Week 11 SOS Targets

Updated: November 16th 2017

With the fantasy regular season nearing the end in most RSO leagues, owners with competitive teams need to begin thinking about reinforcing their squads for the final push into the playoffs.  Below I lay out some NFL teams with particularly favorable offensive schedules for the rest of season (ROS*).  Not all teams have notably great offenses, but RSO owners should at least entertain obtaining certain players from each team based on the schedule ahead.

*Rest of Season Rankings obtained from Sharp Football Stats for weeks 11-16.

Hold Your Nose

Buffalo Bills (LAC, KC, NE, IND, MIA, NE)

ROS Pass Rank: 1         ROS Rushing Rank: 1

No team has a softer fantasy schedule going forward than the Buffalo Bills.  The remaining schedule includes no opponent better than the 17th ranked rush defense and five games against 22nd ranked or lower pass defenses.  The end-of-season schedule is especially juicy with 25th or lower ranked pass defenses in each game for weeks 13 through 16. Running Back LeSean McCoy makes for an intriguing buy-low to end the year, particularly after Buffalo’s week 10 disaster against New Orleans.

One must keep expectations under control though, especially on the passing front.  This is still a team with Tyrod Taylor* at QB which is ranked 31st in pass attempts, 30th in yards, and 24th in yards per attempt despite playing against one of the softest passing schedules so far.  It is difficult to trust any Bills receiver going forward with the Bills getting tight end Charles Clay back and adding Kelvin Benjamin to a low-volume passing attack.  Buffalo will continue as a run dominated offense as much as possible although a defense which has imploded over the last month may alter the equation somewhat.

*Taylor was benched for rookie Nathan Peterman.  Peterman is worth a speculative add in 2QB leagues based on the upcoming schedule but with low expectations.  He is a virtual unknown at this stage.  The outlook does not change much for Buffalo receivers given the limited passing production with Taylor at quarterback.  The lack of Taylor’s rushing threat hurts McCoy’s rushing expectations slightly.

Denver Broncos (CIN, OAK, MIA, NYJ, IND, WAS)

ROS Pass Rank: 2         ROS Rushing Rank: 16

I feel kind of queasy even mentioning the Brock Osweiler-led Denver Broncos here. Osweiler, while playing better last week, is not an option in anything but the deepest of superflex/2QB leagues.  The running backs are avoids right now as the Broncos have gone with a full blown three-man committee recently.  With that being said, one must at least give consideration to a part of the passing game that features matchups against the Raiders, Dolphins, Jets, and Colts in consecutive weeks.  This means taking a look at Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in your league.  You could very well get each at a big discount with Osweiler currently starting and loads of uncertainty at the quarterback position going forward.

Good Bets

Oakland Raiders (NE, DEN, NYG, KC, DAL, PHI)

ROS Pass Rank: 8         ROS Rushing Rank: 5

The remaining schedule sets up nicely for Oakland’s passing game on the volume end.  The Raiders figure to be an underdog against many high scoring opponents who struggle against the pass.  Even the vaunted Broncos defense no longer looks as dominant as prior years.  While Denver locks down wide receivers, they have struggled covering running backs and tight ends in the passing game.  You likely will not want to get to involved in an Oakland three-way committee in the backfield that figures to trail a lot but Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Jared Cook are all solid starts for most of the season going forward.

Los Angeles Chargers (BUF, DAL, CLE, WAS, KC, NYJ)

ROS Pass Rank: 4         ROS Rushing Rank: 7

This is one of the safest groups for fantasy purposes going forward without the upside of some other offenses.  Phillip Rivers threw for at least two touchdowns or 250 yards in all but two games this season.  Wide receiver Keenan Allen averages nearly nine targets per game.  Running back Melvin Gordon accumulated less than 15 touches in a game just once this season.

The schedule is a nice blend of good matchups for both the pass and run games mixed with almost no “avoid” contests.  The Chargers project competitively in most games going forward which should help maintain a balanced offensive approach.  Phillip Rivers also targets running backs extensively which maintains their value when the run game is not working well and during stretches where Los Angeles falls behind.  Rivers, Allen, and Gordon make for quality trade targets with the remaining schedule.

Pay Up

Kansas City (NYG, BUF, NYJ, OAK, LAC, MIA)

ROS Pass Rank: 3         ROS Rushing Rank: 2

Kansas City surprisingly possesses one of the top fantasy units in the NFL.  Quarterback Alex Smith, running back Kareem Hunt, and tight end Travis Kelce are all top-five scorers so far and wide receiver Tyreek Hill is a top-10 performer.  This wealth of fantasy goodness largely is the result of an unlikely season in which Smith projects for career bests in virtually every major passing category.

