NFL Offseason Observations

A few observations in mid June:

• While it’s possible Brandin Cooks has a lower ceiling in New England given all the mouths to feed in the offense, I plan on owning some shares. Rob Gronkowski is injury prone and never a huge volume guy – 120 targets in 15 games two years ago – and the other targets simply aren’t that good. On a normal team, a player of Julian Edelman’s stature and long-term contributions might command his usual role no matter what, but the Patriots don’t operate that way. If Cooks (23 YO, 4.33 40, 10.0 YPT) vastly outplays Edelman (31 YO, 7.0  YPA), as he should, New England isn’t going to split things evenly just to honor the past. Cooks not only can run all of the short routes Edelman runs, but he can turn some of those catches into big plays. And he gives the Patriots their first legitimate deep threat since Randy Moss.

•  Dolphins head coach Adam Gase has been talking up virtually all his players this offseason, floating 350 carries for Jay Ajayi, “a great big year” for DeVante Parker and designing multiple plays for tight end Julius Thomas. This could be garden-variety offseason coach-speak, but there’s reason to take some of it seriously. Last summer, when Parker was hampered by a hamstring injury, Gase blamed Parker, comparing him to a young Demaryius Thomas, a massively talented but injury-prone player early in his career who went on to become a star. That Gase is now praising Parker’s offseason fitness and readiness means it’s probably earned.

As for Ajayi, he was the NFL’s best back after contact last year and had three of the league’s four 200-yard rushing games. He also had 260 carries in 15 games despite not seizing the starting job or cracking 20 carries until Week 6. And while Thomas has been injury-prone and ineffective the last two seasons, when he was with the Broncos he caught 24 TDs in 27 games – with Gase as his offensive coordinator.

With top target Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills, who signed a four-year $32 million deal in March, also in the fold, and scrubby Ryan Tannehill under center, Gase’s optimism for so many breakouts  may seem farfetched. But Gase coached Tannehill to 7.7 YPA last year (8th), ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. And Gase was the coordinator for this offense in 2013 where five players scored at least 10 TDs:

While the Dolphins are unlikely to reprise one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time, Gase’s comments are grounded both in the talent of his players and his past experience overseeing a diverse and powerful group. I plan to have shares in Ajayi, Thomas and Parker.

• Sammy Watkins is still only 24 and a dynamic playmaker when healthy. But his 2016 season was derailed by a broken foot suffered last May, and it was problematic to the point that he had to have a second surgery in January.  Even now, he’s still limited in practice and not up to full speed. While the team hopes he’s ready for the start of training camp, it’s telling they didn’t pick up his fifth-year contract option (though the Bills had a bizarre offseason during which they fired their GM and most of the staff after the draft.) Bottom line, there’s injury and failure risk all over the place even with healthy, established players (see Robinson, Allen and Hopkins, DeAndre last year), so I don’t see a reason to use a top-three round pick on a player who is additionally battling long-term injury that was so serious the team essentially gave up on his long-term future.

•  Fantasy football has so much randomness, you’re usually forced to re-vamp a good portion of your roster by the end of the year. As such, the draft is mostly about getting a few core producers who stay with you from start to finish and around whom you can build. It’s great if one of those is 2016 David Johnson or 2015 Antonio Brown, but for the most part you’re looking for 90-1,000-8 from your WR and 220-40-10 from your RB in the first few rounds. To that end, I plan to have some Amari Cooper and Doug Baldwin types in Round 2 – boring but efficient wideouts, guaranteed targets, in their primes. I’ll swing for the fences later.

• Players I probably won’t own: 

Mike Evans – volume-driven 2016, a good, but not great real-life WR.

Alshon Jeffery – new team, injury prone, competition for targets.

DeAndre Hopkins – maybe rookie DeShaun Watson is an upgrade over Brock Osweiler, but by how much?

Sammy Watkins – see above.

Tyreek Hill – Jeremy Maclin is gone, but Hill’s receiving profile (9.7 YPC, 7.1 YPT) looks more like Tavon Austin/Cordarelle Patterson than Cooks/DeSean Jackson.

Keenan Allen – he’s a short-pass specialist now and always hurt.

Ben Roethlisberger – he’s been awful on the road for three years straight, always misses games and nearly retired this offseason, given the savage beating he’s taken.

Marshawn Lynch – everyone likes the personality, so his return has a positive spin, but he’s 31 and runs with an aggressive, hit-absorbing style.

Frank Gore  – he’s 34 now, and while I’ve been wrong betting against him every year, it’s never the kind of wrong that hurts you much, i.e., his production is always modest when spread out over a full 16 games.

Doug Martin – why wait three games for a player who isn’t likely to set the world on fire even if everything goes perfectly when he returns?

Marvin Jones – Matt Stafford is now a dink and dunker, just north of Alex Smith, which leaves no room for Jones who needs big plays to thrive

LeGarrette Blount – he was a journeyman before the Patriots picked him up, and the Eagles are not the Patriots.

Matt Stafford – see Jones, Marvin

Later in the summer I’ll post a “Do Not Draft” from the early rounds. Here’s the list from the last three years: 2016, 2015 and 2014

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind.

 

 

The Drops – Week 11

Every so often on-air or in a column, we preach it’s not just who you pick up, it’s who you decide to cut becomes a critical decision. Often the decision is easy – you have an injured player and no DL slots, or a player is sent to the minors, etc… But in tighter leagues, especially the NFBC where there are no DL slots, who you cut becomes important as well. So if we’re going to list pickups in our various leagues, why not list the drops as well?

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Week 11 FAAB Results

After a few quiet weeks, we had a decent inventory of players to bid on this week.

The highlights included Mallex Smith, who replaces the injured Kevin Kiermaier in Tampa Bay and perhaps could be the biggest source of stolen bases in our free agent pools all season, Felipe Rivero as the Pirates’ closer, and Pat Neshek who appears to be closing on those scarce occasions when the Phillies have a save opportunity.

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Penguins Repeat as Stanley Cup Winners

Just a few things that caught my eye:

  • Sidney Crosby’s legacy continues. He put the Pens on his back in Game 5 and his performance in big-money games is unsurpassed. And now he’s just the third NHLer to win the Conn Smythe in consecutive years. The last? Yup, team owner Mario Lemieux.
  • 19. The number of years the Preds have been in the league just happens to be the number of years since the last back-to-back Cup winner (Detroit in 1997 and 1998). Ironic coincidence.

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