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.
Through six weeks this has already been one of the most exciting NFL seasons I’ve ever seen. To put the season into context a little, this is the first time ever there’s been an overtime game in each of the first six weeks. Still, if I had to choose, this was the best week of the NFL season so far. It featured not one but two game of the year candidates, both of which I’ll touch on later. I’ll also talk about an emerging MVP candidate, a team on the brink of collapse, the future of football overseas, weekly awards, and so much more.
THINGS I KNOW
I know a team will eventually play in London. I know when they will too. Okay, not exactly when, but there a couple things that need to (and can very easily) happen first. To be clear, the move isn’t coming anytime soon. The main issue with an NFL team in London is travel. It’s already a hassle for a team to make the trip across the pond, so can you imagine the team doing it at least eight times in a season? Of course, the solution to this is faster mode of travel, which will happen as technology continues to progress.
Also, faster healing times for players will be a factor as the traveling time will eliminate time for off-field relaxation and preparation. Finally a crucial aspect of a potential relocation to London is the purchase of a stadium by a team. Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan was reportedly in talks to buy Wembley Stadium until he withdrew on Wednesday. In the end, the popularity of the NFL overseas (as emphasized by the 90,000 fans in attendance for Sunday’s London game) will win over the NFL, it’ll just take a while. So sorry to all my readers in the UK, you might need to wait a little longer for your own team.
I know the Dolphins won’t bench Ryan Tannehill. They have too much confidence in him. He’s also been such a pivotal leader to the team. You would think there would be a little more quarterback controversy after Brock Osweiler just helped beat one of the hottest defenses in the league. However I credit the Dolphins’ comeback victory to the coaching staff more than I do to Osweiler.
Coach Adam Gase deployed a beautiful game plan that exploited the Bears’ holes and utilized the Dolphins’ strengths: speed and versatility. That explains why speedster Albert Wilson saw huge success; Gase constantly found ways to get the ball to his playmakers such as Wilson. I know Tannehill has been the scapegoat for the Dolphins’ two losses but I really do believe that Tannehill could also have won this game for Miami. Especially when you consider Tannehill‘s mobility advantage when compared to Osweiler. Barring an extended period of recovery, Tannehill is this team’s quarterback.
I know the Chiefs-Patriots matchup was the game of the year. I mean, what’s not to love? The set-up leading up to the game was intriguing enough. One of the best teams of all-time taking on one of the hottest teams in the game, two of the games best coaches, a thrilling recent history between the two teams, etc. As for the game itself, the only punt came from the Chiefs with 3:59 left in the fourth quarter.
There were big plays after big plays. Every Pats’ drive Tom Brady showed why he is the best quarterback in the NFL. Every Chiefs’ drive Pat Mahomes showed why he could one day be the best quarterback in the NFL. The entire game, namely the final quarter, was just poetry in motion. I could ramble off a bunch of stats from the offenses, but the defenses made some plays in what was considered largely an offensive showdown. Not only do I have a feeling that we will be talking about this game for a while, but I bet will see these two teams play each other again come January.
I know Melvin Gordon is a sleeper MVP candidate. In today’s NFL, the MVP award is usually (and wrongly) given to a player on one of the best teams. So if Gordon is to win this award, the Chargers need to keep winning. With the way Gordon’s playing that shouldn’t be difficult. He’s third in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. He’s also improved as a receiver. Gordon is the fourth-highest running back in receiving yards and tied as the second-highest running back in receiving touchdowns. There’s no questioning Gordon’s career year, but many people feel Philip Rivers deserves all the credit. I disagree because Rivers has always put up big numbers even while the team was losing. With the Chargers rolling (their only two losses came to the Rams and the Chiefs), it’s safe to say that Gordon’s improved performance is directly correlated to the Chargers’ improved performance as well.
I know this is an intriguing question. Who would you rather have: Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald or Le’Veon Bell and Khalil Mack? And don’t say the latter if you’re going to bring up Bell still playing on his rookie contract. That will change very soon. This is an interesting question to consider because it’s one of the best skill players paired with one of the best defensive players. Less than 100 days separate the ages of Donald and Mack while Bell has two years on Gurley, so I don’t think age has an impact. All four have had super productive careers and are in their primes. When it comes down to finding an answer, I can only think of two deciding factors.
