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

NFL Postseason Awards

In this article, there is an evaluation of the candidates for each major NFL postseason award (MVP, Comeback Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Coach of the Year), evaluating the legitimacy of each candidate’s resume. In these evaluations, we will be looking at both who should win the award and who will win the award, which is quite different in some, or even most, cases. Let’s take a look at each award below:

 

Who Should Win MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Who Will Win MVP: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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The MVP award is given out to the most valuable player, not necessarily the best player, but the one who adds the most value to his team. However, in Aaron Rodgers’s case, he happens to be both. Unfortunately, Rodgers will likely not win the award due to a stellar season on Matt Ryan’s part, but more importantly, a disappointing playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship this past weekend, which will likely sway voters towards voting for “Matty Ice”.

Rodgers has been fueling the Packers’ recent tear, in which they won 8 straight games before losing this past weekend in Atlanta. Over this win streak, Rodgers has posted a 12:1 touchdown to interception ratio (24 to 2), 2,671 passing yards, and an average QBR of 82.3, all of which are league bests over the past 9 games. Rodgers’ phenomenal play has been instrumental to the Packers’ success, as his stats have improved significantly from the first 9 games; his QBR and touchdown to interception ratio are severely inflated on the back half of the season (3.14 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio and 77.8 QBR through the first 9 games). Rodgers led the league this year with 40 passing touchdowns and was actually so phenomenal over the last 9 games of the season that he threw 24 touchdowns, which is more than all but 13 quarterbacks did over the course of the entire regular season (16 games).

Although Rodgers is much more deserving of the MVP award, Ryan will likely come away with the award next Saturday night because of his phenomenal play throughout the season as well as their huge win over the Packers that earned them a trip to Houston for Super Bowl LI. With that being said, Ryan was incredible this season, and many advanced metrics point towards that he should win the award, not Rodgers. Ryan was 2nd in passing yards and passing touchdowns this season, behind only Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in those respective categories. Additionally, Ryan led the league in QBR (83.3), as well as in DYAR, (Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement), which shows that Ryan excelled against stronger defenses, more so than his stats would suggest. Ryan also led the league in DVOA (Defense-Adjustive Value Over Average) with 40.2%, suggesting that he is 40.2% better than the average QB against an average defense, which is more than 6% better than his next closest competitor, Aaron Rodgers. However, I believe that Rodgers is more deserving of the award even though Ryan might have been better offensively, as Rodgers was much more influential and crucial to the Packers’ success than Ryan was to the Falcons’, as Rodgers had to deal with injury upon injury as well as a bad defense, while the Falcons were generally in good health and had a great defense.

Tom Brady should also be in the MVP conversation as he has posted a 13-1 record since returning from his 4-game suspension because of Deflategate. Additionally, Brady had a touchdown to interception ratio 12 to 1 over the course of the entire season, which is an NFL record. Brady also has a QBR of 83.0, which is second in the league, only behind that of Matt Ryan.

 

Who Should Win Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

Who Will Win Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

NFL: New York Jets at Green Bay Packers

In recent years, the Comeback Player of the Year award has become one of the most coveted, especially since Eric Berry won last year after missing the entire 2014 season due to his (successful) battle with Leukemia. The Comeback Player of the Year award has always been very difficult to predict, due to the great diversity in the candidates for the award; the two stereotypes for this award are typically someone who is coming off of a catastrophic injury (usual ACL tear) and returning back to their stellar play (example: Adrian Peterson in 2012) or someone who is coming off of a very poor year of play only to return to their normal form (example: Philip Rivers in 2013).

After missing the entire 2015 due to a torn ACL, Jordy Nelson was absolutely spectacular during the 2016 season, which has made him the front-runner and nearly shoe-in candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year award. Despite being neutralized in a couple of games this season (he had 5 games with under 45 receiving yards), likely due to undisclosed injuries, Nelson absolutely tore up opposing defenses this season, forcing defenses, most notably Minnesota and Chicago, to change their game plans mid-game to hamper his production. Nelson often drew double-coverage and extra attention from the secondary, which allowed other members of the receiving corps, usually Randall Cobb or Davante Adams, to get open and terrorize opposing defenses. In fact, in the 5 games in which he had less than 45 receiving yards, either Cobb or Adams had at least 80 receiving yards, and in most cases, more than 100 (the lone exception being against Jacksonville all the way back in Week 1). Nelson was absolutely crucial in Rodgers’ path to having an MVP-caliber season, as demonstrated by the stats above, as well as the huge increases in Rodgers’ production compared to the prior season; in 2016, Rodgers threw for 600 more passing yards and 9 more passing touchdowns, and had a QBR 14 points higher than he had in 2015. With all of this being said, Nelson looks to be the sure favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year, as his production, 1,257 receiving yards and 14 receiving touchdowns, was amongst the best in the league.

