Fantasy 2020: Buyer Beware!

For every sleeper, there’s a player maybe people are overhyping. My list of those players doesn’t mean you should draft them, rather it’s just me making you thinking extra hard about their current projection. It’s not personal fellas, just business.

*ALL rankings are from ESPN

Todd Gurley II 16th PPR/17th Non-PPR

Many are expecting a career renaissance from Gurley now that he’s in Atlanta. Don’t count me as one of those people. Quite frankly, Gurley’s knees are worn down and he’s lost more than just a step, as evident last season. Arthritis is an injury that can’t be fixed with surgery and something that doesn’t go away. Gurley did play in fifteen games a season ago, but played in 80% of the snaps in just three of the fifteen games, whereas in 2018 he reached that milestone eleven times. Some may blame the Rams’ offensive line for his poor play but that was only one part of the pie. Gurley’s going to a Falcons team that isn’t built to run the ball and finished with the fewest attempts in the league in 2019. In fact, Dirk Koetter’s offenses have finished in the bottom ten in team rushing every season since 2016. You might say, well wouldn’t that boost up Gurley’s receptions? Not necessarily. He’s seen his catch percentage (receptions/targets) drop every season and hit a career low of 63% with seven drops in 2019. I still think that Gurley is an option as a low-end RB2/Flex option due to his goal-line ability and possible upside, but I just can’t see him playing a full season. Right now he’s looked at as a high-end RB2 (assuming you’re in a 12 person league) when the risk is just too great for that.

Aaron Jones 8th PPR/ 7th Non-PPR

Jones was a nice breakout fantasy star last year and his 19 touchdowns were the main factor behind that breakout. But, when you take away the touchdowns, you see that he finished 12th in rushing yards and 17th in yards per carry. He reached the 100-yard marker in five games, but when you take away those fives games, he’s only averaging 43 yards a contest. Despite this, he’s ranked as a fringe RB1 in ESPN fantasy. Are they predicting that he’s going to get close to 19 touchdowns again? Not going to happen. The team drafted A.J. Dillon, who weighed in at the combine at 247 pounds, in the second round and I would expect that he gets a lot of short-yardage work. He’s the same weight as Derrick Henry and might become the heaviest running back in the league. The team obviously has a plan for Dillon by drafting him so early and I think that plan includes a lot of work that used to be Jones’s responsibilities. Jones did have 49 receptions, which is an encouraging sign, but only had 15 of those receptions in the final eight games as Jamaal Williams began to take more of the receiving duties out of the backfield. I like Aaron Jones in between RB 12-17 based on him being the top back on a good running team, but buyer beware if you expect him to replicate last season’s results. 


Daniel Jones 13th

When I saw ESPN having Daniel Jones ranked at 13, I had to do a double-take. I actually think Jones is going to end up being a halfway decent quarterback, but I don’t see him being too valuable in fantasy in his second year. He led the league in fumbles at 18 (11 lost) in just 12 starts and had 19 in his college career. If you add the 12 interceptions he had a season ago, that’s 23 turnovers which was tied for third in the league. He has been working on cutting down on the fumbles, but I think it’s optimistic to believe that he cuts that down to just 6 lost fumbles, which still would have been near the top a season ago. Add that in with a 61.9% completion percentage, good for 25th in the league, and you’re banking on a lot of improvement to finish 13th in fantasy scoring. Also to note, every 300+ yard passing game he had a season ago came against a bottom half passing defense. For the crowd that says, “well his skill players were hurt”, I say you can’t expect his skill players that routinely get hurt to stay healthy consistently. He’ll have to get used to playing without those guys and that hurts his value. I’m a big Saquon guy, and as long as he’s in the lineup then he’ll be the focal point of the offense and the team will run through him. We can still see some improvement in Jones’s games this year, but this wouldn’t make him a starter in fantasy in my eyes. 

Lamar Jackson 1

If you listen to our podcast (which is great by the way, give it a listen), you’ll know I’m a Lamar Jackson skeptic. This time there’s substantial evidence that he’s not going to repeat as the top fantasy quarterback, which makes him slightly overvalued. First off, the last quarterback to finish in the top in back to back years was Drew Brees in 2012-2013. Is it likely that he leads the NFL again in passing touchdowns if he’s not even top 20 in passing attempts or yards? That’s tough to do once, let alone in back to back years. He’s still valuable in fantasy based on rushing yards alone, even though I would expect a decrease in yards as teams get adjusted to the Ravens offense and fewer rushing attempts for Jackson to keep him healthy. Quite simply, there’s never been a quarterback like what Jackson did last season but oddly nobody else is skeptical. There are even some mocks having Jackson go in the first round, but you could get more or at least comparable points from Mahomes, Murray, Watson, or Wilson who you can snag a few rounds later. He’ll still be valuable and still have a good season I don’t want to get that part twisted, but he’s not a ‘must-have’ for your team. Call me a hater, I’ll call myself a realist.


Cortland Sutton 16 PPR/ 12 Non-PPR

Courtland Sutton figures to be a key member in the renaissance of the Broncos offense, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be a top 16 WR. The Broncos offense is now not entirely reliant on Sutton as Noah Fant, Jerry Jeudy, and KJ Hamler all figure to cut into Sutton’s targets. He saw 125 targets a season ago, yet with all of the new weapons in this offense, people apparently think that’ll increase. Not likely to happen. Fant will become a fantasy beast and I think Jeudy and Hamler see at least 160 targets split between them. A season ago Sutton finished 17th in non-PPR leagues (19th in PPR) and that’s with him being the only receiver after Emmanuel Sanders got traded. While he saw an increase in targets with Lock, he saw a 20 yards per game decrease. It could be a coincidence or could be that teams are taking away his deep routes. He ranked ahead of Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill, who missed time with injury, and also ahead of Odell Beckam Jr. and A.J. Brown who I both believe will excel past last year’s production. I don’t expect him to do better than those guys again. Sutton could still get around the same production as he did a season ago as he’s a very talented receiver, but that wouldn’t get him into the top 16 receivers in fantasy. 

Adam Thielen 11 PPR/ 10 Non-PPR

I like Thielen to be a nice bounce-back candidate, I don’t like him as a top eleven receiver. As he approaches age 30, it’s tough to envision him as a dependable WR1 that you can count on week in and week out. I think people are really taking the trade of Stefon Diggs and automatically assuming that a lion share of his targets will be going to Thielen. However, looking at how Gary Kubiak’s offense operates, he’s going to try to spread the ball around, particularly to tight ends. I suspect that the team will want to pound the rock and that was shown last year as the Kirk Cousins attempted 162 fewer passes than he did in 2018. Even when he was healthy, Thielen only saw 3.7 receptions a game last season. Also with no Diggs, opposing defenses will be focused on Thielen and he’ll be the one seeing double teams. In 2017 and 2018 without Diggs, Thielen averaged 53 yards a game and 1 total touchdown. It’s only three total games so you have to take that stat with a grain of salt, but it’s still something to look at.  

Dalvin Cook 3 PPR/ 4 Non-PPR

I made this list before Cook announcing that he’s not attending any team activities until he has a new contract. Yea, good luck with that one. Don’t get me wrong, Cook was a stud last season and IF he can replicate that, then yes he’s a top-four running back. However, Cook has yet to play a full 16 game season and if this hold out is true, why would the Vikings overpay for him when they have Alexander Mattison, a promising player, waiting in the wings? In the first eight weeks, Cook averaged 102 yards on the ground and 5.1 yards per rush. In the second half of the season, albeit missing two games, he only averaged 52 yards on the ground and 3.1 yards per rush. As you can probably tell by now, he’s way too much of a risk to be taken as early as he’s projected to go. The best ability is availability! Gary Kubiak’s offense will surely be near the top at rushing attempts so the volume should be there for Cook, assuming he can play most of the season. This still makes him an RB1 on your fantasy, but it’s a risk and one that I wouldn’t be willing to take. 

James White 30 PPR/ 37 Non-PPR

I saw White’s value tied with Brady. You take Brady out of the equation and White becomes a total wild card that you can’t rely on, even ranked in the 30’s. No one knows how the Patriots offense will look and for a running back that’s sole value is catching passes (never had a 500 yard rushing season), I like a more traditional back like Sony Michel over White or any other option on that team. With the lack of Patriots offensive weapons the past two seasons, White has seen 123 and 95 targets in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Now with two rookie tight ends and N’keal Harry and Mohammad Sanu presumably healthy, even assuming that he gets the playing time he has in the past, he won’t see the same amount of targets. A crowded backfield for any team is a turnoff, but one that’s role is undefined now with a new quarterback makes it tough for me to trust. Maybe take a chance on him in a PPR league as your 3rd/4th running back but if you’re in a non-PPR league he’s worth a late-round flier at best. 

