Tampa benched Jameis Winston and returned to Ryan Fitzpatrick — we'll examine the fallout and preview the Buccaneers-Panthers tilt. We'll also discuss some fantasy surprises and players who our staff predicts fantasy players will be parting ways with by month's end.
Matt Waldman: The Rams and Chiefs have two of the best young offenses in the NFL. Both are well-coached units with rising stars at quarterback, excellent running backs, receivers who run the football as an integral part of the scheme, and strong offensive lines.
- Project the game script and outcome.
- Who will be start-able fantasy options on each roster?
- Name one player who will disappoint from each squad.
Andy Hicks: On paper, this looks like it will be a 70 plus points game with offenses dueling each other, but I wonder what effect the air quality will have. The Rams have been suffering from poor air quality due to the horrific wildfires and I wonder if the conditions will affect them more rather than the Chiefs.
Both teams should come out firing with neither defense doing effective work. The Rams have faced a brutal schedule of late and it doesn’t get easier here.
The Chiefs will target Marcus Peters relentlessly and why wouldn’t you? He is like that chronic gambler who cannot resist going for the big win but busts every down. Peters will, however, want to be at his best against the team that traded him in the offseason. It will be fascinating to see that play out.
All told there will be prodding jabs, a lot of haymakers and the Chiefs will deliver the knockout blow early in the fourth quarter. Chiefs 45, Rams 35.
B.J. VanderWoude: Andy made a great point regarding the air quality. These two teams are on top in their respective conferences for a reason, and there is too much offense on both sides to think that one team will blow the other out. In the end, I think it will be a very fast-paced game that breaks the 70-point threshold, with the Chiefs winning a barn-burner 41-38.
Mark Schofield: This will be a game with points coming in bunches. Both Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes II will produce for their respective teams thanks to their collection of surrounding talent — Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, and Robert Woods.
I think the Rams will win 35-38.
Jeff Haseley: I actually see this being a big Kareem Hunt game, or at least that's what I would do if I were Andy Reid. In a time where 100-yard running backs aren't as common as they once were, the Rams have allowed a running back to reach 80 yards rushing in each of the last three games, allowing five rushing touchdowns and two more receiving touchdowns to backs in that span. If Kansas City wants to control the game they will use Hunt to their advantage. My gut says the Chiefs will win in a gritty, hard-fought game.
Justin Howe: It’s boring, but I’m bracing for a full-on shootout. There are a number of variables to affect that, of course, but I see little projectable reason to expect otherwise. Both teams use the whole field to shred each other to death by a thousand cuts, and touchdowns quickly go on parade. Kansas City lacks an Aaron Donald element, and the hometown Rams come away with a 35-31 triumph on the backs of a few key defensive stops down the stretch.
Mark Wimer: I'm with Justin here - I expect a full-on shootout. I'm expecting an aerial duel between the two young QBs so look for a lot of quick-paced drives and probably 300-plus yards passing for each offense.
Dany Hindery: I’m with Vegas in thinking this game will be a shootout (over/under of 63.5 points) but I think the Chiefs pull off the mild upset. It is hard to envision this game as anything other than a well-played, high-scoring game where the quarterback who has the ball last wins.
Waldman: Who is startable? Who will disappoint?
Hindery: Every top option is easily start-able (Todd Gurley, Patrick Mahomes II, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks, and Robert Woods). Josh Reynolds is also squarely in play. The only player who could disappoint is Sammy Watkins. While his foot injury doesn’t sound especially serious in terms of missing any more games, I hate playing guys coming off of foot injuries because they can really limit a player’s explosiveness. It’s entirely possible that Watkins is out there mostly as a decoy if his foot is limiting him even slightly.
Wimer: Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes II, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce start them all. I don't see a big game coming for tight end Tyler Higbee, and I think that Kareem Hunt will get stuffed several times by the Ram's defensive line, causing the Chiefs to lean on the passing game.
Hicks: For the Rams, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, and Robert Woods as usual for the Rams and Patrick Mahomes II, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce as usual for the Chiefs. Looking for another player is overthinking this question. Even the kickers should be good value. The only units I would probably not start are the defensive units for both sides. I will be fascinated to see if others have the game scripts differently and who and why a quality starter should not be played. I just can’t see it.
