We're looking back and looking forward this week:
State of the Basement
Choose one of the Rams, Browns, Jaguars, or 49ers and answer the following:
- Identify at least 2 of the best fantasy talents from your team of choice and the chances they perform to their potential in 2017.
- Name at least one thing that will make this team better immediately.
- Name one player (any position) whose exit (whether realistic or otherwise) from this organization would make this team better.
- Name an unproven talent (a reserve or contributor) that you'd stash on dynasty rosters if you had the room.
Chris Kuczynski: I'm going to go with the Jaguars here because they have a ton of talent (or at least "potential") on both sides of the ball but they just can't seem to put it together. Most people expected them to be closer to .500 than to the No.1 overall pick.
The jury is still out on Bortles despite his high amount of fantasy points in 2015. We saw his efficiency, the number of turnovers and number of sacks he was taking, so I got one wasn't buying him being in the top 6-7 fantasy QBs spoken in the same sentence as Brees and Big Ben.
So I will go with Allen Robinson and TJ Yeldon as my two players. Robinson has a lot of athleticism and we saw last year that he can take over a game and put up top 10 WR numbers. Also despite finishing up his 3rd season, he is only 23 so- barring injury- he has a lot of years ahead of him. He's a great dynasty building block, whether he continues to catch passes from Bortles or even stays on the Jaguars. If Bortles can improve his decision making and accuracy, Robinson will be the biggest beneficiary.
As for Yeldon, we have seen he is a dynamic playmaker when healthy. Having to split carries with Ivory has cut into his production that we saw last season, but he has produced fairly well in PPR formats when he is leading the backfield in touches, particularly catching 5+ passes a game. I don't think Ivory has much left in the tank and I don't see the Jaguars picking an RB high in the draft, so if Yeldon can get 60% of the work he should have a pretty good season.
One thing that will make the team better is already starting to play out: firing Gus Bradley. They need a head coach that can bring a spark to the team, particularly on offense. A dream hire would be Josh McDaniels since he can produce QB and WR success out of little to work with even when he doesn't have Tom Brady (see Kyle Orton, Brandon Lloyd). One way or another they need someone calling the offense that will fix (or at the very least mask) Bortles' shortcomings.
I wouldn't be ready to give up on Bortles just yet, but currently, he is certainly outside of the top 20 starters in the league, possibly bottom 5. Quarterbacks don't exactly grow on trees, but if the Jaguars could magically get a decent game manager that does just enough to win and doesn't cause turnovers (like an Alex Smith type) this would go a long way toward relying on their playmakers on offense and defense without giving the other team the ball so often from costly mistakes or too many 3 and outs.
As far as reserves or players that aren't household names, I would say Marqise Lee, but he has had plenty of flashes this year and has probably been rostered in many dynasty leagues for half of the season, especially since he has stepped up with the injuries to Hurns. The name I will throw out there is TE Neal Sterling. This may be a lost season, but he is currently getting a chance as the pass catching TE for the Jags with Julius Thomas and Mercedes Lewis hurt. Neither of the two mentioned TEs in front of him has done much with their opportunities (Thomas mostly because of injuries and possibly the fact he has the product of Peyton in Denver). Sterling is worth a stash in very deep leagues just to see what happens in training camp and preseason next year.
There are two unproven talents that I really like that are currently on the Rams, and I'm fairly certain Matt would agree with me on these selections. Running back Malcolm Brown is someone who’s flashed when he’s gotten fair opportunity....
Matt Waldman: Absolutely.
Daniel Simpkins: He's not supplanting Gurley by any means, but would make a great counter-punch to Gurley if the new coaching staff is open to it. Otherwise, I'm waiting for him to change teams and get a chance elsewhere.
The other is tight end Tyler Higbee, who would have been drafted much higher last year if he hadn't gotten in some off-field trouble. He’s a smooth, fluid athlete who gets to top speed in a hurry. He also possesses great hand size and previous experience playing wide receiver. He's not a great blocker, which is the type of tight end we want to target for fantasy purposes. With Lance Kendricks largely being a disappointment throughout his career, there's room for Higbee to be the future at the position for Los Angeles.
Jason Wood: I'll also take the Rams.
Todd Gurley is the obvious choice as one of those two fantasy talents worth considering as a rebound candidate in 2017. Speaking personally, Gurley hurt badly this year. I was 100% on board with Gurley as a Top 5 pick in all formats and put my money where my mouth was; which meant things didn't go according to plan for me in many leagues.
I think many in the analyst community—me included—looked at how well Gurley produced in 2015 in spite of obvious issues among his supporting cast and thought he had a high floor with elite upside if the Rams could be even marginally better overall.
Matt Waldman: I think we did a fair amount of self-flagellation on this Gurley topic at the Footballguys Roundtable. But my all means, Wood, if you need to assume the position again, we'll leave you to it.
Jason Wood: Ha! Yes, I think I do. Gurley has been a shell of his rookie form. He's averaged 3.2 per carry versus 4.8. His touchdown rate has been cut in half. And watching the tape, there's simply no explosion or power after initial contact. I joked two weeks ago that Gurley would be my pound-the-table buy next year if the Rams fired Jeff Fisher.
Now that Fisher is gone and I can see being aggressive on a Gurley bounce back season. In order for that to happen, we need to see: A) A sound coaching staff hired, B) A commitment to improving the offensive line, and C) steady and verifiable reports that Jared Goff is progressing well in the offseason program.
Mike Thomas is my other choice, although admittedly it's a stretch to categorize him as a "fantasy talent" since he's notched just two receptions in his first 14 NFL games. Yet, with Kenny Britt and Brian Quick set for free agency, the rookie Thomas will be given every opportunity to earn a major role in 2017 regardless of what the Rams add in the draft and free agency. Thomas is an unfinished product, but there was enough film on him at Southern Mississippi (112 receptions for 1,983 yards and 19 touchdowns in two seasons) to entice.
