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20/20 Hindsight (Would've, Could've, Should've)
Every week I'll offer three insights from the prior week of football with a take on the fantasy situation moving forward. This week, I'm reflecting on the preseason.
Who Would've Known: Terrelle Pryor Would Start For The Raiders?
Two years ago, I was using Terrelle Pryor and Steve McNair as visual examples of Beer Goggles for quarterbacks, but the former Ohio State quarterback has made significant strides. It's telling that Pryor admitted to the media this summer that he didn't even know how to throw the football. This confidence to admit such a thing is a sign that he knows he has come a long way in a short time. It also indicates he still has a long way to go.
Another "Would've" in this story is fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson. He and Seahawks receiver Chris Harper are the two highest draft picks this year to get cut by their respective teams. Wilson was my top-ranked quarterback prospect because I thought he was a polished player capable of competing now - even if he lacked the long-term upside of my No.2 quarterback E.J. Manuel.
Wilson is a great example of how fit within a system is an important part of projecting a player's long-term value. Wilson lacks the great arm or elite athleticism of most top prospects, which is a big reason for his drop to the fourth round in a class where the only true elite athlete at the position with some amount of polish was Manuel. However, the Raider's quarterback struggled because he was slow to pick up the protection calls for the offense. When you're drafted by a team that has gone through four left tackles in the preseason alone, this is a critical issue.
The Raiders need a big, strong quarterback that can generate big plays with his athleticism. Wilson is tough and mobile, but his athleticism is not in the same class as a prospect like Pryor. The Raiders know their line is troublesome and it means from the standpoint of fit, Pryor has the best chance to help the team and stay healthy.
While his play was gutsy, Wilson also it also had elements of recklessness to his game at Arkansas. I thought he'd get wiser fast. Not so.
Fantasy Takeaways Wilson and Pryor: If Wilson can get his act together as a student of the game and develop more discipline, his upside is Andy Dalton's production up to this point in the Bengals quarterback's career. However, I think it's best for fantasy owners to think of Wilson as a likely journeyman who will bounce around for a few years before he establishes some footing as a backup with upside for a quarterback-needy team. It could be the Raiders, but like Jeff Garcia, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Orton, Jon Kitna, and Matt Hasselbeck, the upside isn't there to hang onto him in dynasty leagues.
Pryor is an upside pick you can cut loose fast. I think his athleticism makes him a more compelling runner than Tim Tebow, but his decision-making as an improvisor isn't on Tebow's level. There will be more passes, but there will also be more mistakes. If you have a defense that faces Pryor, use it (or rent it - see Sigmund Bloom's Rent-A-Defense article for more recommendations). He's a more compelling player as a QB3 in a start-two, QB league. However, I have to think that you might have to take the chance on him as a QB2.
Who Could've Known: There Could Be So Many Late-Round/UDFAs With Potential To Matter To Fantasy Owners This Year?
Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld, Marlon Brown, and Brice Butler could be starters with a lasting impact on offense this year. Benny Cunningham, Cierre Wood, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk, Spencer Ware, C.J. Anderson, Rod Streater, Patrick Edwards, and Joique Bell are all examples of contributors with late-round/UDFA pedigrees with potential fantasy relevance this year. Is the NFL missing on talent evaluation?
No more or less than it has overthe past 40 years. The issue isn't scouting, although it is "an" issue. The other issue that's more relevant is the changes to the game.
Football is more popular than ever. The game has also altered its rules to favor more offense. The result is a greater concentration offensive talent at skill positions as the years progress as well as a more wide-open game that, while still tough, is less punishing than your father and grandfather's version of the sport.
The NFL also cut the draft pool. Just 20 years ago, the draft was 12 rounds and 20 years before that it was 17 rounds. Combine fewer rounds with a wide-open game with a faster pace and the need for more offensive skill talent, and it's only nature that there is talent at the end of drafts and awaiting tryouts in May.
Despite all of these changes, including greater technology used to evaluate college players, the general process teams use to study prospects remains the same from 50 years ago - including many of the steps that are now a built-in, inefficiency like having one scout covering a massive area to interview players and coaches as well as study every "relevant player" on the team. It's a reason why I've had former scouts tell me that they've seen peers paraphrase magazine and Internet scouting reports as their own.
Fantasy Takeaway: It's more important than ever not to look at the round a player is drafted, but to learn about his skills and potential fit with a team. Thompkins and Sudfeld are excellent examples. Debate all you want about their value in another organization, but did you debate whether Dominic Rhodes was a good running back in 2000 when Edgerrin James went down? Or did you ride him to a championship? Stay tuned to Sigmund Bloom's waiver wire reports as well as the staff's weekly recaps for information about these players so you're thinking about "when" and "how" to react rather than just "if" you should.