VanderWoude: Is it possible to start eight players in one game and still have all reach fantasy value? Well, all you have to do is look at the Saints vs Rams game from three weeks ago and you'll have your answer. Not only are all eight startable they also are MUST-plays this week because any one of them could be the star of the game.
This is especially true for Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, as the loss of Cooper Kupp to a season-ending injury creates more targets for both of them, including several red-zone targets per game. The loss of Kupp and the questionable status of Watkins is a blow to all who love fantasy football, as I cannot remember a game where 10 players were all viable starting options.
In very deep leagues, the loss of Kupp opens up a spot for Josh Reynolds, a 6'3 rangy receiver who is highly regarded inside the Rams organization. Reynolds will be a player to keep an eye on, and if you are in a pinch with bye weeks or injuries, starting Reynolds in a shootout is not a bad idea because he has the size to be a factor in the red zone.
I could see Todd Gurley disappointing, but relatively speaking and based only his prior performances this season. The game could be fast paced to start, and although Gurley is a big part of the passing game, he does not have the same receiving touchdown upside that Hunt does. I would not bet on this though, as Gurley is a touchdown machine and the Rams will have plenty of opportunities in the red zone.
Schofield: Start everyone in this game, the points are going to come in bunches. If there is a darkhorse for a player who might disappoint, it is Kelce. The Rams have given up just 7.8 points per game (standard formats) to opposing tight ends this year, which is a middle-of-the-pack result but the only potential negative I could find when looking at this matchup.
Haseley: In addition to all the starters mentioned above with weekly fantasy starter values this season, Sammy Watkins and Josh Reynolds are the fliers upside potential. Watkins either has an average game or a big game. The problem - his big games are less frequent than his average ones.
Reynolds' presence may have a negative impact on a player. My guess is Cooks, but it could easily be Robert Woods also. the two have virtually the same stat line this year. Cooper Kupp led all receivers with six touchdowns. Reynolds has red-zone talent. He'll be targeted, and the scoring chances could impact either Cooks or Woods.
Guys Named Josh
Waldman: Josh Adams is a rookie running back for the Eagles. He played much of last year at Notre Dame with a knee that wasn't fully rehabilitated from surgery. He's a big back with long speed. He's performed well enough that Doug Peterson has mandated more carries.
Josh Reynolds is a second-year wide receiver for the Rams. He filled in for Cooper Kupp when Kupp injured his MCL. Now that Kupp is done for the year with an ACL tear, Reynolds will become the third receiver in Los Angeles. A tall option with gliding speed, the strength of Reynolds' game heading into the NFL was rebounding 50/50 targets. A few weeks ago, he showed off route skills that were impressive for a tall receiver.
Speaking of high flyers, Josh Doctson is on a two-game touchdown streak and earning roughly five targets per game since Week 7. With Paul Richardson Jr on IR, Washington needs this third-year receiver to perform to his first-round draft capital. He has shown progress against the likes of the Cowboys, Giants, Falcons, and Texans.
Josh Rosen earned decent production against the 49ers two weeks ago but returned to rookie purgatory against the Chiefs. The Raiders are next and they let Nick Mullens have one of the best debuts for a signal caller during the NFL's modern era.
Josh Gordon is emerging as Tom Brady's favorite target. He earned 22 targets against the Packers and Titans and a total of 35 since Week 7, compiling 17 receptions, 353 yards and a score during this four-week span. He'll have a bye this weekend, which should help the hamstring strain that's been ailing him since the weekend before his trade to New England.
Answer the following about each Josh:
- Is Josh Adams worth a re-draft roster spot and what's your dynasty outlook?
- Will Josh Reynolds replace Cooper Kupp in role and production?
- Is Josh Doctson emerging or teasing us?
- Can Josh Rosen deliver a Mullens-like weekend against the Raiders?
- With Rob Gronkowski ailing, do you expect a big stretch-run for Josh Gordon?
Let the NFL Josh Convention begin.
Waldman: Is Josh Adams worth a re-draft roster spot and what's your dynasty outlook?
Wimer: If you are thin at running back in a deep-bench re-draft league, then I'd consider Adams as a speculative add. I am more interested in him as a dynasty prospect as I don't think Jay Ajayi or Corey Clement is the long-term answer for the Eagles. Is Adams the next featured back for the Eagles? I'm not sure of the answer but in dynasty formats, you should be interested in buying and holding a prospect with this much upside for next season and little in the way of talent higher up the depth chart.