Henry Ruggs 50 PPR/ 44 Non-PPR

I’ve written in the past about how I don’t think Ruggs is going to be a viable fantasy option for the upcoming season. Sure, he’s so fast that he can get up to turn the lights off and make it back in bed before it’s dark, but I don’t think the Raiders and Derek Carr will maximize his fantasy potential. Yes, Carr was third in completion percentage on deep throws, but a more telling stat is that Carr finished with the fifth-lowest average completion air yards in 2019 at 4.9 yards. Also to show how the Raiders offense operates, Carr finished second lowest in both QB aggressiveness and average intended yards. The offense relies on quick, high percentage throws and Ruggs will be used in a way that will send him deep to clear more room underneath for Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow. Sure, Ruggs will get some deep catches because he has no much speed and talent, but the targets won’t be there for the most part. Definitely keep your eye on him if he starts seeing a good amount of targets, but I wouldn’t advise drafting him as a top-four receiver. 

Ryan Tannehill 17th

Tannehill turned around his career last season and was rewarded with a new contract that makes him the guy in Tennessee, at least in the short term. So one of the major questions fantasy owners will have this season is, do you buy into the hype or do you go based on what you’ve seen in his career and also the run-first offensive approach the Titans have implemented? He ended up finishing 16th in touchdown passes, but 29th in attempts which gave him a 7.7 touchdown percentage, second in the league. With the team dedicated to feeding Tractorcito aka Derrick Henry, Tannehill’s fantasy value relies on a high touchdown total on a low number of pass attempts. Very similar to Lamar Jackson, but without the running ability. Currently, ESPN has him ranked over Jared Goff, who had double the attempts of Tannehill a season ago and figures to once again have a more attempts once again this upcoming season. Also, looking at Tannehill’s career, you’ll see that he’s only averaged 20 points a game once in his career before last season. It’s just tough for me to buy stock in a quarterback who’s turned around his disappointing career at age 31. Has it happened before? Yes, but not often which is why I’d rather go with a safe, high attempt volume quarterback rather than a guy like Tannehill. 

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

Justin Fields Breakdown: The King of Columbus

If you haven’t checked out the first part of my 2021 draft prospect class breakdown, please click here to see Trevor Lawerence’s breakdown.

When Justin Fields committed to the University of Georgia out of high school, many asked why? Jake Fromm was a true freshman coming off of a National Championship game appearance and this meant Fields wouldn’t be the starter for two years minimum. However, after transferring to Ohio State and having an amazing first year as the starter, many are asking why did Georgia let this guy go? In most years he would be the odds on favorite to be the number one overall pick, but with Trevor Lawrence slinging the rock in Clemson, Fields is viewed as QB2. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but I have to say off the bat that when I watch Fields I can’t help but feel like I’m watching Dak Prescott with more upside and pure speed. And if you actually know football and don’t just listen to shows like First Take, you’ll know that’s a hell of a comparison. While I still like Lawrence a bit more, Fields is a legit franchise quarterback who will make one team very happy in the near future.

Positives

Throws an excellent deep ball

The Buckeyes didn’t ask Fields to throw deep too often, but when he did…. wow. Most throws were on the money, which most college quarterbacks struggle when attacking downfield. He did a great job of leading his receivers too, making sure that they could run after the catch. While his arm is strong enough, it isn’t elite but the accuracy is the most important part. Plenty of quarterbacks can throw far, look at past quarterback busts like Jamarcus Russell and Kyle Boller for example. Both could throw the ball a mile but couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Fields is surgical though. He sets his feet and drives the ball in a position where only his receiver can get it. For a mobile quarterback (which we’ll cover soon), being able to push the ball down the field opens up so many possibilities for the near and the future.

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Mobility

Fields claims to run a 4.4 40 yard dash time, which is elite for any position, especially quarterback. I don’t know if the tape reflects him being THAT fast, but the quickness and footwork he displays are some of the best I’ve ever seen. His feet never stop moving in the pocket and he escapes pressure effortlessly. He looks like a natural making difficult situations look easy. Ohio State likes to run the ball and incorporates a lot of zone-reads, but a season ago J.K. Dobbins couldn’t be stopped which reflects Fields modest rushing yard totals, so don’t judge his abilities based on stats alone. He does well scrambling outside the pocket and keeping his eyes down the field, showing that he’s not looking to tuck the ball and run at the first sign of pressure. I understand protecting his health, but I’d like to see more design runs for Fields and have them take advantage of one of his better traits.

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Pocket Presence

Many quarterbacks who are faster than most of the opposing team’s defenders want to run around and utilize their quickness. I mean, why wouldn’t you. They have more than likely done that their whole career and old habits are hard to break. However, fast guys eventually get slower. Fields has the comfortability in the pocket of a ten-year NFL veteran as he drops back and delivers strike after strike. He’s very fundamentally sound and at 6-3, 230 pounds, he has a good frame that makes him comfortable in the pocket knowing he can absorb a hit. Granted, he’s so quick that he’s a tough man to hit. A reason why he was able to keep 67% of his passes was that he has no problem taking a two or three-step drop and using his arm to beat teams, rather than his legs.

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Negatives

Shaky ball placement

I’m hesitant at times to say Fields is an accurate thrower because as I go through his games I’ve noticed so many missed throws that a quarterback of his talent should be making with no problem. Many times he’d have receivers open with a few yards of cushion and simply overthrow them. It’s not a mechanical issue, as he’s textbook in that department, and could just be a simple issue of being a first-year starter in college. If that’s the case, then I’m not worried. But if this continues to be a problem this upcoming season then NFL teams will surely be worried.

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Decision making overrated

For a guy who had three interceptions all year (two of them coming in the National Semi-Final), I was shocked at some of the decisions he made. Maybe it was my fault for setting expectations too high, but it seemed like every game he had an interception that was dropped or misplayed. I’m not saying he makes poor decisions regularly because that’s not entirely the case. I am saying though that you can’t consider the three interceptions as the end all be all stat. A lot of his problems derives from locking into his first option and not realizing that that option might not be your best. You can have a favorite target and look for him on most plays, but utilizing the second, third, or even fourth read is needed to be an NFL franchise quarterback. Many quarterbacks develop the mental processing of the game, but some don’t every get there and don’t have the longevity they had in mind for their careers.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, Justin Fields has the aptitude to be a successful NFL quarterback and is a very sound prospect. I envision him being a high-level starter in the NFL for a long time, but may never be in consideration for the best quarterback in the game at any point either. That’s not an insult though, he’s a proven winner and has big-play ability. My earlier comparison to Dak Prescott will continue to be the one I use, as they have the almost exact same height and weight, both mobile, and both have elite throwing ability. He’s a surefire top-five pick and I’m going to call my shot now… I can see him becoming a Washington Redskin. Ron Rivera had Cam Newton has his quarterback, with much success and Fields shares similar qualities with the upside to be more accurate with the football.

NFL Film Breakdown: Why Hollywood Brown is the Real Deal

Marquise Brown quietly had a very explosive year for the Baltimore Ravens. While overshadowed by other standout rookie receivers like DK Metcalf, AJ Brown, Terry McLaurin, and even his own teammate with Lamar Jackson’s MVP campaign, Brown was still highly productive with 13.4 yards per reception, 46 catches, and 7 touchdowns on the year. He also showed up big for the Ravens in their playoff game with 7 receptions for 126 yards and his 4.32 speed showed up consistently on film and enabled him to stem defenders and make them turn their hips early, roll into speed cuts with surprising burst, and snap off routes to create space. He’s not afraid of contact over the middle, shows solid understanding and application of route technique, and takes advantage of the space people give him.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

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Hollywood Brown’s speed opens everything up for him. It gives him cushion to exploit, a long route track to work and force the defensive back to turn his hips, and gives him space to speed cut on intermediate routes. If you come up to press him and don’t get hands on him, he’s just too fast for most defenders to run with.

This speed can also be used horizontally on shallow drags too. It’s an effective way to get one of your fastest players in open space across the field without running him deep.

