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Breakfast Table: Existential Thoughts

Andrew Martinez

Andrew Martinez writes about baseball and football. He is a native Texan and roots for the Astros, Rockets, Texans, and Rice Owls.

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Director of Media for, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).

From: Derek VanRiper
Date: Friday, Nov 1, 2013 at 12:25 PM
Subject: Existential Thoughts
To: Andrew Martinez

I used to believe that by midseason, my read on the player pool and each of the league's 32 teams was significantly stronger than it was at the end of August. Every year has proven to be increasingly humbling, with fewer certain truths and a growing number of questions about the development of players and the mindset of coaches.

Perceived Truths of Nine Weeks Ago

1. Marques Colston is a top-10 receiver, with a floor in the 15-20 range only because of uncertain health.

2. Trent Richardson is a legitimate late first-round pick because of his expected workload and ability to catch passes out of the backfield.

3. The Colts defense will force Andrew Luck to be near the league leaders in passing attempts.

4. Eli Manning, thanks to the presence of three very good receivers and a new threat at tight end, will rebound and serve up top-10 QB numbers.

5. The market overcorrected for Greg Jennings' downgrade from Aaron Rodgers to Christian Ponder as his quarterback.

6. San Diego will be one of the five worst teams in the league.

7. Tom Brady is an ageless wonder and it doesn't matter who he has catching passes because Belichick's system is essentially the Law of Gravity.

In hindsight, I should have leaned more heavily on Jeff Stotts and company when Colston spent a significant portion of training camp on the PUP list with a foot injury. He simply does not look like the same player, and while he's been able to play in all seven games this season, Drew Brees and the coaching staff seem to be well aware of Colston's diminished state. After averaging 8.2 targets per game from 2010 through 2012, Colston has seen just 5.7 targets per game this season. In the red zone, he's been targeted just four times after piling up 58 red-zone targets over the past three seasons. To make matters worse, he popped up on the injury report after practice Wednesday with a knee injury.

With Richardson, should the lack of 20-plus yard runs last season have been enough of a red flag? With 267 carries in his rookie season, he had two of the 20-plus variety. Since 2008, only five other players have been given 200 or more carries in a season while averaging 3.6 YPC or less. Cedric Benson did it twice, Jamal Lewis, Kevin Smith, LT (the age-30 version) and injured Darren McFadden last year are the others. The Browns definitely made the right call dealing him for a first-rounder in 2014 while he still held value from his pedigree. Smith was the only other player in that group to unlock that achievement before age-26.

Luck was fifth in the league with 627 attempts as a rookie. He's tied for 20th with 226 so far this season, albeit with nine players ahead of him having one extra game played. Despite having Cedric Benson 2.0 as their lead back, the Colts want to be a run-first team.

Eli's 8.4 YPA season in 2011 is a huge outlier. Some of his career comps at Pro Football Reference include: David Garrard, Jake Delhomme, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo. It's funny how the mainstream neglects the degree to which Manning is truly overrated. In fact, it seems like it never comes up.

The market didn't correct enough for Jennings' change of scenery. In Year 3, Ponder has pushed his YPA to a career-high 6.9, but there is little to get excited about here through 21 games. To his credit, Ponder won Halloween. Josh Freeman isn't the answer either.

Let's just say I still have my doubts about the Chargers, but there is plenty of shootout potential in their remaining schedule. Losing Norv Turner was probably worth 2-3 wins alone.

As Brady goes, there has been plenty written in this space about the Patriots and what he is at this stage of his career. Gronk still doesn't look right, but that could gradually improve moving forward. Plus, would it really be that surprising if the young receivers progress in the second half? Burying Brady is probably premature, but I'll concede that he's a 12-16 range QB most weeks the rest of the way rather than the top-five option many believed they were buying on draft day.

What changes in the first eight weeks of the season have left you questioning reality?

What radical changes are still to come? Keep in mind, this time last year the emergence of Colin Kaepernick still had not taken place. Could Case Keenum be that guy?

From: Andrew Martinez
Date: Friday, Nov 1, 2013 at 5:47 PM
Subject: Re: Existential Thoughts
To: Derek VanRiper

I'm divided internally on Keenum. On the one hand, he went to the University of Houston and as a Rice Owl, he is my sworn enemy (cross-town rival). Moreover, I want to see him fail, so the team has no choice but to select a franchise QB in this upcoming draft, which looks to be very promising at the position (see Mariota, Bridgewater, Hundley, Manziel, etc.). Then again, I root for the Texans and want to see them win, rather than fail, so to see Keenum succeed would be a boon to the team's performance and help my disposition on Sundays. No matter what though, I never want to see Matt Schaub again and by extension, the cowardly lion that is Gary Kubiak. If I ran the team, I'd send both packing, but then again, I'm a fan and likely not rational about how to handle this situation. I just can't stand to see Schaub go into his shell one more time, when defenders come near him, and to watch Kubiak let the offense run on idle, when putting his foot on the pedal would serve everyone much better. But I digress...

