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Roundtable Week 14

This week: (Potentially necessary and difficult) Week 14 matchups, 2016 in review, and football lessons learned. 

We're looking back and looking forward this week:

Let's roll...


(Potentially necessary and difficult) Week 14 Matchups

Matt Waldman: This week, we're examining matchups that most of us hope we didn't draw but might have to consider during the fantasy playoffs. The context will be PPR scoring. With the exception of Jason Wood, who is going to play the role of data machine that spits out numbers and nonsensical phrases, explain your choices. 

First, rank the top 3 quarterbacks from this group and give me a guesstimate of the percent chance the have of posting 20 fantasy points in a league with 4 pts per TD, 1 point per 20 yards passing, and 1 point per 10 yards rushing: 

Let's begin...

Daniel Simpkins: The Jets pass defense has been one of the ugliest to watch this season. If the 49ers go back to Kaepernick, I have no hesitation about starting him against this terrible unit. I’ll put my guesstimate at 80% on this one.
 
Cincinnati’s pass defense hasn’t been fantastic and I think not having coaches’ film of RG III in recent weeks may give the Browns an element of surprise. They’ll want to see what they have in RG III going forward, so I expect the offense will be wide open. I’ll give RG III a 60% chance of making the 20 fantasy point mark.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Barkley’s play, even though the matchups haven’t been exactly a murderer’s row. If only his receivers would stop dropping the balls downfield and in the end zone! Detroit is another one of those softer matchups that can be exploited, which is why I think Barkley has a 50% shot at matching or exceeding 20 points in this contest.

Andy Hicks: The Jets were awful against the Colts, have a short week to travel to the west coast with a starter who doesn't look up to the standard.  If Kaepernick is starting he has a 75% chance to post 20 or more points.

Picking Tannehill is a case of the best player from the group having to be included. He has a home matchup against a Cardinals side that still has a good defense, but is struggling to stay in contention. 50% chance that Tannehill can exceed 20 points

Griffin's matchup is one of the better ones, but Griffin hasn't finished a game for almost 2 years. The Browns will be keen to win in probably their best chance for the remainder of the season, but if Griffin tries to do too much he will not finish the game, again. 40% chance. Bortles is likely to get yanked at some stage and I don't like the matchup for Barkley against the Lions.

Chris Kuczynski: After last week's performance of 1/5 for 4 yards in 3 quarters, I'm not sure I'd but any faith in Kaepernick in the first week of the playoffs— you've got to have someone better, right? With that said, the 49ers are going against one of the worst pass defenses in the league and both teams will be able to score without much resistance. Sadly, Kaepernick offers more upside than Gabbert so he will likely start. If he can get 50 or so yards on the ground, the threshold for 20 points is about 200 yards and a TD. I'd give him a 60% chance of reaching that.

Tannehill has been very up and down this season, but he has put up a few decent performances. With Jay Ajayi keeping defenses focused on stopping the run, there could be some room to pass, especially if they avoid throwing toward Patrick Peterson. I think the Dolphins will have to throw to keep up with the Cardinals offense and I give Tannehill a 50% chance of reaching 20 pts.

Picking Bortles is solely based on wanting nothing to do with RG3 or Matt Barkley. I don't think Bortles will play particularly well, but there will be opportunities for garbage time, and he has a better surrounding cast than these two other QBs and we have no idea what to expect from RG3 with his confidence or likelihood to get injured. 40% chance of scoring 20 points.

Jason Wood: 

Matt Waldman: Wood?

Jason Wood: 

Matt Waldman: Do we need to reboot you?
 
Jason Wood: 30%.
 
Matt Waldman: I suppose no machine likes the threat of a reboot...
 
Jason Wood: T-a-n-n-e-h-i-l-l....40%....
 
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Waldman: I think we fried Wood's circuits with the first question.
 
Chris Feery: A trip out west after being obliterated in front of a national audience is not a recipe for a strong defensive performance, and the 49ers will produce some points against the Jets. Kaepernick should be able to make some things happen through the air versus an atrocious secondary, and he’s a threat to produce with his legs as well. I’ll book his chances of delivering 20 fantasy points at 50% for Week 14.   
 
Matt Waldman: Do you have any quarterbacks with a higher chance?

Chris Feery: No. While the Cardinals remain pretty stingy on defense in spite of their disappointment of a season, opponents can still put points on the board against them. The possibility of Jay Ajayi exploding at a moment’s notice could lead to them paying some extra attention towards preventing that from happening, and that could open up some more opportunities for Tannehill to make things happen. I’ll peg his chances of 20 points at 40%.  

I have Griffin a 30%. The Bengals have a beatable secondary, but I have concerns as to whether Griffin can shake the rust off quickly or not. 
 
Matt Waldman: I'm going with Barkley at 60 percent because there were still a lot of dropped passes last week in bad weather and I thought Barkley made some smart decisions in the elements that Kaepernick did not. I'll go with Kaepernick at 50 percent because of his wheels and Blake Bortles at 30 percent because of the potential for garbage time.

Moving onto the next group, rank the top 3 and give me a guesstimate of the percent chance they have of posting 20 fantasy points (same scoring)
Wood, have you upgraded? 

