Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tampa Bay: Fantasy Football Fool's Gold?

There's been a great deal of excitement building up around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this off-season, and for many good reasons.  They've got a young, talented QB who was picked first overall, a big, young star wide receiver entering the prime of his career, and they made several moves in the off-season that should arm that young QB with talented weapons all over the field in the passing game, from Evans mentioned above to young tight end Cameron Brate, and including newcomers DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard.  That being said, I think there might be a bit too much excitement about these guys when it comes to fantasy production, and I'll tell you all why.
Jameis Winston has to be who I talk about first, as the QB of this team.  Last season, he ranked 15th overall at the QB position, down from 13th overall in his rookie season.  While his fans will point to throwing for more than 4,000 yards for the second season in a row, and his 28 to 19 TD/INT split overall on the year, what worries me is the final six weeks.  Over that time, the Bucs faced New Orleans twice (Last ranked pass defense in 2016), Carolina (29th ranked pass def), Dallas (26th ranked pass def), Seattle (8th ranked), and San Diego (now LA Chargers, who were 20th in pass def last season).  That's only one top ten pass defense and the rest somewhere south of 20, if not dead last.  Two games against the worst pass defense.  Over that time, Winston threw 117/189 (61.9%, good for 19th in the league) for 8 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and 1,410 yards (good for 7.46 per attempt, 13th in the league).  And this was against again some of the worst passing defenses in the league.  In one of those games (Carolina) he had a QBR in the 40's.  It was a terrible stretch, and it's hard to forget for someone who owned him last season.
Mike Evans is who I have to target next.  He's a big target, and with the Bucs' struggling to find other players to produce on offense, Winston targeted him often.  MOST often in the league, with 175 targets over the year.  Evans was only able to convert 54% of those targets into catches however, making him the worst catch rate receiver amongst those targeted at least 100 times.  And it wasn't just last season, every year he's hovered around 52-55% catch rate.  I expect his target count to go down to something more like 125 over the course of the year.  With his averages, that should turn into something like 60 catches for 800 yards.  1,000 yards would be a rosy projection in my opinion.
The running back position was a mess of injuries and general instability last season.  While the running backs often produced some fantasy value, it was hit or miss as to whether or not they'd play that week.  Between Jackson, Brate, and Howard, as well as Evans, I expect Winston to throw it 35 times per game or so, splitting those targets reasonably evenly/appropriately.  75-125 targets for each, based on how he settles in with them.  It's hard to tell how comfortable he'll feel with DeSean right now, or if Howard will produce fantasy points in the NFL.  I really feel like I need to see it to trust it.
That's my take on the Bucs.  I know the excitement around them is rising now, and I also know that with hard knocks it'll only increase, but I'm having a tough time buying in on them, and will be generally leaving them alone in fantasy drafts this season.

Could the Lakers Pass on Lonzo Ball?

With the Ball family circus haven taken center stage when it comes to NBA draft talk over the past few months, everyone seems resigned to the idea that Lonzo Ball will in fact be a Laker next year, because Lavar says he will.  Well, simply put; I’m not so sure.  I’ve put together a list of 5 scenarios under which Lonzo Ball does not become a Laker this summer (or perhaps ever) regardless of his father’s wishes.  Here they are:
                                                                                    1)      Boston doesn’t draft Fultz
      The most likely scenario under which LA doesn’t draft Lonzo Ball in my opinion, is that the Celtics don’t draft Fultz.  Boston doesn’t need a point guard, what they do need is a versatile forward/wing player who can defend, has range, and can contribute elsewhere such as rebounding, etc.  Josh Jackson would give them all of that.  This writer for one, doesn’t see Fultz as any kind of lock as the number one pick.  I think Jackson makes A LOT more sense for them.  This creates scenario one in which Ball falls past the Lakers: because they draft Fultz, who many see as a young Westbrook type player.

      2)      The Lakers trade their pick for an established player
      Los Angeles has never been a team that really believed in building through the draft.  Magic being the one exception, they’ve typically traded for established players, sometimes trading those very picks away in the process.  This summer, many believe Paul George of the Pacers, and Jimmy Butler of the Bulls to be on the trade market, and it may just be too much for new President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pilenka to resist, they just might have to pull the trigger on one of those trades.  That would eliminate them from the Lonzo Ball sweepstakes, as they’d no longer have a lottery pick.

