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, or 4for4.com.
THINGS I KNOW
I know that Todd Gurley deserves serious MVP consideration. The dude has been an absolute tank. A tank that hurdles and spins with no problem. Now that is one dangerous weapon, which is really what Gurley is. I have never hid my feelings towards the third-year running back, even after his disappointing sophomore campaign. This year he has been nearly unstoppable as he leads the league in touchdowns and in receiving yards per catch for any player with over 100 carries. In addition, he is third in rushing yards, first in receiving yards, second in total yards and fifth in yards per game. Gurley is also the only non-quarterback to average a touchdown per game. From a fantasy perspective, Gurley is the highest-scoring running back and the third-highest scoring player overall, behind Russell Wilson and Antonio Brown, respectively. However, what makes Gurley truly valuable is his impact on his team. The Rams are 9-4 and in first place in the division. While some credit should go to mastermind Sean McVay, the type of talent Gurley possesses just can’t be taught. I do not know if this makes Gurley a clear favorite for the MVP, but it sure gives him a solid resumé. More on the MVP race later…
I know why the Raiders have been a disappointment this year. At first glance, they really only seemed to have gotten better. They retained every key piece in the offseason while signing Marshawn Lynch (An overrated signing now, but still one of the most recognizable characters in the league.) As of now, the Raiders have the 22nd-best offense as opposed to their 7th-ranked offense from a year ago. That is a formidable step back, but it is not the main reason why this team has vastly underwhelmed. Instead, Oakland’s problem can be pinned on the defense’s lack of turnovers; they got their first interception of the season just two weeks ago! The Raiders have produced the fewest amount of turnovers in the league compared to their fourth-most turnovers last season. While switching defensive coordinators might help the Oakland defense a little bit, the defense still lacks consistently impactful players. The only true star on the defense is Khalil Mack; the rest of the starters are above average or worse. They say, “Defense wins championships,” and until the Raiders find some guys who can play actually defense, this team is going nowhere.
I know the waiver wire is how you can win your fantasy league. As the season winds down, fantasy sports are heating up for those lucky enough to reach the Promised Land (a.k.a the Fantasy Playoffs). Of course, now is also the time when teams realize they are either too good or too bad and decide to sit their starters. This end-of-season ritual can decimate fantasy teams, but must I remind you of my warning from my first article? Anyone can draft a Todd Gurley or a Carson Wentz, but only the great fantasy owners know how to decipher the talented form the talentless week in and week out. Last week, I dropped two players and picked up two new ones (who they are is irrelevant) and immediately inserted them into my starting lineup. The players combined for 36 points, a hefty return on two guys who have spent the season as available. My point is do not be afraid to pull the trigger on available players in favor of players you have carried throughout the entire season. Fantasy football is really just a weekly game, but now there is really no reason to hold a guy for the future. Play the best players, whether they are on your roster or not.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know how the Dolphins won. I am still in shock. I have always been a supporter of Adam Gase and his re-establishment of culture to the franchise, but I did not see them dominating the best team in the league. Albeit, history does show this game to be a trap game for the Patriots, as they have dropped four of their last five games in Miami (Tom Brady alone is 7-9 in his career there). The reason for the Dolphins’ spark? Adam Gase. Aside from a new culture, he has helped transform this depleted Dolphins’ roster into a suddenly terrifying opponent. Kenyan Drake has proven he can be a starting running back in this league. The Dolphins’ receivers showed why they could be the most underrated group in the NFL, especially with Jarvis Landry playing his weekly role as Mr. Reliable. Inexperienced defenders stepped up, including AFC Defensive Player of the Week Xavien Howard, who snagged two interceptions. I said before the season that the Dolphins would make the playoffs, and I am still optimistic that they can, though they play two away games including one in snow-covered Buffalo. The Dolphins’ Monday night beatdown showed that not only can the team contend for the playoffs, but they can contend for something greater within the next few years.
