NFL Combine: Events that Matter Most

Updated: March 3rd 2018

The NFL Combine events start up this week and not too soon it is for us football fanatics.  Players will compete in a diverse group of events testing strength, speed, quickness, and agility among other traits.  It would be great if players displayed tremendous all-around athleticism translating to superb well rounded players, but very few large athletes excel in every event like a Julio Jones or David Johnson.  The large majority of players coming into the NFL will not be dominating focal point wide receivers and tremendous all-around backs succeeding in all areas of the run and pass game. Most athletes will go on to play more specialized roles based on their unique abilities and strengths.

So which of these of these athletic events are we most interested in?  The answer, as usual, is that it depends.  I focus on athletic events which have translated to increased odds of success for a variety of players with different projected roles in the NFL.  This is not to say these events are any kind of guarantee of success or that they are even the most important quality for a player.  The athletic profile is just one more component of a player’s evaluation.

Quarterbacks

You mainly are allowed to ignore the athletic combine events for quarterbacks.  Accuracy, decision making, anticipation, defense recognition, and read progression are among the most important quarterback traits.  None of those show up at the combine. You surely want your quarterback possessing enough arm strength to make all the necessary throws from the pocket but velocity, by itself, has not translated to effective QB play over the years.  Likewise, few quarterbacks have maintained long careers primarily on their athletic ability.  It will be fun watching Lamar Jackson tear up the running drills and Josh Allen could smash the throw velocity record, but these are not metrics high on the list for successful quarterbacks.

Running Backs

The Space Back – Archetype:  LeSean McCoy

Events we most care about: 3 Cone Drill, 20 yard Shuttle

These players usually come in on the smaller size of NFL backs.  They consistently win by avoiding defenders with above average agility.  The lateral quickness drills are of prime importance here.  This group also dominates the passing down specialists and, in general, makes up the better receivers out of the backfield.  Dion Lewis, Theo Riddick, and Gio Bernard make up a small sample of other players in this grouping.

Compact Tackle Breaker – Archetype:  Marshawn Lynch

Events we most care about: Vertical Jump, Broad Jump

Here we come to the maulers who tend to be good creating yardage by breaking tackles with consistent leg drive.  Lower body explosion drills show off leg strength paramount to these players.  These are backs who perform well in the box.  While also generally on the short side, they typically weigh in on the heavier side giving a lower center of gravity making them hard to bring down.  Kareem Hunt and Jay Ajayi are a couple of other recent examples in this category who have had success in the league.

Two-Down Power Back

Events we most care about:  40-yard dash

The NFL is moving to more diverse backs who are capable pass catchers but there are still roles for bigger backs who can absorb the punishment of weekly 20-touch workloads.  I am primarily watching the 230 lb+ backs in this category like a Carlos Hyde.  These players do not need to be speed demons but I avoid the very slow backs in my fantasy drafts.

Wide Receiver

Slot Receiver – Archetype:  Julian Edelman

Events we most care about: 3 Cone Drill, 20 yard Shuttle

Start/stop quickness is the name of the game here.  The ability to effortlessly get in and out of breaks providing quick and easy passes for a quarterback defines much of a slot receivers’ success.  This trait also helps maximize missed tackles after the catch producing larger gains.  While we usually think of the smaller players in the slot role, high agility helps the bigger slot players like Cooper Kupp as the NFL evolves at the position moving receivers around the formation.

Deep Threat – Archetype:  Mike Wallace

Events we most care about: 40-yard dash, Vertical Jump, Broad Jump

The ability to make big plays from the wide receiver position will always be a valuable commodity to NFL teams.  Stretching a defense vertically helps spread the defense and opens up throwing lanes for underneath receivers.  High-end speed is nearly an absolute must for the smaller vertical threat to threaten defenses.  Leaping ability becomes a bigger factor for larger receivers who depend less on speed and more on high-pointing deep passes.

Tight Ends

Events we most care about: All of them

There have been few consistent upper-level fantasy options at tight end over recent years but the large majority of them who have existed usually exhibit great overall athleticism.  Gates, Gronk, Kelce, and Graham are a few examples of tight ends possessing the great size, strength, and power to dominate at the position.

In recent years, coaches have evolved utilizing smaller tight ends with more specialized receiving roles relying less on their blocking ability.  The “move” tight ends such as Delanie Walker and Jordan Reed carved out big roles in the passing game relying more on speed and agility to win routes.


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.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

2017 RSO Writer’s League Reviews and Lessons

Updated: February 18th 2018

The contributors to Reality Sports Online finished our second season of the RSO Writer’s League recently.  The 10-team league features PPR scoring and each team rosters 20 players with 1QB/ 2RBs/ 2WRs/ 1TE/1 Open Flex/1 Flex starting requirements.  One of the goals for this league was providing the readers content and insight into the ways writers view their own team situations.  This article focuses on a couple of team reviews and lessons learned from some of the RSO staff.  Special thanks to Matt Goodwin (@mattgoody2) for his significant contribution.

Team Reviews

Matt Goodwin (5th Place Regular Season)

Another year, another earlier exit than I hoped for in the playoffs. Unlike last year where I was Le’Veoned in the playoffs, this year I created my own demise by starting Tom Savage as QB2 at the last minute over DeShone Kizer who had a solid game against the Packers. Had I made that move the playoff landscape could have changed as I would’ve knocked Bernard and his Todd Gurley hot streak out of the playoffs.  Anyways, I could make all sorts of excuses for my team underperforming this year such as OBJ’s season-ending injury, Hunter Henry’s role in the Chargers offense, and Jay Ajayi’s trade to the Eagles mid-season, but in the end through building a deep team and some trades I had a decent shot to go far in the playoffs.

Year 3 presents significant challenges for me. While I have a very nice core coming back (an extended Tom Brady, OBJ, Kareem Hunt on a 1.08 rookie deal, Ajayi in his first year as starter in a nice Philly offense, Henry with no Gates (if he ever retires), I will need Corey Davis to step up and be my WR2 to have a legitimate shot to win this league in 2018. I traded my 2018 first along with Melvin Gordon and AP post-auction for Ajayi and Davis with the thought that Davis could contribute as a rookie and if not, I had a high-priced top WR (Beckham) and a likely stud WR (Davis) on a reasonable rookie deal to basically settle my WR corps at a solid average price. That remains a decent possibility. If not, I still have a good bit of faith in Jamison Crowder who is going to cost me $4.2 million next year. If Davis produces, I can slide Crowder to the flex and my starting lineup is basically done save for a QB2.

