Every new season brings unique and new stories, events and polarizing topics. What follows is a brief list of those events and stories that I’m tracking into the season, of course with a fantasy spin.
Like most fantasy coaches and analysts, I have my own set of rules, guidelines and strategies that I use to build my teams. While I will always enjoy fantasy football, especially the dynasty format, my true love and passion is the scouting and analysis of college and rookie players in an attempt to ascertain which ones may have the physical, mental and intellectual traits to, not only make it to the next level, but to thrive once there. In my work, I’ve never been interested in following the lead of other analysts, whether of the professional or arm-chair varieties. In this business, it’s far too easy to find yourself caught up in the hype, blindly hop upon a bandwagon or, otherwise, not put in the time toward arriving at an objective and individually-derived conclusion. Obviously, this is a big part of what DLF was founded upon and our members come to expect it from us. It just so happens it is what I do naturally well and enjoy the most, so it makes for a noteworthy value-proposition for DLF members.
Grant me the grace for one minor soapbox speech. I’ve never been concerned about the popularity contest that is rife within the fantasy community. It almost seems the more boastful, incendiary, offensive or bold one can be, the more ‘popular’ someone is. At the same time, there are many quality analysts out there doing their own work, putting in the time but without the following deserved. Some, obviously, are very deserving of the following they hold. But each year, I shake my head at how quickly topics catch fire, group-think is created and, seemingly, an entire community can be moved to a new ‘popular opinion’. And therein exists the opportunity for objectivity in your own analysis or, for most of you, those who you choose to follow. To those who have followed me and my player and fantasy analysis here on DLF since 2006, thank you! My opinions are not always popular, nor are they always correct, but they are always my own and always backed with my own due-diligence.
The story lines and events which follow aren’t specific to any one aspect of analysis for the dynasty format. Instead, being that there is value to independent thought, I tend to gravitate to subject-matter strongly influenced by the court of public opinion, those areas which can be leveraged for my (and DLF Premium members) own benefit. In other cases, it’s just strong interest on my part toward determining if the event is part of a larger trend that can be exploited.
Todd Gurley’s Knee
It’s old news that Gurley has an arthritic component in his knee. What is not known is just how bad that “component” is. Most running backs do have some level of arthritis early within their careers, but some more than others. The stories have been all over the map and individual reports widely vary from a significant reduction in workload to only minor concern with a more managed workload. Somewhere, someone knows the truth and 2019 will likely show it. Until then, fantasy leaguers have punted on the recently-turned 25 year old, sending him to the bottom of the second round in start-up drafts. Should you be concerned?
Too far, too fast! I’d give a fair amount of money to have been on the inside during last year’s Rams’ post-season games. After averaging 21 carries over his past three games and scoring four touchdowns over that same stretch, Gurley, and the Rams, finished with a loss in the Super Bowl having carried a total of 30 times, but did score twice. In the Super Bowl, he saw a mere ten carries for 35 yards. Was he used as a decoy figuring that Bill Belichick would be keying on the game’s greatest weapon? Did the Rams’ coaching staff realize there was a much bigger injury issue present and all but shut him down, even with the Super Bowl on the line? My guess is a bit of both, with the former being far more influential than the latter.
Todd Gurley finished 2018 with his greatest ypc. average (4.9) and total touchdowns (21) of his career. In his last regular season game vs. the Eagles, he saw 12 carries for 48 yards and two touchdowns in addition to ten receptions (season high) for 76 yards. He was then rested for the remainder of the regular season and saw a reduced workload in the post-season, including in a very close Super Bowl game in which the Rams could have sorely used his dynamic.
While I don’t expect Todd Gurley to average 22 touches a game like he did in 2018, I will be surprised if it is much less than 18. At that number, given the same efficiency, that still approaches 17 touchdowns in 2019. Anywhere close to that production and the fantasy community has gotten it wrong. I’m betting they have done just that!
