The Deep Route Fantasy Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL and its implications in fantasy football, along with weekly awards, draft spotlights and other random tidbits. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN or 4for4.com.
THINGS I KNOW
I know Brett Hundley will be auditioning for a starting job. Of course that audition will most likely be for another team, barring a catastrophic reason that Aaron Rodgers does not return to the Packers. Hundley has zero career starts after being taken in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and the Packers offense has underwhelmed this year despite being 4-2. However, those four wins came with Rodgers under center. With Hundley under center, the Packers only scored once when Hundley tossed an 18-yard pass to Davante Adams in the second quarter. While Hundley did throw three interceptions, he was not helped by his overrated receivers. I believe having an all-time great quarterback makes mediocre receivers look good (see: New England Patriots), and the Packers receivers certainly love having one of the greatest quarterbacks of this generation. Anyway, Hundley will really have to work to pull out a win this weekend against a red-hot New Orleans defense.
If Hundley shows he is capable of maneuvering the team in Rodgers’ absence, he would make great trade bait for a handful of teams. Buyer beware, though, because the last time a Packers’ backup quarterback hit the open market, he vastly underperformed. *cough* Matt Flynn *cough*
I know Martavis Bryant could use a change in scenery. Bryant rightfully refuted the report on his Twitter, but maybe he should follow through with the trade request. Now I am a bigger Martavis fan than anyone. I fell in love with his absurd skill set during his final collegiate year. With his 6-4, 220 pound frame, sub-4.5 40 speed and big-play ability, I still think Bryant’s talent makes him a top-10 receiver in the NFL. After scoring 14 touchdowns in 21 games, Bryant has only scored once in the past two seasons (he was suspended all of last year for substance abuse). What is the reason for Bryant’s decline? He certainly looks better, and his teammates agree.
On an offense loaded with receivers, Bryant averages 5.4 targets a game, which is third-most on the team. Even though he leads the league in targets over 20 yards, the ball still isn’t getting to him enough. Why? Ben Roethlisberger is not the same Big Ben who could throw five touchdowns a game. The new Big Ben has not completed over 60 percent of his passes since week one and has one more interception than touchdowns.
Imagine an athletic freak like Bryant on a pass-happy team with a reliable quarterback that throws plenty of Bryant’s favorite routes: screens and deep passes. A couple teams to look out for are the Detroit Lions and the Seattle Seahawks, with the Kansas City Chiefs being a wild card. All three teams have quarterbacks who can throw (Alex Smith has greatly improved his deep ball), could use a top receiver and are playoff contenders who can afford to give up a draft pick. If Bryant ends up getting traded, though I am not sure he will, I’d bet he lands on one of those teams.
I know the 49ers are better than their winless record shows. They have lost their last five games by no more than three points, two of which on an overtime field goal. Even though many people praised the hire of offensive guru Kyle Shanahan as the new head coach, few expected the 49ers to compete anytime soon. I mean, come on, the team’s best two players are Carlos Hyde and Pierre Garçon. After that the roster is filled with a bunch of scrubs, rookies and washed-up veterans. Yet, San Francisco has somehow continued to battle until the last second of each game. The team is also 13th in total yards and 14th in first downs completed.
Why are they winless, then? For starters, the defense is horrendous. They are allowing 24 points per game and giving up 375 yards, 10th and 5th worst in the league, respectively. The 49ers are five heartbreakers away from being 5-1 (they lost by 20 in week one), and though rookies Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas are rising stars, the defense has to improve in order to match the offense’s surprising power.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know if the Cowboys have a viable replacement for Ezekiel Elliot. As of now, Elliot’s backups are Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith. The latter two have not seen a carry all season, and although McFadden ran for 1,089 yards in Dallas two years ago, we can still rule him and Smith out. That leaves Morris, who has ran for over 1,000 yards three times, but the last occurrence was in 2014 on Washington. As Elliot’s backup last season, Morris only scored twice while rushing for 243 yards. This season he has seen action in three games, rushing for 87 yards on eight carries, padded by a lone 70 yard run in week four.
So how can we predict if Morris, who will almost assuredly be the starter, will be successful or not? First we have to look at Elliot’s numbers so far. Now in no way am I saying Morris is comparable to Elliot, but they do run behind the same offensive line. This year Elliot has 527 total yards and three touchdowns. In his first five games as a starter last year, Elliot had 732 yards and four scores. While this does not necessarily mean Elliot has declined, it does show that Elliot has performed below expectations. The suspension (or non-suspension) saga might be a distraction, but it also reveals something else — the Cowboys offensive line is regressing. Pro Football Focus ranks them as the 14th best line in the league, which is formidable until you consider that they were by far the best line in all of football last year. What does this mean for Alfred Morris or whatever guy the Cowboys stick in the backfield? Maybe nothing, but until I see a game or two I am not expecting any Cowboys runner not named Zeke to have a meaningful fantasy impact.
