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.
Well, that was quick. It seems like just yesterday I was saying how the Bears looked good in their Week One victory. The next time you read this column, 20 teams’ seasons will have ended. I’ll get to my annual recap later in the postseason but you can expect an award-focused Week 17 column next week.
All this talk of the season ending is getting me down, so let’s instead focus on a huge Week 16. I’ll talk about the AFC and NFC playoff pictures, the strangest dilemma in football, fallout from a draft prospect’s decision, Week 16 Awards and more. But first, let me tell you which young quarterback is like no other player in NFL history…
THINGS I KNOW
I know there has never been a player like Baker Mayfield. So stop making comparisons. Sure, he’s small like Drew Brees and mobile like Russell Wilson. Those two are also calm and poised off the field. Mayfield’s antics are pretty well-documented, including his latest “incident” of him staring down his former coach Hue Jackson on the opposing sideline. The truth is that Mayfield is certainly far from having a professional, prototypical character, but does it really matter?
Some people love his unpredictable actions and energetic demeanor, something no successful quarterback has ever had. Ironically, it’s Mayfield’s wild personality that perfectly fits the Browns and their 180-degree turnaround. His energy and passion has spread throughout his team and added something the Browns haven’t felt since they relocated from Baltimore: fun. When it comes down to it, Mayfield is a fun player and a fun person. Add that to his superb play on the field and I can’t tell you who Mayfield reminds me of. He’s one of a kind.
I know the Eagles suddenly have a QB problem. Albeit, it’s more of an advantage than a problem. Carson Wentz has missed ten games in the past two seasons (playoffs included) and Nick Foles has started each of those games. Only two of those games were losses (both by six points) with the second one coming in Week Two of this season. The point I’m making? The Eagles have won a lot with Foles at quarterback.
Now, I don’t think Wentz should be worrying about his job at the moment. After all, he was an MVP candidate before his ACL injury in 2017. Nonetheless, it is weird that Philadelphia has done better recently with a 30-year old quarterback who almost quit football a few years back. The backup QB position is commonly regarded as the best job in sports because you get paid handsomely to hold a clipboard while being a symbol of hope for the team; there’s usually the thought amongst fans that, “At least we have him on the bench.” To be clear, I don’t think the Eagles want to trade Foles, and I doubt Foles would have similar success elsewhere. But the options at quarterback this offseason are so uninspiring that I think a team offers a fortune for Foles that Philadelphia simply can’t refuse.
I know no one wants to play Seattle. For a team that had such low expectations heading into the 2018 campaign, a playoff berth sure sounds sweeter than ever in Seattle. The Seahawks are looking like the 2013 Seahawks who won the Super Bowl. The offense is explosive with young, playmaking receivers aiding the unbelievably talented Russell Wilson. The team has reestablished a running game that hasn’t seen the light of day since Marshawn Lynch’s departure, mostly due to a revitalized offensive line. As for the defense, they’re as feisty as ever despite losing most of the key players from their famous ‘Legion of Boom’ secondary. Only Bobby Wagner remains from that vaunted defense, though he certainly hasn’t missed a step. With that said, it sure feels like Seattle is on the brink of replicating their glory days. Coming off a thrilling home victory against the Chiefs, the Seahawks are locked and loaded for a lengthy postseason run.
I know young players should all aspire to be like Larry Fitzgerald. At 35-years old, Fitzgerald has enjoyed a long, successful NFL career. He’s second all-time in receiving yards, third in receptions and seventh in receiving touchdowns. He’s one touchdown shy of tying Antonio Gates’ mark, who is the highest-active player on the list. For what it’s worth, Fitzgerald has also made 11 Pro Bowls. Interestingly enough, his career accolades were only enough to earn him one first-team All-Pro selection (2008). It’s as if Fitzgerald has been criminally underrated throughout his career.
What might be as important, though, is that Fitzgerald has never complained. Not a single whine has ever come from ‘Larry Legend’. Whereas many of the top wide receivers in the NFL are vocal about their opinions (see: Terrell Owens, Odell Beckham, etc.), Fitzgerald has been as humble and kind as they come. One example was after Sunday’s 22-point loss to the Rams at home. Before answering questions from the press, Fitzgerald thanked longtime reporter Bob Baum, who is retiring after a 40-plus year career. What a classy act. If I was a football parent, I’d be giving my kid an education in Larry Fitzgerald 101. (Sunday was an eventful day for Fitzgerald. I couldn’t resist not pointing out this funny incident with Pam Oliver or his first career passing touchdown.)