Hindery: Adams isn’t worth a re-draft roster spot at this point. He has yet to play 20 snaps in any game and this isn’t a productive backfield. I could absolutely see Adams leading the way in terms of fantasy production for the Eagles backs, but where does that get us if this running game remains bad and mired in a 2 or 3-man committee?
Schofield: I'm buying the Adams hype in both formats. Doug Pederson himself came out and indicated that Adams is going to get more carries, and given the lack of production, we have seen from the rest of the Philadelphia Eagles' stable of running backs, that probably means a ton of opportunities for him down the stretch. The Eagles need to get back to their multiple-tight end formations, which are a great way to get the running backs involved, so I'm expecting big things from Adams going forward. I mean, he was a player I picked up in multiple redraft leagues this week, so I'm buying in for sure.
Howe: Definitely so, even if fantasy players can’t expect the moon and the stars. Adams does not carry much of a volume outlook – he’s only usable on early downs, and despite strong ground efficiency thus far, he’s still yet to top 19 snaps or 9 carries. Still, he’s the most dynamic runner left on the roster, and the only one with a marketable skill (his power).
Adams was a poor size/speed prospect in this year’s class, but he’s packed on muscle since his 213-pound Combine weigh-in, and with it has come solid power. I don’t believe one bit in Wendell Smallwood or Corey Clement as ballcarriers, so Adams should lead the team in rushes and production most weeks. It just won’t be anything too special.
Haseley: Meh - I'm not keen on any Eagles running backs over the rest of the season. One could surprise, and if I had my pick, it would be Josh Adams, but I'm not going out of my way to acquire him via waivers or even start him, especially not this week at New Orleans. Philadelphia will probably lose more games than they will win going forward. I'm not looking at their ground game as a source of fantasy production going forward.
VanderWoude: I believe that Josh Adams has the skills to be a very productive player for the Eagles. However, the Eagles just do not seem ready to commit to a workhorse back, and Adams has yet to see enough snaps to be a productive player. With so many clear handcuffs come playoff time, I don't think now is the time to commit to Adams in re-draft leagues. With respect to dynasty formats, Adams is worth a stash, if for no other reason than the Eagles penchant for tinkering with their lineups. Your fantasy squad would have to be a very needy running back team because the Eagles boast four other running backs that could make a similar claim, and we have yet to see if Adams is a better version of Clement, Smallwood or Sproles.
Hicks: The injury to Cooper Kupp opens the door and Reynolds has looked able in his limited participation in this offense so far. With explosive weapons all around him, he could be primed for a massive uptick in fantasy production. Reynolds will get opportunities beyond this season as well.
Reynolds has good size and speed, with the only concerning knock being his slender frame. Reynolds won’t be an every week starter and cannot replicate what Kupp means to this offense, but with the right matchup and further improvement possible is a good investment.
Howe: In touchdown production… perhaps. Kupp is among the league’s better short-yardage targets – from inside the 10, he’s turned 4 of his career 14 targets into touchdowns, and was stopped at the 1-yard line two more times. He’ll be missed all over the field, but Reynolds is a long, lean specimen who turned 164 college catches into a silly-looking 30 touchdowns.
His ball skills are remarkable, featuring a 37” vertical leap and a preternatural understanding of the catch point. I have questions about Reynolds’ viability as an all-around receiver – he’s rail-thin and lacks physicality, and fairly inconsistent in his fundamentals. But if he can capture even half Kupp’s volume and red zone opportunity, he’ll be a workable bye-week fill-in for the time being. Even if he’s a one-trick pony, it’s an extremely high-upside trick, especially in this offense.
Hindery: I do think Reynolds steps into Kupp’s role in terms of playing time and he should be productive. Probably more productive than most are expecting, though I don’t expect him to step up and produce exactly as much as Kupp.
Goff and Kupp had a tremendous rapport and Reynolds won’t be able to dominate on some of the short option routes that Kupp’s quickness made him impossible to cover. Reynolds is the clear #3 at wide receiver for the Rams while Kupp was arguably the 1A (slightly ahead of Cooks and Woods) when healthy.
