Month: August 2021

August 30, 2021


I’ve seen it so many times. A player comes off a disappointing year after being incredibly hyped. Then the next year that same player completely goes off and outperforms where he was drafted. 

The early comparisons for Mecole Hardman with Tyreek Hill were shortsighted and too lofty. Hardman is more of a straightline burner who does not have the sudden change of direction that HIll has in his skill set. Still, Hardman can take another step forward in his third year in the NFL to become a complementary target for the Chiefs and fantasy football managers. (AP Photo/Doug Benc, File)

Clyde Edwards-Helaire is my nominee for a player who is going to do that this year. He seems to be flying under the radar in a lot of fantasy football circles, with an ADP of 2.08 and the RB14, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Last year, he went in the middle of the first round, and there were plenty of people posting on Twitter that they drafted him first overall. 

That was rookie hype gone overboard. Everyone wants to hit it big with the next hot thing, but CEH had to approach Kareem Hunt in 2017 to pay off where he was being drafted. Then he had an underwhelming season by most people’s standards, with 803 rushing yards, 36 receptions, 297 yards and 5 total TDs. Decent rookie-year numbers, but not middle-of-the-first-round worthy numbers. Add to it that he had 28 rushing attempts in the red zone and cashed in just 3 of them. 

Yet there is hope. As part of my Insider Series, I spoke with Joshua Brisco of Sports Illustrated about CEH, and whether people might be buying low on him in 2021.

“One of the big disappointments, at least holistically, is that he wasn’t as involved in the passing game as we thought he would be,” Brisco said. 

The other part pushing CEH down draft boards is that his overall numbers were underwhelming compared to other RBs from the rookie class, especially Jonathan Taylor. Keep in mind that CEH missed the final three games of the season with hip and groin injuries. He barely made it back for the playoffs. Fantasy players often overemphasize players who miss time late in the season and degrade them for that. 

I have a mantra I say time and again: Play for the season ahead, not the season that already happened. As Brisco mentioned, there is no Le’Veon Bell who walked into the RB room in K.C. This still appears to be CEH’s backfield. CEH did not have surgery, which is a good sign. He had a normal offseason and got to learn the playbook better. Many RBs get better in pass protection in their second seasons, so expect CEH to be on the field some more often. 

I look at where he was ranked when he got hurt. He was the RB13 and averaging 13.5 Fantasy PPG. His 46 targets were top 10 in the league at that time. He was involved, but not as creatively as he was at LSU. I chalk that up to the lack of training in the offseason. 

He’s going to be the primary ballcarrier for the Chiefs, and over 17 games his average of 13.9 carries per game would come out to 236 carries this year. Put his receptions in the 55-60 range, we could be talking a season with about 1,500 total yards. Figuring an increase in TDs to 8-10, he’s easily in the top 10 among RBs. And that’s only with him maintaining the same averages. With improvement that often comes in Year 2, we could be talking top 5 RB.

Remember, you want a piece of this offense. And CEH will rarely face a stacked box because defenses are primarily focused on stopping the Mahomes/Hill/Kelce air show. The O-line was also upgraded, so all signs are pointing to CEH taking the Year 2 jump. 

“If that all ends up happening, if Clyde can be a #2 back on your roster that would be a super strong pick for me,” said Brisco, who is also an avid fantasy player. “His floor last year was still decent until he got hurt. I would have a tough time seeing him be a second-round underperformer. The only thing is, how much are the Chiefs going to run the ball? If they’re going to run it some, it’s going to be Clyde. If you go WR or TE first, you could do worse that Clyde as your #1.”

I know, yo se, we heard about Mecole Hardman last year. People were enthralled with his 2019 TD efficiency and explosiveness. He was boom-bust something crazy. Mostly bust.

Well, we’re here again, and this time the odds of him paying off that 9th-round ADP appear to be better. First off, it was a more normal offseason for Hardman, where he could get more work in the system, alongside Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. And with that guy Patrick Mahomes.

Also, with the departure of Sammy Watkins, the Chiefs had 87 vacated targets, according to NBC Sports Edge. The Chiefs didn’t sign anyone of significance in free agency nor drafted anyone. The opportunity is there for Hardman to get the #3 role in this offense. 