One is positional value in regards to Donald and Mack. Both are versatile edge-rushers, though Donald specializes in interior-line play while Mack can stand up and play outside linebacker. It depends on which skill-set you value most. Personally, I don’t see that as too big of a difference to convince me of an answer. I know which dynamic duo I would choose here and it’s for the same reason I wrote this piece back in May. Who would you take? Tell me via whatever social media you saw this column on or leave a comment below.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know why the Raiders are doing what they’re doing. Even the supposed franchise quarterback Derek Carr was apparently shedding some tears. All joking aside this is a franchise that doesn’t seem to have many positives right now. They coughed up a lucrative $100 million deal to a guy who hadn’t coached a team with more than nine wins since 2005. Then you’re telling me they suddenly don’t have the money to secure arguably the best defender in the NFL in Khalil Mack? Give me a break.
Now they’re reportedly shopping their most talented player in Amari Cooper while trying to win just their second game. The offseason was strange enough in Oakland after the team went for older veterans to replace some of their younger players. The same can be said for that massive deal to lure in Gruden. I’ve never been a fan of Gruden but I do believe the team assumed Las Vegas (their future home) would be swayed by a big-name coaching hire. Anything can happen in the span of ten weeks, but if the first six games were any indication, the Raiders might have dug themselves a hole too big to climb out of.
I don’t know what happened to the Titans’ offensive line. This is an offensive line that was once considered one of the best in football. Tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin were a pair to be reckoned with. Currently the Titans are tied for fifth in most sacks allowed, eleven of which came on Sunday. And no, that is not a typo. Eleven sacks. This comes from a team that was at the bottom of the league in that category the past two seasons. What makes this even weirder is that the Titans’ starting five hasn’t changed since the 2015 season, when they led the league in most sacks allowed. Since the players protecting the quarterback have stayed the same, this means a good portion of the blame needs to go to Mike Vrabel and his new coaching staff.
I don’t know how you stop Aaron Rodgers. If you can find me someone who does, let me know. Seriously that Monday night win was pure Rodgers-esque. The crazy part was we all knew what was going to happen. Down seven with three minutes left, and then tied at 30 with a little over a minute left, it didn’t take a sorcerer to see the future. You just knew Rodgers would find a way to make it happen. The poise, the progressions, the anticipation; they all were elite on every level. As if that performance wasn’t enough, Rodgers looked a little banged up on that last drive. Can you imagine slowing down such a sensational player, let alone being content with getting rid of him?
I don’t know why the Buccaneers didn’t fire Mike Smith sooner. As of Monday morning, this was going to read, “I don’t know why the Buccaneers haven’t fired Mike Smith yet.” I’m not sure who leaked my column to Tampa Bay but Bucs’ fans should be glad they did. While the Bucs did play three of the ten best offenses this year, the defensive issues extended far before the 2018 season. During the three seasons since Smith became defensive coordinator, the team’s defense has ranked as follows: 23rd, 32nd, and 31st. Pretty putrid for a former Coach of the Year. This team has some talented defensive players and it’s a shame they let Smith tarnish that.
I don’t know why the Jets wore gray facemasks. I’ve ranted about gray facemasks before (all the way back in my fourth ever DRFN), but this incident is too ridiculous to not touch on. There’s no gray in the Jets’ uniforms so why force-feed us such a dull, ugly color? What makes this worse is the Jets have toyed with white facemasks before, which were actually pretty good-looking. Maybe this is New York trying out new color combinations in preparation for their new uniforms next season. Let me save them some time gathering feedback: the gray has got to go.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Since the NFL-AFL merger, which are the only two NFL teams to have never worn white pants?
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.
I was asked about a trade in a 10-team PPR league where the person receives Adam Thielen and Mark Ingram for Alvin Kamara and Cooper Kupp. It’s an interesting deal that ultimately centers around one of the best wide receivers and one of the best running backs, let alone two elite fantasy options. Let’s take a look at the average numbers for each guy before I spew my thoughts:
Kupp: 21 pts, 8.2 targets, 87.6 rec yards in 5 games (not including the last game where Kupp was injured)
Kamara: 27.8 pts, 12.4 carries, 10.2 targets, 130 total yards in 5 games
Thielen: 25.53 pts, 13.5 targets, 118.7 rec yards in 6 games
Ingram: 21.3 pts, 16 carries, 3 targets, 73 total yards in 1 game
The numbers are pretty even so the key here is assessing the Saints’ backfield and who’s going to get the ball more. In order to do that, we have to look at last year’s stats for Kamara and Ingram. If you only considered the last Saints’ game, where Ingram drastically outplayed Kamara, you’d get the wrong impression. This is not a winner-take-all backfield; Kamara and Ingram will each see enough valuable time to be productive.
