Sometimes 140 characters isn’t enough space to dump all the football grey matter rumbling around my brain, and I have to venture back into the realm of article writing and put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard. Here are some off-season musings I’ve had related to OTAs, rookie drafts and player values.
I like Christian McCaffrey. I like his running style in space, his versatility as a receiver and even his ability to grind between the tackles. I like the landing spot, his fit in the Carolina running scheme and I’d feel the same way even if the Panthers had drafted an additional five cloned copies of Curtis Samuel. Heck, I even like the way his silly “Run CMC” nickname flows from my lips as I pound on my keyboard.
McCaffrey’s vision and balance produce quite a harmonious melody, working in unison to create a type of running back “spidey-sense” which allows CMC to adjust to defensive penetration at the line of scrimmage. McCaffrey consistently presses even slight creases, creating cutback lanes at each level of the defense. If you combine the threat of Cam Newton keeping the ball and McCaffrey’s ability to read, react and press a crease – it creates a perfect storm of terrible defensive pursuit angles. Aggressive play calling or hesitation by the defense, it really won’t matter as Cam and McCaffrey – in an inside zone scheme – will force a bevy of poor angles on defensive front-sevens. And even if the Panthers want Cam to run less, he could be a more effective threat with fewer attempts alongside an angle crusher like CMC.
Many have discussed Newton’s lack of touch and insistence on forcing velocity in the short passing game as a negative to McCaffrey’s involvement as a receiver. There’s a big difference between “hasn’t” and “can’t” when it comes to evaluating Cam’s short game skills. I’m betting it’s a fixable shortcoming and not a fatal flaw. I am, however, willing to admit it may take some time for Cam to work off the rust since he’s losing practice time rehabbing from shoulder surgery.
Finally, I’m not too worried about Jonathan Stewart or Cam and their propensity to dominate goal line work. McCaffrey’s a threat to score from anywhere on the field and not all touchdowns come from three yards out and a cloud of dust.
Other rookie thoughts….
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John Ross’ ADP has been dropping in quite a few drafts. Personally, I’m much more comfortable drafting John Ross at the bottom of the 1st round or top of the second than I was taking Will Fuller last year. Ross has more “suddenness” to his game than Fuller and doesn’t “quadruple-clutch” every pass while trying to secure it.
I expect Joe Mixon to dominate touches in the Cincinnati backfield by week five at the latest.
I’m really rooting for Pittsburgh rookie running back James Conner.
From a strategy perspective…..
Those who’ve read my work in the past know I’m a huge proponent of tracking owner tendencies and I constantly preach the value of keeping a “notebook’ on fellow league mates. What I track has certainly morphed over the past few years with the explosion of online fantasy football as social media, message boards and online interactions have become a huge part of this hobby.
Incorporating which owners follow certain sites, podcasts and Twitter accounts for advice has been the biggest addition to my notebooks.
Example: When I see a trade go down in my leagues, I’ll search Twitter plus some of the top message boards for the players involved in the deal. Owners will often post a Twitter poll before making a trade or they’ll reach out for a particular expert’s thoughts or blanket tweet a bunch of experts for responses. Maybe they’ll even post on a particular message board and share their thoughts and values behind the deal.
Knowing where or who your fellow opponents turn to for advice and player values can be a big benefit when it comes to trading and drafting. If a particular podcast talks up a certain player (buying or selling), I want to know the owners in my leagues who might be motivated because they use that podcast as a major resource or try to implement that advice religiously.
More strategy talk…..
A dynasty strategy that appears to have come full circle is the “youth at all costs” premium. About ten years ago, a redraft mentality still saturated the dynasty landscape as owners had instinctual redraft reflexes and gravitated toward RBs. Even skill players nearing the ripe old age of 30 were viewed as valuable point producing assets and not as lepers.
About six years ago, the shift to youth above production flexed its unbreakable vice grip hold on the dynasty community. Like everything else in fantasy football though, value is cyclical. Every few years we see the redraft community’s focus shift from RBs to WRs and back again to RBs as the shrewd drafters chase value. Similarly, the dynasty market is moving to correct itself and chase value. “Punting the first year” has been a popular saying and I’m very guilty of applying that strategy to many of my own startups, but with so many owners beating that same path, the value has dried up. The key now is being versatile and embracing the value of aging players as they plummet down draft boards and building a diversified roster in the later rounds. Capitalizing on the disdain for aging veterans is also a vital part in keeping your squad title ready as your youth develops.
My final thought on strategy involves the “negative cuff.” Year after year my plan is to identify certain “negative cuffs” and grab them while they’re still relatively cheap. Owning the right side of a RB committee can be tremendous value and with new rookies helping drive down the price by muddling backfield depth charts, the early summer trade window is the best time to buy.
Now I’m not saying to go out and secure the handcuff to your top RBs. Personally I think that’s an exercise in wasted time, energy and roster spots. What I am advocating is targeting and acquiring the negative side of a tandem backfield when there’s talent and opportunity to flash and possibly sustain long term value. My targets for 2017 include T. J. Yeldon, Jonathan Williams, Chris Thompson, Danny Woodhead, James Conner, Damien Williams, Devontae Booker and DeAndre Washington.