I swung and missed on a few guys this year on smaller multiyear deals and jettisoned a few already by cutting Paxton Lynch and trading Samaje Perine. My biggest miss was my two year deal for Isaiah Crowell figuring the Browns invested enough in their line to commit to the run game while being more competitive. Well, Hue Jackson foiled that plan with his stubborn play-calling (as a Browns fan I’m pleading for the team to fire Jackson and pick up anyone but Jeff Fisher). So Crowell heads into real-life free-agency and I’m saddled with a $19.1 million salary for him in 2018, which may be somewhat paralyzing given that my 2018 cap commits are already $139.3 million.

So I’m somewhat cap constrained and down a 2018 first rounder, but optimistic I can fill my needs well and fairly cheaply other than potentially the QB2 position in our Superflex league. The available QB Free Agents in our league have potential (Cousins, Rivers, Bortles, Tyrod, A. Smith), but we’ll see what happens.

Bernard Faller (3rd Place Regular Season, League Champion)

Nothing is quite as good in fantasy as unexpectedly winning a championship which occurred for my team this season.  Like many other teams, Todd Gurley almost singlehandedly bullied my squad to the league title.  I viewed my team as an above average group with three pieces (Gurley, Evans, and Reed) capable of producing near the very top of their position and solid starters elsewhere.  My expected typical weekly starting lineup going into the season was:

QB1 – Stafford, Open Flex- Rivers, RB1 – Gurley, RB2 -Miller, WR1 – Evans, WR2 – Jeffrey, TE – Reed, Flex – C.J. Anderson/Emmanuel Sanders.

What went wrong: My biggest fail starts with Jordan Reed.  Reed played hurt most of the season when he was available and split time with Vernon Davis throughout the year.  Reed did not play after week 8 and Washington put him on I.R. late in the year.  I counted on Reed as an elite option at tight end but instead he wasted a roster spot on my bench most of the year on the hope he would come back by the end of season.  Mike Evans hugely underperformed this season due in part to erratic quarterback play as Jameis Winston played with a shoulder injury for stretches.  Evans also suffered bad luck in the touchdown department.  My flex spot was a mess for much of the season forcing me to use the waiver wire extensively.  While Anderson played well this season, Denver went to a more committee approach at running back after the first month and negative game script adversely affected him.  Sanders suffered from nagging injuries and ugly QB play all year.

What went right:  The biggest winning move before the season undoubtedly was trading my 2018 1st and a year of Brandon Marshall for Gurley and his large contract ($23M this season) mid-season in 2016 after a bad start to the year for Gurley.   It was a bet on Gurley’s talent and against Jeff Fisher being the coach going forward.  New coach Sean McVay fully exploited Gurley’s explosiveness with the ball in his hands both as a runner and receiver.  I was not planning on using my 2nd round rookie pick, Evan Engram, extensively going into the season as rookie tight ends rarely produce.  Odell Beckham Jr.’s injury really opened the door for Engram to have a big role and allowed him to showcase his skill-set producing one of the better rookie tight end seasons in recent memory.  He was not a game-changer this year but hitting on what looks like a reliable starter moving forward is definitely a win from a 2nd round pick.  I played the value game at quarterback, spending less than $15M combined salary for my two quarterbacks.  The move played out well with Stafford and Rivers ending as the QB7 and QB8 in our league.

Looking forward:  Most of my starters return on contract except for Rivers and Reed.  The hope is that Jimmy Garoppolo, who has looked great in his brief career so far (and whom I have signed to a very cheap deal in our last free agent auction), will be a solid replacement for Rivers on my team.  Gurley and Evans form a nice young core with each showing the ability to vie for top scorer at their respective position.  I accumulated another late 1st in addition to my normal rookie picks and will have about $50M to spend in the free agent auction to help my team.  With reliable starters largely in place, the main offseason goal is adding as many high upside players as possible in free agency and the draft.  My free agency strategy typically revolves around using long-term contracts on safer options and cheaper high-upside gambles while using shorter-term contracts on expensive starters.  While potentially missing out on some star players, this strategy allows fielding a competitive team year after year with costly mistakes easily rectified in short order.

Lessons Learned

Stephen Wendell – “I must value draft picks now”.

This will be a popular sentiment after last year’s rookie class success.  Draft picks generally rise in value for superflex leagues.  The additional starting spot means quarterbacks, who usually are not drafted until the late 2nd round, will routinely be taken starting in the 1st round of rookie drafts.

Robert F. Cowper – “Trust the process”.

The key here is do not panic if things go wrong in a single season.  Remain committed to a rebuild if that is the path you chose or you could end up with a mediocre team for a long time.  Do not change your valuations of rookie picks just because some did not pan out.

Matt Goodwin – In looking at our league, it seems that the frequent trading teams seem to do well and those that have two solid QBs in their starting lineup, with few exceptions. I think my decision to trade down in the second round and free myself from Sterling Shepard’s contract cost me Deshaun Watson who will be a significant force in this league for years to come. Getting a QB in the rookie draft in Round 2 and hitting on it is the best potential value you can extract in this league and I missed with Kizer who will surely be replaced by the Browns first overall pick this offseason. It’ll definitely be another fun ride (and hopefully every team in the league has less injuries next season).

Bernard Faller – 1. Doubling down on Matt’s point about having two reliable quarterbacks (or more) because it is so important.  You are putting yourself at a big disadvantage forcing positional players in your superflex spot.  An owner typically must pay a premium salary for a positional player to score an equivalent level of points.  2.  In a shallow league like this, there will almost always be quality players left on the waiver wire.  Make sure you keep some salary available to reinforce weak spots on your team or grab that great player who shows up out of nowhere.  3.  Do not bail on the season too early.  The rewards of winning a championship dictate you should try as hard as possible to make the playoffs.  Make a realistic assessment of your team but anything can happen if you get in the playoffs.


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.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

2018 NFL Free Agency

Updated: February 18th 2018

Welcome back! With the NFL free agency just around the corner and the RSO and the site reopened, it is time to start watching who is a free agent or a potential cut candidate before the official offseason kicks off. There will be a few windows between now and March to either sell a player before he moves into a worse situation or buy a player before he joins a prolific offense. Here is a preview of each position’s key free agents as well as some player who could be cut before or during the offseason. Similar to last year I will be picking players that relocate to feature in the Free Agency Expectancy article series done throughout the offseason.

Quarterbacks

QB FAs QB Cuts
Drew Brees Eli Manning
Kirk Cousins Tyrod Taylor
Sam Bradford Ryan Tannehill
Josh McCown Mike Glennon
Case Keenum
Teddy Bridgewater
Blaine Gabbert
Jay Cutler
A.J. McCarron

The fireworks have already started with regards to the quarterback market with Alex Smith being dealt to Washington which should signal the end of Kirk Cousins in the Capital. Without knowing whether or not Drew Brees is going to seriously test free agency we have to assume that Cousins will be the one who will receive the largest contract. We haven’t seen a healthy, young(ish), competent QB hit the market in years so it will interesting to see how teams will court him. There should only be a handful of teams that don’t take a serious look at their starter and wonder if Cousins could be better. For the rest of the available and possibly available QBs, it’s a mixed bag in terms of fantasy relevance. Not sure many will have an impact outside of 2QB league but we’ll see where they land.

