College Football Playoff Preview

1 Alabama

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Much to the surprise of no one, Alabama has already established themselves as the “team to beat” just 3 weeks into the season. After throttling previously 3 Florida State in a highly anticipated Week 1 matchup, Alabama has once again secured themselves as the premiere powerhouse in college football.Alabama has a tough test late in the season, where they will travel to 17 Mississippi State on 11/11. Let’s be real though, this is Alabama; there is a very good chance that they win this game, and even if they don’t, there is almost as good as a chance that they will make the Playoff. At this point in the season, there is no foreseeable future where Alabama will not be playoff-bound once again.

Alabama has a tough test late in the season, where they will travel to 17 Mississippi State on 11/11. Let’s be real though, this is Alabama; there is a very good chance that they win this game, and even if they don’t, there is almost as good as a chance that they will make the Playoff. At this point in the season, there is no foreseeable future where Alabama will not be playoff-bound once again.

 

2 Clemson

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Photo Credits: College Football News

After winning their first College Football Playoff, Clemson has rebounded strongly this season, even with the loss of significant offensive playmakers in Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams. Clemson’s defensive line might very well be the best position group in all of college football, and their offense has been very good this year too, averaging nearly 520 yards per contest.

Just like Alabama, Clemson controls their own destiny and could probably survive a loss to a ranked team and still make the Playoff. After destroying Virginia Tech, Clemson only faces one tough tests over the rest of the season: a home game against 12 Florida State on 11/11. After their domineering wins over Louisville and Virginia Tech, if Clemson wins the ACC, they will likely be a shoe-in to the Playoff.

 

3 Oklahoma

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

It is often said that revenge is the best form of motivation; Oklahoma is the living embodiment of that saying. After getting embarrassed by the Buckeyes in front of their fans in Norman last year, Oklahoma showed them up in an assertive win over then 3 Ohio State. Since then, Oklahoma has continued their trend of being incredibly dominant; led by Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield, the Sooners’ offense is currently 4th in the nation, averaging an electric 599 yards per game.

Oklahoma has two tough tests remaining on their schedule: a road game at 15 Oklahoma State on 11/4, followed up by a home game against 8 TCU in the following week. Oklahoma’s remaining schedule is far from easy, but their strength of schedule and a huge win over Ohio State allows them to likely be in the Playoff even with 1 loss, as long as they win the Big 12.

 

4 Penn State

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Photo Credits: USA Today

After being left out of the College Football Playoff last season in one of the biggest snubs in recent history, Penn State has bounced back stronger than ever this year, obliterating their measly opponents thus far. Led by Heisman-favorite Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, the Lions possess one of the most potent offenses in the country. Barkley has been an absolute force for the Lions, averaging nearly 200 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown per game.

With plenty of tough opponents left on their schedule, Penn State has tons of opportunities to build up their resume. On 10/21, the Lions will play 7 Michigan at home, and the following week, they will travel to Columbus to play Ohio State. If they survive these two tough tests, there is no foreseeable future in which Penn State will not make the College Football Playoff.

 

5 Georgia

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

After starting the season off everyone’s radar, Georgia has quickly burst onto the scene and is currently the #5 ranked team in the country. Although Georgia has a potent offense, most notably led by their stout rushing attack in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Georgia’s true excellence resides in their defense. Through their first five games, which included two ranked opponents and a stellar Tennessee team, the Bulldogs have astoundingly only allowed 46 points.

Georgia’s schedule includes two tough opponents at the end of the year in a home contest against 21 Florida on 10/28 and a road test at 12 Auburn on 11/11. Although Georgia has a very impressive resume, which includes two top-25 wins, as well as a pounding of then 17 Mississippi State and Tennessee, they still have work to do. Unless a team ahead of them loses, Georgia will not make the playoff unless they beat Alabama in the SEC title game.

 

6 Washington

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

While these top five teams have been stealing the national headlines, Washington has been slowly creeping its way into playoff contention. While Washington has been doing anything too special, as their offense is barely averaging over 400 yards per game and their defense has been good but not stellar, they have absolutely destroyed every team they have played thus far. Their closest game was all the way back in Week 1, where they manhandled Rutgers in a 16 point victory.

More so than any other team on this list, Washington needs help to get into the playoff. With a very weak schedule and a lackluster Pac 12, it is foreseeable that Washington could win out and still potentially miss the playoff. If they want any chance of getting in, it is imperative that they beat 20 Utah on 11/18 and 11 Washington State on 11/25 and win the Pac 12.

 

7 Michigan

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

For a team that is ranked #7 in the country, I have never seen one that is so incapable, yet has infinite potential. Even though they have played quite terribly (especially in the first half) in their first couple of games, Michigan has managed to dominate some quite terrible teams. Once Michigan starts to put it together, however, everyone should watch out, as they are capable of beating anyone. If they play like they did in the second half of their season opener versus Florida, they very well might be the best team in the country.

Although they are currently on the outside and looking in, Michigan has more opportunities to bolster their resume than any other team in the country. They face two very tough road tests at 4 Penn State on 10/21 and 9 Wisconsin on 11/18, followed up by a difficult homestand against 10 Ohio State on 11/25. However, if Michigan somehow survives all of these tests, they have a guaranteed spot in the College Football Playoff.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, Football Reference, and NCAA.com. Thank you for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Getty Images

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Fantasy Football Outlook 2017: Bust Picks

As discussed in my most recent article (see: Fantasy Football Outlook 2017: Sleeper Picks), the number 1 mistake fantasy owners make when evaluating players is using the “eye test” instead of actual statistics. More so with bust picks than sleeper picks, fantasy owners overvalue their personal preferences, whether it be what team the player is on or the style they play, which leads them to pick injury-prone players who are past their primes or flashy players who can’t put up big numbers. In fact, three out of the four bust candidates I identify are among the most popular players in the NFL, which in turn has led them to be over-drafted. Let’s take a look at this year’s bust picks.

 

Russell Wilson, QB – Seattle Seahawks; ADP – 68

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

Out of all the bust picks mentioned in this article, this one gives me by far the biggest amount of hesitation. Russell Wilson easily has the talent to churn out yet another season, where he could finish among the top three to five quarterbacks for fantasy scoring, just as he did in 2014 and 2015. In some regards, it doesn’t seem like much has changed; the Legion of Boom is still intact and better than ever, Wilson has nursed his injuries back to full health, and the Lacy-Rawls-Prosise running back committee will pretty much match Lynch’s production in his latter years. However, Wilson’s changing role and Seattle’s inability to address their issues during this offseason will prevent him from returning to glory.

The most troubling stat line about Wilson, from a fantasy football perspective, is that he finished with a career high in passing yards (4,219) and a near career-best in completion percentage (64.7%), but only finished as the 14th ranked quarterback. In terms of passing, Wilson hit his ceiling last year (aside from his meager 21 touchdown passes), but finished nowhere near he did in the previous two years. How is that possible? Well, there’s a straightforward explanation; Wilson simply stopped running the ball, which has severely hampered his fantasy production. After establishing himself as an elite mobile quarterback, Wilson posted career lows last year in rushing attempts (72), rushing yards (259), and rushing touchdowns (one). This last season was the third time in the past four years that Wilson has only rushed for one touchdown on the year. With his limited mobility, which can be attributed to his injuries and the Seahawks telling him to run less, Wilson ran less and consequently threw 11 interceptions, a career high.