2019 Rookie Receiver Euphoria
Did you know the worst kept secret in fantasy rookie drafts was that N’Keal Harry and Andy Isabella were going to take the NFL by storm? Truth be told, you can substitute multiple rookies’ names here every year and have the same discussion. The fantasy community routinely falls in love with rookies every off-season and leading up to, and following, the NFL draft, the fervor reaches a crescendo and dynasty rookie drafts play out accordingly. Don’t get me wrong here, Harry has the size I love at the NFL level and Isabella had production that can’t be ignored. But there are aspects of every income rookie I can find intriguing. That doesn’t mean they will be a transcendent player.
It’s no different than Corey Davis, Courtland Sutton, Kevin White, Eddie Lacy or, my favorite one from the past, Trent Richardson. Hype and momentum seem to play a much larger role in valuation than those who are in the trenches, doing the analysis and sharing their opinions. But Harry and Isabella are more polarizing for me this year based solely on the nearly unanimous high-end expectations present. Should you have thrown out all caution and climbed aboard?
N’Keal Harry’s size and production and Isabella’s production are noteworthy, there is no discounting that. Isabella’s 4.31 unofficial 40-time at the Combine was only gasoline on the, already blazing, fire. In fact, while I was seeing Harry being selected first overall in rookie drafts, something I could support if a coach was desperate for receiver help in this sub-par receiver draft, I also saw Isabella selected second overall on one occasion and in the first round somewhat routinely. These events steeled my resolve to watch further film to find what I had missed.
The big issue here is that both failed some of my primary tests toward determining next-level performers. In Harry’s case, he had some of the same issues I saw with Courtland Sutton and, to a lesser degree, Corey Davis (whom I still think has a great chance to produce). He’s a “roller” (in and out of breaks) without quick feet and he wins on physicality as opposed to gaining separation. Acceleration is sub-par, not unexpected for a receiver of his size. That said, the physicality aspect is one I do get behind, but I prefer to see it in combination with other abilities. Isabella fails two of my primary components 1) Strength off the line of scrimmage and 2) Natural hand-snatcher. On tape, Isabella is as poor as they come with extending his hands to an incoming pass. His slight and restricted frame will limit him to the slot where his speed could present the most damage and, potentially, aid with his lack of strength off the line of scrimmage. Need I mention Isabella played at UMASS as well, so competition is lacking. At the NFL level, the physicality will be unlike either of these receivers have seen and it doesn’t bode well for either.
Given a choice between the two, I’ll invest in Harry far more than Isabella and still have hopes he’ll develop into a Dez Bryant style of receiver. He has some abilities you just cannot teach. Related to my criticisms, however, I have zero shares of Harry in more than 10 leagues and only a one or two of Isabella in situations where he fell ‘too’ far in my estimation. After all, drafted situation still has a place in the organic opportunity. That all said, I’m watching the development of both as we near kick-off of the regular season and remain unsurprised by the commentary thus far related to both.
KeeSean Johnson’s Value
KeeSean Johnson, wide receiver out of Fresno State, never appeared in any high-visibility discussions leading up to the Combine. Following his Combine performance, he dropped off the radar altogether. A 4.6 40, 30″ vertical and 117″ broad jump just won’t create any positive buzz. All I ever needed to see from Johnson, however, was his tape. In some ways, I loved his Combine results. I will admit I was surprised in his vertical leap as he produced a number at least 6″ below what I thought he’d achieve. In fact, I felt he could jump 38″. How wrong I was! More tape review restored my confidence and was incongruent with his Combine performance in my estimation – and his situation became one I had to watch, especially considering his sixth round selection. What was I missing? Following the Combine I made an appearance on a fantasy show where I mentioned him by name as one of my favorite sleepers. And, much like the criticism of Isabella above, Fresno State plays in the Mountain West Conference, not exactly a powerhouse for competition.
Shortly after the Combine, Johnson’s ADP was an unimpressive 234. Three short months later it is now 175 and climbing. His rise due to an impressive pre-season performance where he displayed his natural hands, physicality and well-known (to us tape junkies), route-running. Where to from here on KeeSean Johnson?