Jason Wood: 

 

Matt Waldman: Dude...Daniel? 

Daniel Simpkins: Jameis Winston vs. New Orleans: This is one of the playoff matchups for which you drafted Winston, Evans, and Martin. The Saints defense remains one of the worst in the league and the Buccaneers are red hot right now on both sides of the ball. I’m going to put my bid at 85%, with the thought that the Buccaneers defense and Doug Martin might do so much scoring that Winston doesn’t have to throw enough to hit that 20 point mark.

Alex Smith vs. Oakland: As good as the Raiders’ offense has been, it has been pretty easy to move the ball on their pass defense. We saw the Chiefs realize they had to open things up to compete with Atlanta and I think they’ll have that same understanding headed into this contest. It also doesn’t hurt that Jeremy Maclin should be back to aid Smith’s efforts. His chances of putting up 20 points or more are 75%.

Joe Flacco vs. NE: Even though Flacco isn’t my first choice, I think he’s a solid play against a mediocre New England secondary that ranks 15th in the league in points scored by opposing quarterbacks. The fact that Flacco spreads targets around to whoever is open should keep the Belichickian concept of taking one player away from the opposing offense a moot point. I give him a 70% shot at giving his owners 20 or more points.

Andy Hicks: Jameis Winston. For the reasons outlined by Daniel. Matchups don't get better than against the Saints. Tampa Bay is playing really well, while the Saints have a lot of work to do. I would think Winston has a 90% shot at exceeding 20 points here.

Tyrod Taylor. This is another situation where the matchup dictates success. The Steelers have been hot and cold on defense, mainly cold, though. Taylor has fallen off a little in the last few weeks though so there are reservations. 70% chance here.

Alex Smith. The Raiders defensive weakness is the secondary, while Alex Smiths weakness is throwing a deep ball. By pure attrition, though, Smith will approach and probably exceed the 20 point mark. 65% chance here.

Mariota is up against Denver so he is likely to struggle, while Flacco is up against the Patriots. If Flacco is on like he was like last week then 20 points would be easy, but the Patriots will find ways to nullify what Flacco does best.

Chris Kuczynski: Winston a dream matchup for any QB that is at least competent. Not only do the Saints give up a lot of yards and points to opposing QBs- with Drew Brees on their side, you know the other team will have to throw to keep up. This is one of the best QB matchups of the week. 90% chance to score 20 pts. 

Flacco has been average all season, but last week he started to show his late season form—circa 2012. The Pats defense is fairly good, but when playing against Tom Brady you will have to outscore him and keep the ball out if his hands. The Ravens run game is not spectacular, so it will be up to Joe Flacco. 75% chance of reaching 20 points. 

Listing Smith here is not indicative of his skill by any means. This is based solely on the matchup. Here is a common theme: He must try to outscore the opposing team's high-powered offense, this time led by Derek Carr and his tendency for late-game heroics. Smith has a good thing going on with Kelce and the Raiders have difficulty stopping the TE, plus he gets Maclin back as well. The Chiefs would be smart to try to play ball control and funnel the offense through Spencer Ware, which is why Smith is not a shoe-in to rack up yards and TDs. I think he has a 60% chance to break 20 points.

Matt Waldman: In ascending order, I'll go Flacco at 60 percent because I think his offense is finally healthy at the skill positions and along the line of scrimmage. It hasn't been this way all year and I think the Patriots' offense is dealing with enough injuries that the Ravens offense earns more chances with the ball than we'd otherwise expect and it translates to points for Flacco.

I'll put Alex Smith at 65 percent because Jeremy Maclin should be back, Raiders cornerback David Amerson is nursing a knee injury, and Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill should tear up the middle of this Oakland unit. Unless the Chiefs defense contributes to an early lead and Spencer Ware can pound the rock in the second half, there's a good chance that the Chiefs have to throw a lot. 

I'll give Jameis Winston a 70 percent chance. The number would be higher if not for losing two members of the receiving corps last week. Mike Davis and Cameron Brate will have to carry this unit unless Doug Martin can have a big game through the air. It's likely enough that Winston has the best shot of the three quarterbacks, but losing Adam Humphries and Cecil Shorts concerns me enough to drop the odds. 

Wood?

Jason Wood: Winston 60%. Taylor 33%. Mariota 15%. 

Matt Waldman: What's the percent chance you give me your season tickets to the Eagles? 

Jason Wood: 0%. 

Waldman: Big and fat? 

Jason Wood: Affirmative. 

Waldman: At least we know you're still programmed to act like Wood. While your databanks are still functioning, rank your top 3 backs from this list 

 The rest of you sentient beings, please follow Nuts and Bolts with your answers. 

Jason Wood: Ware 40%...Martin 25%...Ajayi 20%. 

Chris Kuczynski: Mine...

  1. Spencer Ware vs. Oakland. It’s pretty easy to envision the Chiefs attempting to play ball control against the Raiders, and that bodes well for Ware’s fantasy prospects in Week 14. I’ll give him a 40% chance of reaching the magic number.

