The Deep Route Fantasy Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL and its implications in fantasy football, along with weekly awards, draft spotlights, and other random tidbits. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN, Fantasy Pros or 4for4.com.
THINGS I KNEW
I knew you should have listened to me. In my first (ever) article back in September, I implored you to pay attention to what I have to say. Five months later, not only did I win both of my fantasy leagues, but I made some pretty good calls in a sport where predicting the future is crucial to success. Of course, I will not brag completely, I made some mistakes (I’m looking at you, Marcus Mariota). In all fairness though, I did say I would whiff on some forecasts. Let’s turn back time and revisit what I got right and what I got wrong in this recap edition of the ‘Deep Route Fantasy Notebook.’
I knew Kareem Hunt would have a fantastic year. In maybe my boldest prediction of the season, I completely nailed my forecast for the rookie running back and 2017 rushing leader. For those closest to me, my praise of Hunt was no surprise as I was enamored with his potential since before he was drafted. I actually did relatively well with the younger running backs this year, calling the success of Todd Gurley (MVP frontrunner), Jordan Howard (another 1,000-yard rushing campaign) and Marlon Mack, who didn’t produce much but flashed star potential. As for disappointments, I correctly tabbed Lamar Miller (finished just above his ADP, but was too inconsistent to be deemed a ‘good pick’) and Marshawn Lynch (the 16th runner taken finished 25th in a not-so-surprisingly limited role). If only Isaiah Crowell lived up to my hype…
I knew which tight ends to draft. My big focus was on Kyle Rudolph, and while he finished two spots below his Average Draft Position (ADP) as the sixth tight end taken, he still was a worthy pick (especially in the last few weeks). My biggest hit though was Jack Doyle, who enjoyed a career year as the most targeted and reliable weapon on a depleted Colts’ roster. Sure, C.J. Fiedorowicz did not pan out, but no one can predict repeated concussions. I also advised you not to draft Jordan Reed, who played in just six games and has been out since week nine. However, if I knew the Giants would compensate for the endless injuries to their receivers by plucking fans from their seats, maybe I would not have written off Evan Engram. Oh well, he’ll be a good pick next year (look for a preview of next year’s fantasy landscape in the upcoming weeks).
I knew which coaches would be canned. In week ten I made a list of which coaches were on the hot seat and followed it up five weeks later. On Black Monday alone, four of the seven coaches I listed became jobless. At the very least, I expect Jim Schwartz, Jon Gruden, at least one Patriots’ coordinator and Pat Shurmur to all be head coaches next season. I also believe Dirk Koetter, Vance Joseph and Hue Jackson should not have been retained, but we’ll see how all these moves (and non-moves) turn out.
THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW
I didn’t know how poorly I would whiff on wide receivers. This one was a huge shock to me as I have been fairly successful with wide receivers in the past. I also consider it my position of expertise (running backs are quickly gaining steam, though). I predicted monster years for my two favorite, young receivers Martavis Bryant and DeVante Parker. Both are still ultra-talented secondary receivers, but Bryant still seems to be marred by off-field issues and Parker can’t stay healthy. On the flip side, I reluctantly downplayed the hype on one of my favorite players, Jarvis Landry (I made up for it in week eleven), and shot down a young speedster, Robby Anderson. Landry was the 8th-best receiver and one of the most consistent receivers in the league again. Anderson put together the 15th-best season among receivers, which is pretty good for a guy with an ADP as the 49th receiver taken. At least I hit on Cooper Kupp. Chris Godwin looked pretty good, too.
I didn’t know Marcus Mariota would fall short of expectations. Actually, that is an incredible understatement because I set the bar extremely high. Mariota did not have a bad season by any means; it was just average as he ended as the 18th-best quarterback, a slight step back from the previous year. Another young quarterback whom I predicted to have a great season was Derek Carr, but he finished just behind Mariota. My greatest failure, while not as broadcasted but I must admit to it, was my distaste of Wentzylvania. I have written about Carson Wentz throughout the year as a guy who could be a major boom or a major bust. At the start of the season, I regret to say that I leaned more towards the latter. At least the guy picked before him made me look good.
I didn’t know that my predictions would be that wrong. As I mentioned before, I knew I would not be perfect, but my primary predictions were nowhere near close. Although, I must say that the drastic array of injuries is a pretty fair excuse. Here were my preseason award predictions as tweeted from the Twitter account of my podcast, The Splash Zone. (If you want to hear some even juicier predictions, like the Dolphins winning a Super Bowl soon, you should check out the episodes. They are insightful, random, and so damn funny.) Anyway, about those predictions… My Rookie of the Year picks were not terrible and the Steelers may still end up in the Super Bowl, but everything else was a train-wreck. I did update my awards predictions in week nine, though. Those are looking much better, especially when you consider that I was a Chris Moore catch away from accurately predicting the AFC playoff field.