He can also use that pure speed to snap off routes and exploit the defenses fear of getting beat deep. He does a great job of working back to the ball and coming downhill after getting up and closing the cushion of corners and defenders. He can sometimes turn his head and shoulders a little early giving an indication he’s about to break his route off but overall he does a consistently good job and that’s something that can easily be worked on going into his second year.

Brown also does a great job rolling into speed cuts with barely any loss of speed. Speed cuts are exactly what they sound like. They’re cuts that don’t take a hard angle and are more rounded – enabling you to maintain speed as you run them. This is one of the defining characteristics of Brown. He is an incredibly smooth runner and easily creates separation especially in zone coverage when defenders are supposed to carry him and pass him off. He also attacks a zone faster than the defenders can get to it. In the second gif you can see the Cardinals running cover 3 and the corner #33 Byron Murphy bails to the deep third off the snap to protect deep and allows Brown to speed cut to the flats. The outside linebacker responsible for that area can’t get there fast enough and it’s an easy completion.

He combines his speed with route technique and manipulates defenders to open space for himself. He does a good job of running to the opposite shoulder of where he wants to go and forcing defensive backs to turn their hips that way, enabling him to then use his rolling cuts or soft angle switches like on posts to win route-side space. Since he’s so fast, one wrong move by the defensive back and it’s all over for them. While the last play is a bit of a busted coverage, it is also Hollywood Brown working to bust that coverage. The slot corner is carrying him up the seam and working to pass him off to the safety. As soon as Brown gives his inside move like he’s going to the post and the safety should be there to take over, the slot corner falls off. He then turns back and runs a corner, away from the safety creating a ton of space for himself.

Marquise Brown has all the makings of a top receiver in the NFL. He can absolutely be known as a deep threat receiver capable of gashing defenses on screens, deep balls, and in the intermediate passing game just like DeSean Jackson has done during his career. If the Ravens add another receiver that can take some attention off of Brown’s deep ball abilities, he could be absolutely lethal and should be good for at least one big explosive play a game. He consistently uses his speed and the defense’s fear of getting beat deep to get himself open through route running ability. If he were in a more pass-happy offense he would absolutely have the stats to match those of his 2019 rookie receiver classmates. The sky is the limit as the Ravens offense evolves and Lamar Jackson progresses as a passer. Marquise Brown is showing all the traits of a perennial deep target and difference maker.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

Bring your Football Knowledge to the Next Level

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NFC and Awards Gambling Preview

Last week was the AFC, this week it’s the NFC. Check out some of our predictions for the upcoming season!

A * denotes bets I’ll actually be making so keep that in mind when reading!

NFC

Bears- Under 8.5* (+130)

For as troubling as things seemed in Chicago last year, an 8-8 record isn’t bad. However, of the eight wins, only had two wins against teams with a winning record, both against the Vikings with the second of those wins coming when Minnesota rested their starters on week 17. They rank tied for 13th in strength of schedule but have a midseason stretch of games that will make or break their season. From week 8 to week 15, they have six games against 2019 playoff teams, including three divisional games against the Vikings (twice) and Packers. Add in a three-game stretch from week 3 to week 5 where they play the Falcons, Colts, and Buccaneers, three teams who are expected to contend for a playoff spot in 2020. I think this team will range between 6 to 9 wins, meaning that the likelihood that they fall below 8.5 is much greater than them hitting 9 wins. Unless we see some major improvement, this defense can’t cover for all of the offenses faults. I’d be shocked if Trubisky makes it through the whole season as a starter, but Nick Foles isn’t a major upgrade either. For an offensive line that gave up the most sacks last year, no major upgrades were made and the receivers group still is underwhelming. There was just not enough improvement in my eyes for the team to be considered better than last year. 

Lions- Under 6.5* (+100)

The Lions missed Matthew Stafford last year as they limped down the stretch to a 3 win season. Management decided to give Matt Patricia one more year as head coach, but things don’t look too promising as they have one of the toughest schedules in the league. As I see it there are only two games that they’ll probably be favored in, against Jacksonville and Washington, and have to play seven games against 2019 playoff teams. Add in the improved Colts, Buccaneers, and Cardinals and you’re left with having to talk yourself into winning seven games in total. The offense can score points, but their defense is still in a major rebuild. This defense was the seventh worst in terms of scoring defense and will have 11 of their 16 games against teams who finished in the top half of points scored in 2019. Most sportsbooks have Patricia has the odds on favorite to be the first coach fired and teams normally don’t see a huge turnaround after a coach is fired during the season. I think a six win season is being pretty optimistic, with 3-5 being what I predict. Either way, the under is the safe and easy play here.

Rams- Under 9* (-125)

It’s beginning to seem like the Rams are a supernova, burning bright and fading quickly. They’re another team that boasts a tough schedule and because of salary cap issues, they were unable to improve at key positions. While I like Jared Goff still, the offensive line is horrendous. If that unit can’t improve then the run game is unlikely to get going either. Aaron Donald is a stud obviously, but they’ll get exposed at linebacker by losing their leading tackler from a season ago, Corey Littleton. Once again the NFC West is shaping up to be the toughest division in football and the only team the Rams were better than last year, the Cardinals, picked up one of the games best receivers and Kyler Murray should continue his development. Sean McVay was once the cool kid on the block when the team had depth and a strong defense, but that’s not the case anymore. Now that the team has deficiencies, can McVay live up to the hype? I think this is a 7 or 8 win team and the betting direction seems to agree with me. Under 9 wins is the safe bet. 

Tampa Bay- Over 9.5* (-140)

This is the popular pick to be the most improved team. For one, you lose Jameis Winston and his 30 interceptions and replace him with possibly the greatest quarterback of all time. Add in Bruce Arians, one of the better coaches in the league and many are thinking a playoff appearance is in store for the Bucs. They have a middle of the road schedule and don’t face 2019 playoff teams in back to back weeks. There are a few tough divisional opponents with the Saints and Falcons, but their offense is going to keep them in every game. If they are able to run the ball successfully, then I believe they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. I predict that they’ll be a ten win team, thus hitting the over of 9.5. As I’m sure every bettor knows by now, you don’t make a profit better against Tom Brady (unless it’s against an NFC East team in the Super Bowl).

Redskins- Under 5.5* (-130)

Poor Ron Rivera. His first season as Redskins head coach won’t be his most memorable season as a head coach. Besides Terry McLaurin, this offense needs a lot of help. I’m not sure Dwayne Haskins is the answer and they don’t have a running back who they can depend on. Right now I’m looking at the Bengals and Detroit as 50/50 games and I like the chances of them splitting with the Giants. Even if you include the Panthers as a win (which I don’t think happens), that’s only four games I believe they have a chance to win and it would take some upsets for them to hit the over in this situation. Their first four opponents have the clear talent advantage and win inconsistent quarterback play, I’m not confident they can win a shootout. I believe they’ll finish with one of the worst records in the league and would think getting to six games to be an incredibly successful season in Washington. 

Here are the rest of my predictions, I wouldn’t bet any of these but wanted to include it just to show how much I dislike your favorite team:

Cardinals- Under 7.5

Falcons- Over 7.5

Panthers- Under 5.5

Cowboys- Over 9.5

Packers- Over 9

Vikings- Under 9

Saints- Over 10.5

Giants- Under 6.5

Eagles- Under 9.5

49ers- Over 10.5

Seahawks- Over 9

Divisional Winners

East- Cowboys 19/20

I think it’s too close of a call between the Cowboys and Eagles to put any money down, but I do like the Cowboys with a new coach over the defending champions.

North- Packers 17/10*

While the Packers didn’t get any better, neither did any other team in this division. To me, this is one of the worst divisions in football and the Packers have a clear depth advantage on both sides of the ball.

South- Saints 3/4

The Buccaneers will push the Saints hard this year which stops me from betting on it but the Saints are just too complete of a team not to be the favorites

West- 49ers 19/20

NFL’s toughest division is a crapshoot. 49ers barely edge out the Seahawks last season but will need to see improvement from Jimmy Garropolo to win the division again. 

DPOY

Donald +700*

N Bosa +800*

TJ Watt +1200*

Minkah +3300

This is the most unpredictable award to predict, which makes it my favorite. Donald is a great pick because no one in the league can block him and he’s almost a lock to get to double-digit sacks. Teams game plan around him, yet it really makes no difference. I could be biased as a 49ers fan, but I think Bosa if he stays healthy, will be in the top three this year in sacks. The 49ers defense should be pretty good once again and Bosa figures to be the one to be the statistical leader on a deep defensive line. TJ Watt is right now the better Watt brother and I think wasn’t shown enough love last year in the DPOY voting. He’s had 27.5 sacks the last two years and if he can get to the 15 sack total this year, that will get him first-place votes. At +1200 that’s great value to be had. I’m not going to put money on Minkah, but he was a game-changer for the Steelers. If he can improve upon his 5 interceptions, he’ll get the national attention to get some votes.