San Francisco's best fantasy talent by far is Carlos Hyde. His name doesn't come up in conversations about the league's best running backs simply because he's stuck on a bottom-tier team and runs behind a bottom-tier offensive line against defenses that don't respect the 49ers' passing game. In a similar vein, Hyde's fantasy prospects for 2017 aren't commensurate with his talent for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, barring the 49ers stumbling into a much-improved quarterback situation, defenses will continue to focus their game plans on stopping him, which will result in more of the same Herculean efforts as Hyde's required in 2016: Turn minus-2 yards of blocking into a 0-yard gain; turn 0 yards of blocking into a 2-yard gain; turn 2 yards of blocking into a 5-yard gain; and turn the kind of hole that Ezekiel Elliott frequently enjoys into a long gain.
Second, assuming that Chip Kelly remains head coach, Hyde's fantasy value will continue to be suppressed by Kelly's strategic obsession with a no-huddle offense and situational usage. Despite clearly being San Francisco's best offensive player, Hyde has routinely ceded 35-to-40 percent of snaps to (insert backup running back here) because higher tempos require more-frequent breathers and passing situations require pass-catching backs.
As far as the second-best fantasy talent goes, there isn't one. The vast, vast majority of quarterbacks, tight ends, and wide receivers don't break out later than Year 4 of their careers. In 2017, Colin Kaepernick will be in Year 7 (if he stays with San Francisco). Unrestricted free agents Quinton Patton and Jeremy Kerley will be in Year 5 and Year 7, respectively. Newly re-signed Vance McDonald will be in Year 5, and Garrett Celek will be in Year 6. I guess that leaves Torrey Smith? But he'll be entering Year 7 and this season has proven without a shadow of a doubt that he's an afterthought in the offense.
Chris Feery: I agree with Chris: The Jaguars aren’t that far away from competing, in spite of the debacle that was their 2016 season. It’s pretty easy to lose sight of the fact that they were considered one of the ‘it’ teams heading into this season, and all that talent simply didn’t go away overnight. Whether that talent can be translated into a cohesive unit is another discussion entirely, but it’s an attractive opportunity for a seasoned coach to head down to Jacksonville and turn things around within two years.
I’m not sold on Blake Bortles yet either. He showed plenty of flashes in 2015, and he was actually a buzz-worthy name heading into this year’s drafts. I’m not sure if he’s already hit his ceiling or if this year was just a complete breakdown for the team as a whole, but we’re at the stage of his career where he really needs to show something - or it may be time to move on.
Despite the questions at signal caller, there are two intriguing assets at the skill positions that could be in line to bounce back in 2017. T.J. Yeldon and Allen Robinson have been just as disappointing as the rest of the Jaguars this year, but they are young enough that we can write it off as a ‘growing pains’ year in which they were severely hampered by game plans and coaching. The talent exists for both of them to bounce back in a big way next season, but we’ll have to take a wait and see approach until we get a handle on what kind of system will be installed by the new head coach.
Quite simply, the best way to help this team immediately is placing 2016 in the rear view mirror as quickly as possible, and getting a new head coach in place prior to the college all-star games and combine. The talent exists for this team to turn it around quickly, and the next man at the helm needs to be placed in a position to hit the ground running. That calls for him to be a key cog in the decision making for the next generation of Jaguars, and the sooner he is in place the better on that front.
No name really jumps out on that front, as there doesn’t appear to be any locker room cancers or disruptive forces. To add a name to the mix of options to jettison, perhaps it’s time to cut bait with the utility knife that is Denard Robinson. Unless the new coach finds a use for his skill set, he’s kind of a wasted roster spot at this point. The talent is certainly there for him to fulfill a specialty role, but that hasn’t come to fruition over the course of his time in Jacksonville.
Chris nailed it with Marqise Lee, who is probably the only (semi) non-household name that could be considered for a stash, but he’s likely already been scooped up by savvy owners.
Waldman: I think the truly best option to trash would be Bortles. I've been told that he spent way more time partying this summer. The summer prior he worked with Tom House.
You can see the difference in his technique. Quarterbacking is like playing an instrument. If you don't practice and perform regularly, those skills decline—and they decline much faster if you're a young player unlearning old, bad habits and learning new good ones. Bortles will get one more chance because he's a huge investment, but he was a huge part of messing up this season because he had trouble reading coverage as basic as Cover2 and his mechanics were awful.
Not a single one of you took Cleveland. I officially hate all of you this week.
The two best fantasy talents for the Browns are Terrelle Pryor and Isaiah Crowell. Both are capable of top-12 production at their positions. We saw stretches of it this year and when there's consistent and productive surrounding talent that aids what they do, they are big-play options that can help Cleveland deliver a balanced offense. They will need a healthier offensive line and a consistent, healthy quarterback.
The one thing that would make this team immediately better is a quarterback with a big arm, maneuverability, and the skill to read the middle of the field. I doubt they find it this year. Another would be a massive improvement from center Cam Erving so he can help this offensive line gel. If this line can become a true strength, and not just the strength listed for a football preview in a magazine article, the quarterback can be the final piece.
The player I'd want off this team is Robert Griffin. He's a major rehab project and he doesn't read the middle of the field well and there are few indications that he will improve. He doesn't exhibit feel for the game right now and I think his career as a potential starter is over. I hope I'm wrong because it was there when he began in Washington. It got beaten out of him in numerous ways.
I'd stash Darius Jackson. He's a power runner with good burst and solid vision. I think the Cowboys saw Darren McFadden as a better "now" player, but I would have easily dumped McFadden to keep Jackson on the active roster. The Browns got a solid reserve who can grow into more.