Running Backs

RB FAs RB Cuts
Le’Veon Bell DeMarco Murray
Carlos Hyde Doug Martin
Jerrick McKinnon Adrian Peterson
Dion Lewis Chris Ivory
Isaiah Crowell Mike Gillislee
Alfred Morris
Eddie Lacy
Jeremy Hill
LeGarrette Blount
Frank Gore
Rex Burkhead
Charles Sims
Thomas Rawls – RFA
Alex Collins – ERFA

Much like last year, I don’t expect Le’Veon Bell to hit the market, whether it is another year on the franchise tag or Pittsburgh comes to a long-term deal with him. Carlos Hyde would likely have the most upside of any free agent but he does have a history of injuries. He could find himself in a similar situation as Latavius Murray was last year where a team signs him but transitions to a rookie later in the season. After those two it would be hard to trust any RB to be more than an RB3-4 on a week-to-week basis. With another incoming rookie class that is extremely talented and super deep at the position, it will be tough for anyone to feel confident acquiring these available players. At best some will be able to share the backfield with a rookie or one another veteran. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.

Wide Receivers

WR FAs WR Cuts
Jarvis Landry Jordy Nelson
Allen Robinson Brandon Marshall
Danny Amendola Randall Cobb
Paul Richardson Dez Bryant
Marqise Lee Emmanuel Sanders
Jordan Matthews Allen Hurns
Sammy Watkins Jeremy Maclin
Terrelle Pryor
Donte Moncrief
John Brown
Mike Wallace
Kendall Wright
Jeff Janis
Cameron Meredith – RFA
Quincy Enunwa – RFA
Tyrell Williams – RFA
Willie Snead – RFA
Brandon Coleman – RFA
Josh Gordon – ERFA

There are some big names available in the receiver market as well as some bigger names on the cut list which could make for savvy buy/sell opportunities between now and March. If Allen Robinson finds a new team with an efficient QB he will see his value spike back up to the mid WR1 conversation that it was a couple years ago. Same goes for Jarvis Landry who had good production in Miami with less than efficient offenses the last two seasons. If either or both Packers receivers are booted from Aaron Rodgers’ offense their value will crater. I would be selling both of them over the next three weeks before the trade value completely falls out from under them. Overall, this is the position group to watch throughout the offseason. Lots of moving pieces may create incredible value for a number of these players.

Tight Ends

TE FAs TE Cuts
Jimmy Graham Julius Thomas
Austin Seferian-Jenkins Eric Ebron
Tyler Eifert Vance McDonald
Antonio Gates C.J. Fiedorowicz
Benjamin Watson
Trey Burton
Cameron Brate – RFA  

Tight ends lag behind again as there are very few fantasy relevant options that will hit the open market and the ones that are available are extremely risky. Jimmy Graham started to be productive in Seattle last season with the offense needing to open up and carry their surprisingly weak defense. If he stays in Seattle he could be reconsidered in the top 3 conversation again for TE value. Until we know for sure his value is in flux. The rest of the group is either seriously flawed, injury prone or contemplating retirement which doesn’t bode well for fantasy value. Hopefully, the youth movement comes to blossom soon for this position otherwise it could be a wasteland if Gronk is serious about his retirement.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

RSO Rookie Rundown: 2018 TEs, Part I

Updated: February 11th 2018

Welcome to the RSO Rookie Rundown, a resource to help RSO owners prepare for their upcoming rookie drafts. For more college football and NFL Draft coverage, follow me on Twitter at @robertfcowper. Throughout the offseason, the RSO Rookie Rundown will delve into dozens of future rookies for your consideration. Each prospect will be evaluated on a number of criteria including size, production, performance, character and durability. This is an inexact science but the goal is to gain a better perspective of each player through research. Each player will be given a draft round grade as well as a recent NFL player comparison. For draft round grades, it’s important to remember that some positions are valued more highly than others in the NFL. For player comparisons, it’s important to remember that it is a rough heuristic for illustrative purposes and is based on a physical and statistical basis rather than a prediction of a similar NFL career.

Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

Dallas Goedert is an FCS star who deserves your attention.  Goedert was not even on my radar when I started researching the 2017 season but an RSO reader suggested I look him up and since then I have had Goedert as a top player at the position.  Goedert was selected for the Senior Bowl but ultimately had to pull out due to a hamstring injury.  Luckily he was still able to weigh-in so we could get a firm handle on his height and weight.  Goedert came in at 6044 (a handy shorthand that says he is 6 feet, 04 inches and 4/8) and 260lbs which was just about what we expected.  I will be very interested in seeing how Goedert runs at the combine.  NFLDraftScout.com predicts he’ll run about 4.81, whereas a Sports Illustrated profile from the preseason gave him 4.65 speed.  That’s a huge gap (think Julius Thomas vs Kyle Rudolph).  Unfortunately, the hamstring wasn’t Goedert’s first injury of the season.  He left SDSU’s quarterfinal matchup against New Hampshire early with an ankle injury; the injury subsequently kept him out of the semi-final against James Madison.  Goedert played in each game in 2015 and 2016 so I’m not that concerned that this is part of a bigger pattern (he was redshirted in 2013 and a limited contributor in 2014).  Goedert does not have any character concerns that I came across during my research.  To the contrary, he seems like a fun, quirky kid that fans will fall in love with.  My research of Goedert provided the most unexpected article from AOL titled “A Walk-On Unicyclist from South Dakota Might be the NFL Draft’s Top Tight End Prospect.”  The article did not skimp on unicycling details and actually included a snapshot from the local paper showing Goedert atop a six-foot high unicycle.  Awesome.  Let’s hope he gets drafted by the team featured on Hard Knocks so we can see him in the rookie talent show!