Like you, coming into this season I thought Colston would have another Colston season with 1,100 yards and 8+ touchdowns, but this season he really seems have fallen off a cliff. If he's not injured, his skills have heavily eroded. If he is injured, I wish the team would divulge more information, so we knew what he was dealing with it and better plan around him. As such he and to a lesser extent Darren Sproles have disappointed owners. I understand the former, but the latter has me scratching my head. The only sure things in this offense till further notice are Brees and Jimmy Graham, who despite the foot injury, is a magnet in the red-zone. Rest of the season I'd have Vernon Davis ahead of him because of the yardage, but other than that, he's still a very good option.

You laid out some good stats as to just how little production Richardson has given the Browns and Colts, so just let me add this; if I were an owner, I would encourage (if not demand) my GM not be allowed to draft a RB in first round. Look at the following list of the top 10 RBs in terms of YPC and the round where they were drafted.

Alfred Morris - 5.2 YPC - 6th Round Pick
Ben Tate - 4.8 YPC - 2nd Round Pick
Lamar Miller - 4.8 YPC - 4th Round Pick
DeMarco Murray - 4.7 YPC - 3rd Round Pick
LeSean McCoy - 4.7 YPC - 2nd Round Pick
Matt Forte - 4.6 YPC - 2nd Round Pick
Zac Stacy - 4.6 YPC - 5th Round Pick
Arian Foster - 4.5 YPC - Undrafted
Adrian Peterson - 4.5 YPC - 1st Round Pick
Giovani Bernard - 4.5 YPC - 2nd Round Pick

The 2nd round seems to be a popular round for these RBs. Not included here is Jamaal Charles, who at 4.2 YPC is in the midst of his worst season as a runner. His previous low YPC was 5.3 YPC, last season and in 2008, his rookie season. He has just one run over 20 yards or more, which is not like him. Last season he had 11, in 2011 he was injured, in 2010 he had 10, in 2009 he had nine, and in 2008 he had three and that was on only 67 carries. He has upped his pass catching tremendously and is on pace for 82 catches, which would blow his previous high of 45 out of the water. The fact that Alex Smith checks down so often, has really helped owners of Charles, especially in PPR leagues. If I were drafting today in a league (PPR or not) he would still be my No. 1 RB pick. Next season though, I'm not so sure, especially if he continues down this path of an extremely heavy workload.

I'm right there with you on San Diego; I did not see this coming. I called for them to be one of the bottom three teams in the league, but it turns out Mike McCoy coach. I can't wait to see the Chiefs face their offense and Peyton Manning to see how they respond. I'm still holding out hope that Dwayne Bowe will be of use in those weeks, when the Chiefs will have to score more than 20 points to win the game.

I expected Tampa Bay to be much better than this. I essentially thought they'd be what the Jets are now, a team that plays fantastic defense, allows their QB to manage the game, and relies on their run game to move the chains. Instead, Greg Schiano has run this team into the ground and Doug Martin is hurt. The locker room MRSA is just the cherry on top, of what has been a season to forget. The defense is nowhere near as good as I thought, obviously, but much of this is on Schiano because of how he handled Josh Freeman, former players, the media, and oh, the main thing, preparing his team to play on any given week. His in-game decision making has been shaky at times (see the end of the Saints game and his decision to kick a field goal), but in reality, the Bucs haven't been in many situations that warrant critical thinking yet because they've been blown out almost every week.

A few predictions for the second half:

1. The Saints will win the Super Bowl. Kenny Vaccaro and Rob Ryan have made enough difference for the defense for me to trust in them.
2. The Lions will win the NFC North. The Packers defensive short-comings and injuries will catch up to them, I think.
3. Jordan Reed finishes the season as a top three fantasy TE. He has some serious ground to catch the top four (Graham, Cameron, Davis, & Thomas) right now, but I believe in him and his QB.
4. Rob Gronkowski will finish the season with less than five touchdowns. He has eight games left and zero touchdowns so far. I don't believe in Brady, at all.
5. The Bills will have a top three fantasy defense for the remainder of the season, starting this week. The rest of their schedule is KC, @PIT, NYJ, BYE, ATL, @TB, @JAX, MIA, & @NE. I'd only rather own the Seahawks, if given my choice and this includes the Chiefs.

Any second half predictions or premonitions?

From: Derek VanRiper
Date: Friday, Nov 1, 2013 at 10:56 PM
Subject: Re: Existential Thoughts
To: Andrew Martinez

Unless Keenum is a top-10 quarterback, the Texans are better off in 2014 and beyond he fails. The 2014 quarterback class looks like one of the potential top-five classes of the past 25 years. Kubiak should be held accountable for failure this year, but I think he will get leash after back-to-back playoff appearances. You've got your choice of anyone in the class in April, who do you want?