      3)      The Lakers like Fox better
Most consider Ball and Fultz to be the top two picks in the draft, and the best two players, but I’m not sure I’d call it a consensus.  It’s a well known fact that De’Aaron Fox outplayed Lonzo Ball in the NCAA tournament this past March, and is considered a better defender than Ball overall.  The Lakers may just decide to go with the better defensive, proven clutch performer in Fox over Ball, who some view to have collapsed a bit when the pressure was on in March.  So option three, the Lakers pick someone who isn’t Ball OR Fultz.

      4)      The Lakers draft a forward
The Lakers are another team like Boston, that despite the desire to mock a point guard to them, and despite the obvious talent at the position in this particular draft class, they kind of don’t need a point guard.  Let’s not forget, they spent the second overall pick on DeAngelo Russell two years ago.  Back then, everyone thought they needed a big man and would take Okafor, they threw us all for a loop and took Russell.  This time, maybe they do the opposite, and surprise us all by taking a forward to play alongside Julius Randle in the front court, a scorer like Jayson Tatum, or even Josh Jackson, who I mentioned earlier as a versatile wing with range and good defense.

      5)      The Lakers trade back for depth
Finally, the least likely option I see for a scenario under which Lonzo Ball does not become a Laker: they trade back in the draft for depth.  Again, I don’t see this as a likely option.  However, a team that lost as many games as the Lakers do, and is losing their first round pick to Philly next year, could always use two top ten draft picks in a deep draft couldn’t they?  Many might consider that the smart move in fact.  The Kings have the 5th and 10th picks, and perhaps they could be persuaded to deal for the 2nd overall pick.  I think their owner could be one who buys into the Ball family circus hook, line, and sinker, he just strikes me as the type.  And Magic and Vlade obviously have some history/know each other.  I’m sure they could work together.  In such a scenario, the Lakers could then pick up two lottery picks in what many consider to be the best draft in years.  That’d be a pretty good way to start off the Magic Johnson era.  And almost everyone knows when it comes to drafting, taking multiple bites at the apple is the tried and true method.  Not usually taking the first overall pick.  Basketball can be different, but in a draft class like this…the depth is pretty tempting.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