COACH TO WATCH FOR: James Bettcher
Last year, Sean McVay was the come-out-of-nowhere candidate to land a job. This year, it might be the three-year Cardinals’ defensive coordinator who could get his shot. What I have read about Bettcher echoes what I read about McVay last year; both are praised for being incredibly advanced and considering every little detail in their game-plan. I would not be surprised if the innovative 39-year old rejuvenates a team’s defense, but he’ll need an experienced offensive coordinator to be successful. He could be retained by the Cardinals, but keep an eye on the Lions and Texans, too.
COACH TO IGNORE: Marvin Lewis
I have been vouching for Lewis’ removal for some time now and I still believe he has no business coaching a team next year. With that being said, I was shocked to hear he was given a two-year extension. In Lew’s 15-year coaching tenure, he has never gotten past the first round of the playoffs and these last two years have been major letdowns. Lewis will be 60 years old next season and has done nothing relatively spectacular as a head coach, so do not expect him to still be wearing the headset in two years.
Every week I’ll talk a little about a college football player who I think will, or will not, make a great NFL player. This week, I’ll be highlighting Roquan Smith
The fast linebacker is a tough, hard-hitting freak with the patience to time his tackles just right. He is also a smooth athlete who can be deployable as a middle or outside linebacker. My concern is his inconsistency, especially with his no-show in the first half of the Rose Bowl. However, his clutch plays in the second half demonstrate how crucial Smith can be to a defense. Early Projection: Top 15 pick
The ‘Hands’ Award: Kenny Golladay
I’m still including weekly awards, starting with this prestigious one to the rookie wide receiver. It was a dime of a throw, but Golladay still made the tough catch around the defender’s arms while rotating his body and taking the contact. I told you he is legit.
Uniform of the Week: Los Angeles Rams
These could be my favorite throwbacks of all-time and should really be the Rams’ main getups. The cool shade of blue mixes perfectly with an appropriate dose of yellow, while the classic varsity-style font truly brings the team back to it’s glory days. Not to mention, the helmet looks fantastic. No wonder they won this award in week five, too.
The Toilet Bowl Award: New York Giants
The Super Bowl(?) Award: New Orleans Saints
The Saints win an award for being in the exact opposite situation as the Giants. After just two games, I called for the breakup of the Saints’ dynamic coach-quarterback duo, only for New Orleans to win eight straight and secure first place in the division. Way to prove me wrong, Saints.
The Insider Award: Marcell Dareus
With the trade deadline looming, I listed some players who I believed could be moved. While I included hot names like Martavis Bryant and Malcolm Butler, I also included a couple of under-the-radar players. One of them was Dareus, who was indeed traded to Jacksonville. Before you wonder if I knew something you didn’t, reread the section I wrote about him and you’ll see why my Crystal Ball was working well that day.
Hot Take of the Year: Jay Ajayi
Another award goes to a traded player, this time to Ajayi for making my hot take look like the only take now after scoring just twice since his move (one rushing and one receiving). I was given considerable grief from my fellow-Dolphins fans for this controversial take, but it seems like things are playing out just as I speculated they would.
ONE LAST THING
As I looked back at my old predictions, I figured it is time to make some new ones. Barring anything crazy, here is how I see the rest of the NFL season going:
Steelers def. Jaguars – The Jags have not been playing like they did when they first beat the Steelers in October.
Patriots def. Chiefs – Unless the Chiefs repeat their early-season success, which included a dominant win in Foxboro, they won’t stand a chance.
Vikings def. Rams – The Vikings offense might be too much for the Rams defense.
Saints def. Eagles – The Eagles will really miss Wentz.
Steelers def. Patriots – Both teams have lost once since October, but Brady has taken a step back in recent weeks. The last time these teams played will be fresh in Pittsburgh’s mind.
Vikings def. Saints – Scratch what I said earlier, the Vikings might be the most complete team in the NFL. They just win. They remind me of the Patriots of the NFC; they manage games extremely well.
Vikings def. Steelers (31-24) – In Minneapolis? Too easy. Though, the Steelers have the best offense when healthy. However, their defense has regressed since Ryan Shazier’s injury. I will say that “extra motivation” seems to be a very good factor for teams who have won Super Bowls recently (Ray Lewis – 2013; Peyton Manning – 2016; down 25 points – 2017), but is it enough to take down the scorching hot Vikings in a battle of the best offense versus the best defense?
Coach of the Year: Sean McVay – He transformed last year’s worst offense into one of this year’s best while winning the division.
Offensive Player of the Year: Gurley – See above.
Defensive Player of the Year: Calais Campbell – His 14.5 sacks helped elevate the Jaguars’ defense to become one of the best in the league.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marshon Lattimore – He was a key reason for the Saint’s defensive revival.
Fantasy Player of the Year: Gurley – With an ADP of just 26th overall, he led all players in fantasy points.
Comeback Player of the Year: Keenan Allen – He’s a top receiver after an ACL tear last year.
Walter Payton Man of the Year: J.J. Watt – All the candidates are worthy of this award, but only one of them raised $37 million for hurricane relief.