  2. Carlos Hyde vs. Jets. In a battle of two poor teams, there’s a high probability of some big plays that eat up large chunks of yardage. I’ll look for Hyde to break at least one long one against the Jets, and give him a 30% chance of reaching 20 points.

  3. Doug Martin vs. New Orleans. A potentially high scoring tilt between the Buccaneers and Saints should be fruitful for fantasy purposes, and we can expect Martin to get his share. Reaching 20 points may be a bit too much to ask for, but I’ll give him a 20% chance of making it happen.

Matt Waldman: Thanks for the data, but you didn't need to give the odds here. 

Chris Kuczynski: But Wood...

Matt Waldman: That's all that the Wood 1.02 is programmed to do during this session. 

Chris Feery: Mine...

Spencer Ware vs Oakland. As I mentioned with Alex Smith, the Chiefs would be smart to play ball control and keep it out of the hands of the Raiders offense. After allowing high scoring games from Jonathan Stewart and LeSean McCoy in back to back weeks, we've seen the Raiders run defense regress recently.

Doug Martin vs. New Orleans. Again, the Saints are a great matchup for any offensive player because of their poor defense and the high-scoring offense that leads to plenty of shootouts. Martin looks to be healthy and he should be fairly involved in the game plan. There are talks of Sims being back, but I think he gets eased in and won't eat into Martins touches as much this week.

Carlos Hyde vs. Jets. Despite Kaepernick's nightmarish performance, Hyde nearly reached 100 yards rushing. The team is going to give him a high of a volume of touches, presumably to ask Kaepernick to do less, and I don't see either team running away with this, so Hyde should get plenty of opportunities.

Andy Hicks: Mine...

1. Spencer Ware. In a short week, against an Oakland D than can be run upon, Spencer Ware should produce handy stats. Ware has been an able back in the absence of Jamaal Charles and Alex Smith is rarely going to light it up.

2. Doug Martin. The Saints defense only scares themselves. Jameis Winston and the Bucs offense is getting the job done. Advantage Bucs. Martin isn't the back he was in his rookie year or last year, but he can still be productive. 

3. Carlos Hyde. Hyde has been running the ball well and the Jets are in meltdown starting a QB that isn't NFL caliber. If the Jets are interested they may be able to hold Hyde, but that has to be a serious question at this stage.

I don't like the Ajayi matchup against the Cards and Rashad Jennings is a backup at best at this stage of his career against the Cowboys who control the clock.

Daniel Simpkins: And mine...

Doug Martin vs. New Orleans. I went into detail earlier as to why I think Winston, Martin, and Evans are in for a big day. Suffice it to say that the New Orleans run defense is very bad and Martin can exploit them. 

Spencer Ware vs. Oakland. The talent of Ware is unquestionable at this point, but going against a defense that gives up the fourth-most fantasy points against the run will lead to a big day on the ground for the Chiefs.

Carlos Hyde vs. New York. It’s a very tough matchup, but of the backs left on the list, Hyde noses out Ajayi as the one that I believe can do the most with his touches in week 14. The Jets run defense has been stiff at times this year; but lately, they’ve been giving up over 10 fantasy points per game to the running backs they’ve faced. What Hyde has been doing on that talent-depleted San Francisco team is nothing short of amazing and I believe we’ll see another display of his ability on Sunday.

Matt Waldman: I'll go with Ware, Hyde, and Ajayi in that order. Ware should earn some goal line carries and the matchups with the linebackers in the passing game could be great for him. Hyde is a badass who can avoid penetration and create. The Jets have an overaggressive rookie in Darron Lee and some penetrating defensive linemen that could generate some big creases for the ultra-patient Hyde. Ajayi's line is healthier and while I considered Doug Martin here, I think the game script could keep Ajayi in the mix and his after contact skills make him one bad angle away from a big run. 

Let's move on to your top three receivers from his list...

Sock it to me, baby...

Andy Hicks: Allen Robinson, Rishard Matthews and Devante Parker all have very tough matchups, so by process of elimination 

1) Terrelle Pryor: This is a game Cleveland will be targeting heavily to win and their chief offensive weapon is Pryor. Pryor will be targetted heavily against a Bengals secondary that can be had.

2) T.Y Hilton: Hilton is a matchup nightmare for any opposing secondary and Luck has a knack for finding him when he is open. It won't be one of his better games, but he is good enough to be productive.

3. Jordy Nelson: If Earl Thomas was on the field I wouldn't be including Nelson, but Thomas is the heartbeat of the Seahawks D and will be missed. They are capable of adjusting, but Green Bay will be hitting them at the perfect time to attack them.

Matt Waldman: I agree with you on Nelson and I think he's capable of beating Richard Sherman 1-2 times for big plays and if he's not, we could see Sherman matched against Davante Adams enough for Nelson do damage elsewhere. I like what Hilton did during his last outing gainst Houston despite playing hurt. While I'm hoping the best for Pryor, I'm wondering how good Griffin will be this week. I'm going with Matthews against Denver's defense because I think Tennessee could get him matched up with a linebacker often enough to produce a big play. I'll go Hilton-Nelson-Matthews in that order. 

