The Deep Route Fantasy Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL, along with weekly awards, draft spotlights, fantasy updates, and more. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN, or 4for4.com.
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sad that this was the last week of the season before we reach double-digit weeks. Still there was plenty about Week 9 to keep me entertained, including the Battle of the GOATs, the crowning of the new king in the NFC, the ever-spinning rumor mill, episode nine of BellWatch, and so much more. Let’s kick things off with one of the most heated debates in all of football…
THINGS I KNOW
I know Aaron Rodgers is better than Tom Brady. At least, he is right now. And only for one small reason: his mobility. Brady can’t move like Rodgers can, which is why I’d take Rodgers to win me a game next week over Brady. This isn’t a debate about greatness; this is me saying which quarterback I’d rather have for the rest of the season. If it were a debate about greatness, then I’d easily take Brady simply because he’s played longer and has accomplished more. Even if Brady retired after this season and Rodgers won two more Super Bowls, it would still be hard for me to say Rodgers was a greater quarterback than Brady was.
To me, a quarterback’s greatness emphasizes his achievements over his talent, but strongly considers both. It’s close, like a 60-40 split, if I had to put numbers to it. If we were talking about which quarterback is better, then give me a 60-40 split favoring talent over achievements. While Rodgers might be a better quarterback than Brady is right now, Brady is on track to finish his career (whenever that’ll happen) as the greater signal caller. Don’t get me started on the MVP debate, either.
I know the term ‘Most Valuable Player’ has been construed from what it should actually represent. Okay fine, I’ll bite. The NFL’s MVP has historically been the most accomplished player of the season, so that’s what everyone (including myself) bases their criteria on. In this year’s case, that’s Patrick Mahomes. It doesn’t mean he’s better than Rodgers or greater than Brady, it just means he’s been the most productive. However, sports’ MVP awards have been flawed for a while. The MVP should be given to the player who, if taken away from his team, would cause that team to falter immensely.
In the NFL, that’s always been Aaron Rodgers. Just look at how the Packers have done with Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer. Meanwhile, the Patriots have won with lots of uninspiring players, like Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. Take Rodgers from Green Bay and they’d stink. Take Brady from New England and they’d still do relatively well. That’s more of a nod to the coaching than anything else. Therefore, Rodgers is more valuable to his team. Alas, that’s not how this award works so Mahomes will probably win it barring anything drastic.
I know the Saints officially became the best team in the NFC. First, let’s just appreciate how great of a game the Rams and Saints just played. The two top teams in the NFC combined for an 80-point offensive showdown that featured a 21-point comeback, four legitimate MVP candidates, and a former young, offensive protégé of the future taking on the new young, offensive protégé.
It was a close game, but in the end the Saints had one crucial factor that the Rams did not: home-field advantage. Something tells me that the outcome might still have been the same in the L.A. Coliseum, mostly due to the lack of Rams’ fans in recent games. (The Coliseum reportedly felt like a mini Lambeau stadium during the Packers-Rams game.) I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we see these two teams face off this season, but until then, New Orleans deserves to sit atop the NFC.
I know now who I’d vote for Defensive Player of the Week. Last week, I was torn between four players. This week, I give the nod to Aaron Donald. He already won the award last season and so far he’s on track to win it again this season. Why did I finally give it to Donald? I came across this astounding stat. Heading into Week 8, not only was Donald the league leader in sacks, but he was doing that while being double-teamed 70 percent of the time, by far the highest rate in football. For comparison, J.J. Watt is the second-most double-teamed defensive linemen and he only faces that 46 percent of the time. In my book, that whopping statistic is enough to give Donald the edge over his elite defensive counterparts.
I know Norv Turner has transformed the Panthers’ offense. Don’t believe me? The Panthers dropped 35 first-half points against the Buccaneers, thus setting a franchise record for most points in a half. Turner’s effect can be seen throughout the offense. Sophomore star RB/WR Christian McCaffrey is finally not just a third-down receiving back; he’s dominated games while leading the team in targets and snaps played for offensive skill players. When the Panthers drafted McCaffrey and fellow RB/WR Curtis Samuel last year, many critics thought they were square pegs being forced into circular holes.