This offseason, the Seahawks did Wilson no favors by not improving their offensive line or receiving corps. Last season, the Seahawks had one of the worst offensive lines in football, which not only crippled Wilson’s mobility and the Seahawks’ run game but also contributed to Wilson getting injured after being hit so frequently. The Seahawks also did nothing to improve their thin receiving corps, which still lacks a solid second wide receiver after ultra-talented Doug Baldwin or a third receiving threat after Jimmy Graham. Additionally, the Seahawks’ running back committee will give headaches to both the Seahawks’ staff and Russell Wilson all season long. The trio of Lacy, Rawls, and Prosise will need time to figure out how this committee work, which should destroy the run game for the first couple of weeks in the season. Later in the season, I believe that this talented group will steal touches from Wilson, which will do him no favors either. The moral of the story is avoid Russell Wilson unless he falls very far down the board.

 

Lamar Miller, RB – Houston Texans; ADP – 26

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Photo Credits: AP Images

There’s no beating around the bush; Lamar Miller was simply one of fantasy football’s biggest let downs last year. Obviously, this was a huge surprise to many fantasy players, as Miller was coming off a couple of very productive seasons in Miami, and joining a much better NFL team in the Houston Texans. It is not to say that he can’t turn things around the season, as he is still the skilled back we once thought he was, but at his current ADP, Miller is a prime candidate to be a bust.

To be frank, Lamar Miller was downright terrible last year; nearly every advanced metric ranked him in the bottom third of qualified running backs and most didn’t even take into effect the horrible defenses the AFC South presented last year (the Jaguars, Colts, and Titans all vastly improved their defenses this offseason). Last season, Miller was just one of 13 running backs among the 42 who qualified (minimum 100 rushes) to finish with a negative DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement). This stat pretty much indicated that against an average NFL defense, Miller performed worse than the average NFL running back. Although the sample size is somewhat limited as we are just looking at one season (this is generous – Miller had 299 touches), it is downright terrifying that someone with this stat line is being drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round.

What’s potentially even more concerning about Miller is his lack of upside. After averaging 19 touches per game last season, Texans’ coach Bill O’Brien said that he would be monitoring and limiting Miller’s touches, which wasn’t so surprising given his lack of success and massive volume. This wouldn’t be such big news if the Texans didn’t go out and draft D’Onta Foreman, who will still at least five touches per game as well as short-yardage goal-line work from Miller. With less of an opportunity to score touchdowns, Miller’s prospects seem to fall even further. The Texans’ quarterback situation does not appear to be helping much either; Watson will take time to learn the offense, which will be to the detriment of Miller’s performance, and later in the season, will likely throw the ball much more than Savage would, which eats into Miller’s touches as well. All I’m saying is don’t draft Miller with the expectations of him being an RB1.

 

Dez Bryant, WR – Dallas Cowboys; ADP – 21

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Photo Credits: USA Today

Dez Bryant is among one of the most enigmatic players in the NFL; if he could always play the way he did against the Packers, where he torched them for 132 yards and two touchdowns, Bryant would easily be the best receiver in the NFL. Unfortunately, injuries, among a number of other factors, have severely hampered his performance in recent years, which has caused him to be a bit of a letdown. He was better than most give him credit for, as he finished as the 19th receiver in PPR formats, but for his current ADP, he’s going to have to perform a lot better than that just to live up to expectations. With that being said, I am advising fantasy owners to stay away from the brewing mess in Dallas.

Bryant faces a number of challenges that stand in the way between him and a great fantasy season. The first, and most apparent, challenge would be Ezekiel Elliot’s six game suspension. Without Elliot in the backfield, opposing defenses will be able to sit back in zone coverages that divert specific attention to Bryant, which for obvious reasons is not good for his production. Elliot’s suspension lasts for more than half of the fantasy football season (seven out of 13), meaning Bryant should be rendered down for a good portion of the season. Additionally, Bryant appears to be highly injury prone, at least one would think so based on his extensive injury history, so it is fair to assume he will miss at least a game or two with a nagging injury.

Perhaps Bryant’s biggest challenge lies in his astoundingly hard schedule he faces in this upcoming season. I honestly can’t say that I have ever seen an opposing schedule this hard, as Bryant faces nearly every top cover corner in the league. Bryant’s divisional schedule alone includes two games against Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who held Bryant to just two receptions for 18 yards in those games against the Giants, as well as two games against one of the top physical corners in the league, Josh Norman. Outside of the division, Bryant faces brutal competition in Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant, Richard Sherman, and Casey Heyward, just to name a few. To put that into perspective, Bryant faces an elite (top 10) cover corner in 10 out of the 16 games this season. Please hear my warning and do not draft Dez Bryant.

 

Martellus Bennett, TE – Green Bay Packers; ADP – 85

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Photo Credits: ESPN

Let’s get something straight; I’d love to have Martellus Bennett on my fantasy team this season. However, at his current ADP of 85 in PPR formats, Bennett becomes a much less attractive in my opinion, as amazing fantasy talents are on the board. I have always been an advocate on waiting to pick tight ends until late in the draft; once the first tier is gone (Gronkowski, Kelce, Reed, Olsen), the difference between the Eifert (TE6) and Fleener (TE15) is projected to be a meager 2 points per week. If you insist on picking a tight end so early, I would highly recommend pick Kyle Rudolph (ADP – 70) or Zach Ertz (ADP – 87), as both have much more upside than Bennett and are fairly priced (unlike Bennett).

There are two main arguments for not drafting Bennett: his declining performance and poor fit in the Packers’ offense. Regarding the first, Bennett enters the 2017 season, his 10th in the league, at 29 years old. Although Bennett has impressively only missed five games over the last five seasons, it is clear that his performance is on the sharp decline. In his last three full seasons, Bennett’s quarterback has been Jay Cutler twice (2013 and 2014) and Tom Brady (2016). Everyone who has ever watched football before would agree that Brady is the better quarterback, and with Gronkowski out for most of the year, Bennett played roughly the same amount in both offenses. However, despite playing with the greatest quarterback of all time, Bennett averaged 120 less receiving yards, 38 fewer targets, and 28 fewer receptions per year than he did in Chicago; it is foolish to ignore that Bennett is on the decline.

Although Bennett is a couple of years out of his prime at age 29, he can still put up big numbers and be a very productive fantasy asset. However, his problem this year lies more in his team than himself. Aaron Rodgers nor Mike McCarthy, the Packers’ coach, have ever relied on their tight end too heavily, which is mildly concerning for a player that feeds on volume. Historically, Packers’ tight ends have been irrelevant in fantasy. With a loaded receiving corps in Green Bay, which features Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb, as well as wide receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery, Rodgers has many mouths to feed in Green Bay, and this trend seems likely to continue. Unlike in years past, the Packers have a solid running game, which should steal attention from their elite air attack, and hurt Bennett even further. The point I’m trying to make is that Bennett is talented and should be drafted if he falls, but if he doesn’t, his current ADP is way too high for his small window of opportunity.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Football Reference, CBS Sports, and Fantasy Pros. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Chicago Magazine

Fantasy Football Outlook 2017: Sleeper Picks

The number 1 mistake fantasy hopefuls make when evaluating players is using the “eye test,” meaning they rely on their assessments of players more heavily than actual statistics. In some sense, fantasy football seems somewhat unpredictable when you use this strategy; player performance has very high variance from year to year when factors, such as injury and schedule, are in play. In this article, I identified players, purely from a statistical standpoint, who are being severely undervalued for their ADP, meaning they have a high probability of being a “sleeper” pick for this year. ADP (average draft position) is based on data from PPR leagues on ESPN, Yahoo, and FantasyPros. Let’s take a look at this year’s sleeper picks.