Provide your idea of a realistic fantasy floor and fantasy ceiling for these players in Week 16 for 12-team PPR leagues. Share specific stats or tiers (QB1, RB2, Flex-TE, etc) for the floor and ceiling, give a brief explanation for each possibility, and where you're leaning.
- QB Matt Moore vs. Buffalo
- QB Tom Savage vs. Cincinnati
- RB Adrian Peterson vs. Green Bay
- RB Kenneth Farrow vs. Cleveland
- WR Charles Johnson vs. Green Bay
- WR DeAndre Hopkins v. Cincinnati
- TE Dion Sims vs. Buffalo
- TE Charles Clay vs. Miami
Let's start from top to bottom.
Matt Moore vs Buffalo
Daniel Simpkins: Moore has a low-end QB1 ceiling and a QB2 floor. His matchup against Buffalo’s poor pass defense isn’t particularly scary. I would prefer to stream Matt Barkley ahead of him, but if he’s not out there, Moore makes a fine second choice.
Jason Wood: Moore is a 10-year veteran with 26 starts under his belt, so the Dolphins are in a better position than most when it comes to replacing an injured starter. The Bills are a neutral matchup based on YTD fantasy points allowed, and "narrative street" argues for upside since the Dolphins are very much in the playoff hunt. Moore's Week 15 start couldn't have gone better: 12-of-18 passes for 236 yards and 4 touchdowns (126 passer rating).
It's unrealistic to expect that kind of TD rate, particularly against the Bills, and Moore only attempted 18 passes so volume won't likely offset the normalized TD rate. I would assume Moore will attempt between 20-25 passes against Buffalo and if we give Moore credit for his career YPA (7.5), that equates to 120 to 188 passing yards. His floor would be a low-end QB2 (someone you regret starting in your fantasy championship week), while his ceiling is on the fringes of a low-end QB1 in 14-team leagues.
Chris Feery: Moore has the floor of a QB2 this week with the ceiling of QB1 production. He’s receiving a lot of buzz off of his stellar performance against the Jets, and rightfully so. Four passing touchdowns and 283 yards passing is nothing to sneeze at, but I’ll look for him to come back to Earth against the Bills this week. Similar yardage and two scores a possible, but he’ll find things a bit tougher against a squad that’s still playing pretty hard.
Chris Kuczynski: Moore played really well against the Jets, but as others have mentioned, it was due to his high number of touchdowns that gave him a high score. He didn't have a lot of attempts and he didn't throw for many yards. Dolphins are playing for the last wildcard spot and Bills are playing for pride and to spoil a division rivals hopes. I see this as a "grind it out" kind of game where both teams rely on their run game even though both teams' defenses can give up plenty of yards and points. Matt Moore could have 2 TDs and around 200 yards which puts him at a low-end QB1 ceiling, and I think his floor is a mid-ranged QB2. Hopefully, you have someone else to use here.
Tom Savage vs. Cincinnati
Jason Wood: The Texans will have a hard time finding a silver lining in the Brock Osweiler signing, particularly now that Bill O'Brien has committed to Savage as the starter in Week 16. Savage is a 3rd-year pro that has been summarily ignored by the Texans in deference to Osweiler, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Case Keenum and Ryan Fitzpatrick. When you've been passed over by that many mediocre quarterbacks in three seasons, it's hard to believe the coaches think Savage is anything more than a "break glass in case of emergency" starter until they find a new quarterback in the offseason.
With that in mind, and understanding how little Savage has played in the NFL, we have to go back to the scouting reports from college. Savage struggled with his footwork and accuracy at times in college and therefore one has to worry that his downside could equate to "the worst starter in Week 16."
As to his upside? The Bengals defense has been solid against the pass and the Texans have an elite game-breaker in DeAndre Hopkins. Savage could have a 250-yard, 2 TD game if EVERYTHING broke right which might be enough to help a star-studded fantasy roster win the championship.
Chris Kuczynski: I'd want nothing to do with this mess the Texans offense is in. Are we confident that Savage stays in if he struggles the first half? It might be a case where they put Osweiler back in just because he has considerably more snaps in this offense and the team absolutely needs to win this week if they want to win the division.
This would be a huge hail mary desperation move for owners to start Savage in your championship game because he might have the lowest floor of any starter. His ceiling is probably around 250 yards and a TD- the Bengals are a little bit more organized on defense than the Jaguars and now there is some film on him. Try to avoid at all costs. I'd treat him as a low QB2.
Daniel Simpkins: I’m more optimistic on Savage than most. He’s not afraid to be aggressive and that’s a good thing for a team fighting to stay in control of the AFC South. Additionally, Cincinnati shows us week after week that their pass defense is middling. I’ll put Savage at high-end QB2 ceiling and a middle-of-the-pack QB2 floor.
Chris Feery: Savage is an intriguing option in Week 16, and he may just be the spark that the Texans offense has been lacking. That being said, I won’t be rushing to include him on my rosters, as his upside is pretty limited in this offense. Let’s call it QB2 expectations, but the possibility exists for QB1 production if all goes well and the game turns into an unexpected shootout.
Adrian Peterson vs Green Bay
Chris Feery: We can probably expect a little more out of Peterson this week, but we would also have to hope that the rest of the team shows up to play as well. That certainly wasn’t the case in Week 15, as the Vikings were absolutely shellacked by the Colts. The mauling had all the makings of a season-ending loss, so I wouldn’t expect more than RB2 production from Peterson at best.