DeMarco Murray also has a convincing, yet unconventional case to win the Comeback Player of the Year award. After rushing for over 1,800 yards, recording 13 total touchdowns, and tallying more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his 2013 campaign in Dallas, Murray decided to test free agency, and eventually ended up in Philly. It’s safe to say his campaign in Philly was disastrous; after being an MVP candidate in 2014, Murray barely recorded 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2015, and only scored 7 total touchdowns. However, after getting traded to Tennessee for a swap of 4th-round picks, Murray completely revived his career, returning to nearly original form. In 2016, Murray recorded over 1,600 yards from scrimmage as well as 12 total touchdowns, both of which were the second best marks in his career, only falling short of his numbers during his 2014 campaign. Murray did not score so well on advanced metrics such as DVOA and DYAR, overall had quite a solid season. This dramatic revitalization of Murray’s career makes him a very deserving, but not the most deserving, candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year award.

 

Who Should Win Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys

Who Will Win Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys

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Ezekiel Elliot was an absolute stud this season, compiling one of the best rookie campaigns in NFL history. The only recent rookie campaign that even pales in comparison is that of Odell Beckham, Jr. back in 2015, and even so, that one was nowhere near as impressive as Elliot’s this past season. Elliot was so dominant that he only failed to rush for 80 yards in a game once this season, and that was against the Giants in his first career game. Additionally, Elliot averaged 3.9 yards per rush in every single game this season, except for that same game against the Giants, which is a highly impressive feat. Over the course of this season, Elliot compiled nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage, which is easily the most by a rookie in recent history, as well as an incredible 16 total touchdowns (15 rushing, 1 receiving). Elliot nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s long-time rookie rushing record but fell a bit short, likely due to rest he had at the end of the season after the Cowboys clinched home field advantage. Elliot provided much-needed help to his fellow rookie Dak Prescott and was instrumental to the Cowboys’ success and 13-3 regular season record.

While his campaign was not nearly as impressive as his fellow teammate Ezekiel Elliot’s, Dak Prescott put up a phenomenal rookie campaign that should be lauded. Prescott led the Cowboys to a 13-3 regular season record, which is tied for the best season by a rookie in NFL history (Ben Roethlisberger is the other). 13 wins are extremely impressive for an established, elite quarterback, such as Rodgers or Brady, but for a rookie quarterback, this is practically unheard of. Prescott posted an average QBR of 82.6, which was lightyears ahead of his fellow rookie quarterbacks (Wentz and Goff), and was good enough for 3rd in the NFL. Additionally, Prescott recorded almost 4,000 yards from scrimmage, as well as 30 total touchdowns, both of which are impressive feats for a rookie.

Although he’s no Elliot or Prescott in terms of his value to his team, Tyreek Hill is a rising young star, who had a stellar rookie campaign, which definitely should at least bring his name up in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year. After a fairly slow start through the first 5 or so weeks of the season, Hill went full beast mode for the rest of the season. Hill compiled nearly 1,000 return yards and 3 return touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns, where he quickly established himself as one of the best returners in the league. Additionally, Hill also racked up more than 900 yards from scrimmage and 9 offensive touchdowns. By the end of the season, Hill established himself as a game-changing playmaker with elite speed, as well as one of the most promising young prospects in the NFL.

 

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers

Who Will Win Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers

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While some of the other races for postseason awards might be hotly contested, the MVP race, for example, the Defensive Rookie of the Year award should not even be close. Joey Bosa has demonstrated that he is by far the best defensive rookie in the 2015 draft class, and possibly one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. After a contract dispute that left him sidelined for the first 4 weeks of the regular season and deeply angered the Chargers organization, Bosa ended negotiations in late August and turned out to be well worth it once he got onto the field. Despite missing the first 4 games of the season as well as being a rookie who needs to learn the Chargers’ playbook, Bosa finished the season with 10.5 sacks, which easily led all rookies. Bosa finished tied for 13th in the NFL with his 10.5 sacks, which gave him the same number of sacks as Brian Orakpo, and just 0.5 sacks behind feared, veteran pass rushers, such as Khalil Mack, Ryan Kerrigan, and Chandler Jones. What’s even more incredible is that Bosa might not have even been playing his very best for the entire year; Bosa recorded at least one sack in the final 5 games of the regular season, tallying 6 over that 5 game span. He played so well over that span that his name has already come up in the conversation for most feared pass rusher for the 2017 NFL season.