I don’t know how long Lamar Miller will hold his starting job. Miller has not been living up to the dominant standards the Texans envisioned when they signed him in 2016. Miller was tied for 12th last year with only five rushing touchdowns — 27 other players ran for more touchdowns than him. This is strange considering Miller was handed the rock 268 times last season, which was sixth-highest in the league. So far in 2017, Miller is ninth with 98 carries but has only scored once.
The Texans clearly realized he needed help and drafted running back D’Onta Foreman, a powerful and productive runner from Texas. Some analysts, including me, pegged Foreman as an eventual replacement for Miller, though I admittedly did not expect the change to happen soon. Pre-draft I noted that Foreman was a powerful, impressive runner with surprising quickness. The only issue I saw was his lack of a receiving game. Apparently Foreman has not improved in this area; he has only seen more targets than Miller in a game once this season. Still, Foreman has slowly been working his way into the game plan. In the past four weeks, Miller and Foreman have split carries 15-10, 23-13, 17-5 and 18-12, respectively. While week five was an anomaly, the Texans staff clearly trusts Foreman with enough carries that he could take over Miller’s job sooner rather than later.
I don’t know what happened with that controversial call in the Jets-Patriots game. It looked like a simple touchdown. Down 24-14 and just four yards from the end zone, Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught a pass, turned upfield and was dragged into the end zone by two defenders. The ref originally ruled it a touchdown, but the call was eventually overturned, saying Seferian-Jenkins lost control of the football (which happened) and never regained control when in bounds (which maybe happened). Therefore it was ruled a fumble out-of-bounds and the Patriots got the ball back at their 20-yard line.
At first, I was dumbfounded because it looked like he obviously broke the goal line with the ball in his hands. After looking at it a solid nine times, I can kind of see what the refs were saying, but not really. I could see the ball moving as Seferian-Jenkins rumbled towards the end zone, but I could not see, and I am sure others couldn’t as well, if ASJ actually had the ball tight in his arms when he hit the ground. It’s my opinion that it was such a strange incident that it should have remained a touchdown due to a lack of video evidence. If the Jets scored, they would have only been down by three (if the PAT was good) and could have possibly challenged the Patriots a little bit longer. Nobody knows if the Jets would have won had the touchdown stayed, but everyone knows the Jets are playing better than their normally-mediocre selves. On the flip side, the Patriots strangely have lots of improvements to make if they want to defend their title.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Evan Engram
Tight ends have a reputation for not doing well their rookie season, but Engram seems to be challenging that narrative. He leads the Giants in red zone targets and has scored twice because of it. What makes Engram an interesting player is that he is basically an oversized receive. At 6-3 and 234 pounds, Engram ran a 4.42 40-yard dash. Engram’s traits have drawn Jordan Reed comparisons in the past, and I am sure the Giants would love to force the ball to a Jordan Reed-clone. Besides, who else are they going to throw to?
PLAYER TO IGNORE: Jeremy Kerley
On Sunday Kerley scored a solid 14.2 PPR points. However, he only caught two of the three balls thrown his way. Kerley did score, but he was facing a New England secondary that is ranked dead last in the league. For whatever reason, some people were scrambling to add Kerley on the waiver wire. Sure, he was the highest-scoring receiver on the team, but he is also fifth in targets per game. Kerley is a prime example of a one-hit wonder. Barring injuries, do not waste a roster spot on him.
Every week I’ll talk a little about a college football player who I think will, or will not, make a great NFL player. This week, I’ll be highlighting Christian Wilkins.
The Clemson defensive lineman has been a human wrecking ball this season, penetrating helpless offensive lines with his perfect blend of power and speed. Wilkins is a relentless, fearless player who can play anywhere on the line. While his lack of production (2.5 sacks, 3 TFL) is concerning, it is hard for Wilkins to get a piece of the sensational pie that is the loaded Clemson defensive line. Not to mention, Wilkins has a great personality and is a leader off the field.