VanderWoude: I don't see Reynolds replacing Kupp's production, those are big shoes to fill. Kupp is an outstanding route-runner who understands how to get open, especially in small spaces in the red zone. Reynolds will grab the full-time No. 3 spot and give the Rams an added element to their passing game.
He is definitely worth a spot in re-draft leagues and should be one of the more valuable free agent pickups this week. Reynolds has yet to see a full complement of snaps in a game this season, so it would be wise to temper your expectations for the first couple of games.
Haseley: I'll buy Josh Reynolds as a flex option or maybe even a WR3 for the rest of the year. He should be more involved with the Cooper Kupp injury and he'll be on a high scoring offense that could use his talent, size and, strength. You want players who will have scoring opportunities and who are heavily involved in the offense. He'll have the scoring chances, we'll see how involved he'll be, but that's enough to take a flier on him as a player who could be a big help in your push for the trophy.
Wimer: Yes. He's shown what he can do at this level already and now Opportunity is knocking on Reynolds' door.
Schofield: All signs point to yes. With all the things a defense has to worry about when looking at this Rams' offense, with Cooks and Woods and Gurley, there is an opportunity for Reynolds to see a lot of single-coverage looks with coverage schemes shaded away from him. Sean McVay is a master at identifying and exploiting matchups, and if a defense is going to focus on taking away the other players - as one might expect - Reynolds should be in a good position.
Waldman: Is Josh Doctson emerging or teasing?
VanderWoude: I see Doctson for what he is, an impressive red zone target, but not a guy who is going to go out and give you many 100+ yard games. That is enough to be among the top targets on the Redskins right now, but with Alex Smith at quarterback, I would much rather invest in a high volume guy like Maurice Harris. In the last two games of the 2017 season,
Doctson saw 23 targets and managed 6 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown — and that was with Kirk Cousins throwing him the football. I don't see a breakout finish to the 2018 season for Doctson.
Schofield: Teasing. His two touchdowns this year came in the past two weeks, against arguably the two worst passing defenses in the league. The Atlanta Falcons are giving up an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 7.5, 5th most in the league, and the "Expected Points Contributed" by their passing defense is -116.14. 2nd worst in the league. In your proverbial "hold my beer" moment, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are giving up an ANY/A of 9.0 to opposing passers - 2nd most in the NFL - and their pass defense has contributed -124.25 points per game - worst in the league. Basically, the Bucs are turning opposing passers into Patrick Mahomes II. So...call me skeptical of Doctson's recent production.
Haseley: Eh, I'm not as high on Josh Doctson as some others might be. We might be chasing points if we try to ride the wave now. Alex Smith has not been fantasy relevant in Washington and that scares me about relying on any receiver on the team. Smith has three multiple-score games this season and none since Week 6. Taking a chance on a receiver means you're also relying on his quarterback. For me, Smith is the deciding factor on passing on Washington receiver talent. Maurice Harris may be an exception because he's playing the short-yardage role, which could be beneficial especially for PPR leagues.
HIcks: Do not get carried away with Josh Doctson. Yes, he is a first-round draft pick, but you would think he would have something to show for almost three years in the league. He has one game with more than 61 yards and has never had more than 5 receptions. Even the five-reception game is a one-off.
Maurice Harris has more yards and receptions in six games than Doctson has had all year. Harris has had a 10-catch and a 5-catch game in his last pair of outings. I’ve been waiting for Doctson to break out for almost three years now and a less patient person would give up by now. He is still young and good enough, but the clock is running out.
Howe: I’m starting to believe Doctson is Just Some Guy. There may be a real red zone skillset there, but there’s almost no volume or dependability outlook. Drops remain a concern, and it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll ever bring anything to the table beyond the occasional twisting jump ball. He’s a deep threat at heart, and the odds are stacked even further against him with Captain Dink & Dunk under center.
Alex Smith may look Doctson’s way in the red zone, but he doesn’t offer a shred of dynamism for the young wideout. Washington has been moderately successful with Smith checking down and limiting tough throws, so we may have already seen the best of Doctson for 2018 (4 for 46 and 1 touchdown last week).
Wimer: Let me put it this way - in the NFC South, the Falcons' and the Buccaneers' secondaries are in a race to be the worst secondary in their division. So I am not overly excited by Doctson finally finding the end zone once against each of these "defenses". I am on the "he's teasing us" side of this question.