Although a couple of other defensive players had good rookie campaigns this past season, no one came even close to what Joey Bosa did. Jalen Ramsey also lived up to expectations in Jacksonville, embracing his role as the #1, lockdown cornerback for the horrific Jaguars defense. Ramsey’s stats don’t tell the full story, as quarterbacks often avoided his side of the field in the passing game due to his late season dominance. Ramsey forced 3 turnovers (2 interceptions and 1 forced fumble) in the last 3 games of the season, just a glimpse at his immense potential. Although Jacksonville’s defense was downright horrific for the majority of the season, Ramsey actually led a stout passive defense for Jacksonville that surprisingly finished 5th in the NFL in passing yards per game.

Leonard Floyd also had a stellar rookie campaign out in Chicago, putting together an impressive resume as a pass rusher. Chicago wanted Floyd so badly that they traded up in the draft to get the pick before the New York Giants, who likely would have picked him due to their need for a pass rusher, and their bet appears to have worked out for them. Since being drafted by Chicago, Floyd has made his presence as an edge rusher felt, and although he is not as feared as Bosa, he definitely provides quite a bit of trouble for opposing defenses. Floyd recorded 7 sacks this season, which is second to only Bosa, but his stats don’t necessarily tell the whole story, as his presence was felt much more greatly than the 7 sacks would suggest. Keanu Neal, Eli Apple, DeForest Buckner, and Vonn Bell all had respectable seasons as well, but were not quite on the same level as Ramsey and Floyd, not to mention even in the same universe as Bosa.

 

 

 

Who Should Win Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

Who Will Win Coach of the Year: Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys

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I know that you are all probably thinking that I am crazy right now, as I am picking Bill Belichick as the most deserving candidate to win Coach of the Year. But before you start, I want to establish that I agree that Jason Garrett likely will win the award, as he is a very deserving candidate and completed a wild transformation down in Dallas. Let’s just establish something first: Coach of the Year is given to the best coach in the NFL, the one who makes the most happen with what he has on his roster, not necessarily the coach of the team that is most improved. With keeping that in mind, let’s look at the cases for both Belichick and Garrett, but more specifically, how Belichick was able to make the most out of his limited personnel.

Not that the Coach of the Year award should be always be awarded to the coach of the team with the best record, but I think it is well worth mentioning that Belichick’s Patriots had a league-best regular season record of 14-2. As I mentioned earlier, Coach of the Year should be awarded to the coach who makes the most happen with what he has on his roster, and I think Belichick truly embraced that on his path to his 7th super bowl in the Brady era. It is quite important to note that the Patriots were far from healthy this season, which made Belichick’s job much more difficult. Rob Gronkowski, undoubtedly the best tight end in football and a premiere red-zone target for the Patriots, only appeared in 8 games this season due to various injuries and forced Tom Brady to look elsewhere besides his favorite target. Dion Lewis, a crafty back with elite playmaking skill both on offense and special teams, missed 9 games as well due to complications with his ACL tear in the prior season. On top of that, Tom Brady, quite possibly the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, missed 4 games due to suspension (Deflategate), forcing the Patriots to start 3 different quarterbacks over the first 5 games. In fact, Belichick is the first coach ever to have 3 different starting quarterbacks (Garoppolo – filling in for Brady during suspension, Brissett – filling in for Garoppolo while he was hurt during Brady’s suspension, and Brady – the starter) and finish with a record of 14-2 or better. During the middle of the season, the Patriots also traded Jamie Collins to the Browns for future draft picks, which did not make his job any easier as well. However, what I think truly speaks volumes about how great of a coach Belichick is that the Patriots still managed to go 3-1 and be extremely dominant without Tom Brady, the undoubted leader of their offense.

Let’s just establish something first: Jason Garrett had an absolutely phenomenal year, coaching the Dallas Cowboys to one of their best finishes in recent history. Just as Belichick had to do with his Patriots, Garrett had to overcome tragedy quite early in the season, also in the form of injury. Tony Romo went down with a back injury during a preseason game in Seattle that turned out to be devastating, ruling him out for at least 6-8 weeks. Little did the Cowboys know that this was a blessing in disguise … In stepped Dak Prescott, a rookie out of Mississippi State, now the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did Garrett have a starting rookie running back (Elliot), but also a starting rookie quarterback (Prescott), which is quite a handful. And what did Garrett do with it? Absolutely amazing things. The Cowboys were super dominant this year, finishing with a regular season record of 13-3, which was second in the NFL only to the New England Patriots, before losing in a thriller versus the Packers in the divisional round. The only, and I mean only, the reason that Garrett should not win Coach of the Year is that the Cowboys had a lot more talent to work with than the Patriots did. Arguably, the only two “stars” on the Patriots team are Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, who missed 4 and 8 games respectively. On the other hand, the Dallas Cowboys have the best offensive line in football to work with, as Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin all made both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro rosters, as well as 2 huge playmakers in Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliot.