I don’t know what happened at the end of the Seahawks-Jaguars game. I watched it all live, courtesy of the NFL Redzone Channel, but I still am trying to wrap my head around what happened. The full incident was pretty bizarre, but what do you expect from two of the scrappiest teams in the NFL? The Jags have given up the fifth-most penalty yards, thought the Seahawks are just 15th. Still, both teams have their fair share of outspoken characters, especially on the field for that final play. Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson both stood out for the wrong reasons, the latter was even ejected. As for the Jaguars, I think I have a new perspective of Blake Bortles after he dropped some heat after the game. My favorite part though was when Quinton Jefferson actually attempted to jump into the stands after some angry Jags fans threw some stuff at the second-year lineman. I have two burning questions about this little incident. First, who thinks it is a smart idea to throw stuff at an angry 300-pound lineman? Second, why on Earth, Quinton, would you think fighting the fans head-on would solve any issues? It sounds like Jefferson deserves an award for his actions…
I don’t know what this DeShone Kizer throw was. I also don’t know what to say about it. Why did he think it was a good idea to throw that? Why not just throw it out of bounds? Who was he throwing to? Who will the starter be next week? Will the Browns ever win a game? Here at Armchair All-Americans, we demand answers! If I had to guess, the answer for each of them is probably “I don’t know.” Anyone who knows football knows how terrible this throw was; it might just be the worst play of the season, which says a lot.
PLAYER TO WATCH FOR: Nick Foles
As the starting quarterback for the league’s best team, Foles makes a lot of sense as a fantasy quarterback. Of course, he is no Carson Wentz, but Foles faces a very quarterback-friendly schedule in the next two weeks. He could be a solid plug-and-play. I know this was in 2013, but don’t forget this is still the same guy who tossed 27 touchdowns and two picks in just 10 games (including a seven-touchdown masterpiece.)
PLAYER TO IGNORE: Tommylee Lewis
Lewis averages eight plays a game, yet only played six in his two-touchdown performance on Thursday night, one of which was a kick return. However, some people might see a whopping 22 fantasy points scored and rush to snag Lewis. That is a major waste on a player who just played his best career game despite having a measly two targets. Stay away from him.
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 Malik Jefferson.
Jefferson is a very intriguing player due to his unique versatility and athleticism. He is a quick, rangy playmaker who can drop back in coverage just as well as he can rush the ball. On the flip side, his lack of production is concerning and can be inconsistent in diagnosing plays. Jefferson certainly has the tools to be a long-term starter, but coaches will need to fix his issues in order for Jefferson to be a great player. Early Projection: Early 2nd-Round
The ‘Hands’ Award: Alshon Jeffery
Temporarily renamed the ‘Fingers’ Award this week, Jeffery snagged this ball with his fingertips just inches away from the ground. Props for the concentration as it was a tight throw by Wentz that should have been knocked down. Also, Jeffery did this while sliding and had to reach back across his body to reel in the ball. This was a much tougher grab than it looked.
Uniform of the Week: Jacksonville Jaguars
It was an awesome week for NFL uniforms, but in a DRFN-first, the Jaguars’ luscious teal uniforms have won their second UOTW. This was a tough week with so many great threads (the Saints, Dolphins and Falcons all made strong cases) but ultimately I could not resist that sexy Jacksonville-teal. You can read what I wrote about them back in November. In the meantime, please appreciate these outstanding Jaguars’ uniforms before they are absent-mindedly trashed this offseason.
The Bend It Like Beckham Award: Adam Vinateri
Adam Vinateri is truly an airbender (or in this case a water bender, I guess). The once-in-a-lifetime kick was sailing out until it curved back through the uprights. This is my vote for Kick of the Year, if that is even a thing.
The Advil Spokesman Award: Brenton Bersin
The Ron Artest Appreciation Award: Quinton Jefferson
Oh boy, Jefferson had this one coming. For those too young or too boring to be educated on the Malice in the Palace, just know that the main perpetrator was an angry fellow named Ron Artest. Unfortunately, Jefferson’s homage to Artest was stopped short by security. If Jefferson continues to follow in the footsteps of Artest, will a strange name change be in Jefferson’s future, too?