 

Marcus Mariota, QB – Tennessee Titans; ADP – 99

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Photo Credits: SB Nation

As I have mentioned in my previous articles, when evaluating potential in players, you should only be looking at two things: opportunity and talent. Fortunately for fantasy owners, Marcus Mariota has one of the best combination of these two things in the league, but is still going off the draft board in the 9th round! Outside of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees, Mariota may very well be the most talented quarterback in the league with his elite skill set and dual-threat abilities.

After getting off to a very slow start in the 2016 season, Mariota caught fire from weeks 5 to 12, as he was the single highest scoring player in fantasy football over that 8-week span. Given that the fantasy football regular season is only 13 weeks long, this means that Mariota was the highest scoring fantasy player for a majority of the season, which he by no means is getting credit for given his current ADP. Most critics will point out that Mariota slumped heavily at the end of the season. However, Mariota faced the two best defenses in football in Denver and Kansas City and was injured in the game against Jacksonville, which provides a reasonable explanation to all three weeks. The most promising thing about Mariota is that he achieved this incredible run with Rishard Matthews as his top receiver. Matthews is certainly a talented receiver, but now with Decker, Davis, and Taylor also on board, I can’t even begin to imagine Mariota’s potential for this upcoming season.

In terms of opportunity, the only quarterbacks who are better off than Mariota are Tom Brady (with the late addition of Brandin Cooks to the best receiving corps in football) and Jameis Winston (who now has a loaded receiving corps with the additions of OJ Howard and DeSean Jackson). Everything that has happened this offseason has been for the benefit of Mariota; after having one of the worst wide receiver groups in football, the Titans went out and drafted Western Michigan standout Corey Davis and nifty slot receiver Taywan Taylor, and signed a prominent red-zone threat in Eric Decker. On top of having a loaded receiving arsenal, which now includes Davis, Decker, Matthews, Taylor, and Walker, Mariota plays behind an elite offensive line and has the best 1-2 running back punch in football, which both divert attention away from him and helps play-action.

The Titans have the 6th easiest schedule in football this year, which should allow Mariota to thrive against these sub-par defenses. Mariota is poised to have an astounding season, and it is laughable that he is still on the board in the 9th round.

 

Isaiah Crowell, RB – Cleveland Browns; ADP – 34

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Photo Credits: AP Images

Yes, before you start laughing, I know that Isaiah Crowell is on the Cleveland Browns, which have been regarded as one of the most laughable franchises in professional sports over the past decade. Despite playing on one of the most abysmal offenses in NFL history last year (this year’s Jets are soon to join that list as well), Crowell finished with excellent numbers, as he was the 14th highest scoring back in both PPR and non-PPR formats.

In terms of opportunity, Crowell potentially gained more this offseason than any other player in fantasy football at any position. In March, the Browns first went out and signed Kevin Zeitler to the richest contract in NFL history for a guard, only to later that day sign JC Tretter, another lineman. With these two signings, the Browns rival the Cowboys and Titans for the best offensive line in football, which should prove very valuable to Crowell’s 2017 prospects. What’s potentially even more beneficial to Crowell’s potential is the Browns’ overall improvement on both sides of the ball; after drafting Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, and DeShone Kizer, signing Kenny Britt, and now having a healthy Corey Coleman, the Browns are poised to be a much better team. Since the Browns will be much improved from last year, they will spend more time on offense, which consequently means more carries for Crowell. In fact, Crowell was the only top-20 running back last year to have fewer than 205 attempts, meaning that Crowell has huge potential with extra carries.

There is nothing I love more in a fantasy player than their coach publicly saying that they are committed to using that player more. After signing Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter this offseason, Browns coach Hue Jackson came out and told media that the Browns would be more committed to using Crowell this off-season. Jackson continued to say that Crowell has the potential to “take it to another level” this season with the additional carries and Browns’ vastly improved offensive line.

Crowell stands to heavily benefit from the Browns’ off-season transactions, as they will give him much more “opportunity” than he had last year. Crowell will undoubtedly put up solid RB2 numbers, and with this new upside, likely even RB1 numbers, which make him a huge steal at his current ADP.

 

Pierre Garcon, WR – San Francisco 49ers; ADP – 77

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

Pierre Garcon has consistently been one of the most underrated fantasy football players over the past couple of years, and this year is no exception. Coming in as the premiere threat for the San Francisco 49ers, Garcon is the clear cut WR1 for San Fran, but his draft position at #77 certainly is not reflecting that.

As the #1 target in San Francisco, Garcon has immense upside because of the volume of targets he should receive. As one of the worst teams in the league, San Francisco will be playing from behind nearly the entire season, meaning that they will have to throw the ball a substantial amount. Although Brian Hoyer is a shaky quarterback at best and certainly a downgrade from Kirk Cousins, Garcon should see a huge bump in his targets from last year, and consequently better fantasy performance even with decreased efficiency. Garcon should also see more red-zone targets, which are quite valuable for fantasy, as he no longer will lose them to the posterizing Jordan Reed or deep threat Desean Jackson.

In one of the most intriguing headlines of the offseason, Kyle Shanahan became the coach of the San Francisco 49ers, meaning that Garcon is reunited with his old coach. Although they last played together in 2013, Garcon was one of the league’s best receivers, as he led the league in receptions. Historically, the top wide receiver has flourished under Shanahan’s system, including Garcon himself in 2013, Andre Johnson in his glory days in the late 2000s, and most recently, Julio Jones. Shanahan’s system fosters great production for the lead receiver, so this certainly gives good reason to expect big things out of Garcon this year.

Going off the board at #77, Pierre Garcon presents a very low-risk player with tremendous potential upside, which makes him a great sleeper pick for this upcoming season.

 

Kyle Rudolph, TE – Minnesota Vikings; ADP – 73

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Photo Credits: ESPN.com

The tight end position is by far the least flashy position in fantasy football, as year after year, the position has been a letdown. Riddled by injury and poor performance, many fantasy owners reach on tight ends to get an “old reliable” type, such as Greg Olsen, instead of waiting for value at the end of the draft. This is a rookie mistake.

Kyle Rudolph presents tremendous value in all formats, particularly in PPR leagues, because of his high target volume. Rudolph led not only the Vikings, but also the entire tight end position with an impressive 132 targets. Rudolph took a huge step forward last year with this increased volume, as he previously averaged 28 yards per game on three targets, while this past year he averaged 52 yards per game on five targets. This is not to say that Rudolph wasn’t targeted in the red zone either; Rudolph ended the year with an impressive seven touchdown receptions.

The Vikings’ offense simply is one of the best offenses in the league for tight ends. Not only does the offensive coordinator support an offense that relies heavily on the tight end, but also Bradford has historically targeted his tight end at a very high rate. This tight end happy offense, along with less defensive coverage because of a healthy Stefon Diggs, should allow Rudolph to build on his career numbers from last year.

After an impressive 2016 campaign that was not inflated by ridiculous red zone statistics, Rudolph is poised to have yet another strong season in 2017. His ADP, on the other hand, does not reflect this, making him a good value pick.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Football Reference, CBS Sports, and Fantasy Pros. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

Fantasy Football: Undervalued Rookies To Target

The 2017 NFL Draft was stacked with potent offensive talent towards the top, headlined by dynamic offensive weapons in Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. However, with respective ADP’s of 29 and 43 (in PPR format), Fournette and McCaffrey won’t make great “value” picks unless they have an Ezekiel Elliot-esque rookie campaign. Let’s take a look at some very underrated rookies who have a chance to make a fantasy impact immediately.