Chris Kuczynski: Hilton is clearly Luck's favorite target. Dwayne Allen may have gotten all the TDs vs the Jets, but Hilton had the yards. While he has had an up and down season, his ceiling is so high because the Colts throw a lot and Moncrief and Dorsett have not been as big of factors in the offense as many expected at the start of the season.

This is a tough matchup, but as Matt mentioned, I can't see Sherman staying on Nelson all game. The Packers will be throwing since their run game is sub par. Rodgers is also the best QB for this list of possible WRs. 

I don't love the matchup, for several reasons Matt mentioned I'm on Matthews this week. Matthews has proven to be a reliable WR2 and Mariota's favorite target. Robinson vs MIN and Parker vs ARI are equally difficult matchups with lesser QBs throwing to them, and I wouldn't trust Pryor with RG3 throwing to him because we have no idea what to expect, even though Cincy is the best matchup listed.

Wood: Hilton 50%...Nelson 25%...Robinson 10%. 

Matt Waldman: Wood 1.02, brought to you by Maytag. 

Daniel Simpkins: Let's start with Nelson. Despite this defense having a reputation of being great, their secondary doesn’t scare me at all right now, especially sans Earl Thomas. With no running game, the only way Green Bay wins this game is through the air and the hands of Jordy Nelson.

It was a relief to see Hilton play well on Monday Night Football, especially since he’s about to go against a tough Houston Texans secondary that doesn’t allow much through the air. Fortunately, Hilton can make a decent fantasy day on volume alone, and he’ll see plenty of it in this all-important matchup for the lead in the AFC South division.

With RG III likely coming back, I think we could see Pryor’s statistical output perk up, especially against a Bengals team that is allowing on average over 250 yards per game.

Matt Waldman: Pryor is definitely a good risk-reward play because of Griffin's deep arm and likelihood to take shots. I just worry about his production in the middle of the field and with timing routes breaking back to the quarterback. 

Daniel Simpkins: We've seen others with less experience and potential do it...

Matt Waldman: True enough.

Chris Feery: Mine and I'll give numbers to offset the Maytag version of Wood.

  1. Jordy Nelson vs. Seattle. The Seahawks secondary is beatable, and Nelson is typically a strong play in the confines of Lambeau Field. Add those two things together, and I’ll give him a 50% chance of hitting 20 points.

  2. T.Y. Hilton vs. Houston. The Colts offense came to life on Monday Night against the Jets, and I like their chances to keep it rolling against the Texans. In fact, I think Hilton has a 50% chance of reaching 20 points.

  3. Rishard Matthews vs. Denver. I’m sniffing an upset when the Broncos head to Tennessee to square off with the Titans, and that will require the latter squad to be clicking on all cylinders. If that comes to fruition, Matthews will be one of the beneficiaries for fantasy purposes, and I’ll give him a 20% chance of reaching the mark.  

Matt Waldman: That's the spirit! Let's end this with three tight ends from this list. 

Give me the goods. 
 
Chris Kuczynski: Gresham is low on the Cardinals pecking order and hasn't shown a lot this year, Griffin is the #2 TE in his offense and Osweiler is not very good, and Cook has a tough matchup against Seattle. It makes him lower in the pecking order than some of the Packers' WRs. Here are my choices:
 

Dennis Pitta vs New England. I think Steve Smith should be the main focus of the Pats D, and Pitta showed signs of life again last week. Flacco will likely try to get him the ball as much as he can. 

Lance Kendricks vs. Atlanta- The Rams will be playing catch up this entire game and the Falcons are the worst defense on this list of matchups. Also there is not much competition for targets with Britt and Quick the only notable choices.

Dwayne Allen vs. Houston- even though he only had 4 catches, he was super efficient and turned those into 3 TDs- this can't be ignored. I don't see a repeat performance, but this certainly upped his trust with Luck and I'm sure he will be considered toward the top of the "non-Hilton" options.

Chris Feery: Mine...

  1. Dennis Pitta vs. New England. Pitta came to life last week, but there’s a pretty slim chance he’ll pull the same trick against the Patriots. 10%.

  2. Lance Kendricks vs. Atlanta. If the Rams can get the offense moving, Kendricks can make things happen with a few targets. 2%.

  3. Jermaine Gresham vs. Miami. The Dolphins can be exposed by tight ends, but Gresham’s involvement in the offense is not the most reliable for fantasy purposes. 2%.

 

Jason Wood:  Allen 10%, Pitta 5%, and Cook 2%.

Andy Hicks: Dwayne Allen, Jermaine Gresham and Ryan Griffin are more spotty in their production. Get them on the right day, you will have a good week. Most weeks though you will have barely anything to show for it.

1. Lance Kendricks isn't one of the best Tight Ends in the game, but the absence of quality at wide receiver allows him to be present for Jared Goff. Should be good for at least 6 targets a game.

2. Dennis Pitta. Joe Flacco will be able to pick and choose his targets and the Patriots will find it tough to narrow their focus. Pitta has the risk of being invisible, but as was proven last week, if the matchup is right he will have a field day.