Look for the good times to continue as the season finishes.  This could easily look like the best fantasy schedule at the end of the year.  The remaining slate is filled with sub-.500 teams giving up big yardage totals in both the passing and run games.  Kansas City also figures to be the favorite against each opponent moving forward.  Feel confident making offers for every significant Kansas City player.

New England Patriots (OAK, MIA, BUF, MIA, PIT, BUF)

ROS Pass Rank: 5         ROS Rushing Rank: 3

This one is almost too obvious.  The NFL’s passing yardage leader, Tom Brady, gets four intra-division games with two matchups against an imploding Buffalo Bills defense and another two against a Miami defense which can not cover the pass.  Adding in next week’s game against Oakland’s bottom ranked defense cements the Patriots great outlook.  Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and wide receiver Brandin Cooks are all worth the heavy price needed to acquire with huge weeks possible ahead.

The New England backfield, on the other hand, has “too many cooks in the kitchen”.  Dion Lewis took control of the rushing work from Mike Gillislee with 11 to 15 carries in each of the last four games but only three receptions over that time.  James White remains a significant receiving threat on passing downs.  Rex Burkhead received more work each game so far taking touches away from both Lewis and White.  The value from Patriots’ backs comes primarily from the touchdown potential and receiving game work but trying to figure out who will get that production on a given week could be frustrating.  They are all worth speculative adds in this offense but depending on any to regularly start will be problematic.


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

NFL Trade Deadline Moves

Updated: November 2nd 2017

The NFL trade deadline usually produces as much excitement as eating tuna fish out of the can for lunch. Early trade deadline date, hard salary cap, and rules curbing trades for cap space tend to limit the amount and scale of trades which occur.  This year saw the most action on the trade front in years.  I take a look at some of the most fantasy relevant trades that potentially impact your RSO teams.

The NFL trade deadline usually produces as much excitement as eating tuna fish out of the can for lunch. Early trade deadline date, hard salary cap, and rules curbing trades for cap space tend to limit the amount and scale of trades which occur.  This year saw the most action on the trade front in years.  I take a look at some of the most fantasy relevant trades that potentially impact your RSO teams.

Jay Ajayi

Philadelphia receives RB Jay Ajayi

Miami receives 2018 4th Round Draft Pick

Miami head coach Adam Gase clearly was not happy with the offensive performance of the Dolphins this season giving an epic post-game tirade following the 40-0 beat down against Baltimore.  The shakeup starts with Miami moving Ajayi to Philadelphia.  What does Philadelphia get with AJayi?   They obtain a player who forced more missed tackles over the last two seasons than any other running back in the NFL.  It is a low-risk move for a player on a cheap 5th round rookie contract that runs through the 2018 season giving up only a likely late fourth round pick.  The move is somewhat odd in that Ajayi joins a crowded backfield including LeGarrette Blount (who is quietly having a very productive season), Wendell Smallwood, and Corey Clement on a team which has never really featured a running back under head coach Doug Pederson instead relying on a committee approach.

What does this mean for Ajayi?  The third year pro’s situation improves drastically moving from the lowest scoring team in the league with one of the worst offensive lines to one of the highest scoring teams in the NFL with the best record so far.  Philadelphia Ajayi’s role this season seems questionable given the depth in the backfield and lack of traditional “workhorse” role on the Eagles but the upside is tremendous on a high-powered offense if he were to assume a primary role.  His longer-term prospects look good on a solid team led by an ascending quarterback.  This move correspondingly reduces Blount’s value to minimal at best.

Also remember Ajayi’s likely replacements in Miami, Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake.  While neither is a priority in shallow leagues on this low-scoring offense, any potential starting running back has some value in deeper RSO leagues.

Jimmy Garoppolo

San Francisco receives QB Jimmy Garoppolo

New England receives 2018 2nd Round Draft Pick

In another interesting trade, San Francisco presumably gets their quarterback of the future in exchange for an early second round pick.  The move gives San Francisco a lot of flexibility in next year’s draft, including potentially setting up the 49ers to receive a ransom in draft capital in exchange for one of the top picks in the first round.  New England receives one of the most valuable picks in the entire draft on a cost-benefit basis with the high second pick.  One must wonder if New England maximized Garoppolo’s trade value if earlier reports from this offseason were true about teams making first round-plus offers but it is still solid value for a player of no immediate use on an expiring contract.  The Patriots are clearly committed to Brady for the near future with no backup plan for the future.

