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!

 

 

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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.