17-18 Fantasy Football Top 30 QBs

These rankings are not a “who is the best QB” necessarily.  They are not even a “who is the best team” listing, or necessarily a combination of those two things.  What they are, is a list of who I believe will be the highest scoring quarterbacks in fantasy football in the upcoming NFL season, from 1-30.  I may believe certain QB’s to be ranked higher talent wise than they appear on the list below, but this list reflects in part their opportunity, how many times they’ll throw, and the targets they have to throw to.  The best quarterback in the world doesn’t make a difference if his receivers can’t catch, his line doesn’t keep him upright, or the defense can drop 6 into coverage every play because there’s no run game to speak of.  Those QB’s won’t get you fantasy points.
One last note; while I looked at lists of the experts on various major sports sites after comprising my own list, I did not alter my list based upon theirs, only used those lists to compare where I have mine, to overall consensus projections or popular projections around the net.
1)      Tom Brady, NE Patriots
Brady is simply the best quarterback in the history of the league, with a full arsenal of talented weapons at his disposal.  I expect this season to rival the 2007 season with Moss and Welker as his top targets.   For him anyway, I expect production at the receiver spot in New England to be a bit more spread out than it was in that year.
2)      Drew Brees, NO Saints
Brees  has put up 5,000 passing yards and 37+ passing touchdowns in 4 of the last 6 seasons, and I expect more of the same this year.  While he did lose one of his main weapons this off-season when Cooks was traded to New England, the Saints’ have always thrown the ball a lot, and Drew Brees fantasy owners have been the beneficiary of all that throwing for many years now.
3)      Aaron Rodgers, GB Packers
Many have Rodgers atop their lists, and rank him the best QB in the league currently.  From my perspective, Brady is the best, and has more weapons.  Brees has a better system for generating passing production, so those two rank ahead of Rodgers on my list.  But Rodgers will put up his numbers, as he has every year since he began starting.  The return of Jordy Nelson meant a lot to his game last year, he’ll continue to produce this season however, with little running game to fall back on still.
4)      Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan took the league by surprise last year, finally taking that “next step” that we’ve all been waiting for since he was drafted first overall in 2008.  While there is some worry for me that Kyle Shanahan was finally the key to unlocking that next level, and now that he’s gone Ryan will regress, I’m not going to take such a pessimistic outlook until I see things start to fall apart on the field.  However that possibility remains in the back of my mind, must be mentioned, and keeps Ryan out of the top 3 on my list.
5)      Andrew Luck, Indy Colts
While some fans still view Luck as a “bust” or failure, and he hasn’t lead his team to many wins yet, his fantasy production has been solid, and was very good last year.  He throws to one of the most productive wideouts in the league, in T.Y. Hilton, and has guys with great hands like Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett behind him.  The team around him isn’t getting much better year to year that I’ve seen, but I expect his individual development to continue, keeping him in the top 5 of QB production this season, although I wouldn’t be shocked to see guys like Cam or even Wilson go in drafts before him.
6)      Eli Manning, NY Giants
It’s been a while since Eli has found his way into a preseason top ten I put together, in fact he may never have, but with the upgrading of his weapons by bringing in Brandon Marshall, and the continued presence of Odell Beckham Jr on the roster, I have a hard time seeing him fall outside the top ten in fantasy production.  The Giants weren’t great with the running game last year, and didn’t really upgrade it this off-season, so I expect them to throw a lot, producing a great deal of points for his fantasy owners.  He’ll go later than guys below him on this list, which will give you the edge over other owners in your league.
7)      Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stafford continues to produce fantasy points via tons of passing yards and touchdowns.  While his protection remains shaky, and his weapons are basically the same, he benefits over other QB’s as the Lions basically use the short passing game as their running game, allowing Stafford to pile up yards and points when other QB’s are simply handing the ball off to their lead back.  Look for Stafford to be a solid “QB One” this upcoming season.
8)      Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I’m higher on Winston than most experts whose rankings I’ve seen, but I really think he’s perfectly positioned for that third year leap.  His coaching has been stable for that time essentially under Koetter (first as OC, then as HC) the whole time and into this third season, and his weapons have been added to, as the Bucs brought in a speedy big play threat in DeSean Jackson and drafted top tight end prospect OJ Howard with their first pick in the draft.
9)      Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
To me, Taylor is a QB that flies under the radar.  A high floor due to rushing, and Rex Ryan getting out of his way (he ruins offensive players, look at his history), Taylor has the tools to repeat as a top ten range QB in fantasy production.