The reason for the anomaly against the Redskins a couple weeks ago was likely because it was Ingram’s first game back and Sean Payton would rather have the fresher running back play more during a blowout. Consider it a break for Kamara and a much needed return for Ingram. What does this all mean then? Kamara can still find the success that made him the fourth-highest scoring fantasy player in 2017. However, Ingram’s age and Kamara’s dominance without Ingram might signal slight regression for Ingram. While Thielen has been a beast, this doesn’t seem like a trade I’d pull off just yet. The only way I’d favor Thielen/Ingram is if Kupp ended up missing three or more weeks, which as of this writing has not been determined yet.
Every week, I’ll feature a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, Armchair Scout Rob Paul subs in and highlights Brett Rypien.
After having one of the best quarterback classes in the 2018 NFL Draft, the 2019 class looks weak especially if Justin Herbert and Dwayne Haskins don’t declare. There aren’t many quarterbacks worth taking in the first-round and teams might be better off spending later picks on developmental passers. One of the best looking non-first-round quarterbacks is Boise State’s Brett Rypien. Rypien is a fourth-year starter for the Broncos and flying somewhat under the radar. He isn’t the biggest passer at 6-2, 202 pounds and doesn’t posses an elite arm, but his skill-set is more NFL-ready than some of the bigger names in the draft class.
A few things that stick out in Rypien’s game are his deep accuracy, his clean footwork, and his decision making. The best thing about his game might be the deep accuracy. He frequently attacks deep seam routes and deep outside routes because of his touch and ability to drop the ball in the bucket. Rypien has some of the cleanest, quickest, and most consistent footwork in the draft class. He’s rarely out of place with his feet and base, even when under pressure. This allows him to stay consistent with his accuracy on all levels. The knock on Rypien will be his poise under pressure. He has a tendency to get rattled when under fire. Hopefully Rypien will be at the Senior Bowl to showcase his abilities, but this is the quarterback to take in the third round and develop. Early Projection: Third Round
The ‘Hands’ Award: Juju Smith-Schuster
So much happened during this crazy catch. Not only did Juju caress the ball up against the defender’s helmet with one arm, but he did it while jumping over a defender. Smith-Schuster really pulled out all the tricks for this snag, which should have been ruled a touchdown.
The Unofficial Hands Award: Johnny Hekker
This was the best catch all weekend, don’t get me wrong. Unfortunately it was out of bounds. At least if Hekker’s punting career ever goes South, he could always have a shot at wide receiver. And you know the Bills would jump at that chance.
Uniform of the Week: Houston Texans
This was my first really tough decision for UOTW. The Bears’ orange tops are clean and unique, though I’m not a fan of the white pants that accompany them. The Texans’ red tops also stand out, and unlike the Bears’ uniforms, the white pants kind of work with them. I think it has to do with the larger size of the numbers on Houston’s uniforms, whereas Chicago’s jerseys feature numbers that are a little too thin for my taste. Houston gets the upset.
Mr. Bummer: Deshaun Watson
I have to give the Bills credit here. Their pass defense is underrated; the most passing yards they’ve allowed all year was 209 to Philip Rivers. Still, it came as a surprise when Watson, a fantasy machine who averaged 22.18 fantasy points a game, dropped just 5.3 points. Especially with his effectiveness on the ground, you’d expect more from the young quarterback.
The Blunder Ball: Kenyan Drake
A little too obvious, right? No one even knocked the ball out of Drake’s hands. Luckily for Drake (and I mean extremely lucky), the Dolphins pulled out the win despite Drake’s miscue. Good Morning Football really nailed it with their defense of Drake and in humanizing football players. What a great show.
WWE Move of the Week: Leonard Floyd
I’m no wrestling expert, but this throw-down by Floyd on Danny Amendola was pretty epic. I know it’s 100% illegal and I’m not supporting dirty tackles like these, but I will admit I was taken aback in a good way when I saw the play. Floyd will definitely be fined and I wouldn’t flinch at any on-field punishment either. If Floyd can’t make it in football, someone get him on the phone with Vince McMahon, and not for that XFL thing.
