The Deep Route Fantasy Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL and its implications on fantasy football, along with weekly awards, draft spotlight, and other random tidbits. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN or 4for4.com.
THINGS I KNOW
I know Jerick McKinnon is the Vikings’ best running back. When Dalvin Cook went down a few weeks ago, there was speculation over who would fill the rookie’s shoes — McKinnon or veteran back Latavius Murray. While I asserted then that Murray was the safer bet, I also said I would not be surprised if McKinnon bursts onto the scene instead. McKinnon has shown to not only be a better runner than Murray, but a more polished, deadlier receiving threat as well.
Since Cook’s injury, Murray has only seen more touches than McKinnon once (it was a one touch difference), and it is McKinnon who has excelled consistently in every facet of the Vikings’ offense. He has scored four times and exceeded 100 total yards in three out of the four games he has been in the starting job. There is still a case to be made for Murray, as he is the true goal-line back, but McKinnon’s versatility allows him to be the superior option in all fantasy leagues.
I know the Duane Brown trade helps the Seahawks’ biggest need. After much speculation, the outspoken left tackle was shipped from Houston back to Seattle. Brown is a lifelong Texan, but he is returning to Seattle after losing to the Seahawks a day prior in one of the best games in recent memory.
Even timid NFL fans know how terribly the Seahawks offensive line has performed in recent years. Ever since the team swapped All-Pro center Max Unger for All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham (who has underwhelmed in his three years as a Seahawk), Seattle’s offensive line has been the team’s Achilles’ heel. Ranked dead last by PFF, the unit has surrendered the fifth-most quarterback hits in the league, even with a dynamic, evasive scrambler like Russell Wilson in the backfield. Brown should give Wilson more time to do what he does best: make plays. Who knows, maybe the Seahawks will finally rediscover their running game, too?
I know why the Dolphins shockingly shipped Jay Ajayi. As I have constantly told my negative Dolphins friends all day, there are many reasons that Ajayi’s stock could easily fall. First and foremost, Ajayi is simply not that good. His lone productive season, where he produced a solid 1,272 yards on the ground, was due to surprisingly superior offensive line play (Dolphins had the tenth-fewest sacks in the league in 2016, and 17 came in four of the first five games). While Ajayi has been a proven bruiser, he is not good enough at creating holes and instead relies on the offensive line. Also, with a healthy and mobile Ryan Tannehill, defenses had to focus on Tannehill’s running potential instead of just zoning in on Ajayi.
Ajayi was also still on his rookie contract and would probably demand top dollar when he hit free agency in two summers. While that is a long time from now and probably not an immediate reason for the trade, Ajayi repeatedly voiced his discontent with the team and had reportedly not been picking up his assignments. Attitude and injury history equated to a trade in the Miami Dolphins front office.
For the Eagles, the question is who will they get? A star running back who can break tackles like no one else, or a disgruntled one-hit wonder who will struggle with finding holes? Like any trade, it usually takes three to four years for a move to pan out, but in the meantime look for second-year running back Kenyan Drake to be the Dolphins’ next starter, which is not that great of an option. More on that in a few…
I know I cannot discuss all the trades in one article. Could I have realistically? I guess, but come on, some consistency is a good thing. Don’t worry loyal readers, I will talk about every single trade and what each entails on the next episode of the hit show The Splash Zone Podcast. Thanks to all the listeners already. I can promise you more awesome, random stuff is coming your way.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know what is going on with Ben Roethlisberger. Half of my articles mention a Steelers’ player, and twice it has been Big Ben’s struggles. His woes continued on Sunday night despite tossing 317 yards and a touchdown in a close win at Detroit. I watched about 75 percent of the game, including the entire first and fourth quarters. In that time frame, I counted six passes where Roethlisberger whiffed on a throw. Four of those times it looked like the Steelers could have had a touchdown, especially on an early overthrow of a wide-open Jesse James. Roethlisberger ended the game with a season-low 54.8 percent completion rating.
It is no secret anymore that Big Ben is no longer a great fantasy quarterback, as he has posted an average of 12.7 fantasy points this season. Still, Roethlisberger might be a future Hall of Famer and is one of the most productive quarterbacks of this generation. I get age is a factor, but even Roethlisberger acknowledged he might have more juice left in him. If the Steelers want a chance at winning another ring, Roethlisberger will have to shed off the cobwebs and sling the ball like he was five years ago.
