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 it is officially the NFL midseason. The actual midway point happened after the Rams–Giants game ended on Sunday. To celebrate, I centered this week’s installment of the Deep Route Fantasy Notebook around what has happened so far this season and what will happen down the road, including my midseason predictions later on in the article.
I know the Saints are playing like Super Bowl contenders. During their six-game win streak, the Saints have surrendered more than 17 points once and have won by over 14 points in every game but one. This comes after losing their first two games. What is the reason for the Saints’ turnaround? The team’s rookies have not been playing like rookies. First round pick Marshon Lattimore is a defensive rookie of the year candidate. The other first round selection, tackle Ryan Ramcyzk, has started every game thus far. Stud running back Alvin Kamara has made an impact as a runner and receiver — he is coming off a two-touchdown game where he caught and ran for a score. Combine these early successes with a Hall of Fame quarterback and a top coach, and this team should go far into the postseason.
I know the Broncos need a quarterback to contend. Denver is in the bottom six of every major category for quarterbacks, which unfortunately is not surprising. Having a good, or even an above average quarterback, would completely turn around this team. I could use more statistics to back up this point, but anyone who knows football understands how important a good quarterback is to a team. Not only is a good quarterback, you know, good, but their advanced skills and stats create an overall positive team aura. Basically, players are happier and more confident when their quarterback is playing well.
The Broncos excelled in every way under Peyton Manning. The last two seasons, including this year, Denver has taken a step back in each unit. Most disappointing for the Broncos is that out of the three signal callers on the roster, none of them have proven capable of managing the team for an extended period of time. While some point towards former first-round pick Paxton Lynch as the solution, Lynch was correctly deemed a project coming out of college. This project has taken too long, because after two years and two coaches, Lynch still has not heard his name called with the starters. I have no more confidence in Denver quarterbacks. John Elway should use that mid-first rounder in April to address the issue.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know what is wrong with the Buccaneers. There is no question that the team has talent. Jameis Winston has Mike Evans and two very good tight ends to throw to. Gerald McCoy dominates the defensive line with a dynamic duo of Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander right behind him. So what is the issue? (Don’t tell me it is the Hard Knocks curse.)
Is it because the Bucs have surrendered the eighth-most yards in the league? Or is it because they have only scored the 20th-most points in the league? Maybe it is something smaller, like the team’s 62.5 field goal percentage, which is the second-worst in the NFL? Or is the real culprit Dirk Koetter, who is 11-13 in his second year as the Bucs’ head coach? Whatever the answer is, the team will have to find the solution soon or they will fall behind in a competitive division. My money is on Tampa Bay using their top ten draft pick this year to take a defensive back.
I don’t know why the Chiefs are not using Kareem Hunt more. On Sunday Hunt had 13 touches while backup Charcandrick West got six. Obviously, those are six more touches that Hunt could have had. What really irks me, though, is the Chiefs’ lack of usage of Hunt in the red zone. Hunt has proven to be one of the best runners in the NFL, which he has been praised for many times, so why not use him? Hunt’s last touchdown came in week three.
On Sunday Hunt also saw a career-low in playing time — just under 54 percent of plays compared to West’s 40 percent. It is not like Hunt is a terrible receiver; he has proven to be a dangerous receiving threat on multiple occasions. I get that Kansas City has a unique playbook to match their diverse offense, but maybe the Chiefs would not have lost in weeks six and seven if they established a running game again, especially in the red zone.
PLAYER TO WATCH FOR: Orleans Darkwa
Giants running backs are a major turn off this season, but Darkwa has dominated the backfield with touches. While he does not get many targets, I am keeping an eye on Darkwa for when the Giants start playing in garbage time, which should happen often.
PLAYER TO IGNORE: Corey Clement
I have been a fan of Clement since his collegiate days when he broke Wisconsin school records. However, joining a crowded Philadelphia backfield has done Clement no favors and is the sole reason why he should be ignored. I might be one of the only people that would go as far as to say he is the most talented running back on the team, but his limited touches cap his value.