 

Who Should Win Offensive Player of the Year: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

Who Will Win Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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Although the terms MVP and Offensive Player of the Year have become synonymous in recent years, these awards are quite different and should be awarded accordingly. While MVP refers to the player who was most crucial to their team’s success, Offensive Player of the Year refers to the best offensive player, not necessarily the most valuable. This might be a tad bit confusing, as in most recent years, the most valuable player has happened to also be the most valuable one (despite the trend to not give both awards to the same player), as you might have seen the play of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, LaDanian Tomlinson, etc.

As mentioned in the MVP award section, many advanced metrics would point towards that Matt Ryan was the best quarterback in the NFL this season, and probably the best player in the NFL as well. Both DYAR, defense-adjusted yards above replacement, and DVOA, Defense-adjusted value over average, show that Matt Ryan was far and away the best quarterback in the NFL, as he is significantly in first place in both stats. These metrics adjust the quarterbacks’ stats to account for better or worse competition and show that Matt Ryan would have a leg up on everyone against an average NFL defense. If you’re not convinced that these two stats accurately represent his performance, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees are (or were) consistently in the top 7 for these two stats every single year.

It is hard to argue that Matt Ryan is not the best offensive player in the NFL due to his array of amazing stats (see MVP section), but it is much more difficult to defend his case for MVP. Don’t get me wrong, Ryan had an absolutely phenomenal year, but received great help on both sides of the ball, which would hamper his case for MVP, but not Offensive Player of the Year. The Falcons were the only team in the NFL to have all 80 starts for their offensive line, meaning that each of their 5 linemen started each of their 16 games, which is quite an impressive feat. Ryan enjoyed this luxury, which likely played into his success, but nonetheless can’t really be used against him for his case for Offensive Player of the Year. The Falcons also enjoyed a stellar defense led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Vic Beasley, as well as an arsenal of playmakers on the offense, in Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman, which certainly made his job easier.Fortunately for Ryan, this award is given to the best offensive player (regardless of the help around him; MVP is the opposite), and in my opinion, should certainly be given to Matt Ryan.

Except for a couple of exceptions in recent years, historically, the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards have gone to separate players, pointing towards that the winner will either be Matt Ryan or Aaron Rodgers, depending on which one does not win MVP. However, there have been 3 exceptions in the past 4 years, as Cam Newton (2015), Peyton Manning (2013), and Adrian Peterson (2012) all won both the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards so we might be in for a surprise this year.

 

Who Should Win Defensive Player of the Year: Vic Beasley Jr., Atlanta Falcons

Who Will Win Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller, Denver Broncos

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Out of all of the awards given out, this one has certainly given me the most trouble on deciding both who will win and who should win. Although there were many amazing defensive performances by a variety of different players with different styles at different positions, there was just an overall lack of star power and an obvious candidate for the award. Many of the front-runners for the award, including Patrick Peterson, JJ Watt, Khalil Mack, Tyrann Mathieu, and Aaron Donald, either got injured or played at or below their expected levels, not what is expected from the Defensive Player of the Year. In my mind, 3 guys, in particular, stood out: Vic Beasley Jr., Von Miller, and Landon Collins.

Vic Beasley Jr. was absolutely phenomenal this season, improving leaps and bounds from his disappointing rookie campaign, and in my opinion, is the most deserving candidate for this year’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Beasley led the league this year in sacks with 15.5, leading his next closest competitor (Von Miller) by 2.0 sacks. What’s even more incredible is that Beasley only had 1 sack through the first 4 games of the season, meaning that he recorded an astounding 13.5 sacks over the last 12 games of the season. In fact, the only player to match his incredible sack streak was Von Miller, who achieved the exact same feat but over the first 12 games of the season. Additionally, Beasley was tied with Bruce Irvin for the league lead with 6 forced fumbles, yet another stat that represents his dominance as a perimeter.

