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 the Lions would have made the playoffs with a good running back. The last time the Lions had a player run for over 100 yards was on Thanksgiving in 2013 when Reggie Bush ran for 117 yards. In the four years since then, the Lions have been swinging unsuccessfully at running backs. Many people, myself included, believed Ameer Abdullah might be the answer but three disappointing, injury-riddled years have now dispelled that notion. With the Lions’ nine-point loss to the Bengals on Sunday, the team was eliminated from contention while posting just 87 rushing yards. A lack of a run game was a common theme this season as the Lions were last in total rushing yards and yards per attempt while handing it off the second-least amount of times in the league. Clearly, the coaches know they need a guy who is capable of pounding the rock and luckily there are a number of solid options in the upcoming draft.
I know once the Rams establish a good defense, the team can be great. Let’s talk about the offense first. A year after being the worst offense, they are now the best offense. Unfortunately, that is not enough to warrant a Lombardi Trophy, especially with the lack of success from recent top-notch offenses in the big game (see: 2016 Carolina Panthers, 2017 Atlanta Falcons). With a fantastic defensive coordinator (the ageless Wade Phillips) and one of the best players in the NFL (Aaron Donald) coupled with a slew of talented players, the Rams’ defense has part of the recipe for long-term success. They just need a few more pieces and a little more consistency; surrendering 23 points and 366 yards to the 18th-best offense is not Super Bowl caliber. Give both sides of the ball some time to develop and this Rams’ team can be a juggernaut for years to come, though the defense might need a little more time than the offense.
I know the 49ers will be good. I am sure other people know this as well, but for the few who don’t see it yet, let me explain. In the span of a year, the 49ers have acquired a young and innovative head coach, a new and charismatic general manager, two stud defensive rookies and the best quarterback the team has seen since a guy named Steve hung up his cleats almost 18 years ago. Since becoming the starter, Jimmy Garoppolo is undefeated and has thrown more passing yards than Joe Montana and Steve Young did in their first four starts as a 49er. Not to mention that Jimmy G’s supporting cast has arguably been worse, especially without the team’s best (and widely underrated) receiver Pierre Garçon. With a few more pieces to add this offseason and a top ten draft pick, this rejuvenated team can be a juggernaut for years to come (that sounds familiar). Speaking of which, I expect the 49ers-Rams rivalry to be the best in the NFL for the next decade.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know if Jameis Winston is the long-term answer. Sure, Winston just had his best game of the season with a 367-yard performance featuring a touchdown and a 131 QBR. The real story of the game however is Winston’s meltdown at the end of the game. That is not how a team wants their franchise quarterback to act. What player wants to constantly treat their teammate like an anguished baby? As for his stats, Winston has actually thrown a career-low in interceptions (unless he tosses seven picks in week 17) but that drop-off could be equated to another career-low: pass attempts. With the decrease in attempts (definitely due to injury and maybe due to a lack of trust by the coaching staff), Winston’s only meaningful stats this season are his 4.6 touchdown to interception ratio and his 48.8 QBR. While he is in the top fifteen for the former stat, his poor QBR ranks as the 19th best in the league. Both are okay stats, but okay is not good enough for a former first overall pick. If Winston can’t become the star that many envisioned him to be by the end of next season, his future in Tampa Bay will become much murkier.
I don’t know why everyone is so hyped on Case Keenum. Here is a fun little story before I lay into Vikings’ quarterbacks. I have always been infatuated with trying to find the next big thing in football, but being so young I only “fell in love” with random players for various, stupid reasons. Two quarterbacks in the 2012 draft I was hyped on were none other than Keenum and Russell Wilson. Why the hype? Good stats and a cool name. I am serious. Over five years later, both are starters and have a chance to go far in the playoffs. (I’d bet more money on the Vikings, though.) The point is that one might think I would stand by Keenum who is widely considered as an underrated quarterback. Actually, I think he is overrated, just like the other Vikings’ starting quarterback this year, Sam Bradford. Since Mike Zimmer became coach, Bradford and Keenum have experienced a drastic career revival and posted league-leading numbers. Bradford even led the NFL last season in completion percentage and threw the fourth-least interceptions among quarterbacks who started nine or more games. Some even pinpointed Bradford as a potential MVP candidate. This year, Keenum’s stats are virtually identical to Bradford, who actually had a very productive season opener before injuring his knee thus allowing Keenum to take over. One reason for the turnaround could be the shorter, arguably easier passes the Vikings’ offense often utilizes. To better understand the actual distance of a throw, Next Gen Stats eliminated the yards recorded after the catch on a pass. Out of 40 eligible quarterbacks, Keenum is 31st in CAY (Average Completed Air Yards) and 29th in IAY (Average Intended Air Yards). Another important factor is the Vikings’ receiving duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, who have quietly become the league’s best pair. I am not saying Keenum is bad, but if he or Bradford choose not to re-sign with Minnesota this offseason, do not expect a repeat in production.