3. Jared Cook. Cook isn't the player he used to be, but is still usable if you are hard up at Tight End. All the Packers do is throw. With Earl Thomas missing, there will be opportunities for Cook this week.

Daniel Simpkins: Mine...

Jermaine Gresham vs. Miami. I like the matchup, and Gresham has been used more in the passing offense since John Brown’s injury issues cropped up. I could very easily see Gresham catching a touchdown.

Lance Kendricks vs. Atlanta. The Rams passing offense has been pretty horrid lately, but Atlanta is one of those matchups we like for our tight ends. If there’s a week that he’ll be meaningful in these playoffs, this is probably the one.

Ryan Griffin vs. Indianapolis. I thought about Dwayne Allen here, but I couldn’t do it because the Texans are a tough matchup and Allen’s targets have been anything but consistent this season. Instead, I’ll take Ryan Griffin playing on the other side of this contest. The matchup is much more favorable, and though I think the ceiling is lower for Griffin than it is for Allen, I’m more confident that Griffin won’t give me a goose egg.

Matt Waldman: I'll take Gresham, Kendrick, and Pitta in that order. The Dolphins linebackers and safeties were so out of sorts with covering Pitta and receivers crossing the middle that they yielded four touchdowns. Kiko Alonso was an absolute liability and Bacarri Rambo wasn't much better. The Atlanta linebackers are mainstays on my Fresh Fish list in my Top 10 feature and gave up the best production for Travis Kelce this year. Jared Goff has enough affinity with Kendrick for this to work out. Because Pitta is healthy again and the rest of the starters are performing well, I'll opt for him despite the matchup.

[return to top]


 2016 in review

Matt Waldman: Let's look at some of our pre-draft thoughts versus the current reality. Let's begin with misses. What was your biggest miss (injury not a factor) among players you touted this summer with an ADP before the fourth round? 

Andy Hicks: Todd Gurley is a name that should be high on the list. Everyone remembers the first 4 games of his rookie season, but people, including myself, didn't pay enough attention to how he performed after that. Either the Rams coaching staff doesn't have a clue or Gurley isn't as good as advertised. Maybe both. 

Matt Waldman: I absolutely concur on Gurley, my good man. I'm leaning towards Sherlock Holmes bereft of his abilities...

Daniel Simpkins: I’m also with you and Andy in that my biggest miss this season has unequivocally been Todd Gurley. Where I differ with Andy and side with you is the postulation that Gurley may not be as talented as we thought. Watching the film, I still see the vision, the patience, the athleticism, and all the other traits that made us believe in Todd Gurley as a special runner. I trust the talent and I would be using this season’s poor output as an opportunity to buy on Gurley in dynasty leagues where possible.

What I do not see is an offensive line blocking well, other parts of the Los Angeles offense being viable enough to shift attention from Gurley, and Jeff Fisher and Rob Boras scheming the offense in a way to set Gurley up for success. The easiest example of coaching ineptitude to spot is the lack of usage in the passing game. Gurley has proven to be a more-than-competent pass catching back. If the running game isn’t working, why not at least use Gurley in that capacity? And the Rams are extending Jeff Fisher. Why?

Jason Wood: How could it not be Todd Gurley? He was my clear-cut top choice outside of the trio of receivers (Brown, Beckham, Jones) and I drafted him anywhere I could if I had the 4th pick or later. The mistake in retrospect was thinking he was game-script proof after last year's heroics. He's been incapable of big plays and I'm left wondering what to make of him for 2017 and beyond.

Chris Feery: You can add me to the list of Gurley as biggest miss as I was just as high on him as everyone else. We’ll see if he can bounce back next year, but I’m not optimistic about the Rams offensive fortunes for the foreseeable future.

Chris Kuczynski: Todd Gurley is a great choice here, but I'll go with a player I had ranked even higher than him to start the season—DeAndre Hopkins. As a strong supporter of the Zero RB strategy, I thought after the top 3 players were off the board (Brown, OBJr, and Julio) the next best player was Hopkins, and furthermore, I didn't think it would be much of a drop off from those 3.
 
He had put up 111/1521/11 with terrible QB play from a revolving door of starters—surely Osweiler would be an improvement? Drafting Fuller and Signing Lamar Miller was definitely going to improve the offense around him so he's not the focus of the defense? Clearly, I was wrong. Last year he had one game under 50 yards—this year he only has 3 games over 60 and isn't even on pace to crack 1000 yards. His dynasty value hasn't taken as much of a hit because he's very young and you have to imagine there will be a new QB in 2018 if things don't improve.
 
Matt Waldman: Man...I tried to forget about this choice. Although I didn't have confidence in Osweiler, I had enough confidence in Hopkins that it wouldn't matter. So wrong on so many levels. I had as much confidence in Hopkins as I had in Gurley, maybe even more. Gurley was the "ouch" mistake. Hopkins was so traumatic that I blocked it out.

To sooth our fragile fantasy egos, what was your best preseason call among players with an ADP between rounds 4-9?

Jason Wood: I would say, DeMarco Murray. I was pounding the table on him in the 4th and 5th rounds and it was a decidedly non-consensus viewpoint. Having seen his struggles firsthand in Philadelphia, I saw it more as a square peg in a round hole versus his being a pure product of the Dallas system.
 