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 Calvin Ridley
Another year, another stud Alabama receiver. Ridley is a phenomenal route runner who can break off big plays at any moment. His speed, coupled with his ability to play bigger than his six-foot-one length, makes him a tremendous deep threat. His run-after-catch ability is also stellar, and he is a reliable blocker, too. Right now, Ridley seems like the safest bet in an underrated receiver class. Early Projection: Mid-first round
The ‘Hands’ Award: DeVante Parker
Parker’s one-handed grab looked awfully Odell-esque, which I guess is the comparison we must now make when describing one-handed catches. Parker fully extended his body to to reel in the pass. While he did use his arm to control the ball, the fact that Parker jumped up and backwards makes this a much tougher, sweeter snag.
Uniform of the Week: Jacksonville Jaguars
There might be no one, except maybe Jaguars fans, more disappointed than I am by the recent news that the Jags will once again change their uniforms next season. Wearing teal for the first time since 2013, Jacksonville dazzled in these perfectly color-coded uniforms. The sleek and contemporary threads should be hung in the rafters as some of the greatest of this generation.
Wrestling Move of the Week: A.J. Green
Forget Green’s perfect form and how he locked his elbow around Jalen Ramsey. What makes the move so lethal was the unexpectedness of it, allowing for Green to fully capitalize on Ramsey’s vulnerability. Green deserved a win by unanimous decision — oh, this happened in the NFL and not the UFC? Yeah… Green should be suspended then.
The Max Smart Award: Blair Walsh
One of my favorite movies of all-time is the 2008 action comedy Get Smart, adapted from the ‘60s show of the same name. While Seahawks’ fans might find nothing funny about this, I see many similarities between kicker Blair Walsh and the movie’s protagonist Max Smart, played by the legendary Steve Carell. One of Carell’s famously repeated lines from the movie is, “missed it by that much.” I think you see where I’m going with this.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Kansas City Chiefs
While still on the topic of movie adaptations, there were many worthy nominees for this award that honors the best new adaptation of a popular film. The nomination pool consisted of the Panthers’ “Statue of Liberty”, the Rams’ “Hook and Ladder” and the Redskins’ “Multiple Lateral”. However, the winning performance goes to the Kansas City Chiefs for their original take on the “Hail Mary”, adapted as the “Hill Mary”. Starring Tyreek Hill and written by Andy Reid, this performance dropped jaws and left audiences stunned.
ONE LAST THING
As I promised earlier, here are my predictions for the rest of the NFL season, followed by a sentence or two explaining my selections:
Comeback Player of the Year: Earl Thomas
Thomas has returned to being a shutdown defensive back, though there are few players that qualify for this award this season.
Coach of the Year: Sean McVay
McVay turned the league’s worst offense into the league’s best offense while losing only twice so far.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kareem Hunt
Hunt leads the league in rushing yards and is a vital part of one of the league’s top offenses.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marshon Lattimore
Lattimore has been a lockdown corner who is a major reason for the Saints’ defensive revitalization.
Defensive Player of the Year: Calais Campbell
Campbell anchors a dominant defensive line and supports the Jags’ nickname, “Sacksonville”.
MVP/Offensive Player of the Year: Carson Wentz
These awards are basically synonymous. Wentz leads the NFL in multiple stats and is the main reason that the Eagles’ have the league’s best record.
Playoff Seeding Predictions:
I think the first four teams are a lock, with the Titans being a safer bet to make the playoffs. That sixth seed is up for grabs at this point, though it really is stupid to say any team with at least three wins has eliminated themselves from the playoffs when that applies to all but four teams.
I consider only the Eagles and Saints a lock, but the Rams and Vikings are trending upward. Also like the AFC, the last two spots are anyone’s guess. Unlike the AFC, there are a few good teams getting left off this list. I can see one, maybe more 9-7 or 8-8 teams missing the playoffs this year.
Super Bowl Prediction: Steelers beat Eagles 27-17
Each year I say the Patriots will not make the Super Bowl, and this year is no different. Obviously I am usually wrong. The past two years has seen the two best teams in the league meeting in the Super Bowl, but the jury is still out on the AFC’s best team. With experience and a surprisingly good defense, I think it is the Steelers who come out on top against the red hot Eagles in Minneapolis.