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.
We’ve reached the point of the season where teams have a pretty good idea about whether their season has been a success or not. For contending teams, all they can do is continue to go full throttle towards January. For non-contending teams, now’s the time to reassess their priorities and start making decisions with the future in mind. I’ll talk about a couple of those decisions as well as conclude the NFL’s most annoying saga, rant about the biggest blunder of the football season, outline what to look for during the remaining weeks, hand out Week Ten Awards, and so much more…
THINGS I KNOW
I know BellWatch is over. But does anyone really care anymore? At this point, the only people who should have been rooting for Le’Veon Bell’s return were his fantasy owners. After all, he was a top-two pick. It’s not like the Steelers really needed him because James Conner has statistically been better than Bell ever was (though a Conner-Bell combo would’ve been lethal). Bell’s absence has also positively affected the Steelers, who have the fifth-best offense in the NFL. Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t been that good since 2015 when Bell missed ten games.
Now Bell will not only miss out on the entire season, but he’ll lose $14.5 million for not playing. I get that Bell was hoping to prove that he is worth a groundbreaking new deal, but it’s basically impossible to recoup all that lost cash. It’s not like a team will say, “Oh, don’t worry. We’ll add $14.5 million to the $60 million contract you already demand!”
Conner’s ascent not only proved that Bell wasn’t as valuable as he thought he was, but it added to the idea that cheap running backs can be easily found. Maybe skipping a season allows Bell to extend his career by a year or two, but even then he likely won’t be making as much money as he could’ve made this season. Bell took a major loss this with this decision and it’s safe to wonder if any team will cough up even close to the amount that Bell wants. One thing is for sure, though: Bell’s days in a Steelers’ uniform are done.
I know it’s Lamar Jackson time. For the first time in a while, things are not looking too hot for the Ravens. They’ve lost three straight and there’s already reports that 10-year coach John Harbaugh will not return to the team next season. On top of that, starting quarterback Joe Flacco might miss some time. The latter of those issues might not be an issue considering the team spent a first-round pick on Jackson. The former-Heisman winner has seen snippets of action, but mainly as an option quarterback or a decoy receiver. It’s time to cut the shenanigans and play the guy.
I’ve never been one to advocate for throwing a rookie quarterback into the mix during his first season, especially with how poorly the other rookie quarterbacks have been playing. However, this might be the only chance that the Ravens have to salvage an underwhelming season. Baltimore is a game away from last place in the division and Jackson has that explosive, dual-threat ability that Flacco never had. The old saying goes, “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, something is clearly broken in Baltimore and the only way to fix it is with Jackson’s diverse toolshed.
I know the Browns’ defense looks good. A week after dropping 38 points on the Redskins in Washington, the Falcons were stifled by a Cleveland defense that leads the league in turnovers. Oh, how the tables have turned. Just two years ago, the Falcons had the best offense in football and the Browns had the worst defense. Nowadays, superstar Myles Garrett wreaks havoc on offenses while Rookie of the Year candidate Denzel Ward mans the secondary. Will it be good enough to propel the Browns to their first playoff appearance since the Stone Age? Probably not, though if the offense continues to play like they did on Sunday, then they could at least be in consideration. Interim Head Coach Gregg Williams (previously the team’s defensive coordinator) is clearly doing something right in Cleveland.
I know the Colts’ offensive line has been the team’s MVP. If the Colts are to have a successful rebuild, their priority has to be keeping Andrew Luck clean and healthy. The best way to do that is with a competent offensive line, something they’ve clearly developed this season. After missing all of 2017 with a strange shoulder injury, Luck has returned to the top of the charts with the ninth-best QBR in the NFL. He’s also tossed the second-most touchdowns. Despite his return to prominence, Luck’s performance is not all on him.
In his career (excluding last season and his injury-plagued 2015 season), Luck was sacked on average over 35 times a year. In 2016, he was sacked the second-most amount of times. Through this year’s first 10 weeks, Luck has been sacked the second least amount of times. In fact, Luck hasn’t been sacked since October 4th, by far the longest such streak of his career. With legit Rookie of the Year candidate Quenton Nelson paving the way, this Colts’ line has transformed the team and given new hope for the franchise’s future.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know how Mexico City screwed this up so badly. All they had to do was maintain a soccer field. As repercussions for their inability to do that, the city and maybe even the country might have lost out on a chunk of the most popular corporation in America. Forget the fact that it could’ve been a premiere game of the season featuring maybe the two best teams in the NFL. This was an incredible chance for massive revenue, both short-term and long-term. Obviously, the popularity a marquee NFL game would bring to the city would be enormous. As with all international games, I could only imagine how packed and lively the stadium would’ve been. Not to mention that NFL merchandise would likely have been flying off the shelves in Mexico City.
