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.
THINGS I KNOW
I know the Dolphins really miss Ryan Tannehill. The team is 2-2 despite ranking dead last in offense. While the reasoning for their offensive struggles can be attributed to many things, the primary culprit has to be Jay Cutler. The Dolphins were hoping Cutler could repeat or even improve on his 28-touchdown season in 2014 under then-Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Instead, Cutler is dead last in yards and touchdowns per game. Despite Cutler’s experience and supposedly superior pocket presence (I don’t buy it), Tannehill would have helped the Dolphins more for two main reasons:
First, Tannehill was only getting better. His stat line shows a steady improvement since being a first round pick in 2012, most notably through an increase in passing yards. Second, and most importantly, Tannehill moves better than Cutler, and it’s not really close. Tannehill played as a receiver for two years in college and can naturally use his legs to create plays, even behind Miami’s relatively abysmal offensive line. There was a lot of speculation about whether the team should pick up his hefty, but non-guaranteed, contract or re-sign with Cutler for another year or two, but it’s clear now that Tannehill is the better option. Had he gotten surgery after the original injury last season, the Dolphins would likely be on their way to the playoffs.
I know Alex Smith is playing like an MVP. The former first overall pick leads the league in multiple categories, including passer rating, completion percentage, yards per pass attempt and game-winning drives. The last four MVPs, who were all quarterbacks, led the NFL in passer rating. On top of that, Smith also has more fantasy points (in ESPN standard scoring, as always) than any other quarterback.
Oh, and the Chiefs are undefeated.
Smith’s label as a “game manager” is no longer appropriate for a guy who is a frontrunner for MVP. The question should be, “Is Smith legit?” Andy Reid has been known for making the most out of average and above-average quarterbacks (Donovan McNabb, Nick Foles). Nonetheless, Smith’s significantly-improved deep ball, along with his underrated mobility and excellent short accuracy, have finally resulted in some impressive stats. If the season ended today, Alex Smith would be a shoo-in to get my MVP vote.
I know Mitchell Trubisky looked promising. His 48% completion rating might not agree, but Trubisky played surprisingly not-terrible. I will not say he played well, mostly because of his brutal late-game interception, but he definitely impressed in certain areas. The quality that stood out the most was his ability to toss pinpoint accuracy while on the move. Trubisky’s first few drives featured a lot of those, but he started to dip as the game went on, evidenced by that interception.
Still, there is plenty reason for Bears’ fans to have hope. Playing against an excellent Minnesota secondary, Trubisky held his own for most of the game. He looked like the quarterback Chicago has been searching for since Jim McMahon flipped his golden mane in a Bears uniform (Yes, Rex Grossman led them to a Super Bowl, but it’s still Rex Grossman). In the end, however, mesmerized Bears fans were brought back to reality by the sudden realization that, despite looking pretty impressive, Trubisky is still just a rookie. Do not expect any immediate, franchise-player results, but based off of Monday’s game, the Bears may have found their future quarterback.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know if Isaiah Crowell is as bad as everyone says. I drafted Crowell in the first few rounds, and I was unfortunately psyched about it. Can you blame me? Crowell had a career year a season ago and entered the year with a revamped offensive line, one Pro Football Focus ranked as the second-best in the league. Five weeks in, Crowell has failed to produce more than seven fantasy points (nine in PPR) and has rushed for no more than 60 yards in a game. Some might say to throw in the towel with Crowell, but I am not so sure it’s his fault.
While I have not watched much of the Browns’ winless season so far, I did see the Browns’ few trips to the red zone on Sunday thanks to the NFL Redzone Channel. On one trip inside the ten, I noticed that the Browns fed the ball to Crowell on three straight plays. First was an inside run where he picked up a few yards. Solid. Next was a play action where Crowell ran an out from the backfield and was wide open, but DeShone Kizer threw a late pass. On the third play, Kizer ran an option to the left with the intent to pitch to Crowell, who would have surely scored from about five yards out. Unfortunately, Kizer missed Crowell. On a toss. The ball grazed Crowell’s outstretched fingers and hit the ground. Therefore, I do not entirely blame Crowell’s underwhelming start to the season entirely on him. He still gets the ball enough (Crowell gets 14 touches a game to Duke Johnson’s seven), but I am concerned about how long that will last. Don’t discard Crowell yet, but keep an eye on his opportunities.