Tight End tales……
I’ve definitely come full circle on spending a late first round draft pick on one of the top tight ends in this rookie class. My initial thought process was to grab a WR/RB who was displaced by this year’s TE love and then ultimately trade a 2018 first at the end of this year for whichever TE shines the most as a rookie. The more I pondered this strategy – and also the potential draft class for 2018 – the more I realized I’d rather have one of these three difference makers at TE now and keep the future first. I credit the insightful Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) of FootballGuys for helping me see the light during one of our Twitter exchanges. Summing things up, the bar to be a difference maker at TE for fantasy football is currently set pretty low and all three of these rookies (O.J. Howard, David Njoku and Evan Engram) have the ability to find themselves in the top 10 at their position in a very short period of time. I’ll invest the pick in ’17 and sleep very soundly at night. And if I can’t land one of the big three, I’ll make every effort to walk away with Gerald Everett of the Rams. He may take a little longer to be NFL ready, but he has all the receiving skills to be a major component in the Rams passing game for years to come.
Two TEs I’m adding everywhere I can – Rico Gathers and Erik Swoope. Both are ex-basketball players who look like they’re ready to take the step as emerging weapons in the NFL. Gathers stands 6’6”, weighs 280 pounds, and was a rebounding machine while playing hoops at Baylor. Last season may have been a lost cause by fantasy standards, but the foundation was being built in Dallas for a behemoth who hadn’t played football since the eighth grade. Early training camp reports bristle with jaw dropping superlatives on Gather’s progress and his first team snaps alongside Jason Witten in two-TE sets also help confirm his progress. Did I mention Witten is 35 years old and on a contract with zero guaranteed dollars? As for Indianapolis’ Erik Swoope, he’s also the focus of off-season expectations and the hype that accompanies practices without pads. Swoope finished last season averaging a head shaking 19.8 yards per reception albeit on a small sample size (15 receptions) and flashed athletic speed/length repeatedly down the middle of the field. Andrew Luck may have chemistry with 1st string TE Jack Doyle, but the window is open for Swoope to become a match up nightmare and a factor in what should be an explosive Luck led passing attack.
You can set your watch to the ebb and flow of May/June hype swings each year. Folks throwing caution to the wind as they haphazardly hurl themselves at the “ROOKIE COULD START” hype train which, of course, is always followed by the “INCUMBENT IS UNDERVALUED” supporters digging in and forming a shield wall like they’re on an episode of “Vikings.” My advice, narrow your sources and focus on a few trusted voices to help steer you through the value dips and spikes of spring and summer related coach speak.
And yes, it’s important to stay on top of practice notes, OTAs and training camps to gain an edge, but remember there’s no need to acquire the star of each practice session….every week…all off-season. Off-season hype can be more smoke than substance and favor those looking for a seller’s window. That’s why finding a few trusted voices over mob chatter can be so beneficial.
And while we’re talking about spring hype – lots of smart dynasty folks talked up buying the struggling, injured youngsters at WR (Breshad Perriman, DeVante Parker, Kevin White, Corey Coleman, Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson) over the past two or three months. The recent training camp superlatives swirling around some of these players have flooded social media and sports outlets like a tsunami. That window to buy is basically closed on Perriman and Parker, but two wide receivers may still have a few sellers. Laquon Treadwell and Devin Funchess are two targets I’m still trying to buy. Okay, eye rolls and head shakes aside, we all made the same jokes about Davante Adams last summer. Treadwell turns just 22 in June and the strength, balance, fluidity and hand-eye coordination he showed for Old Miss didn’t just disappear. Michael Floyd’s arrival only helped drive the price down but the positive news from the practice field the over the past week may be flipping the narrative a bit even on Treadwell. According to Rotoworld, Vikings coaches have been “really pleased” with Laquon Treadwell’s progress this off-season and Treadwell “has been running with the first-team offense.” I’ll be kicking the tires to see if the disappointed Treadwell owners in my leagues are taking a “wait and see” tact instead of a “capitalize on the positive news” approach.
As for Devin Funchess, I’ll buy a 23 year old, 6’4”, 225 pound WR with what looks like a displaced left tackle in Kelvin Benjamin masquerading as a WR1 in Carolina’s offense. Funchess didn’t flash as much as I hoped last season, but he’s shown himself to be a red zone target with a very low cost to acquire.
A few more random thoughts….
I’m not a quarterback whisperer and I struggle with accurate projections in relation to that particular position. That said, Carson Wentz and Marcus Mariota are my two favorite QB crushes and so much fun to watch.
I really wish Josh Gordon could get his house in order and find his way to reinstatement. NFL Sundays are just better with him on the field.
Finally fully healthy, I think Seattle TE Jimmy Graham is in line for a very productive season.
Matt Asiata signing with the Lions means the “Purple Sloth” will be now be known as the “Honolulu Blue Sloth” and my Ameer Abdullah shares are not happy about it one bit.
Well, that’s a wrap. Thanks for taking the time to read the ramblings of a fantasy football curmudgeon. You can follow me on twitter @Ciga_FF and hit me up with any comments or questions. Best of luck to the DLF faithful this upcoming season!
Leo is a member of the FSWA.
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