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 this is the ‘Year of the Offense’. It wasn’t hard to predict this season’s sudden increase of offensive production. The new tackling rule gives offenses more chances to produce because of the more frequent penalty calls. The average points scored by each team in a game has gone up from 21.7 last year to 23.6 this year. In addition, the average plays run and yards by a team per game have increased. Through the first two weeks of last season, only eight teams reached 30 or more points in a game. This season, that number has been 15. So, what we can expect for the rest of the 2018 NFL season?
More high-scoring games, larger statistics, broken records. Maybe some more FitzMagic from Ryan Fitzpatrick. We’ll definitely see some high-scoring fantasy matchups, as I unfortunately witnessed this week. It also means you’ll strike out more with selecting your defenses. The real effect of the new rule, though, is increased entertainment. While some people might enjoy defensively competitive games, the truth is that more people are glued to the games when there is more scoring. Despite all the mania surrounding the NFL today, I actually would bet that the NFL’s ratings go up this season. The general public would rather watch a team score every drive than just a few. That’s the true change you’ll see this season. In the NFL’s attempt to make the game safer, they actually made it more action-packed.
I know Patrick Mahomes is the real deal. There was so much hype surrounding Mahomes heading into the 2017 NFL Draft and it only increased when the Chiefs traded up to pair him with quarterback guru Andy Reid. After a year of playing left bench, Mahomes has been on an absolute tear. He’s the first player to start a season with ten touchdowns and no interceptions. Keep in mind that he’s only started one game prior to this season.
Of course, credit must be given to Reid and the rest of Chiefs’ talented offense. On the other hand, without a quarterback who can launch the ball, guys like Tyreek Hill might not be maximizing their production. Aside from his big arm, Mahomes has also shown great footwork in the pocket. He can hit receivers on the run and is not afraid to run it himself. While it’s still been only two games (don’t forget that Trevor Siemian was an MVP candidate at this time last year), Mahomes has shown enough talent to be considered legitimate.
I know the state of Florida has surpassed early expectations. The Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Jaguars are three of the seven teams to win both games so far. You know, just like everyone predicted. To further prove my point, take a look at the Armchair staff predictions from a couple weeks ago. The Bucs and Dolphins were the runner-ups for Worst Team and the Jags were voted as the Bust Team. Clearly, there was little to no confidence for either of these three teams to have successful years. While it is only Week 3, every team should jump at the chance for some early season optimism.
I know Frank Gore deserves a massive congratulations. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Frank Gore is still playing. More importantly, he just passed the great Curtis Martin to become fourth all-time in rushing yards. I feel like people haven’t been giving Gore enough credit lately. He may be nowhere near the player he was in San Fransisco but he’s obviously still been a factor. He’s currently eleventh in rushing yards per attempt and provides a nice one-two punch with up-and-comer Kenyan Drake. Not to mention that Gore’s veteran presence is a huge plus for Miami. It is only right that Gore hears his name uttered in the same breath as guys like as Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, and Martin. Something tells me he’ll eventually don the gold jacket.
I know the Odell Beckham comparisons need to stop. It seems like every time a player makes a one-handed catch, no matter how good it is, people’s first reactions are something like, “Wow! Just like OBJ!” This includes Tony Romo, whose first line after Cole’s catch (following some stammering, of course) was “That’s Odell Beckham right there!” No, that’s Keelan Cole. It’s not like every time a basketball player posterizes an opponent we call him Vince Carter. Why can’t athletes be their own person? Why do they have to be compared to other athletes? I might just be salty of how often the OBJ comparisons are used, but can’t people, namely commentators, be more creative than just making a comparison? Shout out to Jim Nantz, whose call that Cole “velcroed” the ball offset Romo’s overused line.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know why anyone would pay for Josh Gordon. Sure, he’s got talent. But is it really worth giving up a draft pick for him? Since his superb 2013 season, Gordon has played just eleven games due to suspensions. Every time he comes back, it seems like the Browns or Gordon would claim Gordon was a changed man and he was fine. Most people seemed to believe it this time. I’ll give the Patriots a little credit, though. If any team can maximize a talented but troubled player, it’s likely New England. Gordon has already drawn Randy Moss comparisons.