Garoppolo was originally a second round pick by New England and has performed superbly in his professional appearances so far, albeit in a very limited sample size.  He goes to a team with one of the most highly-thought-of offensive minds in the game, Kyle Shanahan, leading them.  The trade also imparts risk on Garoppolo though.  He almost certainly would have received a large contract this offseason based on very limited work in the NFL.  Garoppolo might receive substantially less from San Francisco or in free agency if his performance in the last portion of the season does not meet expectations.  This is a move that could go very poorly for the 49ers.  San Francisco gave up a premium draft pick on a team going nowhere this year for a player in the final year of his contract.  This move potentially looks very foolish in the offseason if the 49ers a) do not sign Garoppolo or b) are forced to franchise tag him at high costs (see the ongoing Kirk Cousins saga).

Garoppolo holds little value in RSO leagues this season with a difficult schedule to finish the season and likely not assuming starting duties until after San Francisco’s bye in week 12.

Kelvin Benjamin

Buffalo receives WR Kelvin Benjamin

Carolina receives 2018 3rd Round Draft Pick and 2018 7th Round Draft Pick

It has been one strange season for the Buffalo Bills.  In what many considered a rebuilding year, the Bills find themselves at 5-2 just behind the New England Patriots for first place in the AFC East.  The roster makeover at wide receiver continues with the addition of Benjamin after Buffalo traded for WR Jordan Matthews in the preseason and trading away former 1st round WR Sammy Watkins prior to that.

This is not a good move fantasy-wise for the hulking receiver this season.  Benjamin goes from a team with the 10th most passing attempts to the one with least attempts in the entire NFL.  Even the most targeted wide receiver in Buffalo has little fantasy value on a run-first offense.  What value there is in the passing game is centered on the running backs and tight ends where running back LeSean McCoy leads the team in targets and receptions almost doubling the next leading receiver, tight end Charles Clay, who has been out of action for weeks.  Jordan Matthews’ limited fantasy value is gone in all but the deepest of leagues with the arrival of Benjamin.  Charles Clay gets bumped down.  Tyrod Taylor is likely the only fantasy relevant player helped with this trade.

Duane Brown

Seattle receives OT Duane Brown and 2018 5th Round Draft Pick

Houston receives 2018 3rd Round Draft Pick and 2019 2nd Round Draft Pick*

Seattle bolsters their offensive line with left tackle Duane Brown after seeing him first-hand this past weekend.  Brown is a massive upgrade at left tackle for the Seahawks, replacing PFF’s worst graded tackle on one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.   The move tremendously helps Russell Wilson and also potentially upgrades the Seattle run game.  Quality, blind-side tackles rarely become available because there are so few in the league.  The steep price could be well worth the cost to Seattle if they address Brown’s contract issues.

Brown’s contract demands, for which he sat out the first six weeks in the season and were never addressed by the Texans, and his resentment toward Houston’s owner eventually led to the trade.  The Texans received fair value for a player who clearly was not excited about staying in Houston.  The loss of a premium left tackle will be felt, especially by a developing young quarterback, but is somewhat mitigated Deshaun Watson’s mobility out of the pocket.

*Note this trade originally included CB Jeremy Lane who reportedly failed a physical.

A.J. McCarron

In a trade that failed to go through, the Cincinnati Bengals agreed to trade A.J. McCarron to the Cleveland Browns.  Unfortunately the Browns, as only the Browns could do, failed in reporting the trade to the NFL office by the trade deadline.  McCarron is left as a backup in Cincinnati and Cleveland continues to make even the most basic NFL mechanisms look difficult.


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.

Rounding Out the Lineup: Week 7

Updated: October 19th 2017

Most of us in competitive RSO league are not great at every position.  The nature of salary cap leagues forces many teams into gambles which might not have paid off.   Below you will find a few trade targets for competitive teams along with their current points per game ranking in PPR leagues who might shore up those RB2/WR2 and deeper flex spot gaps which did not pan out so far.  There are a variety of floor plays and ceiling gambles at various price points.  I would not consider these players “league winners” but all have the chance of helping your team going forward.

Running Backs

Doug Martin RB16 – Some questioned Doug Martin’s role once inserted into the lineup.  Martin has out-attempted Jacquizz Rodgers 13-3 and 14-3 in the two games since his return from suspension scoring once per game in the process.  This is clearly Martin’s backfield in the run game.  Charles Sims remains a fixture on passing downs with 5 and 4 receptions in the two games since Martin’s return compared to 1 in each game for Martin.  Sims’ role severely caps Martin’s work in the receiving game which will make for some limited fantasy outputs when Martin does not score.

On the plus side, there should be somewhat consistent scoring opportunities in Tampa Bay from Football Outsider’s 8th ranked passing unit.  Martin makes for a nice RB2 on those teams in need of running back help. His limited work so far might present an opportunity to pick up Martin.  He is also an attractive option on teams with limited RSO salary cap space to maneuver with as his suspension to start the year likely lowered his salary in many leagues.