I don’t know why the Tyreek Hill catch was overturned. Maybe I am biased as a Hill-fantasy owner, or maybe I just have two eyes and some common sense (both are viable reasons), but this insanely acrobatic play was clearly a catch. The video shows Hill getting both feet down and maintaining possession of the ball, yet the refs still ruled it as an incomplete pass. It seems like a theme this past month in the NFL is controversial calls (or non-calls). I get it that referees will inevitably always make someone angry, but they seem to angering the general public a good amount lately. What makes this call even worse was that the head referee failed to explain why Hill’s “catch” was actually incomplete. That’s like asking for a side of fries and the waiter just tells you, “No.” An explanation is needed, and not just for this play but also for the NFL referees’ overall performance this season. As for the Kelvin Benjamin “touchdown”, dare I say they made the right call…
PLAYER TO WATCH FOR: Jacoby Brissett
The last time Brissett faced the 32-ranked Houston defense, he dropped 19.5 points. This game might be meaningless, but it is an opportunity for Brissett to show why he deserves to be the face of a franchise. Expect him to play 110 percent while producing considerably well in the air and on the ground.
PLAYER TO IGNORE: Jakeem Grant
If it wasn’t for his sweet 65-yard touchdown, Grant’s 21-point PPR performance would have been mediocre, especially since he played only 19 percent of the team’s snaps. I feel like this is an obvious player to ignore, but desperate fantasy owners may panic to try and revive their season.
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 Josh Allen.
Allen is one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft for one reason: potential. He has the physical tools to be successful and is surprisingly athletic, but his lack of true competition is a concern. He also has some footwork issues, but his quick release and strong arm might be enough to warrant a top ten pick. Early Projection: Top ten pick
The ‘Hands’ Award: DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins is one bad man. I would say this acrobatic catch was a bit of a disappointment because of his failure to snag the ball on the initial touch. However, the concentration and awareness by Hopkins was so great that I give the award to him over Gronk’s sweet one-handed touchdown. My reasoning was we see one-handers almost every week; not only do we rarely see plays like Hopkins’, but he might be one of the few players who could actually make that play.
Uniform of the Week: Seattle Seahawks
I give a second UOTW for the Seahawks and their all navy threads after winning their first one back in week eight. It was an uneventful week for uniforms, which makes it the second straight week that a uniform set has won their second UOTW. The NFL could use some new City Edition uniforms like the NBA to really spice things up.
Immaculate Butt-ception Award: Marshon Lattimore
The possibility of jokes for this play is endless. That was great awareness by the rookie sensation, who I am sure will get a crack at the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Unfortunately for the Falcons, it looks like the team hit rock bottom on this play. If only they had a superstar wide receiver who could have caught that ball… Oh they do? They took him off the field for that play? That is such an asinine decision by the Falcons’ coaches. (If you have any better butt jokes, and I am sure you do, leave them in the comments below.)
The Flash Award: Cam Newton
When Newton fumbled the ball just yards away from the end zone, his life (and the Panthers’ playoff hopes) flashed before his eyes. Luckily, Superman transformed into The Flash and quickly scooped up the ball before diving across the goal line. That miscue could have ended the Panthers’ season. Instead, Newton’s quick-thinking saved the day yet again.
Leap of Faith Award: Byron Jones
Jones gained popularity with his record-breaking athleticism at the combine back in 2015. On Sunday, Jones reminded us all how inhuman he is with this crazy dive to save a punt from going into the end zone.
ONE LAST THING
With the season winding down on the inaugural campaign of the ‘Deep Route,’ I thought it would be a good idea to take a step back and tell you what’s in store for the coming weeks. There will still be a DRFN for the rest of the postseason and for a few weeks after, but then it will transform into the Deep Route Draft Notebook. While fantasy football is a huge passion of mine (and I have been very successful in it), arguably my favorite day of the sports year is the NFL Draft. I could go on and on about my strange relationship with the draft, but I will save that for the first installment of the upcoming DRDN. In the meantime, expect a full-fledged season recap including my best (and worst) predictions, an Awards-only edition, a look ahead at fantasy football next year, possible ideas for a new Pro Bowl and so much more awesome stuff. If you have some cool ideas on what I should write about within the next month or so, comment below or tweet at me @ZachCohen12.