As for the trade itself, a fifth-round pick might not have the talent that Gordon has, but a guy with Gordon’s baggage is rarely drafted anyway. It still remains to be seen whether Gordon can actually overcome his issues. Personally, I’d want a player who actually, you know, plays. Think of Gordon as a broken slot machine. It’s been a while since you’ve won any money, despite your continuous attempts to make bank. You keep losing more and more money as you keep playing to no avail. Here’s the catch: the slot machine only dishes out big winnings, and I mean BIG. Is it worth it to keep losing money over what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? I guess this is just the conservative non-gambler in me because I’d rather not give up a anything for something I may never use.
I don’t know what is going on in New Orleans. I mean, they were my Super Bowl pick. Albeit, they almost came back against the Bucs in the season opener and did defeat the Browns, but these are the Bucs and the Browns we’re talking about. The consensus were a pair New Orleans beatdowns. This is a team that was a bad defensive read away from the conference championship just a few short months ago. They haven’t lost any key pieces, though Mark Ingram is still suspended another two games.
Maybe the Bucs and Browns are much better than we give them credit for because I honestly am dumbfounded at the Saints’ performance through two games. They’re 30th in total defense despite being 10th last season. The offense has only slightly dropped off as they’ve dropped from 4th best offense to the 6th best. Why the defense has been suddenly played so poorly, I do not know. I do know that if they want to play deep into January again, New Orleans will have to make some serious improvements.
I don’t know what is happening in Pittsburgh, either. Forget the Steelers, I’m the one who can’t catch a break with my Super Bowl predictions (here’s a quick refresher). Seriously though, this is a team that could win the Lombardi Trophy if they stop shooting themselves in the foot. By that, I’m talking about the big egos over in the Steel City. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are two of the best players in the entire league, yet they’re both unhappy right now.
Bell’s situation is pretty clear: He wants to get paid. However, that holdout is still lingering and has not only irked fans, but even his own teammates have spoken out against Bell. Brown’s scenario is a little murkier. The trade-winds started swirling after Brown’s startling response to a former team employee. Next, Brown missed practice on Monday. While his agent shot down any rumors that Brown’s absence was linked to the team, I’m still not buying it. Brown eventually recanted his “trade” tweet and said it was out of pure emotion. But the fact that Mike Tomlin can’t keep these superstars in check, coupled with no wins yet, spells looming trouble in Pittsburgh. Either Tomlin and crew right the ship or this could be the beginning of the end for one of the greatest sports dynasties in America.
I don’t know if the Bengals offense can stay this good. This isn’t me knocking the offensive talent Cincinnati has, it’s me wondering if they can stay healthy. Kudos to the Bengals for starting off 2-0 (which could really mean nothing in a month or two), but looking at their offensive starters, I see a handful of players with extensive injury histories. Running back Joe Mixon is currently sidelined and backup Gio Bernard isn’t the biggest, most durable guy to replace him.
Despite playing in every game in 2017, stud receiver A.J. Green seems to leave a few games early with an injury every year. Not to mention that Green will go for three scores one week and just three catches the next. Sophomore speedster John Ross certainly brings some electricity but played in just three games last year due to injuries. Don’t get me started on that offensive line, which has been decimated by injuries and poor play for a few years now. Don’t get me wrong either. The Bengals definitely have the pieces to (finally) make a postseason run. It’s just a matter of who can stay healthy.
I don’t know how I lost my fantasy matchup. I’m only in two leagues, that way I can maximize any free time I have on my two teams. Luckily, this loss happened in what I consider my “backup league,” but it still hurts. I dropped 154.3 points (PPR, of course), which was was almost 20 points higher than the next highest-scoring team. Unfortunately for me, my opponent dropped a whopping 195.9 points. He had four players reach at least 29 points. I’m not even sure what the lesson is here; I just needed to rant. I guess I need to start reconsidering the type of fantasy formats I play in.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
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.
I was asked about a trade where Breida would be shipped for Fuller in a PPR league. Breida is currently the most productive running back on the 49ers, even though Alfred Morris sees more carries. Breida’s value comes in receptions as he’s tied for the most out of all running backs on the team. Kyle Juszczyk is not fantasy relevant enough to be considered here.
Fuller has been a scoring machine for the Texans, at least when he’s healthy. He has yet to play a full season and has dealt with numerous injuries in his three-year career. Fuller’s lightning speed makes him a top deep-threat though. It also seems like Fuller’s usage is shifting from solely vertical passes. At the end of the day, Fuller might be an electric player but there’s too much risk involved. Also, if a running back and wide receiver have equal value, I’d take the running back because he sees the ball more. Verdict: Matt Breida
Every week, I’ll be scouting a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, Armchair Scout Rob Paul stepped in and highlighted Renell Wren.
