THINGS I KNOW
I know I’ve never been this excited for football season. Who isn’t, really? So many new storylines added to the already action-packed spectacle that is the National Football League. I’m also looking forward to another year (my actual one-year anniversary at Armchair will be on August 21st, though my first article wasn’t for a couple weeks) because the ‘Deep Route Fantasy Notebook’ will be getting a slight makeover. For those who aren’t familiar with DRFN, it was a weekly cluster of tidbits, information, and other fun stuff. This year, I’ve dropped the ‘Fantasy’ moniker and added ‘Football.’ So what can you expect from the ‘Deep Route Football Notebook?’ Honestly, I’m not exactly sure yet. It will be the same idea as last year, with feature sections like ‘Things I Know/Don’t Know’, ‘Awards’, and ‘One Last Thing’, but everything else is really up in the air. I know I want to continue to incorporate fantasy football and the NFL Draft, though. While I prep the new-look DRFN for the 2018-2019 football season, let’s not forget about the whirlwind that was the 2018 NFL Offseason…
I know why Dez Bryant hasn’t been signed yet. He’s not that good anymore. There, I said it. People need to realize this is not the Dez of 2014, when he led the league in receiving touchdowns. Last season was the first time he played all 16 games since that 2014 season. In the past three seasons, virtually every stat has dropped off for Bryant, namely his catch percentage (receptions divided by targets). In 2017, Bryant caught 52.3 percent of the passes thrown to him. Out of the top 50 players in receptions, only Mike Evans had a worse catch rate. In fact, Bryant was tied for first with the most drops by a wideout. Of course, drops can be blamed on a number of things. What truly makes Bryant an overrated receiver is his inability to separate. It seems pretty obvious, yet here I am saying it: you can’t catch if you’re not open. Bryant just couldn’t get open. The soon-to-be 30-year old drew success primarily from two routes last season: slants and back-shoulders. Those, as Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown explained, are two of the easy catches to make. Unfortunately for Bryant, those were the only routes he consistently won on. If Dez is to make an impact again, he’ll need to improve his route-running skills, which is hard to do at his age and with his injury history. Not to mention, his attitude might rub some front offices the wrong way. (NOTE: As of this publishing, Bryant remains a free agent. But Cleveland is hot in pursuit.)
I know the running back market will be drastically reset. Todd Gurley’s whopping four-year, sixty million dollar extension foreshadows a massive cash grab. Just looking at the young crop of running backs right now only means we’re in for a huge spike in the once-dead running back market. Guys like David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell (who need to be given huge contract extensions ASAP) will almost definitely command top dollar, but up-and-comers like Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara are on pace to break the bank, too. To be honest, it won’t surprise me if Gurley’s contract isn’t even a top-five richest running back contract in three years now from now. Each player will keep one-upping the other when it comes to demanding the most cash. Interestingly enough, this got me thinking about why the running back market dipped, only to bounce back stronger than ever. Look at ESPN’s top ten running backs for this fantasy season (in PPR, that way we can account for total offensive impact and not just the rushing yards). Only Le’Veon Bell (2013) was drafted before 2015, and Bell is still only 26-years old. All those guys, sans Gurley now, are playing like future cornerstones of their franchises. If they keep it up, there is no doubt that they’ll break the bank sooner rather than later.
I know Hard Knocks looks insanely good. Like, as good as it’s ever been. Let’s start with the obvious: the Browns are the perfect team for this year’s series. Coming off a winless season, a team looks to restore validity in a once-proud franchise while rejuvenating a deflated sports town. The Browns have all the characters, too. A new, eccentric, talented receiver. A former first-overall pick with all the talent in the world. An outspoken quarterback taken first overall, who will compete with a new veteran who was cast aside by his former team after helping them finally reach the playoffs. Even coordinators Todd Haley and Gregg Williams are no strangers to controversy, and both make for hilarious television. Not to mention that Hard Knocks has a knack for unearthing those feel-good stories, like Devon Cajuste and his father (who revealed to his son on camera that he just had a third heart attack). As a television production student, though, I also can’t help but admire the production aspects of the show. The music choices have beautifully captured the gravity of each situation. The camera shots have been fantastic. I’ve been watching HBO’s limited series religiously since my Dolphins were on it in 2012 (I’ve caught a handful of previous seasons, too), and I can confidently say this is the best season I’ve ever watched. Hard Knocks airs every Tuesday night at ten, which is when you should be dropping everything to watch. Trust me, it’s an hour of pure awesomeness.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know why Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack haven’t been paid yet. I touched on Bell’s situation earlier and that he deserves to be paid. He’s one of, if not the best, at his position and paying him now will likely save teams a couple million in the future. The same can be said for these two defensive superstars. Both have multiple Pro Bowls and First Team All-Pro designations, as well as a Defensive Player of the Year Award, all since entering the league four years ago. Needless to say, they’re among the NFL’s best players. So why haven’t they been paid? Each player has a different situation. There is no doubt the Rams would like to pay Donald, especially with Super Bowl aspirations this year. However, the Rams have just under three million dollars left in cap space, per spotrac.com. With Gurley locked up and a Jared Goff extension looking likely in the future, how the Rams will successfully navigate this is a legitimate concern. However in the end, I bet it works out. The same can’t be said for Mack.
The Raiders don’t have too much cap left, either (about $7.5 million), but they are not challenging for a title like the Rams are. In fact, most of this issue seems to be new coach Jon Gruden’s reluctance to have Mack at such a hefty price. Reports say that Gruden hasn’t even talked to his star edge rusher since returning to Oakland. The chances Mack gets an extension are so slim that Vegas already has odds on which team Mack will play for after the October trade deadline. (In case you’re wondering, the Packers have the highest odds behind the Raiders.) If the Raiders were to stupidly trade Mack, an elite player, at least a first-round pick should be expected back. The same price can be referred to Donald. If either player leaves, consider it a similar move as to when LeBron left Cleveland the first time (okay, not THAT huge, but maybe more like Kevin Durant-level).