I am now convinced that Colston's demise is entirely rooted in injury. The foot has been a problem since training camp, and other ailments are now piling on. Sproles' lack of consistency is maddening. I made a trade in the RotoWire Steak League after Week 4 when Sproles had seven receptions for 114 yards against the Dolphins. At that time, Mario Puig wouldn't move him for Philip Rivers, but offered up Stevan Ridley instead.

You're dead on as far as the lack of value in running backs as first-round picks. In the past five drafts, it's been much more bad (Richardson, Ryan Mathews, Beanie Wells, Donald Brown and Knowshon Moreno -- think back to how he was viewed two months ago) than good (Doug Martin and C.J. Spiller, although the latter feels like we're rounding up but his 2012 numbers were excellent).

Vegas and Massey-Peabody are not buying the Chiefs either, although the Bills' QB issues at the present time make me unwilling to say they'll be 8-1 after Week 9. If EJ Manuel were healthy, I would be all in on the upset. Even with Jeff Tuel and/or Matt Flynn at the helm, the Chiefs are only favored by 3.5. Their defense might be good enough to beat the Broncos at home, but the Kansas City offense is not built to play catch up and that will be their downfall at some point.

The new defense is the scariest thing about the Saints. For that matter, I think people are overlooking the Packers defense too, particularly against the run. As I look at the teams in the NFC, I think Green Bay is best suited to go on the road to Seattle or New Orleans in the playoffs and come away with the win. They've played the past four games without Clay Matthews (he'll sit again Sunday), Nick Perry hasn't been healthy, and Casey Hayward just came back against the Vikings. The secondary has good depth, and the pass rush is going to get significantly better. Between the Seahawks and Saints, give me whichever team is on their own turf. I think those three teams and Denver are the four best in the league by a decent margin, and that accounts for the Broncos' faults on the defensive side of the ball.

Maybe it's the bias, or the pumpkin ale, but my only real disagreement with your five predictions comes with penciling in the Lions to win the North. There appears to be moderate growth in Matthew Stafford so far (taking fewer sacks, throwing fewer picks), but Jim Schwartz is a bozo, the corners still have dumpster fire potential and the pass rush has not been as effective as I would have expected.

I will attempt to light a fire with these, but I'm actually on board with the following in the second half:

1. I'll take Washington to rally back from 2-5 to win the NFC East. The defense is awful, but it will be close enough where Jason Garrett's decision making in the endgame is going to be the difference maker.

2. Andrew Luck will be top-five in pass attempts per game the rest of the way. The Colts don't like Donald Brown -- look at the effort they've put in trying to prevent him from being their starting running back -- and they see what we see with Richardson.

3. MJD will have more fantasy points than Knowshon Moreno (per game) from here on out.

4. LeSean McCoy is going to have the NFL's first 300-yard rushing game before the end of the season. (indoors at Minnesota in Week 15 looks like the spot).

5. The top three tight ends at season's end will rank as top-10 receivers in terms of production.

From: Andrew Martinez
Date: Saturday, Nov 2, 2013 at 12:30 PM
Subject: Re: Existential Thoughts
To: Derek VanRiper

My pref list for QBs for 2013 is as follows: Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Derek Carr, Zach Mettenberger, Stephen Morris. I would draft Logan Thomas to simulate the worst QBs in the league and Tajh Boyd to me seems like a big project, though I love his size. The best fit is Mariota and Chip Kelly, who recruited him; the speed he generates with his feet is amazing and his ability to get his shoulders squared up is unparalleled in the college game. He's rips these passes that leave my jaw on the floor and when he decides to run, look out. I have Bridgewater fatigue, where I've been told how good his is for years now, since he came out of Miami-Dade County, but I just don't see it compared to Hundley, who has size you can't teach and is much better with his feet. Manziel is in a class by himself, but he needs to work on his execution. It's fun to see him throw these ill-advised passes into a mob and Mike Evans (who I think will be a second or third round pick, gosh he's slow) come down with the ball, but that stuff will not work in the NFL and if he wants to string out plays, look only to Michael Vick as to how often I expect him to be on the injury report. The non-QB player I most look forward to watching in the NFL is either Anthony Barr, who will be a perennial Pro Bowl LB, or Marqise Lee, whom I love unconditionally because of his work ethic and story. Lee is shifty, has amazing feet, and is a sight to be seen, as far as WRs go. He's undersized, but in the open field, he's going to make defenders look stupid often. Austin Seferian-Jenkins already has problems with the law (think Justin Blackmon), but some team will take him and be amazed by his physical ability. If he can keep his head on straight, he will be an amazing TE. I could go on for days about my favorite college players, but I'll spare you.