DROY

Young +225*

Queen +800*

Okudah +1400

Young is such a safe and predictable bet here that I’d feel almost stupid to not get in on the action. He’ll get close to double-digit sacks as long as he stays healthy. Queen is my favorite pick of the group. He’s playing on a great team with a good defense and will get a lot of tackles. That checks off three key boxes right there and will have plenty of chances to shine in prime time games. Okudah will be one of the best corners in the league sooner rather than later. If he can get 4-5 interceptions and shut down receivers in his division like Davante Adams and Adam Thielen, his chances of winning are better than what they are now.

AFC and Awards Gambling Preview

Football is getting closer which means it’s time to do your gambling homework. Here are my predictions and bets for the upcoming season for the AFC and a few awards.

A * means that I would actually put money on it. O/U odds via Oddsharks from 6/10 and Awards via Caesars.

AFC

Ravens- Over 11.5* (-115)

So a team that won 14 games from a season ago and has the easiest strength of schedule in the entire league won’t win twelve games or more this season? I can’t see it happening. Maybe teams figure out Lamar Jackson and let’s say hypothetically he doesn’t repeat last season’s performance, the Ravens may still have the best roster in the league. Their defense was only one of three from 2019 to have a top ten pass and rush defense and they upgraded at linebacker (Patrick Queen) and defensive line (Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe) and saw no major losses on either defense or offense. Week 3 against the Chiefs is the only game that legitimately scares me in terms of taking a loss and they face the Cowboys, Colts, Titans, and Steelers twice who are all tough opponents, but I think at worst they go 3-3 in that stretch, meaning that a twelve win season is a strong probability. They also play all of the aforementioned teams (minus one of the Steelers games) at home, which adds even more likelihood of a great season in Baltimore.

Bills- Over 9* (-140)

This one is almost near-unanimous by most experts that the Bills will hit the over. They are tied for the fifth toughest schedule in the league, but the AFC East this year is very winnable and is the Bills’ division to lose. Despite the tough schedule, they have only six games against teams that made the playoffs a season ago, including two against the now Tom Brady-less New England Patriots who most expect to have a down year by their standards. The addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs finally gives Josh Allen, who showed a lot of development last season, a true WR1, and Devin Singletary seems primed to become a superstar. I predict a ten-win season, but even if they do hit nine wins then it’s a push. When you’re placing this bet, you’re believing that they do better than an 8-8 season and for a team that I predict to win the division and who finished with ten wins a season ago, I’m willing to bet the over once again here. 

Bengals- Under 5.5* (-110)

Good news for Bengals fans, they have the 27th strength of schedule. Bad news for Bengals fans, they are facing a lot of teams who are much improved from last year. The Steelers, Colts, Browns, and Eagles all figure to see their win total from a season ago go up, plus they have to play the Ravens twice. They are slowly building a potent offense, but still a lot of work needs to be made on the offensive line that gave up 50 sacks in 2019. The last thing a rookie quarterback needs is to be running for his life. They do have two winnable games, Washington and Jacksonville, and two other possibilities with Miami and New York. So, even if they go 4-0 in those games, it would be tough to pull off two upset wins over teams with more talent and better roster structure. Hell, I think a 5 win season would be considered a success for a team that won two games from a season ago, but even that wouldn’t get them to the 6 they need. Hammer the under. 

Steelers- Over 9.5* (+110)

Of all the ones I have listed here, this is the one I’m most unsure about. I do love the fact that the Steelers have the second easiest schedule and are returning Ben Roethlisberger from a team that won eight games last year. They return a very similar team from 2019 which was lead by their defense that had the most sacks in the league and was third in pass defense. Trips to Dallas, Tennessee, and Buffalo will be difficult but have four games against some of the worst teams from a season ago. Of their eight losses from 2019, five of them were by one score or less and if they had a competent quarterback then you have to imagine two or three of those losses go their way. In his 13 year career as head coach of the Steelers, Tomlin has never gone three straight seasons without a playoff appearance and I don’t think you’ll be seeing it anytime soon, meaning the Steelers are going back to the playoffs in 2020. As long as Roethlisberger can stay healthy, eleven wins is a realistic expectation so do yourself a favor and go with the over here. 

Titans- Over 8.5 (10)* (-125)

The Titans were 9-7 a season ago but finished 7-3 down the stretch and the offense really began to click when Ryan Tannehill took over at quarterback. They have a favorable schedule (12th easiest) and play six games against playoff teams from last year, two of which are the Texans who traded away their best receiver this offseason. Vrabel seems to have created a blue-collar identity in Tennessee, playing solid defense and a run-first offensive approach. This works out well for them since half of their games come against defenses that were in the bottom twelve against the run a season ago and seven games against teams that were in the bottom ten in scoring. Without a true offseason this year, I value continuity more than ever. The team did lose solid right tackle Jack Conklin but replaced him with their first-round pick Isaiah Wilson. Besides that, the team returns the rest of its starters from 2019. I think the AFC South is up for grabs and should the Titans continue the momentum of last year’s playoff success, a nine-win season should come with relative ease. 

Here are the rest of my predictions, I wouldn’t bet any of these but wanted to include it just to show how much I dislike your favorite team:

Browns- Under 8.5

Broncos- Over 7.5

Texans- Under 7.5

Colts- Over 9

Jaguars- Under 4.5

Chiefs- Over 11.5

Raiders- Under 7.5
Chargers- Over 7.5
Dolphins- Under 6.5

Patriots- Under 9

Jets- Under 7

AFC Division Predictions

East- Bills 13/10*
Patriots are a wild card, don’t know how they’ll look with no Brady and I think they’ll finish in second. The Jets haven’t done much to help Sam Darnold and I don’t think Gase is a good head coach that can lead this team to the promised land. Brian Flores is a heck of a coach but the Dolphins are a year away from being considered for a divisional title. Bills are the easy pick here.

North- Ravens 4/9

Best roster in the league. Simple.

South- Colts 13/10

Too many variables here for me to put money on it, but I think the Colts bounce back in a big way this season. However, the Titans or Texans can be argued as well and I’d agree. Pass on this one, but I lean Colts.

West- Chiefs 11/50

No explanation needed. 

MVP

Mahomes +400*

Wilson +600*

Watson +2000

In my eyes, Mahomes is the best player in the league and the Chiefs are elite because of him. He missed some time last year with an injury, but a 40+ touchdown season is within reach. The Chiefs figure to be near the top of the AFC and he’ll put up the stats needed to get his second MVP award. The fact Wilson hasn’t even received an MVP in his career is an embarrassment to the award. He’s truly the most valuable player to his team in the league, more so than Mahomes or Jackson even. You take him off of the Seahawks and they don’t make the playoffs in seven of the eight seasons he’s been in the league. I’m putting money down because he’s overdue for at least some votes. Watson is a good darkhorse. If the Texans can win the division and put up good offensive statistical numbers without DeAndre Hopkins and an unreliable receiving corps, Watson will be at the center of their success. 


Comeback Player of the Year

Roethlisberger +275*

Green +900*

Trent Williams +4000

Big Ben is the easiest choice here. In fact, I’d be surprised if he didn’t win. Green will have the advantage of missing all of last season and figures to be on a team that’s going to be behind a lot so he’ll see plenty of chances for targets. Unfortunately, he’s on a one year contract and could be used as trade bait. If he does get traded, then that puts a setback in him getting this award. The wild card is Trent Williams, who has crazy odds. He is one of the best left tackles in the league and will be on a presumably good team in San Francisco. The downside is that an offensive lineman has never won the award. If Ben struggles, I think it leaves a wide-open competition that allows a guy like Williams to sneak in. 

Coach of the Year

Reich +2000*

Right now Belichick and Arians are the odds on favorites for this award, but I have reason to be skeptical of both. I don’t think the Patriots make the playoffs, which is almost a prerequisite for this award pretty much, and the Buccaneers replaced Jameis Winston with Tom Brady which is good for three extra wins right there. The Colts have a good chance to get into the playoffs this year and Reich is one of better play designers in the league. If they can get consistency at quarterback and continue to run the ball well, they could secure a top-three seed in the AFC.