I don’t know if Carson Wentz is a reliable fantasy option. Sure, he is averaging over 19 fantasy points and 35 pass attempts per game, but that is mostly due to outliers. In weeks three and four, Wentz failed to top 15.1 fantasy points against two winless, pass-friendly defenses (Giants and Chargers, respectively) and only threw one touchdown in each game. I picked up Wentz last week and started him, due to his matchup. The Cardinals are 25th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, per 4for4.com, and traveled from the other side of the country to play at 1 PM. Clearly there would be implications for the Cardinals, and there were, as the Eagles destroyed them 34-7. Wentz tossed four touchdowns, three in the first quarter alone, and had a 70% completion rating.
However, I would not start Wentz this week (I traded him and Allen Hurns for Michael Crabtree) nor the next. The Eagles play at the Panthers on Thursday Night Football and then face Washington at home, who are eighth and sixth in fewest fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, respectively. I am not saying Wentz is a terrible fantasy option, but he is dependent on a favorable matchup. He is not a locked starter yet.
I don’t know why Amari Cooper has not improved. As a Florida Gators fan, I had the displeasure of watching Cooper destroy our loaded secondary year after year. He is one of the most talented receivers I have ever seen, so why he has yet to become a top-five receiver is beyond my understanding. It is especially surprising considering Cooper averages 92% of Oakland’s snaps a game. It could be his lack of targets (just 6.6 per game, which drops to 4.2 if you take out his 13-target season opener) or it could be Derek Carr’s injuries over recent seasons. Cooper’s NFL Kryptonite was one of the most impressive things I saw during his collegiate days: his hands. Cooper has caught only 39.4 percent of his targets, the lowest percentage in the league. He also shares the passes with a rejuvenated Michael Crabtree, though I think that works to Cooper’s advantage. The point is, Cooper’s disappearing act is a mystery, but if he gets it together he can still be a top player in the NFL.
PLAYER TO WATCH FOR: Kevin Hogan
I know, I know. Never trust a Browns quarterback. I am pretty hyped on the former Heisman candidate after he had 16.8 fantasy points in Week 5, though it was against the Jets. However, that was a close game, which might be pretty rare for Cleveland this season. I can see Hogan enjoying a season similar to the one Blake Bortles had in 2015. Bortles tossed a whopping 35 touchdowns, mainly because the team was losing in almost every game. Garbage time can provide players with an increased opportunity for points, and Hogan might be the next beneficiary.
PLAYER TO IGNORE: Charcandrick West
Do not worry, Kareem Hunt owners, you do not need to worry about Charcandrick West and his two receiving touchdowns. West was on the field for just 21 plays (Hunt saw 55) and just happened to score on his only two targets, both of which came on a broken play where Smith had to scramble and rapidly locate a receiver. Most importantly, Hunt is just very, very good and West is not. Carry on.
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 Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The stud Alabama cornerback posted an impressive stat line on Saturday that included two turnovers. Fitzpatrick has a rare ability to read the runner and make a play, as evidenced by his team-high two tackles for loss. Fitzpatrick is versatile, tough and exceptionally fast. What really makes him stand out, though, is his incredible ball skills. Fitzpatrick is the best cornerback in the 2018 draft class thus far, though Alabama has yet to face real competition.
Early Projection: Top-7 pick
‘Hands’ Award: David Njoku
It was a relatively underwhelming weekend for spectacular catches, but the rookie tight end used his massive 10-inch hands to palm the ball and reel it in for six. Njoku is an athletic freak, so don’t expect these type of plays to go away anytime soon.
MVC (Most Valuable Celebration): The Minnesota Vikings
You have to see this. The NFL allowing more flexibility with celebrations was a great decision, evidenced by this all-time rendition of ‘Duck-Duck-Grey Duck’ (That’s what they call it in Canada).
Untouchable Award: Nelson Agholor
First, Agholor was untouchable over the middle as Wentz hit him wide open. Next, Agholor was untouchable when he shook the soul out of poor Budda Baker. Finally, Agholor was untouchable when he could not be flagged for stopping and falling backwards into the end zone for six.
Future Superstar Award: George Kittle
I am convinced Kittle is not just a one-game star. Coach Kyle Shanahan was reportedly enamored with Kittle in the pre-draft process, and who can blame him? Kittle is a well-rounded, athletic tight end who excels at the one thing rookies generally struggle with: blocking. While he isn’t overly fast, Kittle is used perfectly in Shanahan’s offense that is known for highlighting the strengths of its players. Kittle might not make an immediate impact, but a few years down the road don’t be surprised if George Kittle is a top tight end.
GOAT Award: Aaron Rodgers
You know that Aaron Rodgers guy? The former MVP and Super Bowl Champion? Well, he is great. Like, all-time great. If you had any doubts, watch another one of his game-winning throws, this one coming in Dallas on Sunday.
Why these aren’t the Rams full-time uniforms instead of the ones they have now, which look like the printer ran out of ink, is anyone’s guess. While the Rams have plans for a complete change in the near future, these throwbacks are too clean to just discard. They feature the perfect combo of navy and yellow, and they might be my one of favorite uniforms in the NFL.
ONE LAST THING
I said earlier that Alex Smith is my MVP right now, and it got me thinking of who else I’d vote for if the season ended today:
Offensive Player of the Year: Kareem Hunt
Not only does Hunt lead the league in rushing yards, but he averages a whopping 121 yards a game. Hunt is the real deal, and I’ve bragged about him countless times in recent articles. There really isn’t much else I can say about this pick because Hunt’s otherworldly ability just speaks for itself. Also considered: Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers
Defensive Player of the Year: Melvin Ingram
This could easily have gone to Ingram’s teammate, Joey Bosa. While Bosa’s presence surely helps, I still think it’s Ingram who is the early frontrunner. Ingram has been a disruptive force this season, notching 7.5 sacks, 20 tackles and one fumble recovery. Just watching Ingram, you can tell his excellent performance so far will only get better. Also considered: Bosa, Luke Kuechly
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Hunt
Defensive Rookie of the Year: TreDavious White
The White pick was mostly ridiculed due to his inaccurate label as a nickel corner, but White has completely owned the Bills secondary. He is the leader in passes defended and already has a touchdown off of a fumble recovery. White is looking like a true gem for the revitalized Buffalo defense. Also considered: Jamal Adams, Kendell Beckwith
Coach of the Year: Sean McDermott
Nobody saw this coming. The Bills are tied for first in the division and beat the reigning NFC champs in Atlanta. What makes it more surprising is the fact that the team traded away two of its best young players for draft picks. McDermott, a former defensive coordinator, has established a no-nonsense defense that has a allowed a league-leading two passing touchdowns. If McDermott and the Bills keep this up, expect to see them in the playoffs. Also considered: Doug Pederson, Sean McVay
Comeback Player of the Year: Luke Kuechly
This probably would have gone to J.J. Watt, but he’ll have to wait until next year, and I can’t see Adrian Peterson having a huge effect on his new team (I called an AP trade in week one). I can really only see Kuechly winning it right now. After missing the final six games last year with a concussion, the terrifying middle linebacker returned to his talented self this year. With 29 tackles so far, teams still fear throwing over the middle or running the ball with Kuechly staring them down. Also considered: Justin Houston