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.
THINGS I KNOW
I know Jordan Howard is back. The second-year back out of Indiana rushed for 138 yards on 23 carries while scoring twice, including the game-winner in overtime last Sunday. There were premature concerns that Howard, who finished second in rushing last season, was becoming a bust. First of all, Howard played the majority of the first two games with a shoulder injury. Second, why would the Bears risk their only legitimate player in a game down 26 to the Buccaneers at halftime? As fantasy owners can clearly see now, his nine rushes for seven yards were simply a factor of a poor team performance and an injury, because he certainly does not suck. Howard is such a powerful runner, but he also has great vision and surprisingly shifty feet. Barring any other injuries, Jordan Howard is ready to build open his stellar rookie campaign behind a revamped Chicago offensive line, one that Pro Football Focus ranked as the fifth best going into the season.
I know Jim Caldwell deserved that secret multi-year extension, but do not overlook Jim Bob Cooter. Cooter became the Lions’ quarterback coach when Caldwell left Indianapolis to become Detroit’s next head coach in 2014. In Caldwell’s first season, the Lions actually won a solid 11 games and made it to the playoffs. However, something just was not working the following season as the Lions fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, yes he is related to Vince, and promoted Cooter. Prior to Cooter’s promotion, the Lions were 1-6 and only scored over 20 points twice. Under Cooter’s more vertical offense, the rest of the season the team went 6-3 and scored over 20 points in five out of nine games. The following season, the Lions improved and went 8-8 en route to a playoff appearance. Also, out of 17 games, including their lone playoff game, the Lions surpassed 20 points scoring eleven times. While Caldwell could have as much to do with Detroit’s recent success as Cooter, the numbers favor the latter. Keep an eye on Jim Bob Cooter as a potential head coach candidate. Come on, who doesn’t want a guy with a name like that?
I know Larry Fitzgerald is a future Hall of Famer. Just look at all of his career achievements. The most notable one is his grasp on the eighth spot of all-time receiving touchdowns. He only needs six more to tie Tony Gonzalez’s mark. Fitz doesn’t just rack up touchdowns, though. From 2004 (his rookie year) to 2016, he averaged 1,107 receiving yards a season. No wide receiver has been this consistently good since Marvin Harrison, who retired in 2008 and averaged 1,121 receiving yards a season. Harrison earned his gold jacket in 2016. It is only a matter of time before Fitz receives his, especially after proving age is but a number by getting 149 yards and scoring once on 13 receptions this past Monday.
I know someone else agrees with me about Tony Romo’s commentating. In case you missed the second installation of the DRFN, I am not a fan of the former quarterback’s commentating. Apparently, longtime broadcasting legend Brent Musburger is not a Romo fan, either. Take a listen.
I know Von Miller got screwed. The former Super Bowl MVP was given an unsportsmanlike penalty for the stupidest reason when he faked a helping hand to quarterback Tyrod Taylor, whom Miller just knocked down. You can see the full interaction with Taylor here, and notice how they both smile afterwards. This was not a malicious, inappropriate act. This is a friendly jab, something the official should not have flagged.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know who the real Jaguars are. Like Eminem once said, “Will the real Jacksonville please stand up?” The Jags are 2-1 only three games into the season, and the team has looked drastically different in their first and third game then in their second game. The Jags outscored their opponents a whopping 73-10 in weeks one and three, but got smoked by the Titans 36-17 in week two. At first glance, it is a possibility that the Jags only excel on the road (Their 44-7 ‘home’ victory was actually in London), but there really is not sufficient enough evidence supporting that. Also, any comparisons to last year’s squad is inaccurate because the team received another big makeover this offseason. They reeled in big-name free agents like Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye and used the fourth overall pick on stud running back Leonard Fournette. The most critical addition, however, came in the front office when former head coach Tom Coughlin rejoined the team as the executive vice president of football operations. He wasted no time tightening the ship in Jacksonville, including fixing quarterback Blake Bortles and the shipwreck that has been Bortles’ career. Bortles has looked really good in the team’s two wins, throwing for five touchdowns all without star receiver Allen Robinson. Of course, Bortles’ two interceptions this season came in the Jags’ week two defeat. Time will tell if the Jaguars are contending or just pretending again, but if they keep up their winning ways this team could make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
I don’t know why Isaiah Crowell has been underperforming. I was very high on Crowell for this season. After all, he is paying behind an offensive line that PFF ranked as the second best going int the season. However, he is only averaging 2.9 yards per carry. Of course, he has gotten 17, 10, and 12 carries respectively through the first three games, though he still leads the team in touches by 26. It could be because the Browns tend to fall behind a lot, so they resort to passing the ball instead. The issue could be his inferior receiving skills to Duke Johnson. Johnson not only has seen 12 more targets than Crowell, but Johnson actually leads the entire team in targets, which again helps when the Browns are losing. I still don’t think it is fair to say Crowell sucks, three games is not a great indicator for season-long success, but Crowell is certainly someone to keep an eye on as a potential buy low candidate.