I haven’t been surprised at all with Johnson’s performance thus far. I will admit I had begun to doubt my own analysis given his draft-day fall. I’m never one to discredit the work of scouts who actually work for NFL teams, not just play one on the Internet. But with Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler drafted well before Johnson, I can’t say I expected him to leap both on the depth chart – but he has and now appears to be a starter in three-wide sets behind Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald. On that note, when selected by the Cardinals, I was happy for Johnson to be able to learn from Larry Legend, who also happens to be my favorite player.
As for Johnson, his oh-so-natural hands, physicality and ball skills at the point of reception, when combined with his route-running, were too evident to discount on tape. As mentioned previously, his Combine performance when matched to his tape immediately was a footnoted item for later review. It’s usually the other way around with a players Combine scores elevating the player above his pedestrian collegiate career. How often does that work out? Let me answer that for you – Rarely!
KeeSean Johnson remains one of my top sleepers of the 2019 rookie class and I won’t be surprised if he establishes himself in his first year and finishes on top in production among all other rookie receivers. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d be adding a feather to my own cap and my individual analysis on players should he be productive in the NFL. For an analyst, that is what it is all about.
Kyler Murray is a QB1?
Kyler Murray is a Twitter blue light special! The only player more hyped in my estimation may have been Andy Isabella. And on that note, I’m not picking on the Cardinals here, I’m really not.
Based on the din of the fantasy football community, Kyler Murray is set to set the NFL ablaze, become the next Russell Wilson and assume QB1 duties for a decade to come. We’ve all heard, and engaged in, the talk. His leadership, athleticism and arm are unquestionably noteworthy. There’s only one small issue. Can Kyler Murray over come his size (5’10/207) to become an NFL-elite quarterback and take his position as a top-tier fantasy quarterback.
Murray will only need to do what NO other quarterback has ever done to reach expectations. Working in his favor are his aforementioned traits combined with the offensive mind of Kliff Kingsbury. I don’t fault the Cardinals for falling hard for Murray’s tangible and intangible qualities, it’s hard not to. At the same time, the height issue is alive and well in the NFL, though the bar is coming down. My bet is that the hope of what Murray can become will fall to the reality of what the NFL is. Russell Wilson only has an inch in height and ten pounds on Murray but that inch, in my mind, may as well be three until proven otherwise. I also very well recall the sheer work ethic and commitment displayed by Wilson coming out of Wisconsin. In fact, pre-draft, I questioned Wilson’s size but in the same breath also said: “If I were to take a chance on an undersized quarterback, Russell Wilson would be my choice.”
Kyler Murray is easy to root for and I’m doing just that. But it’s pure madness to me to believe he’s so transcendent as a quarterback that he’ll overcome physical deficits to become an elite NFL signal caller. That’s not to say he doesn’t have the same opportunity as other first-pick quarterback selections, but I don’t see him as the next Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck nor do I believe he’s the next Russell Wilson. Just check our dynasty rankings for the position and you’ll see my ranking reflects my belief.
Antonio Brown’s Team Change
I won’t lie, I don’t have a soft spot for ANY diva player, regardless of their production, status, contract or dominance. That extends to Antonio Brown as well.
It’s at least somewhat rare to see a receiver routinely in the top two in production, year-in, year-out, find his way to another team in the prime of his career. In a vacuum, looking only at Brown’s production, is it safe to assume his skill-set is so transcendent such that his production will travel with him to Oakland? Is Antonio Brown still worthy of WR1 status or is his career-low ADP (24.67) warranted?
This is going to be a very interesting study. Can a player’s talent alone truly transcend his situation?
There is little doubt Antonio Brown is a brilliant route-runner with speed to match. In the end, I will be surprised if he is nearly as productive as he was in Pittsburgh, meaning I feel his current ADP is accurate. Should Brown experience a drop in productivity, given his already fragile mental state, this could quickly go downhill. If anyone believes that his issues were solely related to his Pittsburgh situation, specifically Ben Roethlisberger, then I believe you are in for a rude awakening. There will be a halo/honeymoon period between his new team and Derek Carr, and some would suggest helmet-gate has already tested those waters, but frustration will continue to rise should Brown experience lack of production and his resulting antics begin to elicit negative reaction to fellow the coaching staff, teammates and fans.