Stats & Accolades:  As an FCS player, there are few “advanced” stats out there for Goedert.  Good thing he dominated so much the last two seasons that we don’t need the advanced stats to tell us how good Goedert is.  2016 was his high water mark with a 92-1,293-11 campaign.  His counting stats decreased in 2017 but his rate stat of yards per reception did increase (15.4 in 2017 vs 14.1 in 2016).  I expect the decrease in 2017 was likely due to the fact that MVC defenses had more time to watch film of Goedert and to gameplan against him.  Goedert has five games in his career with 10+ receptions.  To give you a feel for how dominant that is, let’s compare to other top TE prospects in this class.  Mark Andrews, Mike Gesicki, Hayden Hurst and Troy Fumagalli all have zero such games.  Adam Breneman, featured below, is the only other top prospect with any 10+ games and he has just two.  Casual fans may interject and say, “Bob, surely he dominated because he was by far the best receiver on his team.”  I would point out that Goedert was sharing the targets with four-year standout WR Jake Wieneke who averaged nearly 1,300 yards and 15 TDs per season.  An easy knock against Goedert (and Wieneke) will be the quality of opponent.  To get a feel for how Goedert did in his team’s biggest games, I looked at a set of six games.  The first was his only game against a Power 5 opponent, TCU in 2016.  In that game he had a 5-96-1 line.  The other five games all were against North Dakota State.  I chose to concentrate on this subset of his game logs because NDSU was by far the most dominant team in the FCS in recent history (they won six of seven championships).  In those five games against championship level teams, Goedert totaled 29 receptions for 389 yards and 3 TDs.  On average, that would be 5.8 receptions, 77.8 yards and .6 TDs.  That’s a stat line that fantasy owners would kill for from the TE position on a regular basis.

Goedert was named to the Missouri Valley Conference First Team for three straight seasons from 2015-2017.  He was also named, unanimously, to back-to-back FCS All-American teams in 2016 and 2017.  He was also a Walter Payton Award (i.e. the FCS Heisman) finalist both seasons.  He has quite a list of accomplishments and I am looking forward to seeing him ply his trade at the next level.

Year Games Rec Yards TD
2014 14 8 100 0
2015 12 26 484 3
2016 13 92 1293 11
2017 14 72 1111 7

Film Study: North Dakota State (2017), TCU (2016)

I watched Goedert against North Dakota State and TCU – the two key opponents mentioned above.  Let’s first look at Goedert in 2017 vs NDSU.  I was immediately struck by how versatile his usage was in the Jackrabbit offense.  Not only did Goedert line up inline, he lined up offset, split out and in the backfield.  Goedert is not a great blocker but I would say he is at least above average for the class.  Two blocks, coincidentally on back-to-back plays on the tape yet separated by minutes in the game, showed decent strength and form.  Don’t get me wrong, he will need improvement as a blocker in the NFL but what rookie tight end doesn’t?  Here are the two blocks:

In the first play, Goedert initiates contact with the defender with a quick strike.  He uses strong leg drive to push the defensive end back and hooks him to create a hole for the runner.  In the second play, Goedert again initiates the contact by getting his hands on the defender first.  He uses the linebacker’s aggressiveness against him as he pushes him inside just as the receiver comes past on the end-around.

Later in the game, Goedert impressed me with his concentration when he tipped a ball to himself and caught it with one hand.  He gets a clean release off the line and beats the covering linebacker.  He makes the tip and the catch look effortless as he walks into the endzone.  It was just one of a number of good-to-great catches I saw him make while watching tape and highlight reels.  Granted, it is easier to make the spectacular play when you’re playing against lesser competition.

On the ensuing two point conversion, Goedert stars in a clever trick play.  The running back takes a handoff and then hands to Goedert who comes on the reverse.  Goedert then pitches the ball to the quarterback who is in the flat.  It’s an ugly and dangerous pitch but it worked.  I don’t think there’s anything to glean from the play aside from reinforcing his versatility.

Against TCU, Goedert had a nice score that tied the game at 31.  He was lined up on the line and feigned blocking long enough to sell the fake on the jet sweep.  The defenders all fall for the fake and leave Goedert wide open.  He catches the ball in the open field and his size advantage is immediately apparent: there’s no way that the smaller safety can bring him down before the goal line.

While watching the TCU tape, I found myself disappointed in Goedert’s route running.  A number of his routes looked labored and slow.  One particular play late in the third quarter just looked like a lazy post pattern.  The safety is easily able to cover Goedert and break on the ball.  An NFL safety may have turned it into an interception.  The play ends in a defensive pass interference but that’s a moot point.  He should have done better on that play with the game still in the balance.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Size, volume of production in college, durability from 2013-2016, personality, versatility.

Weaknesses: 2017 injuries, level of competition in the FCS, speed (pending combine measurement), route running.

Opportunities: Due to his size and production in college, teams may view Goedert as a potential starter rather than a situational receiver.

Threats: Teams may get caught up on the recent ankle and hamstring injuries, or the lack of high level competition, and drop Goedert down their board.  Teams may be hesitant on Goedert until after they see him run at the combine as that will greatly impact his value.

Draft Round Grade:  Early 2nd Round

I believe that Goedert’s stock will continue to rise as more and more people get eyes on him.  A solid combine will also propel him higher in the draft as it’ll be the first time scouts can compare him to FBS players (the Senior Bowl injury really hurt, in my opinion).  Goedert isn’t the best blocker but he’s good enough that teams will view him as a more complete tight end prospect than somebody like Mark Andrews.

Recent NFL Comparison: Travis Kelce

While watching Goedert’s usage on tape, I felt there was a strong correlation to how Kelce is used by the Chiefs.  Kelce lines up in multiple positions, is used heavily on screens and non-traditional TE routes, and is included on trick plays.  Goedert will need to run closer to the Sports Illustrated estimate (4.65) than his NFLDraftScout.com estimate (4.81) to get close to Kelce’s speed (4.63).  I don’t think he’ll get under 4.70 so he’s definitely slower than Kelce but they are of a similar build.  Like Goedert, Kelce was not without some negatives (a suspension and lack of production) but he was worth the risk.

 

Jaylen Samuels, TE/RB/FB, North Carolina State

As the loquacious Winston Churchill might say if he were an NFL Draft analyst, Jaylen Samuels is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”  My Twitter followers may recognize the name because I groused about Samuels at numerous times last season.  To say that Samuels may be the precursor to “positionless” football is not a stretch.  More so than for any other prospect, Samuels’ fantasy value will come down to who drafts him and their plans to utilize him.  In reality, Samuels does not fit in a preview of tight end prospects, he will most surely be drafted as a hybrid RB/FB.  I kept him with the tight ends for now more out of personal convenience than anything else.  At the Senior Bowl, Samuels measured in at 5114 (remember that’s shorthand for 5’11” and 4/8″) and 223lbs.  Since 2010, not a single TE has measured at 6’0″ or shorter at the combine; just one weighed less than 230lbs.  Like I said, he’s not a TE.  He’s also too light to be a true FB because he’d be the second lightest FB since 2010.  I keep talking about what Samuels isn’t, so let’s shift gears and talk about what he is: Samuels is the ultimate third down and two minute drill weapon.  His versatility lining up all over the field means that he has experience running pass patterns from a variety of formations.  His experience as an inline TE should mean he’s at least an average blocker (sadly the tape I watched didn’t highlight any of his blocks).  His prowess as a receiver and a short yardage runner is evident by looking at his stats and a cursory glance at his tape.  As far as injury or character concerns, there is not much to report.  Samuels has fought through a few minor injuries (foot, hamstring, possible concussion) but did not miss any games in 2015, 2016 or 2017.  I expect Samuels to be under-drafted in the NFL Draft compared to how excited some fantasy players are about his potential.  Ultimately, his jack-of-all-trades versatility could be both a blessing and a curse.  I’d love it if my favorite team grabbed him in the 5th round but any earlier than that may be asking too much.