Hindery: He may be emerging as a guy who will consistently catch 3-5 passes per game, which is a big step up from where he was but still nothing to get overly excited about. The Washington offense is going to be run-heavy and spread the ball around to a bunch of different pass catchers.
Jay Gruden told us this before the season that none of the wide receivers were going to put up big fantasy numbers because of the scheme and the way he wanted to spread the ball around. He was telling the truth, and I don't see that changing given the success they've had despite being decimated by injuries.
Waldman: Can Josh Rosen deliver a Mullens-like weekend against the Raiders?
Hindery: I doubt it. While Byron Leftwich has done well as a play caller, that Mullens performance was a Kyle Shanahan special and Shanahan is one of the truly elite play callers in today’s NFL. I’m expecting a slow-paced, low-scoring game and pedestrian fantasy stats across the board— with the possible exception of David Johnson.
Wimer: There is more game tape on Rosen at this level than Mullens, so Oakland's defense will be better prepared for him. Also, Rosen has looked exactly like a rookie quarterback starting in the NFL (sub-par to awful depending on the week) so I don't foresee a sudden burst of adequacy on Rosen's part. It's his year to eat humble pie.
Haseley: I don't think we can rely on Rosen or the Cardinals offense right now. Yes they are getting David Johnson more involved, and yes Rosen has improved as of late, but unless I'm in a two-quarterback league, I'm not relying on Rosen to provide the majority of my week's fantasy points. Perhaps the matchup at home vs Oakland this week will be productive. it should, but I see that as an anomaly. Eventually, Rosen will have a place in this league and he'll only get better, but for now, he's off my radar.
Schofield: Yes. The Raiders are giving up an ANY/A of 9.3 to opposing passers, which is the worst number in the league. Kyle Shanahan did a great job with scheming against the Raiders, using 21 offensive personnel to get some favorable matchups in the passing game, often working off play-action. While the Cardinals use 21 offensive personnel fewer than almost any other team, with Duke Johnson Jr they can still get some opportunities for play-action.
Hicks: Philip Rivers didn’t and he is the most recent opponent for the Raiders. The Chargers let Melvin Gordon III loose and ran out the clock, but the Raiders were much better against the Chargers than they were in that inept showing against the 49ers.
The Cardinals aren’t anywhere near the caliber of team that the Chargers are, but neither are the 49ers. Arizona would be better served to feed David Johnson the ball. If the coaching staff believe they can attack the Raiders secondary, then maybe Josh Rosen continues his improvement. I would bet against it. Expect Johnson to have a huge day.
VanderWoude: The Cardinals have given the keys to the offense to Rosen over the last three weeks, where he has averaged nearly 40 attempts per game, compared to the previous three weeks where he averaged 27.6 attempts per game. The change in offensive coordinator has a lot to do with this as well, as Byron Leftwich seems much more inclined to open up the passing game. I don't see Rosen matching what Mullens did, but I do think he will have his best game as a professional.
Howe: No; I don’t see the same skillsets in place. Mullens resembled Tom Brady in Week 9, consistently getting the ball out of his hand quickly and taking the Oakland pass rush out of the equation. He knew his limitations and knew he couldn’t/didn’t want to climb through pressure and make tough throws. Rosen has yet to showcase that ability – he’s absorbed 18 sacks over the past 4 weeks. As a result, those uncontested deep balls don’t show up, and he always finds himself mired around 225 yards (despite strong volume). The Raiders pass defense is indeed weak and burnable, but this isn’t the matchup to expect the unexpected from Rosen.
Howe: There are so many landmines in place for Gordon: sobriety, conditioning, consistency, role/volume. But his downfield abilities clearly haven’t waned – he’s averaging 18.3 yards per catch, a wild mark for a No. 1 wideout. (Yes, Julian Edelman draws similar volume and also lays claim to that tag. But comparing his game to Gordon’s is like comparing apples to genetically-mutated apples that can clean your garage.)
Gordon isn’t flawless, and last week’s solid line (4 for 81) belies the fantastic job Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson did in coverage. But he’s virtually all Tom Brady has deep down the field, and he’s not afraid to use him.
Hindery: Gordon should be a solid WR2 for the stretch run. However, I’m not necessarily sold on this Patriots offense as the dominant force it has been for the past decade, which tempers my enthusiasm for Gordon.