I don’t know what either team was thinking with the Jimmy Garoppolo trade. Actually, that’s a lie. The Patriots were thinking they could steal a high second round pick by selling a player who will demand $18 million when he hits free agency in a few months. The 49ers were thinking they needed a promising young quarterback, and that they really do not like the potential options in this year’s draft.
Unfortunately for both sides, there is a flaw in each team’s plan. The Patriots have a less glaring issue — the gaping hole behind Tom Brady. If Brady goes down, though, I am confident Bill Belichick will turn one of the ball boys into a Pro Bowl quarterback. I do, however, have a major issue with San Francisco’s retrieval on this deal. First, what makes anyone think Garoppolo, a lifetime backup in a New England system known for making any quarterback look prolific, will be a longterm answer? What if he wants out after half a season or is just another overpaid backup? At least the 49ers can address the situation with their early second-round pic—oh wait. This is a boom or bust deal, and the bust label seems pretty heavy right now — though anything can happen from now until March.
I don’t know if Kiko Alonso should have gotten suspended. I am aware this is a very hot take, but hear me out. On Oct. 31, the NFL announced Alonso would not be suspended, despite popular opinion supporting a ban. I will first address the elephant in the room by saying, yes I am a Miami Dolphins fan, so naturally people might think I am being heavily biased. Second, I do think Alonso should at least be fined, mainly to send a message that the NFL does not support violent helmet-flying hits that leave a quarterback concussed.
However, when looking at the play it is clear that Alonso was going full-speed at Joe Flacco, as any good defender should always be, before Flacco started to slide. Former quarterback David Carr gives a good analysis of the play here, and I agree with him. Essentially, Carr says that Flacco’s slide was sloppy and too late. Alonso was bursting towards Flacco before the quarterback took a nosedive, and it is senseless, if not costly, to ask a defender to slow down at an oncoming player. I get player safety is the most important issue here and hope Flacco recovers, but in the end this play was virtually unavoidable. I will now step off the hot seat.
PLAYER TO WATCH FOR: Robby Anderson
Anderson has now become the Jet’s leader in targets and is a viable red zone threat. At six-foot-three, Anderson has the speed to blow by defenders and the height to win jump balls. In addition, Anderson’s playing time has increased by nearly 15 percent in the past four weeks and he has posted double-digit PPR points in each of the past three weeks. If he is not already on a roster, Anderson should be snatched up as soon as possible.
PLAYER TO IGNORE: Matt Breida
The only game Breida has seen more than 31 percent of the team’s snaps came when starter Carlos Hyde was hurt in week five. Don’t forget that the 49ers were getting destroyed again on Sunday so the backups saw an uptick in production. While Breida may be a better receiver, he simply does not get the playing time to surpass a surprisingly reliable Hyde.
Every week I’ll talk a little about a college football player who I think will, or will not, make a great NFL player. This week, I’ll be highlighting J.T. Barrett
In the biggest game of the season, Barrett showed poise and accuracy while completing a 15-point comeback. Overall, Barrett has struggled with consistency, but this season he has really turned things around — his touchdown to interception ratio is 25-1. Barrett is also an exceptional leader who can make plays with his feet. While he has much to prove, his tools are certainly intriguing. Early Projection: 3rd-4th round
The ‘Hands’ Award: Mohamed Sanu Sr.
Week eight featured more pinpoint throws instead of jaw-dropping catches. It was hard to pick just one, but I decided on Sanu and this diving touchdown off a beautiful throw. Bonus points for snagging it in the rain.
Uniform of the Week: Seattle Seahawks
Since their uniforms were remade in 2012, the Seahawks’ amazing threads have been a fan favorite. Their sleek and modern design works nicely with the navy backdrop and grey and neon green linings. There really is no other way to put this — the Seahawks have arguably the best uniforms in the NFL, and their threads on Sunday showed why. Of course, their outstanding Color Rush uniforms are what truly make the Seahawks franchise a national treasure.
The Lombardi Trophy: The All IR Team
Every player on this depth chart is out for the season, and they would also undoubtedly win the Super Bowl. When I first saw this, it did not hit me that each player’s season was over. After realizing the roster’s premise, however, it only added to my awe of how talented this “team” is.