10)   Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Do you like that ranking Kirk Cousins owners?  A solid QB 1, Cousins should turn in another top ten performance in what feels like his 30th essential “contract year” under the franchise tag.  He’s lost a couple weapons with Garcon going to San Fran and Jackson headed to Tampa Bay, but the Redskins brought in Pryor to play the receiver spot, and that should give him a talented target with whom he can link up for quite a few catches and yards.
11)   Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
To me, it looks like the Seahawks are poised to recommit to the run game this season.  With few tackle options available either in free agency or the draft, they were unable to really help a line that struggled to pass protect last season.  Instead, the drafted two interior linemen and signed a hefty bruising running back in free agency, bringing in Eddie Lacy on a contract whose worth will be roughly 50% determined by his production and ability to maintain a healthy playing weight.  I think the whole formula results in a lot less passing-and thus scrambling for rushing yards also-from Wilson, and obviously an ensuing drop in his fantasy valu
12)   Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Big Ben sits at the helm of what many consider to be the most potent offense in the NFL next season, complete with arguably the best receiver in the game and inarguably the best running back in the league when healthy and available to play.  The Steelers have been having trouble staying on the field over the past few seasons, and Ben is getting older these days, so much so that he spoke about the potential for retirement at the end of last season, although he obviously did come back at the end of the day.  If this offensive unit can stay mostly healthy-including Ben himself-they could really generate a lot of fantasy points and make me look foolish for projecting him this low, but Ben has missed 6 games over the past two seasons and only played 16 games three times in his career, so chances are he misses at least a couple games, hurting his overall fantasy value a bit.
13)   Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Carr excited a lot of fans last season, and looks to lead the Raiders out of Oakland and into the promised land in the near future.  Or at least into Vegas.  Maybe the playoffs again…and again over the coming years?  Carr is certainly equipped with talented receivers in Crabtree and Cooper to catch his passes, but the team looks to be transitioning to a more run heavy game over the next two seasons at least after signing hometown running back stud Marshawn Lynch to play out their time in Oakland.  Riding Lynch heavily works for the organization on many levels, but cuts into potential fantasy production for Carr’s owners.
14)   Phillip Rivers, LA Chargers
Rivers can often be a bit of a forgotten quarterback in fantasy rankings, but fantasy owners would be wise to remember that over the past four seasons he’s consistently put up 4300-4700 passing yards and 29-33 passing touchdowns per season, reliably putting up fantasy points despite a constantly changing receiving corps due to injury and a line that couldn’t pass block to save their lives in front of him.  He’s been sacked 142 times over that same four seasons-up significantly from his first four years as a starter with the Chargers, when he was sacked just 99 total times.  LA did add a young receiver in this year’s draft, picking up Mike Williams, a 6-4 receiver out of Clemson Rivers can target in the passing game.  They also added this year’s top interior offensive lineman in Forrest Lamp, so they may be able to shore  up some of those pass protection issues.
15)   Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Prescott took the league by storm last season, putting up one of the best-if not the best rookie season we’ve ever seen from the quarterback position.  He benefits from perhaps the best offensive line in the league, with 4 of 5 starters returning and a fully established receiving corps.  He also has a superstar running back in Ezekiel Elliot alongside him, taking a great deal of pressure off Prescott’s arm.  While that’s good for his overall development, it doesn’t help those owners that will overdraft him this year based off last year’s excitement.  Don’t be that owner.  I’ve got him ranked as a QB 2 this season.
16)   Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings
Last season Bradford was able to step in for an injured Teddy Bridgewater and have a much better season than most expected out of him in Philadelphia OR in Minnesota.  But he was able to play well, and I expect that to only continue this season, as he benefits from a full off-season and a second year in the same offense.  Adding rookie offensive weapon Dalvin Cook in the draft will help the offense as a whole, which will in turn help Bradford.  He could very well out perform this spot, but due to his limited options in the passing game being basically Stefon Diggs on a flier every now and then, Kyle Rudolph or Dalvin Cook on a short dump, it’s hard to see how his production explodes at all.
17)   Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton had a tough year last season, seeing a dip in production across the board statistically, disappointing many a fantasy owner.  For those willing to take a chance on him again, I’ve got him ranked as a mid  1 next season.  I think McCaffrey helps open up the offense’s options a bit, but I also think there might be some growing pains there just in terms of what Newton has always done and how quickly he grows comfortable dumping the ball off instead of scrambling himself.  If he’s able to grow comfortable doing that, and Kelvin Benjamin is able to stay in playing shape and healthy, his production through the air should increase and he could see his fantasy value increase.  Until then, I have a hard time ranking him any higher than this.