I don’t know why the Colts are not sitting Andrew Luck the entire year. There is no chance the Colts will contend for the playoffs, heck they won’t even contend for a division title. The team barely pulled off a win against Cleveland on Sunday. Cleveland. Also, it is no secret that the Colts have a terrible roster. T.Y. Hilton is the best receiver on the team but he is always hurt and is boom or bust each week. Jack Doyle is a rising tight end but to this point is relatively unproven. Guard Jack Mewhort is also a promising young talent but is due for a contract extension soon and has had his fair share of injuries. Defensively, Vontae Davis is the only proven player but he will be 30 in May and only recorded one interception last season. My point is the Colts have virtually no shot of contending and need all the skill they can get. What better way to acquire a young, healthy, and talented player than at the top of the NFL Draft? By sitting out Luck, the team protects him and guarantees a top draft pick. The team’s future is Andrew Luck, as it supposedly has been since they drafted him in 2012, but it is time they finally act like he is a priority. If not, the Colts would have wasted one of the most talented players of this generation.
I don’t know why Ben Roethlisberger plays so terribly on the road. Take this stat for example: Last season, Big Ben tossed 24 touchdowns in the comfort of Heinz Field, but only threw nine on the road. That is a terrible drop-off, especially when you consider he only threw seven picks at home to the eight picks on the road. In 2015, his touchdown-interception ratio was 19-7 at home. On the road? 7-14. In 2014, it was 24-5 at home and 9-5 away. This trend has followed Roethlisberger since he entered the league in 2004, and it is extremely concerning. The Steelers play at their division rivals the Ravens this Sunday, and the Ravens have historically played pretty well against the Steelers in Baltimore. In the past six seasons, the Ravens defense only scored non-double digit fantasy points once (1 point in 2013) so it is likely Big Ben’s road woes continue. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a Super Bowl roster, but how far can they go when their quarterback never shows up to away games?
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 Mason Rudolph.
Another DRFN, another quarterback to look at. In case you haven’t heard, it is a loaded class this year. What makes Mason Rudolph stand out is his size but also his powerful arm and underrated mobility. Rudolph shows great poise in the pocket and can throw with great accuracy. The only knock on him right now is he operates in a spread offense, which can translate to a lot of points. Either way, Rudolph has all the tools to be a very good quarterback in a league desperate for quarterbacks. Early Projection: Top-10 pick
The ‘Hands’ Award: Jordan Leslie
This could easily have gone to Odell Beckham, but we’ll give it to someone who impersonated him last Sunday: Jordan Leslie. Despite re-joining the team on Tuesday after being a preseason roster cut, Leslie wasted no time making an impact with this glorious one-handed catch in coverage. OBJ would be proud.
The Ankles Award: Jerome Washington
Who? The guy who ‘caught’ the ball with his ankles. Yeah, that guy. Great concentration, even better luck. There was no way this awesomely rare play would not be acknowledged.
The About Time Award: Aaron Rodgers
The Leon Lett Award: Marcus Cooper
C’mon man. Do not stop running until you cross the goal line, it is common sense. Just ask Leon Lett. For those of you who for some reason don’t know who Leon Lett is, watch this video. Like Lett, Cooper’s team still won the game, but also like Lett, Cooper will probably never forget the play.
The Justin Bieber Award: Jake Elliott
After kicking a 61-yard game-winning field goal, I could have given numerous awards to Eagles’ kicker Jake Elliott. So why give him one named after a former-nobody-turned-household-name? Because that is who Jake Elliott is. Elliott was drafted in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Bengals but was cut. After Eagles’ kicker Caleb Sturgis got hurt, the team took a flyer on Elliott. Twelve days later, every football fan across America knew Elliott’s name, including his teammates. Congrats Jake, you deserve this prestigious award. Just don’t go peeing in a mop bucket, okay?
ONE LAST THING
A lot has happened recently that could change the future of football, and I had to give my quick thoughts on them.
- The hot topic in sports, and really the nation, is obviously the anthem controversy. I will not, nor will I ever, write about or try and convince someone that my political values are better than someone else’s. It is pointless and leads to lots of hate, and frankly I do not care whether you agree with me nor do I care what you think. However, this topic has divided the country even further, mainly in the sports world and those who follow it, so I feel it is too critical right now to not talk about. Like I said, I will not tell you about my political views, but I will always talk about football, even if the line between sports and politics is more blurred than ever. What do these anthem protests mean for the future of sports? Will anthems still be played in the future? Will all players take a knee, or will they all stand? Will NFL attendance and viewership decrease or continue to increase? The future of politics and sports together seems to be a cloudy one, but there is another cloud hanging over the NFL that is arguably bigger and scarier.
- When the report came out saying former tight end Aaron Hernandez had the most severe form of CTE ever studied in a person that young, the first instinct for many was to blame football. Before we jump to conclusions, we need to know the facts. Yes, Hernandez played 40 games in the NFL, but he also played more games at the University of Florida and at the youth level. Basically, that means Hernandez could have been affected as much in college and while growing up as he was in the NFL. However, there are still so many questions surrounding CTE. Who says Hernandez got CTE from football? While the answer looks like football is to blame for Hernandez’s tragic situation, we still can not prove it. Obviously, the debate over whether football is safe or not helps the latter argument, but in the end there is no scientific evidence that playing football can make you a murderer. Then again, there is no proof against it. There are a lot of uncertainties surrounding the NFL right now, and frankly no one, including myself, can tell you how different the NFL will look in a few years. -Zach Cohen