 

Dalvin Cook, RB – Minnesota Vikings; ADP – 61

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

By no means am I arguing that Dalvin Cook is the next Adrian Peterson, but he is a very talented player that should replace him as a top tier back in the long run. Cook was electric at Florida State, as he averaged 6.68 yards per carry, 2,094 yards from scrimmage, and 20 total touchdowns over the past two seasons. Cook is not a one dimensional either; he racked up nearly 500 receiving yards while averaging 14.8 yards per reception last year. Although the Vikings offensive line is quite terrible, Cook’s raw talent and playmaking ability should make him a premier threat for years to come, starting from Day 1.

I can not overstate Cook’s ability, as he very well might be the most offensively talented player in this year’s class. Even with their terrible offensive line, the Vikings still are a prime landing spot for Cook due to their lack of a passing game. From Day 1, Cook will be the premiere threat and centerpiece of their otherwise lackluster offense.

In current PPR formats, Cook is being drafted behind Eddie Lacy, who faces issues not only with his weight but also with stiff competition from Rawls and Prosise, and Spencer Ware, who is in grave danger of losing his job to Hunt (see below). Cook faces little competition for the job (Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon) and the Vikings traded up for him, which virtually guarantees they are going to heavily utilize him this year. Cook is a huge steal at this point in the draft.

 

Kareem Hunt, RB – Kansas City Chiefs: ADP – 112

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

The Kansas City backfield is developing into one of the most interesting storylines of this offseason. After Spencer Ware started the 2016 season off red-hot, he faded very hard down the stretch. Ware’s decline, along with the departure of Jamaal Charles, prompted the Chiefs to draft Kareem Hunt, who is an excellent pass-catcher and a more capable power runner than Ware. Hunt has been gaining massive traction as a potential starter, as his coaches have regularly been praising him, offbeat writers think he is the guy to pick out of Kansas City’s backfield, and he has been lighting it up in OTA’s.

Hunt’s situation is also interesting for an entirely different reason; the Chiefs traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes II (an excellent pick by the way), who will be the quarterback for the Chiefs in the future. After spending a pick on a “future” player, it seems unlikely that the Chiefs would use their next pick on a player they wouldn’t use immediately, which presents a compelling case that Hunt would start playing immediately. Even as a backup, Hunt still provides great value for his ADP. However, if he gets the starting job either by his talent or Spencer Ware getting hurt (he is injury prone), Hunt immediately becomes a coveted RB1 under Andy Reid’s fantasy-friendly backfield.

In current PPR formats, Kareem Hunt is being drafted behind Matt Forte, who is years past his prime and the backup running back for the Jets, and James White, who is stuck in a crowded Patriots’ backfield and could very well be their 3rd back. At pick 112, Hunt presents tremendous upside with minimal risk (10th round pick), which probably makes him the best value pick in the entire draft.

 

Samaje Perine, RB – Washington Redskins: ADP – 123

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

The Redskins’ backfield is much less convoluted than it might appear. Aside from one incredible primetime performance, Robert Kelley was below average for the rest of his starts, and Perine has everything working for him: praise from the staff, better raw skills than Kelley, and ability to be a 3-down back. It is inevitable that Perine will become the lead back for the Redskins, so the question is more of a “when” than “if.” It is becoming increasingly more likely that Perine assumes the starting role very early in the season, potentially even in the preseason.

I think a lot of fantasy owners forget how talented Perine is because ultra-talented Joe Mixon overshadowed him during his tenure at Oklahoma. Perine was nothing short of amazing though; despite being in a clear time share or even a backup role and missing three games due to injury, Perine recorded 1,166 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns, while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. It should come as no surprise that the Redskins staff is raving about his abilities.

In current PPR formats, Samaje Perine is being drafted by Johnathan Stewart, who is losing the vast majority of his carries to Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey, and Darren Sproles, who is currently the 3rd running back on the Eagles’ depth chart behind LeGarrette Blount and Ryan Mathews. Perine is an absolute steal at this point in the draft, given his ability and likelihood to become the starter early in the season, and in my opinion, has the best chance to be the Jordan Howard of this class.

 

Zay Jones, WR – Buffalo Bills: ADP – 158

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

Fantasy value depends on two things: talent and opportunity. Luckily for Zay Jones, he’s got both, as he possesses tremendous talent and found himself in an incredibly opportune situation. There’s no denying that Zay Jones is talented; not only is Jones the career NCAA leader with 399 career receptions, but also is the single-season with an astounding 158 receptions this past season. On top of that, Jones averaged 11.1 yards per reception, bringing his yardage total up to 1,746 receiving yards, which ranks as the 17th most ever in a season.

Regarding opportunity, Jones hit the jackpot as well. Barring any shocking news from the Bills training camp, Jones will open up the season as Buffalo’s #2 wide receiver, which should garner him plenty of targets. Given Sammy Watkins’s injury history, Zay Jones should find himself as Buffalo’s #1 wide receiver at some point in the season, which would give him tremendous upside. Even with Watkins on the field, Jones should have no trouble producing, as defensive fronts will focus on stopping Buffalo’s run-heavy offense and top corners will be covering Watkins.

In current PPR formats, Zay Jones is being drafted behind Tyler Lockett, who vastly underperformed lofty expectations as a sleeper pick last year, and Michael Floyd, who is still dealing with legal ramifications from his DUI. Going off the board in the 13th round, Jones has great value for this point in the draft, given his considerable upside, especially if Watkins happens to get injured.

 

Joe Williams, RB – San Francisco 49ers: ADP – 180

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

After Kyle Shanahan arrived in San Francisco, everything has changed, particularly at the running back position. Hyde, drafted as the “face of the franchise” just three short years ago, may no longer be the starter; Joe Williams, a 4th round pick out of Utah hand picked by Shanahan’s new regime, now has a very legitimate to unseat Carlos Hyde from the starting job immediately. Hyde is going into the final year of his contract, one which the 49ers do not plan on extending, which means that Williams will be getting the carries if the staff views them as equal. On top of that, Hyde is very injury prone, which would give Williams an easy pathway to become the starter if he already isn’t.

While most fantasy players have never even heard of Joe Williams, he is by no means not talented. In fact, at this point, many offbeat writers think that he has more ability than Hyde. Williams is a talented runner who can burst to and through the hole, and can make defenders miss in the open field, even more so than Hyde can. After missing the first month of the 2016 season due to his sister’s death, Williams recorded 1,332 rushing yards and ten touchdowns in just seven games. To put this into perspective of how incredible that performance was, he would have rushed for an astounding mark of 2,093 yards and 16 touchdowns had he played for the entire season. Those 2,093 yards would have been the 15th most in a single season in NCAA history.

In current PPR formats, Joe Williams is being drafted behind Matt Jones, the 3rd running back in Washington’s loaded backfield, and Jeremy Langford, who could start off the season as Chicago’s 3rd or 4th back. So far, everything that has happened this offseason has worked in Williams’s favor, which makes him an excellent value pick for this late in the draft (14th round).

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Football Reference, CBS Sports, Fantasy Outlook, and FantasyPros. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

Vegas Golden Knights Joust Their Way To A Succesful Expansion Draft

This past Wednesday night, the Las Vegas Golden Nights took part in an NHL Expansion Draft, making them the 31st team to enter the NHL. This draft was full of twists and turns, as well as a plethora of surprises, including a number of trades on draft night. Let’s take a statistical look at their very successful draft:

 

James Neal, LW via Nashville Predators

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Photo Credits: NHL.com

In an expansion draft in which teams could either protect 7 forwards and 3 defensemen or 8 skaters, teams were quick to lock up their top-scorers, leaving little options for Vegas’s offense. However, Vegas drafted an absolute stud in James Neal, who is one of the NHL’s top sharp-shooters and most potent offensive scoring threats. Neal has tallied at least 20 goals along with a shooting percentage of at least 10% in each of his 9 seasons in the league, which should provide substance to Vegas’s offense from Day 1.

