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.
THINGS I KNOW
I know you shouldn’t sleep on the Dolphins. Admittedly, it’s only been three games against average to below average teams but it doesn’t mean the internal hype around the Dolphins isn’t justified. This team truly believes they are destined for greatness. After all, head coach Adam Gase finally has the roster he wanted; a team with no divas nor selfish players but instead a team defined by speed and versatility. If you’ve followed the Patriots’ dynasty, those characteristics should sound familiar.
Eternally-underrated Ryan Tannehill is healthy again and has won ten of his last eleven games under Gase. He may never be great, but he’s solid enough to manage a victory (hence the ‘Game Manager’ label). In fact, Miami is 20-7 when Tannehill throws for under 30 passes, including during his inconsistent first two seasons. Aside from the quarterback, Gase has done a great job maximizing his players’ talents, evident from the unique and innovative game-plan from their victory on Sunday. The Albert Wilson-to-Jakeem Grant touchdown? It was beautiful, but it wouldn’t have worked without two major factors: speed and versatility. Don’t look now New England but this weekend’s game could foreshadow the AFC East champion.
I know Browns fan deserve to celebrate, for now. On the outside looking in, it’s easy to be critical of a team celebrating a win like they just won the Super Bowl, especially if it’s their first win in 635 days. However, only Browns fans truly know the pain that accompanied those winless days, and to finally have a taste of victory after so long must feel so damn good. That’s why I’m not judging Cleveland for going nuts over what other teams would view as just another regular season win. I will say, though, that fans should get all their partying out of the way now. To have a small slice of victory only for it to be yanked away again will probably lead to even more angst. Until then, how about a side of hope with that Bud Light, Cleveland?
I know Michael Thomas could be the best WR in the league. Like I said before the season it’s not unreasonable to see Thomas being “the first receiver picked in next year’s [fantasy] draft.” I’ll save that spiel for the recap article at the end of the year, though. For now let’s focus on what Thomas has done in the first three weeks of the season. The third-year wide receiver leads the league in catches, yards, catches per game and yards per game. He’s also tied for second in touchdowns and third in targets. Some might say this is just an anomaly and that it’s only been three weeks. I say that’s ridiculous. Thomas has improved each season and he’s so young that he can easily continue to get better. This isn’t a knock on the other receivers in the league, it’s just Thomas excelling past them into super-stardom.
I know the Falcons should still have reason for optimism. Two years after a Super Bowl appearance, Atlanta finds themselves with one win and five losses. Well, technically two losses, unless you count the losses of Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and Ricardo Allen to injury. To put it bluntly, things are not looking great for the Falcons. But there are some reasons for hope and I’m not talking about head coach Dan Quinn’s ability to develop young defenders into good players. I’m talking about the “emergence” of first-round pick Calvin Ridley. (There’s quotes around ’emergence’ because Ridley was a stud in college, let alone a high draft choice.) I highlighted Ridley’s advanced skill-set last season and it might be enough to rejuvenate a formerly elite offense while helping Atlanta return to the playoffs.
I know Kerryon Johnson is legit. Like I’ve said many times before, you need to look at the stats and the tape. Let’s start with the stats. The rookie saw 16 touches en route to becoming the Lions’ first 100-yard rusher in four-and-a-half years. For a solid receiver like Johnson you’d hope he’d see more than just three targets and nine receiving yards, but those were both season-lows. On the other hand, Johnson was split out wide on a play, showcasing his versatility. Now, it’s tough for Johnson to see enough action in the passing game with Theo Riddick still in town, but Johnson is just such a better player. His vision is great and he runs with a good blend of power and quickness.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know if this is the beginning of the end of the Patriots’ reign. It seems to be happening more frequently now. Every year, there’s always that moment where people start to question the Patriots’ dynasty. And every year, they’re wrong. On paper it looks like 2018 might be the year engraved on New England’s tombstone. Their offense is depleted of weapons, both due to injuries and transactions. That can be reflected in their 25th-ranked offense right now. Their defense has given up an average of 25.6 points so far, just 20th in the league. However, if I’ve learned anything in my years living under the Belichick Empire, it’s to never, ever count out the Patriots. They always seem to do their best when they’re doubted and Sunday’s game at home against the Dolphins is a crucial one for both franchises. History favors New England, but could history finally be rewritten?
I don’t know what Le’Veon Bell’s price is on the trade market. Bell’s holdout still rolls on and it creates another blip in Bell’s stellar young career. The Steelers have reportedly begun fielding trade offers for the Pro Bowl RB and I bet interested teams are taking Bell’s past suspensions and controversies into account. On top of that, the running back market has been relatively dry (though that should soon change) and I wonder just how much a team will be willing to give up for a running back. Issues and positional value aside, don’t forget that Bell still is one of, if not the best, running back in the NFL. If I had to guess, a team with cap space will win out in the Bell Sweepstakes. More specifically, I can see a team swapping a second-rounder and an average running back for Bell. To see who I think has the best chance at landing Bell, keep reading.