Chris Feery: I was also higher on DeMarco Murray than most in the preseason, and I’ve been pretty happy to see that my call was a good one. He was simply a poor fit in Philadelphia, but he obviously has plenty of gas left in the tank to make things happen in an offense better suited for his capabilities.
 
Chris Kuczynski: Derek Carr! He was actually rated at the very bottom of this range right on the cusp of lowest starter/high end backup, while players like Bortles, Palmer, Taylor, Dalton and even Tannehill were ranked above him. This season he has consistently put up QB1 numbers while being firmly in the conversation for league MVP because he has to put the team on his back. Here is a stat that demonstrates this: When trailing in the 4th quarter, Carr has a 13:0 TD-to-interception ratio.

Daniel Simpkins: That title would belong to Jay Ajayi. I featured him in a Player Spotlight and believed that he could be a steal for owners who wanted to wait at the running back position. Arian Foster signing in Miami didn’t really bother me, but I did back off my position significantly when Ajayi got deactivated for week one against Seattle. Fortunately for all of us, Ajayi got his head on straight and the rest is history.

Andy Hicks: It's a hard choice between Demarco Murray or Melvin Gordon here. Both were going to be the clear No.1 backs on their teams and expected to exceed 200 carries. It was very easy to see that DeMarco Murray wasn't the problem in Philadelphia and the Titans have a good line in front of him. With Gordon, sometimes rookie running backs struggle. The Chargers had enough faith to persevere and have been rewarded with Gordon being the back they expected to get in the first round.

Matt Waldman: There sure is a strong contingent of Murray love for "there not being much love to go around," me included. I touted him in August and I didn't buy the damnation of him due to his experience in Philadelphia. 

But my best pick was a toss-up among Larry Fitzgerald, Isaiah Crowell, and Michael Thomas. Because Fitzgerald and Crowell have tapered off, Thomas has to be it. I'm remembering correctly, I had Thomas ranked higher than anyone on staff and thought that he'd produce immediately in the Saints offense.

What was your best preseason call among players with an ADP after the 10th round?  

Andy Hicks: Mike Wallace. He was a poor fit in the Vikings offense and a close look at the Baltimore receiving ranks indicated Wallace had to be a good chance to get on the field often. Add in the ability of Joe Flacco to throw a deep ball and it was a no-risk pick for the upside of a Fantasy WR2.

Daniel Simpkins: I’ll go with Chris Hogan here, but I can’t take full credit for the call. The work of fellow Footballguy Chad Parsons convinced me that the sure-handed receiver formerly from Buffalo would become a favorite target of Tom Brady. Hogan’s performances have kept several of my PPR teams from missing the playoffs. Gronkowski is done for the season and with Danny Amendola and Martellus Bennett ailing, Hogan will still get plenty of chances to make an impact in the New England passing game.

Chris Feery: As I mentioned in an earlier roundtable, in July I thought Spencer Ware would have a decent impact this season as a sleeper pick. With Charles' history of injuries and age, along with Ware showing great production at the end of last season, I thought he would be a solid complementary back even if Charles came back 100%. In reality, Ware has shown to be a true three-down back and will likely dominate touches in the Chiefs backfield next season as well.

Jason Wood: Jordan Howard was a rookie I targeted aggressively thanks in part to Matt Waldman's fantastic analysis in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. He's a better player than Jeremy Langford and if the Bears can field a better offense around him could push for RB1 value in the future.

Matt Waldman: Thanks, Wood. Now I feel bad for making fun of your data answers in the match up section. 

Jason Wood: Ha!

Matt Waldman: Obviously, you can add me to the Spencer Ware contingent. I milled the wood for the bandwagon and didn't budge from the vehicle. But another guy I had in the 11th and was willing to reach as high as the ninth round to nab was LeGarrette Blount. He's perennially underrated because he isn't a third-down back, but folks miss how agile he is. They think he's solely a hammer because of his size. 

Chris Feery: I was pretty high on Matt Ryan’s prospects for a bounce-back year, but I had no idea that would translate into an MVP caliber season. I’ll chalk it up as a win, but I was simply expecting him to reaffirm himself as a quality starter and fantasy asset.

Name the player you never imagined would play as well as he did whose name isn't Dak Prescott.

Andy Hicks: Jay Ajayi. After his petulant benching after not being named the starter for week 1, I was feeling smug in my preseason predictions. Ajayi performed well above my expectations though and looks the real deal. His injury issues are still to pass the long term test and it will be interesting to see if The Dolphins bring in other backs for 2017, but for now he looks like a top pick for next year's fantasy drafts.

Chris Kuczynski: Ajayi is a good pick here, especially since all the offseason talk of Arian Foster looking good and Ajayi starting the season in the doghouse. I'll also throw in Davante Adams. After he couldn't take advantage of Jordy Nelson missing last season, I thought it was safe to say he fell far down the depth chart. It actually took until after their bye in week 5 to start putting up really impressive performances, but for a month stretch, he was really dominating the share of targets before the Packers as a whole started to struggle.