Chris Kuczynski: I think Peterson is rushing back too quickly from his injury, and the Vikings need a lot of help from other teams if they want to make the playoffs, so why risk not having him 100% later down the road. Peterson is likely to be limited again with a dozen or fewer carries, and while playing the Packers it might quickly get to the point of abandoning the run game if they are being outscored. Peterson should only be considered a "what the heck" flex as his ceiling and pretty close to zero as his floor, just because his volume will be too low to produce enough points.
Jason Wood: The good news is Adrian Peterson showed the world, yet again, he's a physical specimen capable of returning from injuries far faster than mere mortals. Few people expected Peterson to take the field again in 2016 yet there he was in the lineup against the Colts in Week 15. The bad news is Peterson remains the riskiest of propositions, particularly for a team that's still alive in Week 16 (meaning you have a championship caliber squad).
Peterson played 12 snaps against the Colts and gained 22 yards on six carries. He's 31 years old, rushed back from another major injury, and is playing behind an offensive line that has been decimated. He's a Hall of Famer, but he's seen his best days.
The downside for Week 16 is a legitimate ZERO. The upside would be something akin to a time share with Asiata and McKinnon that amounts to upwards of 15 touches. If the game script goes right, Peterson could have 15 touches for 50+ yards and a touchdown plunge. But that's a low probability outcome, to say the least. In other words, Peterson is an RB3/Flex option at best.
Daniel Simpkins: I place Peterson in the low-end RB2 column if everything breaks right for him. I don’t think Peterson is going to make the fantasy impact for which owners are so desperately wishing.The offense is stuck in neutral, the offensive line isn’t effective, and Green Bay is doing their usual routine of surging toward the playoffs with a late season push.
On top of that, Peterson’s snap count was only twelve in week fifteen. His snaps are sure to increase, but he probably will not be back to a usual workload. If I am correct, he’s going to be closer to his floor or around the RB3/ low-end flex play range.
Kenneth Farrow vs Cleveland
Chris Kuczynski: Raiders defense has been surprisingly good against the run the last two weeks which limited what Farrow was able to do last Sunday. He should be able to have a lot more success against a Browns team that has allowed numerous RBs to have a great game against them. The Chargers will likely get a quick lead which could cause them to try and run out the clock by giving the ball. I'd give Farrow another shot with a ceiling if high RB2 and a mid level flex as a floor.
Jason Wood: Those who viewed Kenneth Farrow as "just another guy" after stepping in for Melvin Gordon III in Week 14 were proven right as Farrow gained 53 yards on 17 touches in Week 15 versus the Raiders. Farrow does get a favorable matchup against Cleveland in Week 16 (4th easiest fantasy RB defense) but that doesn't mean he should be in many, if any, Week 16 lineups. Farrow's floor is low, although not exactly a zero. But he could certainly finish outside the top 30 at the position. His upside is a low-end RB2, particularly in PPR formats.
Daniel Simpkins: There are a lot of layers to this decision but make no mistake, Farrow is a boom-bust option—one that should only be used if you are an underdog in your matchup. It’s unclear whether or not Melvin Gordon III will return to action. If he does, we can only trust Farrow as an against-the-odds flex at best.
If Gordon does not come back, I become much more tempted to use Farrow in this juicy matchup, despite his fumble struggles last week and in spite of the fact Ronnie Hillman may get some more touches. In this scenario, Farrow has an RB2 ceiling, but an extremely low-end flex play floor.
Chris Feery: Farrow actually has a shot at RB1 production against the woeful Browns, but there’s no guarantee he’ll get enough carries to make that dream a reality. He displayed butter fingers on two separate occasions last week, and the Chargers could very well decide the best course of action in to fill the air with footballs until Melvin Gordon III returns.
Charles Johnson vs Green Bay
Daniel Simpkins: I’m not crazy about Johnson for many of the same reasons I’m down on Adrian Peterson, which are offensive line problems and issues getting the offense as a whole humming. I bet on Johnson having a low-end WR3 ceiling and a high-end WR4 floor.
Chris Feery: There’s simply not much reason for optimism on Johnson’s prospects this week. The Vikings offense is not exactly performing swimmingly, and he’s recorded several goose eggs already this season. I’ll call him a WR4 at best, and that may be overly optimistic.
Jason Wood: Green Bay is susceptible to the pass, they give up the 3rd most fantasy points to opposing receivers. On the other hand, Charles Johnson is an afterthought in what's already a mediocre Vikings passing attack. Johnson caught 5 passes for 50 yards against the Colts, on 39 snaps. That's his upside for Week 16. I guess if you throw in a fluke TD reception he could end up a low-end WR2, but that would be a HIGHLY unlikely outcome meant for the statistical fringes. His downside is a zero...he's failed to catch a pass in five games already this season.
DeAndre Hopkins vs Cincinnati
Chris Kuczynski: Hopkins actually had a better game this past week than he has most of the season. With that said, I think whoever is at QB you have to treat Hopkins the same way you have all season. He has the potential to be a mid-range WR2 especially if he can find the end zone, but his floor is as low as a borderline flex starter. I'd probably feel alright about starting him just hoping that the change at QB has a lasting spark on the offense, but if you've gotten along with better options this whole time, stick to what's been working.
Daniel Simpkins: I’m excited to use Hopkins in my lineup for the first time all year. Changing quarterbacks matters and Hopkins showed us last week that the talent is still there, it has just been held down by Osweiler’s poor play. Hopkins could very well put up a WR1 performance of old if he hits his ceiling. His floor is most likely in the low-end WR2 range.
Chris Feery: Hopkins is intriguing with a new signal caller at the helm, and perhaps we will get the chance to see him flash the upside that made him a Top 5 pick in several drafts this year. If everything breaks correctly and Savage plays lights out, we could be looking at WR1 production from Hopkins, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. I anticipate a more conservative ceiling of WR2 and a floor of WR3.