Von Miller also had quite a stellar season, as I briefly described above, but was not quite as good as Beasley in most aspects of his game. Unlike Beasley, Miller started off the season red-hot, recording 13.5 sacks in the first 12 games of the season. However, once again unlike Beasley, Miller’s production dropped off the cliff late in the season, as Miller failed to record a sack in his final 4 games of the season. While Miller also recorded 3 forced fumbles, they were pale in comparison to Beasley’s 6.

Landon Collins also put together an impressive season, building on a solid rookie campaign from the season before. Collins had 125 tackles this season, which was the second most for a non-linebacker, only behind Johnathan Cyprien, who was on the field a ridiculous amount of the time because of Jacksonville’s disaster of an offense. Collins went on a midseason tear, recording 5 interceptions over a 4 game span, which started to draw attention to him. Collins really came onto everyone’s radar after winning the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in consecutive weeks, a feat that puts him in elite company. He is the first New York Giant to ever do this and the first since Charles Tillman did it back in 2012.

 

 

Extras:

Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year – Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys

Walter Payton Man of the Year – Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

Bridgestone Performance Play of the Year – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs (punt return TD versus Denver Broncos)

Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017 – Brian Dawkins, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kurt Warner, Terrell Davis, Isaiah Bruce, Terrell Owens, and Ty Law

 

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

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

Home Sweet Home

Oh how sweet is to be at home … in every playoff matchup this week, the home team won quite comfortably.

The Raiders get smoked in Houston: Oakland Raiders 14, Houston Texans 27

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The Houston Texans were not kind to Connor Cook in his first NFL start. Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Before I start, my condolences go out to all Oakland Raiders fans. After not making the playoffs for 14 straight years, the Raiders finally clinched their playoff birth late in the 2016 NFL season. As luck would have it, Derek Carr, the Raiders’ quarterback who was an MVP candidate for the majority of the season, broke his leg in Week 16, leaving Matt McGloin to be the Raiders quarterback. If being a Raiders fan wasn’t hard enough already, Matt McGloin got injured late in the season as well, leaving Connor Cook, a rookie, to be the Raiders’ starter.

As you can imagine, this situation was obviously not ideal for the Raiders. In fact, Connor Cook, a rookie out of Michigan State, became the first rookie ever to start his first NFL game in the playoffs. And boy did it show … Connor Cook finished the game with just 161 passing yards, a cringeworthy 3 interceptions, and a downright pathetic quarterback rating of 5.5. Houston’s offense was quite stagnant as well, only finishing with 291 yards of total offense. The decisive statistic in the game that really showed why Oakland lost had to have been turnovers, as they had 3 (all Connor Cook interceptions) compared to Houston’s 0.

 

Seattle routs in another home win: Detroit Lions 6, Seattle Seahawks 26

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Seattle dominated this game, just as they usually do during their home games. Photo Credits: AP Photo

To all the haters who believe that the 12th man does not influence the game, you are just flat out wrong. Since 2012 (the year Russell Wilson was drafted), the Seahawks have had a league-best record of 39-6 at home, compared to their slightly above average record of 24-19-1 on the road. After beating the Lions at home this past weekend, the Seahawks won their 10th game in a row at home, which is quite an impressive feat. The 12th man is simply a force of nature, recording 137.6 decibels back in 2014, which broke the world record at the time. All I’m saying is that Seattle’s success at home is not coincidental, and was a major force in this rout.

Detroit was looking to come into the game to shed its 26-year playoff winless streak, but unfortunately, they didn’t come anywhere even close. Based on the stat line, it should come as no surprise that Seahawks completely controlled this game; Seattle had 150 more yards of total offense, 13 more minutes on offense, and 15 more first downs. All of these point to that Seattle dominated this game, and if you watched this game, you could see that they most definitely did.

 

 

The ‘Fins come up short yet again: Miami Dolphins 12, Pittsburgh Steelers 30

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Bud Dupree absolutely crushed Matt Moore on this hit during their Wildcard Playoff Game. Photo Credits: AP Photo

Although their playoff winless streak is not quite as long as the Lions, the Miami Dolphins’ fanbase has experienced their fair share of torture as well, since the Lions have not won a playoff game in 16 years. And today was no exception, as the Steelers absolutely steamed-rolled the Dolphins in a blowout. Antonio Brown and Leveon Bell led the way for the Steelers today, racking up 167 yards and 124 yards, as well as 2 touchdowns each. On the stat-sheet, the Steelers’ win didn’t seem that dominant, as they only slightly edged out the Dolphins in most of the important categories, such as 3rd-down efficiency, total offense, the turnover battle, etc. However, if you watched in person, this was hardly the case, as the Steelers completely controlled the game in this blowout.