I saw the writing on the wall early in 2018 and moved all shares of Antonio Brown for whatever I could get. Given his mental instability, I see very little opportunity for longer term success here and believe Raider fans will turn on Brown by the end of the year as they, and his Raider teammates, tire of his diva attitude and narcissism.
Andrew Luck’s Retirement
How will Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement impact the NFL and fantasy?
No one saw it coming. I felt bad for Andrew Luck and I would like to think if Adam Schefter had it to do over again, he wouldn’t have sent out his tweet mid-game, ultimately surprising Indi’s fans, which then led to a very sad display of jeers raining down upon of this game’s nicest, most respectful and most talented individuals as he walked to the tunnel, cameras swarming him. I fully realize in this day and age, where being first to tweet information garners street ‘cred’, to choose not to means you are allowing others to get the glory or bag the elephant. But sometimes, just sometimes, values and doing the “right” thing needs to come first. I’d like to think if the tweet instead read: “I have shocking retirement news to report but will not be sharing at this time out of respect for the player involved” could accomplish the same thing. Not only is it ultra-respectful and would generate positive press on its own, but it still accomplishes the “I had it first” need and makes the next person to not follow look worse. Maybe not, but I’d like to think something could have been different.
What followed Luck’s retirement was complete support from all NFL players. All players understand the struggle and impact this game presents each and every week. And decades of this punishment has to take its toll. I have to believe others in similar situations, especially those with repeated head injuries and possible CTE, may take Andrew Luck’s lead and follow him into retirement, choosing not to risk further damage and injury and possibly sacrificing remaining years for more games and more money. I’m not a professional athlete looking down the barrel of this issue and can only imagine the push-pull of this type of very personal decision. Regardless, I would be shocked if others don’t follow suit.
DLF Trade Analyzer Usage
I’m asking for more grace here as this will come off as self-promotional but I’m genuinely excited.
There’s never been a trade tool quite like the DLF Trade Analyzer. When we created it, we did so with the mindset of creating something which has never existed before. Furthermore, we wanted to add functionality and options which we felt, quite frankly, the dynasty community could not live without. With that in mind, we sought to hook the analyzer into the DLF ecosystem to offer up more benefit, impact and information than others on the market.
We know the DLF Trade Analyzer is already extremely popular and it’s now only available to DLF Premium users. As an extremely critical component to DLF’s value proposition, accuracy and depth of the tool will be on full display over the next year as our members use it to shape their teams. That all said, and with only a couple short days until kick-off of the 2019 season, will the the Trade Analyzer be as valuable a tool as we thought it would be when we created it?
I’ve never been a big trade calculator/analyzer user. To me, there have always been significant limitations to the tools that I felt kept them from being mainstream as a critical component to my dynasty activities. I’d use them, survey the results with minor interest and largely discard the output. Until now.
There will always be circumstances that a trade analyzer will not be able to process effectively but being behind the curtain allows me visibility that most don’t have. I get the benefit of knowing what is coming, what problems we’re trying to solve and what features will provide even greater impact going forward. But even in its current state, the DLF Trade Analyzer is a superb tool for not only assessing trades, but when hooked into other DLF tools, articles and information, it raises the bar significantly, by painting a much broader picture with supporting information.
Below is a one example of a trade and the supporting information. In this example, I feature the possibility of Team A looking to rebuild:
To say I’m excited about the implementation of the DLF Trade Analyzer would be a significant understatement, and this coming from an individual who has never been excited about similar tools in the past. It’s become a staple of my team building activities and I honestly believe it’s a difference-maker for anyone serious about dynasty. I’ll be very interested to hear what our members say about its use over the coming season.
Each year there are at least a dozen primary stories for which I have keen interest in following. Not all will pan out as I expect but I’m open and accepting to all outcomes for better understanding this game of ours toward even better results for myself and our DLF members. I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick spin around some of my top 2019 stories and that you’ll consider chiming in with your own thoughts, either about my stories, or your own.
Have a great season!