I don’t know why the Cardinals aren’t using David Johnson. To be clear, they are using him, just not correctly. This is a guy who, before he missed all of last year with a wrist injury, led all running backs in receiving yards in 2016. So why is he averaging a mere five targets per game? On top of that, he’s gotten nine, twelve and thirteen carries, respectively. There’s nothing to suggest that Johnson is a changed player after hurting his wrist, which he claims is back to 100 percent. Johnson is too good of an athlete to not be the focal point of an offense. He deserves more carries and he definitely deserves more targets. If a quarterback change can’t fix that then maybe a coaching change will.
I don’t know how the 49ers can survive. With Jimmy Garoppolo, the team was only 1-2. Without their star quarterback, who has been officially ruled out for the season, all the hype surrounding Sam Francisco has died down. It’s not hard to see why. Barring an acquisition of a starting quarterback (Nick Foles, anyone?), the team will be placing C.J. Beathard at the helm. The same C.J. Beathard who finished 30th in QBR and 31st in completion percentage in 2017. In Beathard’s defense (pronounced BEH-therd, not BEAT-HARD), head coach Kyle Shanahan did trade up for him last year because the quarterback reminded him of Kirk Cousins. While we won’t know until later if Beathard can live up to those expectations, it’s clear that the 49ers’ chances at a playoff birth are linked to the play of their new starting quarterback.
I don’t know how the Bills won. Not a clue. Seriously. It was the biggest upset of the season so far. A team contending for the Super Bowl lost to a team contending for the first pick. I mean, Buffalo was a 17-point underdog. And they won. In Minnesota. Kudos to the Bills’ coaching staff (who is clearly underrated) for putting together a great game-plan. As for the Vikings, I’m not sure what happened, but this team obviously has more flaws than they’d like to admit. Flaws that could keep them from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Baker Mayfield was the 1st QB since 2005 to overcome a 14-point deficit in his debut. Who was the last player to do it?
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, or questions from you, the reader.
Player to Watch: Taywan Taylor
The Titans’ sophomore receiver has seen a steady increase in playing time through the first three weeks of the season. With veteran WR Rishard Mathews now out of the picture (he was never really in it anyways), Taylor should look to capitalize on those lost targets. Taylor was already second out of the teams’ receivers in snaps played and faces a tough Philadelphia defense in Week 4. Why is this good news for Taylor? The Titans will likely be playing from behind anyways, regardless of who starts at quarterback. That means more passing which leads to more catching for the versatile speedster. Taylor might not only be a solid dart throw in DFS, but he could be worth a stash in deeper leagues too.
Every week, I’ll be scouting a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, Armchair Scout Rob Paul subs in to highlight DK Metcalf.
Most people in the country know about Ole Miss’ nWo (Nasty Wide Outs) belt and the group of pass catchers that dominate college football every Saturday. Prior to the season, AJ Brown was touted as the best of the bunch and the potential number one wide receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft. Things have changed. Brown has been playing at a high level and could very well be a first-round pick. Teammate DaMarkus Lodge has been impressive too, but Ole Miss has another receiver who is inching closer to the top wide out spot.
It seems like DK Metcalf makes highlight reel plays every weekend. There was his 58-yard finger tip grab touchdown versus Texas Tech, his opening play pluck and run for a 75-yard score against Alabama, and of course his one handed 41-yard TD versus Kent State. Metcalf has been dominating cornerbacks for weeks and is far more than just a big play threat. What separates Metcalf from the rest of the wide receivers in a deep class is the size and athleticism combination. He’s massive at 6-4, 230 pounds, but has no separation issues. Honestly, he might be the best pound-for-pound athlete in college football.
He can burn any corner on a go route and that starts with his smooth and methodical release. Metcalf knows how to beat corners off the line based on the type of coverage they’re playing. He understands attacking leverage and uses his hands well to get an edge. On top of the release, he’s a surprisingly nuanced route runner for his size. He plays with a low center of gravity, which helps him get in and out of breaks quickly. Also, his ability to stem to attack leverage at his size is rare. With all that in mind Metcalf might have the best hands in the class as well. His ability to adjust to off-placed balls helps him make huge plays every week. This is the type of guy every NFL team wants as their number one option. Early Projection: Top 15
The ‘Hands’ Award: Travis Kelce
This catch is a little overrated but it still looks pretty. Kelce was so close to actually snagging this with one hand. Alas, he only used that one hand to guide it down to his body while being mauled by Reuben Foster. Still pretty impressive.