In his first season as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator, Turner has gotten creative with guys such as McCaffrey and Samuel. Currently the Panthers have the eleventh-best offensive in the league, which is good but not great. What is great is that the Panthers sit at 6-3 and have cemented themselves in the Wildcard hunt. Turner’s arrival has been a huge part of that.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know why the Ravens would fire John Harbaugh. There’s been some rumblings about Harbaugh’s job security, and while it is just a rumor, Baltimore would be foolish to get rid of him. I know it’s been six seasons since Harbaugh led the Ravens to a Super Bowl but he’s only had one losing record (2015) in the years following the title. I don’t think it’s Harbaugh’s fault, though. Look at the players he’s had to deal with.
This team hasn’t had a star since Ed Reed donned the purple and gold. For crying out loud, Harbaugh has had to work with Joe Flacco. That’s the same guy who’s touchdown-to-interception ratio was 12th in 2014 but hasn’t been ranked higher than 25th in his time since then. Yeah, that’s pretty bad. I get that it’s on the coaches to make the most of their players, but Harbaugh has actually done that. He’s done as much as he can with the little that’s been given to him, which has been good enough for a consistently fringe-playoff team. With GM Ozzie Newsome stepping down after this season, maybe Harbaugh will finally get some real football players.
I don’t know what is going on with Le’Veon Bell. So stop asking me. In all honesty, though, the whole situation depends on whether he reports to the team by 4 PM on Tuesday. I’ve written more than enough about BellWatch this season and will probably have some more thoughts once his deadline to report passes. But until then it’s all speculation on what happens next.
If Bell does show up, then the question shifts to his usage and impact on fantasy darling James Conner. If Bell does not report, then Conner will maintain his status as a top-five running back. Meanwhile, Bell’s future will become even murkier. Again, I’ll likely revisit this next week (hopefully for the last time) when we know more. Until then, fantasy owners of Bell or Conner will have to get comfortable on the edge of their seats. Side note: Anyone know how I can patent the term BellWatch?
I don’t know why the Raiders would trade Derek Carr. It only makes sense that after the Raiders shipped off former cornerstone pieces, such as Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, Carr’s name started flying around the rumor mill. I’ll call that bluff in an instant. For starters, Carr may not be having a great season but the options I listed to potentially replace him are not good. Second, it seems a little too early to give up on him. His 2017 season may have been a step down from his stellar 2016 season but I don’t think it’s on him. Look at how poorly the players around him have performed. Cooper was among the league’s least reliable receivers and the offensive line constantly faced injuries. On top of that, the coaching staff this year has been horrendous. It’s the coaches that have failed Carr with shoddy game-plans, which could be seen in Oakland’s 34-3 loss to a third-string quarterback. I’ve voiced my lack of faith in Jon Gruden before and truly believe that Carr still has the talent that made him a promising up-and-comer just a season and a half ago.
I don’t know why someone hasn’t signed Sam Bradford yet. This is more of a nod to some of the lackluster quarterbacks currently playing rather than an ode to Bradford. Still, you’d have to be crazy to tell me that there are 32 better starting quarterbacks than the former first-overall pick. The two teams that could probably use him more than most are the Giants and the Bills. Bradford had career years with Pat Shurmur in Minnesota the past two seasons and Shurmur, now the Giants’ head coach, could use some enhanced quarterback play. As for the Bills, well, Nathan Peterman has been historically bad, and that’s putting it nicely. I know Bradford hasn’t exactly performed to the standards of a first-overall pick, and while a big part of that is due to his inability to stay on the field, it couldn’t hurt QB-needy teams like the Giants and the Bills to kick the tires on him.
I don’t know why Mitchell Trubisky was kept in the game. The Bears were blowing out the Bills by 25 with about five minutes remaining. Naturally, a coach might want to take out their starters to avoid potential injury. Alas, Matt Nagy elected to keep them in, including his franchise quarterback. That’s just stupid. What’s the benefit for keeping him in? More reps? Padding the stats? You can get both of those during upcoming games, unless of course, Trubisky gets hurt on a meaningless play up 20-plus points. Luckily for the Bears, Trubisky was not injured and Nathan Peterman did not complete a 25-point comeback in under five minutes. Still, Nagy took such a massive, unnecessary risk for such a small payoff. If he wasn’t a Coach of the Year candidate, I’d be grilling him a lot more.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Which team has the most money contracted to players currently on an injured list?
Check out the ‘Awards’ section for the answer.
As fantasy football season rolls on, I’ll be focusing on a couple fantasy-related issues. This can include Players to Watch, Making the Case, questions from readers, or anything fantasy-related.
Player to Watch: Dez Bryant
Bryant’s tenure as a free agent has finally ended after he inked a deal with the Saints, but I’d still be cautious before placing all your chips on Bryant returning to his 2014 form. Personally, I wouldn’t pick up Bryant because the chances are slim that he sees a significant share of the New Orleans offense. The Saints have so many weapons that Bryant will need to work hard for targets. That’s something he hasn’t done in awhile.
I’ve explained why Bryant is overrated before and my stance still hasn’t changed. Maybe a change of scenery to such a high-powered offense will be his “Fountain of Youth”. Nonetheless, I’m still iffy on him. You should still keep an eye on Bryant if you need a wide receiver. Who knows, maybe Bryant took a dose of some super soldier serum or something.
Every week, I’ll feature a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, Armchair Scout Rob Paul subs in and highlights Quinnen Williams.
Before the season started, Alabama’s defensive lineman with the hype was Raekwon Davis, but a lot has changed since then. No player has done more for their draft stock this season than Alabama’s Quinnen Williams. Williams went from the fourth guy on the Bama D-line last season to potentially the #1 player in the 2019 NFL Draft. It’s a legitimate battle right now between Williams, Nick Bosa, and Ed Oliver. It seems like Williams has been the best player in the country every week. He’s taking over games and doing things that are rare to see from an interior defensive lineman. Through nine games this season, Williams has put up 43 tackles, 12 TFLs, and four sacks.
On tape, Williams shows a rare blend of quickness and power. The explosion he shows to get off the snap is elite; he’ll be engaging an offensive lineman before Raekwon Davis is even out of his stance. That helps him generate extra power when pass rushing. He’s got great leg drive which helps him play with strong leverage at the point of attack. Often when holding the point, he’ll eat up space until the last second and disengage his block with a club/swim or just with pure power and make the play in the backfield. He plays with excellent pad level. To find an interior defensive lineman with the wiggle and heavy hand use he possess as a pass rusher isn’t easy. Williams can attack the passer by out-leveraging people, with a repertoire of pass rush moves, or just by being a better athlete. He’s unstoppable. Early Projection: Top-Five Pick
The ‘Hands’ Award: Bryce Singleton
As the play-by-play announcer said when Singleton snagged the ball, the FIU receiver “stabbed it.” Now that’s a one-handed catch. The ball stuck to the palm of his hand as he fell down hard. He didn’t even need to use his arm to control the ball on the way down. Great concentration, great catch. Great call, too.
Uniform of the Week: Oakland Raiders
Unlike football games, here’s something the Raiders can actually win, albeit it was an underwhelming week for uniforms. The only change to their normal away uniforms is the numbers, which get a slim black outline around the silver-colored numbers. This is a huge difference because it gives the Raiders’ uniforms an icier, cleaner look.
Mr. Bummer: My Fantasy Opponent
I said back in Week 1 that I’d like to talk a little more about me this season. Well, here I am, and I’m sorry I scrapped an actual Mr. Bummer this week, but not really because I just couldn’t resist including this. Two weeks ago, I selfishly gloated about dropping 203.7 fantasy points in a 10-team PPR league. In my nine years of playing fantasy football, that was the first time I’ve ever remembered seeing a 200-point performance. This week, it happened again, except this time it was in my main league with 12 teams and PPR. My team dropped a colossal 227.3-point performance. 227.3 points. I’m still in awe. Don’t worry, behind this cocky bragging there’s an actual point. If you do your research, utilize the waiver wire, and learn how to effectively make trades, you will do great things in fantasy football.