Daniel Simpkins: For me, that player has been LeGarrette Blount. I’ve always thought he was overrated as a talent. I completely wrote him off before the season, thinking Dion Lewis wouldn’t miss a beat from where he got injured last season. Even with the news that Lewis would miss a significant portion of 2016, I never expected Blount to be the touchdown machine that he’s been. With Lewis back in the rotation, Blount is still a significant part of the Patriots’ ground game.

Jason Wood: Terrelle Pryor comes to mind. The fact he was delivering WR1 numbers early in the season when healthy was shocking to me given his history as a concerned QB.

Chris Feery: Jay Ajayi has definitely been a revelation for me as well. I simply wasn’t expecting him to breakout in 2016, especially after the Dolphins signed Arian Foster.

Matt Waldman: I have to do a mea culpa on Latavius Murray. I think this entire week of my content has been one big, I owe you an apology, Latavius. I'm not completely sold he's turned the corner to fantasy stardom and free agency could hurt him. But I will note that he's far more decisive and there was a play last weekend where he hit a tight crease with such force that he made a Bills linebacker look like a bowling pin. In those white uni's, they actually look like they belong in an alley. I thought Murray would be on the bench by midseason because of his maddening inconsistency, but he has matured and it's a great sign for people who love running back play. 

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Football Lessons

Waldman: It's easy to enter a rabbit hole when it comes to studying the game of football. This year I've learned a lot of things about the game that I applied to the analysis of fantasy football. I've been wondering if many of you have similar experiences. 

Tell us at least one thing you've learned new about football this year. It can be any aspect of the game: strategy, technique, athletic components, management, finance, coaching/development, etc. 

Explain what you learned and how it has altered or reinforced the way you see the action on the field. If you made a connection to fantasy football, share what it is and how you've used (or plan to use) that lesson in your future analysis as a writer or fantasy owner. 

Daniel Simpkins: This year, I’ve paid a lot more attention to the offensive line play on teams, which has led me to conclude just how important offensive line play is to the fantasy output of players. I remember when I first started playing years ago, I would be baffled when a running back who had been producing well for my team all of the sudden struggled for weeks with no real explanation.

Looking back, I now know that in some of those instances, it was because the offensive line had lost a key player or two that changed the whole dynamic of the line. Or perhaps the line was a stellar pass blocking unit, but only a so-so run blocking group.

As I’ve tracked the lines this year, I’ve sometimes been able to avoid starting a player who was destined to get stonewalled that week or at least been able to adjust my expectations for a player who would normally have a much greater output if his line was functioning at its optimum level. For our subscribers who are looking to learn more about offensive line play, our very own Matt Bitonti is the go-to guy when it comes to dropping knowledge on that subject.

Chris Kuczynski: Daniel and I are on the exact same wavelength on this one. The offensive line is probably the most impactful position group on the field after the quarterback, but they are the most forgotten positions. They don't show up in the box scores, they aren't a position used in fantasy football, and if we do hear their name mentioned it is probably because they caused a penalty or gave up a sack. 

The past two seasons have really opened my eyes to how important the offensive line is and how huge of an impact it has on the success of the entire offense. Look at the two top teams in the league the Cowboys and the Raiders, then look at how their lines are the top two rated in the league. 

I have gotten a front row seat as a Raiders fan seeing Derek Carr almost never get sacked and this has undoubtedly helped him improve as a player the last 2 seasons because he has time to make decisions and time for routes to open up, he's confident he won't feel pressure, and he is protected from taking unnecessary hits that could lead to injury.

When the Raiders line has been healthy, Carr is the least sacked Quarterback in the league, and this season the team has had a top 10 rushing attack with an RBBC. And as good as Murray has looked this year, he had major slumps last season when there were injuries to the line in the second half of the season- particularly missing center Rodney Hudson. The whole offense cooled down last year and Carr took twice as many sacks in the 2nd half than he did the first half.

On the flip side, you can see the negative impact a poor line can do for an offense with the struggles and injuries seen to Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck. Often have very little time to throw and they take a lot of punishment. In LA, you can see Gurley's decline that could probably be blamed on the offensive line not opening up holes, considering the quarterback play is not much different than last year. Even looking at the TE position, some players run fewer routes because they need to stay in to block. 

So overall, the offensive line has a tremendous impact that fantasy football fans might not pay as close attention to.

Andy Hicks: This is a topic that probably requires greater thought to give detailed and in-depth analysis. 

Rarely do I get thunderstruck with a lightning bolt, but often seeds that have been planted in the past bear fruit. The most important thing to do in all the viewing and analysis we do is to keep an open mind to anything and everything. 

Analysis of college players often does not pay enough attention to what would be a good team for a player to land on and what would be a bad one. We see first rounders bust every year because they are a poor fit for the team that drafted them. Maybe it is an owner pick or the coaching staff thinking they can mold a player to fit what they want to do. 

Late round draft picks and free agents often outproduce expectations by being the right player on the right team. We see analysis every year where a player is going to succeed or fail no matter where he goes. Once the player is drafted we often want to see a player succeed, despite his circumstances. Months are spent on analyzing the player, but little time is spent on putting the whole picture together. 