I Should've Known: I'd Find A Place To Make Bold Predictions for 2013.
Here's my list of 10 Bold Predictions. I'm swinging for the fences here; don't take it as advice for managing a team.
10. C.J. Anderson will be the Broncos runner to own by Week 9 - Anderson's burst, balance, size, and patience make him the surprise fantasy waiver wire pickup of the year. He'll be healthy by Week 5 and I won't be surprised if two of the three backs are too hurt to go by Week 7.
9. Ray Rice remains a top-five fantasy runner - Bernard Pierce, eh? Willis McGahee had 14 total touchdowns in 2009 and a 5.0 ypc average. Ray Rice had only 7 touchdowns in 2009. He was "only" the No.4 RB in fantasy football in that same year. Only injury or cumulative wear and tear stops Rice from returning to top-five status. I'm not convinced that the end of last year was a sign of his personal apocalypse.
8. Brice Butler, Marlon Brown and Kenbrell Thompkins will out-produce Cordarrelle Patterson, Keenan Allen and DeAndre Hopkins - While I would draft the last trio ahead of the first trio in a dynasty league, think Brown and Thompkins are more likely to have an every-week impact for their teams than Patterson and Allen. Thompkins, Hopkins, and the receiver below are my bets as rookie receivers to own by the end of the year - if you're going to own one - in re-draft leagues.
7. Kenny Stills will be one of the top three rookie fantasy receivers - Robert Meachem returns to the Saints, but his hands are still made of bricks and his route tree would look sparser than Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. Stills has the occasional dropsies, but he has impressed with his vertical and red zone prowess in the preseason. I think Meachem was brought back as depth and not the No.3 option. If Drew Brees even throws for 4500 yards, I'm thinking Stills could contribute 500 and 3-5 touchdowns. Since I think Brees will exceed 5000 yards, I woudn't be surprised if Stills' upside is 800 yards.
6. Brandon Myers out-produces Jordan Cameron and Kyle Rudolph - Martellus Bennett underwhelmed the Giants last year and in the process I think the team found out why the Cowboys stopped counting on Bennett being the team's tight end of the future. Myers is an overachiever. Now he's on a team with a better offensive line, better receivers, and more accomplished coaching staff. If Eli Manning can combine with Jake Ballard for a 600-yard, 4-score season I think we're going to see Myers in the neighborhood of 700 yards and 6-7 scores. Cameron and Rudolph have more upside, but neither one of them is coming off an 800-yard season like Myers, who should have more opportunities to stretch the seam than in Oakland.
5. Tyrann Mathieu will make the Pro Bowl - Mathieu possesses three things I value in a fantasy safety: 1) He can tackle. 2) He has a great feel for setting angles and closing fast and 3) He runs like a running back that a coach moved to safety and he still carries that chip on his shoulder. I don't know if Mathieu was a running back at one time, but I do know he had moments that resemble a younger Charles Woodson. I wouldn't be shocked if Mathieu has enough sacks and interceptions to earn a ticket to Hawaii. There are at least three IDP drafts this summer where I've thought I should have drafted him last round!
4. Undrafted Seahawks DE Benson Mayowa will have more sacks than free agent Cliff Avril by Week 5 - This might be more logic based than bold prediction. Chris Clemons' knee is still on the mend, Bruce Irvin is suspended, and that leaves Avril and the Idaho Vandal Mayowa. Impressive against second and third-teamers this preseason, Mayowa has shown enough that two good weeks in September could force a rotation. I'd keep him on your wavier wire speed dial early this year in IDP leagues.
3. Andrew Luck regresses this year and the Colts miss the playoffs - Andrew Luck is a fine quarterback, but I have concerns just how much his offensive line, running game, and Darrius Heyward-Bey are going to help him do more than he did last year. Chuck Pagano is already concerned that Luck is running too much. While I'd still draft Luck and I have him as a QB1, I wouldn't be surprised if by season's end he knows how David Carr felt in Houston.
2. Ryan Mathews leads AFC West runners in rushing yards - Like David Dodds, I believe that Mathews will get on track this year just as everyone abandons him. Unlike Dodds, it's more of a feeling. The Chargers' line might be a rough unit compared to others, but there is a belief that the runner makes the line more than the other way around. Greg Cosell is one of those who espouse this point of view. Mathews has the skill to make a bad line look good. Let's see if he's finally ready to use it.
1. Cleveland goes 10-6 and makes the playoffs - They need to split two of their three division games or sweep one and split the other. I think Pittsburgh is ripe for the picking this year and I like what I see from Cleveland's schedule to get it done. Brandon Weeden's aggressive tendencies are a great fit for Norv Turner who I think can create situations where the second-year quarterback's gun slinging is put to constructive use more often than destroying drives.
Lurkers: FAntasy Player Below The RadaR
In the coming weeks I'll be writing about players who will be worth monitoring with the potential to acquire via trade or waiver wire. Since I've already mentioned Marlon Brown, C.J. Anderson, Brice Butler, and Kenny Stills, let's go further south and talk about rookie Ace Sanders of the Jaguars.
I don't think you're going to have a need to play him in September unless your fantasy squad gets exposed to the whatever was in the Bucs locker room that required Lawrence Tynes to get a garden hose full of antibiotics hooked up to his heart. However, I think I as wrong about Sanders' explosiveness and I like enough of what I saw during the preseason. If he can provide Blaine Gabbert a quick, easy option from the slot in this up-tempo offense to complement the down field skills of Cecil Shorts, you might find a nice flex-option.
You might also find that Gabbert could be lurking below the radar and ready to emerge as a bye-week starter. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though.
GuT Checks: Players, Teams, And tips Deserving a Double Take
(Player) Mohamad Sanu: I'm a Marvin Jones fan, but I think this Bears' game is a great opportunity for Sanu to earn most of the playing time as the receiver opposite A.J. Green. The Bears were the eighth-toughest defense for fantasy receivers last year. If Sanu can do his red zone act - his strength as a receiver - against Chicago and demonstrate skill after the catch, it will be a great sign that he's in for a big year. When I say big, I'm thinking fantasy WR3 production.
(Team) Pittsburgh Steelers: Tennessee's defense looks better on paper. Jurrell Casey looks healthy and disruptive in the middle. Derrick Morgan is poised for the type of year that draftniks anticipated when he left Georgia Tech three years ago. And I think Benard Pollard still has enough left to improve the safety play. However, this team has nowhere to go, but up. They were the eighth-most generous to fantasy quarterbacks and the third-most generous unit to fantasy runners -
The Steelers offensive line may not be in for a major test from a fan's perspective, but I think if we see Pittsburgh's offense struggle against the likes of the Titans -then you have to take a long look at the value of owning Steelers skill players. Watch for the offensive line's ability to generate a push in the run game and communicate assignments in pass protection. If they miss on blitz pick-ups - especially stunts and twists versus four-man rush schemes, it will be time to worry.
And yes, Steve there is one thing worse than being from Cleveland. It's watching the flaming thumbtacks dismantle your Steelers.
(Tip) Don't Get Cute Week 1: Barring injuries, start the guys you drafted for your starting lineup. I'm not a believer in fantasy strength of schedule for the first month of the season. It's time to watch how free agency, the draft, injuries, age, and retirements have changed the makeup of each team. What appeared tough in August might be cake by Week 5. Just like the NFL, you go into a game with a gameplan and then make adjustments. Consider the first week your first quarter.
College Prospect of the Week
In case you missed it, I write this publication called The Rookie Scouting Portfolio. While I'm not doing any full-blown scouting reports here, I will post a highlight video with some bullet points about a player that I think has an NFL future. These are preliminary thoughts and I'll refine my views on these players with future study. Some of these players won't necessarily be draft eligible in 2014, but I know many of you actually draft college players in your dynasty leagues.
- Runner with natural feature back size.
- Runs with true power regardless of pad level/leverage - breaks arm tackles and bounces off hits.
- Notable acceleration and sustains his second gear in the open field.
- Good lateral agility and capable of changing direction with minimal steps to prepare.
- A tall back in the 6-1 or 6-2 range with an upright gait. He knows how to run with low pad level, but he takes a lot of hits in addition to delivering them.
- He has a tendency to carry the ball exclusively with his left arm.
- I need to see more as a pass protector and receiver.
Overall Thoughts: Stylistically, Gurley's size, speed, and change of direction combined with real power has similarities to Adrian Peterson. The difference is that Peterson's cuts are more explosive and dramatic. If there's a player is on the same stylistic spectrum with less physical talent I could compare Gurley it might be Larry Johnson in his prime with the Chiefs. Gurley is one of the three most physically talented running backs in college football today. He could easily become a 20-touch workhorse in the NFL.