Trevor Lawrence Breakdown: The Prince That Was Promised

The story of Trevor Lawrence is known by now. The top recruit in the 2018 class broke high school records set by DeShaun Watson and led Clemson to a National Championship as a true freshman. From the moment he stepped on campus, he’s been seen as a generational talent and the probable first overall pick. Losing just one game in his two years, the stars are aligned once again for Clemson to make the National Championship game and for Lawrence to win the Heisman this season. As I break down Lawrence, what I thought coming in was confirmed. He’s a rare prospect. The term “can’t miss” is thrown around way too much, but in this case it’s deserved. Assuming he cleans up a few issues, he will become an Andrew Luck type prospect and undoubtedly become the first overall pick in the 2021 draft. Below I break down some of Lawrence’s strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths:

Arm Strength

The ball shoots out of his hand like a cannon and he makes it look so effortless. To compare, Patrick Mahomes’ top throwing speed at the combine was 55 mph and Lawrence’s top throwing speed in 2019 was 61 mph. Whether he’s in the pocket or scrambling, he’s able to get enough juice on the ball to fit throws into tight windows. As you can see below, he can throw it sixty yards in the air while making it look easy. To me, this is his best attribute as there are technical things you can clean up, but you can’t teach the arm strength he possesses.

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Mobility

I’ll break down his mobility into two parts: pure ability as a runner and throwing on the run.

As a runner, he shows great athleticism for a guy who’s listed at 6-6 and 220 pounds. Clemson runs a lot of zone reads and trusts his decision-making to make the right read. When he decides to keep the ball or they run a play designed for him (mostly counters or QB power), he shows speed and good vision to make the big play. For as much as people talk about his natural ability as a passer, his running ability is severely underrated. When the play breaks down, he’s excellent at scrambling and finding ways to pick up extra yardage. He’s never looking to run first, but teams will often blitz linebackers or drop them into coverage due to them being fearful of his arm. When this happens, he tucks the ball down and is able to make a play.

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The second part of his great running ability is the fact he keeps his eyes down the field while scrambling and is able to complete passes on the run. I see too often in college (and sometimes in the pros) that quarterbacks panic under pressure and will run without looking down the field. Lawrence can scramble out to either his left or right and has the arm strength to get the ball to his receivers. As NFL offenses get more creative and put mobile quarterbacks at a premium, Lawrence makes himself that much more valuable with his versatility and athleticism.

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Touch and Accuracy

Like a great shooter, when Lawrence gets hot he quite simply does not miss. This is evident on deeper throws that require some touch on the ball. We’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks with rocket arms, but the great ones are able to loft passes over defenders and right on target to their receivers. On these throws, Lawrence is mechanically sound (we’ll get to that later) and as you can see pushes off his back foot rather than solely using his pure arm strength. Quarterbacks who can make these throws, especially down the sideline, are ones you see starting on Sunday’s.

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Mechanics/Size

Lawrence 100% passes the eye test. He looks like he was made in a quarterback laboratory. If Lawrence is actually 6-6 as indicated on the Clemson website, it would make him tied for the tallest starting quarterback currently in the league. At 220 pounds, he could add another ten or so pounds of muscle, which will help him against bigger NFL defenders and he has the frame to put on that weight while maintaining his speed. Mechanically speaking, he has a clean release that doesn’t include a hitch or herky-jerky movement. He does a good job of using his lower body to drive the ball forward and for the most part does a decent enough job of setting his feet with smooth footwork. You’ll also notice how his feet are always moving and he’s never a statue in the pocket. It’s the little things that give you the big gains.

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Needs To Work On

Decision Making

Lawrence truly believes that he can use his arm strength to throw though any window, no matter how small it may be. Because of this, Lawrence makes a lot of bad decisions that resulted in him doubling his interception total from his freshman year and got lucky on several occasions. His whole life, he’s been able to use his arm to make any throw, even if he was staring down a receiver. However, as there’s more tape on him and the competition gets better, he’s not going to be able to get away with this. This is the mindset that many great gunslingers have which has resulted in high interception totals for all-time greats like Brett Favre, Dan Marino, and Peyton Manning. You have to take these kind of mistakes because for every head-scratching moment, they have four or five ‘wow’ moments.

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Over-throwing leading to missing open receivers

Like mentioned before, sometimes Lawrence trusts his arm too much. He’ll miss open receivers, usually by throwing high and outside, which is an indication of throwing too hard. I compare this to seeing a hard-throwing pitcher, you have to learn to contain your power and become a pitcher rather than a thrower. It’s frustrating to see because Lawrence will make so many great throws and then misses some easy ones, but it comes with the maturation of every great quarterback.

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Not Sliding/Protecting himself while running
This is just nit-picking now, but he needs to be smarter when running. I understand he’s a football player and he’s not afraid of contact, but as a franchise player he has to be cautious and make sure he can stay on the field. It may cut down on some game breaking plays like the one he had against Ohio State in the Playoff Semi-Final, but it’s going to ensure his longevity.

In conclusion, Lawrence is a special prospect and as of now would have a higher grade than recent #1 picks like Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, and Baker Mayfield. Barring an unforeseen situation, Lawrence will hear his name called first in the 2021 draft and becomes an immediate game-changer.

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Current Projection: #1 Overall Selection

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NFL Film Breakdown: The Hidden Star in Miami

Bring your Football Knowledge to the Next Level

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After a slow first four years in the NFL where his highest yardage total in a season was 744 with only 4 touchdowns, DeVante Parker blew the doors off his 2019 campaign. The 27 year old out of Louisville racked up 1,202, 9 touchdowns, and averaged 16.7 yards a reception – good for 10th best in the league. His combination of route running ability, size, speed, and physicality at the point of the catch made it difficult for defensive backs to win contested catches and stay with him. He’s fearless across the middle, will attack the ball in the air, shows really good understanding of route running technique, and consistently turns defenders around and creates space for himself.

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Parker does an amazing job of attacking the ball in the air. He high points, has strong hands, and is truly exceptional at winning 50/50 balls downfield. He elevates, uses his hands, and shows incredible eye discipline. Tracking the ball all the way through the catch separates the elite pass catchers in the NFL. If their helmet and eyes follow the ball all the way through, they catch it almost 100% of the time. Take a look below at how Parker elevates and tracks the ball with his eyes all the way through the catch, and immediately protects the ball and pulls it away from defenders in the clips below.

He has elite body control which allows him to win those jump balls, back shoulders, and contested catches. Now throw in his route running abilities which jump off the screen and you’ve got a guy that almost doubled his career yardage total in his 5th year. His ability to manipulate even the best corners by attacking their blind spot, forcing them to turn their hips with route stems, and setting up corners to guess incorrectly is elite. My favorite play of his from last year is a simple deep out on defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore. The Dolphins put Parker in motion which gives him momentum to take an outside release and forces Gilmore to play a little further off than normal. With his goal to get to the sideline 10 yards downfield, Parker has leverage on Gilmore which immediately makes him opens up his hips to run with Parker. Parker then works back inside indicating he’s going to the post or dig which again forces Gilmore to turn his hips and run with him to the inside. As soon as Gilmore turns his back to flip his hips, Parker attacks his blind-spot and cuts flat outside with Gilmore totally lost in coverage.

Parker shows great understanding of getting onto the defenders toes to close space and minimize the time that the corner has to react to his cuts. Below, he does some front foot skip that eats up a yard and closes the cushion while freezing the defender. Since his inside foot stays up on the skip, he’s primed and ready to explode up and out on a fade release to the outside and quickly wins his route.

Whether he slow plays it or does a hard stem outside, he will routinely sell fade and come back to slants. When defenders are up close, it makes it incredibly hard to defend – especially with his frame and the way he attacks the ball in the air. The foot fire and initial fade steps close the distance and gets the corners out of position.

A principle of attacking man coverage as a receiver is to push their leverage. Whatever way the defender is shading you is the way they generally don’t want you to go. By attacking that leverage, you are threatening the space they most want to protect. Parker uses this to his advantage on Gilmore below and sells a slant with Gilmore shading inside. He takes two steps in before turning it up to a fade on the outside. Parker wins on the route but if he has one weakness, it’s that he can lack physicality when running his routes and can struggle with jams. Gilmore gets a punch on him and slows him down but he still is able to create separation and you can see the impact of the initial slant stem and how it opens up space for him to the outside.