All that is gone, including the prospect of future games in Mexico City. Knowing the NFL, I’m sure they’ll pursue future games in Mexico City. After all, the previous two did go pretty well. Maybe this won’t be a long-term issue. It’s too soon to tell how the league will react, though history favors an increased international presence for the NFL. For now, I just feel bad for all those poor souls who won’t be able to witness what might be the Game of the Year all because someone couldn’t take care of some grass.
I don’t know why I didn’t start Danny Amendola over Adam Humphries. Amendola was playing almost 100 percent of the team’s snaps whereas Humphries was seeing roughly 70-80 percent. On top of that, the Dolphins were likely to be playing from behind most of the game, thus throwing the ball more. So what baited me into choosing Humphries?
Humphries led the team in targets over the past three weeks and was coming off of two double-digit performances, including a 28.9-point game in Week 9. The Bucs also led the league in passing attempts and I figured Humphries would see a significant chunk of that against a Redskins defense that had been very susceptible to wide receivers. As I’m writing this, I can clearly see where I went wrong. Amendola had been producing nicely, but I fell in love with Humphries’ two huge weeks. I only looked at his points and failed to look at the numbers behind those points.
Target rate and snap rate are all massively important when picking your fantasy players. It can be easy to fall for a player who’s been putting up big numbers but you need to ask yourself if his production is sustainable. A guy dropping 20 points a game off of three targets is not feasible enough to rely on every week. He might have the higher ceiling than, say, a guy consistently getting 14 points off of seven targets a game but in the end, the safer option is usually the best option. That’s how I’ve always played and this week my decision bit me in the butt, so take note from my mistake.
I don’t know why some people hate touchdown celebrations. They’re fun. They’re entertaining. They add an element of joy that the NFL had previously stripped from its players. When I watch a dude celebrate his touchdown in a creative and unique way, I can only sit back and enjoy watching it. On the flip side, I can see why some people would be irked by them, especially over-the-top ones from Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill. I can also see why coaches hate them, too. A 15-yard penalty can make a big difference, after all. For the record, Thomas and Hill’s celebrations did not affect the following possession despite the penalties.
If I were a coach, I’d probably advise players to keep the extent of the celebrations to a minimum and tell them to think about the team first. That rule might become a little more enforced in bigger games. However, to tell a player to not have fun? Give me a break. That’s essentially what the anti-celebration fans are preaching here by scolding players who celebrate their touchdowns. Let them have fun. Like anything in life, the on-field product is so much better when the players are enjoying themselves while doing it. They have the right to have fun while playing and if that entails an abstract celebration, then so be it.
I don’t know how to explain the Titans’ season. I really don’t. After dropping their first game, they won three close games in a row before turning around and losing three straight games. After their bye week, they won two big-time games, including experiencing their first game that was decided by double-digit points. There really has been no consistency with Tennessee’s results, either. Some weeks they’ll have more success running than passing and other weeks will be the opposite (with the latter being the more prevalent outcome). A month after a shutout loss to the Ravens at home, the Titans stunned almost everyone by trouncing the Patriots for their largest victory of the season.
This was a team I felt I was higher on than most at the beginning of the season, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of hiring Mike Vrabel as the head coach. The defense has some good young pieces and I’m still on the Marcus Mariota train, even if it’s slowed a little. As it stands, the Titans will only face two teams that are above .500. If they can find some consistency and continue to play like they did on Sunday, don’t be surprised if they’re playing in January again.
I don’t know how Frank Gore continues to defy Father Time. The 35-year old running back broke yet another milestone on Sunday when he surpassed 500 rushing yards on the season. That marks the 14th straight season he has done that, one for every year of his career. To further put Gore’s legendary career into perspective, Gore took the record from Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton. Just by watching Gore this season, you might legitimately mistake him to be ten years younger than he actually is. His vision is elite and he runs with power normally seen in younger backs. It might’ve been initially astonishing to see him out-snapping Kenyan Drake, a younger, more versatile option, but the way Gore’s has played justifies Adam Gase’s decision to play Gore more. At this rate, Gore is a lock for the golden jacket.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Since the Browns’ last playoff appearance in 2002, how many times have they finished last in the division?
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: Josh Reynolds
If you need some wide receiver help, I’ve outlined two young guys who I think could make big contributions for during the remainder of the season. With the loss of Cooper Kupp, someone needs to step up in the Rams’ offense. Reynolds is only an inch bigger and eight pounds lighter than Kupp and could easily take over Kupp’s target share of seven targets per game. Aside from the three starters, no other wide receiver on the Rams has even averaged two targets a game, with Reynolds beings the closest at 1.1. Aside from the numbers, Reynolds has excellent ball skills and is a confident catcher. If anyone is going to pick up the slack from Kupp, it’s Reynolds.