Neal is a very durable player as well, as he logged over 1000 minutes of ice time in 8 of his 9 seasons thus far. Unlike some other sharp-shooters, Neal is anything but a liability when he is on the ice, as his relative Fenwick % (% team differences in shots+misses when on ice) and relative Corsi % (Fenwick % with blocks as well) have been positive for each of the last 7 seasons. Neal, one of the premiere scorers in the league, is also responsible for 58.5 point shares, which averages out to an impressive 6.5 point shares per season.

 

Marc Methot, D via Ottawa Senators

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Tampa Bay Lightning
Photo Credits: NHL.com

While high-scoring forwards are a very protected asset in an expansion draft, potential first-pair defenders are too, which makes it surprising that Methot was on the chopping block for Ottawa. Methot has consistently proven himself to be a lockdown, first pair defender who is capable of shutting down some of the league’s most prolific scoring threats, just ask Sidney Crosby.

Methot is an absolute tank, as he has logged at least 920 minutes of ice time in each of his 9 seasons in the league, and has recorded at least 90 hits in 8 of the 9 as well. Over the past 3 seasons, Methot hasn’t tallied a plus-minus less than +12, showing that he is very positively contributing to his team while on the ice, despite oftentimes facing the opponents’ top line. Methot is also responsible for 29 point shares, which is somewhat impressive for a defenseman who doesn’t produce offensively.

 

Marc-André Fleury, G via Pittsburgh Penguins

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

In possibly the most anticipated move regarding the Vegas Golden Knights this off-season, the Knights selected Fleury just days after winning his 3rd Stanley Cup. Despite losing his job to Matt Murray earlier this season, Fleury fought hard to gain his job back and was instrumental in the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run, showcasing the amazing goalkeeping talents he still has.

Over his 13 season career, Fleury has a .912 Save % and 2.58 GAA, which easily put him among the league’s top tier of goaltenders. Admittedly, Fleury has aged a bit and is likely more of a middle tier goaltender going forward. However, with Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knight will be getting a seasoned veteran with extensive playoff experience and multiple Stanley Cups under his belt. Fleury is also responsible for 120.3 point shares, which is the good for the 89th most in the history of the league.

 

David Perron, LW via St. Louis Blues

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David Perron, Vegas’s pick from St. Louis, is simply a grinder and embodies the tough-as-nails style of play that Vegas is going to play with. Perron has recorded at least 1000 minutes of ice time in the last 5 of 6 seasons, which is seriously impressive given his aggressive style of play. Over the past 4 years, Perron has made his presence felt by averaging 129 hits per season, which is practically unheard of for a forward.

With that being said, Perron can also produce on the offensive side of the ice as well. In the past 10 seasons, Perron has finished with at least 36 points in 7 of them. Additionally, Perron has a 12% shooting % over the course of his career, which makes him a legitimate scoring threat if he shoots more. As “irrelevant” as some might think he is, Perron is responsible for a solid 42.4 point shares in his career.

 

Alexei Emelin, D via Montreal Canadiens

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Photo Credits: NHL.com

Alexei Emelin, Vegas’s pick from the Montreal Canadiens, bears striking resemblances to David Perron in his style of play. Just as Perron, Emelin is a very physical player, who embodies that grinder and tough-as-nails style on the blueline. Emelin is a very solid, yet physical defender and has recorded 189 hits or more in 5 of the past 6 seasons. What is the lone exception you might ask? It was the 2012-13 season where he only played in 38 games.

Emelin is a trooper as he has recorded 1130 minutes of ice time in 5 of the past 6 seasons, with one again, the lone exception being in 2012-13. Emelin has proven in the past that he can be a lock-down defender with a very physical edge, and should be a valuable edition to the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster. Emelin has recorded 14.5 point shares over the past 5 seasons, which is impressive for a non-producing (offensively speaking) defenseman.

 

Jonathan Marchessault, C via Florida Panthers

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

The Florida Panthers’ logic going into this expansion draft was quite questionable, as they left an absolute young stud in Jonathan Marchessault. Marchessault is a young, rising star with serious goal-scoring potential and should provide an immediate offensive boost for Vegas.

Marchessault recorded 51 points last season via 30 goals and 21 assists, which is a seriously impressive mark for such a young player. Marchessault is also a power play threat, as he tallied 18 power play points via 8 goals and 10 assists. He played 1268 minutes last season, which is quite a large amount for a young player as well, and shows that he can be heavily utilized in Vegas. Marchessault was responsible for 6.2 point shares last season, which is quite notable also.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Hockey Reference, NHL.com, CBS Sports, and Sports Illustrated. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: NHL.com

 

NFL Draft Analysis

Winner: New Orleans Saints (2016 Record: 7-9)

Notable Picks: Marshon Lattimore (CB – #11 Overall), Ryan Ramczyk (OT – #32 Overall), Marcus Williams (S – #42 Overall), Alvin Kamara, (RB – #67 Overall), Alex Anzalone (LB – #76 Overall), Trey Hendrickson (DE – #103 Overall)

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

Despite having a number of questionable picks in the early rounds in the draft, as they drafted 2 offensive players in the first 3 rounds although they had the worst defense in NFL history just one year ago, the Saints had a very effective draft this year.

At pick #11, the Saints took Marshon Lattimore (a cornerback out of Ohio State) which was a no-brainer, as he is easily the best cover man in the draft. Lattimore was rated as one of the best players in the draft (top 3 to 5 in nearly every big board), which means he is a great value pick at the 11 spot and has the ability to vastly improve the worst coverage defense in football. Marcus Williams (a safety out of Utah), the Saints’ selection at #42, only furthered bolstered the defense by adding an athletic, hard-hitting safety who is capable of playing a “centerfield” type of role for the defense. Williams, a slightly worse version of Malik Hooker, an all-around, ball-hawk safety out of Ohio State, and Lattimore, the best cover man in the draft, both make for great value picks that will surely improve the Saints’ defense.

Although it was quite questionable that the Saints spent 2 out of their first 4 picks on players on the offensive side of the ball, it is quite difficult to argue with either of their selections. Ryan Ramczyk (an offensive tackle out of Wisconsin), the Saints’ 2nd first round selection at pick #32, has a very legitimate chance to be a long-term starter in the NFL and was likely the best lineman in this year’s draft, which makes him a good pick as well. Alvin Kamara (a running back out of Tennessee), the Saints’ 3rd round selection at pick #67), provides the Saints with yet another offensive threat, who will manage to contibute both through the air and on the ground, despite a crowded backfield.

 

Winner: Cleveland Browns (2016 Record: 1-15)

Notable Picks: Myles Garrett (DE – #1 Overall), Jabrill Peppers (S – #25 Overall), David Njoku (TE – #29 Overall), DeShone Kizer (QB – #52 Overall), Larry Ogunjobi (DT – #65 Overall)

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

After a number of wise trades that provided the Browns with a plethora of picks in future drafts (which data suggested was smart since more picks are on average more valuable than higher picks), the Browns finally cashed in this year with a very strong draft class.