Stats & Accolades:  Since I included Samuels with the tight ends today, let’s start with his receiving stats.  Starting with his sophomore season, he’s had 195 receptions (an average of 65) and 18 TDs.  He averages 9.2 yards per reception which is quite low but he’s not meant to be a big play threat.  Per Pro Football Focus, Samuels was one of the top slot receivers of 2017.  42 of his 75 receptions came from the slot and he had a 76.4% catch rate from the slot.  That catch rate was good enough to rank seventh best in the FBS.  Unfortunately, Samuels ranked low in PFF’s two other signature receiving stats: overall drop rate and yards per route run.  Another area where he excelled was as a receiver on third and long.  On third downs of four or more yards, Samuels caught 15 passes and converted 10 for first downs.  He wasn’t as successful converting on third down as a rusher (just 2 for 8) but he was given the rock on fourth down seven times.  Five of those seven went for first downs, including two TDs.  Samuels was particularly effective in the red zone.  14 of his 16 touchdowns in 2017 came in the red zone (11 rushing, 3 receiving).  His 2016 situational stats show a similar trend: 11 of his 13 scores came from inside the twenty.  Not only is Samuels an interesting prospect in that he’s an equally adept receiver and rusher, but he also has limited experience as a kick returner (12 for 230 yards) and as a passer on trick plays (2 for 3, 84 yards and 1 TD).  Samuels even recorded a forced fumble and fumble recovery in 2014 on a great hustle play (more on that below).  Samuels was selected to the 2017 All-ACC team as an “all-purpose” player – a perfect description.

Receiving & Rushing Table
Receiving Rushing Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Rec Yds Avg TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 North Carolina State ACC FR TE 11 6 96 16.0 1 15 143 9.5 1 21 239 11.4 2
*2015 North Carolina State ACC SO TE 13 65 597 9.2 7 56 368 6.6 9 121 965 8.0 16
*2016 North Carolina State ACC JR TE 13 55 565 10.3 7 33 189 5.7 6 88 754 8.6 13
2017 North Carolina State ACC SR TE 13 75 593 7.9 4 78 407 5.2 12 153 1000 6.5 16
Career North Carolina State 201 1851 9.2 19 182 1107 6.1 28 383 2958 7.7 47
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2018.

Film Study:  Arizona State (2017)

Let’s start by taking a look at the aforementioned hustle play that Samuels made in 2014 as a freshman against Georgia Tech.  It’s not instructive of any of his main skills but I think it further illustrates the fact that Samuels is just a good football player and a guy you would want on your team.  He lines up in the slot as a receiver and his route takes him about seven yards deep into the end zone before the ball is intercepted by a line backer.  Samuels does not give up on the play.  To the contrary, he runs the defender down and tackles him about seventy yards later.  Not only does he make the tackle but he strips the ball and recovers it to give the Wolfpack the ball back (unfortunately, Jacoby Brissett threw a pick-six on the ensuing play, oh well).  Keep in mind this play came when Samuels was just a freshman.  Nobody would have faulted him for not being involved in the play because he was so far out of it but he had the sense, and the speed, to make a difference.

Since Samuels is a prospect unlike others I have researched the last two years, I decided to do handle his film study differently.  Rather than a brief look at two films, I decided to dive deeper on one.  I chose the Arizona State game since it was the last game of the season and I felt that would give me a better representation of Samuels than tape from early in 2017 or even 2016.  The first time I watched the film, I kept track of where he lined up on each snap.  I realized quickly that Samuels is a player whose analysis suffers from watching on Youtube rather than a full game on television but it was my only option at the moment.  One of the flaws of watching “tape” on Youtube is that cut-ups typically only show plays that a player was involved in rather than every snap.  In the Arizona State game I didn’t count a single play shown where Samuels was specifically assigned as a blocker.  It’s hard for me to say whether that’s a factor of Samuels’ true usage in the game or if the creator of the clip eschewed blocking highlights.  I digress, my pet peeves aside, tracking Samuels’ snaps is still illustrative because it shows us that he can have an impact from myriad formations.  I started my film study with four designations: inline tight end, offset tight end, slot receiver, backfield.  I quickly realized that these four buckets were not enough because Samuels was lined up split out wide in a stack formation on one of the first plays shown and then shortly after at wildcat quarterback.  I tracked any wildcat snaps as “backfield” and any wide snaps as “slot receiver” for simplicity’s sake.  I counted zero inline, two offset, nine slot and five backfield.  After doing my statistical research and reading up about Samuels, that was what I had expected but it was good to see it borne out in film.

On my second watch of the film, I took more traditional notes on Samuels, including some strengths and key plays.  In my estimation, Samuels is an above average route runner.  He appears to have good movement at the top of his route stem and on multiple occasions showed good field awareness by knowing how far his route needed to go for a first down.  He has good hands which were shown on a couple of nice catches.  He caught these passes with his hands rather than letting them get into his body.  One particular example also featured a skilled mid-air adjustment.  His momentum was carrying him across the field as the pass went to his back shoulder.  He adjusted while in the air, caught the ball with his hands and maintained control through the ground.  It was a 3rd and 17 and resulted in a first down on top of a highlight catch.

Late in the game, Samuels took a wildcat snap which he took in for a game-sealing score.  He patiently presses the line after taking the direct snap and finds a hole off tackle.  He gets low and plunges into the end zone.  There wasn’t much to the play but I wanted to include it because it could be a signal of how he will be utilized in the NFL.

In my third watch of the film, my goal was to track the plays that Samuels carried the ball, specifically those plays when he was used as a traditional running back.  I wanted to track these snaps as it’s clear Samuels will need to predominantly play running back, at least to start his career.  Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed.  Per the game log, Samuels had six carries in that game but only two of them were as a running back from the backfield.  Two of them were from the wildcat and I counted four other plays when he was a receiver and got the ball on a pop-pass, end around or jet sweep (the pop-passes would count as receptions but functionally they are jet sweeps).  Both traditional carries came late in the 4th quarter, both went for a two yard gain on 2nd down and both were stretch plays.  The first was a conversion for a first down while the second came up just short of the goal line (and led to the wildcat touchdown above).  Neither were bad plays, they essentially met the goal of the play call, but they didn’t assure me that Samuels can make the transition to being a traditional running back.  If anything, these two plays reinforced my notion that Samuels needs to land on a team with a dynamic offense in order to be fantasy relevant.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Clutch, red zone weapon, versatile, stayed relatively healthy, route running, hands.

Weaknesses: Size does not translate to playing either TE or FB, doesn’t do any one thing great, lacks top end speed as a RB, lack of reps as a traditional RB.

Opportunities: A creative offense will salivate over his potential to create mismatches all over the formation.  Teams may see him as an ideal 53rd man as he can be serviceable at multiple positions.

Threats: Some coaches may feel that he doesn’t fit well into their scheme or into their playbook.  Teams may be hesitant to invest draft capital on somebody they believe is a gadget player.

Draft Round Grade:  5th Round

I love Samuels and I wish him success in the NFL but I don’t think he’s worth a Day Two, or early Day Three pick.  If he was two inches taller, fifteen pounds heavier and two tenths faster we could be talking about a first rounder but alas that is not the case.  Samuels will offer his NFL team a lot but I think it may be some time before he pays off.  His path to NFL success may be similar to that of Delanie Walker, another undersized TE/FB tweener, who needed eight years and a change of scenery to breakout.

Recent NFL Comparison: Joique Bell

Delanie Walker is a popular comp for Samuels but Walker is significantly bigger (6’1″ and 240lbs) than Samuels so I didn’t think it was apt to compare the two.  Instead, I decided to go with a running back who succeeded in short yardage situations, was an excellent pass catcher and had just enough speed to break off an occasional big run: Joique Bell.  Bell came from DII Wayne State so film is hard to find and of horrible quality.  Instead, I watched highlights of Bell with the Lions to refresh my memory of his style.  Bell does look larger than Samuels even though their measurements are nearly identical coming out of college.  Bell struggled to catch on in the NFL initially but ultimately had four solid seasons with the Lions.  I think Samuels has the perfect skill set to mirror Bell’s breakout season when he had 82 rushes and 52 receptions for a total of 899 yards and 3 TDs.

 

Adam Breneman, TE, University of Massachusetts

Adam Breneman, a former Penn State Nittany Lion, is one of the least talked about tight end prospects atop this class (the other being Hayden Hurst). Players like Mike Gesicki, Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert have seen their stock fluctuate recently for varying reasons but Breneman has stayed out of the conversation for the most part. At the Senior Bowl, Breneman measured in at 6’4″ and 241lbs which was smaller than expected. Since 2010, there were sixteen tight ends drafted in the 1st through 3rd rounds who were 6’5″ or 6’6″ between 250-265lbs. For smaller tight ends (6’3″ or 6’4″ between 235-250lbs), that number of top draftees falls to just eight. One encouraging sign for Breneman though, is that three of those eight (David Njoku, Gerald Everett and Jonnu Smith) were taken last season alone. After reading a background story about Breneman on Bleacher Report, I am impressed by him as a person. After semi-retiring from Penn State due to recurring knee injuries, Breneman started working in politics for a state senator. The senator was so inspired by Breneman, then 21 years old, that he offered him a job as his chief of staff. After the respite that politics provided, Breneman’s knee was cleared by his doctors and he was convinced by UMass’ starting quarterback, Andrew Ford, to come play for the Minutemen. It didn’t hurt that Breneman and Ford had been best friends since high school. And that’s how we find ourselves here, evaluating one of the top tight end prospects from one of the nation’s worst football programs. The obvious issue with Breneman’s back story is the knee. It started as a torn ACL in high school and has lingered since; he’s had multiple procedures but the details on those are limited. NFL teams will surely do a thorough evaluation before adding him to their board. It’s unfortunate because somebody with the physical traits of Breneman should be drafted higher than he will be due to the injury history.

Stats & Accolades:  Breneman has a much smaller sample size than either Samuels or Goedert so I think it’s important to take his standout numbers with a grain of salt.  Similarly to Goedert, this is due to the quality of competition he has faced over the last two seasons at UMass.  His season totals are very good but he was often the best player on the field so you should expect him to succeed.  I looked at per-game stats to control for the fact that Breneman played in less games the last two years than most (a factor of an ankle injury this year that caused him to miss 1.5 games and the lack of any postseason games for UMass).  In 2016, he was the second ranked tight end in terms of yards per game and receptions per game (behind Evan Engram).  In 2017, Breneman improved and ranked first in both categories.  Breneman did have a number of games against Power 5 teams (Florida, Mississippi State twice, Boston College and South Carolina) plus two against BYU.  BYU may have struggled this year but prior to that they were bowl eligible for twelve straight seasons so I’ll include them in this subset.  In those seven games, Breneman averaged a respectable 4.7 receptions, 52 yards and 0.4 TDs.  According to Pro Football Focus, Breneman ranked seventh in Yards Per Route Run.  So, not only is he targeted often, he’s targeted downfield.  He was also atop the Drop Rate table checking in with a perfect 0.0% (he caught 57 of 57 catchable balls).  Breneman was selected to a few post season All-American teams in honor of his accomplishments as a receiver.

Receiving & Rushing Table
Receiving Rushing Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Rec Yds Avg TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
2013 Penn State Big Ten FR TE 8 15 186 12.4 3 0 0 0 15 186 12.4 3
*2015 Penn State Big Ten SO TE 0 0 0
2016 Massachusetts Ind JR TE 12 70 808 11.5 8 0 0 0 70 808 11.5 8
2017 Massachusetts Ind SR TE 11 64 764 11.9 4 0 0 0 64 764 11.9 4
Career Overall 149 1758 11.8 15 0 0 0 149 1758 11.8 15
Penn State 15 186 12.4 3 0 0 0 15 186 12.4 3
Massachusetts 134 1572 11.7 12 0 0 0 134 1572 11.7 12
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2018.

Film Study:  Ohio (2017), South Carolina (2016)

The two main traits I concentrated on while reviewing Breneman’s film were his blocking and his hands.  Let’s start with the blocking.  Compared to other tight ends in this class with approximately the same value, I would say that Breneman is a below average blocker.  He is a mix of misses and near-misses when it comes to blocking.  When he succeeds with a blocking assignment, it’s often not pretty.  That’s not to say he isn’t ever effective but it’s important to keep in mind the quality of the rushers he’s facing.  I have concerns about his ability to hold up to an NFL pass rush.  Two back to back plays illustrate my “misses and near-misses” thinking.  On the first play, he ultimately keeps the defender in front of him but looks stiff while doing so.  The defender makes the initial contact and almost beats him to the inside which would have been devastating since it was a flea flicker and easily could have led to a fumble on the pitch back.  After watching a few times in slow-mo, I noticed he grabbed the defenders jersey right from the start but it was only visible near the end of the block when the defender tried to shrug him off (no penalty was called).  On the second play, Breneman does his best impression of a Spanish matador and gets beat off the snap.  The play is meant to go the other direction so it’s not much of an issue but he again grabs the jersey and could have been called for a hold which would have wiped out the sixteen yard gain.

