job.  The opponents in that stretch are: Boston College, Michigan State, Miami of Ohio and North Carolina.  None of those teams should scare Notre Dame so a bad loss could mean Kelly doesn’t make it out of October.
  • Matt Rhule on a Hotter Seat: It’s odd to write that somebody is on the hot seat after coaching just two games but that must be the case for Rhule.  Baylor lost in Week 1 to Liberty of the FCS.  And to answer your question, no they are not some FCS powerhouse.  Liberty was 6-5 last year and was ranked 28th in the FCS heading into 2017.  After the win over Baylor they are just 19th in the FCS poll.  Baylor couldn’t possibly follow up that loss with a worse game, could they?  The Bears put up just 274 total yards in Week 2 against UTSA.  UTSA was 55th in total defense last year by yards, allowing 392 per game.  Between the two games Baylor also had 17 penalties.  So, not only are they losing but they are also undisciplined.  If Baylor doesn’t look better this week against Duke, I fear that Rhule might not even make it out of September (up after Duke in September are #2 Oklahoma and #18 Kansas State).

Players to Watch

  • Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: There has been a lot to love so far about Rosen.  By now everybody has seen highlights of, and heard all about, the miraculous Week 1 comeback over Texas A&M.  If you were paying attention, you would have seen that Rosen followed that up with a 5 TD game against Hawaii.  Through two weeks, Rosen’s totals are eye popping: 820 yards, 9 TDs, 0 INTs and a 67.9% completion percentage.  I am most impressed with the improvement of his TD:INT ratio (just better than 2:1 in his career) and his completion percentage (60% in 2015, 59.3% in 2016).  It’s not all rainbows though as I did take note of some concerning things during that miracle against the Aggies.  Two of Rosen’s late touchdown tosses were bad throws that should have been intercepted.  If either was picked off it likely would have spelled the end of the comeback attempt.  There were also three penalties down the stretch that were costly, but not killer.  One was a delay of game and the other two were false starts because he called for the snap before the team was set.  These negatives make me question his awareness and will hopefully be corrected with experience.  If he limits mental mistakes, keeps his completion percentage north of 63% and his TD:INT ratio above 3:1, Rosen will be the top pick come the NFL Draft.
  • Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: Staying within the Pac-12, let’s take a look at Freeman thus far…  He started off strong with 150 yards and 4 TDs against FCS squad Southern Utah.  Freeman kept it up against Nebraska last week with 153 yards and 2 TDs.  He’s a workhorse that had 23 and 29 carries in the two games respectively.  If you happen to be in a devy league, Freeman should be on your radar right now because his stock is bound to skyrocket over the next two months due to the weak rush defenses he will be facing.  The next time he faces a team that is currently ranked 70th or better is October 28 against Utah.  Up next are: Wyoming (83rd so far in rushing yards allowed per game), Arizona State (108th), Cal (96th), Washington State (71st), Stanford (114th), USC (110th) and UCLA (128th).  The Stanford and USC rankings are thrown off a bit by their matchup against each other but still, the schedule is very favorable.  Freeman is a big back who runs upright and looks like he’s running downhill.  He doesn’t show much wiggle but he doesn’t need it.  I’m looking forward to watching a ton of film of his in the offseason.
  • Rashaad Penny, RB/KR, San Diego State: In the preaseason, I predicted that the Aztecs would steal a Power 5 win because of their special teams play.  In addition to kicker John Baron going a perfect 3/3 on field goals against Arizona State, Penny contributed with a kick-off return touchdown to start the second quarter when the game was tied 7-7.  Penny has also been a huge factor on offense with 451 combined rushing and receiving yards and 4 combined TDs.  He’s a multi-dimensional player that is fun to watch.  SDSU is a contender for a New Year’s Six bowl berth and a win against #19 Stanford this week should get them into the Top 25 and cement those chances.  If Penny keeps it up he’ll follow former Aztec Donnel Pumphrey to the NFL (a 4th round pick by the Eagles, although he was much more accomplished as the NCAA all-time leading rusher).
  • Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State: Gallup is leading the NCAA in receptions with 26 (he played an extra game than most) but he has just 304 yards and a single score.  Gallup will need to step it up over the next few weeks to keep his draft prospects high.  In Week 3 he will go up against the stout Alabama secondary which is full of future NFL talent, so let’s see how he does.

Games to Watch

  • Illinois @ #22 South FloridaFriday 7:00pm on ESPN: USF is currently the only Group of 5 team ranked in the Top 25.  Their non-conference schedule is laughably weak, with Illinois as the only Power 5 team.  Phil Steele had their strength of schedule ranked 110 out of 130 teams heading into the season.  Regardless, an undefeated campaign would likely land the Bulls in a New Year’s Six bowl game so there is some cash on the line this Friday night.
  • #23 Tennessee @ #24 Florida, Saturday 3:30pm on CBS: The Gators are off to a rough start.  The team suspended a number of players, including their leading rusher (Jordan Scarlett) and receiver (Antonio Callaway) from 2016 for the opener.  Subsequently, their offense was horrible with both Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire versus Michigan.  Last week’s game against Northern Colorado, which would have been a good “get right” game was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma.  To make things even worse, word is that the suspensions may be extended and force Scarlett and Callaway to miss this matchup as well.  I’m not sold on either Franks or Zaire after seeing them against Michigan so I fear this may already be a lost season for Florida.  Tennessee’s offense is lead by RB John Kelly who started strong with 208 yards and 4 TDs; he also has added 10 receptions in two games.
  • #18 Kansas State @ Vanderbilt, Saturday 7:30pm on ESPNU: In my SEC preview, I predicted that Vandy would win 8 games this year.  They are off to a 2-0 headstart with convincing wins over Middle Tennessee State and Alabama A&M.  In order to hit my 8 win mark, the Commodores will likely need to steal a game against a ranked opponent.  Kansas State will be an easier get than #1 Alabama and #13 Georgia who they have coming up over the next three weeks.
  • #3 Clemson @ #14 Louisville, Saturday 8:00pm on ABC:  The quarterback matchup here will be an interesting contrast.  Lamar Jackson’s numbers are about as good as they can be (see above) while Kelly Bryant’s have been nowhere near those of the departed Deshaun Watson.  Bryant did show his toughness last week when he came back from injury to lead the team to a W.  Bryant has just one passing touchdown but does lead the team in rushing with 136 yards and 3 TDs.  If any defense can slow down, notice I didn’t say stop, Lamar Jackson, it will be Clemson’s.  The Tigers have 16 tackles for loss through two games and 11 sacks.  DE Austin Bryant outshined Christian Watkins and Dexter Lawrence last week with 7 tackles and 4 sacks.
  • Texas @ #3 USC, Saturday 8:30pm on FOX:  Texas is in turmoil at quarterback.  Sophomore Shane Buechel was supposed to be the starter after a decent freshman season but he bruised his shoulder during the upset to Maryland.  Apparently, head coach Tom Herman is now saying that even if he is healthy, there is no guarantee that Buechel starts over freshman Sam Ehlinger.  It might just be coach speak but it’s a mess already and not a good way to head into the biggest game of the young season.  Texas isn’t doing great on defense either where they are 79th against the run and are facing a Trojans team averaging 269.5 rushing yards a game so far.  Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr have caught my eye, specifically against Stanford, and have combined for 463 rushing yards and 7 TDs thus far.  They will continue to roll against the Longhorns.  Of course you should also keep an eye on Sam Darnold.
  • #19 Stanford @ San Diego State, Saturday 10:30pm on CBSSN: Not sure that I’m willing to call the straight-up upset here but I will definitely be taking SDSU with the points, especially since they are at home.  Rashaad Penny is quickly becoming one of my favorite players and I am looking forward to seeing him against another Power 5 team this week.

Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.