With the #1 overall pick, the Cleveland Browns took Myles Garrett, a defensive end out of Texas A&M, who was the consensus #1 pick in nearly every mock draft created. Myles Garrett is an athletic beast with game-changing talent on the defensive side of the ball, as he has the ability to single-handedly shut down opposing offenses. Jabrill Peppers, a safety out of Michigan, was the Browns’ 2nd first round pick and is easily one of the most athletic players in the draft, which will allow him to continue his versatile role that he previously played with Michigan. Peppers will be able to handle both the nickle and the safety, which makes him a valuable defensive chess piece for the Browns to play with.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Cleveland Browns reeled in some serious talent by drafting David Njoku with 29th overall pick and DeShone Kizer with the 52nd overall pick. Njoku, a tight end out of Miami, is a very athletic and has a rare combo of size and speed for a tight end. Njoku will be a playmaker for the offense and will give Kizer, as well as receivers, a much greater chance to shine as he will likely attract double coverage. DeShone Kizer at #52 was easily my favorite pick of the draft, as I thought he should have been the first quarterback off of the board (there were 3 taken before him: Trubisky, Mahomes, Watson). Kizer is a huge quarterback with an even bigger arm, which allows him to crank throws down the field and (successfully) challenge safeties with deep, over-the-top throws. Kizer has elite throwing power and above average accuracy, as well as dual-threat capabilities in the red-zone, which will make him a lethal threat in the NFL in a couple of years from now.

 

Winner: Washington Redskins (2016 Record: 8-7-1)

Notable Picks: Jonathan Allen (DT – #17 Overall), Ryan Anderson (LB – #49 Overall), Fabian Moreau (CB  -#81 Overall), Samaje Perine (RB – #114 Overall)

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Photo Credits: SI

After swinging and missing on a number of supposedly “big-time” prospects over the past couple of years (RG3, David Amerson, Josh Doctson, among more), the Redskins finally seemed to get it right this year, reeling in serious talent over their 4 picks in the draft.

The Redskins went all-in on defense in the early rounds of the draft, picking 3 defensive players with their first 3 picks in the draft. Prior to the draft, it was unimaginable that Jonathan Allen would slip out of the top 7, much less the top 15, but he fell all the way to the Redskins at #17. Allen, a defensive end out of Alabama, is arguably one of the most talented and athletically gifted players in this draft, and was quite possibly the best value pick in the draft. Allen’s presence will help to solidify a porous run defense and improve the pass rush as well. The Redskins went back to drafting Alabama alumns in round 2 as well, picking Ryan Anderson, an ex-Alabama linebacker, with pick #49. Although Anderson has limited upside potential as a pass rusher on the NFL level, he is well rounded and solid across the board.

The Redskins further improved their draft class in Rounds 3 and 4, getting amazing value picks on Fabian Moreau, a cornerback out of UCLA, and Samaje Perine, a running back out of Oklahoma. Both had Round 1 potential up until the ends of the junior seasons (Moreau tore his pectoral and Perine had to split carries with Mixon), and likely still possess that Round 1 talent scouts believed they had just a couple of months ago. Moreau is an aggressive playmaker on the outside, who likely would have been a mid to late 1st round pick had he not hurt himself at UCLA’s pro day. Perine is powerful runner out of the backfield, with capabilities both running and catching the ball. Perine is a lethal threat on 3rd down as a power running back with the ability to cut and break away from defenders with speed and has the ability to be Washington’s starting running back from day 1.

 

Loser: Chicago Bears (2016 Record: 3-13)

Notable Picks: Mitch Trubisky (QB – #2 Overall), Adam Shaheen (TE – #45 Overall)

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

Just as they always do, the Chicago Bears managed to amaze everyone, with yet another silly move that will hurt the future prospects of the team. Analytics would suggest that the Bears had the worst draft of any team (and it’s not even close), which only adds onto the woes that already exist in Chicago.

In the biggest surprise of the night, the Chicago Bears sent picks #3, #67, #111, and a 3rd Round pick in 2018 to the 49ers to move up one spot in the first round (moved from #3 to #2). With the 2nd overall pick, the Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky, a quarterback out of North Carolina, who was not on anyone’s draft radar just one year ago. Although Trubisky is a very skilled player, he has just 13 starts and isn’t a sure-fire NFL starter, which makes him a risky pick at #2. Although he might have been gone by pick #3 (via a trade), Trubisky was nowhere near worth the price, given that the Bears just signed Mike Glennon to a huge contract this off-season.

Adam who??? That was pretty much everyone’s reaction after the Bears pulled their second surprising letdown move of the night by drafting Adam Shaheen, a tight end out of Ashland, with the 45th pick. While Shaheen is actually a solid pass-catching target, he is a terrible blocker, which will take him off of the field in most running situations. Shaheen is simply an average tight end and is nowhere near a deserving 2nd round pick (at earliest Round 3), despite the run on tight ends in the 1st round as well as the Bears’ need for one. The Bears likely could have waited for 30-40 picks and still could have been confident that Shaheen would be on the board, thus making this a foolish pick.

 

Loser: New York Giants (2016 Record: 11-5)

Notable Picks: Evan Engram (TE – #23 Overall), Dalvin Tomlinson (DT – #55 Overall), Davis Webb (QB – #87 Overall)

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

Statistically speaking, the Giants really did nothing wrong this draft, they just happened not to do anything right either, despite a number of chances to capitalize on team weaknesses based on the available players at their spots.

In Round 1, the Giants swung for the fences (and brutally missed) by picking Evan Engram, a tight end out of Ole Miss, with the 23rd pick in the draft amid an unprecedented 1st round run on tight ends. Engram is a versatile tight end, who is actually a legitimate receiving threat, but lacks the ability to block well, which will limit his on-field time. Although Engram isn’t that atrocious of a pick by itself (albeit a bad one), it is absolutely horrendous given who was on the board at the time of the Giants pick and how well they filled their needs. If the Giants wanted to pick a tight end, they should have gone with Njoku, who is a more complete player with much higher potential. If the Giants were wise (which they obviously are not), they would have gone with either a linebacker, as Foster, Cunningham, and McMillan were still on the board, or an offensive lineman, as Ramczyk, Robinson, and Lamp were all on the board as well.

The Giants did much the same in Rounds 2 and 3 where they picked Dalvin Tomlinson, a defensive tackle out of Alabama, with the 55th pick and Davis Webb, a quarterback out of Cal, with the 87th pick. Although the Giants needed a defensive tackle, picking Dalvin Tomlinson in the 2nd round was not the right pick for the team, given his limited potential and lack of actual output on the field. Zach Cunningham, a future superstar linebacker out of Vanderbilt, as well as Alvin Kamara, a versatile running back out of Tennessee would have both been much better picks for the Giants given those two’s talents the Giants’ pressing needs at linebacker and running back. You would think that the Giants would have learned their lesson in Rounds 1 and 2 given their massive blunders, but unfortunately for all Giants fans out there, you would be wrong. The Giants picked Davis Webb with their 3rd Round pick, which is not a terrible pick by itself, as Webb was in contention for the first overall pick at the end of last season’s mock drafts (for the 2017 draft). However, Nathan Peterman, a very talented and developed quarterback out of Pittsburgh, and Brad Kaaya, the consensus #1 pick until a god awful senior season, were both on the board at the time and would have been much better picks.

 

Admittedly, the Giants did get a steal in Round 4 when the picked Wayne Gallman, a speedy and versatile running back out of Clemson, with the 140th pick in the draft. Gallman has huge potential and, when it’s all over, might be actually be the best running back in this year’s class, which makes this an amazing value pick.