I know Christian McCaffrey is an All-Pro. I’d say he’s a Pro Bowler too, but that “recognition” is taken with a grain of salt these days. No player has done what McCaffrey has done this season. McCaffrey had the fourth-most rushing yards and the most receiving yards among all running backs. In fact, his 103 receptions by a running back is the most of all-time, and there’s still one week to go (though he could sit out Week 17). His stats are reflected in fantasy; McCaffrey is currently the highest-scoring player in fantasy football (PPR, of course). As good a runner as he is, it’s McCaffrey’s receiving ability that makes him so lethal. I’d be so bold as to say that not only is McCaffrey a top-five running back, but he’s also a top-15 wide receiver. The MVP voters love players on winning teams, so McCaffrey has no shot at the award. However, it’s not crazy to say that he deserves a spot on an All-Pro team as a Flex, which was added last year to accommodate dual-threat superstars such as McCaffrey.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know who will win the AFC. For the third straight week, I have no clue. I have at least some confidence when I say the NFC looks like the Saints’ conference to lose. The AFC is a huge toss-up. One of these teams needs to get hot and fast. Home-field advantage will likely help that. Only the Patriots have won all their home games while the Chiefs and Titans lost one each (though Tennessee’s issues at quarterback make their playoff chances look bleak). The one outlier in the AFC is the Chargers, who are a stunning 6-1 on the road. For comparison, all of the Patriots’ five losses came on the road. Basically, the team that gets home-field should be the AFC champion with the exception of the Chargers, who’s success on the road still makes them my unofficial pick to maybe, possibly, in some way win the AFC. I’ll have more on my official postseason predictions next week.
I don’t know where Rob Gronkowski will play next year. This could be more of an if Gronk plays next year rather than a where. It’s no secret that the Patriots tried to trade their star tight end last offseason, just like it’s no secret that Gronkowski has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. He hasn’t played a full season since 2011. Those injury issues coupled with rumors of his retirement the past two offseasons suggest this could be the year Gronk hangs up his cleats. Also not helping his case to stay with the Patriots is the potential downfall of the New England Empire. Obviously, players don’t have fun losing, so you can bet Gronk is considering potential losses and injuries when mulling over his retirement, again.
I don’t know where the Raiders will play next year. Strangely enough, it looks like the Raiders don’t know either. Here’s the lowdown on a peculiar series of events. Up until they officially filed their relocation paperwork in January 2017, the Raiders tried nearly everything to either renovate their rundown, 52-year old stadium in Oakland or build a new one nearby. When the team made their Las Vegas move official, they agreed to remain in Oakland until their new home in Las Vegas opened in 2020. On December 11th, the city of Oakland sued the Raiders and the NFL over the relocation and as a response, the Raiders pulled their deal to stay in Oakland for the 2019 season.
That’s where we leave off; the Raiders have no place to play next season. The organization not only screwed their fans and the city of Oakland, but they might have screwed their players and staff as well. Who would want to sign with a team that doesn’t know where they’ll be playing next year? So far, San Antonio, San Diego, and London have all come up as potential destinations. San Antonio seems relatively random while London would be too impractical. Of course, the Raiders could move into a nearby college stadium or an NFL stadium. As of now, the two likeliest places seem to be UNLV’s football stadium just outside the city or the Chargers’ old stadium in San Diego. With all this uncertainty, there is on thing I’m certain about: the Raiders need to fix this and pick a place as soon as possible.
I don’t know if I agree with Justin Herbert’s decision. But really, I don’t have to. Herbert made the decision he thinks his best for him by electing to stay in school for his senior season. This means he’ll face another year under the microscope before likely entering a deep 2020 Draft class with other top quarterbacks such as Jake Fromm and Tua Tagovailoa. QB-needy teams surely aren’t happy with this decision as it now looks like Dwayne Haskins could be the first quarterback drafted. Unfortunately for them, Haskins might also return to school.
Herbert will be strongly criticized for this, but people really need to back off. Again, there’s no point in berating a 20-year old for making a decision he feels is best for his life. Sure Herbert could likely have been a top pick, a luxury he might not get in next year’s draft. It’s not like Herbert’s choice was out of the blue, though. Rumors have been swirling for some time that Herbert might return to Oregon and play with his younger brother. On the surface, Herbert’s love for his school and family outweighed a chance at some serious cash, which is far from a bad thing. Obviously, Herbert risks injury or a disappointing season but he could also further his development as a quarterback. While we won’t know if Herbert’s decision pays off for another year, I can tell you that this puts a major dent in an already-barren quarterback market this offseason.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Like I said earlier, Christian McCaffrey broke the NFL single-season record for most receptions by a RB with 103 and counting. Who previously held the record?
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.
Well, the fantasy football season is over. If you’re playing into Week 17, you need a new league. Through all the ups-and-downs that come with it, this year’s fantasy season was characterized by a couple things, in my opinion. First, we saw the continued revival of the running back position, headlined by young dual-threat players such as Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley and McCaffrey.