Early Projection: Top-10 pick
The ‘Hands’ Award: Laquon Treadwell
While it annoys me that Treadwell could not hold onto the ball with one hand, it is still a play few receivers could have made. Draped by a cornerback, Treadwell managed to not only turn his entire body but he used his long arms to reach out and drive the ball into his hands. I give him bonus points for not using his body to contain the ball, which would have been a cop-out.
Uniform of the Week: New Orleans Saints
This could easily have gone to the Cardinals and their awesome black uniforms if they didn’t ruin their look with the ultimate jersey killer: white pants. They look great on a cookie, but not on a football team. Anyway, the Saints and their timeless gold and black uniforms (a much cleaner color scheme) get the nod, especially since the gold pants complement the black jerseys and gold letters so nicely. I’ll admit though, the Saints’ best uniform set is those awesome Color Rush uniforms.
The Déjà Vu Award: Atlanta Falcons
The numbers 28 and 3 will infamously live forever etched into the brains of the Falcons. With that said, the Falcons blown 17-point lead on Sunday reminded everyone that the team only shows up for the first half. While the collapse was not nearly as monumental as the one in the Super Bowl, the Falcons will probably have a harder time sleeping knowing that they blew a 17-point lead to Jay Cutler.
The Two-Face Award: Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants
Both of these teams have looked ugly often this season, but have looked pretty good at times, too. Let’s start with Pittsburgh. Coming off a 21-point loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, many wondered if the Steelers were finished. Even Roethlisberger was uncertain how much longer he could hold up. Then the Steelers go into Kansas City and defeat the only unbeaten team in the league. Who are the real Steelers?
The same can be asked for the New York Giants, who were winless going into their game against the one-loss Denver Broncos in Denver. Surprisingly, the Giants dominated the entire game and won 23-10 with Roger Lewis and some inflatable tube men as their receivers. Again, have the Giants turned a new corner? Time will tell if the Steelers and the Giants can return to their dominant ways. Is it a coincidence that these two teams were my (unfortunate) preseason picks to meet in the Super Bowl? Awkward.
The Heavyweight Title: Le’Veon Bell
Perfect form, terrible penalty. Bell should have gotten a glittering gold belt for this fantastic celebration, not a flimsy yellow flag.
The Young Cliché Award: Antonio Brown
Every young athlete at one point in his or her life has been told multiple times to “keep your eye on the ball.” It is a relatively stupid cliché — obviously you should look at the ball — but it clearly has stuck with superstar Antonio Brown over the years judging by this insane touchdown.
ONE LAST THING
I visited Georgia over the weekend, and while I missed a lot of football, I did catch the Dolphins-Falcons game in the otherworldly Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Needless to say, it was a relatively incredible experience, but a couple interesting things caught my eye.
- First off, the stadium is massive. It can fit 75,000 screaming fans, and while Sunday had 70,593 tickets sold, the dome never looked close to full. They were probably hanging out in the various lounge areas or enjoying the cheap but tasty food. I get that enriching the stadium experience is a progressive and beneficial move for fans, but what about the team? With all the fans hanging out around the stadium, less people are sitting in their seats and watching the actual game. By the way, I counted at least four empty seats in a row in the second quarter when the team was up by 17, and it only got worse from there. That could have a huge effect on the team; every time the Falcons scored, the roar of the crowd was not as loud as I expected it to be. I’ve been to Dolphins games that sounded louder. If I were an owner, the most important thing to me would be enhancing the fans’ experience while also increasing the home field advantage. I would spend less on cool concessions and random flatscreen TVs and more on comfier, convenient seating. That way the fans are actually participating in the game and making it hard for the away team to succeed. Which brings me to my next observation…
- There is no way the Dolphins should have won that game. It was not until Reshad Jones, easily a top three safety, intercepted Matt Ryan that I realized they might actually win. The first half, the Dolphins were abysmal. Cutler posted a passer rating of 39 en route to a first half shutout. Yet, the tables turned in the second half and it was Miami’s turn to outperform Atlanta in almost every phase. Still, those two Dolphins touchdowns should not have happened. On their first scoring drive, only three plays out of the 16 went for more than six yards. A costly penalty by the Falcons on a third and long led to the Dolphins scoring their first points. The next offensive drive, Miami gained 38 yards off of two penalties, and on one of them Cutler was picked off but it was negated. I will give credit where it’s due though, the second half play-calling was amazing, and the defense, most noticeably rookie cornerback Cordrea Tankersly, really stepped up against the Falcons’ high octane offense. If the Dolphins continue to play like they did in the second half, a wild card berth, at best, could be the end result. If the first half team shows up the rest of the season, well, we better not waste that top-ten pick on another defensive lineman.