 

Favorite Picks By Round (1-3):

Round 1: Jamal Adams – S, LSU (Round 1, Pick 6), Malik Hooker – S, OSU (Round 1, Pick 15)

Round 2: DeShone Kizer – QB, Notre Dame (Round 2, Pick 52), Dalvin Cook – RB, Florida State (Round 2, Pick 41)

Round 3: D’Onta Foreman – RB, Texas (Round 3, Pick 89), Fabian Moreau – CB, UCLA (Round 3, Pick 81)

 

Least Favorite Picks By Round (1-3): 

Round 1: Mitch Trubisky – QB, North Carolina (Round 1, Pick 2), Evan Engram – TE, Ole Miss (Round 1, Pick 23)

Round 2: Gerald Everett – TE, Ashland (Round 2, Pick 44), Adam Shaheen – TE, South Alabama (Round 2, Pick 45)

Round 3: ArDarius Stewart – WR, Alabama (Round 3, Pick 79), CJ Beathard – QB, Iowa (Round 3, Pick 104)

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, Football Reference, and NFL.com. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

A Guide To March: Under-The-Radar Favorites and Upset Picks

As the name would suggest, March Madness is the most chaotic event in sports. Whether it be Kris Jenkins’ game-winning, buzzer-beating shot in the National Championship game or Middle Tennessee’s shocking win in the opening round over Michigan State, the month of March (for college basketball at least) is simply filled with madness. Nothing that happened during the regular season matters anymore, as the only thing that counts, is that you are in the tournament right now. Although March Madness seems like it is just a flurry of luck, momentum, and chance (which to a great extent it is), taking a structured, statistical based approach to evaluating match-ups will allow March to make much more sense. Additionally, filling out your brackets in this statistical-backed approach will dramatically increase your odds of winning your pool, so read these helpful tips to feel a little less “mad” this March when your brackets aren’t busted after Day 1.

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Photo Credits: Sporting News

Under-The-Radar Favorites:

Look for these characteristics when picking teams to go far:

  • Good on both ends of the court
    • Both offensively and defensively efficient
  • Have one “unstoppable” aspect
    • Ex: West Virginia’s press or UCLA’s shooting
  • Make the most out of their possessions
    • High Floor % (% of possessions ended with points)
  • Don’t turn the ball over
    • Low turnover %

Unexpected Teams Poised To Make Big Runs: Southern Methodist (SMU), Notre Dame, Michigan, Iowa State

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Southern Methodist: Winners of 15 straight and 24 of their last 25, SMU comes into the tournament as possibly the hottest team in the field. Although they pack one of the least deep rosters in the country, SMU’s athletic starting 5 more than make up for that through their ability to score and rebound. SMU has great shooting ability, especially from deep, as they shoot 40.6% from beyond the arc, which is the 5th best mark in Division I. Their shooting ability from deep, paired with big men who grab an offensive rebound on 36.8% of their shots (6th in the country), makes a combo that will be awfully hard to stop. Additionally, SMU plays at the 4th slowest pace in the country, averaging only 65.2 possessions per game, which allows for great volatility in the outcomes of their games. Pair this with their efficient play on both sides of the ball (6th in offensive efficiency and 15th in defensive efficiency), and you have a team that could readily take down major contenders such as Baylor, Duke, and Villanova, Florida, or Virginia. On top of that, advanced metrics show that SMU is very underrated as a 6 seed, as they are ranked #11 by Kenpom, which is ahead of every team in their region besides Villanova, Florida, and Virginia.

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

Michigan: Coming off upset wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Purdue to win the Big 10 championship, Michigan is riding a huge wave of momentum that should carry over into the tournament. After a rough start to the season, Michigan has turned it around as of recently, and this version of the Michigan basketball team is a force to be reckoned with. With a defense that is just alright, even below average by advanced metrics such as defensive efficiency, Michigan’s offense is what has carried them so far. Michigan possesses a lethal combo of slow pace and efficiency, which allows them to capitalize on the few possessions that they have. Averaging just 65.5 possessions per game, Michigan has the 5th slowest pace in all of college basketball, which (just like SMU) gives greater volatility in the outcome of their games. As mentioned above, Michigan’s offense is quite effective and efficient as well, as they are 6th in offensive efficiency and 8th in effective field goal %. Michigan’s patient, efficient style of play, along with their great ability to hold onto the ball (6th lowest turnover %), is quite taxing on opposing defenses, which has led to diminished offensive production for opponents as well. If Michigan can defend the deep ball better than they have recently, don’t be surprised if you see them take down powerhouses such as Louisville, Oregon, and Kansas, Iowa State, or Purdue.

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Notre Dame: Unlike SMU or Michigan, Notre Dame does not come into the tournament red-hot, as they have only won 8 of their last 12 and are fresh off a devastating loss to Duke in the ACC Championship game. Notre Dame boasts a potent offense, the 15th most efficient in the country, that is extremely hard to stop when Bonzie Colson is at his best. Unfortunately for everyone else in the tournament, Colson has been doing exactly that as of recently; in his past 10 games, he has scored at least 20 points in all but 2 of them and has posted 5 double-doubles over that span as well. On top of that, Notre Dame shoots 38.6% from behind the arc (32nd in the country), but more importantly, their 4 main players (Colson, Vasturia, Beachum, Farrell) all are legitimate 3-point shooting threats, as they all shoot at least 36.1% from deep. One of Notre Dame’s most lethal qualities is that they are not going to beat themselves up; Notre Dame shoots 79.9% from the free-throw line and commit turnovers on only 13.6% of possessions, both of which are tops in the country. On top of that, Notre Dame’s match-ups after the first round (likely West Virginia then Gonzaga) are good fits for them. West Virginia’s full-court press was rendered useless against other teams that didn’t turn the ball over (Iowa State), and that should be no different against Notre Dame. Against Gonzaga, Beachum and Vasturia should be able to handle Karnowski, and Colson will give him plenty of trouble on the defensive end. In conclusion, Notre Dame has an experienced, disciplined roster that matches up well with potential opponents and should last well into March.

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Photo Credits: SB Nation

Iowa State: Although they are not quite as hot as Michigan or SMU, Iowa State has also been on a tear recently, coming fresh off a win over ‘Press Virginia’ to win the Big 12 Championship. In most regards, Iowa State is a very similar team to Notre Dame; both are offensively oriented, live off of the deep ball, hardly turn the ball over, and sport experienced rosters. Iowa State thrives off of how they shoot from beyond the arc, as they shoot 24.8 of them per game, which is the 36th most in the country. Fortunately for Iowa State, they are pretty good at doing so, as they make 40.2% from beyond the arc, which is the 11th best mark in the country, and average 10 made 3-pointers per game, which comes out to 8th. Iowa State’s stay in the tournament will be completely dependent on how they shoot the 3 ball. With that being said, Iowa State does have a number of other attractive characteristics as well. Iowa State’s potent offense, which averages 80.9 points per game (24th in the country), is also among the most efficient, as they rank 25th in offensive efficiency. Iowa State can also handle the ball well, as they turn the ball over on only 13.8% of possessions, which is the 2nd lowest rate in the country. Good match-ups against Purdue (big roster is to slow to keep up with quick Iowa State guards) and Kansas (who Iowa State has beaten in Lawrence), as well as an experienced starting roster, made up of 4 seniors, give Iowa State the potential to make a huge run in the tourney this year.