The Blunder Ball: Joe Flacco
This isn’t for what Flacco did, it’s for what he didn’t do. It’s scoreless in the first quarter as Flacco snaps the ball. He has Lamar Jackson (you know, that guy drafted to be his replacement) wide open on the right side of the field, so he lobs the ball to a wide-open…goalpost. It’s kind of ridiculous to say that Flacco didn’t want to hit Jackson, right? Right? Either way, that’s a pretty awkward incompletion and would’ve been worse had the drive not at least ended in a field goal.
Celebration of the Year: Seattle Seahawks
It’s so gloriously amazing that I have no words to accurately put it into writing. I do have one thing I have to say about it: if only the Seahawks’ offense could look that good.
Joe Horn Tribute Award: Michael Thomas
I’ll admit, when I saw this live I was laughing too much to remember that former Saints’ WRJoe Horn did this before. Thomas’ epic recreation is only better when you realize that he hid a cell phone under both goalposts.
Like the former NBA player who came out of nowhere to put up insane numbers, Nick Mullens was virtually irrelevant until he was promoted to the 49ers active roster on September 26th. About a month later, he had the second best statistical debut in NFL history for a quarterback. Could this be the start of Mullensanity?
Trivia Answer: San Fransisco 49ers
Question: Which team has the most money contracted to players currently on an injured list?
The Niners have over $40 million worth of players on the Injured Reserve, PUP, or NFI, including their new starting quarterback and running back. They’re the only team to eclipse $30 million in this stat, which goes to show how devastating the team’s injuries have truly been.
ONE LAST THING
I’ve been itching to do a mock draft for a while now, so I thought I’d finally get around to one this week. Trust me, I realize mock drafts at this stage in the football season are pointless, but it’s still a good indicator of which players have a high draft stock right now.
Obviously, anything can change between now until the NFL Draft in late April, so take this mock with a grain of salt. This is more of what I think teams should and could do rather than what I’m hearing because rumors this early rarely have weight to them. For the sake of time and keeping your eyes glued to this column, I only included the top ten picks and the guys who could sneak in the top ten.
- Giants – Justin Herbert, QB
The Giants need a quarterback, plain and simple. There aren’t many other options at the position, either. The team has enough pieces to be content with taking Herbert (the QB1) over the best player available.
2. Raiders – Nick Bosa, EDGE
Barring a highly unlikely Derek Carr trade, the Raiders need to go BPA (Best Play Available) with their first pick. They’ll have two other first-round picks to continue to add to a barren defense, too.
3. 49ers – Quinnen Williams, DL
Like most of the teams in this mock, the 49ers don’t have a glaring need and would be best suited going BPA. Like Bosa, Williams has a legit shot at going first.
4. Bills – Jonah Williams, OL
The Bills need a lot of help, but it’s mostly on offense. Unfortunately, this draft isn’t looking too top-heavy for offensive players. Williams looks to be the only other offensive option who could go in the top ten.
5. Cardinals – Ed Oliver, DL
The Cardinals would have loved Williams for their offensive line, but they’ll settle with a guy who some say might be the best player in the draft.
6. Browns – Greedy Williams, CB
For once, the Browns can sit here and employ a BPA approach. So far, I’ve seen six players consistently mocked in the top ten with Williams (yes, another Williams) rounding out that special six.
7. Jets – Kelvin Harmon, WR
This might be a massive reach, but the Jets need offensive help so badly and don’t need another safety like Deionte Thompson. Harmon has the makings of being an early WR1 in a class which I might be higher on than most.
8. Broncos – Deionte Thompson, S
For the sake of this mock, this would be a hypothetical steal. The Broncos would probably love Herbert here but John Elway has been known to go BPA before.
9. Colts – Raekwon Davis, DL
GM Chris Ballard loves building through his offensive and defensive lines, and it’s quietly showing. Davis could be a great value at this spot. In case you can’t already tell, it’s a great year to need defensive players.
10. Raiders – Devin White, LB
This was originally the Cowboys’ pick, and while it was tempting to slot them a wide receiver, Oakland needs all the help they can get. As of now, this was a toss-up between White and LB Mack Wilson.
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