But first, lose the Hill comparisons. Yes, these two have blazing speed in common. That’s essentially where the similarities end. Hill has a start-stop and change of direction that no one else has with sub-4.3 speed in the 40. We’re talking potential Hall of Famer with Hill. Hardman is the classic straight-line burner. He would do well fitting into a DeSean Jackson-type of role, getting his share of deep shots from arguably the best deep thrower in the NFL. His ADOT last year was a pedestrian 10.6, well behind Hill’s 12.9. Hardman’s targets also increased from 41 to 62. With the #3 target in the offense there for the taking, picture Hardman adding another 20 targets this season. 

“Hardman is the next receiver you take a shot on,” Brisco said. “His ceiling is higher (than others). I would hate to be relying on him. We’re two years in and I really don’t know how the Chiefs view Mecole Hardman. That’s why he’s an interesting draft pick. And it’s also scary one that I could see it going either of two ways. I could see him basically having a rerun of 2020. I could also see a world where, ‘We’re going to put our fastest receiver on the field in his role and see what he could do with it.’ It’s a legit coin flip for me.”

Going in the 9th round, I’ll take my chances on a player with blazing speed in one of the best, if not the best, offenses in the NFL. I project him to 55 receptions in 80 targets, for 825 yards and 7 TDs. Maybe he’s a starter in leagues with multiple flex options, or at least he’s more of a player you try out in single-flex leagues early in the season to see if his role fits. Considering where he’s going, you might be joining Brisco in flipping a coin on whether to start Hardman.

SOURCES: PFF / Pro Football Reference / NFL Savant

August 4, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written the day before it was announced on Aug. 2 that Carson Wentz was undergoing surgery on his foot, and that the recovery period was 5-12 weeks. Well, three weeks later he’s back at practice and if all goes well, the early reports are that he could start Week 1. So this article is being posted with some updates, and special thanks to buen amigo Zak Keefer of The Athletic for sitting for the interview.

The similarities are pretty incredible. Andrew Luck stood 6-4, 240 lbs. during his playing career for the Colts. Carson Wentz stands 6-5, 237 lbs., and is the incumbent QB for the Colts after an offseason deal with the Eagles landed the North Dakota State product on Indianapolis’ doorstep. 

Carson Wentz had his tenure with Philadelphia cut short after being sacked 50 times in 2020 and having his performance erode to a shell of the MVP contender he was in 2017. Still 29, with a stellar O-line (when healthy), great running game and very good receivers, Wentz could be a great bounceback candidate for super flex and streaming weeks. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Both have displayed a daring, swashbuckling style of football filled with rollouts and rifle throws from a variety of setups. When they ran, it would be with a surprising athleticism for someone so large. Luck was the #1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, with Wentz being the #2 pick four years later.

Luck played at an MVP level in 2014 and 2018, the latter being his final season in the NFL before he surprisingly retired during training camp the following year, just weeks before his 30th birthday. The Colts first did the fire drill of giving the reins to Jacoby Brissett in 2019, before trading for Philip Rivers in his swan song season of 2020. The Colts have been looking to hand over the starting gig to the offense to someone, so they went with a familiar face to HC Frank Reich: Carson Wentz. 

In trading for Wentz, the Colts received a player who appeared to be the lock to win the 2017 MVP before tearing his ACL scoring a TD in Week 14 against the Rams. Since that time, Philly fans and fantasy managers have been waiting for the return of the MVP, but have only received glimpses. In 2020, that Wentz had become such a faded memory as he seemed to be under an onslaught of pass rushers and his receivers left something to be desired. That led to his worst season ever, finishing with 2,620 passing yards, 16 TDs, 5 INTs and a whopping 50 sacks. Wentz getting benched after 12 games was almost an act of mercy, and he finished as the QB22 in fantasy scoring.


OK, that was just a quick reference to the Six Million Dollar Man from the 1970s. The Colts traded for Wentz, with the idea that in his greatest season his OC was Reich. Can they get him back to the 2017 level. In my recent interview for our Insider Series with Zak Keefer of The Athletic, I posed the question of the expectation for Wentz – 29 in December – to return to his glory days.

“The key that everyone’s overlooking is he doesn’t need to be an MVP quarterback,” Keefer said. “Now if they get him, that’d be great. Who’s going to turn that down? He’s got the physical skills… This is different than what we had last year with Philip Rivers. This is going to be a different skill set for this team with a quarterback far more athletic and moves in the pocket and can avoid sacks. Now Rivers made up for that with some elite accuracy. But (Wentz is) going to open up the playbook in ways we haven’t seen since late in the 2018 season, when Andrew Luck was taking shots down the field. That’s what this offense is going to look like if Carson Wentz plays well.”

Keefer added that Wentz should not be chased all over the field, as he’ll be protected by an offensive line ranked #2 by PFF. Eric Fisher is the new LT, and he’s coming back from a torn Achilles that may keep him sidelined at the start of the season. All-Pro G Quenton Nelson had almost the same surgery the day after Wentz, and 

What was evident in the first days of training camp and up to his injury is that Wentz is using the upgraded talent around him. He was throwing to different receivers and taking deep shots. Keefer noted that Wentz, “looked every bit like the quarterback who could push this offense to another level.” So what are we looking at? I have Wentz at QB18, just behind Kirk Cousins. His recovery from the foot injury is key. It could hinder his running this season – he did rush for 276 yards and 5 TDs last year. The more balanced offensive attack and the above-average defense should keep Wentz from having to throw so much. His highest passing yardage was in 2019, 4,039 yards. With the extra game and his health over the entire season, he’ll hover around 4,200 yards passing, with 25 TDs. If he continues to run the ball to the tune of about 250 yards, he’ll be serviceable as the 2nd QB in Superflex leagues. Hard to see him getting close to QB1 status an attack that still emphasizes the run.

That balanced attack starts with RB Jonathan Taylor, who will be the lead caballo in this RB group. The sophomore finished as the RB6 in PPR scoring with 1,169 yards on 232 carries, and caught 36 of 40 targets for 299 yards and 12 total TDs. His finish was spectacular, with 97 carries for 651 yards in the final five games of the season. Averaged over 17 games, that’s 329 carries and 2,213 yards. That’s enough to get fantasy managers excited. Hold on, Keefer has seen the way this offense works, so he said to temper expectations.

“I’m a little hesitant with any Colts player from a fantasy perspective, and here’s why: They love to share the ball,” Keefer said. “Now that doesn’t mean that Taylor won’t be the workhorse. He’s the featured back. He’s the starter. Marlon Mack will not be the starter. Taylor’s earned that.” Keefer added that Mack – coming off a torn Achilles of his own – will likely continue to get just enough carries to occasionally annoy fantasy managers. Nyheim Hines will be the greatest deterrent to Taylor taking a major step forward, as last year’s RB15 caught 63 of 76 targets (3rd among RBs) for 482 yards and 7 total TDs. That’s going to keep Taylor from seeing much more than 3 targets per game (he averaged 2.7 last year). Still, Taylor should cruise to a Top 10 finish, and I’ve picked him as high as #4 in early drafts. He will push for a 1,400-yard season and 12-15 TDs, very similar to what Nick Chubb will have. With this O-line, he’ll have holes large enough for Formula One cars to run through.

The WR group was one that Keefer liked with one caveat: health. T.Y. Hilton has battled injuries the past couple seasons, and he’s 32 this year. He had a pedestrian 56 catches for 762 yards and 5 TDs. His ADOT of 12.5 was still his best of the past three seasons, and his four-week stretch from Weeks 13-16 saw him catch 20 of 31 targets for 327 yards and 3 TDs. Michael Pittman Jr. was up and down, with 40 catches for 503 yards, but his catching 5 of 10 targets for 90 yards in the playoff game against Buffalo was encouraging for 2021. Parris Campbell had an exciting start to 2021, catching 6 of 9 targets for 71 yards before a season-ending injury the next week. How do the targets stack up among the WRs?
“I would lean toward they’re going to spread the wealth around. It’s just how Frank calls the game,” Keefer said. “He likes to keep the defense off-balance because he doesn’t want them to know where they’re going to go with the football. If this offense is operating at full steam, with all the bodies healthy, they’re going to spread the ball. That means there’s going to be weeks where T.Y. has seven for 110 and a touchdown. And there’s weeks where he has three for 32, and that’s going to be the deal. But as for guys to take the next step, I start with two guys. I start with Michael Pittman Jr., who really started to flash last year. He was a monster in the playoff game  with the Bills. He had this weird leg injury about the middle of the season that slowed him down, but when you get this guy in space, he can move. He’s like Jonathan Taylor out there, he’s big. And he moves really quickly.

“And the other guy’s Campbell. You mentioned it, and we talked a lot this offseason about just how hard the last couple of years have been. But I know for a fact that Frank Reich is all in on Parris Campbell. He loves his skill set. In the first game of the season last year, he was all over the field and then he got hurt in Week 2. So you never saw him again. But his skill set is really, really, really good for this offense. They can move him around. They can get him the ball in space and let them pile up some yards at the hash. I’m going to say it until people start listening, but I think Parris Campbell could have a huge season if he stays healthy.”

I project Pittman leading in targets as he makes the Year 2 leap, pushing over the 100 mark, barely, catching 65 balls for 900 yards and 8 TDs. Hilton will be behind him at 90-100 targets, with a few boom games to push past 900 yards. Campbell staying healthy could have a role similar to his former Ohio State teammate, Curtis Samuel, getting targets and some carries to approach 1,000 total yards. Campbell is a player to target late in drafts, just in case health permits him to fulfill his vast talent.

The TE position is curious. Jack Doyle and Mo-Allie Cox are the incumbents, and both are good blockers to go along with their receiving work. Kylen Granson was drafted out of SMU, where he had a storied career, catching 78 balls for 1,257 yards and 14 TDs combined in his last two seasons. Maybe he’s a threat in the future, as for now the TE targets will be split between Doyle and Cox, the latter of whom has an intriguing size and talent combination.

“This guy catches everything,” Keefer said. “He’s got the biggest hands you’ll ever see. I really think he could be a nine or 10-touchdown guy if you feature him in the red zone, because he’s so hard to move out of position down there. He knows how to block out. He was the VCU leading rebounder when he graduated. And he’s got great hands, but they just keep saying this year after year, ‘We want to get Cox more involved in the offense.’ Well, it’s time to do it. I want to see it this year because you don’t really have that dynamic threat just yet.”

The O-line is ranked #2 by PFF, though there could be some early concerns. Fisher’s return is still cloudy for the start of the season. Nelson is no guarantee to be ready by opening week, though few would doubt if he’ll fight through whatever to be in the lineup. C Ryan Kelly hyperextended his elbow early in training camp and returned to practice on Aug. 24. Keefer noted the schedule gets off to a tough start for the Colts, with the first five opponents all having won 10 or more games last season. With Fisher more than likely still rehabbing, the line could be a work in progress early. Not the best thing when the Colts have a new QB who got sacked so often last year.

“The question is, can they hold up for four or five weeks until Fisher gets back?” Keefer said. “And does Fisher get back to the same level he was at in Kansas City? The Colts believe he will. That’s what the medicals tell them right now, but this is an Achilles and this is serious. A lot of guys haven’t come back to play at the level they used to, but if he comes back and is the two-time Pro Bowler that he was, and this team gets rolling by mid-October, they’re going to be dangerous. And I really think when this team is going to start to hit its stride in November and December. That’s when, usually it’s his quarterback to start playing really well… It’s going to be fascinating, but if I’m making a list of the biggest question marks to start training camp, left tackle the first four weeks. That’s huge. There’s just no other way to look at it.”

BOLD PREDICTION: The Colts will go as Wentz, Taylor and the O-line take them. Having six matchups against the Titans, Jaguars and Texas could make for some big games, and I’m banking that those games are going to push Taylor past 1,600 yards and 12 TDs. He’ll be RB4 in the process. 

SOURCES: PFF / Pro Football Reference / NFL Savant

August 2, 2021


What a difference a year makes. Going into training camp 2020, the Cleveland Browns were on their third HC and second GM in less than two years. Of course, a revolving door among coaches and front office folks had become the norm for the Browns.

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