On a side note, Roethlisberger injured his ankle late in the 4th quarter and is currently in a walking boot. However, in a press conference after the game, he said he should be fine to play next week.

 

Pack Attack: New York Giants 13, Green Bay Packers 38

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Rodgers completely decimated the Giants’ defense earlier this evening. Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Well, we discovered 3 important things in this game. The most obvious one has to be that the Giants’ defense is not elite, they are above average at best. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense absolutely tore up the Giants’ defense this week, not a trait that I would usually describe as “elite”. And by consequence, the Cowboys’ offense is not elite either, as they were shut down multiple times by the Giants’ defense. Lastly, but certainly, the most important, Aaron Rodgers, with the exception of Tom Brady, is the GOAT (greatest of all time), as he has thrown 22 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in the past 8 games.

Rodgers and the Packers’ offense was just too much to handle, despite having a slow start in the first half. After that, the Giants’ defense was history, as Rodgers had his way with them, as Adams, Cobb, and Cook were open on virtually every single route. Late in the 4th quarter, Packers fans starting chanting “M-V-P, M-V-P” after Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, which basically sealed the Packers win. In conclusion, Aaron Rodgers has been completely unstoppable over the past 8 weeks, and any team that is facing him should be downright scared.

 

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

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

Heisman Trophy Analysis

Let’s take a look at this year’s Heisman finalists, and analyze how deserving the candidates were of their respective positions.

 

Lamar Jackson, QB – Louisville Cardinals (1st place – 2,144 votes)

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Lamar Jackson, the clear front-runner to win the Heisman for the majority of the season, capped off a spectacular season with the highest award. Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

This past Saturday, Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy, which is awarded to college football’s most outstanding player. Jackson, only 19 years and 337 days old, not only became the youngest winner of the Heisman Trophy but also won by 620 votes, which was the sixth-largest margin of victory in the history of the trophy. Jackson compiled a number of very impressive achievements this season and was certainly a very deserving recipient of the ticket into college football’s most elite club.

Jackson epitome of a dual-threat quarterback, racking up 3,390 yards and 30 touchdowns through the air, as well as 1,538 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. Jackson was the 2nd player in FBS history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,500 yards and was the first player in a Power 5 conference to do so. Jackson also became the 3rd player in FBS history to pass for 30 touchdowns and rush for 20 touchdowns, and the previous two, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, won the Heisman in landslides as well. Jackson also broke Deshaun Watson’s ACC single-season touchdown record with 51 total touchdowns this season. With all of that being said, Jackson greatly deserves the Heisman.

 

Deshaun Watson, QB – Clemson Tigers (2nd place – 1,524 votes)

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Deshaun Watson, a pre-season Heisman favorite, came up just short in this year’s Heisman Trophy voting. Photo Credits: Getty Images

While most people might lump Watson and Jackson into the same group, as both are quarterbacks who can pass the ball well with elite running talent, they are by no means the same player. While Jackson is accurately regarded as a dual-threat quarterback, Watson is much more of a pocket passer, despite possessing great athleticism and speed. Watson finished 2nd in the Heisman voting this year, a mild improvement over his 3rd place finish last season, which are the 2 highest finishes in Clemson football history.

Watson was an elite pocket passer this year, recording 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns in the air, but also 529 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground. Although other teams have made it to the playoff multiple times, Watson is the only quarterback in FBS history to lead his team to 2 College Football Playoffs. This past Thursday, Watson won the Davey O’Brien award for the second time, only the fourth player in FBS history to do so, and each of the previous 3 eventually went on to win the Heisman. As we know now, Watson was not quite as lucky, but this alone makes him deserving of his 2nd place finish.

 

Baker Mayfield, QB (3rd place – 361 votes) and Dede Westbrook, WR (4th place – 209 votes)

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Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook finished 3rd and 4th in this year’s Heisman voting despite low expectations after a slow start. Photo Credits: AP Photo

Let’s get something straight: both Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook were absolutely fabulous this season, however, they unfairly did not get the national media coverage they deserved. A combination of the excellence of Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, and Alabama, as well as 2 early losses to Houston and Ohio State, drew media coverage away from Mayfield and Westbrook, which severely hurt their Heisman campaigns. Additionally, many people did what I did in this article, which hurt their campaigns as well: clump Mayfield and Westbrook together because they both played for the Oklahoma Sooners.