ONE LAST THING
I mentioned my affection for Gurley as an MVP candidate earlier, but who else should be considered for the award? I ranked them in terms of worthiness, so feel free to berate me in the comments below.
1. Tom Brady – C’mon man, this is no fun. Unfortunately for basically everyone except Patriots fans, Brady still remains the top choice for MVP. It would only be his third MVP, yet I am sure he barely has room for it in his trophy closet. Brady is top three in passing yards, passing touchdowns, completion percentage and QBR. He also has thrown the least amount of picks. (I wrote that on Sunday night, but I decided to keep it in just to reiterate my astonishment that Miami won while picking off Brady twice.) Subsequently, this makes him the only quarterback (out of 35 eligible guys) to throw at least 1,500 passes and average less than one interception per passing attempts (four interceptions to 438 passing attempts). Oh, and he wins a lot.
2. Todd Gurley – I feel like I already made a good enough case for why he should be considered, but here is why he is ranked over Brown. Gurley impacts the game in two ways: as a running back and a receiver. You can hand him the ball for a 12-yard gain on one play then toss him a 12-yard pass the next play. As good as a runner Brown is, the Steelers rarely hand him the ball. (He had three rushes last season but none so far this year.) Therefore, Gurley has more opportunities to make an impact in a game than Brown does (I know Brown sometimes returns kicks, but that really makes no difference.) More importantly, a running back just gets the ball more than a wide receiver. Gurley, the best running back, averages 18.2 carries a game. Brown, the best receiver, gets 7.6 receptions a game on a whopping average of 12.3 targets. That doesn’t even include the times Gurley gets targeted in the passing game. I would take the best running back over the best wide receiver any day, especially when that running back constantly sees the ball through the ground and in the air.
3. Antonio Brown – With that said, Brown is still far and away the best receiver in football. He leads the league in receiving yards (he has 276 more yards than the next best receiver) and is second in receiving touchdowns, six of which have come in the past four games. This is another situation where you need to put the incredible stats aside and just watch Brown. His route-running is top of the line, he is lethal in the open field and his hands are as reliable as DeShone Kizer is at throwing an interception. Brown has proven time and time again, including on Sunday night, that if you need to win a game, you throw it to Brown. Fantasy owners also know about his reliability, as Brown averages 22.8 points a game and is the second-highest scoring fantasy player in the entire league.
4. Russell Wilson – Wilson is just a playmaker. I know I have given my fair share of criticism towards Wilson but the Seahawks would be nothing without him. He is second in the NFL in passing touchdowns and is tied for second with rushing touchdowns. While his completion percentage is ranked 22nd, just watch Wilson play and you can see how big of an impact he has. His expertise is extending plays when they should have been dead, and for that he is pretty valuable. However, his 11 interceptions and occasionally wacky throwing motion drag him down in my rankings.
5. Phillip Rivers – There is no team hotter than the Chargers right now, and Rivers is a big part of the team’s turnaround. Since Week Ten, Rivers has tossed eight touchdowns and no interceptions, including a remarkable performance in Week Twelve (three touchdowns, no picks, 434 yards and an 82 percent completion rate). If Rivers can keep up his stellar performance, he could be the favorite for the MVP. It is honestly about time Rivers earned some respect, and an MVP trophy is a good way to start.
Honorable Mention: Carson Wentz – Man, that injury bug is a cold-hearted b****, isn’t it? Wentz was ready to deliver the Eagles and the rest of Wentzylvania a coveted Lombardi Trophy, but a torn ACL derailed the sophomore’s absurd campaign. Wentz was on fire this season as he was top 10 in every major passing category, including first in passing touchdowns and second in QBR. If he stayed healthy there was a very good possibility that Wentz took home his first MVP award.