Another situation that is becoming clearer is not falling into the same traps every year when doing rankings. Once the season is finished, you see people failing to reflect on where they went right and where they went wrong. They just make the same mistakes next year.

If you truly want to succeed at fantasy football you need to investigate your thought process following the season before you do your preparation for the next season. It is easy to blame the injury bug in far too many successes and failures. Preconceived ideas about players and situations need to be thrown out. Why did this player come out of nowhere, why did that player fail to live up to expectations? Time spent improving your thought process is time well spent. 

Chris Feery: The guys have made some excellent points so far, and I’d like to build on Andy’s excellent observation about thought processes and preconceived notions. That’s a concept that’s been floating through my head over the past few seasons, but it’s really been hammered home for me in 2016. I’ve learned to pay even more attention to how thought processes are influenced overall, and that’s helped immensely in being able to sort out the clear signals from the noise.

The round-the-clock nature of NFL coverage often leads to overall narratives developing, and that’s true whether we’re talking about a specific news item or the capabilities of a specific player. Things move fast in the world of football news, and reactions flow in fast and furious. It’s not uncommon to see a recurring theme develop as the conversation moves along about a specific player or topic, and that theme quickly becomes the so-called group-think on that particular issue.
 
It can be pretty tough to see past that, and that’s where trusting your own instincts and thought processes comes in. Taking a look at the situation through a lens of objectivity can open your eyes up to all sorts of possibilities. While sometimes group think is right on the money, there are other times where it misses the mark completely due to the prevailing narrative.
 
One quick example from the preseason: DeMarco Murray was written off by many after a disastrous 2015 in Philadelphia, but a closer look at things reveals that the pessimism was vastly overblown. He was a poor fit in Philadelphia, but that didn’t mean that his skill set had suddenly fallen off of a cliff.
 
By taking a step back, you could equate his poor season with someone that had made a career move that didn’t work out too swimmingly. Dusting yourself off, finding a better fit and remaining driven and focused are the keys to recovering from a move that doesn’t work out, and that’s exactly what Murray has done in Tennessee.
 

In short, it’s important to take a closer look at things when you find yourself going with the crowd. Sometimes you’ll realize that the crowd is right, but there’s other times that you’ll discover something else that’s been missed - and that can really help set your teams and lineups apart from the pack.

Jason Wood: This year for me has been a realization that that data available to the general fan has now caught up to data we used to cling to as competitive differentiation. The average fantasy football owner now doesn't hesitate to bench a "name" because the matchup is difficult versus a tertiary option with a choice matchup.

Waiver wire picks are now automated because the main sites give not only recommendations but those personalized to a teams needs and league scoring. There are brilliant people studying All 22 film and sharing their thoughts with the world. In other words, it's harder than ever for information arbitrage.

Matt Waldman: I love the point about offensive line play. It's one of the major differences between Atlanta last year (three years really) and this year. But I'll go in three other directions. 

I've been reading about explosive plays this year. The NFL has researched this idea that explosive plays—pass completions of at least 16 yards and rushes of at least 12—enhance the likelihood of scoring. When Mike Eayrs, former head of research and development for Green Bay, studied years of data, he discovered that when an offense had a drive without an explosive play it only scored 9 percent of the time. When it had one explosive play, it scored 29 percent of the time. And when it had two explosive plays during a single drive, it scored 77 percent of the time.

This helped me see the game differently. The vertical game is something all teams guard against, but the most effective way of stretching a defense it keeping it from cheating against one facet of the offense is consistently hitting intermediate plays in the passing and gashing them on runs of at least 12 yards. It's not as ambitious of an achievement as I once thought was required.

If you look at Dak Prescott's early production, he was routinely completing passes of 16 yards despite rarely going deep. His consistent play in the intermediate game yielded points even when Ezekiel Elliott was still getting acclimated and Dez Bryant was out. This helps me evaluate the effectiveness of an offense as well as quarterback play. 

Another area that isn't as new to me, but earns further validation with each passing year is the fact that young running backs are often not trained on the varieties of blocking schemes that they'll encounter in the NFL. There are two basic groups of blocking schemes: zone and gap (or man). The way backs approach these blocks are often diametrically opposite despite the actual direction of the blocks sometimes appearing the same. 

Each requires a different approach and some backs struggle with the scheme types they aren't familiar. Trent Richardson and Darren McFadden come to mind. But there are backs that learn and develop. David Johnson was much better running gap than he was zone, but he has become much more patient with zone and it has made all the difference. 

Another thing that I'm learning is the timing between quarterback drops and routes:

  • Routes that complement each other so quarterbacks and receivers can make quick adjustments based on coverage.
  • The average timing needed (and available) for quarterbacks to make each drop and the routes that fit them. 
  • How offenses implement these routes and reads into systems that can unintentionally limit a quarterback becuase it realistically only gives him half-field reads, sends mixed messages about objectives, or the objectives give defenses an advantage to forcing decisions that play to its advantage. 

This is something that I think will help my analysis of passing games and its components in 2-3 years. Maybe even see a little earlier which offenses will struggle or thrive.

  

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