18)   Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Palmer is a QB definitely on the downside of his career.  Many saw the Cardinals as the perfect landing spot for many of the rookie QB’s drafted in this year’s draft, but Arizona stood pat at the QB position, instead adding some playmakers in the back 7 on defense and some depth throughout the offensive unit.  Palmer may have one more year left in him, although the Cardinals will undoubtedly ride David Johnson heavily, as he’s turned out to be quite the running back.  Palmers production will drop off in response to Johnson’s increased usage.
19)   Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Mariota is one of the exciting young prospects in the league, and also a QB considered to have something of a high floor due to his ability to run when necessary.  He’s got two of the best young bookend tackles in the league in Lewan and Conklin, and decent targets in Mathews and Walker, but I’m not sure those two are really the tools he needs to make that next jump in productivity.  In years to come, Mariota will be a top fantasy producer I believe, but it just won’t be this year, he’s a low end QB 2 for me.
20)   Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
There have been times when Dalton lead the entire league in fantasy production, but I don’t think we’ll see another one of those times in the 17-18 season.  While he still has supserstar talent AJ Green to throw to, the Bengals have struggled since seeing their other top targets move on last off-season.  While they added a receiver in the draft, he’s had health issues in the past and I’m a bit concerned about his durability at the next level.  I worry he might be another Kevin White, and just want to see him take a few NFL hits before I count on him for regular production, or use him as a reason for boosting Dalton’s stock reciprocally.
21)   Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Wentz made a bit of a splash last season, then faded back to average rookie status in the second half of the year.  The Eagles added Alshon Jeffrey on a one year “prove it” type of deal, but he’s also had health issues in the past and he’s a hard guy to rely on as a result.  I kind of hope Wentz out performs this prediction, but I don’t think that he will.
22)   Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Smith is nothing if he’s not reliable.  A middle of the pack, reliable, not dazzling quarterback, and it shows in his numbers , where he puts up around 3300 passing yards and 18-20 passing touchdowns each season for the past four years.  I expect roughly the same output this year.
23)   Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins turned it around a bit last season under their new head coach, and may continue down that path in 2017.  However, they turned it around primarily behind a dominating running game-not the passing game-and I don’t see any real reasons to be too exicted about Tannehill’s potential for fantasy impact in 2017.
24)   Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have all but announced that they will run the ball A LOT more this season, and doing so will cut significantly into Bortles’ production for fantasy owners.  I expect the Jags to try to give Bortles a chance to slow things down and develop a bit behind a strong running game before deciding whether they want him long term or not next off-season.  Look for his attempts to drop off drastically, and his yardage total as well probably.  His completion percentage should rise though.
25)   Joe Flacco
Flacco has all the arm talent in the world.  Unfortunately, he also has basically all the cap space on the Ravens, and ever since signing his massive deal hasn’t been surrounded with any kind of real talent on offense.  That continues to be the case heading into the 2017 season.  Flacco will have a hard time finding any receivers to throw to, and due to that, will also have a hard time putting up fantasy points, leaving him 25th in my rankings.
26)   Mike Glennon
Glennon was signed as the Bears’ starter, then they threw us all for a loop and sunk a ton of draft capital into drafting QB Mitchell Trubisky second overall in the draft.  Glennon must be having flashbacks to the drafting of Winston, but the reports are still that Glennon will be the starter and Trubisky is there to learn basically, so going with that, Glennon wins the right to lead a mediocre to terrible offense in Chicago to his 2 6th overall spot on this list.
27)   Jared Goff
Goff struggled when he was able to play last year, and I expect that to continue this year.  His line and receivers haven’t been significantly upgraded, and he’ll be learning under a new head coach in Sean McVay, the youngest in NFL modern history.  It will be a struggle for Goff to even reach 27th best I’d think.
28)   Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
I think that Watson earns the starter spot by week 1 for the Texans.  It’s a great position for him, with reliable receivers he should be familiar with like Hopkins, a talented running back like Miller, and a very strong defense that will keep the overall pressure off the offense, lead by ends Clowney and Watt, he should be able to slowly work his way into the league.  Good news for his development, but not the best news for his immediate return for fantasy owners.  Great keeper league draft, not a good pick for a one year league however.
29)   Broncos’ QB
While we don’t  yet know who will play QB for the Broncos, whoever does has two solid receivers in Sanders and Thomas to throw to, as well as a decent run game and the best rookie tackle available in the draft to protect him.  He’ll be well positioned for success, and we may find that there needs to be some adjustment to this positioning when the starter is finally revealed.

30)   49ers’ QB
I have no idea who will start here, but what I do know is they will take over a lousy team pretty devoid of offensive talent.  Not exactly a recipe for fantasy success.  Stay away.

Returning to sports writing

I've taken a hiatus from this site for nearly the past 18 months as I had a project/client in real life that ate up a great deal of my time and I needed to prioritize.  I'll be returning now as I take the summer off of full time work.  I'll spend that time doing fantasy analysis, mock drafts, projections, etc.  I've already written up several lists that have been published in part on  I intend to cross publish things here as well.  I may at some point find somewhere to publish exclusively, but until someone opens up the wallet or otherwise entices me to do so, I'll keep publishing my pieces here as well.

Stay tuned, I'll be uploading pieces tonight and tomorrow.