Since Gordon is just one of the key targets (Julian Edelman, James White, and Rob Gronkowski when healthy), I don't like his chances of emerging as a true fantasy WR1 unless we see a major rebound for the Patriots offense. Over the last three weeks, Tom Brady has only thrown a single touchdown (the late-game bomb to Josh Gordon in Week 9).
New England’s small slide on offense compared to past seasons is magnified because passing production has exploded across the board with absurd passing production from a bunch of different offenses. Unlike past years, there are a number of other offenses I’d prefer to have a piece of down the stretch.
Hicks: Josh Gordon is a player I just cannot trust. He is likely to continue his strong run, but I always think that Bill Belichick is just as likely to cut him any week as throw the big plays his way. If you got Gordon for cents on the dollar, congratulations, ride him while you can.
Schofield: New England just forced targets in the direction of Gordon last week. Any time Tom Brady saw single coverage, he was looking to Gordon on vertical routes working against Adoree' Jackson.
Jackson won many of those matchups.
That, coupled with the fact that Gronkowski should return to the lineup after the buy, has me hesitant on Gordon's expected contribution down the stretch.
Haseley: I'd take a flier on Josh Gordon, especially with Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman ailing. I don't see him dominating a game, but I do see him being a complementary and situational receiver for Tom Brady as the Patriots will look to secure their playoff spot and make some noise in the AFC.
Wimer: I think Gordon is blessed with amazing athleticism and as long as he can keep his life off the field on the rails, he should be among the top 12 wide receivers in the NFL. Gronkowski is certainly a key player for Tom Brady's performance, but Gordon can become Moss-like in New England as long as he attends to the business at hand. But given his addiction problems, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop with this guy.
VanderWoude: Finally, a Josh I can believe in! The answer to this question is a resounding yes. Josh Gordon is ready to break out and has two 100-plus-yard outings in his last four games. He has benefited from the return of Julian Edelman, and should only get better as the season progresses and his chemistry with Tom Brady improves.
Waldman: Pick ONE topic from below and share your thoughts and recommendations.
- Brandon Marshall didn't do much for the Seahawks, but the Saints quickly acquired him after Dez Bryant tore his Achilles. Why? Does he have fantasy value?
- Nick Chubb leads the league in yards after contact by a healthy margin. I've been saying for several months that yards after contact as a metric -- especially for college evaluations is faulty because a guy like Saquon Barkley earned massive credit running through love taps to his thigh and earning inflated numbers whereas Chubb often ran through more meaningful contact. Barkley is a great young player with terrific strength but the point is that some data needs better context to deliver useful information with a lower risk of being misleading. Is there a specific metric or common data point you find problematic in a similar light as above?
- Name a college player you can't wait to see on an NFL field.
- What are two books you've read that will help fantasy football players gain a better understanding of the game?
Which topic interests you the most?
Schofield: As someone who focuses nearly all of his draft research on the quarterbacks, I'm reluctant to put any of the current crop of quarterbacks on any list of players "I cannot wait to watch play in the NFL."
I do believe that Justin Herbert is going to be a very good player in the NFL, whenever he decides to declare. His understanding of leverage and alignment in the secondary, coupled with his demonstrated ability to make anticipation throws and his impressive accuracy and velocity, make him a definite round one quarterback, whenever he decides to enter the draft.
The sleeper at the QB position I keep coming back to is Brett Rypien. Very experienced passer, very tough kid who will stand in the pocket and take a shot and a very savvy player who understands protection schemes and is tasked with changing the protection looks at the line of scrimmage. Even his worst game this season, against San Diego State, showed flashes of what you want to see from an NFL prospect. He is a player that perhaps functions best in a timing and rhythm-based offense, and as someone who has been trying to identify for years now the heir apparent to TB12, this is perhaps the guy.
Hindery: I’m going to cheat a little bit here because I couldn’t pick just one college football player I’m excited to see. Writing about and playing college football daily fantasy every week, I have watched a ton of top prospects. I am over the top excited about the 2020 NFL rookie class in general (true sophomores this season). In dynasty, I’ve already been trying to stockpile 2020 rookie picks in anticipation. Here are the five I am most excited about:
Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) has everything you could possibly want in a quarterback prospect— arm strength, accuracy, athleticism, and intangibles.
Travis Etienne (Clemson) is so similar to Alvin Kamara in terms of burst, balance, and the way he runs right through arm tackles.
D’Andre Swift (Georgia) got off to a slow start due to an ankle injury but has returned to health the last couple weeks and looked like he could potentially be the best running back prospect Georgia has produced in recent years, which is really saying something.
Jerry Jeudy (Alabama) is the most polished college receiver I’ve seen since maybe Michael Thomas and has the deep speed to boot. If he lands in the right spot (like Thomas did), he too could be a guy who catches 90+ passes as a rookie.
Laviska Shenault Jr. (Colorado) is an absolute freak with a size-speed combo similar to Julio Jones. He was on his way to a monster season and maybe even a Heisman ceremony invite before a foot injury slowed him.
Waldman: I play in one devy league. When I took over the team, I drafted Alvin Kamara, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, and Evan Engram as rookies and in my past two devy drafts, Jerry Jeudy and DeAndre Swift were prime picks of mine.
Howe: Sign me up for Iowa tight end Noah Fant, who backed up George Kittle before last season. An absolute touchdown machine, Fant has utilized his speed and athleticism to turn 74 career catches into 18 scores.
He’s shown up huge in the brightest of Iowa lights, posting big lines against Ohio State (2 touchdowns in 2017), Wisconsin (2 more in 2018), and Penn State (5 catches for 56 yards). And like Kittle before him, he’s versatile, dynamic both down the seams and underneath in a run-after-catch role. I expect him to measure fantastically at Indianapolis and wind up a late first-rounder, and I’d be thrilled to see him land somewhere like Carolina or one of the Los Angeles teams.
Hicks: Big and strong receivers with experience in the NFL and proven production are what the Saints are looking for. They need somebody to complement what a 38-year-old Ben Watson is doing for them. Cameron Meredith had the first at-bat, but he is clearly not the same player post-ACL that he was with the Bears in 2016.
Dez Bryant was signed and quickly tore his Achilles before seeing any playing time. Brandon Marshall hasn’t done much of anything since his fantastic 2015 season with the Jets when he posted career highs in touchdowns and exceeded 1,500 receiving yards. His time with the Giants and Seahawks was unproductive, but the Saints aren’t looking for another 1,000-yard receiver when they have Michael Thomas around.
Marshall’s fantasy value has to be negligible, but don’t be surprised to see him pop up in the end zone. The Saints have the players in place to utilize Marshall to great effect. What little Marshall has will be squeezed out by New Orleans and hopefully, Marshall finally sees a postseason game.
Haseley: It sure seems like the Saints want to have someone in this receiving role. As soon as Dez Bryant was lost, they immediately pulled the trigger on Marshall. How involved he'll be is yet to be determined. I can see him scoring once or twice with marginal yardage, so what does that equate to in fantasy terms? A potential flier as a flex option at best.
He's a stash player in the event he does take off, but I doubt that happens. Marshall is more likely fools gold. He may not thrive until the playoffs when he gets 5 catches for 70 yards and a score. I'd stay away from starting him, but he's a viable what-the-heck pickup.
VanderWoude: Pat Kirwan's "Take Your Eye Off the Ball" is one of the best books you can read to understand what is actually taking place on a given play, but even more beneficial, you will understand why plays are successful. Simply put, Kirwan explains all of the things that are happening irrespective of who is carrying the football. For an athlete that never played football, it was a fantastic read that set me on a path of looking at offensive lines and schemes for running back success, as well as how a wide receiver's route tree can determine whether he will see a target share that matches his projections.
Another book that I found helpful is Wayne Winston's "Mathematics: How Gamblers, Managers, and Sports Enthusiasts Use Mathematics in Baseball, Basketball, and Football". This book is somewhat intensive on math, and how dictates decision making, but I found it essential in forming fantasy strategies. It is not overly complex though, which is why I think it is a really good read. If you are not someone who relies heavily on statistics and metrics, it will give you a baseline of understanding to work off of.
It is not a book that will tell you what to do in a given fantasy situation (example, your first round running back goes down with an injury), however, it does give you an informative look at how professional teams look at situations, which I found helpful in forming my own opinions.
Wimer: One tome that everyone should read each season is the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. It has encyclopedic, and widely applicable, information on how to assess pro players and is invaluable for highlighting key young prospects that may help you win your fantasy league each year. I have Marquez Valdes-Scantling on practically every one of my dynasty league rosters this year thanks to Matt Waldman's insights and got him in the sixth round and below in every one of those drafts. Read. Learn. Rinse. Repeat.
Waldman: Thanks, Mark.
Wimer: You're welcome. I also highly recommend Ursula Le Guin's version of the Tao Te Ching - especially in dynasty leagues, it is important to "do not doing" and have patience with your young prospects.
Learning about the Tao will help you keep fantasy football in proper perspective in your life, as well.
Wimer: Yes, Tyler Boyd is for real. He is an excellent compliment to A.J. Green (something the Bengals have lacked since Mohamed Sanu went to Atlanta, until this season) and Green is no longer a spring chicken, friends. Boyd is the long-term upside player on this roster of wide receivers. And the future may come quickly — Green eclipsed 30 years old this year and has never been a paragon of every-week health during his career in any case — 13, 16, 10, 16 games played in the four seasons prior to 2018-2019.
The biggest reason for pointing to this is the amount of attention Erik Swoope has gotten in recent games. Swoope has three straight games with a touchdown prior to the contest in Oakland and has been a red zone machine for Luck. Ebron has lost an opportunity to a backup tight end that very few people had heard of coming into this season and will soon have to contend with a healthy Jack Doyle in the same situations.
There is also the return of a healthy T.Y Hilton. Hilton has been hampered by a nagging injury but should return to full strength in the coming weeks. It is going to be tough for Ebron to compete with a healthy Hilton and Doyle. Ebron is still going to be a useful piece for the Colts going forward but there is no reason to think he keeps up a top-3 tight end kind of value with the amount of competition coming back.
Wood: James Conner, statistically speaking, has been as good as Le'Veon Bell at his best. I'm not saying there aren't other aspects to Bell's game that set him apart (e.g., versatility, anticipation, vision, chemistry) but the stats indicate Conner is a fantastic replacement. To answer Matt's question...YES. He's a stud back and is a product of the Steelers offense. Most NFL players only achieve elite status by having innate talent and playing in a system that optimizes their opportunities.
Harstad: I still don't have a lot of fully-formed thoughts on Conner himself, but I vigorously reject this framing.
Todd Gurley is a superstar. He's also a product of Sean McVay's offense. (We all saw him play in 2016.) David Johnson might be the most versatile offensive weapon since Brian Westbrook. He tremendously benefited from a relationship with a coach in Bruce Arians who was creative enough to exploit that versatility. Le'Veon Bell is one of the most exciting runners I've ever seen. He has the most yards from scrimmage per game of any player in history in large part because he plays for the last team in the league that gives the top running back 90 percent of the workload — the same team that Conner is now thriving for.
Jim Brown, who ranks second in scrimmage yards per game, is arguably the greatest running back to ever play. He also played behind arguably the greatest offensive line in league history, with three Hall of Famers and multiple other All-Pros. Leroy Kelly, the back that replaced Brown when he retired, was named first-team All-Pro in each of the next three seasons and joined Brown in the Hall of Fame.
Players can both be good and be in good situations. There's no rule saying it has to be one or the other.
Waldman: Adam and Jason, I'm glad you didn't take the bait. The saddest analysis I've seen in recent years is the idea that it's one or the other with running backs and offensive lines. The fact that you reject it outright gives me a sliver of hope for the future of fantasy football analysis.
I remember two years ago how there were legit questions about Todd Gurley being a fraud of a player when it was obvious he wasn't performing with a capable offensive line, productive offensive scheme, and backup-caliber receivers at best. One of the greatest issues with some analysis in our industry is the use of data without learning the game that the data is tracking.
You don't have to develop the skills of a scout or coordinator but if you don't understand basic schemes, techniques, coverages, and other aspects of the environment you're tracking, your data is a huge risk of missing the context of what it's supposed to track.
Telling the public that a runner isn't a good outside runner based on data from a service that doesn't correctly track what is and isn't an outside run because it doesn't understand the design of plays is a disservice. While it's one thing not to watch the game for fear of allowing bias to seep in, if you don't know how to define what you see on the field with proper context, you're even more screwed.
So yes, James Conner is a good player and his great production is also due in large part to his teammates.