Jason Wood: Hopkins' season has been a disappointment, to say the least. He's on pace for 78 receptions for 900 yards and 5 touchdowns, which would be marked discounts from his 2014-2015 feats. One has to ascribe much of that letdown to the enigmatic (if not downright awful) play of Brock Osweiler. With that in mind, Tom Savage takes over at quarterback and some fantasy owners will bet on a resurgence for Hopkins over the final few weeks.
I think betting on that is risky, but I will acknowledge that Hopkins is a significantly better player than anyone else on this list. Hopkins proved in 2014-2015 that he can be an All-Pro receiver with a mediocre quarterback. Is Savage capable of mediocrity versus the Bengals? Of course. Hopkins upside is a legitimate WR1 performance (100+ yards, 2TDs) and I would dare say his downside is no worse than a WR3/flex in PPR formats because of the sheer volume of targets.
dion Sims vs Buffalo
Jason Wood: Sims is reminiscent of a fantasy TE from a decade ago. Newer fantasy enthusiasts may not remember a time when all but a few tight ends were non-factors and even a "Top 5" guy was really someone that would catch 2 or 3 passes per game but add value in the weeks he caught a touchdown. We all remember Wesley Walls, right? Sims has caught two or fewer passes in all but five games, but he's scored at least one touchdown in three of his last four. I would say his downside is close to zero (1 or 2 catches for 10-25 yards and no scores) while his upside is 4-5 catches for 40+ yards and a TD, which would be good enough for a middling TE1.
Chris Kuczynski: There have not been any really consistent TEs this season- we thought Kelce and Eifert might have been but both of them severely disappointed owners in the semi-finals last week, I included. With that said, the bar for TE1 is so low that Sims could have the ceiling of a low-end TE1/high end TE2 if he is still used as a red zone target and the other options in Landry and Parker are seeing more of the defense's attention. His floor might not be all that high, but as I said, did we think Eifert's floor was two points against the Steelers?
Chris Feery: Three touchdowns in two weeks will certainly get your attention at the tight end position, especially in a season in which the position has been inherently unpredictable. However, there are too many other targets in the Dolphins offense to get yourself too excited about his prospects in Week 16. I would certainly ride the hot streak while it lasts, but I also wouldn’t be benching any sure things just to fit him in.
Daniel Simpkins: I’m lumping Sims and Charles Clay together because I see them as similar plays. They are just as likely to get you 50 yards and a score as they are to give you two catches for 17 yards. However, in a year where tight end production is hard to come by, it may be the risk you have to take in your fantasy playoffs. Of the two, I favor Clay just a little more than Sims because Miami is notoriously bad against tight ends. If they hit their ceiling, they’ll be mid-to-low TE1 options. If they falter, they’ll still be in the low-end TE2 range.
Charles clay vs Miami (continued from daniel's response above)
Jason Wood: Clay has played between 45 and 60 snaps in 9 games this year, including last week's game when he caught a season-high 7 receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown. I see no reason why last week is more indicative of his value than the prior games. In other words, last week gives us his upside -- which is to say fringe top 5 production, but it's a very small percent of the possible outcomes. His downside is 2 or 3 points in a PPR.
Chris Kuczynski: As mentioned before, there are not a lot of sure fire TE1s lately and Clay has been getting a decent amount of targets the past couple games. With so few options in the passing game especially since Watkins is not getting many catches, I like Clay even more than Sims and I'd also put him on the TE1/TE2 borderline but with a higher floor.
Chris Feery: Clay has come alive over the past two weeks, and I expect his strong play to continue against his former club. He actually has a solid rapport with Tyrod Taylor, and it’s pretty stunning that the Bills have not used him more effectively this season. The upside is there for TE1 production, but a more realistic expectation places him in the neighborhood of TE2.
The business of football
Share your thoughts about the current relationship between the NFL and college football. Consider these questions as you formulate your answer.
- What are your thoughts about pro prospects skipping bowl games to prepare for the NFL Draft?
- Is the NFL directly or indirectly complicit in the current state of college football? If so, how?
- The Ringer's Kevin Clark reported that NFL coaches believe the NFL has an age problem. Teams are fielding players too early and the result is a decline in experienced play and injuries are a common symptom because they lack the technique and awareness to move around the field and protect themselves. Do you agree with NFL coaches that early entry is hurting the game and its players?
- Which league needs to change its policies more to protect its players, FBS or NFL?
Skipping bowl games
Jason Wood: This has been a big topic of conversation among the FBG staff and it's fair to say the issues are complex, nuanced and lacking in definitive conclusions. My initial reaction was a visceral disappointment in the players, feeling as though they were 'quitting' on their teammates. Yet, as I've discussed this with others, my view has softened considering the strange nature of an elite college players end-of-career.
Are they still student athletes if they've already committed to playing in the NFL next year? Will college teams take out insurance policies on these players if they get hurt in a bowl? Ultimately I think this speaks to a growing awareness of the absurdity of the current bowl system. Does anyone other than a college's alumnus ever remember how someone played in the Sun Bowl? When we look back on Christian McCaffrey's career, will anyone ever say a thing about how he did (or in this case, did not) perform in that bowl?
As someone with sons deeply involved in youth football, they're taught the importance of honoring your commitments and the sacrifice of "TEAM." The very notion of someone walking out on their team is anathema to how our local, championship program was built. But, that's not a fair comparison for the reasons we've already expressed.
Daniel Simpkins: The rightness or wrongness of pro prospects skipping bowl games really should be considered on a case-by-case basis. I’m a big believer in honoring your commitments and following through with what you agree to do up front. The key question to ask, therefore, is what did that individual commit to coming into the program?
Did they come in with the understanding that they would play the minimum amount of time to be draft eligible and not participate in bowl games in their eligible year? Or did they come into the program saying they were all in, but then when their draft stock began to heat up, they bolted? As a casual fan, we won’t always know the conversation that took place between coaching staff and recruit, so it may not be ours to judge.
Yet those players and coaches know what the agreement was. Both parties need to honor their word, even if changing circumstances make it inconvenient to do so.
Matt Waldman: It's an interesting point, but I also think you're operating on the assumption that the business of college football is honorable. As we have learned through various investigative reports over the last 3-5 decades—and increasingly more during the last 2—the business of college football is not honorable.
One disclaimer I must make: none of what I'm about to share in this segment is from my work at the University of Georgia unless I specifically state otherwise.
Players are promised a lot under the table to play for big-time institutions. Over the years, we've seen reports that show these illegal arrangements. Homework and tests have been taken for them. Cars are loaned to them, if not purchased for them. Spending money is provided to certain stars. So is money for their families, including signing bonuses.
Tommy Bowden arrived at Auburn only to discover these past arrangements made with players and it was the beginning of the end for him at big-time college football because he didn't want to go along. I cannot name names with this next example, but there was a top SEC running back prospect in recent years who once told off a member of the coaching staff by saying, "They pay me more than you!"
This is the treatment that many stars receive. There are other players who can barely afford to necessities while on scholarship. There are also many players who are intelligent, academically inclined guys that happen to be top talents on the field that have been steered away from career paths that could earn them more money long-term than the ones that the athletic programs encourage.
There are many students that don't let this "steering" happen, but there are also enough that do and they lack the support system to resist. If and when they get hurt and they don't have a degree, that $1-3 million insurance policy won't last long without a solid education.
I've spoken with professors who have seen this steering happen at a variety of schools. Professors who don't protest any academic appeals of their grades to the head of their departments or the dean because they rationalize the decision as "I did my job" and they fear that standing up for a principle will cost them and other students more than making things right. They let the department heads and deans make the calls on behalf of the football programs.
Michael Oher got into Ole Miss by taking multiple summer courses online that lasted days—DAYS—from a program offered by BYU! Does anyone really learn anything by cramming a semester-long high school course into days? Can we even give this a shred of credibility? Is it truly helping the student long-term?
Not as much as it's helping the school make money off him.
Considering how dishonorable the entire landscape of college sports is, we really don't know the true commitment that many of these players have and neither do many of the coaches who practice the concept of plausible deniability in regard to the activities boosters, recruiters, and assistants.
The way it's supposed to work, I agree that players should honor their commitments. What we actually see is so different from the rules that I don't want to criticize these players because the game is a lot different than the one that's projected on the outside.
Jason Wood: To Daniel's and Matt's points, we don't know some of the nuances here. It's become quite normal for college coaches to get new jobs before their bowl games, and those coaches routinely opt out of coaching the bowl. If that's "okay" because coaches are professionals looking out for their families, is it hypocritical of us to condemn these young men who are making the EXACT same financial/career decisions?
Danny Tuccitto: First of all, and I'll continue to sing this to the heavens until my dying breath, it's a joke that the biggest sport in all the land doesn't have a developmental league. I accept the validity of "why spend all that money when we get a developmental league (i.e., CFB) for free?" but it's still a joke because all that money that the NFL saves from relying on college football is routinely thrown into the garbage via having to divine a way to translate college performance to the pros.
As an analytics matter, multiple studies have shown that drafting is basically a roll of the dice. Perhaps that's because what succeeds in college football—talent-wise, strategically, and tactically— isn't what succeeds in the NFL? But I digress.
Then there's the "free labor" part of it. Do I think it's OK for pro prospects to skip bowl games? Damn right, and I struggle to understand why anyone besides university officials would hold a different view.
If my chosen career was plumbing, my ultimate goal would be to move out of an apprenticeship and make the most money I could as a professional plumber. If my chosen career was coal-mining, my ultimate goal would be to rise out of the mines and into a penthouse office as an executive position in the company.
If my chosen career was daily fantasy sports, my goal would be to move out of the freerolls and make the most money I could at DFS. Prospects choosing to skip bowl games is no different: Their chosen career is football, and their goal is to move out of plying that trade for free so as to make the most money they can.
Chris Kuczynski: I'll preface my response by admitting that I do not follow college football so I am not an authority on the subject. I blame this on going to a college that didn't have a Division 1 team. With that said, I start really digging into the prospects after the season is over and I'm anticipating the draft.
As far as players skipping bowl games, I am actually surprised this has not been a common practice already. With the cautionary tale of Jaylon Smith in a bowl game last year (or even Tyler Eifert in the Pro Bowl), I don't blame other players for wanting to avoid injury before one of the most important days of their career- the draft. It's not quite on the level of avoiding a meaningless game of beach flag football, but their draft stock is still in flux and they have the combine and pro days that will make or break them, so why not be fully prepared for those?
Not having your best team for a Bowl game is a bummer for the fans and the school, but from the viewpoint of the college player they are basically unpaid interns, and the colleges feel as though they don't owe the players anything. There is no pay or contract, so any controversy, or hiring an agent too early or accepting gifts gets you ineligible or kicked off the team. If you get hurt enough to jeopardize your career, you are on your own.
A Bowl game is really just an additional game that plenty of draft eligible players are not going to play in simply because their team didn't qualify for one. I'd say sitting out one game that is tacked on to the season is much different than an example of "taking it easy" their last season like Clowney was rumored to do in order to preserve his draft stock. In those cases, they are not fulfilling their commitment and I wouldn't want someone like that on my team. They would be benched.
Chris Feery: There has certainly been an interesting debate about this topic, and I can see both perspectives pretty clearly. My first instinct is to not be a big fan of the decision and to consider it a red flag. There’s plenty to be said for fulfilling your obligations, commitment to your team etc. and I’m an incredibly big proponent of seeking out high-character prospects.
However, Leonard Fournette makes a pretty compelling case for the argument from the other perspective, as the photo of him and his daughter makes the point that any parent can understand. The needs of your family and children outweigh pretty much everything when it comes to decision-making.
In short, it’s tough to argue against a player making the decision that works best for him and his financial future, but someone that made that decision in the face of playing a college football playoff game would likely find themselves with a label they will be unable to shake for some time..
Is the NFL directly or indirectly complicit in the current state of college football? If so, how?
Daniel Simpkins: I believe that the NFL has some blood on their hands with regard to the dynamics of college football. It’s clear to me that players in the NCAA are being exploited and are not given a fair share of the money they are earning for that organization. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the pockets that are lined with greed in the NCAA have close relationships with those who pull the strings at the pro level. Neither will rock the boat because of the symbiosis that currently exists. It will take the voices and refusal of the players and fans to continue to go along with things as they are before true change will take place.
Jason Wood: The NFL is far from a perfect organization, but I think blaming them for college football is borderline ridiculous. College football has capitalized on the manic popularity of the sport and has evolved it's leverage (financial) to the popularity. One could argue college football has been 'smart' to do this, since the money pouring into schools (even tertiary programs) from boosters has skyrocketed at a time when overall endowment growth has stymied.
To my mind what's happened in college football is a confluence of the decidedly American push for capitalism at all costs combined with a collaboration of small fiefdoms (in the form of individual conferences) that have their own motivations. The NFL hasn't changed its stance. It hasn't encouraged more bowl games. It hasn't argued for agents to become more aggressive. Can the NFL do things to help collegiate athletics? Sure, but that's far different than blaming them for what's happening in the NCAA.
Chris Kuczynski: College football and the NFL both have their own issues, mostly dealing with allocation of money and not necessarily prioritizing player safety even though that is one of the main things the NFL tries to claim. It's hard to say what came first the chicken or the egg, but you'd have to give a little bit more of the blame to the NFL just because these players would not be rushing to leave college if not for the opportunity to play in a professional league. A lacrosse player is not leaving school early, they are getting a degree.
Chris Feery: Directly complicit. The NFL directly benefits from having college football serve as its de facto minor league, and they stand to gain nothing from rocking the boat on their feeder system. While two separate entities, it's pretty clear that college football serves at the pleasure of the NFL and not vice versa.
Matt Waldman: I agree with Wood. The NFL is benefitting from a free (even if it's not a good one) farm system and it's not going to discourage that windfall from continuing, but I don't believe it is responsible for the motivations of college football and academic institutions. These institutions make money from big-time college sports.
One may argue that most of the money goes back into the athletic department and the academic side sees little of it. In many cases, this is true. But, I worked at the University of Georgia for a decade writing for an alumni magazine for the business school. One of the top means of fundraising is hosting alumni and guests at athletic events.
The money may go back to the athletic department, but that department because an opulent stage for hosting those who could potentially give a lot more to a variety of other programs at the school. I remind others of this because this dynamic isn't NFL-driven at all.
While the lure of a professional career is a big motivator with many programs and the NFL won't get in the way of college football, is it really its business to do so? I don't think so. When I was at the University of Miami during the late 80s and 90s, the only thing that compared to the quality of the football program might have been the Jazz Studies program.
The roommate I had to wake up for his lessons for two and a half years became the youngest CEO of Virgin American Records in the early 2000s and he's just one of many prominent examples. The list of matriculates and alumni that went on to careers as Grammy-winners, music executives, top-flight studio and touring musicians is extensive: Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Rick Margitza, Troy Roberts, Raul Midon, Danny Gottlieb, Gil Goldstein, and Jon Secada are a few names that most of you probably don't know, but have likely heard and didn't realize it.
I make this point because the teachers I had who played with the likes of Joni Mitchell, Frank Sinatra, and a variety of huge names, made the point to give students the reality of the world waiting on them and it wasn't. And there were musicians, just like football players, who refused to listen. Coaches often explain the odds, but students want to believe they are the exception and many parents enable the behavior.
College football serves at the pleasure of college football. The lure of the NFL helps them attract talent, but doesn't that happen with every industry? A Harvard Law degree or MBA also attracts talent, too. Do you put that on the institutions that hire the talent or the universities that create relationships with the firms so they can develop and market a reputation as a job pipeline?
The Ringer's Kevin Clark reported that NFL coaches believe the NFL has an age problem.
Teams are fielding players too early and the result is a decline in experienced play and injuries are a common symptom because they lack the technique and awareness to move around the field and protect themselves. Do you agree with NFL coaches that early entry is hurting the game and its players?
Danny Tuccitto: Just about the only argument I view as reasonable with respect to advocating that a legitimate pro prospect stays in school is that, at 20 or 21 years old, both the football body and the football mind aren't fully developed. I can't speak to the bodily injury aspect of this, but I can say that one of the strongest findings in NFL draft analytics—as well as in other sports—is that the younger a player enters the pros, the more likely his career is likely to be successful. Presumably, that's because, just like an 8-year old chess prodigy, a 10-year old music prodigy, or a 12-year old golf prodigy, if you're ahead of the talent/skill curve at a given age, then you're likelier than not to be ahead of the performance curve at a later age.
