Articles by Mario Puig

Mario sets the direction of RotoWire's college football and NFL draft content, with his other responsibilities primarily resting in those same subjects. He's a fan of Arvydas Sabonis and Travis Frederick.

Decoding the Dolphins Backfield

For all the fuss made when the Dolphins opened training camp with Kalen Ballage as the first-team running back over Kenyan Drake, it seemingly turned out to be nothing when Drake played ahead of Ballage with the starters in Miami’s preseason opener. Finally, clarity!

That clarity lasted only a moment, as Drake was seen Tuesday wearing a walking boot, with a minor foot injury identified as the culprit. With that, we’re set back to square one, or potentially even further back than that, depending on how quickly Drake recovers. The Dolphins say they expect him to be ready for Week 1, so perhaps things will proceed as previously planned.

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Projecting Duke Johnson in Houston

The Duke Johnson trade carries a number of ramifications for other skill position players on both the Browns and Texans, but this post will try to zero in on Johnson’s own range of outcomes on his new team. That necessarily entails projecting Lamar Miller as well, so you’ll also have that to look forward to.

I should disclose at the start that I am a longtime fan of Johnson going back to his days at Miami, and I earnestly think he’s one of the best running backs in the league. I’m such a true believer that I rank Johnson’s talent above that of brief former teammate Kareem Hunt, and more or less believe he can do most things Alvin Kamara can. My interpretation of Johnson’s 2019 upside is probably more enthusiastic than just about anyone’s, so account for that bias however you will.

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8/2 Training Camp Thoughts

-The Cardinals released an early depth chart Friday, and among it were some surprises. Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk were among the starters as expected, but the third starting wideout was Kevin White. The second team consisted of rookies Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson, along with Trent Sherfield. Fourth-round pick Hakeem Butler, Damiere Byrd, and Pharoh Cooper are listed as the third team.

It’s too early to take any conclusive meaning from this, but it generally appears as if White needs to be taken more seriously. Perhaps Kliff Kingsbury is just showing him favoritism out of respect for White’s 13 catches against Kingsbury’s Texas Tech team in 2014, or perhaps White is the healthiest he’s been to this point in his otherwise cursed pro career. It also might be reasonable to consider Butler a long shot for a rookie year impact. It’s otherwise worth noting that Isabella is dealing with a minor knee injury at the moment.

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Training Camp Notes (Friday, 7/26)

-Kalen Ballage ran with the first team on the first snap in both of Miami’s two practices, implying that there’s a real chance that Kenyan Drake plays off the bench this year. That makes Drake a questionable pick at his prior 4th/5th-round ADP, and Ballage an easy sale in any double-digit round until further notice. Barring profound improvement as a runner out of the backfield, though, it’s difficult to see how Ballage would match the threat posed by Drake – Ballage averaged 4.3 yards per carry or less in three of his four seasons at Arizona State – so it’s easy to imagine this arrangement dissolving if Ballage struggles as a runner. But Ballage poses an interesting pass-catching threat in H-back functions, so he could pay off at his current price even if Drake overtakes him as the lead runner.

-Marquez Valdes-Scantling continues to run ahead of Equanimeous St. Brown and Jake Kumerow as the second-leading outside receiver opposite Davante Adams, with Geronimo Allison still the lead slot presence. Aaron Rodgers even ceased praising Kumerow long enough to point out Valdes-Scantling as one of the offense’s standout performers to this point, making the second-year wideout appear a candidate to push for 800 or so snaps in the Matt LaFleuer offense. He’s gone as high as the eighth round lately in best ball drafts, and the continued positive coverage figures to solidify his place there.

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HOU vs MIA Game Spotlight


Houston vs. Miami

Open: 45.5 O/U, HOU -7

Live: 44.5 O/U, HOU -7.5

The 4-3 Dolphins are 1-2 on the road, where the 4-3 Texans are 2-1, yet 0-3 against the spread. The opening line on this game expected an emphatic victory for Houston, and the money to come in since has amplified that assumption.

Perhaps that money is banking on regression from Brock Osweiler, who starts his third straight in place of Ryan Tannehill (shoulder). Osweiler will always be a punchline in the NFL, but he’s been surprisingly functional in his two starts, completing 50-of-85 passes for 619 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. I think we’re all expecting Osweiler to crash back down to earth, regardless of how you explain his strong 2018 numbers to this point. Both games were in Miami and with heat indexes over 90 degrees, so maybe the conditioning of the Bears and Lions defenses suffered with the climate adjustment. Or perhaps it’s just small enough of a sample to remain solid noise all the way through. You could also just chalk it up to the bet that the Houston defense is regaining its pre-2017 form. I would guess the presumed Osweiler decline is not based on the absence of Kenny Stills (groin), who saw only five targets on Osweiler’s 85 passes.

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Thursday Night Spotlight

I ran a bit longer than usual with the Thursday game in this week’s Spotlight article, so I figured I’d post it early in the blog section to keep things moving.

Arizona vs. Denver

Open: 39.5 O/U, ARZ -1.5

Live: 42.5 O/U, DEN -1.5

If the game features any flickers of extended competence, it should primarily be in the running game, for either and maybe even both teams. That’s not necessarily because either team will run well on their own account, but rather because these teams rank first (Arizona) and second (Denver) for most running back fantasy production allowed. Hooray!

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BAL vs. MIA Matchup Edge

Baltimore vs. Miami

Open: 37.5 O/U, BAL -3
Press time: 37.5 O/U, BAL -3

Woohoo. It’s Thursday, so you know what that means. It’s time to square off a career backup quarterback and one playing worse than a backup in one of the league’s lowest-scoring venues. At least we should have some turnovers.

Be it because of his back or whatever else, Joe Flacco is playing at a historically low level. With five touchdowns and eight interceptions on 224 pass attempts, Flacco owns a touchdown percentage of 2.2 and an interception percentage of 3.6. He’s averaging just 5.3 yards per pass. Going back to 1950, there are only seven instances of a quarterback throwing more than 220 passes with a YPA of 5.3 or less, a touchdown percentage of 2.2 or less, and an interception percentage of 3.6 or more. Four of those cases were in the 1960s or 1970s, when defensive pass interference basically wasn’t a thing. The other three are JaMarcus Russell (2009), Ryan Leaf (1998), and Bobby Hoying (1998). Flacco cannot be a starter in 2018 and shouldn’t be one now.

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