Mayfield was an extremely efficient passer this season, throwing for 3,669 yards and 38 touchdowns. Entering the bowl season, Mayfield leads the FBS in Total QBR (91.6), yards per attempt (11.1), and completion percentage (71.2%), the first player to do so since Russell Wilson achieved this feat back in 2011. Mayfield finished 4th in Heisman voting last year and substantially increased his products in all facets of his game, which would justify his 3rd place finish. Despite being a fabulous player, Jackson and Watson were simply in another class, something that Mayfield maybe can achieve next year, as he stated that he was interested in returning to Norman for his senior year.

Westbrook was fantastic this past season, most likely being the best receiver in all of college football. Westbrook and Mayfield really fed off each other’s success, and some of Mayfield’s improvement from last year to this year can definitely be attributed to Westbrook’s brilliance. Westbrook was possibly the most dynamic player in college football, tallying 16 receiving touchdowns as well as leading Power 5 receivers in 20-yard receptions with 26 and in 100-yard receiving games with 8.This past week, Westbrook deservingly won the Biletnikoff Award, awarded to college football’s best receiver, and finished 4th in Heisman voting for his dynamic play.

 

Jabrill Peppers, Athlete – Michigan Wolverines (5th place – 208 votes)

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Jabrill Peppers lived up to the hype this season, putting together an impressive campaign, in which he finished 5th in Heisman voting this season. Photo Credits: AP Photo

An argument can be made that Jabrill Peppers was the best all-around player in the FBS this season. While I agree with this statement, unfortunately for Peppers, the Heisman historically has not been given to the best all-around player, it’s been given to the best offensive player. It is quite impressive that Peppers managed to stay in the Heisman race despite having such a minimal offensive role, and I think that this really speaks volumes about the impact he makes on all sides of the ball.

Peppers was easily the most versatile player in the country, being an impact player at a number of different positions on defense (linebacker, safety, defensive back), offense (running back, wide receiver, wildcat quarterback), and special teams (punt returner, kick returner). Peppers racked up 72 tackles and 4 touchdowns this year, a fairly impressive stat-line for a player who splits his stats among a number of positions. Peppers is the first non-offensive player to be invited to the Heisman ceremony since Manti Te’o and was more than deserving of his 5th place finish.

 

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

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

Contract Year Phenomenon: Myth Or Truth?

The Contract Year Phenomenon refers to the statistical inconsistency in which players perform at much higher level than they usually do during the final year of their contract, but return to original form once they sign their new (and usually larger) contract. Some studies have shown that performance during the final year of a contract can increase, on average, by 5%, while others have shown that the Contract Year Phenomenon is a complete myth (negligible increase or decrease in performance).

There are 3 leading theories for why the Contract Year Phenomenon may (or may not) exist, which we will analyze below:

The most commonly accepted theory, despite its lack of statistical merit, is that players simply play better because of the extra incentive. Quality performance in the final year of a contract usually has a direct correlation to receiving a larger contract, which some would argue causes players to “try harder”. Since players are “trying harder”, this supposedly would lead to better performance, thus explaining this statistical anomaly. While this theory makes sense, it has one gaping hole that makes me question the validity of this theory: why wouldn’t players always be trying their hardest? This theory is assuming that players are not always trying their hardest, which I don’t necessarily believe is true, undermining this potential theory.

Another popular theory, but is not even remotely as widely accepted as the first, is that players are simply less skilled after they sign their contract than they were before. One of the most popular times to sign contracts, for all sports, is in the 27-29 age range, which is when most players are finishing up their first real contract (excluding rookie contracts). Unfortunately, this signing happens at a very similar time to when most players exit their prime and begin their demise (usually happens around age 28). This odd occurrence would certainly explain why the Contract Year Phenomenon exists.

The final, and least likely, of the 3 theories is that the Contract Year Phenomenon exists purely because of luck. Considering that studies only found a 5% increase, while others found no increase at all, it appears that we shouldn’t rule out luck as a possibility.

Let’s explore the 2 types of contract year phenomenon players, as well as the 2 types of reverse contract year phenomenon players to see if it will help give us a better understanding of whether the contract year phenomenon actually exists.

 

Prototypical Contract Year Phenomenon Player:

The player performs significantly better than he usually does in the final year of his contract, leading to him receiving a huge contract. In the year following the signing of this contract, the player returns to his original, or even potentially worse.