Chris Kuczynski: I would not say there is an age problem. Players like Randall Cobb and Amari Cooper were 21 when entering the league and they have had early success. On the flip side, it's encouraged for Quarterbacks to stay in school as long as possible to prove their ability and how prepared they are. If those players are too young they are risking dropping in the draft. Additionally, there are players that just aren't quite ready whether it is technique, knowledge of a playbook or physically as far as conditioning or weight. These players are not always just thrown into the fire, many are on the bench or only used situationally because they are not ready. Players later in the draft or undrafted might even be on the practice squad for years until they are ready. So I think this is a non-issue because team's work this out themselves.
Daniel Simpkins: I do agree with Clark’s assertion to an extent, but I’m not sure how to go about fixing the problem. Not only are some of the younger players hurting themselves, but in their eagerness to prove their worth, they are becoming reckless with their play and hurting the older players they match up against. I can’t begin to count the number of receivers and running backs I’ve seen injured this season by linebackers and defensive backs diving headlong to make a stop.
The contributing dynamics of salary cap structure and a flood of young prospects that Clark cites in his article are spot-on. Establishing a minimum age of play is a nice thought, but what about those young players who do display an understanding of how to play the game at an early age? Do we make them sit just because their peers don’t have that ability? If there is a solution here, it probably involves restructuring the CBA so that the strategy of building a team around filling the roster with cheap young players is no longer viable.
Chris Feery: In most cases, the answer is yes, but there are exceptions to the rule. Elite level talents can walk in and be competitive from day one, but unfortunately, there’s a ton of players that overestimate their standing in this regard. In a perfect world, players will stay in school and get the seasoning they need, but the other side of the argument flips that thinking on its head. It’s pretty tough to play judge and jury when it comes to another person’s financial future, and players must ultimately decide what works best for them.
Players that simply need more time to develop will hopefully find themselves drafted by a patient organization, but that patience is quickly tested when the fan base gets restless over a lackluster product on the field. The bigger issue is the jump from college style systems and game plans to those at the pro level, as there are dozens of phenomenal talents at the college level that simply can't translate those skills to the NFL field. Closing the gap between the two worlds could make a world of difference in that regard, but with so many teams at the top level of college football, it becomes impossible for all of them to run pro-style offenses that don't rely on gadgetry.
Jason Wood: This is ridiculous. Truly. Players don't lack technique coming into the NFL, particularly as it relates to tackling and blocking. The techniques are taught in the early days of a player's life.
Look at the concussion data. I'll go back to speaking about my kids' youth program. My 8th-grade son and his classmates just won their championship after an undefeated season. It was the 6th consecutive year this group of boys went to the championship game (winning three). Two years ago there were more than a dozen concussions diagnosed in our program (over six grades); which prompted a renewed focus on proper tackling techniques (as well as an on-field diagnosis). This year, we had one concussion that I know of.
This kind of thing is happening all over the country. Fundamentals have gone by the wayside at the youth level and need to be re-instituted. If an All-American collegiate linebacker can't tackle properly by the time they're a junior, will staying for their senior year REALLY change the NFL trajectory? Get out of here with that mess.
I also think Mr. Clark fails to acknowledge the other side of injury diagnosis—injuries and concussions have always been there, we've just gotten a lot better about diagnosing and acknowledging them. Between the NFL's lawsuit deluge, public awareness, and better medical diagnostics, it's far more likely a player is going to be "injured" and treated early in the process. That's a GOOD THING! Maybe it's frustrating for NFL coaches, but from a societal angle and for a player's long-term future, it's unquestionably positive.
Matt Waldman: Wood, you've isolated your argument to the physical execution of the game and ignored the diagnostic aspect. You failed to address how players move based on awareness and anticipation of what's about to happen on the field. These things happen at a far faster rate than your sons' grade school team.
Mr. Clark interviews coaches that explain how inexperienced players often get caught in bad positions because they are late to react to things that experienced vets see. Your statement that nothing will really change if a linebacker stays an extra year if he doesn't know how to tackle is something I agree with, but you're missing the point that the coaches--NOT MR. CLARK--explain in the piece: The NFL used to sit many top picks longer and give them time to acclimate to the new speed and complexity of the game. The coaches and vets taught the finer points and it helped younger plays avoid situations where they are caught so egregiously out of position that they hurt themselves doing so.
Comparing your kids' grade school program (congratulations on their seasons) to college and pro football dramatically misses the point. The game your kids play is far slower, less complex, and not nearly as physical. Even the jump from major college football to the NFL game is a significant jump in these areas and requires technique and awareness that is a lot more refined.
You might as well be arguing that if you get an undergrad in business that you should be ready to direct a hedge fund and work with the fund's biggest clients and not do major harm to your livelihood. Or, getting a degree in cognitive psychology and without any supervision from a veteran, you're ready to conduct therapy.
As Jene Bramel, who recommended this piece to me in September says about situations like I stated above: Good luck, everybody...
Techniques like routes, releases, climbing the pocket, limiting read steps as a tackler, pass rush moves, quarterback and linebacker drops, back pedals, and a host of other items are often taught AND refined at this level. Most college programs don't spend a lot of time on technique. They spend most of it on game planning and conditioning.
Many backs drafted early don't understand the techniques to use for zone vs. gap plays. They usually know one, but not the other. Trent Richardson, Darren McFadden, and C.J. Prosise are three players that come to mind right away. Mike Wallace discussed that his first time learning about the ins and outs of wide receiver play happened at the Senior Bowl and Ole Miss has always been a big-time school.
Ryan Riddle, Cal's single-season sack record holder and a former NFL player, explains that many position coaches never even played the position or have a lot of experience with the position. They are often heavy on scheme, light on technique. Add the time limits that teams can practice and scheme and game plan become the greatest priority of time.
While the concussion issue is taking a positive turn, Mr. Clark's piece is looking at a broader spectrum of injuries. While I'm not in agreement that football is worse than ever, I do think Clark's reporting of what coaches are saying about the state of the game is valid.