While he’s incredibly aggressive to the ball in the air, he can struggle to use his hands when releasing against press or against physical defenders. You’d like to see more active hand fighting to help create separation and prevent corners from slowing him down. He has the strength and frame to out-reach most corners and while he’s gotten better, he still isn’t quite all the way there yet.

DeVante Parker has finally started to put all the physical tools together. He’s using his frame to attack the ball in the air, demonstrates great route technique and understanding, and has translated it all into production on the field. It’s rare to find guys that take 4 whole years to develop into true number one receivers, but Parker has all the makings of one. Maybe not as dominant as Michael Thomas, but if he continues to improve and polish and develop a connection with new Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa, Parker can become an absolutely dominant force in the AFC East.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

Bring your Football Knowledge to the Next Level

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2020 Fantasy Sleeper Squad

Sleepers win you championships! Whether it was Darren Waller coming out of nowhere last season or George Kittle in 2018, players drafted in the last few rounds are the ones that can take your team to the next level. Here are the ten players I think people are sleeping on, but can make a possible impact on your team this season.

Irv Smith Jr., TE MIN

With the loss of Stefon Diggs, the Vikings figure to not replace his production with one player but rather a few, including Irv Smith, Jr. While listed as TE2 on the Vikings depth chart behind Kyle Rudolph, Gary Kubiak’s offense is predicated on multiple tight end sets. In his 20+ season of calling plays, tight ends have made up for 23% of targets. This is in large part due to play-action, something that Kirk Cousins does very well. He had the most touchdowns thrown off of play-action and finished 7th in completion percentage. Another encouraging sign is that Smith Jr. makes the most of his targets, hauling in 76% of the balls thrown his way. With Rudolph now on the wrong side of 30, it’s obvious that Smith Jr. is the future at tight end in Minnesota. He’s a great dynasty option, but I think a 500/600 yard season isn’t out of the question. 

Ian Thomas, TE CAR

With the departure of long-time tight end Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas by default becomes TE1 for the Panthers. While he might be, at best, the fourth option in the passing game for the Panthers, I think Thomas does provide a safety blanket for new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater last season had the lowest fewest air yards per attempt in the league at 6.2 which makes sense as he isn’t known for his strong arm, rather being accurate. New offensive coordinator has never been a play-caller at the NFL level, but looking at this past season at LSU as the passing game coordinator, we do see him like to use tight ends in a variety of ways. Thomas was one of the most athletic tight ends in his draft class at the combine, essentially in the top five in every category. While his drop rate (7.5%) is concerning, Thomas being a non-priority to the opposing team’s defenses will allow him to face loose coverage. Couple that with Bridgewater’s more precision-based skill and Thomas should fill in nicely for Olsen and hopefully see similar production. 

Ryquell Armstead, RB JAC

This one might be my biggest stretch, but hear me out. Leonard Fournette is soundly the top running back on the Jaguars roster. However, between trade speculation and the team not picking up his fifth-year option, I feel quite confident in saying that he won’t end the season as a Jaguar. Even if he does, he has yet to play all 16 games in a season. If Fournette were to not play, the snaps would be split between veteran Chris Thompson and Armstead. Thompson has never rushed for more than 356 yards in a season and is a receiving back, making Armstead the one in line to get the carries. Armstead did prove to not be useless in the passing game and ended up with more receiving yards on the season than rushing yards. He is dependent on a Fournette-less team, but he’s somebody to take note of if something were to happen and he was thrust into a prominent role. 


Ito Smith, RB ATL

I’m a firm believer that Todd Gurley’s knees are as stable as an elephant on a tightrope, they’re going to snap at any moment. You just simply can’t trust him as a viable fantasy option, but you can look at his backup Ito Smith. Unfortunately, Smith has been banged up early in his career and the concussion injury from a season ago is very worrisome. When he does play, however he has shown signs of explosiveness and pass-catching ability that would make him useless in most leagues. Last season in limited time, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry but when you eliminate carries in the red zone, it rose to 6.2 yards per carry. It is troublesome that he does so bad in the red zone but at 5-9, 195 lbs you should expect that. As a pass-catcher, Smith is at his most valuable.  He had about two catches per game as a rookie and only had one drop and in 2019 had eleven catches in seven games. He played only 29% of the team’s snaps as a rookie yet finished sixth on the team in targets. With the loss of Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper and then Todd Gurley’s questionable health, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Smith finish in the top 4 or 5 in targets coming in at around 60 on the season which based on past results is right around 48 catches. 

Dare Ogunbowale, RB TB

As I wrote about two weeks ago, no quarterback throws more to his running backs than Brady. I know that Bruce Arians’ offense wants to push the ball down the field, but Brady doesn’t have the arm strength for that. Don’t believe me? Brady finished in the bottom ten in yards per attempt in 2019. Instead, they’ll focus more on intermediate routes and dump-offs to the running backs. This benefits Ogunbowale more than anyone as he has more career catches than carries out of the backfield. The Buccaneers do have more weapons than the Patriots had this past season (which isn’t saying much), so Ogunbowale might not get the volume of targets that James White got, but he’s going to see an increase in catches assuming that Ke’Shawn Vaughn doesn’t take the pass-catching lead role. He is solely an option in PPR leagues and with the opposing defenses focused on stopping the likes of Evans, Godwin, and Gronkowski, the short throws will be open for the Bucs to take advantage of. 

Alexander Mattison, RB MIN

Mattison had himself a nice, quiet rookie season and set himself up to be a larger part of the Vikings offense in 2020. Dalvin Cook is the undisputed RB1, but has yet to play a full 16 game season and the team has to be concerned that he is not the long-term answer. If Cook were to get hurt again or be ineffective, Mattison would become a must-start. In 2019 he averaged 4.6 yards per carry, despite seeing an average of 7.6 men in the box (highest in the league). This was largely because he wasn’t used in the passing game much but did have 60 career catches in college proving he has the chance to be a well-rounded back. The Vikings finished fourth in team rushing attempts in 2019 and with Gary Kubiak calling the plays, I would expect to see a similar total. This means that Mattison if he stays healthy, should see a minimum of 130 carries (100 from a season ago in 13 games). At the rate he played a season ago, that’s a floor of 600 yards that will likely rise based on Cook’s injury history. 

Jared Stidham, QB NE

This is obviously a tough one to predict. Stidham only has four career pass attempts and takes over for possibly the greatest quarterback of all time. We do know that last preseason, taking it for what it’s worth, Stidham looked very impressive. Also, in college, he threw for only 13 interceptions in 848 attempts (1.5%). This will arguably be the most important season of Josh McDaniel’s career as a Patriots play-caller and I think he doesn’t change the offense too much with possibly the addition of more deep shots to open things up. The offense seemed stagnant in 2019 but that was in large part due to injuries at wide receivers. The team also added tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in the third round, so the supporting cast around Stidham should be improved. ESPN has his projected stats at 3,554 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. I think they are shortchanging him as I don’t believe Belichick and McDaniels would trot out a quarterback they didn’t think could have a good season. Stidham had a passer rating over 125 in his final season of college on throws deeper than 20 yards, fifth-best in the country. This will be useful in bootleg plays where he will have time to set his feet and drive the ball. Of course, the Patriots offense will be a lot of quick throws and easy reads which plays into Stidham’s quick release. I think he gets close to 25 touchdowns and roves around 10 interceptions in an offense where they won’t ask him to do too much. 

Paris Campbell, WR IND

Campbell’s rookie season was more like a game of operation than anything else which effectively made him a redshirt as a second-round pick. Now under the assumption that he’s healthy, head coach Frank Reich envisions him as the team’s main slot receiver. This is on par with what they had in plan for him last year as he saw about half of his snaps in the slot. Campbell is a legit speedster, running the fastest time at the 2019 combine with a 4.31 40. As Hilton loses a step or two, Campbell can be the receiver they use in a variety of ways. In his limited production, Campbell averaged 6 yards after the catch which puts him in the top 15%. At this point in his career, his quarterback Phillip Rivers has a very average arm, so I’d expect the Colts to run a lot of screens which will benefit Campbell. As you can see with Rivers, he does his damage in intermediate routes where he can rely on his accuracy rather than arm strength. Looking at the Colts offense from a season ago without Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett had the second-lowest completed air yards per reception at 5.3. Meaning, the offense didn’t take many shots down the field and wants to get the ball in their plamaker’s hands as soon as possible. Campbell I think has a good chance to finish second in targets and yards, with the possibility of leading the team if Hilton takes a step back.