There’s been a bunch of talk about the top end talent in the interior defensive line class, and rightfully so. Guys like Ed Oliver, Jeffery Simmons, and Raekwon Davis are big time talents and likely to be high draft picks. But this class isn’t just top heavy, it has depth. One of the more recent risers in the class is Arizona State nose tackle Renell Wren.
Wren has been a one man wrecking crew for the Sun Devils defense this year, anchoring their 3-3-5 base. He had spent the previous two seasons as a rotational player for ASU who had shown plenty of flash. But now, Wren is no longer a secret with his dominance in 2018. The stats don’t blow you away, 49 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, and two sacks in 21 games, but the tape speaks for itself.
The minute I was in on Wren was during my summer scouting process. I threw on his tape versus Washington, not knowing much and basically just watching it because it was there. Then, BAM, his first play he bull rushes Washington’s Jesse Sosebee, throws him to the ground and strip sacks Jake Browning. The flashes in 2017 with Wren are impressive, but consistency and more playing time was needed.
So far in 2018 he’s taking that step forward. Against Michigan State on multiple occasions he threw their linemen into the backfield. He’s just a game plan wrecker. Wren has length (6-6, 297 pounds) that he utilizes well but his height doesn’t effect his leverage. He consistently plays low and that’s what makes his bull rush so powerful. On top of that he has a top notch motor, good quickness, and nice get off. If he improves his hand work, his stock will continue to rise.
Early Projection: Third Round
The ‘Hands’ Award: Keelan Cole
Now THAT is how you catch a football. The ball floats right into his outstretched hand as he twists midair to snag the pass off his inside shoulder. No help controlling it with his arm. He never loses the grip. Catch of the year candidate, period.
Uniform of the Week: Jacksonville Jaguars
Might I say that the uniforms this week were very underwhelming. Which is why I reluctantly choose a new uniform that I’ve ripped to shreds before. I’ll admit, I’m still not fond of the plain new threads down in Duval. Nonetheless, the cool shade of teal is complemented nicely by the black-with-gold helmet and sleek white font of the numbers. I still despise the boring, pants, but it was a slow Sunday in UniformLand.
Mr. Bummer: Zane Gonzalez
Do I need to explain this one? Gonzalez missed a pair of field goals and a pair of extra points. That’s eight points the Browns could have had, but instead they lost again. It’s the second week in a row that Gonzalez cost Cleveland it’s first win in their insane 635-day losing streak, which was broken last night. Zane, as a kicker, you have one job. One job. Correction, had one job.
The Footloose Award: Saquon Barkley
The Rookie of the Year just keeps impressing me. This nifty spin move looks like it jumped straight out of the 1984 dance classic. I wonder if Kevin Bacon taught him that footwork.
The Loki Odinson Award of Trickery: Titans’ Fake Punt
Another article, another Marvel reference. Sorry, not sorry. Anyway, great job here by the Titans on executing a beautiful fake punt. Someone should send Kevin Byard’s contact information to Buffalo, I heard they can use a quarterback.
The Blind Referee’s Tribute Award: Clay Matthews’ Roughing the Passer
It’s cool that this award was dedicated to the ref who called this penalty. It explains why there was a roughing the passer penalty on this textbook hit and finish by Clay Matthews. Good thing the call was made too, or else we would have missed out on another tie! Can you imagine? (Shout out to NFL France for providing the video link. Je vous remercie.)
Trivia Answer: Their first career NFL catches were touchdowns
I’m not sure if it happened by coincidence or by design, but it’s kind of incredible that arguably the four best receivers to play for the Steelers in recent years all scored on their first catch. I just thought this was something cool to share.
ONE LAST THING
As long as I’ve been writing ‘Deep Route,’ I’ve done many things with this section. Sometimes I’ll use it to add more thoughts. Other times I’ll include something fun. Occasionally, though, I’ll use it as a space to just update you about what’s in store next. I can tell you right now that ‘Deep Route’ will continue on throughout the NFL season with more analysis and nuggets of info than ever before.
However, I’ve been very busy the past couple weeks adjusting to my first fall semester of college. Honestly, things are only going to heat up in the upcoming weeks for me. I don’t know if that means the quality or length of my work will decrease, but I do know that I will still be 110% dedicated towards making this article the best it can possibly be. As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week for Week Three of the NFL season.
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