Uniform of the Week: Tennessee Titans
I swear I’m not just picking new uniforms. The Titans’ light-blue tops were the only threads that caught my eye this weekend. The light blue is so clean and the navy blue helmet provides a perfect accent to the rest of the uniform. For once, white pants were not a distractor.
The Blunder Ball: Buffalo Bills
How about that alliteration? I know this didn’t happen during the game, but I couldn’t resist not mentioning the Bills’ social media gaffe. In a video promoting the Bills’ flight to play the Vikings (which I guess is newsworthy), the Bills’ helmet landed in Wisconsin and not Minnesota. The Vikings quickly called the Bills out on the now-deleted tweet so at least the Vikings got some victory out of Sunday’s matchup.
Mr. Bummer: Tom Brady
Not often does one gets to put ‘Bummer’ in the same context as ‘Brady,’ unless of course you’re talking about Brady Quinn. Either way, 133 yards and an interception is pretty bad for any starting quarterback especially from one headed to the Hall of Fame. At least he threw a touchdown, right?
The Loki Odinson Award of Trickery: Miami Dolphins
It’s not often I give a repeat award, let alone one that goes back-to-back weeks. This beautifully designed WR-to-WR touchdown pass takes the cake. Four players touched the ball, including Albert Wilson, who’s throw while scrambling right was an absolute dime. This offense has the makings of something fun, which is a word we haven’t used to describe a Miami offense since the Wildcat Era.
The Felony Award: Vance McDonald
The victim is 29-year old Chris Conte who was placed on Injured Reserve just days after the incident. McDonald is being charged with first-degree murder. If found, please refrain from advancing, for the perpetrator will not hesitate to shove bystanders through the ground. In all seriousness, here’s hoping Conte makes a fast recovery from what appears to be a torn posterior cruciate ligament.
The Alarm Clock Award: Josh Allen
Can you imagine if your alarm clock didn’t work in the morning? You would be, in nicer terms, screwed. That was Allen when he went airborne over Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr. It was an unexpected and awesome play, but boy, Allen would’ve been screwed if his hurdle failed.
Trivia Answer: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Question: Baker Mayfield was the 1st QB since 2005 to overcome a 14-point deficit in his debut. Who was the last player to do it?
Well, well, well. The rookie everyone’s talking about has a link with the veteran everyone’s talking about. Thirteen years later and the FitzMagic never dies. Or has it? Stay tuned for Week Four.
ONE LAST THING
I talked a little about the Le’Veon Bell situation above and it got me thinking about who would go after the two-time All-Pro running back. I listed five teams that I think could go legitimately snag Bell:
Jets – The main candidate would be the Jets even though they don’t have a 2nd round pick. I also don’t think they’d give up their first-round pick. However, a 2nd round pick and a player for Bell is just my prediction. The Jets will have over $100 million in cap space (second only to the Colts) and have been the team linked most heavily to Bell. Unless Isaiah Crowell finally breaks out, no running back on the roster is a viable starter. My bet, however, is the Steelers try and ship Bell out of the conference first.
Browns – This just feels weird. I don’t even think the teams would consider doing such a massive trade together. But they could both have something the other wants. The Browns have a boatload of picks again, including a 2nd rounder, as well as a logjam of talented but underutilized running backs. The Steelers have the do-it-all superstar back the Browns were hoping Carlos Hyde could become. If anyone is going to pull of a colossal trade, recent history favors the Browns (but history also favors bitter rivalries).
Buccaneers – I know, I know, they just spent a second-round pick on Ronald Jones II. Reports on him have been terrible, though. This team clearly needs a running back and they’ve got the cap room to spend on one. The Bucs aren’t a team to shy away from trades and they have the assets to do it. It might be a little premature but swapping Jones and a 2nd-rounder for Bell might be a solid option for both teams. However, I think other teams might have more to offer.
Colts – Like the previous teams on the list, the Colts have cash. Lots of it. In fact, they’re projected to have over $123 million of it, which will likely be the most in the league. General manger Chris Ballard hasn’t been known to be an aggressive trader, but this team needs a massive enhancement to their offense. Bell’s versatility and playmaking ability would drastically help Andrew Luck. Not to mention that the Colts own the Jets’ second-round pick as well as their own. It’s too early to say if Ballard and the Colts give up on their young running backs and plethora of draft picks.
Eagles – As we’ve seen before, general manager Howie Roseman is always willing to make a deal. Running back is arguably the weakest offensive position on the roster and the Eagles have unsuccessfully tried to implement a Running-Back-By-Committee. Having a true star on the offense (one not named Carson) would almost be unfair, considering how well they did last year without a consistent running game. I know they traded for Jay Ajayi last year, but he’s no Le’Veon Bell. Acquiring the three-time Pro Bowler from their in-state rivals would only help Philadelphia’s chances of returning to the Super Bowl.
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