Diontae Johnson, WR PIT

Of all the players on this list, I expect Johnson to have the best statistical season. Even with arguably the worst quarterback play in the league last year, Johnson had 680 yards and led all receivers in gaining separation on routes at 2.4 yards. This means that you can run Johnson on deep routes and he’ll be able to break away from the cornerbacks. Oh and by the way, he sustained a groin injury week 2 and played the whole season with that ailment. Also now that Ben Roethilisberger is back, I believe that the Steelers will try to stretch the field more often. Big Ben is historically one of the best quarterbacks in the league at the deep ball and even if that elbow injury weakens his arm, he should still be able to have enough arm to try and stretch the field. The Steelers have a strong trio of receivers and are known to be the best organization at developing talent at that position. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington each saw their target total double in their second season with the Steelers. I would be surprised if Johnson’s targets doubled (92 a season ago), but if he can even see a 25-35% increase then he has a chance to get close to 1,000 yards. Now with someone competent at throwing a football accurately and in his second year of development, Johnson can be a top 30 receiver.

Hunter Renfrow, WR LVR

Death. Taxes. Hunter Renfrow open on third down. All of Renfrow’s touchdowns and 35% of his receptions came on third down. That 35% conversion was the 17th best in the league, showing that while Waller might be the best receiving option, Renfrow is the safety valve. He also had 81% of his yards in the second half of the season, showing that Derek Carr was getting comfortable with the rookie wideout as the season went on. The Raiders did draft Henry Ruggs III in the first round, but he’s going to be the one to take the top off of defenses meaning that Renfrow, who is a slot receiver mostly, can work underneath in single coverage. Also, Renfrow dropped one pass last year and as long as Carr is the one taking snaps, I think Renfrow is going to be one of his top targets. He’s a must-add in your fantasy and is a draftable player with the upside to be your WR3/Flex by year end. 

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NFL Film Breakdown: Is Sam Darnold the Problem or the Answer?

After missing the first three weeks of the 2019 NFL season, Sam Darnold came back and helped the Jets get to a 7-9 record with an offense that wasn’t exactly chock full of talent. While he did struggle with some interceptions, he had a respectable 3,024 yards, 61.9% completion percentage, and gave the Jets offense some life. He did a great job of getting the ball out in rhythm, throwing the ball on the move, and has all the arm talent you could want. His base is incredibly consistent which is indicative of offseason work and focus. He doesn’t get too tight, over-extend, and keeps his cleats in the ground allowing him to generate power and accuracy. However, he can tend to pull the string a little and lacks follow through on some of his throws which causes the ball to die or sail on him. He also had significant difficulties with post-snap rotations from defenses and struggled to adapt if coverages were different than he expected. This caused some panic throws when the play was broken or when he was running out of bounds. Despite some of these head scratchers, he has all the tools and makings of a quarterback that can make the Jets competitive in a division that is up for grabs.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

https://www.newyorkjets.com/news/after-tom-brady-s-departure-sam-darnold-vaults-to-a-surprising-position

We’ll start out with the most impressive part of Darnold’s game. His ability to throw accurately on the move regardless of whether he’s rolling left or right is a trait that few NFL quarterbacks have. In all the clips below he does a great job of getting his hips around, opening up his shoulders, keeping his eyes downfield, and delivering balls with various amounts of touch. He can drop the ball over linebackers or drive the ball into windows that allow his receivers to make a play on the ball.

He also has the ability to read the leverage of defenders quickly and throw the ball decisively and in rhythm with his drop. He can exploit blitzes, get the ball in the hands of his receivers, and make defenses pay if they are misaligned or give him quick reads in the underneath passing game.

Below he moves the safety by looking to the top of the screen before coming back and recognizing poor leverage by both the linebacker and the corner covering the receiver at the bottom of the screen. He puts the ball up high and attacks the trailing defenders lack of vision.

He is strong and steady in the pocket, reaches the top of his drop and drives the ball to receivers underneath. This is part of the reason why Darnold is so successful in the no-huddle where he completes 71% of his throws and has only taken two sacks.

While he clearly shows the ability to make decisive, accurate throws, every once in awhile he’ll also make some super questionable decisions. Sometimes the best play is a throw away. A lesson that Darnold hasn’t quite fully learned yet. I love the desire to make something happen and pull some magic out, but it has to be calculated risks and some of the decisions he makes look like just the opposite and show a lack of understanding of where defenders are.

Mostly, this has to do with a lack of post-snap recognition of what defenses are doing. Multiple times he struggled to identify rotating safeties. Often in cover 3, especially on a blitz or when there aren’t multiple receivers threatening one zone, defensive backs will transfer zones and fall back into the zone they are passing off to. Below you can see the corner at the bottom of the screen pass off the dig route to the centerfield player. That centerfield safety now comes down to guard the dig while the corner to the bottom of the screen falls back to deep middle to help with the post from the top of the screen. Darnold doesn’t look to the bottom of the screen and instead locks on the safety. When the safety comes down, he thinks he has a ton of clear field to hit the post with nobody deep middle. He doesn’t recognize the framework and defensive rules in place and throws the ball up for what should have thrown an interception to the corner who drops into his new deep middle zone.

Below is an example of a lack of recognition pre-snap that the safety is on the hash shading to the single receiver side. He can’t put this much air on the ball. His better bet would have been going to the bottom of the screen where there is no safety help and his receiver wins easily.

Recognizing and diagnosing these rotates and rules takes time for new quarterbacks to process. It’s why rookie QBs often have a lot of difficulty have consistent success. My only concern with Darnold is that he’s now going into year three and was still making some rookie errors in year two. As mentioned before, he has all the arm talent in the world but at times he can pull the string and lack follow through in his throwing motion. His feet and base are set, he just has balls die or sail on him because of his lack of follow through and this can also lead to a lack of touch as he tries to push balls with all arm. Take a look at a couple of the gifs below and note the fall back and almost recoil motion of his arm after.

Sam Darnold has all the tools you could want for a franchise quarterback. With some instability at the head coaching position, a lack of talent outside, and a suspect offensive line that ranked 31st in allowing pressure within 2.5 seconds less on 27.5% of dropbacks, Darnold hasn’t had the easiest path to start his career. The signs of greatness are there with decisive reads, great pocket movement and accuracy outside the pocket, and the ability to fit balls into tight windows. However, you’d also hope to see a little more progress in his decision making than he has shown so far. With 28 interceptions in his first two years, he needs to cut down on the poor decisions and work on faster recognition of post-snap adjustments. He’s shown that he can take advantage of blitzes, read leverage, and has the accuracy to make teams pay in man coverage. Now he just needs to put it all together. The Jets are still a few pieces away but as that team builds around him – especially up front – Darnold could be absolutely lethal in a division that is up for grabs with the departure of Tom Brady.

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The Breakout Class of 2020

Every fantasy owner looks for a few players in the mid to late rounds that will outperform their draft slot and lead them to a title. Sometimes the breakout players are clear as day and others come out of nowhere. Here’s my list of 10 players I believe are going to become legit fantasy options for the upcoming season.

Hayden Hurst, TE Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan is a big fan of incorporating tight ends into the offense. Since 2011, all but one season (2014) have Falcons tight ends not been targeted at least 80 times. Oh yea, that one season Levine Toilolo was the starter. Austin Hooper the last two seasons alone average over 100 targets a season and while Hurst doesn’t have the track record to suggest he’ll repeat those numbers, I fully expect him to be a featured part of the offense.  Also, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter averages roughly 120 targets to tight ends over the past eight years he’s been calling plays. The team thought highly enough of him to trade a second-rounder and got dealt an unfortunate hand in Baltimore, who saw Mark Andrews emerge as a top tight end. The Falcons tight end room after Hurst have a combined eleven career catches. Hurst is going to be on the field for a majority of the snaps and he’s going to be a pass-catching machine in a fantasy-friendly offense.

My Prediction: 67 catches, 734 yards, 6 touchdowns

Raheem Mostert, RB San Francisco 49ers

Mostert was the breakout player of the postseason and he’s ready for this upcoming year to be the encore. He led all running backs with a 5.7 ypc and has gained muscle this offseason to prepare for what he says is “a 200 carry season”. It finally seems that he’s going to emerge as the lead back in San Francisco and he’s earned that right.  There is concern that the 49ers will continue to utilize a running back by committee approach but will Shanahan really not give a majority of his snaps to his best running back? I don’t think so. The other running backs are Tevin Coleman (4.0 ypc a season ago), Jerrick McKinnon (missed the last two seasons with a knee injury), and Jeff Wilson (Short-yardage back). There’s no way if he stays healthy that he won’t get to 200 carries and assuming he averages around 5 yards a carry, you’re looking at a 1k rushing season. Sometimes it’s the simple math that gives you the clear answer. 

My Prediction: 1,021 yards, 6 touchdowns. 25 rec, 230 receiving yards. 

Devin Singletary, RB Buffalo Bills

Like Mostert, you could consider last season to be Singletary’s breakout. However, I believe this year he propels himself to become one of the top running backs in the league. The Bills were 8th in the league in rushing a season ago and I would fully expect another top ten performance this season. Singletary takes over as the main running back and should see upwards of 200 carries, something that’s been echoed by GM Brandon Beane. Bills running backs accounted for over 21 carries a game last year, which also was amongst the league leaders. Singletary also had 29 catches a year ago and now without Frank Gore or another receiving back, Singletary will be attractive in PPR leagues due to him being on the field in passing situations. He might be small and sustained an injury last year, but is elusive and ranked 14th last year in broken tackles. One downside, he’s unlikely to get goal-line carries with rookie Zack Moss entering the mix. Add in the fact that Allen will probably have the second or third most carries for a quarterback puts a small dent in Singletary’s production. Despite that, Singletary is going to be a star this season and should be there for your second-round pick. 

My Prediction: 1,210 rushing yards, 8td’s. 54 rec, 552 yards, 2 td’s

TJ Hockenson, TE Detroit Lions

Hockenson seemed to be destined for a big season after a 6 receptions, 131-yard debut, but only mustered 236 yards in the next 11 games before going down with a season-ending injury. The immensely talented Hockenson should see his stats double at least as he should be more comfortable in the offense. The Lions also face the third most favorable schedule against tight ends thus giving the young tight end plenty of possibilities to succeed. Stafford’s last two tight ends, Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew couldn’t catch a cold in Antarctica but he still targeted them. Ebron saw 72 targets a year (despite missing many games) and Pettigrew saw an average of 91 targets a year over a four year stretch as a starter. Also, Stafford in the red zone has one of the best passing grades (81) when targeting tight ends in the red zone since 2009. That’s compared to a 65 grade he has when targeting receivers, and that’s with Calvin Johnson. I fully expect Hockenson to be a TE1 in a 12 team fantasy league and should crack the top ten in scoring tight ends. 

My Prediction: 56 receptions, 707 yards, 7 touchdowns

N’keal Harry, WR New England Patriots

Who’s going to be the week one starter in New England? I don’t know. Who’s going to see an expanded role in the offense this year? N’keal Harry. He had an injury-riddled rookie season and didn’t see the field until week 10. The Patriots have a relatively poor skill group, relying on Julian Edelman to carry the team a season ago. However, Edelman is now 34 and without Brady, I would expect whoever is under center to look to try and spread the ball around. That helps Harry, who over the final four weeks was involved in 40% of the team’s snaps. He should see an expanded role as the team didn’t select a receiver in the draft and only acquired Marquise Lee to try and strengthen the position group. Edelman nor Sanu provide the red zone ability Harry does. It’s a small sample size, but three of Harry’s twelve catches came in the red zone. At 6-4, 225 lbs, he’s a mismatch nightmare that Josh McDaniels figures to utilize. If we dig deeper, once again a small sample size, Harry finished tied for third amongst receivers/tight ends in end zone targets in only seven games. 

My Prediction: 58 receptions, 796 yards, 8 touchdowns  

Noah Fant, TE Denver Broncos

Another popular breakout name, Fant figures to leap into stardom this season. As you notice a trend of possible tight ends expected to see an uptick in production (btw tight ends this year are stacked, don’t feel the need to draft one early), none might have the upside of Fant. Only 12 rookie tight ends since 2000 have had over 500 yards, putting Fant in exclusive company. He’s quite dynamic after the catch, finishing third in the entire league in yards per reception per catch in the league. While we don’t know how Drew Lock will perform over a season, we can take a look at Pat Shurmur’s offense and see that he is pro-tight end. From 2013-2018, Shurmur led offenses featured a top-15 fantasy tight end. It would have continued in 2019 but Evan Engram, who performed well when healthy, missed half the season. Engram was on pace to average close to 900 yards a season the past two years if he was able to stay on the field. Engram and Fant are very similar players, big-bodied athletes with elite athleticism who are more receivers than blockers. I fully expect Fant to see more snaps in the slot or split wide (where Engram saw almost half of his snaps) and a lot more play-action due to the acquisition of Melvin Gordon putting more defenders in the box, thus maximizing Fant’s potential as a top-ten fantasy tight end. 

My Prediction: 61 receptions, 804 yards, 6 touchdowns

David Montgomery, RB Chicago Bears

The fantasy community had high expectations for Montgomery’s rookie season but ultimately he did not deliver. For his second season, he should be in-line for more success as the offense tries to focus on making life easier for whoever the quarterback will be. In 2018, the Bears were a balanced offense that finished 9th in scoring with 26.3 points per game. That season the run/pass split was 48/52. In 2019, the offense struggled and was 29th in scoring at 17.5 points per game and the run/pass split was 41/59. To break that down for us non-math majors, that’s a 73 carry difference. If Nagy wants to keep his job, it’s obvious they need to become a run-first team and Montgomery is the main guy getting the carries. He should improve on his 3.7 ypc, as long as he and the offensive line can stay healthy, and with an uptick in the number of carries, he should be looking at a 1000 yard season. He has more value in non-PPR leagues due to Tarik Cohen being the receiving back, so that is something to take note of. 

My Prediction: 265 carries, 1060 yards, 9 touchdowns. 29 rec, 235 yards, 1 touchdown. 

Jace Stenberger, TE Green Bay Packers

It’s easy to have a breakout when the previous season you had 0 catches, but I think Stenberger has a high ceiling in the Packers offense. The main reason is that he’s going to be on the field, a lot. The Packers are pretty thin at tight end and have come out saying that Stenberger has the inside track to becoming TE1 and the main receiving tight end. Also, the team did not draft a wide receiver, signaling that they have faith in their current pass catchers. In his lone season at Texas A&M, Stenberger was a weapon averaging 17 yards per catch and has some big-play potential. I personally am not a fan of Jimmy Graham and think he’s well past his prime yet he still finished third on the team in targets. Graham was also second in the team in red-zone targets and while Stenberger isn’t the jump ball threat Graham is, in college, he had 10 touchdowns on 48 catches. I expect the team to continue to have a more balanced offense, all while utilizing Stenberger in motion and as a matchup nightmare. He might not be your TE1 off the bat, but draft him late and you’ll thank me later.

My Prediction: 49 catches, 613 yards, 6 touchdowns

Mike Geisecki, TE Miami Dolphins

I can’t understate it enough. 2020 will be the year of the tight end. Geisecki came on strong towards the end of last season and figures to continue to improve in new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s spread offense which historically incorporates tight ends as split ends. One of the most athletic tight ends in the league (seriously check out his combine numbers), Gesicki stretches the field down the seams in a similar fashion to Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens. Only two other tight ends in the league were targeted on deeper routes than Gesicki (10.4 average targeted air yards) and if it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tua Tagovailoa, they’ll push the ball down the field. Of any tight end on this list, I expect him to be drafted the earliest based on last year’s production. He could very well end up as a top-five tight end when things are all said and done so you might have to be aggressive in drafting him.

My Prediction: 64 receptions, 882 yards, 6 touchdowns

Sony Michel, RB New England Patriots

Many expected Michel to enter among the NFL’s best running backs last season and despite a nearly 40 carry increase, he gained 20 fewer yards. It’s tough to pinpoint why there was a dip in production but it just seemed like the Patriots offense was out of sync. Now they face some uncertainty with a new quarterback for the first time since 2001 and I think the philosophy becomes one centered around the run game. Over the past two seasons, Michel has seen over half of the carries and that number could hit close to 60% this season. James White, who typically sees more receptions than carries, and Rex Burkhead, same as White, will see a reduction in playing time due to this and I think Michel indirectly sees more playing time and screen plays drawn up for him. Michel not only will not only hit 1,000 for the first time in his career, but I believe he also hits the double-digit touchdown total. Rather than being a borderline flex starter, Michel becomes safely your RB2.

My Prediction: 1,090 yards, 10 touchdowns. 26 receptions, 255 yards, 2 touchdowns

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.