First Quarter Awards

If the 2017 NFL season ended today, thank heavens it doesn’t, who would take home the end of season hardware? Awards such as Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year are coveted pieces of NFL history and could be instrumental in landing a players name in The Pro Football Hall of Fame. But what if the awards were presented quarterly? If you stick it out with me for the next few moments, we can catch a glimpse of that very prospect! Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, the First Quarter Awards!

Most Valuable Player

As the most prestigious award on our list, the MVP award is given to the player that is a standout among others at his position and as a player in general. While it is an award that could be won by any position, there has been a massive tilt toward the quarterback position lately. Since 2000 only four non-quarterbacks have won the MVP, all of whom were running backs (Faulk-00, Alexander-05, Tomlinson-06, Peterson-12). If you knew me at all, you would know I am an against-the-grain kinda guy so my First Quarter MVP award goes to……Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas CityI know, I know, putting Hunt in the company of Adrian Peterson as the only non-QB to win the award in the last ten years is risky, but stay with me as I present my case.

Hunt is currently leading the NFL in rushing yards (609), yards from scrimmage (775), Rushing yards per game (121.8), Total yards per game (155) and sits in second place with total touchdowns (6). Those are just the numbers, but the rookie’s presence on the field has been the most impressive part of his MVP run. The Kansas City offense has become far more dominant this season than in the past. Alex Smith is currently leading the NFL in Passer Rating (125.8) compared to his previous high in 2012 (104.1) is tied for third in passing TDs (11) and second in passing yards (1,391). Smith is playing the best football of his professional career, and that can be attributed to how Kareem Hunt has affected the defensive approach to the Chiefs. The Toledo product forces the defense to respect the run which opens up the passing game, particularly the deep passing game. Smith is a perfect 5/5 on deep middle passes and 8/12 on deep right passes. Outside of even the numbers, we can play the comparison game. Ezekiel Elliot finished in fourth place during the 2016 NFL MVP race, and so far Hunt has far outperformed even that amazing rookie season. So based on the info presented, I rest my case.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

I thought after the first 3 weeks that the offensive rookie of this year was going to be named Cook or Fournette. But shortly after, Dalvin Cook had a season-ending knee injury, completely derailing his shot at the award. Leonard Fournette has had a good enough season for the Jacksonville Jaguars racking up 466 yards on the ground (good for third in the league) and 128 receiving yards. After a 181 yard two TD game it was a virtual lock that Fournette would take the Rookie of the Year award, that is until Sunday night. I said a lot, to say this, my choice for Rookie of the Year goes to Deshaun Watson, QB, HoustonWatson started the year off slowly, notching three TDs and three INT in 2 1/2 games, but since has thrown nine…NINE touchdowns and only one interception! Oh yeah, and he rushed for an additional TD in week 4 pushing his total to ten TDs in two games. That isn’t the only thing the rookie out of Clemson has improved upon, his passer rating and completion percentage have improved each of the first four weeks. Watson is one of only two rookie QBs to throw for eight TDs in any two-game span in NFL history as well (Robert Griffin III). The Houston QB is both explosive and exciting, thus earning him the award of Offensive Rookie of the Year in my eyes.

 

Honorable Mentions

MVP

Alex Smith. You read a lot of my case for an Alex Smith MVP award, but just to add a little tiny bit to it. Tom Brady is right in the mix of the MVP discussions and Alex Smith has matched him almost stride-for-stride. The advantage I see through five weeks comes down to the head-to-head matchup that saw Smith edge out Brady.

Tom BradyAt age 40, Tom Brady has shown that he still has what it takes to be an elite QB in the NFL. He currently leads the league in passing yards (1,702), is second in Passer Rating (112) and is third passing TDs (11). Brady hasn’t shown any signs of decline this year and is a perennial MVP candidate.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Leonard FournetteAnother case of the “you already read this”, but Fournette makes this list by sitting in the top three in virtually every RB statistic, only behind Hunt and Gurley. The decision could easily be made just seeing how much Fournette has improved the Jacksonville offense this season as well.

 

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Dude! Where’s My Stud!?

As I type this, we are one Monday Night Football game away from the conclusion of Week two of the 2017 NFL season, and one thing is glaringly obvious. The players we all drafted in the first round are looking a little more dud than stud. The reason I am putting together this article is to dive into some of the big name players that seem to be underperforming and give you insight as to why. So, buckle up, sit back, and let’s dive in!

A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

If you drafted out of the first eight spots this year, then you probably rostered A.J. Green. Green was out of this world last year, topping 120 yards in four of his nine contests, with games of 121, 169, 172, and 180 yards! Adding four touchdowns to that mix, fantasy fans were ready and primed to see what Green had in store for 2017, and if you own him on your team, I probably don’t have to tell you this, it has not been pretty. Before you throw Green away or try to sell him off let’s look harder. So far this year, Green has recorded games of 5/74/0 and 5/67/0 but has seen 18 targets through two games. Green is still an amazing mismatch for almost anyone standing opposite of him, and even as Andy Dalton struggles, Green is being heavily targeted. Just Friday, the Bengals made the decision to fire the Offensive Coordinator Ben Zampese, under which the offense was struggling. I would expect Green gets more favorable targets, be it shorter routes or more isolation, in which to get the ball into his hands. I also expect the run game to pick up some, by allowing Joe Mixon to get more touches. With a few small changes, I am certain Green gets back on track and we will start to see his fantasy numbers soar once again!

 

Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington Redskins

After a season in which Pryor posted just over 1,000 yards with an astonishing FIVE different quarterbacks in Cleveland, his move to pass-happy Washington looked appealing. All offseason, we watched as Pryor’s draft stock continued to rise, imagining what the Cousins to Pryor connection would look like all season long. We figured, if he could do it in Cleveland, he can do it better in Washington! Then, the season started, and man do we look wrong. Through two games this season, Pryor has 8/97/0 but has been plagued by dropped passes since preseason. Pryor has shown he has the size, speed, and talent to be a very good, even great, wide receiver in this league, but the chemistry just hasn’t been there so far. If you are looking to sell Pryor, I would hold out. Try to give him a little more time to develop, as this offense as a whole appears to be struggling. Washington did lose Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson this offseason, and that leaves a gaping hole in the passing game. Cousins is an above average QB and has been talking up Pryor since just after his arrival. He wants to throw it to Pryor, and I believe Washington understands that they will need to involve him as much as possible to get the passing game back on track.

 

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

In almost all leagues, in almost all formats, Lev Bell was considered the 1A or 1B draft choice. In 2016, Bell came off a suspension like a man possessed, being held to under 100 yards only TWICE (one of those was 98 yards)! This year, however, has not been so dynamic. With a stat line of 37/119/0 rushing and 7/19/0 receiving this season, Bell has not even reached the stats of his first game last year (18/144 and 5/34)! This lack of production has most likely hurt anyone that drafted him early, but as I have said before, let’s look a little deeper. Bell has shown the same patience and pass catching ability that we all know he possesses, but he seems a step slower than the rest of the field on tape. This could be from a lack of preseason work this offseason. On the road against Cleveland in Week 1, was one of his first times back on the field in a competitive setting. Bell seemed rusty and the rest of the offense, outside of Antonio Brown, was not helping to take any attention away from Bell. With a presumably better Cleveland defense, Bell was held to just 3.20 yards a carry, worse than 11 of his 12 games in 2016. So while Week one he seemed a bit rusty, Week two he encountered a great defense. Minnesota had game planned to keep Bell contained, constantly dropping extra men in the box and even at times, spying him with a linebacker or safety. What is encouraging is the bump in usage from Week 1. Bell handled the ball 31 times in Week 2, compared to 16 times in Week 1. As he continues to get up to game speed, I would wager his productivity also increases. The all-pro will get back to winning you weeks in no time at all!

 

Honorable Mentions

Andy Dalton– Dalton has Struggled mightily thus far, most likely killing anyone unlucky enough to have played him Week 1, ending with negative points in most formats. New Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor (amazing name) had the Dolphins as the ninth and fourth pass-heavy offense in the league in 2014-2015. He also orchestrated the Lamar Miller 1,300 yards season, with 37 receptions. Look for Mixon to find a heavier role moving forward as well.

Jordan Howard– Howard was able to score a touchdown Week 1 but was heavily overshadowed by rookie Tarik Cohen. Howard is still the best player on a bad Chicago Bears team, but unfortunately, he will be phased out of the passing game after dropping a touchdown to upset the Falcons Week 1. With Cohen taking over the passing down work, and with negative game scripts more often than not, I don’t see Howard’s position improving until the team starts to get better.

 

That is my list for today, and I want to leave you with just a few things. This is only the end of Week two, new players are learning to play on a new team, new coordinators are implementing new systems, and everyone is in the running for first place still. Don’t let the first 14 days influence your season long choices. I like to live by the rule of three, give it three games before you make a decision to cut your top-ranked players. I hope this has been helpful, and good luck this season!

 

 

Is Antonio Brown a fantasy stud if Ben Roethlisberger retires?

For the last two years, the name Antonio Brown has been synonymous with Elite Talent. The stud wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers is a topic of conversation week in and week out. Have it be his epic game performance, the elaborate end zone dances, or a controversial locker room comment, AB seems destined for the spotlight. But, what about his statistical performances? Well, to put into perspective just how dominant he has been, let’s take a look at his numbers since entering the league in 2010. In his rookie campaign, Brown had 16/167/0 in nine games, by all means, a lackluster showing. Since that slow start, Brown has been virtually unstoppable! Antonio Brown’s talents demand the ball, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are happy to oblige. Brown has since amassed 925 targets and has turned those into 616/8,210/50. So, the questions have been asked, ” Is Brown really as good as his stats say, or only as good as his quarterback?”  and, “Will Brown be this good when Ben retires?” Well, let’s check the crystal ball and find out, shall we!

So, in order to evaluate the future, sometimes we need to look at the past. Over the course of his career, Brown has seen targets from four different QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, and Michael Vick and Charlie Batch. This is where the story gets interesting, and frankly, where the questions come from. If we look at the numbers, with Roethlisberger on the field, Brown has an average of 13.3 targets, 9.9 receptions, 133 yards and 0.8 touchdowns per game, fantastic stats by any comparison. If you watch a Steelers game, even without knowing the numbers you can see that Brown is Roethlisberger’s favorite target. “So that should just translate over, right?” Well, that answer is no. With the very small sample size that we have of other QB’s tossing the rock to Brown over the last four years (five games), we see that the numbers are drastically different. Without Roethlisberger at QB, Brown’s average stats are as follows: 7.8 targets, 4.3 receptions, 59 yards, and 0 touchdowns! You read that last part correctly, Antonio Brown has caught exactly ZERO touchdowns from a quarterback not named Ben Roethlisberger, in his entire career. That equates to roughly 42 targets and 24/341/0.

Well? Is Antonio Brown a generational talent or a fortunate byproduct of a pro bowl quarterback? My answer is simple, both. Why do we have to just assume that a player is either lucky or good? Can Antonio Brown’s statistics be a mixture of his phenomenal talent with a hint of great quarterback/system play? Just looking at the numbers can always be a little misleading. The eye test shows us the elusiveness, the football IQ, the vision and the unparalleled effort Brown possesses. I would also be remiss to not talk about the skill gap between Landry Jones or Micael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger. A wide receiver of Brown’s caliber almost always draws the top corner and is usually accompanied by some help from the safety position so it would be unfair to assume that a young quarterback would force feed his talented receiver amidst double coverage. With the decrease in targets comes the decrease in receptions and I probably don’t have to tell you that with fewer catches come fewer yards.

I know what you are still thinking, “What about the touchdowns?” Well, that can also be explained in a rather simple way. We will look at only the 2015 season for this bit. In 2015 Antonio Brown saw a total of 23 targets inside the red zone. He caught 16 and scored 8 touchdowns, but only one of those targets came from someone other than Roethlisberger. Landry Jones passed to Brown one time in the red zone for an incompletion. Brown is a dangerous red zone threat, and defensive coaches know this. It is not a surprise that as an offensive coordinator would use Brown as a decoy to save your young QB from forcing the mistake. So this could be a mixture of play calling and avoiding the coverage.

So what is the end result, will Antonio Brown remain a fantasy stud if Roethlisberger retires after the 2017 season? My opinion, yes. The Steelers have done a fantastic job of finding great quarterbacks to lead the charge, and I believe Brown has another 3-4 years to impress us on the field. Brown is a generational talent and whoever lands the starting quarterback job in Pittsburgh will find a way to put the ball in the vicinity of Antonio Brown, and if I’m right, Brown will find a way to do something special with it.

Fantastic Values and Where to Find Them

     When it comes to fantasy football, everyone is looking for that special group of players that will lead their team to a glorious championship! We study, mock and research all of the top players to ensure the early rounds of our draft go perfectly, but what if I told you that the players you select at the end could be the difference in winning and winning it all. In this article, I hope to shed some light on the late round values that I believe can win you your league.

 

Tyrell Williams

    

Tyrell Williams is a talented receiver on a Los Angeles Chargers team that throws the ball a lot. I mean, finishes in the top 15 three years straight (with a top 2 finish in 2015) in pass attempts, lot. Williams was gifted an amazing opportunity to be “the guy” after Keenan Allen went down in week 1 of last year with an ACL tear, and he did not disappoint. In his 16 games played, Williams was targeted 120 times and landed 69 rec. for 1,059 yards and 7 TD. That was good enough for the 19th wide receiver last year. There seemed to be some threat with the LA Chargers drafting Mike Williams and the return of Keenan Allen, but now Mike Williams is in talks for back surgery and Allen has missed significant time over the last two seasons due to injury. I personally do not understand the crazy hype surrounding Allen, in his BEST year his numbers were very similar to Williams. In 2013 Allen had 71 catches for 1046 yards and 8 TDs, yet his ADP right now is as high as 3.08!? With Tyrell Williams going in the middle of the 10th round (10.06), I would much rather take the “same” player just 7 rounds later. Keep a lookout for Tyrell the Gazelle!

 

Kyle Rudolph 

Rudolph is going in the back(ish) of the 8th round according to Fantasy Football Calculator. That is good enough for the 9th TE off the board. But what if I told you that Rudolph finished last year as the NUMBER 2 tight end! While 2016 was a down year for the TE position, Rudolph benefited from the constant Red Zone targets that found their way to him.  He finished second in red zone targets (30) across ALL positions, only behind Jordy Nelson (35). And speaking of targets, Rudolph ended the year with 132 targets and was able to bring in 83 receptions. Sam Bradford loved to constantly throw to the huge target that is Kyle Rudolph, and I see no reason for why that would end in 2017. Bradford threw a total of 151 targets to the TE position in 2015, so this looks to become a dynamic duo! If you are like me and wait for the TE position in your drafts, Rudolph can be your guy!

 

Quincy Enunwa 

I know what you are thinking, B-L-A-H Blah blah blah! Quincy Enunwa does not seem like an appealing option for fantasy almost entirely because of the questions surrounding the Jets organization. Poor quarterback play on what appears to be a team trying their hardest to lose this season is part of why Enunwa’s ADP is so low. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure! Enunwa finished as a high-end WR2 in 3 games last year and a mid-range WR2 in another, keep in mind this was done with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker still on the roster. Now that both of those guys have been shipped away Enunwa sits as one of the lone talents left on the Jets. He has shown flashes of great talent but has not been able to stay consistent. Last year Enunwa saw 105 targets which he turned into 58 receptions 857 yards and 4 TDs. There were just around 260 targets vacated in that offense, and the Jets will be forced to throw the ball just to pretend to stay in games. Enunwa is a risky pick but at his 10.03 APD (fantasyfootballcalculator.com) the value is there, with the potential of higher upside.

 

Kenny Britt

As I was doing research for this article I came across Kenny Britt’s name in the mid 11th round (11.05 according to Fantasy football calculator). At first glance, this seems fitting, a wide receiver that has shown flashes of brilliance but has failed to top 1,000 yards in his career. Be it by injury or lack of targets, Britt has been disappointing to many fantasy owners over the seasons, unless you picked him up last year. Britt was finally able to top the 1,000-yard mark and added five touchdowns on 68 receptions! With quarterbacks Case Keenum and Jared Goff at the helm, Britt was still able to post his career year. He had his best catch percentage (61.3%, previous high was 2011 when he played 3 games) and highest yards per game (66.8) in 2016. The Rams lost Britt to the Cleveland Browns this offseason and I love the opportunity he will have there! I know that sounds crazy, it is the Browns, but looking at the QB stats between Goff and Kessler is what has excited me. To show you what I mean, I will just give you the numbers. Goff in his seven games played had 205 attempts, 112 completions (54.6%), for 1089 yards, 5 TD/7 INT. Not horrendous for a rookie QB starting in that miserable Jeff Fisher offense. Kessler however, on what was considered the worst team in the league, had much better numbers! Kessler threw 195 attempts, 128 completions (65.6%) for 1380 yards 6 TD/2 INT. Much better by comparison, and Britt is essentially the main ticket over in Cleveland. The Browns have done a TON of work to improve their team this offseason, with additions to the offensive line Kessler should have more time to look and that gives Britt more time to shine. Britt is currently being drafted behind FIVE defenses and multiple third string running backs! In the 11th round, Britt is the kind of talent that can make all the difference and it doesn’t cost you a thing!

 

Tyrod Taylor

Being stuck in a run first offense never bodes well for a quarterback trying to make a name for himself in the NFL. Tyrod is a favorite of mine for so many reasons. He is only 28 years old, he is an electric runner and an efficient passer, he has an elite receiver and one of the best rushers of this decade. As I was combing through Tyrods stats for the 2016 season I noticed he is strikingly similar to Jameis Winston. I say that keeping in mind that Winston is on a more verticle offense, with a talented receiving corp himself. What amazes me is Tyrod outperforms Winston in completion percentage (TT-61.7%, JW-60.8%), touchdown to interception ratio (TT-20/6, JW-28/18), and quarterback rating (TT-68.2, JW-64.7). Surprisingly, Winston is drafted around 8.04 and Taylor 11.10! Winston does have more passing yards (4090) than Taylor does (3035), but Taylor’s ability to run with the ball draws that number much closer. On 95 rushes last year Taylor picked up 580 yards and an additional six touchdowns, while Winston ran for 165 yards and one touchdown. So I make the same case for Tyrod Taylor as I did for Tyrell Williams, if you can draft the same player, just later, then you should always take the value. Do not let name bias dictate your draft!

 

There is always going to be the guy (or two) that goes late in a draft that is going to show up big. He will be the guy that could give you the push you need mid-season to secure that playoff spot or the one that comes out of the gate strong and gives you a head start in your league. This is the short list of some of the values that I will be targeting in my drafts. May they reward you with many points and provide you with plenty of bragging rights!