The Blind Referee Tribute Award: Russell Okung
There is absolutely no excuse for why this blatant false start was missed. Even worse was that the Chargers scored on the play, though it wouldn’t have made much a difference in Los Angeles’ dominant 38-14 victory.
The Legacy Award: Paul Allen/Alex Spanos
It’s impossible to appropriately recount the impact Allen and Spanos have had, not just in the NFL but in the world. Allen (the late Seahawks’ owner) helped co-found Microsoft and owned the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA, among other ventures. Spanos (the late Chargers’ owner) was also involved in numerous life-changing ventures. Both men have affected countless people throughout their lives and their legacies will be felt for generations.
Question: Since the NFL-AFL merger, which are the only two NFL teams to have never worn white pants?
The Packers and Raiders would have qualified for this question if their Color Rush uniforms didn’t include white pants. The Steelers also had an alternate uniform from 2007-2011 that had white pants, so they weren’t counted either.
ONE LAST THING
I love trades and I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s the idea of change or players in different uniforms, but I’ve just been infatuated with them for as long as I can remember. I was always that guy in Madden who would constantly be scouring rosters in hopes of finding a partner to deal with. I bring this up because it’s that time of the year where everyone overreacts and speculates about who’s going where. This week, I’m one of them. After some thought, I think these would be pretty good pairings for guys rumored to be on the trade block:
Le’Veon Bell – Packers
This one seems too good to be true, and honestly it might be. I already detailed why Bell will almost certainly be traded so I’ll focus a little more on why Green Bay should pull the trigger. Historically, the Packers haven’t been known to be a trade-happy team, though their recent front office shakeup might signal the turning of a new leaf. The Packers need offensive weapons; the Steelers want to get rid of one of the best offensive weapons in football. Oh yeah, Green Bay also has two first round picks. I can see them sending a second-round pick and a player (Aaron Jones? Randall Cobb?) to Pittsburgh in exchange for Bell. Other teams: Eagles, Jets
I completely believe that Parker is on the trade block. He’s had injury issues and his attitude has never lived up to Gase’s liking, let alone his players on the field. The Eagles have been known to take chances on young players who never reached their potential and happen to be in the market for a wide receiver. It doesn’t help that Parker has rarely seen the field but I’d bet that’s a chance Philadelphia is willing to take. As for Miami, they’ve shown they really don’t need him to be successful. As a bonus, the Eagles and Dolphins have done deals together before. Don’t underestimate the power of familiarity among NFL front offices. Other teams: Bills, Patriots
Amari Cooper – Cowboys
There’s no question that the Cowboys could use a new receiving threat. Why Cooper is supposedly available is beyond me. He’s so talented that Dallas has to be ringing Oakland’s phone daily. The Raiders clearly see that talent as they’re reportedly asking for a first round pick in return, yet it’s not enough to keep him on the team? Stupid, stupid moves going down in Oakland. Dallas would probably prefer Cooper to DeVante Parker because they would want a bigger name to haul in and they’ll likely have higher draft picks to offer the Raiders. Like the Dolphins and the Eagles, these teams have also had a history of doing trades recently. Other teams: Eagles, Bills
Haason Reddick – Redskins
Sounds like a fire sale is coming in Arizona. What a shame considering some of the talent the Cardinals have. Reddick hasn’t been living up to expectations, mainly due to a defensive scheme switch which forced him to change his position. The only reason I have the Redskins here is because they were one of the teams that were strongly linked to Reddick in the 2017 NFL Draft. I still can’t believe the Cardinals are willing to part with their first-round pick from just a year ago. That’s how ridiculous this situation is and the Redskins would be wise to pounce and add depth to their defensive rotation. The Saints were also heavily connected to Reddick so keep an eye on them too. Other teams: Saints, Steelers
Patrick Peterson – Dolphins
You’d think a team with the most interceptions in the NFL wouldn’t need to add another piece to their secondary. However this match just seems like it was made in heaven. The Dolphins haven’t been satisfied with their cornerback play opposite budding star Xavien Howard. In fact they unsuccessfully tried to trade for a cornerback in the offseason. Peterson brings with him two traits that Gase and the Dolphins covet: leadership and versatility. In addition, Peterson has yet to miss a game since entering the league in 2011. As for the Cardinals, if they for some reason are actually shopping Peterson, nothing higher than a fourth-round pick would suffice for the 28-year old defensive back. Other teams: Eagles, Chiefs
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