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DeMarco Murray, a talented, but volatile running back, is the figurative poster boy for the “contract year phenomenon” after his disaster in Philadelphia. Photo Credits: Getty Images

Prime Example: DeMarco Murray, RB (Cowboys, Eagles, Titans)

2014: 2,195 yards from scrimmage, 14 total touchdowns

2015: 1,024 yards from scrimmage, 7 total touchdowns

2016 (through 7 games): 825 yards from scrimmage, 7 total touchdowns

As discussed earlier, DeMarco Murray is the poster boy for the Contract Year Phenomenon, as he played spectacularly in the final year of his contract, but followed it up with a year that was downright terrible (he signed his contract at the end of the 2014 season). However, in 2016, he returned to his original form, which perfectly matches the mold for a prototypical Contract Year Phenomenon player.

 

Extreme Fallout Post-Contract:

The player performs significantly better than he usually does in the final year of his contract, leading to him receiving a huge contract (same as above). In the following years, the player’s performance drops substantially below his usual, instead of returning to original form.

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Albert Pujols, an all-time great nearing 600 career HR’s, was one of many to fall victim to an extreme case of the “contract year phenomenon” after cashing in on a massive contract. Photo Credits: Pablo Martinez / AP Photo

Prime Example: Albert Pujols, 1B/DH (Cardinals, Angels)

2011: .299 BA, .366 OBP, 0.25 HR/9, 5.1 WAR

2012: .285 BA, .343 OBP, 0.19 HR/9, 4.6 WAR

2013: .258 BA, .330 OBP, 0.17 HR/9, 1.5 WAR

After signing one of the biggest contracts in sports history back in 2012 (10 years, $240 million guaranteed), the quality of Pujols’ play declined sharply, making him an example of an extreme fallout contract year phenomenon. While Pujols regressed, but not too significantly, in 2012, 2013 was a completely different story, as Pujols now reestablished himself as an average hitter, not a world-class one.

 

Sustained Contract Year Performance:

The player performs at a very high level in the final year of his contract leading to a big payday, but he is then able to sustain this level of performance in years following the signing of the contract.

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Daniel Murphy, quite possibly the most clutch postseason performer in recent MLB history, is one of few athletes who has sustained their “contract year performance”. Photo Credits: Brad Mills – USA TODAY Sports

Prime Example: Daniel Murphy, 2B (Mets, Nationals)

2015 (including postseason): .285 BA, 21 HR, 84 RBI

2016 (including postseason): .349 BA, 25 HR, 110 RBI

After a postseason for the ages back in 2015, Murphy signed a huge contract this past year with the Nationals. Unlike most other players who are unable to sustain their stellar postseason performances, Matthew Dellavedova for example, Murphy sustained and even increased his incredible quality of play, especially his power hitting, which is quite remarkable for a second baseman.

 

Reverse Contract Year Phenomenon Player:

The player performs at a consistent level in years leading up to and including contract year and signs a reasonable contract (for his production). However, after signing the contract, unlike the 3 others, his performance substantially increases from what it used to be.

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Steph Curry, the first unanimously voted MVP in the history of the NBA, is among the many athletes who have experienced a “reverse contract year phenomenon”. Photo Credits: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

Prime Example: Steph Curry, PG (Warriors)

2010-11: 18.6 PPG, 2.0 3PM/game, 1.91 Assists/TO

2011-12: 14.7 PPG, 2.1 3PM/game, 2.12 Assists/TO  *26 games*

2012-13: 22.9 PPG, 3.5 3PM/game, 2.25 Assists/TO

2013-14: 24.0 PPG, 3.3 3PM/game, 2.27 Assists/TO

Curry was an above average guard for his first 3 years in the league and signed a fairly large contract extension back in 2012, essentially making him the “face” of the franchise. However, it was what he did after his contract extension that has made him the best player in the world. Instead of regressing, Curry did simply the opposite; he became better. In nearly every important statistic, most notably points per game and 3 pointers made per game, Curry greatly improved, which has made him an elite player.

 

Now that we have evaluated the possible evidence that would suggest the Contract Year Phenomenon exists as well as the different types of Contract Year and Reverse Contract Year Phenomenon players, it has become much more apparent whether this phenomenon actually exists. And the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the Contract Year Phenomenon is much more of a myth than truth. As discussed earlier, studies regarding this phenomenon have been wildly inconsistent, as no two studies have confirmed the same results even though they have looked at fairly similar data. So far, luck seems like the most likely culprit, not the extra incentive. In addition, it appears no more likely for a player to experience a Contract Year Phenomenon that to experience the reverse, thus leading me to conclude that the Contract Year Phenomenon is a myth.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, FOX Sports, Sports Reference, and Football Outsiders. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Mitchell Leff/Getty