The Superhero Award: JuJu Smith-Schuster
I will admit, I was skeptical of the rookie, especially coming into a loaded Steelers offense. Nonetheless, my depleted fantasy team (thanks to the bye week) was down by 37 before JuJu took off the training wheels (bike metaphor, anyone?) and scored 18.7 PPR points on a 97 yard touchdown. When everything looked hopeless, a hero emerged from the dust to give me the three point upset victory. It’s just another reminder of how gut-wrenching fantasy football can be.
The How-On-Earth-Did-He-Do-That Award: Deshaun Watson
I feel like this won’t be the only week Watson wins this. Either way, what a play in a sensational game. Watson has completely transformed the Houston offense, and not in the way that his predecessors did. He is a top Rookie of the Year candidate.
ONE LAST THING
I highlighted some potential trade candidates in last week’s article, and while I only hit on Marcell Dareus, I figured I should give this general manager thing a try. I am proud to announce that I have accepted the job as the new general manager for the Miami Dolphins, my childhood team! Here is my plan for each position:
- Keep Tannehill – He looked really good before his injury and finally took the reigns as the team’s leader. Still, I’m probably drafting a backup quarterback late as insurance.
- Draft a running back – A couple days ago, I would have said develop our backs. Now, I need an every-down receiving back who can run between the tackles. Luckily, the draft is full of them, which why I will wait until the middle rounds to take my running back of the future.
Keep Jarvis Landry at all costs – We cannot afford to trade away the centerpiece of our team and the city. Landry is just as important off the field as he is on the field, and every Dolphins fan knows how valuable he is on the field. There are few players with the versatility, energy and skill that Landry possesses, so I am locking him up for the foreseeable future.
- Draft a tight end – We have not had youth or hope at this position since Randy McMichael suited up for the Dolphins. The draft is once again full of catching and blocking tight ends to snag in the middle rounds.
- Develop Laremy Tunsil – Ja’Wuan James has surprisingly been the best Dolphins lineman since Jake Long had a formidable season with the team, and we need Tunsil to really step it up. His move from guard has obviously caused some challenges, but Tunsil has shown at times that he can be an anchor at left tackle.
- Draft Quenton Nelson – I am unsure if this will be realistic in late April, but Nelson is far and a way the best offensive guard in the draft and would fill a major hole. Right now, experts say he is a mid-first rounder.
- Get rid of Mike Pouncey – He is a great guy, and I will be sadder than most to see him leave, but he has not played a full season since 2012. He also has a $8 million cap hit which could be used to extend Landry or sign veteran players.
- Develop Charles Harris as a full-time starter – The easy answer would be to restructure Cam Wake, but honestly, I am fine paying the 35-year old for another year. The rookie Harris has shown flashes as a spectacular rusher. Penciling him in as a starter rather than a rotational player should help elevate him to that next level.
- Restructure Ndamukong Suh – With rumors of Suh’s departure from Miami, I would need to take some money out of his contract. As a top five defensive tackle, he certainly deserves the money, but I would at least ask him to consider a pay cut. If not, I would still keep him… for now.
- Find a proven linebacker – The Dolphins linebackers are terrible. With Raekwon McMillan, who reportedly shined in training camp, out for the season, the linebacker position has been a revolving door. The draft class is solid this year, but I would rather take my chances on a free agent like Tahir Whitehead or Zach Brown.
- Sign depth at cornerbacks – Injuries have plagued the Dolphins’ secondary for years, and adding veteran presences can insure the next time our two young, promising starters (Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley) get banged up, we can insert a backup flawlessly.
- Draft a safety – The safeties look deep again in this year’s draft class, and new starter T.J. McDonald, coming off an eight-game suspension, is an unknown. I am taking a safety in the later rounds to bolster depth and help special teams woes.
- Find a new punter – The Dolphins have yet to find a consistent punter this decade, with the exception of Matt Turk. I would spend a mid-round pick on stud Johnny Townsend. Townsend is even Pat McAfee-approved. If not Townsend, then I would find a punter through free agency.
- Leave the coaching staff as is – The last thing the Dolphins need is another coaching change, so I will allow Adam Gase and his staff to continue and develop their team. I am a big fan of the young, innovative and passionate Gase. I think this year’s struggles can be pointed towards unfortunate injuries, not on coaching.