Player to Watch: Anthony Miller
The talented wide receiver is coming off his third-straight double-digit fantasy performance, including 23.2 points last Sunday. There’s a few solid receiving options on the team, but in my opinion, Miller’s the second-best option behind Allen Robinson. I loved Miller coming out of the draft and even wrote about him back in April, saying you should “Remember his name.” Well, I hope you haven’t forgotten about him because the way he’s been playing in the sixth-best offense in the league, Miller could be primed for a memorable end-of-season run.
Every week, I’ll feature a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, Armchair Scout Rob Paul subs in and highlights Daniel Jones.
Every bad team is looking for the franchise quarterback that can save their future. Well, most people know Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is the guy, but rumor has it he’ll be returning to Eugene for his Senior season. If that happens who will be the most prized QB prospect? Quietly, Duke quarterback Daniel Jones has been shooting up draft boards. Jones currently sits as my QB2 only behind Herbert. Despite playing with less than stellar talent at Duke, Jones has carried the Blue Devils to a 7-3 record. Oh yeah, his head coach also happens to be David Cutcliffe, aka the Manning whisperer. Cutcliffe was Peyton Manning’s OC at Tennessee and Eli Manning’s HC at Ole Miss. Both quarterbacks stayed close with him and trained with him throughout their pro careers.
Looking at the tape a couple things immediately standout with Jones. He’s a veteran at the line of scrimmage, has total power over the offense pre-snap, and consistently makes adjustments when needed. That’s rare to see with a college quarterback. Next, you’ll notice his clean and concise mechanics. His throwing motion has a consistent stroke and he always has his throwing arm and elbow at 90 degrees. Jones is a smart decision-maker who rarely forces throws into tight coverage. His ball placement/accuracy are strong on every level. Teams will also come away impressed with his mobility inside and outside the pocket. He’s not as flashy as Herbert, but Jones will be the clear QB2 in this class.
Early Projection: Late First Round
The ‘Hands’ Award: Ryeshene Bronson
There weren’t many catches that stood out this past weekend, but Bronson’s one-armed snag was pretty eye-opening. He had to slow down in time to pin the ball against the back of the defender with his left arm. Not that I take touchdowns into stronger consideration here, but kudos to Bronson for not letting the difficulty of the catch prevent him from darting to the end-zone for six.
Uniform of the Week: Los Angeles Rams
It’s just a foregone conclusion that these Rams’ throwbacks are the best uniforms in the NFL. I’ve given them this award multiple times now, so it’s safe to deem the early Uniform of the Year.
Mr. Bummer: Cody Parkey
I picked the wrong kicker in fantasy this week. Two missed extra points plus two missed field goals for a grand total of zero points. Couldn’t he at least have gotten half a point for nailing the upright…on every single kick.
The Blunder Ball: Derek Carr
If you’re down 14 on fourth-and-five with four minutes left, it would at least be smart to get a pass off. Someone tell that to Carr, who either got way too scared or forgot how football works. This play perfectly sums up the Raiders’ season, by the way.
One-Year Old Award: Tom Brady
Toddlers generally learn to walk around one years old, but oh how they stumble. If they can make it just a few steps without falling, it’s a success. Unfortunately for this 41-year old, he couldn’t hold his balance long enough.
At Last You Tried Award: This Commercial
It seems like there’s always that one local commercial that grabs national headlines for strange reasons. This year, it’s this Cleveland-based solar company ad that stands out. If you never thought you’d see Britton Colquitt star alongside a talking dog, today’s your lucky day.
Air Jordan Award: Ezekiel Elliot
I’m not sure what’s crazier about Elliot’s gravity-defying hurdle: Elliot’s vertical or the fact that he stayed in perfect stride for about ten yards after. This might be the Hurdle of the Year.
Trivia Answer: 13 times
Question: Since the Browns’ last playoff appearance in 2002, how many times have they finished last in the division?
Only twice in those 15 seasons did Cleveland not end up dead-last in the AFC North. They got second place in 2007 and third place in 2010. Only one win separates each team in the division as everything after the division-leading Steelers looks more uncertain than prior years.
ONE LAST THING
As the season crawls into the latter months of the year, I outlined some of my favorite storylines to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.
The Race for the Number One Pick: As of now, the Raiders own this distinction and would have a plethora of fantastic defensive talent to choose from, Unless of course, they find themselves needing a quarterback…
Eli Manning as the Giants’ QB: I’m still certain Manning finishes his career as a Giant, but he always seems to be the scapegoat in what has been a disappointing season for the G-Men.
Adam Gase’s Future in Miami: Gase’s tenure as Miami’s head coach has been up-and-down, but it hasn’t been too up or too down. That just makes it harder to judge his performance with the team and I wonder if Owner Stephen Ross’ patience is wearing thin.
The Sleeper Team: Every year, the Chargers give us a reason for optimism only to fall short of those expectations. However, this year the hype might be legit as the team hasn’t lost since Week 3. Oh yeah, they also get Joey Bosa back soon.
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