Second, tight ends did not impress this season, excluding a handful of consistent guys at the top. Some leagues have eliminated the tight end position altogether and replaced it with a WR/TE combo spot. That brings me to the kickers, who are on the edge of extinction as more and more leagues swap them out for an additional flex spot, too. All in all, the 2018 fantasy season was once again a pass-driven year and fantasy leagues adapted to that. It got me thinking about who might get selected first in next year’s drafts, and here’s what I came up with:
- Todd Gurley
- Saquon Barkley
- Christian McCaffrey
- Ezekiel Elliot
- James Conner
- DeAndre Hopkins
- Melvin Gordon
- Antonio Brown
- Davante Adams
- Joe Mixon
Every week, I’ll feature a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, I provided all the previous reports that I’ve featured here. Special shoutout to Armchair Scout Rob Paul for contributing with these all season long. Note: The deadline to declare isn’t until January 14th.
DeAndre Baker, CB: 1st-2nd (Projected Round)
Renell Wren, DL: Mid (Rounds 3-5)
DK Metcalf, WR: Day 2 (Rounds 2-3)
Justin Herbert, QB: Returning
Deionte Thompson, S: 1st
Brett Rypien, QB: 3rd
Jachai Polite, EDGE: 1st
David Montgomery, RB: Mid
Quinnen Williams, DL: Top-10 Pick
Daniel Jones, QB: Day 2
Jonah Williams, OT: Top-10 Pick
Dwayne Haskins, QB: Top-10 Pick
Byron Murphy, CB: 1st
Cody Ford, OT: 1st-2nd
TJ Hockenson, TE: Day 2
The ‘Hands’ Award: Chris Herndon
This one-handed snag by the rookie tight end is phenomenal when you see that he made this while bracing for, and narrowly avoiding, a defender. As if it wasn’t difficult enough, Herndon palmed the ball with his outstretched arm while stumbling forward.
Uniform of the Week: Miami Dolphins
It’s about time I give this award to these clean throwbacks. While I’m never a fan of unnecessary gray facemasks, the old logo looks great with a contemporary touch-up. The luminescent orange stands out among a nice teal jersey giving the uniforms an electric 60s vibe. Oh, and bonus points for the striped socks. Why can’t teams wear them more?
Weekly Warrior: C.J. Anderson
It’s not often that a player signed less than a week before a game has an enormous impact in that game. People seem to forget that Anderson rushed for over 1,000 yards last year. Clearly the Rams didn’t as he ran for 167 yards and a touchdown in the team’s victory. Not bad for a guy who was jobless ten days ago.
The Blunder Ball: Jon Gruden
Let’s be honest. I could’ve put Gruden’s name more than once here this season. Frankly, I probably could’ve put him here in 2008 too, which is ironically the year Gruden thought it was when he threw a challenge on a Broncos’ touchdown. I’m not sure what’s crazier: the fact that Gruden didn’t know all scoring plays are reviewed now or that this is the second time he’s challenged a scoring play this year. That’s just embarrassing.
Random Drug Test Award: Matt Bosher
After watching Bosher, a 31-year old punter, stunningly throw down a defender on Sunday, my first reaction was, “He’ll definitely get a random drug test.” Spoiler: That’s exactly what happened. Once Bosher’s football career ends, the WWE should look into signing him.
MLB MVP Award: Patrick Mahomes
The NFL MVP race will be close, but this baseball award is all Mahomes’ after this baseball-like touchdown throw. I was tempted to name this the “Exorcist Award” for how Mahomes contorted his arm on the throw, but someone more knowledgable about baseball than I am pointed out that it’s a common throw to make in baseball. For a guy who’s (unapologetically) watched more animated movies this year than baseball games, I’ll take it.
Dirty Dancing Award: Sean Payton
This is less a reference to the 1987 hit film than it is to the disgustingly bad dance moves Sean Payton pulled out after the Saints clinched the first seed on Sunday. I can’t tell if he’s trying too hard to ride a motorcycle or if he’s acting like a zombie just learning how to whip. Either way, that’s something I’m sure the internet will never let Payton live down.
Trivia Answer: Matt Forte
Question: Like I said earlier, Christian McCaffrey broke the NFL single-season record for most receptions by a RB with 103 and counting. Who previously held the record?
Forte broke the record in 2014 with 102 receptions as a member of the Bears. I never considered Forte a top receiving back of his time but I guess this stat will have to make me reconsider what type of player Forte was. For what it’s worth, my guess would have been LaDainian Tomlinson, who was third behind Forte with 100 receptions back in 2003.
ONE LAST THING
Here’s my projected playoff picture with one week left:
The Colts and Titans face off in a win-and-in matchup on Sunday night. The Colts are hot and the Titans are not, so that should be a Colts’ win, though the Titans have one home loss all season. The other curveball here is if the Ravens lose to the Browns and the Steelers beat the Bengals. That’s the only way Pittsburgh gets in.
A Bears’ win over the Vikings and a Rams’ loss to the 49ers gives the Bears a first-round bye and the Rams would play the Eagles. If the Vikings win, they’re in, and the Bears stay in the third spot. I can’t see the Seahawks losing to the Cardinals.
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