Against South Carolina, it was much of the same as far as blocking.  There were a few more positive plays than I noticed against Ohio, a good sign against a superior opponent.  I didn’t track such plays but my impression after watching both films is that Breneman is much better when blocking up field or when split out, likely because he’s blocking a smaller DB.  He struggles most as an inline blocker.  His worst play against South Carolina was probably the worst attempt at a block I have seen while watching film so far this offseason.  Breneman just gets blown up at the snap by the defender’s bull rush.  He doesn’t get his hands on his man and loses his feet right away.  It did impact the play even though it still went for a first down.  I fear this is what he may look like when blocking at the next level.

I didn’t see much evidence of Breneman’s supreme hands against Ohio but there was one worthy example in the second quarter.  Breneman shows good concentration on the play as he is knocked off his route by the line backer and the safety very nearly tips the ball as it sails over his head.  Breneman is able to find an opening in the back of the end zone and looks the ball into his hands without being distracted.  He spots his landing and gets both feet in bounds for what would have been a score even in the NFL.  The play looked simple but others could not have made it look as effortless as he did.

I was largely unimpressed with Breneman against South Carolina.  He had a fumble in the first quarter.  He was heavily involved throughout the game (9-94-2) but there was only one catch that I noted as a must watch.  That being said, the play I do include below is fantastic.  It’s 3rd and 17, with less than five minutes left, with his team down by 13.  Breneman is lined up in a stack behind a receiver.  He gets a free release and runs up the seam into traffic.  Ford throws the ball to his outside shoulder which lets Breneman pirouette and use his body to box out the  oncoming defender.  He takes a big hit as he catches the ball but holds on for the score.  The play serves as a fitting illustration of exactly what Breneman can offer.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths:  Character, leadership, hands.

Weaknesses:  Health, smaller than estimated in the preseason, lacks top speed for the position.

Opportunities:  Teams will fall in love with Breneman in interviews which could increase his stock.

Threats:  Teams may decide to leave Breneman off their board completely due to his lengthy injury history.  His disappointing measureables may cause some scouts to question what they saw on tape (i.e. “maybe he was a product of the competition”).

Draft Round Grade:  Late 2nd, Early 3rd Round

I have been high on Breneman since the start of the 2017 season so I really hope he hits the high end of my projection.  It’s a shame his health is such a concern otherwise we could be talking about a similar draft stock as Evan Engram from 2017 (23rd overall).

Recent NFL Comparison:  Maxx Williams

Maxx Williams was one of my favorite players coming out of college football in 2015.  He had a propensity for circus catches: one-handed, toe-tapping, defender-draped.  Breneman doesn’t quite have the highlight reel of Williams but the similarities are numerous.  They are close in size and speed, both had two years of production in college, both showcased great hands, both were below average inline blockers and sadly both had their careers derailed by injury.  Williams’ worst injuries came once he landed in the NFL whereas Breneman’s started back in high school but that’s even more to the point.  Scouts who see a 6’4″, sticky-handed move tight end with knee injuries may think about the wasted pick that Williams has become.


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, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.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, Draft Dudes

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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

Tech Corner: Early Off-season Additions

Updated: February 9th 2018

Now that I’m full-time here with RSO (more info on that here if you didn’t already see it), it makes sense for you to hear from me more often than you have been.  Changes should be coming faster than they have in the past and you deserve to know what’s been done and what’s coming down the line.  These posts won’t include everything we’ve been working on, but will focus on the items that will affect a large portion of you rather than the dozen bugs we fixed which 99% of you will never know existed.  With that said, here are the items from this update:

Rookie Option

We’ve added in a rookie option.  You can now exercise the option on 1st round rookie picks for the average of the top 10 salaries at the position, similar to what happens in the NFL.  This occurs immediately in the off-season during the same time that you place your franchise tag.  The key is that this happens the off-season one year before their contract expires.  This means that right now this off-season if you have 3 year rookie contracts that the 2016 rookies like Zeke and Michael Thomas are available for the option.  If you have 4 year rookies then the 2015 rookies of Gurley and Gordon would be available now.  Some other quick hitting items on the option:

  • It’s a league setting that is ‘off’ by default.  Your commish will need to turn on the setting in the ‘Draft’ panel of the league settings.
  • Limited to just 1st round picks
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re team drafted them or not.  All that matters is if they are on their draft rookie contract, whether you traded for them or picked them yourself.  If they were picked up in FAAB there’s no rookie option.
  • There’s no limit to the number of options you can exercise.  If they fit all the requirements above you can give them the option.
  • Unlike in the NFL, we are treating these options just like any other contract on the platform which means that the option is 50% guaranteed.  If your league decides they like to follow how the NFL does it, then the commish can easily remove the contract when the time comes from the commish tools with no cap hit.

Off-season/Tag Extension

This is the other big item that has been added this off-season, though this one we’ve talked about a bit in the past.  You can now extend the player that you used your franchise tag on in the off-season.  The first step is finalizing your tag choice, either through the ‘Finalize Tag’ functionality or just waiting for 3 days before your rookie draft.  Only after you finalize the tag will you be able to see the extension option.  From that point, you have until 3 days before your league auction to extend the tagged player or not.  Here’s a few other things you should know:

  • A teams number of extensions used is reset with our site rollover that just happened in February.  This means that last seasons extensions don’t affect your ability to extend this off-season or during the 2018 season.
  • The flip side of that is that if your league only allows one extension and you use it on your tagged player in the off-season, no in-season extensions for your team.
  • Players do use their tagged salary as a bit of a starting point.  Don’t tag someone whose not worth the tag thinking that their extension offer will be much lower…you’ll be sorely disappointed.
  • Unlike the in-season extension, these values don’t fluctuate week to week
  • You can can for a tagged player and then extend them yourself as long as it’s before the auction as mentioned above.  You don’t have to be the team that tags the player to extend them.