I don’t know what Kelvin Benjamin is talking about. For those of you who missed the former-Carolina Panther wide receiver saying, “It was a bad fit from the get-go. If you would’ve put me with any other quarterback, let’s be real, you know what I’m saying? Any other accurate quarterback like [Aaron] Rodgers or Eli Manning or Big Ben — anybody! — quarterbacks with knowledge, that know how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball…” Where have you been? This stuff is golden! A guy who enjoyed a 1,000-yard rookie season and two seasons of multiple touchdowns calling out the best quarterback he’s ever had? Please. He’s still just salty that the Panthers abruptly shipped him to Buffalo midseason. Sure, Cam Newton’s completion percentage in 2016 (Benjamin’s last full-year as a Panther) was a horrendous 52.9 percent. Yet Benjamin was still tied for sixth in receiving touchdowns with seven. Also, why bring up Eli Manning? That’s the guy he chooses? This isn’t 2011, Kelvin. At least Newton let Benjamin hear it in this meaty exchange before the Panthers-Bills game last week. (Insert stupidly witty joke about how cold Benjamin was for leaving his former quarterback hanging.)
I don’t know why some people base their predictions off the preseason. I get it, it’s the first dose of football in months and you’re excited to jump the gun on that speedy receiver who’s facing a team’s fifth-best cornerback. I will admit that some small things can be picked up from watching the preseason, like player usage and play-calling. Let’s be real, though. No one is saying the Ravens will be better than the Rams because Baltimore beat L.A. by 26 points. Also, no, Robert Griffin III is not back. He played against second and third team defenses. Chill. Now I’ve been a huge advocate of offseason research, which includes tuning into preseason football. Like anything you do, especially for fantasy football, you need to approach things with caution. Too often I’ve seen people get so caught up in the positives of a player that they overlooked the negatives. A great example is DeVante Parker, whom I hate to love. Every year people swoon over his raw talent and how he’ll “finally have an opportunity to play well,” and every year those people are let down. The point is, consider both the pros and cons of a player and decide just how important each really is. Look at all factors before determining the plausibility of each potential scenario. Are you comfortable drafting a first-round rookie knowing he’s been outperformed by a veteran? Will you really reach for an uber-talented player who played the same amount of games as you did last year? Is that new coach actually going to use that player, or is he just saying he will? Only time (and re-watching video clips and using ridiculously in-depth analytics and hours of gathering potentially worthless tidbits of information) will tell.
Best (Worst?) Madden Glitch: The ‘San Diego’ Chargers
As a sports commentator myself, I definitely know the importance of speaking truth on the air. But this is a video game. There shouldn’t be slip-ups like this.
Especially when you consider that the Chargers haven’t been in San Diego since the 2016 season. As Deadpool once said, “That’s just lazy writing.” Couldn’t the Madden production team just record a new intro instead of reusing the same commentary from previous years? This beats any early-game glitch, including Le’Veon Bell’s transformation into the Flash, this offensive lineman’s exorcism, and, uh, whatever this guy’s trying to do.
Best Uniform Change: Tennessee Titans
I wrote about these threads back in March, and just as I predicted back then, the uniforms have grown on me. The Titans only competitors are the Dolphins and Jaguars. While I like the changes from both the two Florida teams, they weren’t really needed. The Titans needed an overhaul. I really like the navy helmets, and the light blue combination is outstanding. The helmet stripe could have been done better, but overall I’ve enjoyed watching these new uniforms during the preseason.
Best Move: Rams trading for Marcus Peters
If Tyrann Mathieu can stay healthy, the Texans could make me rethink this choice. We won’t know until later on, though. What we do know is that Peters, at 25-years old, is already one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. The Rams were already contenders this year, but they needed to improve that middle-of-the-road pass defense from last season (13th-worst in passing yards allowed). That 2018 fourth-round pick and 2019 second-round pick might hurt other teams, but a team of this much star power will not miss having either selection. (Spoiler: The Rams are my pick to lose to the Saints in the NFC Conference Championship.)
This has nothing to do with Alex Smith’s performance. Heck, he was a top ten quarterback in yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage last year. Obviously, a big question is whether he can repeat that performance on a new team, one that does not have Quarterback Master Andy Reid. My qualm with this move is that the Redskins were reluctant to pay Cousins a four-year, $94 million contract with $71 million guaranteed. Was the 29-year old Cousins a better quarterback than Smith last year? No. Is Smith an upgrade over Cousins? Maybe not. But one thing I do know is that Smith is five years older than Cousins. It’s ridiculous that the Redskins would drop that amount of money for a guy who will be 37 by the end of his contract. This move looks worse when you consider the Redskins recent history of botched quarterback deals and overpaid veteran players (See: RG3 and Albert Haynesworth, most notably.)
ONE LAST THING
As I said earlier, there is a lot in the works right now. For those who know me or have been following my work (or both, preferably), you know about my affection for fantasy football. That’s why I’m excited to announce that my big fantasy football guide will be dropping soon! It’s so rich with information that I’m taking next week off to prepare. You can expect a full guide on how to win your league, including:
- Proven, successful advice
- ‘My Ball Zach Ertz’ and other terrible fantasy names
- And so much more!
Great, now I feel like an infomercial. I’ll save the excessive promos, but trust me, you’ll want to read this, and anything else my mind draws up for this football season.