More second half predictions:

1. Tom Brady follows up his horrific first half with 10 TD passes in second half. This would give him 18 for the season, which is what Tony Romo already has. Again, I want nothing to do with any of the NE offense. Brady is damaged goods.

2. Big Ben finishes the season as a top-10 QB for fantasy purposes. I like his schedule, but don't love it. The yards are there, it's just a matter of time till the touchdowns catch up.

3. The Chiefs are immediately bounced from the playoffs. I believe in their offense none. Moreover, I believe in Andy Reid none. Have I told you about Alex Smith? I also believe in him none. If I could short this team as a stock, I would. I want nothing to do with them. I love their pass rush, but their reliance on Jamaal Charles is going to be the end of them. Their schedule is so easy in the second half, that it's impossible to see them faltering the rest of the way, but they're a paper tiger. The playoff team that has to go to their place welcomes that match-up.

4. Adrian Peterson finishes outside the Top 10 of fantasy RBs in non-PPR leagues. The Vikings defense is so bad that I just can't see them sticking to the run in the second half of the season. I wish I had a better outlook, considering what he did in the second half of last season, when he was on a tear. Him openly questioning his hamstring concerns me to a slight degree.

5. Jordy Nelson finishes the season as the top WR in fantasy. With the injuries around him, I expect the volume in and around red-zone to be there. I refer to him as the Black Swan around my friends because of his immaculate nose for toeing the sideline with grace. If I had a better knowledge of ballet, I'd likely have a better comp. The targets should be there and he does a fantastic job of catching balls in his radius.

6. DeSean Jackson finishes outside the Top 12 for fantasy WRs, maybe top 20. Michael Vick? Hurt. Nick Foles? Is he even a NFL QB? Matt Barkley? HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA. It pains me because I targeted DeSean in many drafts this season, but I just don't see it with his QB situation so bleak. He works great in the Chip Kelly offense, which is predicated on spacing, because of his speed, but how does he get the ball? My main hope is the defense continues to suffer and they're forced to throw enough that it raises his production.

7. Antonio Brown finishes as a top six WR in fantasy. I'm bullish on Big Ben's second half prospects and by connection, Brown as well. He has two upcoming dates with Joe Haden, which scares me, but he should thrive outside of that, given his skill set and the Steelers affinity for chucking the ball. The touchdowns are coming, starting this week. Make it rain Antonio, make it RAIN touchdowns from up high.

8. The Chargers will at least make the AFC Championship game. SHOW ME YOUR LIGHTNING BOLTS! Phil Rivers has the worst throwing motion I've ever seen, but the ball gets there, somehow. The defense is an obvious limiting factor, but I love this pass happy offense. Keenan Allen is coming on and Ryan Matthews is starting to turn the corner. Antonio Gates, please don't get hurt.

Jim Schwartz is a bozo, but that offense with Reggie Bush is a force to be reckoned with. You and I have discussed this in other places, but this past week's game against Dallas was a classic. I specifically want to praise Dez Bryant. He is justified for inciting his teammates. I love people who show passion for their craft. And who is Derek Dooley to start confronting him? I bet his kids don't even listen to him. This was not a case of trying to keep up with Calvin Johnson, but rather trying to get his team in the best position to score and win the game. This league needs more Dez Bryants, who will openly challenge their teammates to raise the level of their play and demand greatness. My favorite athlete of all time is Michael Jordan, but not because of his individual achievements. Rather, I love him because he didn't tolerate poor play. Bryant's demands of those around him and to get him the ball are justified. He's better than every single player on that team (I see you Sean Lee) and deserves to get the ball, early and often, especially when the game is on the line.

I'll leave with this, is the NFL ready to start hiring more college coaches? Kevin Sumlin is a near lock in my book to coach in the NFL at some point and I can't wait to see it happen. He has limitations as a defensive mind, but he can always get a good coordinator to help him in the pros. He gets so much out of his offense, and it's not just Manziel, it's the offensive line too. Teams should be actively courting Bill O'Brien from Penn State. He is the best head coach not named Saban in college football today. I love everything about him. He is a fantastic motivator and leader of young men. If he were the next head coach of the Texans I'd start a parade. David Shaw is another name that pops up when people talk about NFL ready college coaches, but I'm not there yet with him. I'd rather swing for the fences and hire Sumlin or O'Brien, than hire Lovie Smith, who is a great coach, but a known commodity. I never pictured Chip Kelly in the NFL, but now that he's here, I openly root for him, if for no other reason than to breakdown this stigma of college coaches as a different breed. Greg Schiano is the fly in the ointment, but he was never qualified to coach anything past Rutgers, a team that misses him little.