Up Next: Updating and re-styling the league pages  ETA: March

More Analysis by Kyle English

Super Bowl Projections

Updated: February 2nd 2018

Super Bowl Weekend is upon us! And for many of us who are diehard Eagles fans (remember RSO was literally born in the Eagles front office when Matt and I worked together there in 2010-2011), this weekend takes on even more importance. It is basically a David vs. Goliath scenario as Tom Brady is starting his 37th playoff game whereas Nick Foles has made 39 regular season NFL starts in his career. That being said, Foles looked like one of the best QBs in the league two weeks ago against a tough Vikings defense. The Patriots are certainly not the best they have ever been, but they have continued to find ways to win games throughout this season, and when the game is on the line in the 4th quarter, there is nobody better than Tom Brady. Everyone seems to think this is going to be a close one, and I tend to agree. Read below for our writer’s predictions and see how they have fared thus far throughout the playoffs:

  1. Stephen Wendell: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS / Championship Weekend: 2-0 ML & 1-1 ATS (8-2 ML & 6-4 ATS)
  2. Matt Papson: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS / Championship Weekend: 2-0 ML & 2-0 ATS (7-3 ML & 8-2 ATS)
  3. Bob Cowper: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS / Championship Weekend: 0-2 ML & 1-1 ATS (6-4 ML & 6-4 ATS)
  4. Matt Goodwin: Wildcard Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 4-0 ATS / Championship Weekend: 0-2 ML & 2-0 ATS (2-8 ML & 7-3 ATS)
  5. Nick Andrews: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 0-4 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS / Championship Weekend: 1-1 ML & 1-1 ATS (5-5 ML & 4-6 ATS)
  6. Bernard Faller: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS  / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS / Championship Weekend: 1-1 ML & 0-2 ATS (4-6 ML & 2-8 ATS)
  7. Dave Sanders: Wildcard Weekend: No Picks / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 2-2 ATS / Championship Weekend: No Picks (N/A)

#1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) vs. #1 New England Patriots (13-3) [Line: NE -4.5]

Stephen Wendell: Matt and I will not have much to say on this game. It is impossible to take your own bias out of the equation. We would never even predict (much less bet) against our own team. Bottom line, Birds get it done some way somehow. Projected Score: Eagles 24 – Patriots 20.

Matt Papson: See what Stephen said. Projected Score: Eagles 24 – Patriots 23.

Robert Cowper: Much of the talk surrounding the Super Bowl will be about the big stars so I wanted to look in a different direction for interesting stats: Stephen Gostkowski.  Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski will be a huge part of the game but not just as a field goal kicker like one would assume.  Of course his leg will be valuable if drives are stalling near the red zone, he was a perfect 25-25 this season on field goals less than 40 yards, but he’s worth even more to the team than that.  I came across something intriguing that I expect to make a difference: the Patriots’ superior ability to force bad starting field position.  New England forced teams to start, on average, at their 24.3 yard line.  They were the only special teams unit to force the opposition inside the 25 yard line (i.e. where a touchback from a kickoff starts).  In 2016 they were also the league best with an even 25.0.  For comparison, the Eagles ranked a respectable 13th this season, forcing an average start of the 28.0 yard line for their opposition.  It may not sound like much but four yards could ultimately be the difference, especially when the team is on the verge of field goal range.  Do they decide to go for it on fourth down or punt or try a long field goal?  If the Patriots are starting their drives four yards further up field they’ll win the battle of attrition because more of those drives will convert.  According to the kickoff stats compiled by www.footballdb.com, Gostkowski has had 58 kickoffs returned this season.  The next closest kicker had 44 returned.  In 2015, less than a third of Gostkowski’s kickoffs were returned (i.e. when a touchback only brought the ball to the 20 yard line); in 2016 after the rule change, about 45% of his kickoffs were returned; in 2017, it was nearly 60%.  At first glance this feels counter-intuitive, but it seems that the Patriots have figured out that they can regularly cover kicks well enough to get better field position by letting the kickoffs be returned.  It should be mentioned here that the Eagles ranked 27th in the league this season, averaging just 19.7 yards per return.  Expect the Eagles to start a number of their drives inside the twenty.  The ability of Gostkowski to angle and pin returners in the corners will be key.  It sounds crazy but the Eagles best shot at a late game-winning drive may hinge on whether Gostkowski is willing to risk a kickoff out of bounds to make it even harder on the returner. Projected Score: Patriots 25 – Eagles 19

Matt Goodwin: This is a tough one for me as I’m not a huge fan of either fan base. With the exception of the RSO guys, I’ve barely met an Eagles fan I can tolerate. I’ve been wrong most of the playoffs (especially on the Eagles). As I mentioned on Twitter this week, I’m more excited about the shift to the NFL offseason because of RSO implications and the Alex Smith trade jump-started that for me. The Giants are the only blueprint for the Eagles to follow in terms of winning a Super Bowl against the Patriots. Luckily for the Eagles, their defensive front is built like the Giants and can have success if they get consistent, unrelenting pressure on Tom Brady. Unlike what Atlanta abandoned in the second half of last year’s Super Bowl, the Eagles will also have to commit deeply to the run in an attempt to control the clock. I think that the Eagles have a big enough stable of versatile, different-styled running backs to have success against the Patriots and the right mix in the passing game with guys like Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz. As much as picking against Tom Brady seems counterintuitive to me, there’s something about this Patriots team that seems a little more awry than in year’s past. In the end, Matt and Stephen are belting “Fly Eagles Fly” at the top of their lungs as Jake Elliott’s leg is the difference, connecting on 4 field goals.  Projected Score: Eagles 19 – Patriots 17.

Nick Andrews: New England Super Bowls have a tendency to be tight contests, with late game dramatics and one crazy catch. Here are my predictions for what will happen in the big game. 1) The Patriots will score a point in the first quarter, something they haven’t done in their previous 7 under Belichick and Brady. 2) The Eagles will have 4+ sacks. 3) Rob Gronkowski makes a one-handed catch over linebacker Mychal Kendricks for a TD. 4) Patriots never trail in the fourth quarter. Projected Score: Patriots 28 – Eagles 24.

Bernard Faller: Philadelphia possesses the tools for an upset of New England.  Philadelphia’s defensive and offensive lines are fully capable of dominating the line of scrimmage.  The Eagle’s defense has not allowed more than 10 points in any contest over the last four weeks.  Nick Foles played lights out in the NFC championship game.  I am still picking New England.  The Patriots’ O-line is playing well enough to produce in the run game and allow Tom Brady enough time for adjustments against whatever defensive scheme is thrown at them.  Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Eagles 24.

Dave SandersMaybe this is the Eagles fan in me talking, but I really think the birds have a chance on Sunday. I’d expect Ajayi and Blount to be heavily featured and combined for 35+ carries as the Eagles will try to control the clock and keep Brady and Co. off the field.  To counter the Eagles strong rotation of defensive lineman that have pressured QBs all year, I’d expect the Patriots run an extensive amount of no huddle and target Lewis, Burkhead and White frequently out of the backfield. If the Eagles can’t get pressure on Brady or Foles struggled, this could be over in a hurry. That said, I think it’s a close game and believe the Eagles will do just enough to pull it out. Projected Score: Eagles 27 – Patriots 24.

 

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell