It’s Not Just About Players – Systems Matter
By Bodacious Beer
Fantasy Football Analyst
As the legendary Kenny Rogers said, “…you got to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ’em,” and while we know he was talking about poker, this logic also applies to fantasy football. Being successful at poker is as much knowing the odds and knowing how to read people as it is knowing how to bet your position. Having good cards doesn’t automatically equal wins, and the same is true in fantasy football. Below, I will cover some highlights and lowlights that you should be aware of when trading or drafting players.
Let’s start with the AFC East. I have been hearing a popular name for a “steal” later in drafts right now: Le’Veon Bell, and I couldn’t disagree more. I like Bell; he’s an incredible talent, and while being closer to 30 than not, he still has some giddy up to his game. What he doesn’t have is a coach that knows how to use a running back. Adam Gase, until last year, had played musical chairs in the backfield. Last year he had Bell on the field, on average, for 77% of the snaps. That was in the ball park of what Bell had in Pittsburgh, and the performance in New York was lackluster at best. Avoid Adam Gase running backs. The situation I am curious to watch is in New England and their quarterback position. The QB situation could be an interesting one to watch. Don’t forget, before Tom Brady was Drew Bledsoe, it’s been a long time since they had to worry about the QB position. I am not sold it's Jarrett Stidham.
A division that’s a bit tougher to get a handle on, with all the recent changes, is the AFC North. The Bengals have a lot of unproven coaches that are pretty inexperienced. I really don’t want to mess with any of that, especially with Mixon threatening to hold out. Albeit, I am not convinced he does hold out, but for now I am avoiding all of this. Mixon looked to improve before all of this, with his offensive line looking much improved over last year. What I do want a part of is Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. IF, you can handcuff Chubb with Hunt, you are looking to be in great shape. Even though the Vikings ran the second most snaps with two running backs on the field (second only to San Francisco), Dalvin Cook still was a stud. It wasn’t surprising either. Gary Kubiak - like Mike Shanahan (whom he worked with in Denver) and Kyle Shanahan - get performances from their running backs. Remember when Arian Foster showed up out of nowhere? The new head coach in Cleveland (Kevin Stefanski) was the offensive coordinator in Minnesota last season, and he plans on bringing much of the same system to Cleveland.
I think we all can agree, we have no idea what the heck Bill O’Brien is doing, but you have to admit it’s made the offseason more interesting. What I am not interested in, or truthfully what I am concerned about, is Deshaun Watson. His favorite weapon is gone. His two best receivers on the roster have a history of not being available or on the field. He still holds onto the ball too long. And has the offensive line improved? As a rule, I am out on the Texans offense. I am curious about the TE spot, but nothing more. They have some young upside players, and O’Brien was the offensive coordinator when we saw two tight ends pop in New England, but these players should be available via the waiver wire. A player I am definitely targeting is Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars. In 2019 he averaged an 82% snap share for the year and had multiple games at or above 90%. By sheer accident Fournette should have had more touchdowns. When he did get a little banged up, the other guys didn’t do any better, as he was the best back the Jags put out there. That offensive line didn’t do its job in 2019 but it should be improved for 2020, seeing as how they dealt with a lot of injuries last year. Fournette is an absolute steal right now.
In the AFC West, I am most interested in watching the quarterback situation in Las Vegas. I am not saying there will be a change, but Jon Gruden has had a knack for getting a lot out of his quarterbacks, as long as it’s his kind of guy. Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson were largely journeymen. They both went to Super Bowls and had Pro Bowl years with Gruden, but not everyone can play in that system. Raiders GM Mike Mayock had Marcus Mariota as his #2 overall prospect when he was coming out of college. He absolutely loved him. This is something to watch. One situation that I am now nervous about that I would have bet the farm on in the past, is Andy Reid and his running backs. Owning an Andy Reid running back was like the best security blanket you could have. If the running game didn’t exist, that running back would be good for 50-100 yards receiving, weekly, and probably a score, too. After last year, I don’t know what to think. Is he now planning to save "his guy" until the playoffs? Does he just not have a back he feels he can count on all season? I don’t know what it is, but what I do know his backfield is now a guessing game.
I will be up front, I don’t like any situation in this division. I still like Ezekiel Elliott, but this stuff with Dak Prescott is concerning: the workouts, the alleged party, not wanting to sign his franchise tender, and the fact that thus far they haven’t offered him a long-term deal. I don’t trust Mike McCarthy yet either. New coaches in NY, and I have to assume Jason Garrett will have his stamp on that offense, and he has adapted his offenses to his players in the past. I expect Saquon Barkley to be fine along with Daniel Jones, but I am not sure what you can consistently count on. I don’t trust any of the Redskins right now. The most talented running back they have, Derrius Guice, has been riddled with injuries. I don’t trust the quarterback, and they have a new coaching regime, so it's wise to expect some growing pains with that. And as much as people love Miles Sanders for his talent in Philly - and I am one of those people - I don’t want to deal with a Doug Pederson backfield. I am out on Sanders because of Pederson and Pederson alone.
The NFC North, on the other hand, is an interesting division. As I mentioned earlier, you want a Gary Kubiak running back in fantasy football, and you had better handcuff that back. Kubiak offenses have a habit of being successful with the run, which played a large part in why Zimmer brought him in. I expect the same type of offense this year, and with Dalvin Cook going later than the other top tier backs, he’s a great target. Just don’t be slow on grabbing Alexander Mattison as a handcuff. One offense I am not willing to invest in, but we all need to watch, is the Chicago Bears'. Will Matt Nagy use a running back like Andy Reid has in the past? Will Nick Foles get them some adequate QB play or will this be a constant headache at the position? Do they go after another quarterback? I hope for Allen Robinson’s sake they get the QB position figured out because he’s way too talented to see every team waste the good years of his career. The Detroit Lions are very similar. I have interest in Kenny Golladay, but I have no faith in the rest of this offense.
Now we move on to my favorite division, the NFC South. If you are in redraft leagues, buy Drew Brees. He’s going later than he should, he looked fine (minus the fluke thumb injury), and they upgraded his weapons. I will not be surprised if this division produces two top-five quarterbacks this year. Which takes me to my next guy, get some Tampa Bay. Tom Brady has never had receivers with this type of impressive skill set as he has this year. The man is going to go nuts with the weapons he has. If Bruce Arians had any concerns about Brady’s arm strength or ball placement, he wouldn’t have gone after him like he did. I am all in on Brady and Chris Godwin, and frankly, if they don’t draft a running back, I recommend buying Ronald Jones. His lack of catching ability is overstated. Another player you will be probably get more out of than where you can currently draft him is Hayden Hurst. Taking three years for a tight end to pop is fairly typical. Keep in mind, he has less playing time at this position than most. But he did pursue a professional baseball career before going to college and playing tight end for the Gamecocks. But the Falcons must like what they have seen on film with Hurst, otherwise they wouldn't have traded what they did for him and let incumbent tight end Austin Hooper walk. Hooper was quite impactful last year, and this is the same offense and Hurst is very comparable to Hooper. The one offense in this division that I am avoiding is the Panthers. I do think Matt Rhule will run an up-tempo offense, and while not all college coaches find success in the NFL, I think there is potential for Rhule here. That said, I don’t like their quarterback situation at all, and I am out until they figure that part out.
Finally, we get to the NFC West, which has been one of the more interesting divisions to watch the last few years. San Francisco ran, by far, the most two-running back sets in the NFL. That probably surprises no one since guessing what running back was going to be used that day was a nightmare. It’s unfortunate, because as I mentioned earlier, Kyle Shanahan gets production from just about any running back. In the past, going back to his days in Cleveland and then his first year in Atlanta, you could have invested in both backs and it would've worked for you. The last few years that has not been the case, and to be fair that has been largely due to injuries vs performance. What I am most curious about with the 49ers is if they will take a running back in the draft? If they do, target that back. I am out on the Rams run game. I still have concerns with Jared Goff, and I get the coach speak about Gerald Everett, but I am struggling to see how Tyler Higbee will not have a significant impact. Granted, he blew up last year against some weak defensive competition, but frankly from what I saw, he looked good. And Sean McVay isn’t afraid to put tight ends on the field. As for the Cardinals, I think it’s wise to invest in the quarterback and/or the running back. I would avoid all tight ends on this team and to be fair, other than Hopkins, I am not sure any other receiver is worth investing in. They will look to spread the ball around and to throw a lot. That’s good for the quarterback and most likely a running back. I am a big Kenyan Drake fan this year, especially with what his current draft cost is. He’s going after a lot of the satellite or 3rd down backs, and I see him getting 75%-80% snap share in a up-tempo system. Sign me up!
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