Duke Johnson RB17 – The environment in Cleveland is not pretty.  The team is 0-6 with one of the worst offenses and defenses in the league and an uncertain, at best, quarterback outlook.   This is generally not the type of situation I am looking for when investing in running backs.

Duke Johnson has a few items working in his favor, however, when examining his rest-of-season outlook.  Cleveland already lost the top two wide receivers heading into the season to injury.  Johnson remains as the de facto WR1 currently leading the Browns in receiving targets, receptions, and yards.  He has at least three receptions in all but one game this season and accumulated at least 53 receptions each of his first two seasons.  Johnson fills the needs of RSO teams looking for solid floor plays out of the flex spot or RB injury/bye weeks.  He also provides some upside as a handcuff to fellow Browns’ running back Isaiah Crowell or if CLE decides to give Johnson more work do to Crowell’s ineffectiveness.

Jay Ajayi RB35 – No other running back on this list supplies more variance on a given week than Miami running back Jay Ajayi.  The “boom” portion comes largely from his enormous weekly rushing potential.  Ajayi produced an amazing three 200+ yard rushing performances in 2016.  He already has three games of 25 or more rushing attempts in 2017 and averages over 20 attempts per game.  The “bust” potential stems primarily from Ajayi’s lack of receiving game effectiveness.  The Dolphin running back averages only 1.7 receptions and 8.7 receiving yards per game over the last two years highlighted by a comically bad 3.3 yards per reception this season in which Ajayi has not managed a single game with at least 10 receiving yards.

If you are a gambling person, Ajayi imparts perhaps the highest ceiling option on this list of players.  He is the only player in the NFL with 100 or more rushing attempts and zero touchdowns.  Jay Cutler has been ugly so far but the Miami passing game could improve considering how late Cutler joined the Dolphins.  Positive touchdown regression could very well be on the horizon for Ajayi.  The defense also played well enough to keep Miami in games despite the offensive woes.  Consider him a high variance RB2 going forward.  Ajayi likely went for a costly salary if he was in your RSO free agent auction this year so fitting him under your cap could be an issue but teams might be more open to a trade because of that high salary.

Wide Receivers

Pierre Garcon WR24 – I believe if you told most people you could get the 6th ranked wide receiver in targets plus the 8th in receptions and yardage for minimal cost, they would jump at the chance.  Such is the case with San Francisco wide receiver Pierre Garcon.  Garcon’s zero touchdowns lower his fantasy output so far which could give you the ability to pounce.  The volatile quarterback situation with rookie C.J. Beathard taking over for Brian Hoyer certainly carries some risk but Garcon is the only established NFL receiver on the roster.  Garcon is a very tempting target for your flex spot who likely comes at a sharp discount especially with a rookie quarterback taking the helm.

Danny Amendola WR28 – Amendola filled the small slot receiver role in the New England offense beautifully so far looking extremely quick, getting open at will, and catching everything.  Amendola’s per game targets are right in line with the leading non-Gronk Patriot receivers with at least 3 receptions, 5 targets and 40 yards in each game this season.  Injuries are always a concern for smaller players with heavy workloads over the middle of the field, especially for a player who missed games in all but two seasons in the NFL.  Amendola likely was picked up on waivers in your league which should make for a very cheap way to get your hands on a piece of the high-powered New England offense.  He is a nice floor play for those in need of reliable points out of their flex spot.

Sterling Shepard WR37 – The Giants pulled players from the practice squad and off the street to fill starting receiver slots last week after New York lost Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Harris, and Shepard to injury.  Shepard should return shortly but the others are lost for the year leaving Shepard with a golden opportunity for a big work load.  There is some danger going forward with regards to workload.  Head coach Ben McAdoo gave up play-calling duties last week resulting in the Giants completely flipping the script on the pass-heavy offense, going with 32 carries to only 19 passes.  With that said, Shepard is the only wide receiver on the roster with significant past production and figures to dominate targets along with rookie tight end Evan Engram.  I would feel very confident with Shepard in my flex when he returns and WR2 production is entirely possible.


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: Bowl Projections

Updated: October 23rd 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. 

 

When I got the idea to do my own bowl projections, I figured “this will be fun and easy.” About eight hours later, I can say that it was much, much harder to do than anticipated. It did bring back some fun memories of playing NCAA ’12 and setting up my own bowl matchups and playing through them, nerdy I know.

A few notes before we get started:

  • General bowl affiliations (i.e. the MWC plays in the Las Vegas Bowl) are not difficult to find but more detailed affiliations (i.e. the top MWC team plays in the Las Vegas Bowl) are much harder to ascertain. I did some research online and did my best to replicate true bowl affiliations.  I did not take geography into consideration as some conferences do.
  • During that process, I had to make some judgment calls based purely on my own biases, such as what is a better bowl, the Quick Lane Bowl or the Heart of Dallas Bowl. In that case, I was trying to decide which bowl to send Iowa to over Purdue since I feel Iowa is the stronger team.
  • Bowl affiliations get even messier if a league does not have enough bowl eligible teams; for our purposes here, I assumed that every league could fulfill their affiliations.
  • Regarding bowl names… I pulled my list of bowls from Wikipedia because they had theirs in an easily copy-able table. Bowl names are transient and I would not be surprised if the sponsors or bowl names listed below are not 100% accurate.

Hopefully this gets everybody thinking about Bowl Season and the beauty that it is!  Check me out on Twitter for quick “previews” of each of my make believe matchups.  A few samples are included below…

  • Sun Bowl, UCLA vs Florida State: Before they both head to the NFL it would be fun to see top QB prospect Josh Rosen face off against top S prospect Derwin James.
  • TaxSlayer Bowl, LSU vs Michigan: Could be the most entertaining 9-6 game ever televised.  The game would feature two standout DL prospects in LSU’s Arden Key and Michigan’s Rashan Gary.  Who knew keeping your eye off the ball could be fun.
  • Cotton Bowl, South Florida vs Oklahoma State:  If the over was 100, I would take the over.  My god would this one be incredible to watch although it would probably last about five hours.

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.

The Watch List: Week 7

Updated: October 14th 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:  No player did more for their Heisman chances in Week 6 than Bryce Love.  Love is finally getting some national attention and just when more viewers started paying attention he shined again.  Against Utah, a decent rush defense, Love ran 20 times for 152 yards and a score.  What if I told you that that stat line was Love’s worst of the season?  Strange but true because he’s been that good.  More on Love below so let’s not dive too deep yet.  I thought it was very interesting to see the top ten players as far as current Heisman odds.  I ended up needing to go to the eleventh spot to get to my man crush, Rashaad Penny.  I think Penny is criminally undervalued and would be worth a bet if I were so inclined; meanwhile Jalen Hurts and Jake Browning are at least five spots too high but buoyed because their teams are undefeated and in the Top 5.  Here are the current odds per OddsShark.com:
    1. Saquon Barkley
    2. Baker Mayfield
    3. Bryce Love
    4. Mason Rudolph
    5. Lamar Jackson
    6. Sam Darnold
    7. Luke Falk
    8. JT Barrett
    9. Jalen Hurts
    10. Jake Browning
    11. Rashaad Penny
  • Winter is Coming:  The first College Football Playoff rankings will be released in three weeks.  When I saw that I couldn’t believe it – we are already half way through the season, wow.  I can’t share my thoughts on the actual CFP ranks yet but here is how I would have them:
    1. Clemson – based on resume more so than the eye test.  Clemson has beaten three top teams (#13 Auburn, #14 Louisville, #12 Virginia Tech) and up until this point has the harder schedule between them and Alabama.
    2. Alabama – the Tide may end up being a victim of a weaker SEC and their weak cross-division schedule this season.  There’s no regular season matchup against Florida or Georgia this season and the jewel non-conference win against Florida State is looking less special as the weeks progress.  Alabama will likely have two back-to-back Top 10 games to end the season against Auburn and in the SEC Championship game but by then I think Clemson will be well established as #1.
    3. Georgia – There’s no way the CFP committee would actually have Alabama and Georgia play in the semi-finals since it’s likely a SEC Championship repeat but it would still be awesome to see.  Georgia is a lot of fun to watch and they will challenge Alabama if they both make it to the end undefeated.
    4. TCU – I struggled with putting TCU over Penn State for the last spot.  Ultimately, I went with resume over the eye test again as I did above.  TCU has two Top 25 wins (#6 Oklahoma and #12 West Virginia) while PSU has zero.
    5. Penn State – However, Penn State will have a chance to prove themselves over the next three game stretch.  They are off this weekend but will then face #17 Michigan, #9 Ohio State and #21 Michigan State in successive weeks.
  • Co-Backups in Clemson:  File this under something I have never seen before, Clemson has named Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson as “co-backups” on their updated depth chart.  Hmm.  The reason for the subterfuge is starting quarterback Kelly Bryant’s ankle injury.  Some reports say that he’ll play while others say it is a game time decision.  Who knows.  My gut says that he will not play and Dabo is just playing with Syracuse’s ability to gameplan.  Bryant is also the team’s leading rusher (97 carries, 401 yards, 7 TDs) so having to factor for him is a big deal if all that goes out the window when he is inactive.  If Bryant can’t go, I expect Hunter Johnson to take the lead.  He went 5-5 for 42 yards and a score against Wake Forest when he split relief duties with Cooper.  Johnson is a former 4-star recruit who was #21 in the ESPN300 and was the top quarterback recruit of his class.  The concern is less about Syracuse, I would expect Clemson to win either way, but more about the tougher games against North Carolina State and Florida State coming later in the month.

Players to Watch

  • Bryce Love, RB, Stanford:  There’s a lot of talk about the East Coast Bias that is going against Love and that he’s being ignored.  That’s certainly not the case here at Reality Sports.  It’s unfortunate that there is not more tape of Love available – DraftBreakdown.com has just one game from 2017 and one from 2016.  I decided to fire up that lone 2017 film and take a closer look.  Let’s start with the negatives.  Love is not a pass catcher with just 4 receptions this season and 8 last year.  I was looking for positive pass protection moments and found one in the 4th quarter during Stanford’s comeback bid where he capably picked up the blitz and gave Keller Chryst time to throw.  Unfortunately, on his next offensive play, later in the quarter, he whiffed on a block and let Chryst get blown up.  It’ll take more film study to see which of those plays was closer to the reality.  When you watch Love two things stand out, his spectacular speed and his tackle breaking ability.  To illustrate those two skills, we’ll take a closer look at two plays from the first half.  In the 1st quarter, Love took a toss left and sprinted through a massive hole for a 75 yard score.  The blocking was great, yes, but Love was at the second level before anybody on the defense could even react let alone catch him.  With seconds left to go in the 2nd quarter, Love took a pointless handoff meant to kill the clock.  Most backs would probably run up the back of their center and head into the locker room but not so for Love.  He immediately breaks a tackle five yards behind the line of scrimmage as he tries to break right, he then reverses field and breaks another tackle still five yards deep, he then makes his way up field for a minimal gain.  It was a nothing play, barely a blip in the play-by-play, but it illustrated his elusiveness and also his heart.  It didn’t matter to him that it was a clock killing play while the team was out of field goal range, he still gave it his all.  Love is 5’10” and 196lb.  He was a 4 star recruit and #215 in the ESPN300.  A definitive 40-yard dash time is hard to find but there were two numbers quoted online: 4.30 and a 4.32.  He ran a 10.7 second 100m dash in high school which is Olympian speed (8th place in the men’s 100m gold medal race at the 2016 Olympics ran a 10.6 for comparison).  To further illustrate how dominant his speed is, let’s look at combine comparables in his size range.  CJ Spiller ran a 4.37 and Jahvid Best ran a 4.34 – Love would have both of them beat.  Love is on his way to being a top RB prospect.  Right now I would have him in the RB5-RB7 range but might have to move him above guys like Bo Scarborough, Mike Weber and Ronald Jones if he keeps the production up.  Oh, hey, speaking of production… Love has 1,240 yards and is averaging 10.5 yards per carry.
  • Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn:  I haven’t seen enough of Kerryon Johnson to have a full formed opinion yet but I am definitely intrigued by his potential and production thus far.  While watching Michigan vs Michigan State last weekend a stat on the bottom line caught my eye: that Johnson had rushed for 3 TD in three consecutive games.  That stat doesn’t even give the full story because one of those games was 5 TDs (!!) and all three came against the SEC.  I was sure one of them must have been against McNeese State or some directional school.  I’m not saying that Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss all have good run defenses but they are all respectable Power 5 teams.  Johnson did miss two games this season with a hamstring injury but it is encouraging that all three of these monster games have come after his return – at least we know there is no lingering injury.  Johnson is 6’0″ and 212lb and looks to have a long stride which helps him cover ground without elite speed (NFLDraftScout.com estimates 4.45 speed).  I watched film of Johnson against Mississippi State and noted his power at the goal line and in short yardage.  He also looks to be a patient runner at the line of scrimmage; on multiple runs he placed his hand on the blockers back to follow them through the hole.  One negative that was apparent is that Johnson is not much of a receiving threat: he has just 36 career receptions (14, 17, 5).  I need to see more before I can properly give him a draft projection but he’s probably a 5th-6th round NFL prospect now and a fringe RSO prospect depending on how deep your league is.

Games to Watch

  • #2 Clemson @ Syracuse, Friday 7:00pm on ESPN:  If you can only devote one weekend night to watching college football this week, make it Friday since there are two good games.  As discussed above, there is some intrigue around who will be starting for Clemson.  Either way, I don’t expect it to matter.  It will be interesting to see Clemson’s smothering defense against Syracuse QB Eric Dungey.  Dungey is 2nd in the NCAA in passing attempts and 8th in yards; plus he leads the team in rushing yards (325) and rushing TDs (8).  He’s not as skilled as Bryant but he does pose the same type of dual-threat as Bryant.   I’m not calling for the upset but, pending the line, I will be tempted to take the Orangemen with the points.
  • #8 Washington State @ Cal, Friday 10:30pm on ESPN:  It’s not often that you get a Friday night doubleheader featuring two Top 10 teams on the road.  Wazzou’s defense is for real – 6th against the pass, 11th in total yards and 8th most turnovers.  They will be facing a turnover prone QB in Cal’s Ross Bowers.  Bowers has thrown 9 INTs so far which is 5th worst in the NCAA.  He’s a high volume, low efficiency passer so I expect the Cougars to be opportunistic.  This one won’t be nearly as close as the Clemson matchup but it’s worth staying up for since in addition to seeing one of the country’s best defenses, you’ll also get to watch Heisman hopeful Luke Falk pepper the Bears defense (he had 373 yards and 5 TDs against Cal last year).
  • #6 TCU @ Kansas State, Saturday 12:00pm on FS1:  The Horned Frogs disappointed me a bit last week, I thought they would have played better against West Virginia.  Specifically, I thought RB Darius Anderson would do well (he went just 9-43).  Kenny Hill did score his first rushing touchdown of the season but was less efficient than he has been in past weeks.  Kansas State was ranked earlier in the season but lost last week to Texas and is trending in the wrong direction.  If TCU wants to be in the CFP conversation, this is the type of game they need to win convincingly.
  • #10 Auburn @ LSU, Saturday 3:30pm on CBS:  You wouldn’t know it by listening to sports talk radio, but the LSU Tigers are 4-2.  Coach Ed Orgeron has been under fire, from his own supporters no less.  They pulled off a nice 17-16 win against #21 Florida last week so hopefully that has bought Coach O some time.  Auburn’s been led lately by the aforementioned Kerryon Johnson, but it’s also important to point out QB Jarrett Stidham’s recent improvement.  He started slow but since the poor outing against Clemson, he has just 19 incompletions in the last four games.  The Auburn defense is 21st or better in just about every stat category except turnovers forced.  Expect this one to be a low scoring 16-9 type affair.
  • #13 Oklahoma @ Texas, Saturday 3:30pm on ESPN:  The Red River Rivalry is usually good for a fun game.  In my Big 12 season preview, I noted that the last four matchups have featured a ranked Oklahoma and an unranked Texas.  They have split those four.  OU is coming off a disappointing loss to Iowa State, a team that Texas beat.  Texas has still vacillated at QB but went with freshman Sam Ehlinger last week against Kansas State.  He ended up playing well and went 30-50 for 380 yards with 2 TDs and an INT.  Baker Mayfield & Co were not at fault for the Sooners’ loss last week, it was the defense that allowed the comeback from a walk-on QB and a remarkable two-way performance from LB/QB Joel Lanning.  This game feels like a true toss up, regardless of the early line (Oklahoma -8).

 


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.

The Unexpected: Week 5

Updated: October 5th 2017

There are always surprises at the start of the NFL season, some of which may be sustainable through the year while others likely are not.  Determining if your player’s good start is something which will continue may be the difference in figuring out if your team is a true contender or possibly making a poor trade.  With four weeks of the NFL season already in the books, we can start to look at trends and get some idea of different players’ usage going forward.

Quarterbacks

Alex Smith QB2 – Smith rocketed out of the gates with a 4-touchdown thrashing of New England in week 1.  The Kansas City starter made few mistakes since.  Smith leads the NFL in passer rating and completion percentage while pacing the Chiefs to the only undefeated record remaining.  He has been nothing short of great so far throwing for 8 touchdowns with 0 interceptions.

Moving forward – While I foresee continued solid play from Smith, do not expect this production to remain.  The usage is very much in line with recent history, currently tied for 18th in attempts, but his rates are not.  His current 76% completion rate leads the all-time NFL season mark (Sam Bradford 2016) by more than 4 points.  The 8.8 yards per attempt is 1.4 more than any Smith season in Kansas City.  Look for solid QB2 numbers going forward and a quality weekly streaming option.

Jared Goff QB10 – What a difference environment can make.  The second year starter went from a historically bad rookie season to the current leading passer in yards per attempt and third ranked quarterback in passer rating. The additions of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan transformed one of the worst lines in football last year benefitting both the run and pass game.  The Rams also brought in a host of new receiving options for Goff including Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods in free agency plus Cooper Kupp in the draft.  Most importantly Los Angeles brought in 30 year old head coach Sean McVay to completely revamp the offensive scheme.  Goff’s throws became far more manageable this season including increased check downs to Todd Gurley out of the backfield and more open throws throughout the field.

Moving forward – The schedule could become much more difficult over the rest of season with few matchups for which I would be thrilled about for Goff and the Rams.  Goff only ranks 22nd in passing attempts over the season and provides nothing as a rusher to fall back on.  I would not count on Goff as my starter in RSO leagues.  I am more likely to try and capitalize on the hot start with a trade or continue stashing Goff if I drafted him as a cheap backup/streaming option.

Running Backs

Kareem Hunt RB2 – No rookie started out hotter than Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt.  Hunt leads the NFL in rushing yards by nearly 40% over the next player (Todd Gurley) thanks to an enormous 7.4 yards per attempt to start the season.  The rookie also displayed significant receiving ability catching 13 balls for a robust 12.1 yards per reception.

Moving forward – Hunt should remain a locked in RB1 throughout the year.  Kansas City should be competitive throughout the season, he shows off impressive lower body strength to power through tacklers, and enough burst to turn open lanes and bad tackling angles into big plays.  He is also heavily involved in the passing game.  The KC offensive line has consistently opened up huge holes for Hunt this season as well.  He is a set and forget player at this point.

Chris Thompson RB6 – Perhaps no player has done more with less than Washington running back Chris Thompson.  Thompson owns a hefty 7.1 rushing yards per attempt over 20 carries in addition to a huge 16.8 yards per reception for 14 catches which combine to a massive 11 yards per touch.  The Washington passing down back also contributed four touchdowns so far.

Moving forward – Thompson is a really good player but anywhere near this level of production is unsustainable.  He averages less than 9 touches per game and that is unlikely to improve much with a load of offensive weapons to choose from in Washington and a quarterback who generally spreads the ball around.  Thompson is nothing more than a flex play in deeper leagues.  Sell if you can get anything of significance for him.

Wide Receivers

Stephon Diggs WR1 / Adam Thielen WR13 – The Minnesota receivers find themselves ranked well above preseason expectations so far.  Each is top-3 in receiving yardage and Diggs has scored four times already.  Case Keenum has been surprisingly solid in Sam Bradford’s absence and the two Vikings own a very large target share of the offense.  Both accumulated 32 targets, double the next most targeted player on the team.  Tight end Kyle Rudolph has reverted to the low volume, low yardage receiver we saw most of his career without Bradford and with an improved offensive line.

Moving forward – There are a lot of questions going forward for two high volume players.  It is fair to wonder how the loss of rookie sensation Dalvin Cook will affect these receivers and the offense as a whole.  Will the Latavius Murray/Jerrick McKinnon combo provide enough in the run game to open up deeper route combinations?  Will Rudolph gain a larger target share with the return of Bradford?  What does Michael Floyd, who reportedly had a superb training camp and likely replaces inconsequential former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell, bring to the table? The questions have me downgrading both slightly going forward.  Diggs remains a must-start player for me but I am looking at Thielen as more of a flex play going forward.

Chris Hogan WR10 – The former Bill performed well so far in his time in New England providing a nice downfield threat with reliable hands.  Hogan has been on the plus side of the touchdown equation scoring four times this season in the high powered New England offense and is tied for second in targets on the team.  He remains a reliable target for Tom Brady on a team with many injuries at wide receiver.

Moving forward – Hogan will have a big role in the offense but will be a volatile weekly play with likely touchdown regression coming.  With plenty of quality receiving options available for the Patriots including Gronkowski, Cooks, Amendola, and White; consider Hogan more of a borderline WR2/WR3 going forward.

Tight Ends

Charles Clay TE4 – Clay was one of my featured streaming options going into the season.  Buffalo ended up trading away the talented Sammy Watkins to the Rams and trading for Jordan Matthews before the season started.  With speedster Marquise Goodwin moving on Clay became Tyrod Taylor’s only significant returning target left outside of running back Lesean McCoy.  Matthews immediately suffered a chest injury further delaying his familiarity with Taylor which focused more of the offense through Clay early in the season.

Moving forward – Matthews suffered another injury last week, this time resulting in thumb surgery which could keep him out for a month.  The low volume Buffalo passing attack is not a fantasy player’s dream, but Clay owns a large 25% market share so far and Matthew’s time off should ensure a continued big role.  Consider Clay a weekly starter with the number of significant injuries at the position.

Evan Engram TE7 – One of the golden rules in fantasy football is not relying on rookie tight ends.  They rarely have big passing roles the first season taking time to learn all the nuances of the position.  Engram is proving the exception to the rule.  I wrote an entire article this offseason detailing the virtues of Engram but even I was not counting on immediate starting fantasy value.  The rookie is currently tied for second in targets, tied for fourth in receptions, and ranks sixth in yardage among all tight ends.

Moving forward – The Giants have virtually no run game to speak of, thanks in large part to a struggling offensive line, which likely means a continued short pass-happy offense from coach Ben McAdoo for the rest of season.  The athletic tight end has at least four receptions each game so far and his targets have trended upward throughout the season.  Engram should be a locked-in weekly starter given his consistent heavy usage and lack of quality options at the position.


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.