 

 

Sleepers:

Characteristics of teams that pull off upsets:

  • Forces lots of turnovers
    • High opponent turnover %
  • Strong offensive rebounding
    • High offensive rebounding %
  • Good all-around shooting
    • High effective shooting %
  • Slow pace
    • Low number of possessions per game
  • Very strong offensively or defensively
    • Either offensively of defensively efficient

Sleepers: St. Mary’s, UNC Wilmington, Princeton, Vermont

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

St. Mary’s: After losing to Gonzaga for the 3rd time in the West Coast Conference championship, St. Mary’s dropped off of almost everyone’s radar, but advanced metrics show us that is not a wise move. St. Mary’s is ranked #14 on Kenpom and are actually 6 spots ahead of Arizona (#20), meaning that advanced metrics favor St. Mary’s over Arizona in a potential Round of 32 match-up. St. Mary’s only averages 62 possessions per game, which is the slowest pace in the country, and as we talked about earlier, this low number of possessions allows for greater volatility, thus dramatically increasing the chances of an upset. St. Mary’s also has one of the most potent, efficient offenses in the country, as they rank 3rd in offensive efficiency and rebound 31.8% of their own shots (51st in the country). St. Mary’s also is a very good shooting team, as they have an effective field goal percentage of 57.9%, which ranks 5th in the country, and shoot 39.9% from beyond the arc, which ranks 14th. On top of that, St. Mary’s has a very stingy defense that only gives up 56.5 points per game and ranks 10th in defensive efficiency, and commits the 3rd least fouls per game in the country. This lethal combo of an slow, efficient offense that has elite shooting paired with a stingy and efficient defense has upset spelled all over it.

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Photo Credits: SB Nation

UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks return a number of their starters that gave Duke quite the scare last year where they took them down to the very end last year, nearly pulling off a highly improbable upset. This alone justifies UNC Wilmington as a very legitimate upset contender, they also have a number of other credentials that make them a quality upset pick for this year’s tournament. Although their defense can at best be described as average, their offense more than makes up for this lack of star power on the defensive end. UNC Wilmington has one of the most potent offenses in the country that exhibits lots of variety, which makes them particularly hard to stop. The Seahawks’ offense is quite efficient, as the rank 5th in offensive efficiency, just behind the likes of UCLA, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and Villanova, all of whom are considered quite legitimate threats in the tournament. UNC Wilmington’s ability to shoot from deep (they make 9.5 from beyond the arc per game, which is 20th in the country) makes them a serious threat to dethrone higher seeds. Their offense also has an effective field goal percentage of 55.2% (25th in the country), which showcases their elite shooting talent as well. UNC Wilmington’s high-powered, potent offense has the ability to potentially take them deep into March.

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

Princeton: The Tigers, fresh off an Ivy League championship, come into the tournament as possibly the hottest team, as they have won their past 19 straight and haven’t lost in almost 3 full calendar months. Princeton is quite talented on both sides of the ball, and their unique credentials give them a legitimate chance of pulling off an upset in the Round of 64 (Bonzie Colson and the Irish might think otherwise). Princeton runs one of the slowest offenses in the country, as they only average 66.2 possessions per game, which is the 11th slowest pace in Division I. As we talked about earlier, this slower pace allows for greater volatility in the outcome of their games, which essentially increases their chances of pulling off an upset. Princeton’s offense also has a number of other dynamic elements, as they can shoot quite well (46th in effective shooting %), especially from beyond the arc, where they average 9.9 3-pointers made per game (15th in country). On top of that, Princeton’s offense hardly ever turns the ball over on 14.9% of their possessions, which is the 11th lowest rate in the country. Princeton also has quite a solid defense that has given their opponents trouble so far this season. The Tigers’ defense is quite efficient (29th in defensive efficiency), which is especially important given their slow pace (meaning that they need to capitalize on all possessions since there are so few). They also force a turnover on 20.2% of opponent possessions (50th in country) and don’t foul very much either (29th least fouls per game in country), which makes them a formidable opponent. Their combination of slow pace and efficient play will make them hard to stop this March.

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Photo Credits: Burlington Press

Vermont: If the Tigers are hot, then the Vermont Catamounts are on fire, as they are fresh off of an American East Championship and hold the longest current win streak in the country at 21 games. While Vermont is nowhere near a household team, their name might be coming up a lot more in conversation over the next couple of days if they pull off some upsets that they are potentially capable of doing (over Purdue and Iowa State). Vermont thrives off of an efficient, yet slow offense, which is a lethal combo that we have already discussed earlier (with Princeton, St. Mary’s, and Michigan) that makes their opponents susceptible to upsets. Vermont plays at a very slow pace, averaging only 66.6 possessions per game (15th slowest pace in the country) and boasts the 24th most efficient offense in Division I. Vermont is also a very talented shooting team, as they have an effective field goal percentage of 55.4%, which is 16th in the country. Additionally, Vermont ranks very high in floor percentage (which measures the percentage of possessions that end in points) as Vermont scores on 52.8%, which is 14th in the country. On top of that, Vermont has a stellar defense that is very capable of shutting down higher octane offenses they might face in potential opponents. Vermont has the 38th most efficient defense in the country, which is quite lethal when paired with their slow pace. In addition, Vermont is not gonna do the opposing team any favors, as they commit only 16.1 fouls per game, which is the 21st lowest rate in the country. Vermont’s combination of slow pace and efficient play both on offense and defense make them a legitimate upset threat.

 

 

Why the Top 8 Seeds won’t win the tournament:

Villanova: On top of not even being the favorite in their own region (Duke), Nova faces stiff potential competition against SMU, Duke, Virginia, Florida, and Wisconsin, all of whom rank well by advanced metrics. Also, Nova plays at an extremely slow pace (23rd slowest in the country at 67.2 possessions per game), which makes them vulnerable to an upset.

Kansas: Advanced metrics show that Kansas is highly overrated, coming in at 10th on the Kenpom scale, despite being a 1 seed, which highlights potential weakness. Kansas has not performed well in the tournament in year’s past, and face stiff potential competition from red-hot opponents, such as Iowa State (who beat Kansas in Lawrence), Michigan, Purdue, and Louisville.

North Carolina: Lacking backcourt depth, North Carolina lives or dies off the success of Joel Berry II, which is awfully risky for a long tournament. North Carolina has been somewhat inconsistent at times and is easily the least hot team coming into the tournament as a top seed. The potent talent on the other side of the bracket (UCLA, Kentucky, Wichita State) might also prevent North Carolina from returning to the Final 4.

Gonzaga: Despite being the top dog on the Kenpom scale, the ‘Zags have yet to play enough serious competition for them to be considered legitimate. They have played underwhelmingly bad in the tournament in years past. Elite talent and unique playing styles from West Virginia (full court press) and Notre Dame (Bonzie Colson and ability to guard Karnowski) might force the ‘Zags to change up their style and be overmatched.

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

Arizona: While stats don’t mean everything, advanced metrics such as Kenpom are not too high on Arizona, who sits at #20 in their rankings, even though they are a #2 seed. Additionally, they face legitimate competition from pretty early on, facing St. Mary’s (who is wildly underrated according to Kenpom), Florida State (who’s big men might be too much to handle), and Gonzaga, West Virginia, or Notre Dame.

Kentucky: The Wildcats are one of, if not the most inexperienced team in the country, which is something that will largely work to their detriment in the tourney. Additionally, Kentucky got by far the worst draw of any 2 seed, as they are lined up to play the #10 seed Wichita State (who is ranked #8 on Kenpom!) and UCLA, who easily has the most potent offense in the country.

Louisville: The Cards received one of the toughest draws in the tournament, facing either Michigan or Oklahoma State in the second round, both of whom are red-hot. Their fantastic reward for beating Michigan or Oklahoma State: playing Oregon next and then either Kansas, Iowa State, or Purdue. Also, although it hasn’t been an issue yet, Louisville is atrocious at shooting free throws (236th in the country), which might catch up to them.

Duke: Although Duke has a number of skilled big men, they lack an interior presence on the defensive end, which could come back to haunt them later in the tournament, where they might play bigger teams such as Baylor. Duke is either going to play South Carolina (stingy defense) or Marquette (best 3-point % in the country) in the second round, which is much harder than the average 7 or 10 seed they could have drawn.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, TeamRankings, Kenpom, and Basketball Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo